Sail Away

I cannot begin to imagine the magical forces that were occasioned by the passing of Lord Maric. The cycle of the year turned through the vernal equinox and light gained the upper hand over darkness. Gwyneth, my beloved wife and Seelie Queen returned from her seasonal seclusion, bringing the promise of spring and love renewed. And, as we have done before, we enacted the rite. Maric, in his guise of the Winter King, passed the baton to her, in her guise as Summer Queen. The wheel turned, and life was renewed.

But not all life. For this was to be the last time for Maric. For over a thousand years, he had held off the spectre of death, sustained by the power of the blood that flowed in his veins, but this was to be his last battle. Strange that our victory over Gwythyr, the late Unseelie King, was to prove his undoing.  He knew it, of course, as did I when he chose to hand on the Lordship of Mysthaven and mastery of his castle to me, and I suspect he knew that the equinox rite would be his final act.

And so, with the kiss that sealed the rite, that passed power to my Queen, he was gone. My master, my mentor, my lord, sometimes my lover, and most of all, my friend, became one with the earth. Thus passed that most ancient vampire, the Winter King, and with him, the Huntsman – that noble spirit brought low by the corruption and madness of the Seelie King. And in that passing, in that change of the seasons, great changes were wrought on the land – reshaping and renewing the places we knew, both human and faerie.

Now, the village of Mysthaven stands high in the branches of the Mallorn tree, floating islands of rock held fast in the tree’s branches by forces I do not know or understand. And below us, human land, and faerie, girt once again by shining sea. A new land for old.

Whatever the forces that shaped it, there was, I suspect had some sense of humour, or perhaps, one last act of will from Lord Maric for me, his friend.  There are little details for which I can find no other explanation. Down below the castle rock, on a little promontory, there is a small cottage. I believe this is the cottage by the sea that I had long promised Gwyneth as a haven from our respective lives and positions. Not quite, perhaps, the design I had envisaged when first we conceived the idea, but on reflection, it is something I might have conceived of in my wistful longing for my nautical past, resembling as it does a truncated lighthouse. It is octagonal in plan, with a balcony around the upper storey and a central lantern for light. How this came to be, I do not know. Perhaps the forces that shaped the land on Maric’s death passed through my mind and in turn were shaped by it. However it came to be; I shall take it for a gift and strive to make it the place where Gwyn and I can cast off our positions, our ranks, her crown and my coronet (not that I would wear such a thing, even if I knew which style was appropriate to my rank) and just be ourselves – friends, lovers, husband and wife.

There is yet more strange humour to be found in the things that those magical forces have wrought. From my little pier here at the cottage, I look across a small bay enclosed by the promontory, and there, moored serenely at a pier, there is a ship. A ship of sail, rather than the ships of steam I served upon, but nevertheless, not beyond my capability, for I did some of my basic training on such. Unlike the Bold Admiral, this one I could not sail alone. I would have to train a crew. But, to where would I sail it? Perhaps I have it in me to do as Alec did and sail by the dark of moon, to other realms, there to trade gold for food and supplies. In that, I would be on familiar ground, for that is what I used to do aboard the Odiham Castle and the ships that I served on before her. On such a vessel, I could carry far more supplies than I could ever manage pushing a small wagon through the Shadow Roads. Perhaps, again, those magical forces read my mind and fashioned this vessel for that very purpose. I do not know, but I cannot think of any other reason for it to be here, or what other purpose it might have.

The sight of it, however, also casts me in a melancholy mood, recalling the days immediately before I left that Isle of Legacies that was London. Then, as now, the world was changing, except that one was being sucked further into the unreachable depths of the Nexus. Then, as now, many of the friends I knew and loved, were gone, my dearest Valene then, and again now. And then, I found myself on the deck of the ship that was my home – the Bold Admiral – looking out to sea and finding it calling to me, calling me to sail away. To where, I do not know. To find Valene? Well, I don’t doubt I could find her if I walked the Roads long enough, and I would rather that she found me, when she is ready. To find Wren? That, I am sure I could do, but I suspect this vessel would cause considerable comment wherever she has gone, as I am sure she has returned to the time she knew well, with its nets for catching inters, and its TV and moving pictures. No, for her, I would step across the realms as Alec taught me. Giada, perhaps? Except she knows her way here to the Wylds, and would return here if she so desired. Or just to explore? Perhaps, but I know not what I might find, or where or when I might find myself? Even if I did, would it satisfy that vague longing? I do not know. And for all that the sea calls to me, so does this place. This is my home now. I have a wife here, to love, and the last of my children, Bronwyn, to take care of. And I have duty too. I swore an oath. I swore that I would uphold the legacy that Maric left me and defend my people and the town of Mysthaven. And while it stands, I must stand with it. And should I ever be in the position to hand on that duty, well, the sea will still be there. One day, perhaps, I will sail away, but that day is not today.

Sail Away

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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

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Lord of All He Surveys

I AM monarch of all I survey;
My right there is none to dispute;
From the centre all round to the sea
I am lord of the fowl and the brute
O Solitude! where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms,
Than reign in this horrible place.

So wrote William Cowper in The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk, in reference to that privateer’s years as a castaway. Of course, we have no idea if Selkirk actually said anything of the sort, but one imagines that he might have had such thoughts; maybe standing on the highest point of his island and looking to the shores. The poem came to mind as I stood outside the castle, looking down at the town of Mysthaven and beyond to the sea. Of course, our situations are not the same. He chose solitude, rather than risk going to sea in an unsafe vessel, whereas I was shipwrecked and cast ashore at what I came to know as Jasper Cove. He proclaims himself monarch, whereas I claim no crown. The opening line is oft misquoted as lord of all he surveys, which title I do hold, twice now, and ‘all he surveys’ is only true from certain viewpoints. From some places, all I can survey is indeed the entirety of Mysthaven, and none disputes my rule there. From other viewpoints, I can see beyond – to the Seelie Lands, where I am merely Husband and Consort to the Queen; to the Unseelie Lands, where I hold no rank or title, save that which is recognised by virtue of my other titles.  But here, here on this improbably floating rock, here at least, I am lord of all I survey.

How I shall do this is another matter. I have little experience on which I can draw, and nobody left I can ask. All my life, I have had somebody to look to for guidance. In my youth, there were my parents and teachers. In later working life, my assorted supervisors and the Masters of the various  vessels I served upon and, at the last, Gerald Bryson, Master of the Odiham Castle.

Then came the transition to this other life. At the start, there was Katarina, who made me, but I only had her guidance for a few days. Then, for six years, I had nobody, just random strangers during my wandering, until I fetched up in London and met Brigitte, the Prince who became my friend. She taught me the ways of our kind and how to navigate the murky waters of kindred politics. She even gave me my first taste of leadership, during her occasional absences from London.

But, London fell, lost into the mysterious Nexus that had separated that London from the city I had known as a young man. I was cast upon the shore of Jasper Cove. I found Brigitte there, but she had taken almost 200 years to arrive there and the closeness we had known was gone. Neither did I look to her for leadership, for in  Jasper Cove, Alec ruled. Alec Damondred, self-styled King of Jasper Cove.

I did not particularly care for his style of leadership, but I grew to respect him and regard him as a friend. Of course, then, I did not who who he really was, or who he had been, much less the monster he would become. I did not know he had been John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s enigmatic advisor, nor that he had been Grayson Devonshire, that charming young man who almost became my lover. I certainly did not know that he would become the demonic enemy of Mysthaven.

And in the last. Lord Maric, that ancient vampire who had known the intrigues of Rome and more, who had seen more battles, more war, and as I learned in those last few days, more suffering than I could possibly imagine. He gave me a place beside him, entrusted first, his treasury and then the day to day management of the town and command of the guard. From him, I learned more that I could ever have imagined. To lead in his absence, to be at the forefront of battle and to win the trust of the guard and the people. But through all that, I knew he would still be there, to guide, to advise, to teach.

And now, he is gone. The man who had been my master, my friend, even my lover, is no more. I no longer have the option of asking his counsel. That wiser, more experienced head is no longer available. Moreover, there are no others from whom I can seek guidance. I never knew Sa’one, once Queen of the Seelie, though I knew her to be wise, but she is long gone, and I never knew Llwyd. Gwythyr was never going to be my choice for a mentor and now at last, he has gone. And Faermorn, my friend, my mentor, my lover, who called me her warrior poet, is gone. Her very image is reborn as my daughter, or so I theorise, but of wisdom, thus far, there is no sign. And it is her wisdom I miss most of all. Now, they are all gone. Even  my dearest Valene, who so often was my comfort and reassurance when I felt lost, spends most of her time in mourning, hidden away from those who loved her.

All are gone, save for Dyisi, who counselled even Maric at times. No doubt she shall return when her mourning has passed. For now, I have only my  beloved Gwyneth, wife and Queen,  and she is in much the same boat as me. She too finds herself the leader, and she is even younger than me, in human terms, let alone fae terms. She too, like me, has grown. She is no longer the pint-size potty-mouth polymath I once knew, any more than I am the mild mannered “posh fuck” accountant. We have grown, and we will grow, together, to make the world anew. The future is uncertain. We stand on the brink of a new adventure, on the shore of unknown and uncharted seas. But we, a Queen and a Lord, will sail them and conquer them,  hand in hand, together.

 

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