Lady Blue

Part of my waking memory, down in the vault, was the remnants of a mental message from Maric. Something about a lady with red hair who had come looking for me. Her name, so far as I could make out, was Katharina, or something similar. I froze for a moment, contemplating what this could mean. I knew three women with names that sounded like Katharina – my sire, the Unseelie Queen I had served in London, and my beloved Catt, her Captain of Ravens. The queen I could dismiss, as I did not remember her having red hair, but the other two certainly did. The rest of the message said that she had taken herself off and buried herself under the large tree on the green, where guards had been set to watch.

I took myself upstairs and went out to the tree, resting my head against it. I remembered Mother, on our walks, telling me I should greet the trees, and wondered why I had never done so for this one. Perhaps it was familiarity, since I passed it several times every day. I made greeting, and asked if it knew who was buried beneath its roots. Of course, I did not expect any reply, though, give my experiences with Aerodine, perhaps I should have. My scar had been bothering me for a few days, which would suggest something to do with Catt, but who knew what Katharina was capable of? I was not going to get any answers until whoever it was decided to disinter themselves, so I returned to the castle.

I found Helene there, looking somewhat dejected. I asked what was bothering her and she said that she had  meet a messenger of one of the courts the previous night who had been spooked by the rose she wore in her hair. She seemed to think that she could not do anything right lately. I reassured her that it could hardly be her fault if somebody took exception to her bloom and asked if she had seen the visitor who had come looking for me. She had, she told me, saying that she was seemingly upset. I asked if she had a German accent and she told me no, saying that she looked vaguely familiar, perhaps somebody from London. Then I gasped, my hand going once again to the scar on my wrist. That narrowed it down to possibly being Catt, but why? I had not seen, nor heard from her since that one cold night back in London when she managed to break through a portal for a short while.

Before I could ask any further questions, one of the servants brought Orie up from the door.  He seemed in no better mood than before, though at least he was not shouting. We could not tell him any more than we had the day before, other than that Vedis was well, and elsewhere. I tried to assure him that she was very tough and very good at bouncing back from whatever ailed her, and added that I too held her in high regard. I had known her a lot longer than him, and just because I was remaining calm, did not mean that I did not care.

He wasn’t having any of it. He did not spend all that time fighting on the hilltop for the fun of it and wasn’t going to take our ‘dismissive bullshit’ as an answer.  I told him I didn’t doubt his dedication or his hard work, and was sorry if he felt that our answers were dismissive bullshit. We had told him everything we knew, and we could not tell him what we didn’t know. Helene did her best to calm him, but he wasn’t going to be deflected. As far as he was concerned, we were just playing at being fancy dandies in our fine house, and weren’t attending to the safety of the people.  He was beginning to annoy me now, but I tried to keep my temper, reminding him that Maric and I had been on the forefront of the fight, and if he didn’t like it…

I stopped. Whatever I was about to say went out of my mind as I heard the guards escorting somebody up the stairs. A figure, so familiar, yet, almost strange to me, radiant in icy cold blue, of skin and hair, just as when I had last seen her – it was Catt!

I rushed to her and embraced her, barely noticing the cold. Even as I hugged her, I could hear slight cracking noises, as you might hear from ice. She was stiff at first, but then relaxed into my embrace, tears flowing and mumbling something about hearing and feeling me. I told her how I had felt her presence so many times, through the scar, but had never dreamed I would see her again. So much had happened since London fell into the Nexus…  I recovered my poise somewhat, remembering that I was also a host, and invited her in for warmth, drink, and food if she needed it. I was vaguely aware that Helene had taken Orie away somewhere to try to calm him, but for now, all my attention was on Catt.

I opened a bottle of wine and asked if she wanted anything to eat, apologising that there was probably not a huge choice, since we had recently been under siege. She accepted the wine gratefully and asked about the siege. I was not sure where to begin, so I gave her a short outline of the geo-politics of the land, and the current state of the courts. I also mentioned Vedis and Valene, thinking she would be pleased to hear of names from our joint past, and told her how I came to be steward.

Vedis’ name seemed to mean something to her, but she was not so sure about Valene. Much time had passed and much had happened to her, and she had problems with some of her memories. She asked if Maric was kindred, and then asked about the Raven of the Unseelie Court. She was unsure of her own status now, since Artur and Katarina had sailed into the West.

I told her what I knew, skipping her question about Maric for the moment, giving her a potted history of the events of the last few months, and what had happened to precipitate the current state of the courts. I explained about the madness of the Unseelie King, and the corruption of the Wild Hunt, and about the unknown fate of both the Seelie and Unseelie Queens. Perhaps I divulged more than I would have to any other recent arrival, but, because we had been so close, I felt she should know, especially if she wanted to take service with the Unseelie Court again. I apologised for dumping so much information on her in one go, saying that I felt it necessary because of the general parlous state of affairs here. I told her about my role as emissary and hoped that she could help me with her experience of the Unseelie Court. Although I had served Kat and Artur, and then Winter, I had known only a little knowledge of the fae side of their affairs. She said that she would do what she could, even though she had been relatively inexperienced when she entered Artur & Kat’s service. She had been underground, she told me, for over 100 years, so had some catching up to do, but she would do what she could.

I thanked her and held her hand for a while, just happy to have my friend back with me again. She was slowly returning to her normal colour, the blue fading away as she warmed up, her skin becoming pink again and her hair red. I could see that she was tired, so I escorted her to one of the guest rooms, so that she could rest. Be at ease, I told her, saying that I would make it known to the staff, and to Maric, that she was an honoured guest and should be treated thusly. She clambered wearily into the bed and allowed me to tuck her in. I gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and she was asleep in moments. I waited a while, and then took myself off to instruct the staff and leave a note for Maric.

And so, one of my dearest friends is back from who knows where. Perhaps in the coming days she can tell me more of her past. For now, I am content to know she is here. Perhaps my wrist will stop bothering me for a while.

 Lady Blue

Advertisements

In Taberna Quando Sumus

Sometimes, I think I am reverting to teenage years. Twice recently, I have found myself hanging around on the Seelie hill, near the sithen entrance.  Of course, I have hung out in that area before, by the Celtic stone, but, have I been moping, hoping that Gwyn will be allowed to come out to play?

The first time, I was just hanging around; I don’t even remember why I was up there, when Aerodine appeared from out of the earth.  She was pleased to see me, but worried that I might be in danger. I could not see any sign of the sluagh or the Huntsman, so I reckoned I was fairly safe. We spoke of her distrust of both courts, though she did acknowledge that the Seelie were perhaps marginally the better of the two. She then spoke of her fear of being alone. Something was moving within the earth, some new threat, and she feared that many friends would be lost.  I assured her that I would do my best to not be lost. We kissed, albeit mostly chastely, and then she departed to tend to her trees.

The following night, I was up there again, but this time, with purpose, trying to get an overview of the land.  I had joked about the making of a map, but somehow, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, so I took to the various high points to make some sketches. Of course, the one time I was up there not seeking Gwyn was the one time she came looking for me. After assorted personal matters and talking about the map, we set off in search of Aoibheann, since neither of us had seen her for a while.  We found her eventually, fast asleep in the higher reaches of Ardan’s branches.  We debated the various means of waking her, or just putting mattresses down for her to fall on.  In the end, Gwyn found an acorn and launched it with surprising accuracy.  While Aoibheann was coming to, an old friend appeared out of nowhere – the Phoenix that I had known back in Jasper Cove. Evidently, he had appeared here before, because Aoibheann started screaming and moaning about the voices in her head. The Phoenix was, as usual, somewhat cryptic in his communications, but I managed to ascertain that this was him on a previous 500 year cycle – before we met in Jasper Cove. I am not sure how useful that is to know, but if we assume that Jasper was somewhat concurrent with Gwyn’s time; that would put us back in the 16th century. Of course, who knows that that means in real time?  I have ceased putting years in the diary because I have no idea when I am, and only an approximate idea of when I am relative to the year, whatever one it is.  All that mental effort suddenly made me feel very tired, so I left Aoibheann in Gwyn’s care and headed to Val’s to rest.

Last night was more interesting.  I took myself up to the tavern on the hill for want of something better to do. With Gwyn firmly aligned with the Seelie Court, it would not be prudent for her to be seen hanging around the Unseelie Sithen, and as much as I like it there, what with bathing pools and willing donors, it seems empty without her to visit. So, I thought I might as well start making myself at home in the village. At least it is relatively neutral territory, so far as the courts are concerned, and it is quite pleasant, once you get used to the relative gloom compared to the rest of the island.

So, there I was, seated by the fire with my book and a glass of rum for company when there was a certain amount of commotion outside. I could hear Nadya’s voice, and somebody that sounded like the strange demon called Bunny that I had seen once before in the old tavern. I also thought I heard Bella’s voice.  There was another voice, speaking mostly incomprehensible nonsense. I thought I had heard it before and it later turned out to be the Toreador I had met a few days before, Gabrielle. While that was going on, Gywn came into the tavern and came over to kiss me. Behind her was a man in leathers that I later learned was a Viking by the name of Tristan and the Lady Astrid. Tristan was dispatched to get drinks while Astrid greeted me warmly. I told her that I had never dreamed that Dame Fortune might smile sufficiently upon me to see her again. She called me a flatterer and I claimed that my words would always be insufficient to be called flattery. It was quite gratifying, how easily we slipped back into the roles we knew. I made my usual gentlemanly kiss of her hand and then asked Gwyn if it was ok for me to hug Astrid, which, of course, it was. That hug, just in itself, was almost like healing a hurt that I hadn’t even known was there. I guess I have missed my friends from the London days more than I thought.

We were interrupted by the commotion outside. Nadya came in, somewhat flustered and made an announcement about having lost some important artefact. It was a vial on a leather cord, containing blood and bones. She was very agitated about it, believing it to be a very dangerous artefact. She offered the choice of any treasure from her collection for its return and Bunny offered the granting of a wish as well.  It all sounded very serious and they could not understand why we weren’t getting overly excited about it.  Bella came in, somewhat out of breath, saying she had searched all around the sithen and had not found it.  Nadya and Bunny got even more annoyed, urging us all to take part in the search, asking us to think of the children, or what might happen to them if a child got hold of it.  I sighed and offered the services of the Cait, figuring that they would be able to cover more ground than I would, and would have better senses. I went outside and told Royce about it, asking him to spread the word among the Cait.

Tristan brought a drink back for Astrid, who seemed somewhat irritated by the fuss that was going on.  I joked about Bloody Vampires with her, which got me a smile.  Then Gabrielle came in. She looked like she had been in the wars somewhat, clothes torn, bloodied and bruised.  I tried to ask her what had happened to her, but all I got was incoherent nonsense.  Something about somebody called Alice, something about knives and a hive.  None of it made sense, so I had to conclude that she was insane, hopefully temporarily. I wondered if this was a characteristic of the Toreador that I didn’t know about, but thought it unlikely, since Brigitte had never shown any signs of it. Gabrielle went on about mirrors and other stuff that didn’t make sense and eventually ran off, sounding like she was chasing after whomever this Alice person was.

Astrid was getting more irritated by the goings on. She finished her drink and then left. I managed to get a few words with her before she departed, apologising for the fuss and explaining who the various people were. I told her that Valene was here, which pleased her, and then made loose arrangements to meet up soon to catch up.  Bella came flitting out, apparently also tired by the argument about the missing vial, whispered something to Astrid and then they set off, presumably for the Sithen.

I went back in to find I had Gwyn to myself. I hadn’t noticed Tristan leaving, but I assume he did, and didn’t just disappear into thin air. On the other hand, he might have. It isn’t exactly a rare talent in these parts.  She asked about my brief catch-up with Astrid, so I told her that we were in the same boat, with her husband, Sebastion, also being non-fae. In the interests of full disclosure, I told her about my history with Astrid, and my sort of crush on her. Gwyn said she didn’t mind, which accorded with my view that she didn’t do jealousy and such like. Indeed, she said she liked hearing about my past because it made her feel special that I would open up to her.  She then hugged me and told me I smelled like home, which was possibly the nicest thing that has been said to me in a long time.

I poured us both a glass of rum while we reminisced and toasted the late, lamented, Lucky Leaf. She then became more sombre and told me about the events preceding their arrival at the tavern. Gabrielle had been found unconscious; she had been there for a while by the look of it.  I guessed that meant she was in torpor. Astrid and Bella had been trying to heal her when Bella did something and she woke up and attacked the nearest person, who happened to be Tristan.  Rachel had also been there and warned everybody to stay well back.  The attack had been brutal and mindless, which had quite scared Gwyn.  She then asked me if I had ever done that.

I sighed.  I had known that this was something I was going to have had to explain to her at some point, so now seemed as good a time as any. I explained about the frenzy, and how my clan were more prone to it than most. I explained what it was, how there was no control, how the beast came to the fore.

“There is no control.   We call it the beast – the animal instinct that is in all of us. If that comes to the fore, there is no control, no reason, any more than you would expect from, say, a maddened dog or an inured lion. If you ever see me starting to get like that, run, hide, and get out of my sight. As much as I love you, if I were in a frenzy, you would be nothing but a meal to me.”  She looked doubtful, saying she couldn’t imagine me hurting her or anyone. She wanted to know how that could be.  I told her it was a kind of madness.  “I would never willingly hurt you in any way. I would hope that my love for you would hold me back, but… if the madness took me, I might not even know you. I pray to whatever gods are listening that it never happens.” I felt myself shiver as I hugged her. “It is not a nice thing, but, I love you, and so you should know this about me.”  She looked at me, and I almost felt my heart break, she looked so vulnerable, with unshed tears in her eyes.  Then, she brushed my cheek with her hand and told me she loved me. I kissed the tears away before kissing her properly. “And I love you, Miss Gwyneth Evans, more than I would have thought possible. Now, let’s get another drink before I start spouting love poems and embarrassing us both.”

She laughed and held out her glass. “I would love them, you know. No matter how bad they were. I’d compromise my critical eye for you.” I shuddered and told her please no, never to do that, because I needed her critical eye to keep me grounded. We spoke for a while about her fairy training, at least, the bits she was allowed to speak about. We agreed it was irritating that there had to be secrets, but I assured her I understood and was not upset.  She told me that she had met the queen, who had told her that she could see her mother. And then we spoke of other things, including our respective failings.  She asked what I thought my biggest failing was.  That was a tricky one, so I opted for talking about the mask I wear, how I hide my shyness and insecurity behind this confident façade, adding that I was really happy she had gotten behind that mask.  We kissed and then I confessed to another failing – that I had not taken her off to a nice comfortable bed in one of the cabins.  That was a failing that was easily rectifiable, and so we did.

 

 In the Tavern…

Faerie Queen*

I suspect my time in London has spoiled me for dealing with the fae. There, I could get away with being relatively informal, save where necessary for business. Here, not so much. Maybe I am some few hundred years further back in time than I was in London, with a corresponding difference in adherence to protocol. On the one hand, it can be a little irritating, on the other; I quite enjoy being all flowery and formal, acting out my Shakespearean and Arthurian fantasies. At least they speak something resembling modern English.  While I can read things like Spenser and earlier perfectly well, I don’t think I am up to speechifying in those terms.

I met the girls at the bridge. For no particular reason other than that’s where they were when I found them. It was only then that I realised that it was getting on for close to the time when the big meeting was called. Looking at them, I noticed that they were all in blue, so I decided to go back to the cave and change. My best suit was blue, and would pass very well for courtly appearances. It would also seem that it passes very well as mating plumage, judging by what Gwyn whispered in my ear when she saw it. Sadly, we did not have time to grant her two word request, and besides, there were people watching.

And so, off we went to the Seelie Sithen. A vampire, a demon, a faerie and a human, all dressed in blue, sounding like the introduction to a convoluted joke. Aoibheann, I think, was a little alarmed at Gwyn describing the meeting as a war council, but came along anyway. As I had expected, we went to the carved door up by the standing stones. Gwyn announced us as her guests to the guards, but they were not exactly forthcoming in welcome; or indeed any acknowledgement that we existed.  I mentally nicknamed them Garrulous and Loquacious after the chattering twins that used to guard Alec’s door.  Gwyn went in, but we held back a moment, just in case there was any objection.  After a few moments, there did not appear to be a problem, so I decided, what the hell, let’s see what is in there.  I did ask, out loud, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I do have a habit of asking foolish questions.

Inside, the sithen was as beautiful as Gwyn had described it.  The doorway dropped me into some mist, but beyond that, I found an arcade, a walkway between arches, like a cross between a Greek temple and a cathedral cloister. Indeed, I was moved to hum the Wedding March as I made my way down the walkway into the main part of the sithen. There were climbing plants and flowers everywhere, and the sound of fountains or other running water. Inside the main chamber, it was almost too grand to comprehend. Again, I felt like I had wandered into some Greek temple fantasy, but with the addition of a magnificent tree that formed the centrepiece. A tree not unlike the one where we had met the Unseelie Queen, save for not being on a cliff-top. I joined Gwyn at a convenient spot, not too close to the centre, but not so far away as to miss any of the action.

Various of the beautiful people were gathered. I recognised Bella, with a young man who I later learned was her husband, Asrael. An attractive young man, the Prince Blaise that Gwyn had spoken of, I later learned, was there with two young women hanging onto him.  Another woman reminded me somewhat of my old friend Gloriana, back in the London days, and, wonder of wonders, talking of London, there was Astrid.  Yes, Astrid Muircastle, my former landlady, and I might as well admit it now, former crush, as large as life and accompanied by a young lady that could have been her daughter. Sadly, I did not get a chance to talk to her that evening, but that will be a meeting to look forward to.

The queen entered; her guards at her back. She was as beautiful as one might expect of a faerie queen, bringing with her a light and life essence that was almost overwhelming. She scanned the gathering with a smile, at least, until she spotted Rachel, whereupon she despatched one of the guard to pay her very close attention. Bella saw us and waved. Rachel waved back, but this seemed to irritate the guard, so she subsided.  I nodded my greeting, staying close to Gwyn, who looked awestruck at her queen.

The queen commanded us to come closer and make ourselves known. I decided to get it over with, in case we were not welcome.  Being very aware of the guard watching Rachel, I lifted the hilt of my sword and showed him that it was securely peace-bound. Given the company, I felt that every bit of rank counted, so introduced myself as Lord Nathaniel Ballard, at her service, with as elaborate a bow as I could manage without looking ridiculous.  Rachel and Aoibheann spoke their names briefly. Asrael and Bella introduced themselves as loyal, oathed servants. Asrael Ahn and Belladonna Doune in full. I could not help wondering if these were their true names, thinking back to Gwyn’s mistake in front of Gwythyr.

Gwyn introduced herself as Gwyneth Evans, leaving out her middle name, presenting Aoibheann and I as good souls with a desire for peace and harmony, and Rachel as her personal assistant. Funny, she didn’t describe her as a good soul.

The queen favoured those of her kind who had spoken with a sunny smile, and gave a special welcome for Astrid. Her gaze passed over those who had not introduced themselves less brightly before settling on us. She gave a most thoughtful look at me, a bemused one for Aoibheann, and was less than pleased with Rachel. She asked Gwyn if she spoke for those of us who were non-fae, asked if she took responsibility for us, and asked finally why she had brought an enemy to the sithen. This last seemed directed at Rachel.

“I know of no people more honourable and whose trust I would vouch for, Your Majesty,” Gwyn said, her Welsh accent showing through more than I had ever heard before. “Aoibheann and Nathaniel are valued and trusted friends. Rachel Spencer is bound to me, and she will do no harm to me or any I ask her not to harm, nor will she report anything that happens here to any who are not true friends of the Seelie court. I give you my solemn word, I take responsibility for these people, and I swear to you that while Rachel may appear an enemy, she is incapable of causing harm, or of dishonouring or betraying the Seelie court, because I ask, will, and command her not to. I would never seek to displease you, Your Majesty, or to bring any harm to this sacred place.” I felt proud of her. For all that she claimed to be uncertain in courtly circumstances, it did not show. I could not, however, let her take any consequence for my actions, not that I would do anything to disgrace her. I stepped forward again.

“If it pleases Your Majesty, I am here at Gwyneth’s request, having more experience of courtly matters. However, I take full responsibility for my own actions and take any consequences of my presence and my actions fully upon myself and would see no other suffer in my stead. That said; I would not bring any harm or risk to this place, this court, or anybody herein. That is on my word, and I am sure those here who know me…” I glanced over to where Astrid was standing, hoping she still thought well of me. “… would attest that my word is true.” My speech seemed to embolden Rachel who claimed that she was not aware of being an enemy, trying to justify herself by saying she gave the information about the arsonist without trying to bargain for it. Somehow, I don’t think this was the right move, judging by the reaction of her guard and the queen. She fixed Rachel with a glare that ought to have frozen her to the spot and told her that thenceforth, she was to be silent and only Gwyn could speak for her. To me she was more approving, agreeing that I alone should take the consequences of my actions, and that we would have words later about this. I think she took my words as an oath of sorts. Something about the way she said ‘so be it’ made it seem much more than a simple agreement. I guess I did it again. One day I’ll learn how to talk to these people properly. That said, what I said, I would have said under oath anyway, so perhaps no harm is done.

Interruptions notwithstanding, the queen insisted on introductions continuing. The young woman with Astrid was introduced as her daughter, Ingrid. I was momentarily surprised, but then, given I was holding hands with a woman who won’t be born for another 100 years, from my point of view, who was I to judge what time had passed for others. The man with the women hanging around him introduced himself as Prince Blaise of Rónaofa, along with various titles, and one of the women with him as one if his charges, Renata, saying that his other charge, the Lady Sia, could not be present.  The red-haired one was Aislyn of Leavmore, apparently not one of Blaise’s charges. The queen acknowledged the various introductions and bade them welcome. She then moved to centre stage, so to speak and spoke of the business for which we had been summoned.

“Our people have withstood war and treachery and calamity in this land and have stood strong always,” she said in a rich, vibrant voice. “Now a new threat arises against us, even more dangerous than the renewal of the Sluagh and their court. All those of my court, those who are Seelie, those who are sworn to me, I call upon all of you now, to give your utmost to protecting our home from our enemies.” The reaction was much as one might expect, with a certain amount of whispering among the various groups and a distinct increase in the level of tension.

In the absence of other response, I requested more information. “If it pleases Your Majesty, might we know what that threat is?  I am not Seelie, though it is possible that my mother was, fae-blooded at least, however, in the short time that I have been in this land, I have grown to love it. The recent fire distressed me as much as if it had been my own family home that burned. Therefore, any threat to the land, affects me too, for all that I have only a small portion of the blood, and would stand in defence thereof.” Maybe that was a little bold of me, but, I felt I should establish my credentials, while aware of how my words echoed those I had made to Queen Faermorn some few days before. Yet, I said them, careful that my defence was offered to the land, not to any one side. I can only hope that stands well with both sides. I could not quite interpret the look she gave me, she seemed to appreciate my words, yet, there was a hint of displeasure. Either way, it was clear that any further business did not concern us.

“You are well-spoken, but anyone who is not Sidhe or who has not sworn their aid or loyalty to me must now leave the sithen. What we must do here is not for others to know. Trust is not freely given here, especially to those not of our kind. And not based on what has been reported to me.” Her gaze became sharp on the group and then fell to Gwyn next, “Your companions must leave now. If you give your oath of loyalty to me however, you may stay.” That was it, I had to go, leaving Gwyn to the mercies of the court, and it was clear that her having brought had displeased some.

Gwyn stepped forward, brushing my fingers as she did so. “I am, as the Prince may have told you, completely ignorant in the ways of courtly manner. I do not know how to swear such an oath, but if you will show me the way, I will give you this. My words won’t be right, but my heart and my hands belong here, in this place, and I will give you the loyalty you ask for.” She looked down at the ground, looking a little nervous, understandably.  I saw that Rachel and Aoibheann were making a move towards the exit, escorted by the guards. I made one last effort to reduce any blame that might be placed on Gwyn.

“I thank Your Majesty for Your forbearance, and I fully understand your reasons.  I have spoken my word with regard to the defence of this land. Oaths are not to be given lightly, or without thought, and so I will speak no more of that now. However, I believe I can be of service and would crave Your indulgence in requesting the honour of a private audience, at Your Majesty’s convenience.” I paused and looked at Gwyn again with a smile. “My friends are very dear to me, in particular, Miss Evans, so I would ask your forbearance in regard to the matter of bringing us here and ask that you bear her inexperience in mind.  And now, I bid you good evening and may your light ever shine in this land.” I bowed once more, stepping away backwards for a few steps, and then turned and followed in Rachel & Aoibheann’s footsteps, whispering “be safe, my love” in Gwyn’s ear as I passed.  This time, I got more of a reaction to my words, a definite flicker of interest.  As I left, I heard the queen calling Gwyn to her and asking Bella to sing to the tree to bring the people together.  Soon, the mist enveloped me and I found myself once more on the hilltop.

I paused to get my bearings, noting that Rachel and Aoibheann must have moved quicker than I had imagined, as I could see no sign of them.  Below me, however, by the carved stone, I could see a white rose among the honeysuckle. Could this be a message? The only times before I had seen such roses were when Aerodine wanted to get my attention. I made my way down the hill to the carved stone and sat myself against it, taking the rose and sniffing it. The scent was much as I remembered, and for a few moments, I found myself nervous as to how this meeting would go. My anger at the destruction of the castle and the unnecessary bloodshed had dissipated by now, but I did not know how I would be received.  Not knowing what else to do, I whispered a simple “I am here” into the white bloom and sat and waited.

I was not long in waiting when Royce appeared. He seemed an unlikely emissary for the dryad, and I was right. He had a note from Valene asking us to meet with her with regard to the matter of Braeden. I scribbled a quick reply explaining that Gwyn was likely to be detained in the sithen, but that I would attend her as soon as I could. Royce departed with a flick of his tail and I was alone on the hilltop again. Time passed, but then I became aware of motion behind me, a soft sigh as the earth moved. I turned to find Aerodine standing there, nervously holding out her hands, empty, almost shaking, greeting me with just a single word – Please?  Any worries I had about his meeting dissipated and were replaced with compassion. She looked almost terrified.

I smiled gently, showing the rose in my hand. “I got your message. I am glad, for I had feared you gone, or worse, considered me enemy.” I held my hands out to take hers.  She shook her head slowly, dropping to her knees and looking away, not able to meet my eyes.

“Never,” she said, looking down and ashamed. She spoke of the rage that took her, of deep-rooted friends that had died. She spoke of somebody called Thorngump, presumably the dryad elder she had mentioned once before, to whom she had deep ties. Somewhere in there, she apologised for the destruction, but that she had to do it.  Her words were nervous, hesitant, her sentences fragmented. I took her hands and tried to raise her up.

“What is done is done,” I said. “I grieve for those who lost their lives, though they were but few, but that is the way of things. I understand your anger, though as it turns out, the castle was not to blame for the fire.  But, as I said, done is done. My anger is gone and I hold no grudge or enmity. I value our friendship too much for that.” She shook her head again, telling me that the plans for the destruction of the castle pre-dated the fire, but that it had been a catalyst.  She repeated my last word – friendship – as a question.  I leaned forward to kiss her. “Then there is even less cause for anger, since the destruction did not take place for the wrong reason. Then let that be behind us and forgotten.” I reached around to hug her. She seemed surprised at the kiss, but accepted my embrace. She told me that things could be behind, but not forgotten.  She was glad I had found place with the Unseelie court and that I had found love with somebody more like me.  That caused a bit of a pang, for much as I loved Gwyn, I still had strong affection for Aerodine too. There has always been that part of me that somehow can love more than one person. I thought of the times I was with Katharina while still married to Alexandra, that somehow never seemed wrong to me. I do not know how that would play with Gwyn, although she has never shown any sign of jealousy with regard to, say, Valene. I put that question aside for further thought and kissed Aerodine gently, wanting to reassure her. “Nothing is secret in a forest, I guess.  The Unseelie gave me shelter while the castle was destroyed. I do not yet know if my place is with them, or elsewhere. I have just returned from being introduced to the Seelie Queen.”  I lifted her face so I could look at her.  “Yes, Gwyn is very special to me, but that does not mean I care any the less for you. That may seem strange, but it is so.” She looked confused and I fancy I saw a tear in her eye. There were no secrets from the trees, she told me and expressed her distrust of both courts. She was unsure how I could feel so much for so many.

I kissed away the tear. “They are what they are, the Sidhe, and only they can fathom their motivations. I have spoken with both queens, and will no doubt do so again, perhaps I can find some accommodation between them. In truth, I do not know if I belong with either, but maybe I can be friends to both without partaking of their… darker nature.”  I hugged her again. “My mother always said I had a big heart, and I think that is true, even if it no longer beats as it did then. You will always be special to me.” She relaxed somewhat into the embrace, playing with my hair.

“You have a heard big enough to fill a canyon,” she said. Then she spoke of the light within me, as she had once or twice before.  I told her what Faermorn had said, confirming that I had fae blood within me and told her that it was possible that the vampire in me had not overcome that fae nature. We spoke briefly of the difficulties of dealing with the fae, and how things were much simpler, albeit slower with the trees.  She repeated once again that I had light within me. I still do not know if that was a reference to my fae blood or some other thing that she sees in me. I kissed her again, feeling the desire that had once existed between us, but pulled away, claiming I needed to rest. We parted, as friends, I hope, but I don’t know if we will ever be more than that again. Things are still too new and fresh with Gwyn for me to risk spoiling that, and in truth, I did not want to. Much as I care for Aerodine, it is Gwyn I love, and I would not lose that.

 

I think, some Blackmore’s Night is appropriate here…

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…

Felines of Love*

I would make a very bad patriot.  I am sure that, according to some, I have my priorities inverted.  I have always placed friendship and personal loyalty much higher than any I might hold to a company, party or country.  That much would be obvious to anybody who knew me; or to any unlikely soul perusing these pages. Part of it, I suppose, stems from my upbringing, that loyalty being one of the things that I inherited from my father as much as my mother; him being a man who would do business on a handshake and who never forgot a favour. Schooldays at ‘The Math’ only served to strengthen that. I had only a few close friends; the few that were brave enough to see past the taunts of ‘carrot-top’ and ‘bookworm’, or those that were similarly ‘afflicted’. My loyalty to them was much stronger than that I felt towards the school itself, for all that I would cheer and wave my cap at inter-school sports events, or the occasional ‘Old Williamsonians’ events that I attended after.  My time at university was much the same, though with fewer taunts and less bullying. I owed Haskins Shipping Company some loyalty, as my employer, but even so, that took secondary importance against that to my captain and the crewmates of all the ships I served on. I have never really sought explanation for that, since, to me, it is fundamental to my make-up, but if I were to seek one, it might well be that it was because those friendships were real, tangible, immediate, whereas loyalty to an employer, to a school, even to queen and country were more distant, abstract ideals.

And now, I find myself contemplating where my loyalties lie. My friends still come first, always, but there are, at times, conflicts. I owe loyalty to my friends, especially to dear Valene, who I have known almost ever since I first departed that which I once knew of as ‘reality’, which I think I shall now call my ‘First Life’. Against that, lies what loyalty I should owe others, especially since Cristof’s warnings about loyalty and fealty.  While those were mostly directed at Aoibheann, much of what he said applies to me.  He bade me to not speak of the business of the courts, or the business of the castle, and now, it seems that Valene has asked me to do just that. I don’t know what to do. True, Cristof has given me place in his castle, and is attempting to teach me of the ways of our kind, but I have no personal connection to him. Perhaps I owe him some loyalty as an elder in my clan, but again, that is abstract, not backed up by personal experience. In kindred matters, I hold more loyalty to Brigitte, wherever she may be, but that has long ceased to be any loyalty to her as prince, and has always been much more of a personal loyalty.  Such is my loyalty to Valene, as my friend, but I cannot ignore her close associations with the Unseelie Court, and so I find myself torn.

It started innocently enough. I was sitting outside the hut, for the sensation of being out in the open more than the fresh air; the air in the castle courtyard only being fresh if that word includes the perpetual smell of the middens and the stables. I was deeply absorbed in the writings of Mr Whitman when I felt a presence nearby and a purring sound in my ear. Only one person I know would come that close and make that noise, so I put my book down and turned to find Valene at my side. She looked tired and somehow fragile, and her wings were not in evidence, but her manner at least seemed more like the Valene that I knew, compared to the distractions I had felt in her previously. I welcomed her as I normally would, arranging myself so she could lie in my arms and rests against my torso. She seemed happy with this arrangement and soon made herself comfortable, much as a regular cat might. I asked if she was feeling less distracted and she told me that she was, because Faermorn had helped her to silence the noises. I had heard this name, but knew not who it referred to. She told me that Faermorn was the Unseelie Queen, and that it had been her job, and pleasure to protect said queen, even with her life.

“That figures,” I told her, relating how almost all my contacts with the fae high courts had been with the Unseelie – Catt, Artur & Katarina, Winter…   I added that my only contact with the Seelie had been Llwyd, back in Jasper Cove.  That name, she apparently knew, and, from the flattening of her ears, it was not a name she liked.  She had curled up on me, and I got the distinct impression she did not get much chance to so relax. I found myself scratching her head and playing with her ears, much as I would with a kitten. Going back to her distractions, I asked what was bothering her and what I could do to help.

She hesitated at first, as if trying to work out what to say. Or, possibly, given what she was about to say, she was nervous about saying it.  She explained that as a changeling neko, back in London, her mind was well-suited and sized to that nature, the things she needed to know and understand in that form.  The transformation to her current state, she told me, was too much.  An excess of information and knowledge that she just simply didn’t know how to deal with came flooding in and it broke her mind, literally.  She told me that she had been wandering her Roads for a long time, to all intents and purposes, insane, until Faermorn had found her and helped her to mend the cracks.  She told me it wasn’t a perfect fix, and bits and pieces still come unravelled at times, but for the most part, she can hold it together. Now I understood her hesitancy in telling me.  I hugged her close and told her what she needed to hear.

“So, you’re a slightly crazy kitty,” I told her with a shrug. “That’s not exactly news,” I said with a smile. “I love you anyway.”  I felt I should explain why I understood, so related a little of my situation. “Eight or years ago now, I was just an ordinary working guy, with a taste for rum and a predilection to go a bit wild in dockside whorehouses.  Then, by chance and circumstance, I became a creature I thought to be a myth. I came to London where I met other creatures I thought to be myths.  And then, on my way from my last abode to here, I met an old friend who I had thought lost, and who turned out to be even older than I could imagine.  I’m surprised my brain isn’t broken.  Or maybe it is, and I just think it isn’t.”  I scratched her ears again. “What a pair we make, eh?”  I felt a slight tremor and then she settled, even more relaxed. Perhaps she had been expecting some other response, but that wasn’t who I was. I am not the judgemental sort, and certainly would not judge her for things that were beyond her control. She started to tell me about her adopted cŵn and how the Hunstman was trying to regain control. He was resisting and that is why his howls of pain were in her head. There was not a lot I could offer to help with that, I told her, being unused to magic. I did tell her of the mind-block techniques I had learned, but I was sure she didn’t want to block her hound out, just be able to find him.  She nodded and then said she wished she could be free, like the birds and butterflies.

“We all wish that, I think,” I told her, and related how I felt so much more alive and free when I was outside the castle, despite the efforts of the sluagh.  She agreed that I seemed more alive outside and related her experience with the sluagh – mostly being petted and told she was adorable.  In that, I could agree with him, and told her so.  It was then that she started to get more serious.

“I need someone to keep an eye on stuff for me around the castle,” she asked. “I have no guards, no Ravens or anything of that manner. You are the only non-fae that I fully trust around here.” I thanked her for the trust, adding that there wasn’t a lot going on, relaying a few brief, and, bearing in mind Cristof’s warning, non-controversial things. I did mention the comments that Nadya and Bunny had made about ‘their’ Padishar.  Valene was not impressed, nay; she was somewhat contemptuous of their opinion, and their so-called claims on Padishar. “Their Padishar?  Hmm,” she said.  “I’ve know him for eons upon eons. I have a blood bond with him and fought wars at his side against the winter.  Their ties are paltry and their words have no meaning in this land. They are dust upon the wind, tiny granules that make up nothing at all, yet they think they are important,” she continued. “Let them hate me, for they are simply Outsiders and I do not much care.” She shrugged and looked up at me, saying, “You’ve never been Outsider to me though. You belong.” She told me that although what I had told her might seem dull, it was important to the fae. I thanked her again, for her acceptance of me, but said that it would perhaps be better if we spoke elsewhere on the matters she had asked me about.  That much she definitely agreed with.  Then, with that sudden change of mood she is always so good at, she was up on her feet again, claiming she needed to go feed before going to court, adding that Royce would be back to guard me soon.  I hadn’t even noticed he was gone, but then, he does so like to lurk in the shadows.  She leaned down and kissed me and whispered, “Thank you Nathaniel, for loving me for who I am and not fearing me.”  And then she was gone.

So, I find myself asking, what do I do now? Can I be what Valene asks of me without putting myself at risk within the castle?  Can I continue to maintain a balance, or will I have to declare for one side or the other? I have friends in all camps, Seelie, Unseelie and, what was it Valene called the rest?  Outsiders?  I honestly do not know which way to turn, much less who I might ask for advice.  All I know is that I shall have to tread carefully from now on.

 

* Slight cheat on the spelling, but…

Fear of the Cat*

I went over to the tavern this afternoon, just for a change of scenery.  My hut, cosy though it is, is somewhat on the small side and lacking in entertainment value.  I did not feel up to going outside the castle after my walk this morning, and so the tavern it was. There was a curious sense of déjà vu, since it was as empty as the Lucky Leaf often was.  That didn’t bother me overly much, as I just wanted to get on with reading Dee’s journal and updating my own.  It seems as if Royce has not given up his bodyguard duties, since he appeared from somewhere or other and followed me to the tavern. I figured I owed him something, so I stripped a good plateful of meat from the joint on the counter and put it down for him. He looked at it with his usual “are you kidding?” expression, but then, with the cat equivalent of a shrug, got on with eating. I settled down, hoping my studies would bring me some answers.

That wasn’t to be, as I was interrupted by a rather distressed looking and breathless Gwyn, with bloodstains on her neck. She came running in, then came to a halt, muttering the word fuck between breaths.  I asked her what was up and she started blaming me, for telling her that there was nothing harmful out there.

“Something tried to get me,” she said, pointing at the smear of blood on her neck and dared me to make a joke about that.  I decided that this was good advice and went to the bar, fetching her a glass of water, another of rum, and a wet rag with which to wipe the blood off.  I said that our encounter with the sluagh the previous day had disproved the theory about there being nothing bad out there and asked what she had encountered. Since she didn’t seem to be recoiling from me, I started to clean up her neck, looking for any injuries while I did so. She took the rum and told me she had encountered two women; one dancing on tiptoe around a tree and another watching.  The first one had been smiling at her, but the other came close and tried to sniff her. This latter had blood on her face, so she had asked if she was alright.  Then, when that second one touched her, she had told her “No thank you” which was apparently not the thing to say.  The first one told her that thanking them was not a good idea, even with the word no.  The second one explained that this could imply a debt, but she would let it go, suggesting that Gwyn run, which she did. She then drained the rum in one go and asked for another.

The business about debts from saying thank you sounded like fae talk to me.  I said that the bad guys didn’t normally give you the chance to run and speculated that the sniffing might mean that the second one was of a type that relied more on scent than other senses. I poured her another drink and was about to bin the rag I had used to wipe her clean when I noticed a familiar scent.  I sniffed at the rag and there was an unmistakeable smell of mint mixed in with the blood.  Could Valene be mixed up in this somehow?  She had been rather bloody last time I had seen her. I glared at Royce, indicating that I would quite like a word with his Queen.  Gwyn was complaining that she had been sniffed and that the woman had called her a child.  I remarked that this wasn’t unusual among such creatures and admitted even I had called Aoibheann a child the previous night.  That upset her more because she thought Aoibheann hated her and wouldn’t even acknowledge her existence and promptly burst into tears, saying she didn’t want to be here and just wanted something good to happen.  I hugged her and held her while she cried; trying to assure her that Aoibheann would come around. I couldn’t promise her good things, I told her, but she had my friendship and protection, which may well count among those who had been bothering her.  I looked over at Royce again, mouthing, “I want a word.”  This time, he seemed to understand and slunk off, hopefully in search of his mistress. Gwyn was still crying, blowing her nose on the hanky I gave her and complaining that things kept trying to eat her, she didn’t have anything to read and that she hadn’t been kissed since somebody called Richard had shanked her in his car.

That confused me somewhat, since I understood that word to mean stabbed, but thought maybe it was some modern slang for something else.  She explained that they had been in his car, and was showing her his new knife when a truck hit them, causing him to stab her.  That was the last thing she remembered before arriving in Jasper Cove.  I wasn’t sure I could do anything about the lack of kissing, but assured her I would try to prevent her from being eaten, and offered her the loan of some of the few books I still had with me.

Valene turned up, so I guess Royce did understand me.  She looked as though she were at the end of her tether and looked even bloodier than she had the previous day.  I asked her what she had been doing to frighten my friend. She explained that she had found Gwyn wandering alone in the fae part of the island, not knowing the rules of that land, and had faced down a visiting Unseelie royal who might otherwise have eaten her, having realised that she belonged to me.  Gwyn had noticed her by now, squeaking out “It’s her”.  I hugged her again to reassure her she was safe and made introductions, asking Valene to accord Gwyn the same favour she showed me.

Gwyn explained that she was fae too, but didn’t know much and had just wanted to get outside this shit-hole castle for a couple of hours. Valene explained some more about the fae and their ways.  It sounded a bit harsh, but rang true.

“You may be fae, child,” she said, “and yes, I know you do not like to be called that, but in my head you are all children, not knowing the rules upon the land you are standing. But one thing I will tell you right now. There is no true good or true evil here, the fae are creatures of self. We are selfish and self-absorbed, plotting and planning, scheming our dreams and hopes away.  The reason Nate was fine was because he has my mark of favour and I dragged him through my Roads to my den…”  Her explanation faltered, as she appeared to be in some pain. I asked if there was anything we could do, but she didn’t answer.  Gwyn, in the meanwhile, seemed a little braver, complaining that Isabella had promised to teach her, but hadn’t done much yet, so could Valene do any better? Apparently she could.

“Never thank a fae,” she told her, “even unintentionally. Never accept a gift from a fae, especially one you do not know well. Your best bet for getting on the good side of us is through compliments, but take care to not over do it. Fae are notoriously vain creatures. Fae can not truly lie to you, but they can twist the truth enough to make you think that up is down and down is up.  Just be careful.” That sounded like good advice to me and was clearly more than anybody else had given her. Gwyn seemed to appreciate it.

“Well, that’s the most advice anybody’s given me since this whole fucked up thing started,” she said, starting to walk towards the door. “It’s definitely time for me to go. I’ll do something stupid if I don’t.” Wheels appeared to be turning in her head as she stopped and turned to me. “Right. Kiss me, you posh fuck,” she said, looking up expectantly. I was a little taken by surprise, even though I had previously speculated on her flirting.  On one hand, I did not want to give her any further disappointment, on the other; I suspected she had drunk the rum a little too quickly, so didn’t want to appear to take advantage of her state.

”Well,” I said, sounding a little surprised. “Far be it from me to refuse a lady.” I leaned down and laid the softest of kisses on her lips, chaste enough, but with a hint of promise before backing off slightly. “But, just in case this counts as something stupid, we can always reconvene when you are a little more rested.”  I gave her another kiss, again relatively chaste.  “That’s the trouble with being a posh fuck.  I always have to be the gentleman.” I smiled at her tenderly. “And gentlemen take things slowly,” I added.  Valene seemed to find this amusing, calling me a tease for kissing and never taking things further before vanishing into the shadows. Gwyn smiled.

“Well, thank you,” she said. “Now, if you’re fae, I’m completely screwed, right?”  She grinned, and with that, was gone out of the door, presumably back to her dwelling.

I shall have to wait and see if that was just the alcohol talking, her distress at what happened or if she has feelings towards me. If she does, then life gets a little more complicated, especially if Aerodine’s transformation is for my benefit.  And that’s without any complications possible from the other ladies in my life. I wish I could say this was unfamiliar territory, but it is bringing back memories of complicated times in London when I found myself in similar circumstances.  Of course then, one of the complications was my dear friend Greyson. I wish I had somebody I could turn to for advice. And, there was something else on my mind.

“If you’re fae, I’m completely screwed,” Gwyn had said.  That is a good question.  That is one that has been in my mind since my feeble joke the previous day about Mother having some explaining to do if Gwyn was my sister.  Could there have been more to Mother’s habit of walking barefoot and dancing in the woods than just a simple escape from the strictures and mores of Victorian society? Was there some deeper reason for all the Romantic poetry and fairy stories in her library?  Surely she would have said something, wouldn’t she? Unless she was trying to protect me, but then, why, and from what? Could there be a reason for my attraction to the areas outside the castle?

There are too many questions, dear diary, and I don’t know where to go for the answers. Perhaps sleep will bring something.  Who knows, maybe that other Nathaniel, out there on his boat, knows something I don’t.

 

*Hmm, can I get away with a song that is only one letter different?

Angels, Demons, Muses***

I don’t often get angry. It’s one of my better attributes.  It wasn’t always.  When the other boys teased and bullied me at school, for being bookish, for having red hair etc, I used to get very angry. Fortunately, Mother taught me to overcome that.  On top of that, years of trading, dealing with port authorities, customs and excise and seamen of all ranks in ports all over Europe taught me the value of patience and stoicism.  This is almost certainly a good thing.  Even more so now; as Cristof tells me that the clan we share is prone to anger and worse, frenzy, which I know from experience, is a bad thing.

One thing that will raise my ire is anybody attacking my friends. I had wandered over to the tavern in the morning and found Bunny & Rachel there, discussing various forms of redemption with Cristof.  I gathered that Cristof had been a bit of a holy roller in his youth. I also got the impression that a fight had just been avoided after Rachel said something to impugn Cristof’s honour. I don’t know quite what happened, but she apparently backed down and anger was avoided. Hence, indirectly, the discussion on redemption.  I found myself in agreement with Bunny, preferring my own values to those imposed from elsewhere.  Cristof spoke briefly of paths that our kind followed, one being called Humanitas, which was something a little like Humanism. I need to spend some more time with him.  He did give me some advice regarding what he called Disciplines, which is the proper name for those powers our kind seem to have.  Again, I need to learn more of these.  If I have these powers, I might as well know how to use them. Anyway, at one point in the discussion, Valene appeared at my side.  She didn’t say anything, just stood next to me for a few moments, allowing me to hug her, and listening.  Then, just as quickly, she disappeared. She was clearly known to Bunny & Rachel because they then started commenting about how she smelled like too many men, including Padishar, then called her a slut and a whore. Naturally I defended her, telling that they were talking about my friend and asking them to keep civil tongues in their head. I didn’t wait to hear more, in case I got angrier, and departed. I don’t know why it made me so angry. I was always aware of what she did at Fiendish Pleasures, but that wasn’t who she was. She wasn’t a slut or a whore.  I much preferred the term they used there – muse.  And here, in this as yet un-named isle, I doubt the Queen of the Cait Sidhe has time for such thing. Whatever she may be, or may have been, she is my friend, and thus I will always defend her.

I am a little curious about Rachel and Bunny. At one point, Rachel complained that she needed to feed and Bunny volunteered herself. Yet, I saw no teeth, no biting, no blood, just a holding of hands. Very curious.

I was calmer when I went back to the tavern later, even managing to greet Bunny & Rachel civilly. Nobody seemed to be minding the bar, so I decided to take on that duty.  Vedis was curled up on the rug in front of the fire, still apparently being a snake. Then a masked and armoured figure came in, a figure I remember from days at Fiendish Pleasures.  Galy… something or other, carrying Aoibheann and placing her down near the fire.  She appeared to be uninjured, but somewhat woozy and out of it. As usual, she declined to answer when I asked if she was ok or wanted a drink.  Someday she’ll get over it and realise I never intended her any harm.   I’m not sure what Vedis was up to.  She greeted me politely enough, which I returned, trying to drop the hint that I wanted Aoibheann to be left alone.  She sent the Galy person off to find the various people who were on her side, Padishar and Valene being among them. I guess Clan Seid still continues, even here.  I would have asked more, but Vedis left with Galy soon after, leaving Aoibheann where she was.

Padishar turned up soon after. Rachel, of course, went immediately into obedience mode, not even lifting her arm to drink, which he eventually permitted her to do. Bunny did make some plea on Rachel’s behalf, but Padishar just started going on about how Rachel had tried to murder him and “you wouldn’t want her to murder me, would you?” Senna also turned up, but just sat at the table, possibly hoping for a free drink

Whatever else might have been said was interrupted by the angel I had seen a few days previously. Now I have no great beef with angels, per se, but he clearly had an effect on the bar, in that Padishar, Rachel & Bunny high-tailed it out of there as soon as they could.  Only Senna seemed unimpressed, laughing at him and calling him a walking lampstand.  He seemed quite pleased by the reaction, yelling something about holy fire after them and calling them unholy bastards, which sounded like un-angelic language to me, but then, I’m no expert.

After that, he had only eyes for Aoibheann, greeting her as “faithful one”.  That seemed rather optimistic to me, as I doubt that Aoibheann had sufficient clue, as yet, to decide whether or not to become a follower. I was more concerned about the sudden lack of customers and asked him if he intended to buy lots of drink, seeing as how he had scared off my customers.  OK, technically, they were Paash’s customers, but I wasn’t going to quibble. Senna joined me at the bar and asked me if the glowstick (whatever that might be) knew he was far from home. I opined that I did not know, wondering if this tavern looked like the head of a pin, a question which I think was lost on her.  I poured her a beer, since she seemed to share my cynical viewpoint. The angel, Sammy, or something like that told her that his home was far away, but his mission (being a walking night-light in her opinion) was here. To me, he suggested that I drink all the drinks that the others would have consumed.

I wasn’t going to let that one go, so continued mildly; pointing out that were I to do so, that would almost certainly count as drinking to excess, which I was sure would count as sinful to him. I further added that it was not due to any wrongdoing on my part that the others had left, and that injuring an innocent bystander was surely not part of his purpose.  I don’t know why I was arguing. Perhaps it was his arrogant attitude.  I was also curious.  From previous experience in London, I had found angels to be almost as blindly literal as demons, and was interested in his reactions. To me he said that it was not his fault that the other creatures feared him. To Senna, he warned her that the last being who tackled him had been banished to the forest for the day. She was not impressed, saying that she was shaking in her boots and he had better come up with something better if he wanted her to fear him.  I was similarly unimpressed, pressing my argument.

“I do not recall stating that the creatures’ fear was your problem,” I said. “I’m sure you quite enjoy it. Nevertheless, you have created a problem, by causing a sudden lack of customers.  I am not at fault, the owner of this business is not at fault, yet we suffer for your actions, no matter how well intentioned.”  Aoibheann, meanwhile, acted as though she knew him, even if she was standing there with her eyes closed, and wanted to know if he was terrorising people.  That made me chuckle. Senna and I were perfectly at ease, but Padishar and friends had seemed pretty worried.  He claimed he wasn’t terrorising, that it wasn’t his fault they ran away. Then he decided to use his angelic powers on her.  Did he heal her wounds?  No, he snapped his fingers and suddenly, her rather tatty dress was brand new again.  Oddly, a verse from scripture came to mind, something about clothing somebody in pure vestments. Book of Zechariah, if I recall correctly.  Now why should I remember that?  Hillaire would have been most pleased.  I had to comment, asking how he would like it if I came into church on Sunday and emptied the place by telling everybody that drinks were half price at the tavern.

Senna meanwhile, decided to act on Aoibheann’s defence, moving closer to her and telling Sammy to stop messing with her and filling her with his bullshit.  I silently applauded. I would never deny anybody their chance at salvation, but somehow I was not convinced Aoibheann had been given the full story.  Aoibheann was more concerned about paying him for mending her dress.

As if that wasn’t enough fun, suddenly, my head was filled with an old and oddly familiar voice. Not a lot of what it said made sense; something about shiny things, banishments, lands dying and being reborn. There was only one person I knew who spoke like that, and when I turned around, there he was.  The Phoenix I had met some while ago in Jasper Cove. I didn’t have much time to respond as the angel was talking to me again, asking what I wanted and telling me to be kind about it.  I replied that I was not aware of having been unkind, having merely pointed out the possibly unintended consequences of his actions.  Then, purely out of curiosity, I decided to see how literal he was.

“If I were to put my accounting hat on,” I said, “I would estimate that the gentleman who left owed me three gold pieces for a barrel of beer, the greyish lady was probably good for a few silver pieces on previous form, and the other female, well, she doesn’t count much as the grey one tends to buy her drinks. So, I reckon I’m probably out four gold pieces by the end of the evening.” I wasn’t about to admit that Bunny had already promised to pay for the beer. I was more intrigued to see if I could con an angel. I guess that I could, for he produced four gold coins out of nowhere and left them on the counter for me before vanishing.

Aoibheann did a good vanishing act too, barely managing to acknowledge that I had spoken.  All I said as she left was to take care and ask her if she could let Isabella know I wanted a word.

Senna was still grumbling about the angel, but when she saw the phoenix, became more concerned that she was drunk.  I told her that was unlikely on two beers and a rum she hadn’t even drunk yet.  I don’t know if she had ‘heard’ the same things I did, but she started grumbling about why a creature that lived forever couldn’t find time to learn a proper language. I was about to correct one misapprehension in that, but the phoenix did it for me.  That was pretty much all it said, other than claiming it didn’t need any incense or the fireplace, which I had offered, remembering the last time we met.  I changed one of the angel’s gold coins for the equivalent in smaller coinage and gave that to Senna. She had helped annoy the angel, after all, and, unless things had changed in the past few days, I knew she had no money.  Then, I took myself off to my humble abode, there to commune only with my journal.
*** Couldn’t find a song that featured all three, so…
Angel From Montgomery – long-time favourite of mine and definitely the best song with angel in the title
Demons in Dancing Shoes – just because, it’s RT
The Muse – a bit more random, but I like Laura Marling, so…