Which Way to Heaven?

I am slightly closer to working out who left the rose.  Or, at least, I have eliminated two potential suspects. Gwyn and Rachel denied all knowledge, though, in the process,  I think I may have obligated myself to provide them with white roses at some suitable point, for example a birthday. Of course, that would require working out what the date is.  According to my diary, it is the end of May, but the gods alone know what that means here.

Rachel posed me a rather unusually question.  She asked me how she could get to Heaven. She is concerned that no matter what happens to her, how many times she dies; Padishar will bring her back, or send her back to Hell. Thus, her only escape is Heaven.

I’ve been asked some difficult questions, but that one stumped me.  Of course, I know the standard answer that Rev. Elverson and his predecessor, the very boring and very reverend Samuel Mathers tried so hard to drill into our heads through years of church services and Sunday school.  That all you need to do is believe that the Christ died for your sins, etc etc etc. Not that it ever worked.  As I have said often in these pages, after a while, church, for Mother and I, became more of social obligation than anything else.  When I was older, I had many an entertaining debate with Hillaire over dinner with my mother on the subject. Somehow, I did not think that Rachel was ready for a metaphysical discussion, so I gave her the short-form explanation.  Of course, it was never going to be that simple,  especially when she started by asking where she could find this “Jesus fellow”.  Further questioning revealed that she had not really bothered with church, and when she had, rarely paid attention.  I did try offering alternatives, suggesting that there were other religions with their own concept of heaven. Fortunately, she did not pursue those ideas, which is a good thing, as I am even less qualified to advise on the route to those destinations than I am the Christian one.

Instead, I lent her a rather battered New Testament that had been lurking in my travel bag for years.  Stained with talc and soap, as it was, and any lettering long worn off by friction, save for the ink inscription of my name and form from when it was given to me at school, it was suitably anonymous, so that it would not arouse suspicion.  I suggested that she just read the first four books and then come and talk to me.  Frankly, for myself, I would have stopped there or maybe with Acts.  To my mind, anything after that, especially after Saul of Tarsus stuck his oar in goes seriously off the rails. Revelations is quite entertaining though.

So, on top of my appointed tasks of finding the princesses and understanding the journal that Greyson gave me, I now seem to have acquired the task of guiding a vampire, currently glamoured as a demon, in the direction of Salvation. My old friend, the Reverend Hillaire Elverson would be mightily amused.

Blooming Intrigue

I would appear to have an admirer. Either that or somebody wants to convey a message of some sort.

I woke early this morning, nearly falling out of bed.  That nice big one I had in the apartment in Jasper Cove must have spoiled me.  After so many years on board ship, you’d think I could sleep in something narrow without falling out.  Anyway, as I stepped out of the door of the hut to take in the morning air and see what was happening about the castle, I found a rose. I didn’t see it at first, but as I took a lungful of the air, I detected a floral note among the usual smells of the castle, the bakery and the middens.  And there it was, on the step. A single white rose. Possibly the most perfect single bloom I have ever seen.  Even Mother, with her love of roses, never produced one like this.  I could not see a note anywhere, or any indication as to who it was from.  I rescued a small glass from my baggage – the one I used when cleaning my teeth while travelling, and put some water in it to keep the rose fresh.

I must admit I was somewhat flummoxed.  Who would have given me such a thing?  I have not been here long enough to embark on any romantic relationships.  Well, I should perhaps qualify that; I have not embarked upon any. Given my apparently innate inability to notice when somebody is interested in me, I cannot rule out the possibility that somebody may have romantic inclinations towards me. A white rose on the doorstep might well be considered evidence that this is so.  It would not be the first time I have failed to notice.  But whom?

Valene is here on this island somewhere.  While she and I always had a semi-serious thing going on, I can’t see her leaving a white rose.  A sprig of mint would be her token. Gwyn sometimes jokingly flirts, though it is so hard to tell with her, hiding, as she does, behind her wall of banter. I doubt she would do anything like leaving a rose.  A bawdy limerick perhaps or a suggestive joke, but not a rose.

I somehow doubt it is anything to do with Aoibheann.  Even if she did decide she wanted to apologise or make peace, she would do so in person, or with a badly-spelled note.  Nadya, while definitely owing me, is almost certainly still in torpor, and anyway, will have no memory of what happened.

Sophia?  Well, we have developed a warm relationship, but I don’t think I have noticed any romantic inclinations there. Of course, that’s no guide, as I am usually the last to notice.  Even so, a gift from her would more likely be red and liquid.

I did briefly consider it could be from Rachel, as a thank you for rescuing her from being beheaded the previous afternoon.  The white rose is the symbol of the house of York, and her accent betrays her as being from that lovely county. However, that did not feel right.  She did not strike me as the romantic sort.

I picked up the rose again, taking another sniff of the wonderful scent.  As I did so, I pricked myself slightly on one of the thorns.  Not enough to draw blood, but as I did so, I felt a slightly familiar sense of something I could not quite explain.  An energy that felt strange, yet known to me.  I have only experienced that before outside the castle, in the areas that feel fae to me.  Could the gift be from somebody fae?  I had already dismissed Gwyn and I doubted that Isabella would do such a thing.

I looked again outside and noticed that a patch of earth by the door had been disturbed, as though something had been planted there and was now gone.  I felt that same, vaguely fae tingle as I ran my fingers through the loose earth.  Then I remembered there was another fae-like creature of my acquaintance; the dryad I had encountered while out at the standing stone.  The way she moved on and in the earth might have left a mark like that.  Given what she had said, I did not think that she would approach the castle, but I had to allow it was possible.  A bloom of some sort would make sense as a message from such as she, even if I do not know why.  Perhaps I shall go to the stone again soon.  I had been meaning to do so anyway, as I find it a most pleasing and restful spot.  But what could I leave as a message?  My only creative skills are in writing, which I do not know if she could read, and making a gift out of wood might seem a little, well, offensive.  What could be a good gift to a tree?  I remember once, when I was caught short in the woods with Mother, she told me it was ok to pee against a tree. Sadly, I lack that ability now.  Should I take a bucket of horse shit?  I shall have to think on this some more.

I am most perplexed, dear journal, most perplexed.

A Fine Frenzy*

Never get into a fight with an insect. That is not a piece of advice I would have ever thought worthy of writing down.  Up until recently, the thought would not have occurred to me, as my experience with insects had led me to the conclusion that a rolled up newspaper or well-aimed shoe usually sufficed. But then, up until recently, my experience of insects had not included eight-foot tall, space-travelling, alien insects. Now that is something else I never thought I would write in my journal.

Yes, bug-lady is back. I don’t know if she made it across the portal and has been hiding since, came by some other route, or possibly just popped into existence like an unexpected bar bill, but she is definitely here.  And, it would seem, already making an impact.

I started the evening with no more thought than a quiet drink and perhaps catching up on some writing.  I found Cristof outside the tavern, somewhat bemused, and nobody could blame him, by the sight of bug-lady’s soldier.  Presumably the queen was hovering somewhere.  I suppose I should use the creature’s name, but I can only render it as Kzzzz.  Maybe it makes more sense if you have insect jaws.  I’ll give Cristof his due, he was not overly perturbed by this new arrival, although it was doing its “I’m big and aggressive” thing, just greeting it with a good evening, the same pleasantry he addressed to me.  He might have been somewhat distracted, I heard him saying something about somebody getting attacked by a Sluagh, presumably Nadya, as I could see her inside the tavern, rolling around in pain and cursing in a variety of languages.

I briefly explained to Cristof that I knew the soldier, that its queen was likely hereabouts, and that it communicated telepathically. I wasn’t sure if I could even communicate with soldier, having never tried it before.  I called up images of Jasper Cove, with me talking with queen, trying to project the idea of friend.  Meanwhile, Cristof addressed it, trying to calm it by saying that there would be no threat here, no need for challenge.  Soldier’s mind, as far as I could tell, was stark and simple; a single-minded determination to protect its queen.  The latter must have been listening in, or maybe the minds are always linked, I don’t really know, for she landed and even made an attempt to speak in English, although that seemed to be limited to “Hello”.

Cristof remained unperturbed, speaking almost with the grace of a diplomat, assenting to telepathic communication if that was what she was more comfortable with.  I tried to explain that the communication worked better with ideas and concepts, then “introduced” the queen, worker and soldier castes. He decided that he would leave communication to me, since I clearly had practice, asking if I could let her know that he was the lord of this land.  That, I admit, had me stumped, entirely unsure how I could explain the concept of a male queen. I suggested that an offer of somewhere to build a nest would probably go down well and he suggested a corner of the castle, before turning his attentions back to the injured Nadya.

Aoibheann appeared from somewhere, for once, not afraid, but then, she has met Kzzz before also. She tried to offer help to Nadya, but Cristof warned her off, explaining that she was in severe pain and could well frenzy. I doubt that Aoibheann knew what that meant, but I did, remarking that being frenzied upon was no fun at all.  Communication was getting a little heavy, as I was picking up on the queen and, through her, the others.  It didn’t help that she was also trying to link with Aoibheann, and I got some backlash from that.

Then, everything went, as they say, pear-shaped.  Nadya had gotten herself upright and staggered out of the tavern.  She was clearly terrified of the queen and her brood. I could tell that, even without the fear I was picking up second hand through my link to the queen. Suddenly, she was raging and attacking. I think the phrase – the red mist came down – is a very apt one here.  I could now feel anger and rage as she launched herself, fists at the ready, at the queen.

This was not a good idea. She managed to get a punch in, but then the queen was off into the air and it was soldier’s turn to do her bit.  She swung at Nadya with what I presume is a sting. Fortunately for her, Nadya managed to dodge the blow and, with no apparent thought for her safety, launched a roundhouse kick at the soldier.  Cristof explained that this was what a frenzy looked like, asking me to try to deal with the insects while he tried to restrain Nadya.

I tried, projecting “Halt” and “Call her off” at the queen, but the imagery was too confused. It was not helped by sensing that Aoibheann was in the link too, adding her fear and pain, and, it seemed a slight sense of being on the soldier’s side.  I guess she really doesn’t like Nadya that much.  I felt a surge of power from Cristof as he tried to command Nadya to sit. It seemed to be a vampiric power, as I have only ever experienced that feeling with him, Brigitte and other vampires. I felt it, I recognised it, but did not know otherwise what it was, beyond some kind of command.  Nadya fell, briefly, but again launched into attacking.  Again, I tried projecting at the queen, to take her soldier and get away, but she was not having any of it.  I caught a backlash of the scene I had witnessed when she was in the infirmary, of her ship under attack, and this time, there was no question of retreat.

Cristof, meanwhile, had resorted to trying to physically restrain Nadya.  He yelled at me to use my powers, which would be wonderful, IF I knew what they were. I yelled back at him to knock Nadya our or even put her into torpor, reasoning that might resemble death enough to end the battle.  He managed to grab Nadya, but that put him in the way of the soldier, taking a nasty blow to the shoulder.  Or so it looked, but he seemed to be unharmed.  I tried to communicate with the queen again, but damn it if Aoibheann didn’t start screaming into the mind link, adding more fear and pain and confusion.  That disrupted my concentration, and the next thing I knew, the soldier was going for me.

Let me tell you, the sight of several hundred pounds of insect trying to get the drop on you is not a sight you want to repeat.  I have no idea how or what I did, other than I felt that surge of vampiric power again, this time, it seemed, my own, and I managed to roll out of the way with a speed that surprised me.  I wasn’t about to complain, thankful that I wasn’t squished like a fly losing an argument with a newspaper. Meanwhile, somewhere to my side, Cris was banging Nadya’s head on the ground while she was trying to bite him.  I had no time to worry, trusting that he was big enough and ugly enough to handle himself.  Worker was coming at me, and I had not time to think, nor any real physical defence.  For some reason, I thought of the advice I had read somewhere about dealing with bears, and the thought came that I should try to intimidate it, be big and scary.  Again, without understanding what I was doing, I felt that surge of vampiric power, still not knowing what exactly it was, but I felt as though I was 10 feet tall, big, majestic, awesome. This power, I realised I had felt before, albeit a milder form, way back in Legacies, when I had tried to stare somebody down in a fight.  Whatever it was, it worked.  The soldier stopped, watching me, so far as I could tell, but staying back.  This was something I was doing, and not anything to do with the telepathic link.

Cris complimented me and suggested that I needed lessons.  That I could agree with, as I had no idea exactly what I had done. I risked a quick glance and saw that he had succeeded in knocking Nadya out.  I projected at the queen again, “It’s over, she’s dead.”  That time, I think I got through, as I felt the aggression of the soldier lessen.  The queen landed, gathering her companions to her, but then started approaching Nadya’s body, with the clear intent of food in her mind.  I projected a very strong no, visualising that there were rituals to be done for our dead.  At Cristof’s suggestion, I tried to explain that Nadya was out of her mind.  I had no idea how I might convey the idea of frenzy, instead, projecting images of Nadya being injured, in pain, running around without her head to convey the lack of mind, attacking without intent.  I think I got through, as I got an impression almost of amusement.  Again, I projected the idea of the lack of intent, the lack of intent to do harm.  It seemed to work, but I was having difficulty convincing her that Nadya was not food.  Cristof said that Nadya would be alive again within a few days.  I tried visualising again – the same mourning rituals, Nadya’s body on a bench under a shroud, that shroud shrinking down, then rising up again to the full shape of Nadya, her body getting up and walking again.  The queen countered with images, images from her spaceship, but a different room, some sort of vat into which deceased soldiers and drones were being dropped, being digested, and making new food for the hive. I repeated my visualisation and eventually the queen backed off, but clearly puzzled by what she saw as waste of good food. Cristof attempted to demonstrate by slashing his hand with a knife and healing it.  This appeared to puzzle the queen, who did something similar to one of her limbs, but in her case, just stood there, dripping yellow blood.  I think she was trying to explain that she didn’t heal as easily.

It was almost a relief to hear Gwyn’s voice beside me, wondering what was going on.  My head was aching from all the telepathy, so I answered her rather glibly, telling her this was Kzzz and that she was from another planet.  She responded with some comment about a big blue box appearing and the doctor coming to save everything.  I was a little confused, but I vaguely remembered her making similar references before, and it being about a fictional time-traveller.  She didn’t elaborate, seeming more concerned about acquiring some soap.  Cristof told her she should make some, which didn’t go down entirely well.  I suggested that Nadya probably knew how, but that would have to wait, adding I knew only that it was something to do with boiling wood ashes with fats.  Then I remembered that I had some soap in a travelling soap dish that was almost certainly still in my bag.  I told her this quietly and went to fetch it for her.

When I got back, Cristof had dragged one of the bins from the tavern kitchen and offered it to the queen.  I couldn’t see the appeal of a big pile of half-rotted vegetables, meat and bones, but the queen showed no compunction, diving in with apparent relish.  That was fine until she started regurgitating food for her brood, at which point Gwyn threw up.  At this point, sanity having been sort of restored, I suggested we go inside to get a drink.  She was happy enough to do that.

As we were going in, a girl around Wren’s age turned up.  I remembered her from an earlier evening, as Kale’s pirate friend, Madeleine.  She seems to be French, and I later learned, from around my era, as opposed to Cristof, who I learned was from the 12th century.  Madeleine was very grubby and also more concerned with being able to wash.  I offered to show them the pool that Sophia had used, as soon as I learned where it was, and offered her the use of my soap also.

Aoibheann turned up again, looking very much the worse for wear and complaining about the state of her dress.  I can understand that, especially now that her new one is likely to be delayed by Nadya’s state.  This was the point at which she noticed Nadya, and got all upset, thinking it was a dead body.  I tried to be kind and explain that she was in a coma.  Cristof went straight for telling Aoibheann it was torpor, which I doubt meant much.  Either way, Aoibheann seemed to calm a little.

I had finished my drink by now, so I got up and asked if anybody was going to help me carry Nadya to her wagon.  Oddly, of all the people there, it was little Madeleine who offered.  She was most insistent that I didn’t call her a little girl and that she was quite capable.  I told her I wouldn’t dream of doing so and added in French that 12 years old was hardly a little girl.  True to her word, she managed perfectly well taking Nadya’s feet.  Somewhat surprisingly, or maybe not, given Nadya’s preferred profession, the wagon was locked.  Madeleine tried to pick it, apparently something she is quite experienced at, but to no avail.  Then I had her search Nadya and we found a key in a cleverly concealed pocket.  Why I didn’t try that first, I don’t know.  Soon we had Nadya safely on her bunk and covered with a blanket.  We ran into Padishar on the way out, who seemed somewhat concerned as to what we were doing in there.  I gave the short-form explanation – she got into a fight, lost and got torpored, not wishing to implicate Cristof, however that worthy also turned up and gave a more detailed explanation.  That seemed to settle matters satisfactorily and he thanked me.  I thanked Madeleine in turn and told her we made a great team.  I would have gotten her something to drink and eat at the tavern, but she scuttled off to wherever she hides out.

So, that was my excitement for the day.  I think I’ll pass on arguing with Kzzz’s soldier in the future.  I only hope she holds no grudges.  I don’t think the soldier will.  I doubt it has the brain capacity for that.  Now, I really must see if Cristof can come up with a bed and maybe a desk.  This hut is quite cosy, but the floor is a little hard, even for me.

 * A Fine Frenzy, aka Alison Sudol.  An excellent singer/songwriter.  Check out her music here.  Tell her I sent you.  I have no affiliation to her, but you never know, I might get a mention 🙂

Lightning Rod

I told  the tale of my embrace today.  Nadya came into the tavern while I was looking for the crutches.  I joked with her about appearing to have not been flayed, beheaded etc. She laughed and asked if I got maimed often.  When I replied, only the once, she asked me to explain, so I told her the tale of my becoming.  She was not overly impressed, and showed herself to be a bit of a snob, accusing me of being Caitiff and therefore beneath her. I had not thought to claim my clan heritage, but could not let her snobby attitude pass, so did so.  She wasn’t overly impressed with that either, being, it would appear, not a fan of the Camarilla.  When I told her I had very little to do with that either, she asked if I was an Anarch or an Autarkis.   I had to disclaim both those titles, especially as I did not know what one of them was, instead telling her I cared little for politics of any kind, and such loyalties as I hold are to friends, or those deserving of it, rather than any political grouping.

Gwyn came in, looking for a drink.  We spoke a while about Aoibheann.  Apparently, Nadya had been grilling her about Aoibheann earlier, though it was hard to tell if this was interest or some darker motive.  Mostly we spoke about Aoibheann’s unerring ability to find danger, wherever it might be, even in the most unlikely places.  I compared her to a lightning rod.  When Nadya left, I told Gwyn what she was and warned that she was most likely up to something.

Since we were alone, I took the chance to update Gwyn on what had happened with Aoibheann, and apologised for any awkward scenes that might occur.  She was in agreement with me, that Aoibheann was making too big a thing of it.  When she asked why I hadn’t said anything, I told her that I had been planning on doing so, especially after Mitternacht had given us a good telling off for fighting, but that the opportunity had never occurred.  I promised that I would try to sort it out, when I could.  I told her about the incident of Aoibheann biting me and accidentally swallowing some of my blood.  She was surprised that his hadn’t turned her into a vampire too, so I explained about the embrace, such little as I know of it, and about ghouls.  She was not much impressed with the latter idea, claiming she’d make a rotten servant. I disagreed, citing her abilities as a barmaid, but did assure her that she was safe from such a thing, at least from me.  I told her it was very unlikely that I would do such a thing, and if I did, it would be with a full disclosure of the consequences, and then, only with the agreement of the person concerned.

She left a little later, intending to take a nap.  I decided I was tired of the castle grounds and decided to take a walk down to the carved stone, to see if my arboreal friend might be around.  She was not, so I thought I would try a little meditation. There, I did not succeed, save in falling asleep for a while.  I did see one interesting thing though. As I was stretching the aches out of my limbs from sitting cross-legged for too long, I saw some figures below the ridge, near a pond. Two of them I recognised, as Padishar and Nadya.  The others I did not know, but from their bearing, I wondered if these were the Unseelie royals to whom Padishar was Raven.  They were too far away for me to hear what was going on, and anyway, it isn’t really any of my business.  That said, it might prove useful information at some point.  I retired to the castle to catch up on my journal and, despite my little nap, get some more sleep.  As I write this, it occurs to me that I can claim at least one other maiming; when my dearest Catt nearly cut my hand off, way back when I took my own Raven oath.  I wonder where she is now.

The Speed of Tobacco

Where else, but in one’s journal, can a man confess his heart?  I might as well admit it; I love language. I love the way it works, the things you can do with it, the games you can play with it.  I love how different languages are inter-related and borrow words from one another.  And I even love the way language grows and evolves. Here, I find myself in disagreement with some of my contemporaries, at least, those who were my contemporaries before I was cut adrift from the normal course of time, many of whom would tsk-tsk about modern ways of speaking and decry any deviations from the ways they were taught. To be fair, I do not entirely disagree with them, for there are some modes of speech that I find uncommonly ugly. That said, I do hold that language should evolve and change; else we would all be speaking the language of Shakespeare or even that of Chaucer, beautiful though those are, in their place.

Language came up a couple of times yesterday afternoon.  Aoibheann, who had clearly been in the wars again, no surprise there, was lamenting the state of her dress and Nadya offered to make her one in exchange for something.  As ever, Aoibheann did not really know what to say to that, having lost her box of treasures in the escape from Jasper Cove.  In the end, she traded her recipe for potato chips.  It seemed an unlikely trade, but Nadya seemed happy with it.  Her comments on Aoibheann’s spelling led Nadya and I to chat a while about the changes in language.  She claimed to be fully comfortable with ‘modern’ English, but I did point out she had the advantage of having lived through it, whereas somebody extracted from, say, Chaucer’s time and deposited in the present day, whatever that might be, would have more difficulty.

The latter occasion was more a game of words with Gwyn.  Her hair was still doing its trick of changing styles every few minutes, which presumably means she hasn’t had her faerie lessons from Isabella yet.  At one point, it changed to include a pretty little bow, prompting the exclamation of “Fuck me!”  Now had I said that, Gwyn would have been straight in with a joke of some sort, so I replied by asking if we shouldn’t have at least a date first.  She played along, insisting on at least dinner and a movie first, and not wanting a quick shag. I couldn’t resist feigning ignorance of her slang and asked what tobacco had to do anything and offered her a go on my pipe.  I thought it was a pretty good feed line, but we were distracted by Nadya’s questions.

Nadya, ever the trader, was curious what skills I had to trade. I listed accountancy, carpentry, bar-tending and writing, even if the first and last of those were probably not a great deal of use around here.  Not unless the castle needs somebody to look after the treasury. Gwyn kept quiet, reasoning, I suspect, that her academic skills were of little use.  Nadya’s primary skills, she was proud to say, were in thieving.  I must remember to check my pockets any time I am around her. She also told a rather alarming tale about the number of times she had been maimed, flayed, had her tongue or eyes gouged out.  Such a busy life she has led.  She left soon after, leaving Gwyn and I to our flirting, as she put it.  I thought we were just joking around, but I find it very hard to tell with Gwyn, since she is so prone to hiding her feelings behind jokes and badinage.  Not that I am very good at spotting serious flirting at the best of times.  I could do much worse than Gwyn.  She is smart, funny, a good soul behind that brash exterior; she knows what I am, and if she is truly faerie, or partly, that diminishes the age problem somewhat.  This is all idle speculation, of course.  I doubt she means anything beyond a joke and I am not sure I need the complication of a relationship, not until I work out what the situation here is, and my place in it.

Aoibheann was mostly non-communicative, ignoring me as much as she could.  She appeared more concerned about the dangers outside the castle, and judging by the state of her clothes, she had encountered some. I must be going outside at the wrong times, for the most dangerous thing I have encountered was the dryad.  I told her about the crutches, but she deigned to acknowledge that and did not venture a time when I might find Jada for the fitting.  I do hope that she isn’t letting her personal grievance with me affect her dealings with the child.  I regret I will think less of her if she does let that get in the way.  She ate rather hurriedly and departed for some rest.

Sophia came by for a glass of wine and some food.  She has found herself a place to hide away, in a cave. I told her I had commandeered one of the huts; and that she was always welcome there, should the cave prove too cold or damp.  She said she’d think about it.  She did not stay very long and departed in the direction of her cave before I got the chance to ask a favour of her, in the matter of nutrition.  I really should stop being embarrassed about it with her.  She offered, and she is well used to the process.  I should ask her soon.  I tire of the flavour of horse and get bored waiting for various castle guards to fall asleep at their posts.

I must enquire of Cristof if there is any spare furniture to be had.  The hut is dry enough, but the floor is hard and not the most comfortable place to be.  Rather that, though, than the noise and company in the tavern.

Walk With Me

It has been said that I do entirely too much thinking. My more introspective entries in this journal are testament to that. Even as a child, both Mother and Father would chide me for spending too much time with my head buried in a book. Each, in their own way, did their best to encourage other activities. Mother, aside from the time she spent taking me walking in the woods, tried to teach me about growing herbs and doing things with them and Father taught me the basics of the construction business, in the hope that I would perhaps follow him into the family business. Had I done so, I would have been more involved in the business side of things, but Father felt that, if I was going to be telling craftsmen what to do, I should at least have some clue how it was done. For that very reason, I spent some part of my weekends and school holidays down at the yard, in the workshop, being taught the basics of woodworking by old Ray Craddock. Ray was a time-served master carpenter and joiner who had been with Father pretty much since the beginning. He taught me how to use the various woodworking tools; the basics of sawing, drilling, chiselling, and smoothing; how to make joints etc. Incidentally, he also taught me how to smoke a pipe, but I never told Father that. Then there was good old Dai Williams, who despaired of ever getting me to lay a course of bricks in a straight line. Out of respect for another master craftsman, I shall gloss over the attempts to teach me the basics of plumbing. The failure being entirely down to my ineptitude, rather than the quality of the teaching.

In truth, much as I enjoyed the company of my father’s colleagues and the skills I gained, I regarded learning such skills as a familial duty rather than anything else. That said; in later life, I tried to keep my hand in occasionally, and now, those few times recently that I have had to employ those skills, I have really enjoyed it.

Thus, I found myself ensconced in one of the many outhouses in the castle grounds, in the company of the castle’s building staff. Despite Cristof’s pessimism, the bribe of a bottle of whisky and a couple of jugs of beer quickly gained me the use of a workbench and a few basic tools. I had already scrounged up a few pieces of timber, and a visit to the stables provided me with some spare leather and sacking. I was all set, aside from nails and pins, but even those I managed to extract from the smith with a slightly exaggerated tale of Jada’s woes.

Cutting and smoothing the main upright part of the crutches went easily enough, as did cutting the arm-rests and jointing them to the main parts. I was estimating on lengths, but erred on the longer side, reasoning I could easily trim them down once I got Jada to try them on. The handles proved more tricky, and I wasted a couple of feet of timber before I got them carved to my satisfaction, and a series on mounting holes drilled so that I could adjust the position later. I reserved a couple of split pins for keeping them in place once the correct position was chosen. The sacking made a bit of padding for the arm-rests, held in place by the leather, which also gave me the grips for the handles. The smith supplied me with some wide-headed hob-nails that will do very well for the walking tips, once we have adjusted for length.

And there they were; a pair of crude, compared to the ones Jada had lost, but perfectly serviceable crutches. Ray might have possibly been almost proud of me.
There remains, of course, the problem of delivery. Aoibheann may or may not have calmed down by the time I next see her. My big fear is that her prejudice against my kind will cause her to keep the children away from me. Now that, I could not, and would not abide. I can only hope that Mitternacht, and perhaps Isabella will support me should that be the case.

None of said worthies were around when I went across to the tavern, so I left them behind the bar with a note for Mitternacht. I can only hope that Aoibheann’s desire to look after the children will outweigh her current dislike for me. If not, then I do not know what I will do. For once, I find myself turning to Father’s wisdom, who very much took the attitude, if you can’t do something about a problem today; then you will have to do something about it when you can, and there is no sense in worrying about it in between. Wise words, if only I could convince myself to believe them.

Truth or Untruth

I have lain down another burden, though in truth, I can find no joy in this. While it may relieve an ache in my back, it does not relieve any ache in my heart. And in laying that burden down, or rather having it lain down for me, I fear a friendship may be lost forever.

I came by the tavern during the early evening, having tired of my own company at last.  Inside, I found Vedis curled around Aoibheann, asking her to tell a story.  Aoibheann babbled some nonsense about two brothers and a chicken, while the long-haired man I have seen drinking at the bar before shouted at Vedis to unhand her. His attitude was understandable, I guess, not knowing Vedis, but to my eye, no physical harm seemed intended.  While I did not know Vedis intimately, I felt that I knew her well enough to recognise this as one of her games.  I double-checked by asking Aoibheann if she was well, which provoked an outburst from the other man there, and then addressed Vedis. I kept my tone and words mild, but my intent of warning was, I think, clear, saying “I do hope you aren’t frightening my friend there.” I felt that the warning and request implied therein would be sufficient. It may well have been for Vedis, for she shortly thereafter released her hold on Aoibheann.  Vedis gave me what, for her, was almost a smile, but to the other man, her address was definitely a warning.  She started to depart, promising that she would return some time to hear Aoibheann’s other stories.  I thanked her for releasing my friend, adding that it was good that I could still rely on her. Again, I think that the request and warning implicit in that statement was clear enough.  The subtlety, I fear, was wasted on Aoibheann. Even as I complimented her for remaining calm, she glared at me, addressing me only as Ballard, asking how I dared praise her when a demon was threatening to devour her, and then accused me of having never been her friend.

That, I have to say, stung deep.  I can understand that she does not know Vedis, does not know her games, but she was released unharmed.  But then, knowing Aoibheann, I am sure she would have been just as annoyed if I had come in wielding my sword to rescue her. I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot, and very likely will never win when it comes to Aoibheann, but this time, I felt I had given enough. It is not my nature to shout, or to attack.  I just agreed with her, saying something along the lines of “I’m sure you’re right, Aoibheann, I’m sure you’re right.  I never encouraged you or helped you with your reading or writing, or understanding of poetry.  I never tended bar or managed your accounts for almost no pay. I never risked my own life to protect you from the huntsman. I never visited you in hospital.  I never did any of those things, or if I did, I did them for purely selfish reasons.  If that’s what you want to think, then that’s up to you. I know there is no point in arguing.  Go get your thread and needle, Aoibheann Healaighthe, mend your pretty dress.  I am sure you can do that, as you have done everything else without any help from anybody.”

I am afraid my sarcasm was wasted on her, much as most things are that aren’t expressed in words of one syllable. She made as if to reply, but we were interrupted by a strange, cloaked figure that appeared, attacked Aoibheann’s erstwhile defender with some sort of magical bolt of lightning from his staff and promptly disappeared.  Whatever Aoibheann might have been about to say was forgotten as she screamed no, and then bent down to attend to him.  I could see that he was still breathing, so made no immediate move, guessing correctly that Aoibheann would not appreciate the help.  She dragged the man to one of the beds, all the while accusing me, effectively, of being in league with the Unseelie, vampires and demons, since I seemed to get along so well with them.  It was obvious, she said, since I had lied to her from the start. By now I was beyond caring and just wished her a good day and told her to be safe, because a bad guy like me would never bother to help.  She stalked out, hissing “liar” as her last word to me.  I did make some comment about the humans and Seelie never doing anything bad to anybody, and how it must be nice to have everything so clear cut, but I don’t think she heard.  I doubt she would have understood anyway.

So, I guess my secret is out.  With other people, such as Cristofr and Nadya, knowing what I am, I suppose it was inevitable.  I resent her last word to me though, since technically, I have never lied. Prevaricated, yes, answered questions with partial truths, yes, but I never actually lied to her about my nature. Never mind all the kindnesses I have shown her, the times I have defended her person and her honour, or that I have never done her harm. In a way, I almost envy her simplistic outlook, being so sure of who the good guys and bad guys are. Some day, she’s going to learn that it ain’t so clear-cut, and that lesson is going to hurt. Will I be there to help?  I don’t know.  It would be nice to say that I am through with her foolishness and foolhardiness, to give her up as a hopeless case, but I know me. I will not stand idly by and let her get hurt. I will do what I can, and if she does not appreciate, then that is her affair. I will do what is right regardless.

I feel the need for something to do with my hands that does not involve a pen.  At Cristof’s suggestions, I have made friends with the carpenters and masons that maintain the castle.  The timbers I selected should be dry enough to work with and I did promise that I would make some crutches for Jada.

Oh, somewhere in the middle of all this, my recent feline acquaintance appeared, cut my hair-band, kissed me, and promptly vanished again.  She may look different, but seems to still be the same Valene that I loved. Perhaps I shall seek her company tonight. At least she understands me.


A Sprig of Mint

Sometimes, you think you know people, and then they reveal a side of themselves you hadn’t suspected. I wandered into the tavern part of the castle, only to find Aoibheann in a fight with Nadya.  The former had managed to draw blood (I hope she didn’t manage to ingest any of it) and both were on the floor, largely being lectured by Cristofr about not fighting in the tavern.  It is probably fortunate that I missed the cause of the fight, which was Nadya, presumably still upset about the brief meeting the night before, having just called Isabella a “mannerless whore”.  Much as I want to like the girl; that I would not have tolerated.  Few things spur me into violence, but that might have crossed the line.  It was largely over by the time I got there, so I got to do little more than stand by Isabella looking threatening.  Well, as much as I can ever look threatening.   Mitternacht seemed to have gotten involved somewhere along the line in casting magic and calling Nadya a Paahiinaa, which I recalled meant not-herd. Well, that was what she told me the word meant when she last used it.  The explanation she gave Nadya made it sound a lot less complimentary.  In fact, I was quite impressed with the level of invective she got into the explanation.  For some reason, people were calling her “Pash” or something like that.  I don’t know if that is another of her “equine” words, a title, perhaps, or if she has decided to change her name after her experience meeting the presence of Star Chaser.  I would have asked, but she seemed more intent on obtaining a job as keeper of the tavern.

Isabella seemed to find it mildly amusing and even offered to help Nadya heal her wound, but Nadya did not seem interested.  The party, as it were, broke up somewhat after that.  I had no news for Isabella, and she had no immediate tasks for me, beyond that which I had already chosen to undertake.  Gwyn was watching, with her usual amused smile, but also cursing because her hair kept changing from short to long, to none.  Isabella told her that this was a result of her glamour not being under control and offered to help her out with it.  That brief conversation did clarify one thing.  Isabella definitely stated that this place was faerie, though she wasn’t too sure about inside the castle.  That would agree with my assessment.  Some day, I shall have to talk with Isabella about that, and about Greyson.  I am human, and then vampire, so why do I find the fae realms so fascinating and why do they feel like home?

There was one other peculiar aspect to the evening.  I noticed a small, feline-looking woman in the corner, watching the fight with amusement.  As she left, she looked at me and purred, “Well, if it isn’t Nathaniel Ballard.”  This confused me slightly, as I did not think I had been here long enough for my fame to precede me.  When I confessed that she had the advantage of me, she just laughed, making some comment about how easily men forget those they have kissed. Then she stuck something in my hair, kissed my cheek and disappeared off into the courtyard, chasing a chicken. I was about to protest that I had not had the chance to kiss anybody, save the welcoming hug and kiss from Sophia the previous evening, but she was gone.  I reached up for what she had stuck in my hair and found it was a sprig of mint.  That floored me.  Then I sniffed it and memories came flooding back, of another feline friend who often smelled of mint. My most dear friend, Valene, once of Fiendish Pleasures, often had mint about her person, but the appearance was somewhat different.  Surely this could not be the same, could it? I have already encountered one former resident of London. That will be a reunion to relish, if it is.


Message Delivered

It has been an evening of much joy, and much sadness.  I have been reunited with missing friends and I am delivered of at least one part of my quest. I cannot take much joy in that achievement, save that I now know the fate of a few more people.

The first reunion was with my erstwhile colleague and friend at the Lucky Leaf, Gwyn.  I was standing on the bridge, talking idly of wild food and mushrooms with Nadya, when I spied a familiar shape further down the path. Any doubts about her identity were dispelled when she came marching down the path, asking me where the loving fuck I had been, where she was and then told me she had missed me  – “you posh ginger fuck” – was the phrase she used, I think.  After all the adventures of recent times, her reaction was reassuringly normal. Our conversation was brief as Nadya kept reminding us how dangerous it was for humans out here.  If only she knew.  However, it seemed wise advice, so I suggested we went to get a drink and something to eat.  This latter was more for Gwyn’s benefit than my own, though I thought it amusing to continue the charade with Nadya.

We made it to the castle without incident, aside from Gwyn’s complaints about tall steps and her short legs.  There I found bread and ham for Gwyn and a jug of water.  For myself, I felt I deserved a glass of rum. I briefly summarised what I knew of the place and told her who, of our mutual acquaintances, I had found here so far. Nadya sat herself down and started sorting through her gatherings. I told Gwyn a few more things and asked where she had been.  She had no real answer, remembering only that she had been with Eli in the bakery, and everything after that was fuzzy.  This seemed strange to me, but only a little, given the rather abstract nature of time in Jasper Cove. Perhaps she missed the last few months entirely, without that time passing for her. After what I had told her about this castle and the surrounding island, she said she was a little unsure where she would be safer.  I pointed out that this castle, whatever else it was, at least had shelter and beds, pointing in the direction of the accommodation in the wings.  Her spirits seemed revived as she joked that at last she would get to sleep with me.  I had to laugh at that and reminded her that, so far as she was concerned, she had thought that I was a lover of men.  She laughed and asked for some rum. I poured her one and offered one to Nadya, who surprised my by accepting.

At this point, I was almost knocked off my feet by Sophia, rushing in and hugging me. I was overjoyed to see her and hugged back, hard. It was a relief, even if I had already known she was safe.  I commented that I was glad she hadn’t been eaten by a sluagh, which, of course, meant I then had to explain what that was.  We joked about how Aoibheann seemed to think that everything was going to eat her and Nadya commented that she was probably right.  Such optimism from one apparently so young.  I told Sophia that I was pleased to see her, adding that I was relieved, even though Greyson had told me that she would be safe. I also made brief introductions to Gwyn and Nadya.

As if on cue, Isabella appeared. I bowed and greeted her, but she had heard the name I spoke, Greyson, because she asked if that was indeed what I had said.  I told her this was so, but that things were complicated.  She demanded to know when I had seen him last. I offered to go somewhere more private, but she would have none of it.

Wary of the others in earshot, I told her my tale, trying to be as circumspect as I could. Of course, I omitted the bits about Dee’s journal, instead telling her some of what passed in the boat, and what he had told me of his history. I glossed over this after confirming that she knew of this.  We were interrupted somewhat by Nadya, who seemed upset that Isabella had neither introduced herself, not responded to her various comments about who is the lady.  She stamped her foot and eventually departed for her wagon.  Isabella did briefly acknowledge Gwyn and Sophia, but was more intent on hearing my story.  After a while, Gwyn retired to one of the bunks and Sophia, perhaps recognising that I had important business with Isabella, departed to take a walk.

I finished my tale of Greyson/Alec by telling her about my appointment as Keeper of Lore and the quest to find his son, and presumably daughters.  I added my belief that he loved her, phrasing it, possibly hopefully, in the present tense.  She seemed a little confused, because Malachai had been with her, but she was missing the girls.  I apologised for the confusion, saying that I had seen the girls running on the path, as I had been, and had assumed that Malachai was with them.  I said that I had not seen the girls, but promised I would do my best to find them.

Aoibheann arrived, apparently not having known Isabella was here.  She was lost for words beyond, “your majesty”.  She was also distracted by the arrival of an older child, Madeleine.  I did not know the child, but recognise the voice as the one who had been upstairs with Kale that night before Jasper Cove fell.  

I continued my tale, telling her about the noises I had heard just before I left the boat, the noises like the creatures that had attacked Jasper Cove.  I told her that Greyson had seemed determined to face them.  In the hope of giving some comfort, I added that anybody who could outwit the four horsemen and the grim reaper would surely find his way to survive again. Perhaps she took some comfort from that; it was hard to tell behind the tears she was trying so hard not to shed.  This broke my heart. Normally, I would be there to offer comfort, but I did not feel I knew Isabella well enough to hold her, to let her cry, as I would with others.  Instead, I took her hand and kissed it, as a courtier might, promising again that I was at her service, and would do what I could to find her children, and, if I could, her love. I knew not what else I could say or do, so after asking permission to depart and commence searching, I departed.  She had Aoibheann there, and the child, Madeleine. Perhaps that would strengthen her somewhat while I searched.


Talking With Trees

I explored the castle courtyard this morning.  It was quiet.  Besides the market stalls, I found several buildings that might come under the heading of rude dwellings, the stables, where I availed myself of a snack from one of the horses, what would appear to be the state rooms, and a chapel of some sort. Well, it had stained glass windows, but no crosses.  Like Father Monocerous’ chapel in London, it did not appear to repel me and I did not appear to burst into flames, so I don’t know how holy it is. Perhaps that lore about my kind is incorrect.  Given that I seem to not burst into flames when I go out in daylight, maybe many things I thought I knew are wrong. Of course, I have no idea how ‘natural’ the sunlight is in the various strange realms that have been my home these past few years.  Maybe real sunlight would kill me.

Having exhausted the entertainment possibilities of the castle, at least, the bits I could find a way to get into, I took myself off into the woods. At the bottom of the path leading to the castle, I saw a similar path heading up on the other side of the path from the bridge.  It looked vaguely familiar and when I climbed it, I found myself by the large standing stone with the Celtic knotwork carving that I had seen before. Further up on the ridge, I found a stone arch, a trilithon, like a smaller version of Stonehenge.  Beyond it was an ornate door set into a large stone.  I did consider trying the door, but on inspection, the stone seemed no bigger than an outside privy, so I could not imagine where, if anywhere, the door would lead. On reflection, I decided against it.  If my suspicions about this place are correct, and this is some fae realm, then who knows where such a door may lead.

I retraced my steps to the carved stone, noticing there was a bowl on the top bearing a small flame. An altar, then, I thought, or so it seemed.  I was struck by the contrast between the apparent extreme age of the stone and the ephemeral and presumably current nature of the flame.  I say apparent, for who knows what time period this land occupies, if any, relative to my own.  The appearance of the castle is that of many centuries before my birth, but then, castles of that age endured even into my time.  Nadya’s ideas of science, of abiogenesis, could date from as recently as my mother’s generation.  Who can tell?  Even so, the setting of the stone, seated deep in its landscape, the maturity of the plants, the lichen and moss, at least gave the impression of having great age here, whatever the relative time to my own might be.

I have always been fascinated by Celtic knotwork, and have oft wondered if some mathematical principle underlies the design. There is a pleasingly mathematical precision in the sequence of under and over passing of the design, in the symmetry, and, in the way that the designs are complete, ending back where they started without an apparent break.  I was tracing the design with my fingers, wondering about this when I thought I heard a noise, something more than the natural noises of the birds and the wind.  I looked around, but could see nothing, though I was certain that there had been a tree behind me that was no longer there. In the case that there was some being around, to whom this was a special place, I spoke softly, apologising for the intrusion and stating that I was merely a seeker of knowledge.

A voice replied.  A voice unlike any I have heard before, haunting and beautiful, as though played on the same instrument that made the sounds of the wind in the branches. It told me that I was not intruding, for I came here without force, and apparently better purpose.  I scanned the area again and then I saw her.  Her form was that of a woman, beautiful and sensual, yet, at the same time, that of a graceful tree, her limbs branches, and her fingers twigs.  Green, she was, green as the forest around her, which was why I had not seen her at first. Green that is, apart from long hair, its colour almost a match for my own.  Could this be a dryad?  I made greeting softly and gave my name, just managing to stop my usual habit of giving my full name, for it occurred to me as I spoke that creatures of magic, as surely she was, could gain power by knowing your true name. She told me that I was not disturbing; else she would have left me to wander.  She appeared as fascinated by my appearance as I was hers, remarking that my leaves seemed dead and that Nathaniel Bee was a rather long name. I had no answer for the former, saying that I had never had leaves, only arms and legs and such. I told her she could call me Nate, if that was easier, and asked how I might address her.

“Aerodine,” she told me, but it was as if it was something she had to recall, even saying it was something she was called once. Then she told me that my feet trod differently.  I looked at hers, which were there, yet, at the same time, it looked as if she were rooted there. I could only tell her that my feet had always been on the earth, not within it, not being like her, adding that despite that, I cherished the beauty of the place and its residents. She looked at me, seeming amused and teasing, asking me why a man of knowledge had never played in the mud. 

“That was different,” I told her, explaining that I had indeed done so many times as a child, and added that Alexandra and I had often walked barefoot in the countryside, when there was nobody to see us. This pleased her, and she told me that we had experienced the earth and heard the trees, even if we had not perhaps understood, and asked when I had last walked barefoot.  Memories came back, from my younger days, when Mother and I would walk in the woodlands near our home, and how she had entreated me to commune with the trees, after asking permission, to talk with them and to listen.  As a child, I had not thought to question my mother, much less because my head was filled with the wonders of the stories I had read, or had read to me, of magical lands, of faeries, spirits and such like.  I told the dryad of this, not mentioning the stories, and told her how I had sensed something, but had not been able to understand. 

“Perhaps,” I said, “I had been expecting words rather than feelings.”  In answer to her question, I could not remember, other than a couple of weeks ago, when I had left one of my notebooks back at the tavern and had not bothered to put my shoes on when I went back to get it. My answer pleased her, so far as I could interpret her expression.

“Fools are often the wisest among men, as their heads are not wrapped in realities around them,” she said. “They speak to others, themselves, more so in feelings, than with words. It takes a long time to make the words.”  I nodded, understanding her.  Then, she straightened up and then said “This land is dangerous.” I acknowledged that too, but told her I had walked many lands where there were dangers, more due to foolish men than anything else. I indicated that I carried the sword, for defence only, omitting that I was not skilled in its use.  She told me that such weapons were of little use unless they were of legendary crafting.  I thought to mention the bit about the wood faeries, but since I am still not entirely convinced by Aoibheann’s story regarding that, I felt it better not to.  She then spoke of the dwellings with the stone barriers, nodding towards the hill. She knew, then, of the castle, but I was not entirely sure how she felt about it, although she did say that many beings who went there were ruthless. I told her that I had been there, and made acquaintance of some of the men there, qualifying that, in case she thought them enemy, by saying I sought to know them first, before deciding where I stood. She said that she had heard many new steps in the land, that there was a lot of noise, and asked how I had come there.

I told her briefly of the cove, of how it was a place detached from time, held there by four powers. I told her how it had come under attack by the forces of death and how I had fled, finding my way to this land. I told her that I would always tread lightly on the land and asked if I might come again and speak with her.  She said that she did not control who comes and goes here, but that I could if I wished.  We were interrupted by a crashing sound, and as we both turned, we saw Aoibheann tumbling down the slope to land on the grass nearby.

“That one does not have wings enough,” the dryad said. I started to scramble down to help Aoibheann, but she managed to get to her feet readily enough.  I was about to respond to Aerodine’s comment about wings, but Aoibheann interrupted. She told me that she had seen Sophia, and that she was looking for me. She seemed most insistent that I go find her now. Relieved though I was to hear that Sophia was safe, I did not necessarily share Aoibheann’s fears about the place, and knew full well that Sophia was no fool when it came to survival. Much as I tried to convince her that Sophia was well able to look after herself, I knew she would not be satisfied until I went in search of her.  I am not entirely sure if her impatience was for Sophia’s benefit, to get me to find her, or to get rid of me so she could talk with Aerodine.  The latter would not be surprising, knowing Aoibheann’s fascination with beings of Faerie.  I wonder if she realises that the Huntsman is also cut of that cloth.  I made my apologies to Aerodine, saying I would return.  She bade me farewell and reminded me to enjoy walking barefoot some time.

I searched a while in likely places, going both ways from that bridge where I had first arrived, but found no sign of her.  She is sensible.  She will no doubt get back to the castle at some point and I will find her there.  I retired to the castle grounds and found a quiet spot.  I read a few entries from the journal, but, as yet, have no clue how to proceed with my quest.  Perhaps inspiration will come.