Child is Gone

When I was younger, Mother would sometimes talk of the things she wanted to do in the future, when Gilbert and I were finally out of her hair. All the things she could do with the time currently occupied by her maternal obligations. Personally, I found it difficult to imagine what more she could do, given her music, her gardening, her reading, not to mention her political and charitable and social activities outside the home. Such talks were doubly tinged with unexpressed sadness. There was always the spectre of her illness hovering over any thoughts of the future – wondering how much time she would have then. Also, even at that age, I sensed that for all that she wanted her boys to have their own lives; she dreaded the thought of the empty nest.

And now, I think I have some inkling of how she felt. My own son, Arthur, regards Gilbert and Sarah as his parents, and I am just his Uncle Nate (Nathaniel being too much of a mouthful for him). The truth, we decided, was something we would save until he attained his majority. When, or indeed, if, that will ever pass, I can not know. Some four years of my experience have passed since I was able to write to them, which would mean he would be about ten years old now, assuming that where he is, time passes in the normal fashion, no matter what my personal experience of it might be. I wonder if they grow concerned, thinking me lost at sea, or disappeared in America somehow. Either way, I never had much time to grow attached to Arthur, and, my own circumstances notwithstanding, I must assume that he thrives.

Here, in this strange place that has become my home, I have new children. Three were born of my flesh, at least in part. Mine and Janus’ and Gwyneth’s. Such are the vagaries of things here that they were born seemingly young adults, in body, if not in wisdom. Thus, I did not share their childhood, for they had none, and already, they make their own way in the world. Eilian, impetuous youth that he seemed, is gone away to be tutored by Blaise, who stands in stead of his grandfather. Drysi with all the attitude of a rebellious teenager lives her own life now, and rarely visits with us. And Bronwyn flits hither and thither like a butterfly, but harder to catch than a shaft of moonlight. Now that Gwythyr is gone, perhaps it is safe for her to be around me and I can spend more time getting to know her.

Lastly, but by no means least, is Wren. She I did at least get to see grow, if only for a short period of her life. She was Alec’s and Isabel’s daughter, but not, as I learned, by blood, and Dauphine to his kingdom. But she cared not for that, and cared less for the fripperies of being a princess. She much preferred marching around the town square, patrolling as though she were the palace guard. As one who had often fantasised about being an Arthurian knight, I acknowledged that and went along with it, addressing her as Patrolman Wren, saluting her as I night any other soldier and such like. I think that was where we started to bond, as I was the only one who took her seriously. I missed her when Jasper Cove burned and the bridge took her elsewhere, and so I was delighted when circumstances, unfortunate though I later learned they were, brought her to Ashmourne Wylds.

Here we really became closer, whether it was talking about books and music, or teasing her about maths lessons. I persuaded the castle guard to allow her to train with them, and they accepted her as one of their own. I gave her the rank of adjutant at my side. Over time, we grew closer, until she trusted me enough to tell of the circumstances that caused her to flee here. Similarly, I was able to be there for her as she dealt with the realisation that she too was fae-blooded, and through the traumas of dealing with the magic that she knew not how to control. I came to love her as the daughter I had never had, and was delighted beyond measure when she allowed me to adopt her as my own.

And now, she is gone from here and from me. Of late, I had not had much time to see her, with all the problems in the castle and elsewhere, and had assumed that she had made herself comfortable in that little book-lined cottage that she had adopted in the faerie bower. But, it was not so. Today, I came home to a letter from her, explaining that she had gone away and why.

She has not been feeling herself, she said. Even when working with the animals, which I know she so loved to do, she did not feel right. She spoke with Dyisi, who took her somewhere else, to somewhere with no wars, somewhere that was not scary for a barely teenage girl, somewhere she might make friends of her own age, somewhere she didn’t have to be in court, or be anything other than herself. It was just meant to be a holiday until she felt better, but now, she wanted to stay, she did not know for how long.

She apologised for not talking to me first. She knew she had to go, and she knew that I was perhaps the only person who might have been able to persuade her to stay. She said that she missed me, and asked me to not be mad with her. Perhaps, she said, we could write, or maybe I could even come to visit.

I am not so proud that I cannot admit that I shed a tear when I read her words, which, at first, felt like a blow to the stomach. I had failed my beloved daughter. However, on reflection, I see that she is right. I cannot blame her, and I should not blame myself. This is no place for a teenager. We’ve had to deal with plague-bearing witches, fae wars, the predations of Gwythyr and far too much death. Those particular battles may be over, but I cannot promise that there will not be more.  I cannot protect her from all that might occur here.

Also, aside from me, she has no family any more.  Alex and Isabella betrayed and abandoned her. She and Ember were separated long before she arrived here. Hadley chose her own means of escape, becoming in short order, a demon, and now an adult and a mother. And others even remotely her age – Riley from Jasper Cove, Jada and Kale… all are gone or never even arrived here. And of those she was close to, other than family, only a few are around. I have not seen Galyanna, who had her own reasons for caring for Wren, in months. Even Aoibheann has become strange to us, in the sense of absent, rather than her innate strangeness, and even that has become more marked of late, such that it seems I scarcely know her.

No, I cannot blame her. And, much as I might wish to, I cannot blame Dyisi for taking her away. Better she went in the company of somebody experienced in stepping across realms than strike out on her own, with her imperfect mastery of such things. And, much as I am upset that Dyisi did not consult with me, I understand that she did so for Wren, lest I would, as she put it in her letter, “be the only one who would have made her not want to go.” Dyisi is far older and wiser than I ever will be, and I am sure that she would not take her any place that she would be at risk of harm.

That said; there is a hole in my life, and in my heart, that is unlikely to be filled. If my memories, and my diary, serve me accurately, it is some three and a half years since I first addressed Wren as patrolman. Since when, she has become as dear to me as anyone. She could not be dearer to me if she was my own flesh and blood, and I am going to miss her terribly. Even being saluted by Milos and Vasily as I left the castle to come here to my cottage by the sea brought a tear to my eye, thinking of the customary greeting between Wren and me. For now, I shall content myself with the trust that, wherever she is, she is well and happy. And, that wherever she is, she well knows how much I loved her and will continue to love her. There will be letters, I am sure, and visits, but for now, I shall take solace in the familiar sounds of the sea. And I shall raise a glass – “Be well, my darling daughter. Be safe, be happy, and be everything you can possibly want to be.”

The Child is Gone

HitS wrens letter tilt

Sweet Child of Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Loyalties Lie

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

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

Two Hunters

((catch-up post – original RP 27 oct 14))

The mist brings us yet another visitor. This time, a travelling elf by the name of Ivoron. At least, he would seem to be elven, judging by appearances, even if I know those to be unreliable. He seems amiable enough, but I fear he might have a hard time adjusting to our somewhat eclectic populace, in particular, those of the demonic persuasion.

I had been talking with Wren outside the tavern , about poetry and Homer’s Odyssey, but the conversation then turned to the matter of Aoibheann’s sanity and how this was affected by the presence of the Huntsman in her. I explained about the idea of making a vessel for the Huntsman, much as we had made a vessel for Vedis’ memories before. The problem with that, as we both recognised it, was persuading him to leave Aoibheann, and, come to that, persuading Aoibheann to let him go. There was another problem, of course – what to do then with two Huntsmen. I did briefly wonder of the, for want of a better way of putting it, laws of nature could even allow two Huntsmen to exist. We also wondered if the Huntsman would be saner than he had been, without the influence of Llwyd.

Our visitor arrived, looking somewhat lost. I gave him the usual welcome, asking his name and pointing out where he could find the rules and such like. He seemed a little on edge, asking if we knew of a person called Heydr, but relaxed when we assured him that we did not. I could only assume that he had some problem with the person concerned, or was perhaps being pursued by him. I noted that for something I would need to ask him about later, in case said pursuer could present a danger to the town.

I suggested that we retire to the tavern for refreshment. I included Galyanna in this invitation, as she suddenly appeared out of the shadows. She asked about the Huntsman situation, since she had overheard part of the conversation, so I explained that.  Ivoron seemed somewhat alarmed by her, so I introduced her as a warrior and friend. Wren introduced her as a ninja, which phrase he clearly didn’t understand. Galyanna then introduced herself as the Talon of Queen Vedis. While she didn’t explicitly explain her demon nature, perhaps Ivoron understood the term, for he withdrew from us, giving the impression he would rather sleep outside than associate with demons. I did not get the chance to speak with him further, as I had other duties to attend to. Even if I had had the time to explain, I am not sure he would have understood. How do you explain, to somebody who has not lived through the times we have, how I count a demon among my closest friends and as somebody I would trust my life to? I’m not sure I know myself.

Wolves In The Throne Room – I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots (from an album called Two Hunters)


Chocolate Mead

It seems that I have not been the only one affected by the fae wellspring. Aoibheann has also got horns now. Rather fetching ones, they are, almost like tree limbs. She is not happy about this, which is only to be expected, but she is defensive too, arguing that they are prettier than mine. I don’t quite know how it happened, but it has, and I doubt she will ever tell me.

I had been down in the lab, trying to work out what I could do about the sword shard, when one of the guards reported there was some screaming going on. When I got back to the castle, I found Wren and Aoibheann there, the latter wearing the aforementioned horns. My first reaction was to say “You too?” and demonstrated that I had some too. She took offence, of course, claiming that they were not a fashion statement, and anyway, hers were prettier, which I could not dispute.

We managed to get up to the breakfast table and ordered bread rolls, honey etc. Aoibheann was going on about wanting chocolate mead, and seemed to think that it could be obtained by feeding bees with chocolate and then making mead from their honey. I opined that this would not work, although I suspected that such a thing could be made by using chocolate as well as honey in the brewing process. In the meantime, I said, we could put some mead in hot chocolate, which might be an acceptable substitute. I asked the servants to bring us hot chocolate and a bottle of mead.

I explained that I hadn’t been trying to one-up her on the matter of the horns, just that it was something that seemed to be happening.  I told her the circumstances by which I had gained the horns, during the healing of Gwrgi. Sadly, that set her off again, for not having told her that Gwrgi was alive. She calmed down a little when I said that I had not seen her since. Wren backed me up on this by commenting that Aoibheann had been missing.

What she did say that was interesting was something about the Huntsman’s influence leaving Gwrgi when he was dying. That would explain Gwrgi’s behaviour and all the “she’s mine” stuff. She also said something about him now being able to be free, but that he might want to kill her. I was intrigued by this, but felt it better to leave it for a minute. The servants brought breakfast up, including the mead, which seemed a bit decadent for breakfast.

We sat and ate and Wren asked why people were chasing Aoibheann and why they would want to kill her. A question I would also have asked, but Wren, in her innocence, perhaps framed it better.

The explanation was somewhat confusing and rambling, taking in Horace’s adventures, Llwyd’s madness, Gwrgi’s mad desire to kill.  Aoibheann admitted that Gwrgi hated her for something she had, and Llwyd wanted to kill her because she had something she wanted. She didn’t say outright that it was the essence of the Huntsman, but I knew that already.

Gwrgi was looking for something at the wellspring, and Ardan had sent Horace to stop him, because something dark was lying in wait there, which was Llwyd. Horace, however, shot Gwrgi, which, it seemed was the point at which the Huntsman was forced out of him. He also apparently shot Llwyd, but that didn’t seem to slow him down. Quite how Horace survived was not entirely clear, but I must have come in, finding Valene, soon after this happened. Aoibheann was worried that Horace’s mission with regard to Faermorn had become an obsession. I was able to confirm from my own experiences with Faermorn that she did indeed wish to return, opining that perhaps she wished to be what she had been before she became queen. She was also concerned that Horace was not rational, as he seemed intent on destroying everything. I had my own opinions on that, but offered only that I would speak to Dyisi to see if she could rein him in, and if not, I would have to place him in custody should he return to the village, so that he could not inflame any more problems between us and faerie.

Llwyd, now there was a different problem, since he was quite clearly beyond the reach of sanity. I expressed the hope that perhaps the new Huntsman would catch up with him and that would settle the matter. I also said that this should be something that was a fae matter and that I hoped to meet with Janus and Gwyn soon to see if there was some way we could resolve the matter. I suggested that Aoibheann should stay within the village for now, which Wren agreed with, being worried that Aoibheann might come to harm. This was possibly the wrong thing to say, as Aoibheann yelled at us for saying she was going to die and promptly stormed off in the direction of her room. Not that this is unusual for her lately. I love her dearly, but lately, it seems I can do nothing right with her.

I explained a little more about Faermorn’s situation to Wren, remembering the tale that Valene had told, and what I suspected that Faermorn wanted. I would have told her more about it, but I was already late for my meeting with the staff, so I had to leave her to it.

Chocolate mead? I don’t know where she got that idea. The chocolate part must surely have come later, from being in Jasper Cove, because she could not have come across it before then, unless the Scotland she knew in her time had contact with South America, which is unlikely. But then, the Scotland she knew also had dragons, so anything is possible.


Darker Half

The winter season approaches, and with it, all the influences of that darker half of the year, of the darker courts. I have had bad dreams of late. Some, driven by the memories of Vedis that flooded out when she was taken, but others are from the season, and perhaps from that taint that the old Unseelie King left in me. My darker needs, my darker desires are becoming harder to control and I do not like it. I almost lost control of it last evening, and that I like even less.

I had gone to do my rounds of the village, when I found Wren talking to the Al-miraj, the unicorn-horned rabbit. I had not seen, nor heard anything of this creature since Radek told me how it had been used to skewer a lobster-like demon on one of the missions to recover one of the mirror shards from hell. It was, as ever, hungry. It was digging holes in the green and eating roots, twigs and such like. I remembered that there were some vegetables that had gotten bruised during all the recent moves, which I had earmarked for compost. From memory, the Al-miraj did not have a fussy appetite, so I sent Wren to ask Mirko to bring up a sack of turnips and a crate of cabbages from the cellars.

While we were waiting, I was delighted to see that Dyisi was back. From what she had said beforehand, and from what Wren told me she had said, I sort of knew that she would be, but there was always that lingering doubt. I greeted her with delight and welcomed her back to the Wylds. I thanked her for her sacrifice on behalf of the village and updated her on the current situation – Maric being out cold and Vedis being gone.

She said she could not stay long, because she had only recently returned to whatever thread she was on, and was taking a moment to come and visit while Horace was sleeping. She was sorry to hear about Vedis although she had not known her and said that we did not need to thank her. Maric had done a lot of the work.

I assured her that thanks were due. For Maric, saving the village was an obligation, a duty, but that was not so for her. To this she replied that she had a general obligation to correct imbalances, which this one was. I asked about Horace and told her of the situation he had caused, saying that there might be a problem with him returning because of him discharging weapons in Faerie. While I understood his desire to help Faermorn, I had to put the interests of the village first. She said that he was recovering in her sanctum. He felt remorse for killing the cŵn, but would want to apologise in person. I told her that the cŵn was recovered if that would help, but there would still likely be consequences from his actions. I would do my best to minimise those, but if the rulers of faerie took exception, then my hands might be tied.

Wren and Mirko brought the vegetables back, which were enthusiastically received by the al-miraj. I think Mirko may have made a friend there. I gave him a couple of coins and told him to get himself a drink or two on me, once his shift was over. He did not seem over-enthused about having a new friend, possibly because he was afraid it might eat him, especially when it looked as if the al-miraj was intent on joining him for a drink.

While we were talking, Helene appeared, apparently wishing to speak with me. She did not look at all happy and did not look as though she had slept much. I wondered if she had been experiencing the same sort of dreams as I had. Before I could talk to her, though, Hadley came rushing up, screaming for me that there was something wrong with her mama, with Dorina. She was obviously very worried. I made my apologies to Helene and asked Wren to attend to Hadley while I went to see what was wrong.

I had a very good idea of what it might be wrong, and I was right. When I found her between the tavern and the cottages, her hair was white and she was speaking in Gaelic. Her other half had gained dominance. She was also partly pinned to a tree by an arrow, and it was not one I recognised from our practice range. I asked her what was wrong and then remembered that she did not speak English in this form. I struggled to remember the Irish that had gotten impressed on me from the mind-link with Maric when he had spoken to her. I asked, as best I could, for her to look at me and asked if she was unwell. She seemed to understand me, at least in part, but all she would reply was that she would not do something, and asking why somebody would not leave her alone. Possibly somebody called Cabhan. I asked what she meant and if she needed to feed. I was not so sure if she understood me. She said something about having an agreement, something about having to be good, and, expressed fear for her daughter. That at least gave me hope that there was some rationality there. There was something different, something less wild and something more childlike about her. I bit at my wrist to draw blood and offered it to her.

She fed, and as she did so, I felt the mental link come alive. She felt it too, as I could feel her reacting to it, seeking something from me. When I withdrew my arm, she started to speak, but this time in broken English. Could she have learned that from me through the link? It was possible, I had to suppose. I had picked up some of the Irish from Maric, but then, he had been consciously translating for me. Anyway, she asked if she could show me her dreams. I said that we had all been having bad dreams, possibly because of Vedis, and asked her to tell me hers.

She said she wanted to show me, not tell me, and offered her wrist, which was already wounded. That saved me the bother of trying to persuade her to let me feed, which would help cement the mental link. I drank, and as she did so, she shared her dreams with me.

She had dreamed of the past, a younger self at a grand ball, her father, Lorcan, him leaving her for some reason, her meeting a beautiful young man, a vampire by the name of Sébastien and dancing with him all night, her father explaining who the young man was, something high up in the French vampire court, about him not being trustworthy… Another dream – her father wanting her to go on some mission with this Sébastien and her being reluctant… her naked, kissing with the boy… a dream within a dream – her stabbing the boy, blood pouring over her and then somebody waking her… Another dream, seen from outside – the French boy, being stabbed and tortured, the boy calling his assailant Cabhan and calling him a bastard, this Cabhan then calling out that he would be coming for Dorina…

That much I got before my own dream flared up, of that night with Astrid and Ilyana in Fiendish Pleasures. The erotic part of her dream triggered my own desires, fed by my dreams of that lust-filled night and for a moment, I lost control, leaning forward and kissing her hard before coming to me senses. I stuttered an apology and flew, it being the quickest way to get away from there before I did something I might regret. I flew for a long time, and then went down to the river to swim, until the cool water dampened my ardour. I stayed there a long time, cursing that darker taint, that residue of Gwythyr and then, not wanting to face anybody, took bat form to fly back to the castle, to my chambers, there to skulk, ashamed, until morning.

I worry now. Self-control has always been so important to me, even more so now, as my strength and powers grow. I thought I was over that time, in my younger days, whoring my way around Europe. While it is true that I have not had much chance to spend intimate time with Gwyn or Valene of late, I should not be feeling like this. And while it is possible that Dorina might not have minded – she has seemed fairly amenable to me – I should not have succumbed, and certainly not while she was not quite herself. I shall have to be wary, and maybe avoid potentially risky situations until I get a handle on what is happening to me.

Darker Half

To Find the King

The walking hat-rack is back. The new one that is. And he is on the hunt. What is more worrying is that he is hunting one that I had thought dead – the old Seelie King and part-time Huntsman, Llwyd.

I was busy getting the supplies brought back from various places and put back where they belonged in the vaults when I saw Wren by the tree. I took a break from the supply logistics to go say hello and ask after her sister. She had left Hadley in Dorina’s care in the hope that she would talk to her more if she wasn’t there, but as far as she knew, Dorina was taking good care of her and Helene had helped to fix her arm.

That reminded me that I needed to talk to Helene and apologise on Davor’s behalf. I mentioned to Wren that Helene had been giving the poor guy a hard time over the supplies being stored in her cottage. She laughed and agreed it wasn’t Davor’s fault. We started to walk to Helene’s cottage to see if she was there, but ran into Hadley on the way. She said that she had seen Helene at her cottage, cleaning. As I looked up, I saw Helene leaving the cottage and heading down out of the village.

I left Wren to look after Hadley and followed Helene, catching up with her in a small clearing where she was gathering mushrooms. I reminded her about wanting to know when people were going outside the village but softened it because she was an approved forager still. She apologised and said she had been meaning to collect the mushrooms earlier but had been distracted by all the business with Davor dumping stuff in her cottage. She needed to get them by the full moon. I apologised in behalf of Davor and pointed out that he was doing so on my orders and asked if she could cut him a little slack. She said that she would and then mentioned that he was being a little slow in the romancing, and was still bringing her flowers. I told her that he was out of practice, reminding her of how oblivious I had been when we first knew each other. Perhaps she should take the initiative and thank him with a kiss when he next brought flowers. I would have said more, but I saw some figures moving in the undergrowth nearby – cŵn!

I gently moved Helene behind me and stood between her and the cŵn, fearing that their master might be somewhere around. Until Helene had mentioned her picking habits, I had forgotten it was full moon. Sure enough, the antlered figure appeared out of the gloom. It was, so far as I could tell, the new one. He appeared to be mildly amused, saying “What have we here.”

I greeted him politely and respectfully. I had no reason not to. Thus far, in my limited experience, he had behaved properly, and so far as I knew, neither Helene, nor I, were on his hit list. I explained that we were merely gathering herbs, nothing more and, remembering our previous encounter, asked if my queen had been able to give him the answers he sought.

He chuckled, remarking on the politeness when there had been fire before. Valene had no answers, he said, because he had no questions, which left me no wiser as to the business he had wished. What he had here, he said, was game, presumably us, before a hunter.

I was not going to be cowed. This was, after all a fae creature, and there were always rules, and games to be played. Behind me, I could tell that Helene was intensely fascinated, so I told her, in French, to be wary and to let me do the speaking. Politeness was always merited, I told him, as was fire, at times. But there was no game here, I said, surely we did not merit his attention when there were doubtless more worthy quarry.

That earned me a loud laugh from him. Indeed there were more worthy quarry; else he would have had the pack take us. He sought the one who was the shadow of what he had once been, the one who had wounded the stray puppy. Behind me, I heard Helene asking how I could be so calm and then saying she wished to go back to her cottage. I let her leave, trusting the Huntsman’s word that she was not his prey. I asked if he meant Horace and explained about the Accords, saying that I was intending to take Horace into custody for discharging a weapon in faerie and that we had means in place to determine his fate.

That was not what he meant. It was Llwyd that he sought. He had been the cause of the events in which Gwrgi had been wounded. It may have been Horace who fired the weapon, but it had been Llwyd who escalated things. That struck a cold chill in me. I had been getting the feeling for some time that something was amiss, but this was the first real evidence that the old kings were on the prowl. While I would rather Llwyd than Gwythyr, I had no idea how much if Llwyd’s sanity remained. The Huntsman continued, saying that Horace meant as little to him as I did. He advised me, very pointedly, to return to my castle before his generosity ran out; for tonight, he intended to hunt.

I had a number of questions, but I felt it wise to retreat while I could. I said that I had thought Llwyd long gone. As for Horace, he would be dealt with in our way. What issue there was between the Huntsman and Llwyd was not my concern, I said, save it threatened the village. I told him I would leave him to his hunt and would advise my people to stay indoors this night. I bade him goodnight and good hunting and left, making my way quickly to the main village entrance. There I told the guard to quickly spread the word that the Huntsman was on the prowl and that everybody should stay within the village, and preferably indoors for tonight and the next couple of nights.

Dorina was there, by the gate, with Hadley in her arms, trying to get her to sleep, singing a song that appeared to be French for whatever will be will be. We spoke a little about Hadley and what we could do for her – perhaps some herbal drinks to help her sleep. We concluded that there was little we could do about the memories, save be there for her as she processed them.

Dorina had another matter to raise with me. She wanted to make a more positive contribution to the village. She could help with healing and treatment, by making her various remedies and such like. She also said she was not unskilled with weapons and wondered if there was a way she could contribute to the defence of the village. I suggested that perhaps she and Helene could be appointed as official healers and maybe we could set up some space as an infirmary of sorts, rather than having them operate out of their cottages. I also told her about the reserve force and said that I would speak to Kustav about getting her involved.

She had one last matter for me – she needed to speak to Maric about controlling her other half. I had to tell her that he was not going to be available for a few days, but if she came to see me soon, there might be something I could do. I suggested she take Hadley back to the cottage and try to get her some sleep. In the meanwhile, I would get on with making sure the villagers were alert to the dangers of the Huntsman.

Even after making the rounds, and being absolutely sure that everybody was accounted for and understood the situation; I still felt a sense of disquiet. The Huntsman, for all that he is a danger, at least follows the rules. I wish I could say the same about Llwyd. He might be Seelie, but that does not mean he is good, or sane. That worries me more than anything.

To Find the King

Mother’s Arms

As I feared, Hadley was traumatised by the events in the vaults. How could she not be, seeing the one she had come to regard as Auntie demolished before her very eyes? I am relieved, at least, that she has family to help her through it. She has Wren, and apparently, she has Dorina, who seems to have adopted her, albeit informally. Meanwhile I have begun to make inroads in getting Wren to talk to me about what is going on in her head. It’s a small step, but it’s a good step.

I found Wren by the tavern, so we sat down for a chat. I asked her about Hadley and she told me that she had been crying a lot and not eating. I sighed inwardly, but this was to be expected. I explained what had happened and what bits Hadley had witnessed. I told her about the taint, Maric’s efforts to contain it, and Dyisi’s sacrifice. I explained that because Vedis was also tainted, that was why she had been affected by the ritual. I offered my opinion that it was unlikely we had seen the last of either of them.

She agreed with my hope for Vedis’ return. Apparently, Dyisi had spoken to her beforehand and told her that she did not die. Rather, she returned to where she came from, in another strand, so would likely find her way back. She had also apparently spoken with Galyanna, who had told her that things had not gone well. She was alarmed at what Hadley had seen, saying she was too young to experience things like that. She thought that Hadley needed Dorina, because she had started to call her mom, and that’s what moms did, make you feel better.

I had to agree with her on that, saying that my mother always had done so. I tried to assure her that Hadley had not seen the worst bits, or much of the blood. I would need to speak with Galyanna as soon as I could, to see what best we could do for Vedis. In the meanwhile, we should concentrate on helping Hadley as soon as Dorina got here. I interrupted myself with a massive yawn and explained that I had been up all night helping Valene and Gwrgi. While we waited, I asked if she had recovered from her fairy-licking episode.

She assured me that she had, having slept for almost a day afterwards. She now knew, she said, why people who took drugs were so weird. I told her she should chalk it up as a learning experience and explained what had happened with Gwrgi, before suggesting we go inside for something to eat.

Inside the tavern, we ordered a simple supper of bread and cheese, since I wasn’t really sure I fancied anything meat-like at the moment. I asked Wren if she had any questions, about the Shadow Roads, vampires, magic, the meaning of life etc. I was joking about the last, but, of course, that was the one she latched onto before asking a more pertinent question, was Maric a vampire?

I said I had been joking about the meaning of life. If I knew that, I told her, I would either be extremely rich, or in an insane asylum. She said that she was glad I wasn’t in the latter, as she had heard they were not nice places. I wondered if she had read anything of how such places were in my time, which I assumed were much worse than they were in her time. I could not lie to her about Maric. She had correctly deduced the answer, from other things I had said about blood magic and such like. I said that she was right, but that she should keep that information to herself. Those who needed to know were already aware, and that was the way he wished things to be. She promised that she would keep it to herself.

She told me that she had done some scrying and now knew that Ember was alive. She did not yet know where she was, but at least she was alive. I thought this was a good thing and said that we would have to then work out what, if anything, we should do about this and if Ember wished to join us, then, we would see what we could do about that too.

She told me also of her dream, which was much the same as the one I had experienced, of the white hand and the black hand on Ardan. She was worried by it, but did not know what it meant. I told her that I had also dreamed the same dream. I told her what I had surmised, that the black was something to do with either Alec and Isabella, or something to do with the old kings, possibly the Unseelie king, but I wasn’t sure. She wanted to know why she was having this dream, since she was not fae.

I offered several explanations. It could be simply because she was here, on the borders of faerie, and faerie having influence, even here. It could be because she was fae-affected because of Isabella, or it could just be because of her magic. The latter, I took as a chance to gently remind her of the lessons we still needed to have, jokingly suggesting that maybe we could trade maths lessons for magic lessons.

She pulled a face at that idea, probably finding either choice unappetizing. She said she did not want to be fae; she’d rather be demon, except she didn’t want to be that either.

I sensed some deeper concerns, about her nature, about her magic. I told her that it did not matter to me if she was human, demon, fae or whatever, she was still herself, and it was her I cared about, as much as if she were my own child. I knew it was no fun being her age, I said, because I remembered being her age too, and I hadn’t had to deal with things like magic and all the other weird shit that she had had to deal with. Whatever was going on in her head, whatever was bugging her, whatever weird shit she was dealing with, it didn’t matter, I cared for her, no exceptions, and no conditions. I asked her to trust me and to talk to me.

She looked at me for a moment, clearly struggling. “I don’t know what to say,” she said. She gave a whole litany of how growing up sucked, with the body changing, whether or not she wanted it to; about the strange moods and feelings and not knowing why you were feeling them; about feeling suddenly mad or tired and not knowing why. There were so many stupid thoughts and feelings and most of the time she didn’t really know what they were. She didn’t know why she felt these things, and why she thought weird things. Why couldn’t she be normal? I felt for her, remembering how I had felt at her age, as my body changed, and realising it would be so much worse for a girl, even more for one who so wanted to be a boy. She paused a moment, and started to explain about the magic. It was life magic, she said, or so she had been told. She could talk to animals and trees, she could make things live… and then there was the other side, the opposite side of life. She wound down a bit then, possibly because Dorina and Helene came in. I thanked her for confiding in me and trusting me, giving her a hug. I understood better now, I told her, adding that we would talk later.

Dorina was looking for Hadley, which was good because she was exactly what Hadley needed. I explained briefly what had happened, about how Hadley was unfortunate enough to have witnessed the disincorporation of Vedis and that she had not been sleeping well or eating well. She was not best pleased with this, but went straight to her, taking Helene along to deal with the injured arm.

I gave Wren another hug and reminded her that I was there for her, no matter what. She thanked me quietly and gave me a grateful smile. I sent her off to look after her sister, something I knew she could do and would be good for her. Poor kid, all mixed up and that without all the supernatural crap. I’ll do what I can, but I think she needs a woman’s touch too. But who? Aoibheann’s childhood wasn’t exactly a good example and besides, she thinks she is middle-aged in her early 20s. Helene? Maybe, but she was very innocent when I first knew her, so I don’t know what her life was like at that age? Maybe Gwn – in a way, she’s been through it twice. I will have to see if she can spare her any time.

Mother’s Arms

Fairy Dust

I really need to find more time to spend with Wren. She has much to learn, aside from the mathematics lessons I keep threatening her with. She has learned a lesson recently, though, and that is that licking fairies is a bad idea.

I had been rushing around like a blue-arsed fly, to borrow a phrase from Father, organising the moving of our supplies out of the vaults, when I saw Dyisi and Wren sitting under the tree. I thought I would allow myself the luxury of a short break to go and talk to them. But, when I sat down, I was worried. Wren wasn’t making a lot of sense, and her eyes were odd, her pupils dilated as though she had taken something. I was reminded a little of people I had met in opium dens in Amsterdam. Dyisi told me that she had ingested some fairy dust, but did not venture an explanation as to how this came to be. She was rooting in her pouch for something to help bring Wren down.

Wren herself definitely seemed to be under the influence of something. As well as the wide eyes, she was staring around, clearly fascinated by the castle. She was muttering about it being alive. It was breathing, she said, and only living things did that. I was curious to see if the faerie dust had opened her senses in much the same way as the wyld had opened mine, even before Maric had taught me the blood connection with the castle. She then saw me and started giggling, telling me she had licked a faerie. Her attention, her fascination, then switched to my hair, telling me it was so, so red, like I had a living fire on my head, and asking if she could touch it.

Dyisi, meanwhile was rummaging in her pouch, talking to it as if she had something living in there. I sat a bit closer to Wren and said she could touch my hair if she wished. She started saying it moved like the hair of the little mermaid under water. I guessed that she was referring to the Hans Christian Andersen tale, even if all the illustrations I had ever seen had showed her with dark hair. I wondered if perhaps in Wren’s time, they had made some moving pictures of the tale. My hair, though, she was saying, was like blood, but it must be good blood because it was so bright. I was definitely getting flashbacks to those few occasions I had experimented with opium. I agreed with her that the castle did indeed live, but it lived slowly, as stone would have to live, but it also probably echoed with all the lives that had lived in the castle. She told me that it was very alive, and that it was talking, except she didn’t speak castle, so she could not tell what it was saying. She seemed pleased that I agreed that it was alive. Then, she said, it could perhaps fix itself. So, I guessed she could pick up on the taint too.

Dorina turned up and greeted us. She looked distracted and said she had a favour to ask of me, but that it would have to wait, as she had things to deal with at the edge of the village. I felt a pang of guilt, because I had just not had the time to sit down with her and talk about controlling her beast, and told her to come and see me as soon as she had a moment. She asked if Wren could look in on Hadley and make sure that she ate something as she might be back late.

Dyisi finished rummaging in her pouch and produced a filled pipe, which she offered to Wren, saying that she should smoke it when she was ready to come down again. Wren had, by now, turned her attention to the tree, saying that it too was crying and was in pain. She did not want to feel any of that anymore. The pain, she said was something she could feel, but she did not speak tree either, so she did not know what it was saying. Clio, she said, had told her that the sickness could spread to the Summerlands and then we would be in trouble. Clio! I had heard rumours that there was a new faerie in town and I wondered if it was the same Clio who had collided with the tavern back in Jasper Cove so long ago, and who had delighted Aoibheann so much. If it was, it would explain the fairy dust. I made a mental note to admonish her about messing with the youngsters.

I hugged Wren and assured her that Maric, Dyisi and I were working on ways of healing and removing the sickness that was affecting the castle and the trees. We would deal with it, I said, but for now, she should concentrate on getting better herself. I did not much like the idea of a child so young smoking a pipe, but if that was the delivery method Dyisi had made, then we didn’t have a lot of choice. Dorina was not impressed either and told us not to let Hadley anywhere near that shit before drifting off to presumably deal with whatever other things she had to do.

Wren took a drag at the pipe and coughed. I chuckled internally and remembered my first attempts at smoking, way back when I was a student and feeling rebellious. I told her the best ways to inhale until she got used to it, much as I had learned, and that seemed to make things easier for her. After a few puffs, I could see that she was starting to come down somewhat. I left her then in Dyisi’s care, for I still had much to do around the village. Dyisi, I trusted, and knew she would take care of Wren as much as was needed. For now, there were other things I had to do.

Fairy Dust

Mint Imperials

Dyisi is a treasure! She brought me a bag of mint imperials, just when I was almost out of the meagre store I had. I always loved them and since I became what I am, they have been a tasty supplement to dental hygiene. Not a replacement, by any means. When my diet was mostly blood, dental hygiene took on a whole new level of importance, and the mints helped freshen the mouth (not the breath, for I did not breathe in those days). Since regaining the ability to eat solid food, I have to be even more careful, since that invariably means eating things that are bad for my teeth (and yes, I’ll admit, the mints probably come into that category). With the addition of the occasional moth to my diet, I definitely need them, since moth is not a pleasant taste once I switch back to my normal shape.

I found a small gathering on the green, Maric, Aoibheann, Wren, Hadley and Dyisi. That’s when she gave me the mints. She also brought some books for Aoibheann to read. I do not know them, so they perhaps happened after my time. Peter Pan I had heard of before, from Wren and Hadley, as the source for their adopted surname. Winnie the Pooh, which I later gathered was about a bear, was new to me, as what I was told was a racy novel about vampires. I am not sure this is such a good idea. She has enough misconceptions about us as it is. There were also, apparently, chocolates.

Conversation ranged around the difficulties of cooking and eating dinosaurs, the reality of stories, and the problems and paradoxes of time travel. This latter was prompted by Maric’s perhaps incautious mention of the spatial and temporal aspects of the Shadow Roads, which led to Wren asking about them. I told her they were the realm of the Cait and that they were a dangerous place to go, mentioning, without naming her, the eating habits of the local goddess there. Maric at least echoed my sentiment that people should not go there. I told Wren that I would tell her about it later.

On the matter of being in books, I ventured that I had always wanted to visit the Arthurian court, since they had been my favourite books growing up, and were largely responsible for my holding, so far as I could, to the ideas of chivalry. I admitted that the real knights might well have been dirty, smelly soldiers who drank and womanised too much. Dyisi said that she had experienced the Wonderland portrayed in the Lewis Caroll books.

Given the various gifts that Dyisi had brought, Maric spoke of the possibility of trade and suggested that I should draw up a list of things we needed, subject, of course, to the carrying capability of Dyisi’s pouch. Wren gave Aoibheann a bracelet she had made, much like the one she made me, except the beads either side of the initial letter were fashioned to look like acorns – for Ardan – she said. Aoibheann, in turn, gave Wren what she called a letter of commendation, though she did not disclose for what.

Orie turned up, looking somehow more relaxed and seeming younger than before. He and Dyisi appear to be fond of one another, which is a good thing. We exchanged greetings and enquiries after each others’ health and he seemed more amenable to me, perhaps as a result of our conversation the other day. He commented that he was not yet advanced on his quest, which I could not respond to as I had not yet managed to find Faermorn in my dreams.

Maric and I had a side conversation in silence. I asked about his ‘experiment’ and he said that it had failed. They had gone to restore Vedis, but the mission had failed because Lucifer himself intervened, and now Vedis was banished, which likely applied to Galyanna and Kitori too. This latter was a surprise – Kitori had apparently been working with Galyanna all along. Galyanna had insisted in strict secrecy, which was why he had not been able to tell me about the mission in advance, but she had kept the news about Kitori even from him.

What happens now, he did not know, save that Vedis, Galyanna and Kitori are unlikely to be able to return to Hell. He was fairly hopeful that retribution would not follow them here, but was worried about the vaults, because of their connection to Hell through the mirror. I suggested that we should, as a matter of urgency, make contingency plans for any attack.

He also asked me to speak to the children about the relationship with the fae courts, and in particular, about the choice of courts that may be someday forced upon them. He felt that would better come from me, with my greater experience. I told him I would do so, as well as teaching them about the Shadowroads and other things they should know about.

He had to leave then; there was a sense of instability from the castle, somewhere in the vaults. To me, it felt like toothache. Maric said he had to go and investigate, but charged me to take care of the village, as I always do.

I left the gathering too, as I had duties in the castle. There was much to think about, but at least I can do so with fresh breath.

A song by a band called the Mint Imperials