And sometimes, you learn who your real friends are.
Three betrayals. Three debts incurred. Three debts now due.
First the Thirteen betrayed me, and my trust. They drew me out, played on my eagerness to improve the fortunes of the county and duchy I love and pressganged me into accepting their ill-devised plan... and I was repaid for my trust with the deaths of three hundred men and a freehold. Perhaps some of the blame goes to me, for naively taking these men at their words -- but they were known to be men of honor, and if one cannot trust honorable counts and barons then whom can one trust? -- and for later forgiving them, and helping them to escape. I look back now and realize that I could have saved the county much trouble by simply not being so generous... but I hold principles that tower above my pride, and I had no way of knowing on that fateful night where my kindess would lead.
Next the Thirteen betrayed my county, and its hospitality. They accepted asylum in the county of Atreus, and rather than being grateful promptly began making absurd and destructive demands and whining like little children when (for the safety of resident and refugee alike) their requests went unfulfilled. Basic attempts to talk to them were rebuffed, and when they were finally asked to leave they grew belligerent and threatening. No longer could I afford to be generous, when the time came -- but being of good heart, I attempted to save them what pain and trouble I could. It was only when the rest of the county was under threat that I complied with Boalt's darker demands, and even then with heavy heart. I had no way of knowing that all of my hard work, my concern, my mental anguish would be for naught... but, one lives and learns.
Tonight, the Thirteen betrayed truth and justice, plain and simple. True, Alain attacked the steward... but given that the steward was a betrayer to the Duke and perhaps to all of Pacifica, cause was ample. And it is the reactions of the other twelve which have sealed the fate of the whole -- their quickness to lay blame and prosecute the citizens of Atreus as scapegoats for crimes which have not in fact been committed belies their intent to destroy us utterly, likely for the mere reason that we would not take their abuses lying down in the past. These men believe themselves above all laws of mortals, fae and nature, and would impose their rules on all others; they claim dominion over truth, and the right to decide the fates of others without hearing word of reason. And I will not allow it.
Three betrayals. Three debts incurred. Three injustices to rectify.
This county will not be safe until the threat these men pose is eliminated wholly. If this requires the elimination of these thirteen men, so be it.
My principles remain strong. But my love and devotion to my land and my people is stronger. What matter principles, when I stand in the centre of a ruined county with the bodies of friends at my feet?
These debts will be repaid. God forgive me -- darling Charles, forgive me -- but this cannot stand. And if no one else will right this wrong, then I have no choice.
No human being had set foot upon the island in many years. The brush had grown up close around the small houses, the ivy had crept in the windows and the birds made nests in convenient alcoves, confident that they would be undisturbed... but the houses themselves, and the belongings left by the last residents -- down to the food on the tables -- preserved by certain magicks, did not rot or decay but merely waited, as though their owners would be back any moment. They slept, much as the entire island slept... and dreamed, and waited to awaken again.
The man and woman who set food on the island that warm summer evening were not, by strictest definition, human at all; neither were they fully of the tuatha from whom they claimed descendance. But tonight this man and woman gave little thought at all to any human or fae but each other, and the exhiliration that simply being together brought to their hearts. They began to explore the island in high spirits; they laughed and joked intimately as they crested a hill together, and when the man helped his lady to descend the other side he could not help but snatch her up in his arms and spin her around giddily, both of them laughing like children.
When they found the village, they first looked inquisitively for the owners... but thought surprisingly little was strange about not finding them. Magic, after all, was a staple of their existences, and arrogantly they decided that the Dreaming must have known they were coming and created the perfect retreat for them. Then they thought little more of it, as the woman found herself drawn to the sound of crashing waves, and together the young lovers raced for the shore.
Only once, it seemed, did either of them have a thought or a care for caution; the young man hesitated to lay down his sword, even to follow his beloved into the warm and waiting ocean. But she spoke kind and confident words to him, and not a moment later the island saw both man and woman splashing, laughing and playing, revelling in each other as though they were the only two beings in the world.
As the sun sank below the bluegreen water in the west, they held each other close, and at last they began the walk back up the beach, up the hill to the waiting houses. There they found a likely home, warm and cozy, curiously well-stocked with everything visitors and residents could possibly need... and there, they became so entranced with the universe in each other's eyes that they never thought to question their fortune. As the moon rose high above the quiet island, the lovers quickly fell into each other's eyes, and arms, and from there into a waiting bed. And hours later, as the same silent moon began to set, the lovers finally drifted to sleep, exhausted and content, entwined in each other's arms.
So the lovers began to dream... and the dreaming island to wake.
I'd never lost faith, of course... but still it seems strange that I have arrived at this moment. Barring unforseen catastrophe, at this time tomorrow, I shall be a married woman.
I still haven't decided what I'm doing with my name. Of all the petty things! Mundanely I think I shall change it outright: Kathryn Ward sounds sophisticated enough, and Carver-Ward just doesn't have the appropriate ring. Not that de Carabas-Ward is exactly smooth... but I'm far more hesitant to consign the name of de Carabas and all it carries to the ashbin. Part of me says I shouldn't care this much -- especially given that at least half the court will happily avoid the confusion by calling me Lady Kat as they have always done... but I know that names have Power, and that Power provides argument both for and against a change. My traditionalist side wants to demonstrate that he is a part of me and our fortunes are bound, happily and forever... but the Modern Girl in me refuses to wear any name but my own. So... crud. I think I'll be trying out all the variations I can until I decide what I like best.
Morgana is very excited, of course; when I dropped her off at home tonight she was practically giddy with anticipation. She looks stunning in her new gown -- quite the young lady -- and I think her big brother is going to be very shocked. After the honeymoon, I believe we'll have to finally take her to Pacifica for a proper Saining... and I know Charles has been dreading that, but it has to be done. I was already attending court at her age, and we can't hold her back because Charles is afraid of what might happen to her. She's strong and brave, and I know she'll be all right no matter what.
...I'm anxious about tomorrow. There, I said it. I don't really know what I'm nervous about, mind you -- I know that nothing can truly go irrevocably wrong -- as long as Charles and I are married at the end of the day, I'll be happy. But I've put so much hope and planning into this day, I suppose it's only natural to worry.
Tomorrow, the wedding; afterwards, the honeymoon... and after that, the rest of our lives. It will never be dull, I know that.
I'm already looking forward to it.
Of course, it should have gone better. Next time I'll do better.
I hadn't prepared properly, and that was my downfall. I hadn't thought of all the questions that might be asked. I'd covered half my bases by plotting out and going over what happened at the Ducal city, because I had seen how confused people were... but after my conversation with Devon, I didn't think about how clear I needed to be with everyone else. And I should have thought of it, and that was a major gaffe.
But I'm learning. Next time I'll do better.
- Music:"Putting the Damage On," Tori Amos
We held Lance’s funeral Saturday.
It was small. Most of the people there weren’t there because they wanted to be so much as because they had to be. At least half of them hadn’t ever met Lance. It felt like a false ritual -- probably because it was -- but it was my responsibility, as so much is now, and I performed it.
My detractors are already spreading the news that I wasn’t nearly emotional enough at the ceremony. Fuck them. My emotions are my own. I feel no need to hide them, but neither do I feel the need to trot them out and parade them around for people who don’t need to see them because someone else thinks I should. Let the parasites go watch a soap opera.
The freehold feels so empty, but it’s full of ghosts. It’s mine now -- I feel it reverberate when I walk down the halls, and it sends both a shiver up my spine and a knife to my gut. I’m still a stranger here -- this castle is only mine because the father is gone and his son is dead. I feel them and all others who came before me here, all around me, watching me. I suppose the idea is a little comforting… but in all reality, it’s damned disconcerting.
The dreams are persistent. For one not typically given to visions, this is also damned disconcerting. I have to figure out what they mean… and I’m realizing that I’m not going to accomplish that by sitting here. There’s only one way for me to find the answers I seek.
I think I’ve been too long out of the field. It’s time for a little trip.
As soon as things regarding the stabbing of Gwin Sparrowhawk had settled down, Baron Ward took me aside to discuss the issue and its ramifications – for up to that point we had been so busy dealing with it separately that we had not had a chance to compare notes and ensure that we were on the same page. Indeed, as always, we were, and so we returned to court confident that we had matters well in hand.
As we re-entered the main hall, I spied Eudora Honeywine speaking with a group of commoners. She turned and, likewise spotting me, greeted me with “Hello! Don’t mind us; we’re planning your engagement party!”
The subject of my personal life – and specifically my love life – has recently been a source of great amusement to several commoners, Dora chief among them, and I’ve given up trying to dissuade them from it. So instead of chiding her, I merely turned to Baron Ward and jovially asked him if we were engaged – for if so, I certainly hadn’t heard of it, and one would think that I should be first to know. He likewise denied knowledge of any engagement, and we laughed and joked about it for several moments, until he was suddenly called away to deal with other matters.
While he was gone Dora came over to me, and she and I talked for a while. We were still sitting together when Baron Ward returned, breathless, and asked to speak to me on a matter of great importance. Given the magnitude of everything else we’d dealt with this evening, I decided that it must be very important indeed, and so I excused myself from Dora quickly to follow Baron Ward down another hall of the castle to a secluded courtyard.
As it turned out, he wished again to go over several of the admittedly upsetting events of the evening. However, he did make an effort to temper the dismal topic with a grin and a bouquet of lovely flowers, which I accepted with good cheer.
We spoke on all those things which I have reported earlier, so I will not repeat them now. But in particular, the names of Malum and Ailron resurfaced – for if indeed they were responsible for the destruction on Samhain, which we’ve considerable reason to believe they were, then they will certainly not be content to leave it at that – such is not the style of either evil creature. They destroyed a good fraction of the army – they may be responsible for the deaths of Lady Gwyndolen and Baron St Titus – judging from our wounds, they nearly killed Baron Ward and I and many of our friends… and having seen fit to attack us once, they are not likely to be happy leaving the job unfinished. Preparing for their assault – especially since we don’t currently know precisely from which corner it will come – will take hard work, and we may not have much time. “We are heading into a dark and dangerous winter, my lady,” Baron Ward informed me, not for the first time.
And, also not for the first time, I agreed with him. “I’m certain we’ll make it through, however,” I responded… or at least, I said something to that effect. I admit I was enjoying the flowers and not quite looking at him, nor thinking in particular about my words. So distracted was I that I almost didn’t hear Baron Ward’s answer to me.
“I’d rather we faced it together,” he said.
I turned to ask Baron Ward what he meant… but on seeing him, the words caught in my throat.
Baron Ward had dropped to one knee.
From his coat he brought a small box.
He opened the box.
Inside the box was a ring. Silver, studded with sapphires.
Quite literally – for me, at least – as in that moment the last several months came back in a rush – starting with the conversation he and I had about oaths so many months ago, when I first thought that perhaps this Charles Jupiter Ward wasn’t exactly like every other Ailil I had ever met. The first few times we worked together upon his promotion to Baron of Arms – when I learned how frustrating he could be, how annoyingly sensible. The first time I saw him in combat. The night we spent talking politics in secret while under the Duke’s “hospitality”… and the sunrise we watched the next morning. The night Gwyndolen returned, so infinitely incapable of fulfilling the duty she’d stolen – I watched Baron Ward find strength in his own duty that night, where I found only frustration, and I admired him for it. Two weeks later, when St Titus returned from the dead, I felt so alone and worthless – that I was failing my liege and his son and god, how dark and cold and hopeless the future seemed… and it was Charles Ward who convinced me otherwise. When my beloved, reckless Lance – my baby brother, on whom I’d pinned all my hopes for the future… when he was lost, I thought all the world went with him – but it was again a Seelie dragon, my once-unexpected ally, my knight in black and shining silver who lent me his bandaged shoulder to lean on, and all his formidable strength to carry on.
Two nights ago he and I walked together along the beach to say goodbye to summer. We talked then of the chill of the oncoming winter; of the trepidation we felt as we again entered the dark times, feeling that they were to be darker than we’ve seen before. I’ve never felt colder than when we parted ways that evening.
Just a few moments earlier, Eudora had been asking me why I was taking the engagement business so seriously. I had had to explain to her why it wasn’t a good idea – every reason that it was inappropriate for Baron Ward and I to marry, every factor that made it a patent impossibility, every proper justification for why if it was to happen it certainly couldn’t happen now. And even at the time I knew she was trying to be helpful, so I certainly couldn’t tell her how upset I was that she was forcing me to face the truth about my desires – that I couldn’t have what I so deeply wanted, not now and possibly not ever….
But now the warmer thoughts washed over me in a flood. The first time he kissed me. My lady lion, I love you. The flowers! The milkshakes, the theatre – the smile on his face when he spoke of his hopes for the future. Two nights ago, when he held me and promised to weather this winter beside me. And now here before me, my precious lord kneeling and asking “Kataryna, will you marry me?”
By my House… by my faith and my love and by all that I hold dear…
…there was only one answer I could give.
We at first thought to wait to make a proper announcement. But we encountered Gwin and Eudora on our way back to the main courtyard, and though we dropped our hands before they could see how tightly we were clasping them, there wasn’t much hiding the smile on my face or the ring on my left hand. I have never seen a boggan shriek louder or merrier, nor run quite so fast as Dora when she charged back to the assembled fae to make certain everyone had heard the good news by the time we arrived.
And despite it being the second full night of winter – and the middle of the night at that – the freehold seemed to brighten for a while, as the news spread and our friends came up to my fiancé and I, to greet us and tease us and of course congratulate us. Gwin chattered happily about the dress she wants to make for me. Dora squealed at anyone who would listen. Baron Ward’s men grinned and shook his hand, and the Baron himself… well…
My dear Charles is a man who takes his responsibilities quite seriously; as an unfortunate result, true smiles from him are far and few between. Oh, he smirks occasionally, as all of his House are taught to do, and he laughs from time to time – but usually ironically. I have seen him genuinely smile – beginning from his curving mouth up through a crinkle in his nose and an undisguisable twinkle in his sparking eyes – but a handful of times. That night – in that brief time from the moment he asked and I accepted, while we were talking to the fae of our court, until much later in the evening – he could hardly stop smiling. It was possibly the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen – especially accompanied as it was by his inimitable ringing laughter. And I don’t think I have ever been so happy as I was in that time, in that room filled with laughter and love and a warmth to invoke the summer even in the dead of a winter’s night.
This winter is twenty-four hours old, and it is already a tumultuous season.
Lady Gwyndolen Rosalind de Ballantyne ap Ailil, Baroness Hearths, known to the mortals as Gwyneth Rose Beaumont, is gone from this life, the manner of her demise lost (for the time being, at least) to the mists of Samhain. Her brother, Baron Sidney Saint-Titus ap Ailil, is missing and at this time presumed likewise dead. There has been little chance to mourn either or both of them thus far, but in the coming weeks they will be memorialized. Although the value of their impact on this county could be debated, it was not insignificant, and both the influence of their lives and the manners of their deaths will be felt for quite some time to come.
I believe the freehold Aerie Ophelian truly forever ceased to be along with its master and mistress. May it find new life on the sea, with a captain who I hope will likewise discover a metamorphosis and a rebirth.
The county has already suffered grievous damages from party or parties suspected but still officially unknown. We have weathered many storms before, and remain confident that we can withstand this as well… but it will be a long fight, and a hard one, and there are no guarantees.
The relative peace we have known between nobles and commoners in this county may be drawing to an abrupt end… or perhaps not. Perhaps once our noble guest departs he shall take the customs of greater Concordia with him, and we may return to the gentle cooperation we have known in the past. At the very least, I have faith in all the fae of Atreus – noble and commoner alike – that this will not destroy the future we are building together.
Finally and not insignificantly, I am totally, desperately, head over heels in love. And six months from now, when the Beltane flowers bloom and summer arrives to chase away the cold, I shall marry the man of my dreams.
From where I sit, the future looks bright indeed. Rain may fall and winds may howl; the snows may come and bury all. But the winter won’t last forever; the rain will dry, the winds quiet and the snows melt away, and we will greet the new summer stronger than we left the old. I know this to be true.
And I do believe that, Dreaming willing… we all may just live happily ever after.
Kataryna de Carabas ap Fiona
Provisional Countess of Atreus
Spymaster and Baroness of Corners
November 1 2005
I had been informed earlier in the evening that the county could expect a noble visitor to arrive this evening, and it was at this moment that he chose to make his appearance: Sir Standish Gentry ap Gwydion, an instantly genial and jovial knight errant on tour through the lands of Pacifica. Baron Ward and I of course immediately made him welcome, introducing him to the fae of our court, showing him around the freehold and at his request taking him to the harbor to view the ships in dock. He was pleasant enough on his arrival, and I initially thought that this visit would go fairly smoothly.
Unfortunately I have been so long in Atreus that I have somewhat lost sight of how liberal our court is compared to most others of Arcadia. The common fae feel comfortable addressing the nobility by single names (myself by a nickname – I really think Baron Ward and I use each other’s titles more than most of the commoners do!), and know that they are largely free to speak their minds when moved to do so… and this has been the tradition here for so long that for all the ranting Uven and his ilk may have done, most of our commoners are completely ignorant of how rare this kind of casual familiarity is in fae society overall. And it was this misunderstanding that nearly led to a very tragic disaster.
It began when Ian took joking issue with Sir Gentry’s dress, asking why he wore clothing that by modern mortal styles is several centuries outdated. Sir Gentry took it in stride at first, gently jibing back at the redcap, but when Ian continued to insist that “nobody fucking dresses like that anymore, motherfucker,” Sir Gentry began to warn Ian that continued disrespect would only earn Ian a good thrashing.
Unfortunately I have thus far found two things which Ian does not know how to do: spell the word main, and figure out when to quit. He again called Sir Gentry a “motherfucking fruit”, Sir Gentry turned to Baron Ward to request permission to deliver the aforepromised thrashing, and Ian pre-empted the request by belting Sir Gentry upside the back of his head. The need for formality thus negated, Sir Gentry turned back to Ian and the thrashing commenced.
Now, of course I would step in if any member of my court attacked another unprovoked, or without warning. Ian had both sorely provoked Sir Gentry and received repeated and explicit warnings – really, Ian had all but literally asked for it – so at this point I felt he was completely on his own. Additionally, I trusted Sir Gentry ap Gwydion to stay within the realms of a disciplinary thrashing, not to permanently harm Ian or anyone else. Action of this sort is rare in Atreus, but it is not without longstanding precedent and generous acceptance elsewhere in Concordia… so Baron Ward and I stood back and let it pass.
However, the commoners of our court – most of them having spent their entire fae existences in our very liberal county – were rather shocked by the demonstration, and few of them were so willing to let it pass. Sir Reginald managed to avert worse disaster by laying down Protocol… but Gwin Sparrowhawk, in her most-well-intentioned concern for her fellow fae, slipped past his magics and inserted herself between the battling fae in an attempt to stop their duel. As Sir Gentry came in for another attack with his sword, she darted before Ian and raised her hands to stop him….
…and he ran her through.
Chaos erupted. The conflict ended immediately at that point. Baron Ward and I did jump in to separate all parties; Sir Gentry withdrew, and Baron Ward dealt with him while I attempted to see to the two injured commoners. Both Ian and Gwin were healed – the latter by Sir Gentry himself – and we attempted to smooth things over the best we could.
The awkward thing of it for me is that the accident wasn’t entirely any one person’s fault. It wasn’t Gentry’s fault that a commoner with more compassion than common sense put herself in front of his blade; it wasn’t Gwin’s fault that she didn’t understand how these things work well enough to know that Gentry would not necessarily be compelled to stay his hand on account of an uppity commoner. Sir Gentry did apologize profusely to Gwin for the accident (circumstances aside, he’s too much of a gentleman to think harming a non-combatant lady is ever all right) and offered compensation, but she was too upset to talk to him directly, instead giving her answers to Uurguist to relay to Sir Gentry.
Sir Gentry was himself upset by the proceedings, in particular that the commoners of our court believed they should be free to insult the nobility without consequence, and that he was being painted as the villain of this piece by Gwin and others who were shocked to see her come to harm, even accidentally. I did my best to assuage his concerns, explaining that Gwin herself is a newcomer to our society and apologizing for the behavior of our commoners. Meanwhile, I also put word in motion to the appropriate channels to make sure that our citizens know that Sir Gentry is not someone to be treated with the same informality that our resident nobility is accustomed to – that while he is a guest in my realm, I expect all citizens of Atreus to be on their best behavior. And perhaps we can avert further such disasters.
I have thus far concluded each entry with a line or an allusion to the effect that “from here, things only got worse.” Gentle reader, you will be pleased to know that this is as bad as it got for this evening. But the night is not over, and the last chapter is perhaps the most shocking of all….
[…to be concluded!]