I was awake earlier than Nathaniel, so I went out to dip my toes into the water. Then I felt restless, so I asked him if he’d like to take a walk. Time is so weird here; even though we hadn’t slept for long, it felt like dusk. We walked across the bridge and found ourselves face to face with Rachel and the fairy from the other day, Bella. Rachel said she thought Bella and I had something to talk about, so we ducked off the path into a close clearing by the water. Just as we started talking, who should appear but Braeden, taunting me about my upcoming meeting with the Huntsman. It’s like he follows me around or something, I swear. And that interminable pacing! It just makes you think he’s going to sweep in any moment and have you for lunch. At least I know he’s planning on keeping me alive until his master can chase me down and kill me. Of course, so many things happened that day, it’s hard to keep them all straight.
Bella was really affected by the presence of the Sluagh — she seemed surprised we knew him and were on a first-name basis. My feeling is anybody I can be on a first name basis with isn’t Major FuckBeak, so it’s all good. As for the two of them, they couldn’t stop insulting one another, even though he got a few digs in on me as well. Suggesting that I wanted to have his children. It made me shudder to think. Still, I held my tongue and didn’t say we shouldn’t have children because they’d be too smart for his world and too ugly for mine. And because the thought of him touching me makes me want to vomit.
In the end, Bella decided she couldn’t handle being anywhere near Braeden, so she said she had something to show me and led us up the hill to the standing stones. Braeden followed us, of course. I’m not sure where Rachel went; I warned her off Braeden, though. I don’t want her to be turned to stone on my watch.
As it turned out, what Bella wanted me to see was the Seelie sithen! She said she thought she saw something in me, or something– things got fuzzy. She was very polite when she made it clear that Nathaniel couldn’t come. That made me a little sad, but I wanted to see the sithen, so I followed her.
Bella assured Nathaniel no harm would come to me, but I still felt a little guilty, leaving him out there, standing in the mist. What happened next was both weird and wonderful. We went through a door I’d never seen before, and then I got dizzy. When the dizziness stopped, we were standing on solid ground in the most beautiful place I have ever seen. At first, I had to shade my eyes from the light, because it was so bright it dazzled me. I guess the Seelie like light, and that was amazing– after all that time in the dark caverns at Underhill, I figured all fairies lived in caves underground. This — well, it felt underground, but it also felt like a whole world of light. I don’t know how such a thing could be, but it was like its own universe, with different stars, special stars made just for it, and a sun that never stops shining. That sounds so cheesy. It’s hard to describe the whole thing in words that won’t be ‘amazing’ or ‘awe inspiring’ or ‘bright’ every other syllable, so I tried to sketch it. You guessed it: the pictures don’t do it justice, but here they are anyway.
Bella says the centre of the sithen, where the tree is, is the heart of its energy. I felt drunk — happy drunk, not falling down drunk — and I’ve never felt so alive, not anywhere. I can’t really explain that feeling. It was a little like — oh, and I hope he never reads this — it was a little like being with Nathaniel makes me feel. Opened up, completely awake and alert, every sense magnified, but in a pleasurable way that could never be irritating or distracting. Then suddenly I worried I wasn’t somehow good enough to be in that place, like a sinner in heaven or something. I felt so like I belonged there, but also acutely aware of my failings and my lack of perfection. I wanted to be perfect, but it felt as if the place could tell I wasn’t. I told Bella about my upcoming meeting with the Huntsman, and she suggested I ask their queen for help or advice. She said creatures like Braeden can’t help but twist things, and that their queen could help me sort it all out.
I said I wouldn’t want to meet such a being and have my first encounter being begging for help getting out of a situation that I created myself. I told Bella that even if I died I’d have done it so that Aoibh wouldn’t be tormented any more, and even though that was scary, it would have to be enough that I’d helped save her. Bella told me she believed I had the light of the Seelie in my heart. She encouraged me to come back and speak to their queen, ‘just for a little meet and greet,’ she said. ‘And if you’re brave enough,’ she said, ‘you can ask her.’ She also asked for permission to tell Asreal, the other fae from the other day. That was an unintentional rhyme.
I didn’t want to leave, but something about stories of people sickening and dying because they had stayed too long in such a place twigged in my head. I’m probably not susceptible to that effect. I hope I’m not susceptible to that effect. And Nathaniel was out there waiting for me, so I said I should go. Bella led me back to the entrance and came with me to the surface(?). She even presented me to Nathaniel. I was so loopy and bedazzled I didn’t realise he was smoking a pipe for the first few seconds I looked at him. Bella went off to find Asreal, and we sat talking for a little while as dusk began to fall.
He explained the pipe was an occasional habit and he’d lit it to mask the lingering smell of Braeden, who really should just accept that I am the boss of him and take the name Sir Stinksadeath permanently.
Nathaniel wondered if they offered me fabulous gifts. I said they hadn’t. In fact — and this is kind of important — Bella said they’d never try to force anybody to stay with them. I thought that was refreshing, considering that since I’ve been here everybody has been trying to get me to choose one court or the other, get me killed, get me making oaths and promises. So far, they’re the only ones who haven’t. But maybe that was just Bella: possibly I’ll get another impression when I talk to beings of importance. That seems to be the rule here, as everywhere: the little people on the ground are lovely: it’s the leaders who screw everything up. The people only get screwed up because they follow the leaders. Nathaniel said he hoped he’d be invited sometime. ‘Unless I am too tainted,’ he said.
The thought that Nathaniel might be tainted somehow has never crossed my mind, not even when he first told me he was a vampire. We’d known each other for a while when he told me that, and I figure if he’d been planning on attacking me or hurting me he’d have done so long before then. Nathaniel is good. He is. He just also happens to be a vampire. Which, to my mind, is also good, because we’d not have met otherwise, and I can’t imagine a world without him. That sounds so twee.
I know what Fen would say right now: she’d say he was only a boy. Fen always laughed at me for being a virgin, for not being involved with anybody to any level. She said that when I finally fell for somebody, I was going to fall so hard she was going to have to walk behind me everywhere to keep me from falling over. She said it was a good thing we were going to be friends forever, because I would need her there, saying, ‘he’s only a boy’. Well, he may be only a boy, but, yeah. If Fen could show up here, she’d be too busy freaking out to tell me anything. Or maybe she’d surprise me. Maybe she’s secretly a fairy too and doesn’t know it. But if that’s the case, why didn’t she end up in Jasper with me? Why was it just me? Richard would have been weirder. I imagine telling Richard I’m in love with a vampire, the look on his face. He’d laugh at me and accuse me of turning into a goth chick. And then he’d probably shank me again. Not really: that just felt like it would sound good there.
I’m wibbling now. It’s because I don’t want to write the next part. That probably means I should stop, and go find out what’s going on in the cavern, see if I can scare up something to eat. More about the rest of that night later.