Nualla wanted me to find Nathaniel and Aoibheann and make sure they came to the Shadow Roads. She was very insistent, so I flew to the Unseelie sithen to find them. I flew because then, if asked, I can say my feet did not touch Unseelie ground. I have to find out how strict all these rules are before I break all of them. Then again, breaking all of them might be as good a way as any to find out about them — nah. That’s really not a good idea, is it?
Aoibheann wanted to know if Llwyd’s name had come up. I think she and I really need to talk, because I have no idea what she was on about. I mean, obviously I know who Llwyd is, and there’s this whole Llwyd/Huntsman thing, but she seemed awfully agitated about it all. I am also tired of only getting to see Aoibheann when there is some crisis or other. We will do something boring and ordinary together. Soon. That will not be interrupted by huge scary flying things that mean us harm or someone causing mayhem in the name of fun, or anything. What I would not give for a desperately boring night at the Lucky Leaf! This has been a week for intense experiences, and going to find them last night was only the beginning. We stood and talked for just a little while, and then the Cait opened the roads and took us to Valene.
Valene had called Braeden there to answer my accusation that he had broken the oath we’d sworn to one another. I admit I was a little startled: I’d expected a quiet word with Valene about it and then something like this. But there we were all assembled on the Shadow Roads, with the Cait all around us and a terrifying crow I took to be Valene’s mother circling all around. Valene said the Cait would be witnesses to what was happening and that she would ask the questions. She drew a line with her foot and forbade any of us to cross to the other’s side. So there the three of us were, Aoibheann, Nathaniel and me, on one side of the line, and there was Braeden, looking moody and uncomfortable (in other words, pretty normal for him) on the other.
Everything looks different on the Roads. It’s hard to look around much; you just have to concentrate on what’s in front of you. Concentrating on Braeden wasn’t hard, as I had a lot of anger to direct that way. He had none of his usual bravado, and he didn’t suggest that he and I would be getting married any time soon. I can only surmise he found the situation as serious as we all did.
I was asked to repeat the oath exactly as I’d said it. I did the best I could. I said, “I promised I would go with Braeden to meet the Huntsman, and he promised no harm would come to Aoibheann.”
It felt so weird. Valene looked like what I’ve always imagined some wild shaman would look like, or maybe a Whirling Dervish. She seemed to be somehow communicating with the Roads at the same time she was communicating with us — and the crow kept coming down, picking feathers from her wings — I don’t know how she stood all those things at once. But as I’m learning, I need to let go of some things about my human self in order to see clearly my fae self.
She told me I hadn’t worded the agreement right, because Braeden had done the same thing to Aoibheann after our agreement was made, meaning that it wasn’t ‘more’ harm. I took the semantic angle, suggesting that harm built upon harm and that Aoibheann was more damaged by every touch from this creature.
Valene explained a little about fae justice. When someone accuses someone else of oath breaking, this is a very serious charge (knew that). And at the end of any formal accusation (which this wasn’t), either the accuser or the oath breaker would be set upon by the Wild Hunt and chased to the ends of the earth by the cwn (didn’t know that). When I reminded her that I’d made no formal accusation, only asked for her advice (with an extra helping of also reminding her how I trust her and how much I value her advice), she said that’s why we were having this conversation here, on the Roads, so that she could control the context, find out what was what, and work out how to proceed from there.
Then, Valene asked for Aoibh to speak, and speak she did.
“Braeden’s made an oath that he had no intention of ever keeping. He knows the Huntsman. He knows the Huntsman knows me harm. More harm. And I do not think he intends, or even could, do anything to prevent that from happening.”
Valene asked Braeden if this was true. Braeden said, “I am unable to protect her from The Huntsman. Not because I do not want to, but because I’ve been loyal to him since I first became Sluagh. He always knows what I’m doing and thinking. I am one of his Cwn for now…when he should of ended my life..for killing all those seelie archers after I awoke from being a statue..”
And Aoibheann — taunted him. I just gaped.
“Didn’t he warn you, sluagh? You said that you knew not to play with me. Didn’t he tell you, sluagh, that it’s best not to play with the little rabbit? I almost made a trade with you once, Braeden — I asked you if you would protect me, and you said that you would not be foolish enough to die for me, but what will you do now? Would you rather be forsworn?”
I have never heard her sound so alien, so mocking. I just stood there, staring, and loved her to pieces.
Everything went silent then, for a long, long series of moments. Finally, Valene spoke.
“Then you offered into a contract with no hope, Braeden…your only hope to get out of this is to get the Huntsman to swear to not harm Aoibh, which is a monumental task that even Atlas could not hold, that is the only way that you shall be able to hold up your side of this Oath. You and Gwyn have a meeting with him, as soon as you can…whether you bring the others is your own business…just know I can do nothign to help you in that matter. This meeting is going to be placed on a hold until after the time when Gwyn speaks with the Huntsman with Braeden by her side. If he can not get the promise from the Huntsman…than I have no choice but to allow you to inform who you deem fit….and the consequences that follows such actions.”
Both Braeden and I agreed that we would have this meeting as soon as possible. For me, there are now two things to worry about: the first being whether Braeden is honourable enough to let me live long enough to attend this meeting at all, and the second being whether or not I’ll get my say in before the Huntsman gets that hungry look in his eyes that I saw just before he flew off with the cwn at our last meeting.
Then, the Roads collapsed in on themselves and we all found ourselves in separate places; I was alone, at least. I tried to grab Aoibheann before everything dissolved and tell her how much I love her and how brave and amazing she is. I only hope I will still know her thirty years from now.
It would be narratively consistent for me to say I went back to the sithen and slept fitfully through seemingly endless nightmares of the Wild Hunt, but that would be a lie:
I went back to the sithen, climbed into my beautiful yellow bed, threw yesterday’s dress over a chair, and slept like a baby.
When I woke up, another adventure was waiting almost immediately, but for now I need to get up from this beautiful desk (who knew having an almost schoolroom-sized writing desk would one day be the greatest luxury I could think of?) and move on to my day. Perhaps I can find Lady Siansa, for I have a story to tell her. Or perhaps I will ask Prince Blaise for some advice. Or maybe not. Maybe I won’t ask for his advice. He was nice today, and I want that trend to continue.