Alec had said Isabella would find me to discuss our potential agreement, and I admit I assumed she’d come to the castle, as she’d enjoyed hospitality from Lord Maric there many times before.
So today, I fled the disintegrating sithen and the sight of my people queuing up like lemmings to walk into oneness with the Mallorn tree, and even though Nathaniel was busy elsewhere and Aoibheann was nowhere to be found, I haunted the castle, looking for her. I ended up on the balcony, with a book, but I must have fallen asleep (it was dry reading, something about the history of the crusades– I just picked up the first book I touched on the bookcase), because suddenly she was just there, dressed as I remembered her from Jasper, crowned and queenly.
She had her back to me when I awoke, and of course she knew I was there; she always knows things like that. She said hello to me and told me Alec had said I was uncertain about the choice she was about to offer me.
A choice. Always a choice. I dream fondly of a world where I don’t have to make choices, but I should have known there would be one, some sort of bargain, anytime either of the two of them are involved. So I said that yes I had questions, but that I did not question her sincerity.
Our conversation was interrupted (natch), by Lord Maric (natch), who came out onto the balcony in a burst of flower language and not-so-veiled prophecies of doom-I-tell-you-DOOM.
He did at least acknowledge that he’d interrupted us. I have promised Nathaniel I’ll be more forgiving of the man, and it is his castle, so I suppose we were the trespassers. He said something about not being able to promise either of us safety unless we asked specifically for his protection, which sounded an awful lot like a blanket disinvite to Mysty Rosehaven land (which at least smells better than Castle Shithole. Remember Castle Shithole?)
We both acknowledged his concern. I said that it was not a negotiable point whether I’d be visiting frequently in order to see Nathaniel, and he replied that my “fae cat” (Nualla would so gag at that assessment!) should be able to get me there, so there was no worry about that. At least he seemed to understand that there would be no argument as regards my continued visits. I tried to warm up to him, really I did. Nathaniel says his heart is good and that he has the same values we do, and so I will continue to try. Apparently he has a hunger for fae blood, so I guess I look like a tasty rack of ribs to him or something, and he’s constantly having to hold back his fae hunger when he’s around any of us. Perhaps that’s why he always looks like such a sourpuss. Isabella didn’t spend much time before saying that we had to go and continue our conversation elsewhere. She reached out her hand to me, and I took it. Ashmourne faded before us as if we were walking into a Monet; all the colours faded into one another. And then my stomach dropped.
In the space of a breath, I found myself on the roof of a 20-story building. Around us, the noises of a city burned in my ears, and the smells of a city assaulted my nose. I’d forgot what that was like.
And I felt sick. I was dizzy and nauseated; it was like seasickness, motion sickness, something I never had before. I lost my balance a couple of times, but I didn’t embarrass myself by falling over or anything (thank you, Lady Siansa!)
It was freezing! Isabella, of course, was perfectly dressed for the weather (Girl Guide in a former life?), but I was still in a spring tunic, bare-armed, bare-legged, and bare-footed. She produced a roomy wool coat for me, which helped, and I glamoured some leg warmers, once I remembered what they felt like. Glamouring things was harder than in Ashmourne, which makes sense; my disconnection from sithen would make any small act of magic a feat in itself.
She told me that I had a choice. To go forward, she said, I would need to accept everything that I have become (whatever that is). To go back I’d have to be willing to lose my memories of everything that’s happened.
It was a no-brainer, I thought, but then I figured it was my only chance to ask some questions to which I needed answers. Then she threw me a curve ball.
“Before you make that choice,” she said, “I have a question for you…something I rarely ask others…what is it, Gwyn, that you think I am?”
Well, I knew the answer to that: Isabella is a goddess. Alec told me as much, and I suspected it when one blast of energy from her managed to turn Nathaniel into a living, breathing human being.
I answered the question, and she told me I was right, though she hadn’t been born a goddess. She said she was chosen to it. I didn’t know what that meant, either. She told me that my life would be harder, even if it would be filled with adventure. That she was necessarily vague because she could not reveal too much or too little.
Finally, I agreed. Of course I was going to agree: the idea of going back to London and trapping myself back in my old life is almost unthinkable to me now.
And then something happened. I don’t have a clear memory of it, but there was a blaze of light, and a being full of light was there in her place, was her, and she reached out to touch the necklace I was wearing.
This is what I remember of how she looked. I cannot draw this. I made myself too big in the picture. Also, I don’t think I managed to stand up for very long. I fell over. She caught me before I fell, and then she was the woman in the trench coat again, an Isabella in New York, just casually standing on a rooftop with a strangely dressed, pointy-eared blonde girl swooning in her arms.
I’d say it was embarrassing, but she was the only other one there, and I guess goddesses get that all the time, the swooning.
She said “Wear it well, Gwyn.” She meant the necklace, which felt imbued with power when I touched it, and even when I didn’t. I don’t think I could ever bear to take it off again, not after that.
And then she shouted, “Welcome home, Gwyn!” And she took my hand and we ran—
And we jumped off the roof of a 20 story building! And nobody noticed! I felt as if we flew, but we were definitely falling, only slowly. And no one saw a thing.
Oh, fuck me sideways, WE WENT SHOPPING. OMG, did we go shopping! Alec and Isabella have an apartment in New York City– how amazing is that? And I found this little artisan shop in Bleecker Street, and there were leather bracelets. With anchors. Nathaniel will love it. I bought four! I mean, he doesn’t have to wear it all the time. But I will. Because anchors. And goddesses. And we went to see THE BOOK OF MORMON, and the seats were amazing.
And, I admit it, Ashmourne smelled like heaven when I returned.