What has gone before:
An was a Victorian, Irish Governess in the employ of the Gryphon King, one of the kings of the Seelie fae. She taught his three children (The Lion Prince, The Eagle Princess, and the Little Prince) until one fae afternoon when the Northerner (an Unseelie Queen) attempted to kidnap the children and failed, leaving An blinded, her eyes burned out by the acid spit of one of her creatures. The youngest prince, not liking the holes in her face, replaces her eyes with orbs of mist, as the Gryphon King cannot give her real eyes back to her. Having granted An any boon she wishes, she has chosen to be sent home.
In the ensuing chaos, an emissary of the Northerner comes offering a duel for the children, is denied, but settles for a duel which will initiate a truce for a year and a day. Reluctantly, the king had agreed.
The following scene takes place after the emissary has left, and spans the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4.
The Lion Prince did not wait for the page to find them, but stood and guided his teacher around to the front of the pavilion and brought her in.
She clung to his shoulder, uncertain of the situation. She heard the other three fall in behind her. She was surprised that she could feel the presence of the gathered court on either side of her, hear the difference between outside and the interior of the massive pavilion. She stopped when the Prince did and removed her hand from his shoulder, felt him step away from her as she bowed deeply before her king. “My Liege,” she said softly, feeling love and loyalty burning fiercely within her, threatening to overwhelm her emotions. She steeled herself, understanding formality and too well trained not to remain controlled.
“Rise, my faithful one,” the King said, his voice full of the warmth she had always known and loved and which for the first time threatened to fill her eyes with tears. “You have served me and my children better than any of us expected. You risked your own life to guard theirs, taking wounds meant for them upon yourself. Though I deeply regret the need for such things, you have asked to return to your own world, even knowing it is no longer the world you knew. I respect this. Arrangements have been made. You will leave presently, but not alone.
Skye turned from observing the slip of a girl to stand at full attention before the King.
“This woman is my treasure. You will guard her with your own life and honour and bring her from my kingdom unto the world of men, where you will see to her safety.” He waved his hand and the page trotting into the tent brought a small rucksack which he handed to Skye. “Take this in keeping for her until you reach your destination.”
Skye bowed, accepting the pack and slinging it’s slight weight onto his back.
At a nod from the King the little party began to break up. The General crossed to Skye, began fussing with lapels and in general behaving as far from the superior officer he had come to know as possible. “Be well. I... didn’t want to give you up so soon....”
“Ya coulda told me,” he said flatly, unable to trust any emotions right now.
“Would it have changed anything?” she asked in her musical voice.
“No way to ken.”
“I’ll... keep an eye on you.”
“The sword,” he began, not wanting to give it up, knowing he probably could not take it with him.
She shook her head. “’Tis yours ‘til death, when it will return here to wait for its heir. I’ll... look after them too. Take care of her,” she warned. “She is precious to him... and to them,” she nodded towards the three children who had swarmed the governess. Even the Teddy bear was hugging a leg.
“I will keep my charge. I know my duty. It is all I know.”
“Thanks to me,” she said almost bitterly. “But you’ll find more than that out there. I know.” Her cool hand caressed his cheek. “You remind me of him, you know. My Dunvegan man. Not enough to mistake you,” she smile when he looked worried. “Too much in between for that. But... you’re like him, in breadth and eye... and manner.”
The children nearly smothered the governess. She felt her tears threaten her more strongly, but she held them back for them. She whispered to each of them, to remember what she’d taught them, not just the book things, but the life lessons too. “I’ll miss you sore,” she promised. “And who knows, mayhap I’ll be able to leave something for ye near the forts or at a mound on Beltane and Samhain if I can.”
The Prince set his hand at her neck, already of a height to her, though she could not remember him being so tall. He stepped back with a regal grace, taking her hand in his and bowed over it. Painfully, she felt his hand then slip from hers as he stepped away. The Princess rose on her toes and pressed her cheek to hers in a manner a bit older than her apparent eight years and whispered. “I shall forget nothing. Neither kindness nor debt.” With that she stepped away and the governess felt another pang of regret and loss filled with pride and guilt as she realized that one of the gentry had just admitted to being in her debt.
The youngest clung to her, his face buried in her skirts, crying silent and stubborn tears. She bent to hug him. “You must be brave, my little prince,” she said softly. “I cannot stay and you cannot come. I have given you all you need. Make me proud?”
He lifted his head, sniffling, could only bring himself to nod. She tenderly kissed his forehead.
She felt a tug at her other side and turned to the armoured teddy bear who took her hand in one paw and placed it on his right, helped her to feel him raise it to his forehead in salute. Smiling, she returned it.
Then suddenly Teddy was pulling the young prince off her skirts and after a second he stopped resisting. She felt His presence before he spoke or touched her, the looming warmth and comforting smell of him. The Tuatha king of the griffons was not himself a griffon, but smelled a little like them, like fur and sunshine and the fresh air beneath their wings. She felt his perfectly formed fingers touch her chin and turn her face to his. A rumble of pleasure in his voice. “I like those. Well done, my son.”
She smiled, missing him already, heartbroken at being sent away from this paradise. But she had asked, and knew without a doubt it was the right thing. “May I return?” she asked timidly. “When...,” she couldn’t say it.
She could feel his smile. “Yes, daughter. Tír na nÓg will be your final rest. You have earned it, as few others have in recent years. But one last gift, and go with Our blessing.”
She waited patiently, wanting to defer, say it wasn’t necessary and not daring. He said nothing more, but placed a kiss upon her forehead that filled her with the warmth of the sun. His hands slid down her arms to her hands and then set her right hand into the left of her escort. A nod to the commander and she was led away, a stately procession, she could feel the eyes of the remaining court on her. She held her composure until they reached the edge of the pavilion when she heard the young prince’s complaint:
“I don’t want to grow up.”
And Teddy’s soft, rarely heard voice, “But you have to.”
A single tear raced down her cheek.
Skye saw the tear, and in a strange burst of compassion, he felt for her, and squeezed her hand. It seemed to have been enough as she wiped her cheek and, taking a deep breath, followed him out of the camp.
The walk itself was not unpleasant. She knew it to be beautiful country, nonetheless, she found the journey nerve-wracking. She could hear the wood and life all around her but see nothing. The wind in the trees made strange noises and she found it hard to maintain her bearings. The emotional torment of knowing she would never see these things again did not help at all. She thought, perhaps, that not seeing might be a blessing on the other end in a small way. She would not compare every tree and lawn to the ones here and find them lacking. She promised herself she would not pine away for faery as so many like her who had crossed the borders and returned. She clung to her guide’s arm, having no choice but to trust his footing with her own.
Skye was partly relaxed. He knew it to be mostly peaceful on this end of things. With no border between the red-haired bitch’s realm and this one, there was nothing to squabble over. Except the gate itself, and she had others. There should be no threat, though he still kept his eye out. The grass was soft and vivid green here, and the people they passed few. Here and there he spied them watching, some with interest, some sadness, still others with hope. Even one of the great stags stood at the edge of the path and watched them pass fearlessly.
There were guards near the edge of the kingdom, and he could see them ahead. They were elves he did not know, but then, those like him, taken from the other world, were never given solitary border duty. The elves nodded to him as they approached. There were methods of communication among them that baffled him, so it did not surprise him that they seemed to know his errand. He paused before them. It was just as well that the girl is blind, he thought, from the looks of pity the elves gave her. If he read her character aright, she would have found it unbearable.
“Be well, Mistress, Commander,” the left one said. He was as fair and bright as any Tuatha Skye had ever met. “The way is clear.”
The right one, dark as raven wings, with pale skin and vivid eyes, pointed down the path. “The way twists and winds a half league more, then falls straight as an arrow to the gate. If you remember nothing else in the next hour, remember to stay on the path.”
Skye frowned, confused as to why he would say such a thing. Of course he would remember to stay on the path. Before he could say something, a distant horn rang out through the territory. Beside him, the woman tensed, turning her head every which way trying to locate it. His hand over hers on his arm did not soothe her; especially not when the fair one touched his shoulder and said, “Tread swiftly.”
“And swifter still,” the dark one added as a second blast sounded, and nearer, coming from outside of the kingdom and headed... for the path. He glanced down at the grass of the road, watched it turn a darker green verging on black. “Tis the Wild Hunt. The bitch couldn’t ride her own trod, she has to taint ours,” he spat.
“She’s thumbing her nose at the king,” the bright one said and pushed Skye down the path. “Run with your sword in hand and don’t stop. We’ll try and hold her off or divert her.”
Skye needed no second urging. As a child, he had once heard the Wild Hunt tearing across the moors one Samhain. The fear of it had chilled him to the core and he propelled himself and the woman down the darkening trod towards the distant gate.
The sound of the horn and the baying hounds frightened her more than the beast that had taken her eyes. She supposed it was that she was the one in danger, not the children, but it was no comfort. She made herself run, fearing to stumble on something she could not see. Not that she had a choice. She supposed the commander would have dragged her, or hauled her, undignified, over his shoulder. That thought alone made her try to keep up with him. She turned all her concentration on him, focused on the slightest movement of his body to tell her if the next step was deeper than the last or higher, trying to read the road through him. It helped with the fear if nothing else, and she still stumbled from time to time, though she wondered why he had not drawn his sword as he had been warned.
Behind them, they could hear the sudden contact of the two elves with the enemy. They ran, the conflict already beyond bends and unseen, but vividly heard. He wondered how long she could maintain this pace, tried to keep her as steady as he could while not sacrificing speed. It seemed they had been running for twenty long minutes but he knew better. And now he could hear the baying of hounds back along the road.
He kept his ear to it, gauging their proximity. He had to get her to the gate, or at least to the straight-away. The hounds were getting closer. Then they rounded the last corner and he could see the gate looming a few hundred yards distant at the end of a gentle downward slope.
Skye clenched his fist and the claymore melted into it. He took her arm from his, holding her just above the elbow. “Run, straight as th’ arrow an’ don’ stop ‘til the world feels ...more. I’m right ahind ye.” With that he gave her a little push in the right direction and turned to face the beasts as they skidded around the bend hot on their heels.
She staggered a moment, heard the sudden snarling and slavering and his Scottish battle cry and ran, trying her best to keep to a straight line but she couldn’t be sure she had. She felt very uncertain suddenly, terrified, but she kept running. The sounds behind her were terrible, the ones before her only the wind in the grass and too soft to be heard over the fight. She kept her hands out in front of her, to keep from running into the gate itself, not knowing what it looked like or if it was a literal gate at all. Her hands met foliage, small bladed leaves, sharp, short twiggy branches, growing taller even as her hands touched them. Panic beat at her breast as it seemed they were endless, deep, her arms reaching through them and being drawn in. The commander had said nothing about a hedge.
From the sound of things, one of the hounds had either slipped past her escort or killed and survived him. Something enormous was pounding the grass behind her, slavering, snarling, baying. She felt like screaming put nothing would come out.
Suddenly hands closed on her wrists and pulled her through the hedge almost violently. Then warm arms wrapped around her, pulling her in a crouch and a hand covered her mouth. There was a snuffling on the other side of the bushes, an angry growling, the sound of haphazard digging. Then the war cry again and a yelp followed by the sound of more hounds, more demonic sounding than the last. The hands that held her drew her up, said something to her she did not understand and drew her away from the wall of green and the spilling of blood.
They did not run, they walked, and she knew why. Those were the hounds of the immortal Hunt. She had run before because they had already been seen and targeted. But now there was another target for them, it would not be wise to attract their attention.
The unknown person took her through a twisting pathway, through more hedges, a maze perhaps, walking for several minutes before the world just felt... different. It was warmer for one, almost unbearably hot, the smell of flowers was everywhere and there was a different type of noise, many voices doing many things, laughter and music. She could hear a fire somewhere and a pipe, a harp... and the world just felt less... intense, less real. He drew her forward several paces, saying something else in that language she felt she should know but didn’t and then let go of her.
She wracked her brain, trying to remember what was off about things, what she was doing standing... wherever she was, surrounded by people she didn’t know and couldn’t understand. Her memory was spilling out of her like a punctured wineskin and there was nothing she could do to stop it. People came up to her, spoke their gibberish. Someone touched her and she jerked back with a gasp and they did not try again.
She could tell they were trying to be soothing, but she was momentarily incapable of reason. Something vital was draining from her and she felt bereft and lost and confused and ...too many things to put a label to, and it was all just too much. “Where am I and who are you? Why am I here?” she asked in Gaelic.
Several of the voices professed confusion, but someone stepped up, said a few scattered words in very poor Irish, “Midsummer’s eve. Celebration. Safety. You stop now, rest. Go. Take freshness?”
She turned her head to the voice. It was feminine, young, from a tall source. She tipped her head up, trying to decipher what the child had meant. Others said a few things around her, some of the voices sounding shocked, one or two knowing, as if whatever they were saying explained everything, and most of them withdrew. She decided whatever was going on, it was safer than what she had fled, and allowed the girl to take her hand and lead her down a path and up a few shallow steps to a quieter area to sit.
She perched in the chair, prim and proper, ankles crossed, hands in her lap as she listened intently to what was going on around her. The girl pressed a glass into her hand and she sniffed it. It was cold, but smelled vaguely of tea. She sipped at it, found it far too sweet and held it back out, “I thank ye, but... I’m fine.”
“You name? I Kellain O’Leary,” the girl said.
She tried to remember. There had been a name. A long time ago. She hadn’t liked it, but it had been hers. Then there was the name the others called her, though what those others were eluded her for the nonce. “They called me lady of the mists,” she answered softly.
The girl’s Irish was poor indeed. What she took from the simple sentence was not what had been said. “Anne Kayobrun, nice.”
She sighed, let her go. Anne was as good a name as any, and hearing it... warmed her somehow. She let the girl talk, rattling on in her imperfect Irish, understanding only the gist of her speech. She talked about the Queen of the Green and someone new and the coming fight between the Holly King and the Oak King. Typical Midsummer festival activities. She was beginning to tune the girl out when she heard sounds just beyond the wall she sensed behind her, loud male voices. One of them spoke the strange words, but with a lilt that was music to her ears and salted well with words she understood, embarrassing though one of them were.
“What the bloody hell has that Sasanach done this time? I’ll string him up by his magairlí if he interrupts my daughter’s crownin’,” the voice growled in a fair Cork accent.
She turned to face the direction the voices came from as the other voices with him said more unintelligible words. The voices started to fade deeper into the building and she was suddenly desperate to meet the source of that voice. Something familiar in its liquid gold and the easy pronunciation of words her current minder would have stumbled over. Not that she held it against the child. Even in her day, many children grew up ignorant of their native tongue thanks to the ‘bloody Sasanach’, as the man had said. Desperate, she shouted the first thing that came to her mind, “Éirinn go Brách!”
The voices stopped. She heard the sound of turning, but not really the sound of feet. A door was passed and a man stood before her. There was an exchange between him and the girl, and all she understood was “Anne Kayobrun.”
“Ahn,” she corrected firmly. “Tis pronounced ahn.” She then turned to the man, held up her hand. “I don’t rightly know what my name is. They called me the lady of the mists; at least most did,” her expression went dreamy and wistful at that, though she could not for the life of her understand the reason for the emotion.
“I can see why,” came the voice, liquid gold.
“An Ceobhrán is as good a name as any for now.”
“She no say who she out of,” the girl injected.
“Like as not, she doesna yet remember. But she need not. I know whence. I can smell Him on her.” His hand reached out and took hers and she felt the distinct shape of eagle’s talons against her palm and something clicked between the sound and the smell of him. Something familiar and comforting that she could cling to. “I am Ian ‘the griffon’ O’Keefe. Patriarch of the O’Keefe clan and this ...motlied mess o’ refugees. I am glad to welcome another Irish expatriate to my home. Welcome to the Griffon’s Rest. I’ve more than a few responsibilities this Midsummer’s eve, but I’ll make time enough for ye after.”
“I thank ye. I’d not interrupt for the world. I’ll await yer pleasure, chieftain. Might I ask where I am afore ye be going?”
“Florida, in the Americas. A long way from home. ‘Tis the twenty first century, the first day of May in the year of our Lord two thousand an’ ten.” He started to walk away then paused himself, “Might I ask... why’d ye cry out ‘Ireland forever’?”
She smiled shyly, blushed slightly. “Well, ye were the first clearly Irish voice I’ve heard, I speak not a word o’ the Sasanach tongue... or I don’t remember it, and there was a touch o’ the familiar about ye. Ye were walkin’ away. I knew no true son o’ Ireland would let that call go unanswered.”
He laughed, warm and leonine.