The fifth and sixtieth year of the Reign of the House of Wroan,
when the time of Man and Fey differed only by ten times.
The year of man 1837
Masveh Llwroan returned home sooner than expected. Her forays into the world of man had been precisely timed to be four years as man reckons. She was convinced that she could remain in that world up to six years but four was already two years longer than any fey could survive. The periodic tests of her faculties, physical and mental, that she requested of the court physician declared her to be in perfect health. Even so she could feel that something was slowly changing inside her. Her blatant lack of control at the words of the humans was proof of that.
For all their technology, Gentry, Sylph, Selk, and Elf combined, they had no means to probe the depths of the heart. Why should they? What are the emotions of the heart to beings without soul? Some philosophers claimed emotions were all born of instinct, that gladness and sorrow, worry and predilection were just illusions, the means by which Nature ordered the mind of the fey that they might act inside the fabric of Creation. Others argued that though there be instinct it was tempered by something unique, a will. And if there is a will then emotions would follow as the reaction to the success or failure of that will.
A will, indeed!
A will implies a mind under purposeful control. Her recent actions were bordering on the rash. If not for the verified fact that the humans De Soray and Worthington were clean of all sorcery, she would have suspected she was being manipulated. Something inside her was racing, driving hard the beating of a heart that pumped nothing but primeval light. It was undeniable that the rhythm of her being was running askance. Whatever the cause was, it could not be an ailment of the soul. Fey have no soul.
Her mother had a different opinion on that. But she had stayed too long in the world of man and paid the price.
Shahavaw was still Queen of her people even if she could not reign. She was still ruling mother of the Gentry even if another consort sat in her place. Being her daughter, Masveh’s swift march across the streets of the Royal City still folded the populace in a wave of adulation. They regarded her for the sake of her mother even though they knew that she, though the firstborn, had relinquished the right to inherit the throne.
The people did not understand that, as they did not understand the malady that had stolen the sanity of their Queen. Some suggested Masveh had herself trod too long in the world of man. But still they were glad that she had chosen the way of the Gammadim.
These were uncertain times. The difference to the world of man had not been this low within memory. All indications were that it would keep shrinking. What would happen when the difference vanished, when the ratio between worlds became one? Would the veil between realities be shattered? How could Fey face a world of living souls without a hiding place? Such were the worries of the people and the court. Masveh had a greater reason to worry.
“Greetings, Swift Shadow.”
“Hail, sister,” the young man reacted pleasantly at Masveh’s arrival. He took off the bronze helmet and bowed to her. The dark red hair flowing along the sides of his face blended into a beard that reached to the middle of his broad chest. He rested the longspear against the wall.
Masveh curtsied but did not return the smile. Glancing at the reflection of the bright sky in her mirror she spoke again. “Ynona will be here soon, I will keep your post until she arrives. You have been away from your family for a long time. You may go home.”
“It has always been an honor to keep this place.” His eyes sought hers until she stopped avoiding them. Then he spoke again. “When will you come home? Mother misses you greatly.”
Masveh slowly quenched the black fire of her eyes and answered the way she had answered too many times already. “Soon, maybe soon.”
The young man bowed to her again, offered a second smile, and started off along the road toward the Great Palace Gate. Halfway there his leather and bronze uniform, and his weapons, had been replaced by a green tunic. He broke into a run, and twenty yards from the gate the appearance of humanity had fully given way to the black-streaked reddish fur of the great weasel-cats of the forest.
A group of Gentry children pointed at him noisily. He turned, bounded towards one and swept him up into the air with his great head. Standing on his hind legs he let him slide down his back into his mother’s arms. By the time the great cat vanished past the gate he had left that group of children chuckling with delight and their parents commenting approvingly on the beauty of the beast.
Masveh entered her mother’s house. She was sitting in the front room studying the herring bone pattern on her young servant’s apron. Even in that chair the stature and bearing of the woman were evident. At the sight of Masveh the servant bowed and hurried away with the remainder of the morning’s dishes. Shahavaw looked up at her visitor and smiled. “A handsome lion leaves, and my house is graced by the most beautiful lioness ever born to the house of Frir-aran.”
The servant girl hurried back with a tray of warm drinks. Shahavaw lifted one of the cups and addressed the servant girl directly: “Do you not think so, Alette?” The girl bowed and smiled at the question. “Someday it will be her time,” Shahavaw continued as she motioned with her cup toward Masveh, “to start her own den, find a strong mane, build her own name.” She took a sip of the drink and went on. “I embarrass her,” she nodded her head this time toward the servant, as her eyes returned to Masveh. “I know a young baker that fancies her.” The servant blushed, bowed, and retreated from the room.
“Masveh! When did you arrive? I have so many things to tell you. Spring is almost here. Everything must be perfect for the great feast. Your father…” She stopped abruptly. Something in that thought pushed images of reality through the pageant of delusion. Shahavaw became somber for a moment, as if she were weighing the pain of acknowledging the truth of her state against the years of memories ready to dance before her, ready to be cherished and relived. “Your father… is out hunting again. Come sit by my side, child.”
“Mother, I need you to tell me again of the time you took my place.”
Shahavaw’s face instantly reflected the emotion that that memory brought. “You almost died. If it hadn’t been for that elegant man.” Her face brightened at the thought of the handsome human. Her eyes lingered on his image, his short dark beard and deep brown eyes. He had fearlessly stepped into a world alien to him to deliver her daughter to her people. “If he had not brought you here wrapped in his crimson cloak, you would have died. Even then, you lay at the edge of oblivion for over five months.”
Masveh moved aside the tray and set her mother’s reading desk on the table before her. Clicking her own mirror into the keyhole at the center of its face brought the desk to life. Her mother’s long fingers set the colored rings at the perimeter sliding swiftly across the edge. With a touch on the face, the Queen halted the flying images, and brought forward a page of the Royal Calendar. “Here.”
Masveh glanced at the point pinned under her mother’s finger; the date in the world of man was 1577. She could see under its shadow the court in session, the border messengers arriving, and, with a moment’s focusing, she could hear their cry announcing the tragedy of which she had been the only survivor, barely.
Shahavaw’s finger slid radially outwards: “And here,” At her touch another page was pulled aside, 160 days later. “You awoke on your father’s birthday.”
In those days the difference between the worlds had risen to its maximum ever, hovering between a factor of 350 and 380. Nearly one hundred and sixty years had passed in the world of man.
“How many times did you enter their world while I slept?” Masveh asked.
“I have Gammadim light in me,” her mother protested the tone in her daughter’s question, “on my grandfather’s side.” The concern in her daughter’s eyes softened her brow. “Not like you child, I know, but someone had to do it.”
“The worlds of man and fey were in turmoil. The rest of the Gammadim were stretched from Nippon to the jungles of the Ikal, and from snow to snow. And the three most powerful guardians over Europa nearly killed in one blow!” Her right hand instinctively tightened on her daughter’s hand. Masveh noticed for the first time how her mother’s fingers had thinned with age. “The few words you could speak, and the witness of the human that brought you, made it clear illicit doors were the goal the violators were after.”
“There was only one violator, Mother, one door.”
“Only one that you saw,” Shahavaw insisted. “A week after the human brought you here I was able to track down the origin of that violator. The distortions he left behind in the world of man were easy to see through Gentry glass. The violator had been a cave dwarf from the land of the Gauls. But the means by which he had accomplished his sorcery, not only to enter the world of man undetected but to acquire the power to ensnare a piece of the living plenum, I could not ascertain.”
Shahavaw paused and forced herself to breathe deeply, bidding her own heart to rest. On good days she was master of her memories. On good days if a memory pained her she could call another forth. But when she had to tell about them, she had to see them through. She could not dismiss them, even if they pierced. She tightened her grip on Masveh’s precious hand again to convince herself that her daughter was really there.
The comfort brought by that feeling quieted her heart, and then it went beyond. It made her turn her daughter’s hand up. With her finger she traced the lines on that palm, lines she had studied often ever since she had been blessed with such a treasure. “Such a lovely baby… but the hands are strong, and the line of renown is deep.” Shahavaw frowned at the disparity between the image of the infant in the memory and the beautiful woman before her now. There was a difference in those palm lines too; she had seen that difference before; but somewhere deep within her, the shadow of another memory told her it was alright.
Shahavaw smiled a goodbye at the image of the baby and looked up and continued. “Once I had entered the world of man I was shocked to find an epidemic of blood worshipers spreading through that land. Some of the humans said it had started at least four decades before. I was willing to believe anything of those cave dwarves but, on the surface, there was no evidence of fey interference.”
“Why would you investigate then?”
“I was bothered by the advanced degree of the humans’ sorcery. But I did not intervene there; for I soon realized that Gibborim had risen to the challenge.”
Masveh shook her head. She never understood why her Mother had gone so far from her natural land in the middle of a Sun Storm. Even full Gammadim trod carefully on Earth at those times. The danger of getting disoriented, lost, stranded on that world was too great. The price was madness or death. She never understood why she would do such a thing.
No. Masveh corrected herself; she did understand. It was anger; it was obsession; she was seeking redress. After all, Shahavaw Hasshelesar was the granddaughter of the great Sylph hero and Gammadim, Suwph the Shelesar.
That explanation had never occurred to Masveh before. She stood up, perturbed both at the revelation and the realization that it made sense now.
To seek personal revenge for the injury to her daughter, yes, that’s why she did it. Had she found other cave dwarves there, guilty, she would have – Masveh did not finish that lawless thought. Only Gammadim are allowed to exact justice. But she felt instantly that she would have done the same thing. Yes, even in the world of man. No?
No. Even if she had a daughter she couldn’t. It would have been accepted, even expected in the time of Suwph. But they lived now in the time after the great closing of the gates, now when the fey could no longer walk freely among mankind, now when they were forbidden by Law from waging war in their world much less on man, now when all they could do was peer upon man and long for lives like theirs. That’s why they imitated them, mocked up ghostly armies, raised up feasts like theirs, and snatched up eagerly their lost and forlorn.
The closing of the gates: the night without day, it did something to the blood of man. It made it deadly to fey flesh, so that only Gammadim armor could withstand its touch. But it did more than that. The cries of the centuries of human violence no longer rose from the soil of their wars. The philosophers said the cry had been silenced by a force unimaginable. But that was not it, was it? It had not been silenced. It had been… satisfied.
Masveh shook her head, not at the question but at the fact she had even asked it.
When the closing of the gates happened, Shahavaw had just been promised in marriage to Ghil Llwroan. Masveh had not even been born; yet she was remembering it as if it were her own memory, a long forgotten memory. Why did it need to be forgotten? Because the fey were changed that day too, for their own sakes. As their nature was changed so were their minds, their desires, their instincts, that they might operate within the fabric of a new Creation.
Masveh trembled. Why could she remember such things when she knew no other fey did? A fear she had never known spread through her body. Suddenly, her mother’s arms were around her, comforting her, holding her tight, whispering gently in her ear. “Shh, child— it is alright.”
“Mother?” She looked into her eyes. “How did you enter the world of man?”