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
Shahavaw looked away and refused to answer. Masveh gently undid her embrace and walked to the door. With one sweep of her hand she sealed that room in an impenetrable veil.
“Ynaskein,” Shahavaw uttered that name in admiration as her face followed with delight the spiraling wave that enveloped the room, “you have always done that so well.” Her eyes returned to the young Selk, her daughter’s closest childhood friend. Even now in full youth, she still had that beautiful blue mane, and the most startling emerald green eyes shining brightly against the gray and silver scales of her face. Sahavaw smiled when she recalled how those eyes disappeared into twin vertical slits when the girl laughed. She loved that laugh.
“Masveh,” Shahavaw looked to her right, “don’t you agree?” But where her eyes went there was no one. On looking back she saw only her daughter. Embarrassed, she lowered her face and sat down again.
Shame. Masveh suddenly understood her mother’s reaction: she was ashamed of her state. And Masveh found herself fighting back tears. All the times she had come to visit, to do her duty as daughter, she had missed so much. She had never seen the woman inside the dementia. She had never grasped the meaning of those looks she gave at times, never understood the shame, the frustration, the anguish that a woman who had been Queen would feel at the utter helplessness. To be a prisoner of your own mind, what was that like? Masveh felt ashamed at her own blindness. But fey feel no shame.
“Mother, no one can see or hear us now. How did you enter the world of man?”
A measure of a smile returned to that lovely face, creased by lines of wisdom. The Queen looked up and said, “the same way you do when there is no other way.”
In spite of the incredulity on her brow, Masveh knew there could be no other explanation. “You entered through a human?”
Her mother confessed in a tone that was equal parts contrition and pride: “I was worried about you when you spent all that time in Iberia in the days of El Sayyid. You were so young. I followed you one day and saw you do it. It made sense, Gentry and Sylph are the fey closest in make-up to man.”
“How long did you stay?”
“As long as I had to.” Shahavaw found she uttered that reply too abruptly. She reached for her daughter’s hand. “That is the beauty of the method, is it not? Our armor protects us from their blood but in the passing it imparts fey traits to the human and human traits to the fey, easing the match between their world and our nature. And the balance is restored upon returning the same way.
Masveh’s eyes drifted down to the table as she considered her own foolishness, her carelessness. What if someone else had discovered that secret, beside her mother? Gammadim were not incorruptible.
“No one else could do it anyway.” Her mother’s reply to the unvoiced question in Masveh’s mind startled her. “I am your mother,” Sahavaw explained her understanding, “I know you child.
“But didn’t you ever wonder why no one else ever did it? Even after seeing you do it, I could not replicate it. Yes, it is obvious that it requires a human whose soul is not completely parallel to our world; and they are not easy to find. But it is more than that. We should not be able to do it; not after the closing of the gates.”
Masveh could not believe how close her thoughts and her mother’s thoughts were flowing. The shame at not noticing such things sooner started to return.
But still the question was not answered. Shahavaw smiled gently at her daughter. “You don’t realize you met the man that saved your life, once before; do you? It was five of their centuries before the night you almost died. When you started your mission in Iberia, he was a lawyer there, watching over the rights and welfare of his people. He was clean-shaven at the time, dressed in the attire of his Moor masters. At least they thought themselves his masters. He did not care what they thought or what the Spaniards called him, as long as he could watch over his people.
“The winter plague that brought you there, that you suspected had been caused by Ikal artifacts and fey trading with human sorcerers, he is the one that stopped it. The people that his medical skills could not make better he enveloped in his cloak and held close, day and night if necessary. You brought him a boy, remember?
“You had heard the feeble cry of a babe coming from an abandoned cottage near the coast. His family had been one of the first infected by contact with the merchants from across the strait of Herakles. It was their subsequent trading with others that sent the sickness north. His whole family died, leaving the child alone in his crib. The fire in the hearth had died long ago. So you lifted him off that crib and set out to find a healer.
“The ring of elves that had surrounded the house would only bring one of their healers if you yielded the child to them. They claimed it was their right. You bared your knives and stared them down. And then you raced north, following the scent of the healing touch.
“How you startled him! You nearly sent that houseful of humans running out into the night. You didn’t even think about it, you just melted in through the wall. One of the men reached for an iron ax; but the healer, he ordered them to silence and stood between them and the impossible apparition. He understood you as you lay the child at his feet and crouched down before him.
“Looking at the man with the axe, he said, ‘Rapha! Samuel, have you learned nothing? Was it not a wise man that said: When the Gentiles who have no Law do by instinct the things required by the Law, who am I to judge? For perhaps they have a Law written within themselves.’ Then turning to you he whispered, ‘When the fey who have no soul do by instinct the things required of souls, who am I to judge?’ The child’s labored breathing told him all he needed to know about his condition. He wrapped him in his cloak and cradled him close to his chest. You would not let go of the child’s feet but kept rubbing them, keeping them warm.
“By dawn his eyes were open and clear and he cried in hunger. You finally let go and one of the women took the babe and cared for him. The healer told you to go, and he charged you to tell no one about him. You obeyed, to the letter, even commanding yourself to forget.”
“How do you know these things, Mother?”
Shahavaw walked over to the hearthstone and lifted off an exquisite wood sculpture. It portrayed two small birds on a branch in intricate detail. If not for the uniform color and grain of the wood upon them, they might have been mistaken for real birds. Shahavaw cupped her hand around one of them. And when she drew it back, the bird, alive, was perched on her finger, its gray throat and golden chest shining brightly against the dark brown of its back feathers.
“A queen finch?”
A moment later both birds were standing on Shahavaw’s palm, twitching their heads here and there looking for food. “They kept track of you for me.” Shahavaw smiled. “I can see through their eyes.”
Masveh was speechless as her mother went on. “It was that contact with the healer, while he worked his wonder on the child, that changed you. Think back. It was after that day that you discovered you could go across through a human. I know it was his touch… because it happened to me too. I was clinging to your hand while he cared for you. After that I could do it too.”
Masveh had to sit down. She ran her fingers through her hair involuntarily. She had been changed that long ago. Was that the beginning? “Mother, what is happening to me?”
Shahavaw understood the anxiety in her daughter’s eyes. “It is not the madness, child. That happened… because I stayed too long in their world. What you sense, what you feel, is something else. But I, I do not know what it is. I cannot comprehend it. I just know the more time I spent with them, the humans, the more I understood them. The more their world, their ways made sense to me, and the less mine did.”
Her Mother’s words rang true; they would explain the contradictory feelings that were keeping Masveh on edge of late. She wondered for a moment if that change was reversible. If she stayed in her own world and forswore the world of man, would she become whole again? No; whole was never a word she could apply to herself. And she could not abandon her calling.
“Mother,” Masveh had to complete her mission, the reason she came back; but still she hesitated, for she knew what she was about to ask her was not stored in a mere memory; it had been the subject of nightmares, night terrors that stole her Mother’s reason, that forced the court physician to drug her lest she harm herself. She brought her Mother back to the chairs and sat right across from her. She held each of her hands in one of hers and said: “I need to know about Diderici.”
Shahavaw shivered. She looked up at the wall as if she could see through the window veiled by Masveh’s spell. “The hunt is almost over. We must alert the servants to start the preparations.”
“Diderici,” Masveh repeated, tightening her grip on her mother’s hands. Slowly, deliberately, Shahavaw slipped out of that hold but instead of retreating she slid her hands forward and grasped Masveh’s wrists. Closing her eyes she returned to her original story to gather her courage. “Creeds at war, Masveh; that is what I found in Gaul. In the name of heaven the Huguenots were massacred by the Throne. I followed the trail of the sorcery east and north from there, into the land of King Ferdinand and the ancient Colony of Agrippina, in the days when its trade was ruled by Sudderman. The same hatred had spread among the Germans earlier that century, but they stemmed the tide in 1555.
“Perhaps that is why that vile Stumpe returned to his country. What they lacked in quantity he made up in intensity.
“He was a man, yes, but with the appetites of a wolf. He stalked the villages and killed for pleasure, raping and devouring his victims at will, even his own son. He lived as if he knew he could never be discovered.
“I re-entered our land and tracked his moves from afar, waiting for the day that I could return. When I did, I led the villagers to his lair; they captured him in the midst of a night of reveling with his mistress and his daughter.”
Masveh had witnessed more than once the savagery of man. “So this man was a murderer, worse than most. But where was the sorcery?”
“He was using Kirke’s spell! He could not be discovered because the one that stalked and brought down the victims was a real wolf, sharing its consciousness with him. The beast dragged the gored prey to his lair and there Stumpe finished the deed and feasted.”
“Kirke.” Masveh recognized the name. “A myth; a witch from an ancient myth.”
“More than that.” Shahavaw glanced sideways around herself and went on. “I remained and searched Stumpe’s room. And there I found scrolls. Someone had taught him this, a sorcery the like mankind had not dared to touch in millennia.”
Again her mother was remembering a memory from times ancient before the closing of the gates, things banished from the consciousness of fey; and yet again something within Masveh owned it to be true.
“Child, there are supposed to be safeguards in place: to keep us from harming man, to keep man from seeing us— and safeguards to keep man from destroying himself. Kirke’s spell can transfer the mind of man into the beast. But the kind of brutality Stumpe wrought can only be conceived within a mind that has been seared, seared to the point that it no longer needs an excuse for violence.”
“Since when does man need an excuse for violence?” Masveh shook her head.
“War is an excuse, blasphemy is an excuse. Even hatred,” Shahavaw replied. “Hatred is never the cause, it is the excuse, the excuse that justifies the deed. Man’s instinct for self-preservation: that too can serve as the excuse.” The puzzled look in her daughter’s eyes required more. “Masveh, without such excuses it is unnatural for man to take the life of man. Why do you think they always hold a trial? No matter how prejudiced their judgment, how deep their hatred, how self-serving their motives, their mind, their being demands a justification. The power to know Justice, just like the power to Love, they were built into the make-up of man as safeguards; only then were they given the power to Choose.
“But the things I found written in those scrolls,” a pained look crossed her mother’s eyes, “the rites, the drugs with which they anoint their bodies, they are designed to tear down the human mind, to cauterize the soul, to numb its senses by eradicating the wall between violence and pleasure.”
Masveh stared at her mother, her Queen. “How can you know this?” That was all she could say before the shame overwhelmed her again, shame at having forgotten the wisdom that filled that heart.
“I burned every scroll. I know I did.” Desperation flashed across her face. “Yet the same sorcery resurfaced again one Sun cycle later, in Chalons, in the land of the Gauls.
“But the champion of the Gibborim tracked that man down and delivered him to be burned at the stake.” Shahvaw took in a long breath. “I stayed out of his way; that champion has instincts that run far back in the line of man. I believe he can sense the presence of fey.
“I scoured through the property in the lair of that wolf too before the champion got there. The ancient spells were there again. The very ones I had burned. I told myself they were just copies and burned them. But beyond those parchments, that man had amassed a collection of books and pamphlets bearing references to places I had heard of from before the closing of the gates.”
Shahavaw’s face shivered at the thought. “I burned those too.”