Here’s today’s Friday Snippet for you! Because I couldn’t find any better place to break in the narrative, this segment concludes Chapter Three. As always, this is draft material and things are subject to editing (and possibly deletion), so please don’t share.
Hope you enjoy!
Chapter Three, cont’d
Kathryn had heard about the changes that had occurred on the old estate, but it was still a shock to see them in person. In the summer, the manor house had sustained major structural damage during a battle with Morgan when he had still been enslaved by Isabeau and acting as her Captain of the Hounds. Sophie had been a part of that conflict.
Since that time, she had taken her inheritance and sold it to the Daoine Sidhe for a sizeable sum. Now the main house structure was shored up with visible reforcements, and the charming little gatekeeper’s cottage that had been near the road had been completely demolished, and several more buildings had been added to the five acres. Before, the property had been an overgrown, abandoned relic, but now the entire place buzzed with people and purpose.
When Sophie parked in front of a new cottage, Rowan left with a final, lingering look at Kathryn. She shook her head at him, and he lifted wide shoulders in a regretful shrug.
As he disappeared, she said laughingly, “Wow.”
“Right?! He is so much trouble.” Sophie opened the back of the Range Rover and began to pull out luggage and packages. “I live for the day when I get to see Rowan meet the woman who will knock him on his ass—in a good way, of course. I don’t want him to get hurt. I just want him to know what it’s like to really fall for someone, you know?”
Kathryn picked up luggage. “When he sets aside the bullshit, there seems to be a nice guy in there underneath.”
“I think there is. At the very least, I don’t think he means any real harm, although more than likely he probably causes it anyway. But Nik trusts him, and I trust Nik, so there you have it.” Sophie led the way into the cottage, which was unlocked. “I’m betting Annwyn is going to show up as soon as she hears you’ve arrived, so let’s make the most of what time we have. Would you like some tea? I’m becoming very Anglicized and never bother with coffee anymore. Also, I made some beef and tomato sandwiches, and there’s fresh baked scones—I didn’t bake those, so they’re actually delicious—and clotted cream.”
“That sounds lovely,” she replied. “I’m famished.”
She followed Sophie to the kitchen where they visited over the tea, sandwiches, and scones. It was good to see the witch so happy. It shone out of Sophie in the sparkle in her eyes and the healthy luster of her freckled skin.
When Kathryn had met her, Sophie had still been in recovery from a life-threatening injury. She’d been closed in, strung tight, and underweight. Now, despite the presence of armed guards everywhere, she was obviously at home and relaxed, and she laughed often.
Kathryn was glad to see it and cast around for something to say that would encourage Sophie to talk about it. “You and Nikolas are happy?”
“You know, we are,” Sophie said. She sounded surprised, and then she laughed. “He’s not anything I would have imagined for myself, and we fight all the time. He has this old-world chauvinism that drives me nuts—and I know I drive him nuts, because I don’t let him get away with it. He says I’m too contrary, and I say he’s too dictatorial, but in spite of all that, we manage to make it work. I can’t even tell you how.”
There it was, the elusive, ephemeral thing, condition, whatever you wanted to call it. Bond. Nik and Sophie had it in abundance, and they weren’t even Wyr, or at least Sophie wasn’t. Since the Daoine Sidhe were a community of mixed race Elder Races, Kathryn supposed it was possible that Nik might have some Wyr in his blood.
Humans had the capacity to bond too. To love. But if things didn’t work out it rarely killed them like it did the Wyr when they lost a mate. The Wyr might mate for life, but perhaps it was good that mating was a relatively rare experience.
Every Wyr was conditioned from an early age to avoid pining for something that most likely wouldn’t happen. It was entirely plausible to have a full, enjoyable life filled with many different kinds of loves—friendships, affairs, even marriages. Kathryn enjoyed a full life while experiencing the friendships and affairs. Still, it was fascinating to watch from the sidelines when others went through the mating process.
Children were also rare to all the Elder Races, but even children could come to unmated Wyr, just as Kathryn had come into her father’s life. Her mother had been Francis Shaw’s mistress, and when she had become pregnant he had honored the relationship by marrying her. She had died in a carriage accident when Kathryn had still been a baby. She had always been grateful to have at least one of her parents as she was growing up.
Pulling out of her reverie, she sipped her tea. “I suppose it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how it works, as long as it does. The most important thing is that you’re both in it together.”
“Yes.” Sophie’s smile was bright and broad. “We’re all in.”
A quick tap sounded on the back door. Giving Kathryn a meaningful nod, Sophie rose to answer it, and a moment later Annwyn stalked into the kitchen. She was one of those people who could make a room shrink just by the strength of her presence.
Her fierce green gaze landed on Kathryn. “You’re here.”
Kathryn had lived with people like Annwyn for many, many years, and she could recognize Annwyn’s type from a mile away. The other woman was so purpose-driven she would steamroll right over you, if you let her. Kathryn wasn’t going to let her.
“Yes. I arrived this morning, met with my solicitor to take care of a few things, and hopped in a rental car right after that.” She bit into a scone with pleasure. “It’s good to take a break and eat. This is my first meal of the day.”
“Please, join us,” Sophie said to Annwyn. “Would you like a cup of tea? Perhaps a sandwich and a scone?”
Just as Kathryn had seen her do in the meeting hall a week ago, Annwyn paused then drew herself in, as if reaching for patience. “Yes, thank you.”
Annwyn seated herself as Sophie got her a cup, a plate, and silverware. After a moment, she said in a measured tone, “While I know just how significant the time slippage is between Earth and Lyonesse, it’s hard to internalize it emotionally. For so long I lived with a sense of urgency, and it’s difficult to relax when I know so many of the Daoine Sidhe are suffering.”
Kathryn met Sophie’s gaze for a moment. Then as the younger woman turned to get the tea kettle from the stove, she smiled at Annwyn. Gently, she said, “I am going to do everything I can for him, you know.”
Annwyn studied her closely, then sat back in her chair. “I believe you will. When will you be ready to cross over?”
Framing that as a question, she could see, took a major effort. Like Annwyn said, it was hard for her not to push. She considered how she wanted to answer.
Finally, she said, “I slept on the flight, I took care of the last of my business affairs this morning, and I’m not here to sightsee. Visiting with Sophie was the one thing I wanted to do, and we’ve been doing that. I want to finish my meal, take a shower and put on an appropriate outfit. After that, I’m all yours.”
Annwyn straightened in her chair and the fierceness roared back. “Excellent.”
As they resumed their meal, Kathryn asked, “So, what comes next?”
“Once we cross over, we lose the luxury of the extra time we have had here on Earth,” Annwyn said. “So I have struck a bargain with one of our people. He’s… unusual. He’s a nature sprite, and he has agreed to help. He’s waiting for us now on the other side of the passageway. With his aid we can reach the city much more quickly than we could if we had to travel on our own. Half of it is under water from flooding, and the other half is frozen. We had to evacuate the general population from there some time ago. I want to set up a base camp in a safe place in the city, and we’ll work from there.”
Her plan sounded sensible enough. Kathryn nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
When she finished eating, Sophie showed her the bathroom and brought towels and a washcloth. Thanking her, Kathryn said, “May I store my luggage here until I get back?”
“Of course!” Sophie gestured to her clothes. “I’ll wash your outfit and store that in your suitcase, too, so it’s ready for you when you get back.”
She took the towels, and when she would have stepped into the bathroom Sophie laid a hand on her arm. Telepathically, she said, I know the nature sprite Annwyn was talking about.
Kathryn looked at her curiously. Yes?
His name is Robin, Sophie told her. We bonded over the summer, and I love him, but he’s quite unpredictable. Isabeau held him captive and tortured him for a very long time, and I don’t think he’s healed yet.
That’s unfortunate. Why did Sophie consider this important enough to tell Kathryn privately? She wasn’t sure she liked the implications in that. What does that mean, exactly?
It means… The other woman bit her lip, clearly struggling for the right words. It means he doesn’t always make the right decisions, or at least he makes decisions based on criteria that you and I might not have.
Kathryn knew all about very old, damaged creatures. Several had been patients of hers at one time or another. She pursed her lips. I see.
I want you to understand. Sophie looked at her intently. Robin’s not BAD. At least—I don’t think he’s bad, but he’s dangerous. And I’m not clear why he would make a bargain with Annwyn when he has unresolved resentment for the rest of the Dark Court. I might be overthinking this. He probably did it because his first loyalty is to Oberon, but I just wanted you to know. You’re walking into a situation that has a lot of history and nuances. Lots and lots of nuances.
I appreciate that. Kathryn squeezed her hand. It’s so much better to be armed with knowledge than not. Thank you.
You’re welcome. Now I feel better. Sophie stepped back. Enjoy your shower.
Sophie had given her food for thought. Kathryn mulled everything over as she brushed her teeth then luxuriated in a long, hot shower and soaped through her hair twice. She even took the time to shave her legs, because she had no idea when she might get another hot shower or the luxury to do so again. She was extrapolating, but easy, copious amounts of hot water didn’t sound very plausible.
The near future felt uncertain and exciting. She liked that. Often her job made her feel that way, but for all its challenges it fell prey to routine. I needed more adventure in my life, she mouthed as she stood with her head under the shower, relishing the sensual way the warm water poured around her moving lips.
The Dark Court sounded like it had a lot of heavy baggage. That meant it sounded like virtually every other Elder Races demesne in the world. Old creatures meant tangled grudges, ancient resentments, divided loyalties, and hidden motives. Just like home.
Chuckling, she stepped out of the shower, toweled off and dried her hair thoroughly. Stepping into extremely cold weather with a damp head of hair didn’t sound sensible. Once she was dressed, she went into the living room to rearrange the items she would take with her into her two packs.
Her original pack would be the one she would grab in case of emergency, and she wanted to tuck some of the food packs in it. The second was the one she would ditch if she had to, because she couldn’t hike long distances carrying both of them. But they both contained items that would be useful to have. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to ditch one.
Annwyn had left while Kathryn got ready. When she returned she was dressed in heavy winter clothing too, and she had a sword strapped to her back. She eyed Kathryn’s new outfit with approval. “I like jeans.”
“You would really like these. They’re made for cold weather.” Lifting up her sweater, she turned down the hem at the waist so Annwyn could see the flannel lining inside.
The other woman’s expression lit with interest. “When we return to Earth I must seek out a pair of those. Are you ready?”
She nodded. Giving Sophie a quick hug, she hefted up her two packs and settled one on each shoulder by a strap. She followed Annwyn to the manor house. They met Rowan and Gawain at the huge front doors.
Both men were dressed in hardy winter clothing as well. Nodding to her in greeting, they lifted her packs away. She didn’t protest. Both men had much more body mass than she did, along with wider shoulders. Decades of running a challenging medical practice had taught her to conserve her energy until she had to expend it.
When the group followed Annwyn inside, Kathryn stared around in fascination. For hundreds of years the peculiar magic of the house had kept it locked against all who would enter. Sophie was the first person to unlock this house’s mysteries and step inside. From the drunken euphoria in her voice when she called to tell Kathryn the news, Kathryn could imagine how she had felt.
If Kathryn had merely been visiting, she might have wanted to poke around the house at her leisure, but it was clear from Annwyn’s own emotional struggle that too many people were depending on Kathryn to do her job. It wouldn’t be fair to abrade already strained nerves by lingering.
She needed to get to Oberon as quickly as possible to examine him. Then she needed to heal him, if she could.
Failing that, she would need to break the bad news to the Daoine Sidhe as quickly as possible, so they knew in what direction they needed to move in order to heal as a people. A lot was riding on Kathryn getting this right.
So, she would get it right.
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