The Blood of Alban

Previously, the heroes visited Dagran and collected the weapon that he and his apprentice had forged for Astrid. They also visited Emma, in the hopes of gaining her support in talking to Kasia, but found her wrestling with Muirgheal instead. She reluctantly agreed to help with Kasia, provided the heroes made good on their promise to address the trident.

Ninth Day, First Ride, Autumn Twilight, 1262

(Silvermoon is in high sanction, Bloodmoon is waning, Darkmoon is waxing)

While teamsters and carpenters were still hard at work on Steward’s Square as the sun went down, nearby the Careless Wanderer was packed full of excited fishermen who celebrated their last day in Kingsport. The following day would be the closing ceremony to the competition, and they were preparing to depart the city to go back to their homes and families ahead of the darkness of winter.

Despite the excitement, there was a hint of sombreness, as the fishermen would soon say goodbye to the Careless Wanderer, as well as some of their team. Emrys took the opportunity to talk to Lauryn to see whether he would be permitted to perform some music as the evening’s entertainment. She thought it a good idea and during supper Emrys took out his lute and entertained the guests.

Supper itself was simple; scarcity of ingredients meant that Ramsey had to get creative. Durham promised that despite the simplicity of the food, there was no shortage of drinks. Neamhan made a comment about there being plenty of water, which earned her a derisive response from Durham, claiming that the patrons of the Careless Wanderer had better standards. This was met by cheers from the now more jovial crowd.

Quentin had decided to sequester himself in the basement with a warm bath. Two of the fishermen were taking baths, too. Knowing that they would be on the road a while once they left Kingsport for home, they decided to treat themselves. Both of them were Lyrian, but only one of them had the recognisable Celtician accent of an Acadian. He fondly remembered the Acadian family whose boat they hitched a ride on through the hinterland of Eastmarsh. And with some sadness, he remembered Michel, one of the two guides that captain Randall had arranged to get them from Eastray to Blackbough, who had not survived the trip. There had been so many people cross his path the last couple of months.

Emrys had rarely had such a successful performance. He started light, while people were still enjoying their supper, and then moving on to more emotional and heavier themes. He made sure to instil each and every one of the fishermen, regardless of their allegiance, regardless of their chance of success during the closing ceremony, with a sense of pride, achievement and accomplishment.

The heroes picked up on the fact that the competition was a neck and neck race between the team of Lord Peregrine of House Blackwell, and Lord Aberforth of House Dunkeswell. It was not that long ago that Ser Liam, a sworn sword to House Blackwell, and dame Morena, an equal to House Dunkeswell, had come to a confrontation over something which could sway the outcome of the competition.

Tenth Day, First Ride, Autumn Twilight, 1262

(Silvermoon is in high sanction, Bloodmoon is waning, Darkmoon is in high sanction, Night of Cerulean Eyes)

Neamhan awoke from her reverie with a startle, panting and sweating. Her dream had started out pleasantly, with images of a mountainside meadow filled with wild flowers. She had woken up there and she had smelled the fragrance of the flowers, and heard the buzzing of honeybees. The sky had been clear and sunny, while the air was fresh and crisp. She had been on the slopes of Ard Thoradun, close to her village. She had oriented herself and made her homeward way.

Shortly after there was a peal of thunder off in the distance, from the other side of the mountain’s crest. It had filled Neamhan with a sense of urgency and she quickened her pace. The terrain had been difficult and the wind had picked up, which had fuelled her sense of urgency even more. She had taken a chance by taking on the shape of a falcon and taking flight, hoping to get home quicker.

She had recognised her mistake when the storm started to crest the mountain, flowing down the slope like an avalanche. The dark storm clouds had periodically been lit up by arcs of lightning and it betrayed that there had been a long, serpentine monster hiding inside the storm. Maybe, she had thought, the monster was the storm.

When she had been swallowed by the avalanching storm, she had been tossed around. She had lost her bearing. She had been buffeted by wind, by cracks of thunder, by the monstrous serpent. Eventually the leviathan had opened its maw and swallowed her up and the last thing she had heard was the cracking and crunching of her own bones.

Quentin was similarly startled awake with a sense of dread and foreboding coursing through his veins. For him, his dream had started in the saddle of his golden stallion, walking the dusty paths of Albancourt during a summer sunset. The air had been warm and familiar, and abuzz with cicadas. He had dismounted and had picked grapes from across the fence of a local vineyard. He had sat down in the shade of an old, gnarled olive tree to rest.

Night had fallen faster than expected, and the Silvermoon and Darkmoon were nowhere to be seen. Instead, the Bloodmoon had stood in high sanction, larger and brighter than Quentin had ever seen it. Everything around him had been washed in a scarlet glow, as if Quentin was watching the evening through stained glass.

There had been a sudden smell of fire, and small, glowing embers had drifted on the warm wind, though he had not been able to discern the source of it. He had decided to quickly head home, driving his horse hard. He spotted thousands of small, dark shapes flying through the air, transiting the Bloodmoon, banking and heading towards him. He had checked to find that Róisín was not by his side, though Ser Fulton’s serpent shield had been. He had protected himself with the shield as he drove his horse on. The flying creatures had bounced off his shield but had come in ever increasing numbers, biting at the hide of his stallion as well as latching onto any part of his body that was not barded.

Quentin had been forced to grab every once of control to keep the stallion from panicking, but it was at the cost of his own protection. The creatures, which looked like bats but with skeletal heads and sharp fangs, had drawn so much blood from the wounds they had caused on his legs and arms, that Quentin’s arms had felt weak. Eventually he had lost control of the stallion, who had reared and thrown him off. He had fallen hard but had held on to his shield, it did not protect him and eventually he had gotten caught in a torrent of the vicious vampiric creatures and everything had gone black.

When Neamhan steadied herself and heard a ruckus coming from Quentin’s room, which later turned out to have been Quentin voiding his stomach into a nearby chamber pot, she went to check on him. Neamhan convinced Quentin to take more rest after they both shared some details about their nightmares. The conversation took place in elven, and Neamhan noted that Quentin spoke a learned, borderline academic form of elven, which betrayed that he had not learned it by speaking to elves, but rather from a tutor of sorts.

Neamhan departed and went downstairs, leaving Quentin to record the details of his dreams on a piece of parchment, so that he might not forget any detail. Downstairs, Neamhan joins Lauryn in the kitchen for a cup of hot, brown morning potion to which Lauryn adds some thick cream for Neamhan, which made it a lot more palatable to her.

The conversation quickly turned to living in Kingsport and the distrust of elder races, which in turn evolved into the nature of the Red Custodians and their distrust of all things magic. Both women talked about home, about magic, about family and about friends. Neamhan revealed that her best friend was gifted like her, and had a powerful connection to animals. Lauryn, in turn, shared that she came from a modest, and less unusual background and had no magical gifts herself.

When Neamhan asked Lauryn how she could live in a city that was so devoid of life and natural beauty, she defended it by saying that there were a lot of benefits to city life, but also admitted that she missed a bit of colour and had been thinking about growing flowers on the balconies of the luxury rooms. She asked if Neamhan would help her grow a display of flowers, starting on the church room overlooking the House of the Raven Queen.

While everyone was having breakfast, and Lauryn had returned to her duties, most of the fishermen had completely packed up and were getting ready to depart for Steward’s Square. Emrys checked the weather by looking out of the windows, and Neamhan shared an eerily precise weather forecast, which she claimed to have divined by way of her druidic talents; clear weather, with snow in the evening.

Before the closing ceremony of the fishing competition was going to start, Emrys and Quentin decided to walk over to the Southside district and visit L’eau Célestes, a wine shop which seemed to have close connections with some of the more influential people in the city. The reasons was that the proprietor might have an ear to the ground in Beauclair and be a source of information and rumour about what is going on at court that might warrant a visit from Highlord Gaultier Lys.

When Quentin and Emrys found that Steward’s Square was steadily filling up with people. A large canopied main stage had been erected, flying the scarlet banners of the royal house, where the ceremony would take place. On two sides of the square several smaller stages had been created, each carrying the banners of influential houses. Crownsguard were on patrol to secure the square, but there were surprisingly few custodians around.

The shopfront of L’eau Célestes, a charming corner store on the Street of Spices with an elaborate display of flowers arched over the entrance, turned out to be closed. After a polite knock on the door, a halfling woman named Pip answered wearing an elegant, red velvet dress, complete with elbow length gloves. She had beautifully style blonde locks and a charming splash of freckles. Pip introduced herself as Céleste Deschamps’ assistant and explained to Quentin and Emrys that her mistress was getting ready for the celebrations that day.

The front of house was decorated with a curved bar behind which there were casks of wine of various sizes. There was a doorway leading to the rear which had the open space of a tasting room with floor-to-ceiling racks holding hundreds of bottles of wine of different vineyards and years. Back there, behind a decorated privacy screen, Céleste was putting the finishing touches on her outfit, and Quentin and Emrys were not permitted to enter.

Pip invited Quentin and Emrys to take a seat and asked what wine she might present them both. Emrys deferred to Quentin, who in turn chose an Albancourt red, 1236 vintage. Pip excused herself and went into the tasting room to search for the wine. She after a while with a bottle in hand and apologised, she was not able to locate the right vintage, but had found a 1238 bottle.

After pouring three glasses Emrys was the first to try. He tried to make out the different notes, and after a moment Pip impatiently shared that she hated “when people made a spectacle” of tasting wine, speaking to Quentin in a near perfect Beauclairois. Emrys thought the wine was fine, but nothing special, while for Quentin it brought back fond memories of home. Pip correctly guessed Quentin’s identity, having heard of his stay in Kingsport and believing that nobody else in the city would ask for such a specific wine.

Eventually, Mistress Céleste made her entrance in all her splendorous glory. She was dressed in a red velvet dress, similar to Pip, but this one was adorned with accents of white and gold, embroidered to perfection. Her blonde hair was intricately styled, held together by a slender string of pearls. She was a delightful display of modern, Lyrian couture, with heavy Beauclairois influences.

When she welcomed Quentin and Emrys she did so with a delightful Beauclairois accent which sent Quentin to her side, kissing her on the cheeks in triplet, as was customary. Emrys greeted her according to Lyrian customs, by taking her hand and gently touching his lips to the top of it.

Quentin came down to business after the pleasantries and asked whether there was any news from Beauclair, confessing he had been out of touch since his departure in the early spring. He wanted to know about the delegation coming to Kingsport, hoping to learn something so that he would avoid looking like a fool in front of his father.

Quentin and Emrys learned that with the sudden appearance of Dame Josephine at the Beauclairois court, King Clovis was seen to be weak. He had not been challenged for some time, and her appearance exposed him. Highlord Gaulthier had convinced King Clovis that he could liaise with the Lyrian queen and find in her an ally; had Dame Josephine not been turned away at the Lyrian court as well, after all?

As the conversation continued, it became more and more clear that Mistress Céleste was not the one in charge, but that it was Pip, in fact, who was the true head of the wine business, and quite a shrewd mind, with a knack for politics, intrigue and information gathering. Céleste, on the other hand, was the beautiful socialite that could get doors opened.

Highlord Gaulthier had ulterior motives and, according to Pip, was betting on two horses; King Clovis and Dame Josephine. In turn, Lord Dorian was there because he had turned to House Lys to fund setting up a silver mine. Prospectors had found a promising vein, but Lord Dorian had neither the political, nor the financial capacity to exploit it. Much to his surprise he had found the highlord an eager business partner, and could not believe his luck when talk of marriage had turned hopeful.

When Quentin confessed confusion as to why Highlord Gaulthier would take an interest in House Morvrayne, Pip asked him whether he knew the story of the princess and the swans. Quentin recalled the story, and Emrys had certainly heard a version of it. It was the creation myth of the Celtician noble houses.

The story goes that in a land beyond the Cerulean Sea an old, widowed king fell under the spell of a wicked sorceress who convinced him to remarry her. When the new queen was with child, she turned the king’s eleven sons into swans forced them to fly away, securing her child, which she knew to be a boy, to become king. The king was devastated at the disappearance of his sons and poured all of his love and affection on his daughter, Valetta. The queen was furious and tried to bewitch her, but her purity was too strong, so the queen tried to have her killed. The swans rescued Valetta from the attack and flew her away. The old king died from heartache and his land turned to sand. The queen took the throne and ruled over a desert.

The swans flew Valetta across the sea to a green and verdant land of sidhe and fey folk. There she met a sidhe queen with golden hair who told her she could save her brothers. She would have to travel around the lands to gather stinging nettles from around the graves of fallen heroes and knit them into shirts which would allow the swans to regain their human shapes. For the duration of her task, she would have to take a vow of silence; speaking one word would forever condemn her brothers to remain swans.

Valetta began her task and she travelled around finding the graves of heroes and clearing it of nettles, painfully blistering her hands from the stings. Never once did she utter a sound. And dutifully she spent her evenings knitting the gathered nettles into shirts.

One day a young king found Valetta clearing his father’s grave of nettles as he came to pay his respects. He fell in love with her and offered her a room in his castle where she could continue her knitting. Eventually he asked for her hand in marriage and she accepted. The priest who was the perform the ceremony was convinced that Valetta was a witch, but the young king did not believe him.

One night, when Valetta was almost done with the last shirt, she ran out of nettles and was forced to go to a nearby graveyard to collect more. The priest followed her and noticed that the necrophages refused to approach her. He took their fear of her purity as evidence of her guilt and ordered her to be put on trail for witchcraft.

Because Valleta could not speak in her own defence, she was sentenced to death by burning at the stake. While awaiting her punishment she continued to knit the last shirt. She continued knitting even as she was lead away to be executed, determined to continue up to the last moments of her life.

The executioner lit the fire and it began to spread around her. The swans swooped in and tried to lift her from the fire. Desperate, she threw the shirts over the swans. Her brothers returned to her human forms, all except Alban, the youngest, who had a swan’s wing instead of an arm, due to the shirt not having been completed.

Valetta was now able to speak the truth but she choked on the smoke and lost consciousness. Instead, her brothers explained her innocence. As they did so, the fire around the stake extinguished and flowers suddenly bloomed from the charred wood. The king plucked one of the flowers, a lily, and placed it on Valetta’s chest, reviving her.

They were married soon after. Each of the brothers went to found their own families, including young Alban. His swan wing made him feel like he did not belong and he was overcome with melancholy. One day, he was visited by a queen with golden hair, who invited him to come with her to join the sidhe.

Pip asked Quentin why he thought House Morvrayne had often made disadvantageous marriages. It is rumoured that the marriages are made to preserve the Blood of Alban, a particular sidhe bloodline. After all these generations the Blood of Alban might still be strong, but House Morvrayne had paid the price in political capital.

“Despite House Morvrayne’s impoverished political and financial status, Highlord Gaulthier still allowed for his daughter to marry you,” Pip said. Quentin frowned. “But Lord Lys does not have a daughter,” he stammered, while simultaneously his left hand searched for something missing from around his right wrist.

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