Rose Carter-Lin’s grand-children and great-grand-children were wont to play in the halls and attics of the family home at Carterhaugh. Among the treasures they found there was a bundle of letters, tied up with faded silk ribbons once leaf-green and rose-red. Many are fragmentary now from age and long handling.
...As to your address to me, it made me smile. You may call me your blessed bramble and beloved briar, who stuck fast to you and would not let you go. I am a Carter of Carterhaugh, and what we put our hand to, we do not loose again lightly.
My business here is done, and likewise all the meetings with relatives who exclaim over how young I look — which I must say is a sentiment that cloys quickly. Finally I am free of any entanglements, much to the satisfaction of the solicitors and family alike. I think they consider me a bit daft, to give up what they consider advantages — but if they knew the story, they would not wonder why earthly riches were no great lure. I have enough, and more than enough, in you.
With luck and grace, I shall be home before you are brought to bed of our child. Kiss little Rose for me, and tell her that Da will soon be there to tell her stories and sing to her and to her new sister or brother.
… was the look upon your face when you took me to task for coming to Carterhaugh without asking leave of thee, and I replied that Carterhaugh was not yours but mine by right of inheritance. Furthermore, there being roses in profusion, I would pluck them without let or hindrance of whatever wild shade was impertinent enough to fancy himself lord of the domain.
You were persuaded of my logic, or at least of my willingness to stand fast, and for that are we both thankful every blessed day. Things would not have unfolded how they have. And oh, how glad am I that they have.
To specifics, then: our Rose walks out with a fine young man, the son of a blacksmith. No worker of iron he, though; he is a clerk for a neighbor lord, and writes a fine clear hand. I think they will be wed in spring if things continue as they are, and this would me content quite well. When you have met him, you may tell me if you are in agreement, as I trust you are like to be. Though as our daughter is a true Carter lass, she will no doubt have her way regardless. You know well enough how we Carter women are about such things.
Yours in all ways yet invented,
… Janet, love. Thank you. For so many things, thank you. Thank you most for holding on, and for the one time you let me go.
In my work, I have learned a thing. You wouldn’t think that this modern language of addiction and recovery would hold aught that bore resemblance to our tale, would you? And yet, the clients with whom I am privileged to work all say the same: no matter how faithfully they are held by their partners through changes and destruction and fear, there comes a moment when they must be cast into the cold water of reality. And no, it is not the same, but that moment when you cast me in as burning ember to the stream, a choice was put to me. Would I stay caught in Faerie’s web? Repent myself, rejoin the Queen, and go content, their teind to Hell? Or come forth as a naked man, who knew not what his fate would be, who only knew that he would ride no longer with the Queen?
That letting go, I think, must have been harder than any holding fast. And for it I thank you. You know what my choice was, and never have I repented me of it. Thank you for refusing to choose for me, and for making my choice my own.
There is so much more I could thank you for, and should, but that’s the heart of it.
And turning then to more mirthful things for which I have you to thank, allow me to give my most sincere appreciation for your unexpected thespian talents in the theatre of the counterpane, portraying thus in sequence a wolf and bear and lion. For all that my back still bears the marks of your delighted claws, and the side of my throat the amorous marks of your devouring, I repent me of not an instant. Nor that you made me laugh so hard I fell out of bed. Thank you, love. Thank you.
Receiving your letter was quite an astonishment. I commend you on your artifice and discretion, though it surprises me not a whit that you of all people could contrive a way to post a letter from Faerie and have it actually arrive.
As to the matter you bring up, Janet thinks the Queen is studying ways to cheat Hell. Not for reasons of kindness; the deaths of mortals and the eating of their souls, these things do not bother her. No, she wants to find ways to leverage her powers against Hell. Faerie wants expansion.
I concur, and further agree with her that the human world would be too easy to take and not near worth it. Besides, it provides natural resources when left to its own devices, and a handy place for changelings to go, as we well know.
Hell, now, has more potential.
What exactly her plans are, I know not, but I am certain of this: she has them.
… I watch the Queen. I have come to believe that even were there no teind to pay, she would keep taking us as she does. She is perfectly ageless, perfectly timeless, as are her court who share her blood. But we, the ones she takes, are not ageless nor timeless nor perfectly anything. Which is why she takes us. It is the human tendency to change and fall apart and rot, as flowers bloom and fade, that is the necessary ornament to Faerie. The one sets off the other. How can she have her endlessness without the sweet, sweet piquancy of endings all around? The one sets off the other.
But I must close and send this, speaking of endings. ’Tis like I shall not write again. It is no fault of thine, nor of thy discourse. But there is an image comes to my mind when I see the Queen now: a woman may imprison a bird in a cage and teach that bird to talk for her amusement. And if perchance that bird were to escape, then what? Nick and I have lingered here longer than you by many lifetimes. After such confinement, could any teach our split tongues human language again, or would we forever lisp in the scarred accents of Faerie? To teach a heart to trust again is no easy task, and takes more grace than many of us are given.
Greet you your lady wife from me, and give her my regards. Give them to your horse, your hound, and your hawk as well, as the verse has it, for though you may argue that you do not deserve them, I am certain you have them. And it is well that you should.
...Of all the ones she could pick, of course it would be Robin, as he was dear to thee. Of course she sends word of it to you by the same method Robin sent his missives. She is telling you that she knew, and she wants you to know that she can still hurt you.
Take what balm solitude may give thee, and remember thy friend. Come home when you can, and we will hold thee, all your family twined together in a ring, a different kind of magic and more wholesome, though it be not the kind that keeps thee from the changes of age.
…You were a magic stronger than all Faerie and its Queen, love. You had the magic of a circle that expands. The wit to win; you drew the circle to take me in. The faerie ring magic? That was nothing, compared to this.
I will see you in three days time. Until then, these flocks of kisses upon the paper must fly and bear my love to thee.
Yours beyond all measure,
… I dared not write before, not while there were still certain things to lose. But Robin shared your letters with me all along, and his to you.
I disagree with what he said about agelessness only in one particular, by the way: the Queen keeps those of us who are human young, unnaturally young, and she does it because it is unnatural. We ride in her procession and eat the banquets spread before us, and they are sweet because she demands that they be so, but ’tis a sweetness soured by what we miss, and our knowledge thereof is the spice and savor to her meat and drink.
She’ll not cast me out, as she is not finished playing with me yet. Even a broken toy is sport to her, and the game is not built for the toys to win. Though tell your Janet this, and let her count it among her victories: since Janet won you, the Queen rides with a slight stiffness that mars her grace, a small note of caution. And she never crosses a bridge now without looking twice before.
Robin was glad that you have what you have. He was glad you got away. Know this, if nothing else, Tam, and may it bring you what comfort it might.
I shall love our children, and theirs, and also the one expected soon, first harbinger of a new generation of your blood and mine. I shall tell them tales of you, and sing them songs of the bravest maid that ever was, the strongest woman born, who knew the way to hold on tight and lovingly let go.
I never expected that the one of us who would have to let the other go into this particular stream, from which there is no crossing back, would be me. Do you keep well until I come to join you, love. It may be some while, for your garden here needs tending, roses and children both, and I would do that work while yet I have strength. As you have taught me, I will tell them the tales and sing them the songs, and keep your memory bright as long as any of them may recollect old GrandDa Tam with his stories and his roses.
What they may grow to be is a gift to the world from love and luck and laudable stubbornness. What I have grown into was your gift to me.
This final letter, on a piece of fine cream paper, bears a notation in a different hand which reads, “Found in the cemetery a few kilometers from Carterhaugh at the tombstone of Janet Carter-Lin under a bouquet of entirely out-of-season roses.”