Boorwid looked at the finely-penned missive from the Seelie Court and motioned for the armored messenger to wait. He closed the door behind him and waved back the two dozen trows in his howe, put the parchment where they all could see it (though only he and a few others could read) and signed, <The new Seelie King asks if we will serve him in his palace.>
<You're spaeking a load o' bruck.>
<We can hardly refuse.>
<Refuse an order from the Seelie King? No. But Boorwid says he asks, and a request we can deny.>
Paddo ran a thin finger along the well-written lines. He mouthed the written words and slowly signed along, <’I ask you for your service, loyalty, and discretion within my palace in exchange for fair treatment, appropriate residences for those who wish to stay, compensation in silver equal to what I would pay any other fae serving in my palace, and bonuses as performance inspires’--what’s this?> He pointed at marks in a lighter ink at the bottom corner of the parchment. It was only visible from an oblique angle in the dim light of the howe.
Boorwid looked at it and made a decision. Mulders looked over his shoulder and signed, <You’re daft, Paddo! It’s a trowie-tie!>
Before it became a free-for-all, Boorwid clapped his hands. <You three follow the tie and bring back what the King left for us.> Hardly were the gestures signed that they were off. Shortly they returned with a chest large enough that it took all three of them to move it. Boorwid opened the chest and smiled in satisfaction at the hoard of scrap silver inside. <This King understands us. Take a sample of this to your kin, and tell those willing to serve the King to attend here tomorrow morn.> Then he opened the door, poked the messenger awake, nodded solemnly, and shut the door.
<What do you mean, you don’t call him ‘Your Majesty’?>
<The Gwyn told us to call him Gwyn, so we do.>
<But what about other fae?>
<Other fae pay no attention to us, and the Gwyn does not often have other fae in the palace. Besides, our loyalty and contract is to the Gwyn, not to other fae or even the Court.>
<The King sounds very strange.>
<Yes, the Gwyn is strange. But the Gwyn understands us, so we take care of the Gwyn.>
Trows didn’t speak much, but they listened, and they knew a terrible war was being waged.
One night Tuink caught Boorwid in the hall. <The King has returned. Outside they celebrate, but the Gwyn does not.>
Boorwid frowned and followed his grandson to the Gwyn’s rooms. Sure enough, the Gwyn was trying to take off his armor one-handed, shaking badly with fatigue. Boorwid made sure to step noisily into the room so the Gwyn would hear them.
The Gwyn turned to face them and their hands fluttered in distress. The Gwyn looked awful.
<May we assist you?> Boorwid asked formally.
The Gwyn trembled so badly that his armor clattered against itself, but he finally nodded and knelt on the floor. Boorwid gestured to the two trows hiding in the corner to come and help, and soon the Gwyn was out of his bloody armor. Tuink and the others took it away, leaving Boorwid alone with him. The Gwyn leaned heavily against the foot of his bed but made no move to get into it. Boorwid heated a basin of water and wet a cloth with it, hesitating a moment before reaching up and gently wiping sweat and blood and a strange miasma of darkness from the Gwyn. The Gwyn startled and tried to take the cloth from Boorwid, but the trow just gave the Gwyn the same look he gave to young trows that didn’t know better, and the Gwyn sighed and bowed his head so Boorwid could reach further.
Tuink came back and replaced the basin of water three times before the Gwyn revived enough to remove his filthy under-armor and continue washing himself. Taking stock of the damage to the Gwyn’s body, Boorwid signed for Tuink to get stew and mead from the kitchens.
Right after he left, though, the Gwyn fell to his hands and knees, then crumpled further and landed heavily on his side. Boorwid hissed with alarm and hovered anxiously over the Gwyn, who repeated, “I can’t I can’t, I can’t, I can’t--”
<Can’t what?> Boorwid asked, but the Gwyn’s eyes were closed. He kept whispering the words, tears running from his cheeks to drip on the floor, and Boorwid patted the Gwyn’s matted hair, humming a hearth-song, until the Gwyn eventually quieted and said, “Pockets.”
Boorwid stopped petting and looked quizzically at the Gwyn.
The Gwyn opened his eyes, looking as though it took all the energy he had left just to lie there and breathe. “Pockets. Thank you.”
Tuink came back minutes later with a heavily-laden tray while Boorwid searched the small pockets in Gwyn’s under-armor, and found a small, silver figurine. Tuink’s eyes widened and he looked at the Gwyn, who slept where he fell. <The Gwyn had that in his pocket?> Boorwid nodded. <In the final battle of a war?> Boorwid nodded again. <For us?>
<Wir Gwyn knows us, and thinks about us,> Boorwid signed.
<Our Gwyn?> Tuink held his hands up to indicate his surprise.
<Wir Gwyn. Mine, at least. To you and the others, he can be the Gwyn. But I think he’s wir Gwyn.>
Tuink frowned and signed, <Our Gwyn should be in bed.>
<How do you propose to move him?> Boorwid asked drolly. Tuink made a mildly rude gesture and pulled a blanket from the bed to cover Gwyn with. It took both of them to get a pillow under Gwyn’s head, but they managed.
Tilter, Resh, and Shalder stopped dead at Lowe’s audible, hissed warning.
<That Efnisien is coming! Hide!> Lowe signed urgently. Shalder and Resh left immediately. <Who else?> Lowe signed choppily to Tilter.
<Kitchens and out-circle far-hallway?>
<Neep and new-Oyce tending to waiting-garden.>
<I’ll get them; go find our Gwyn.>Lowe sped toward the garden-waiting rooms closer to the Court. He heard a light voice humming a rooing tune just before the smell of loam and mushrooms enveloped him.
Oyce and Neep turned. Before they could sign anything, he signed, <That Efnisien is coming.>
Neep’s grey skin turned milk-white and he dropped his shears.
<Who is-- > asked Oyce.
<Bad! Hide!> he snapped, picking up Neep and carrying him to the hidden barrow-tunnel between the roots of one of the older trees. If Neep stayed petrified, he would be hard for that Efnisien to find.
Oyce made a tutting sound. <Not finished.>
Lowe stamped his foot. Oyce turned, shocked at his rudeness.
<That Efnisien is cruel and bad. We must hide!> Lowe gestured at the barrow-hole. <NOW!>
<But the Gwyn-- > her hands halted, and Lowe saw her shiver just before he felt the wave of malice from the doorway.
“No one to greet me, but that’s no surprise,” that Efnisien said. Then he seemed to suddenly see Oyce, and he sneered. “Oh, just one of you.”
Lowe felt movement behind him and grabbed Neep before he could draw that Efnisien’s attention to them. He and Neep were both shaking. Oyce didn’t move at all, petrified with fear.
“Stars, you’re repulsive,” that Efnisien said, crouching down before Oyce. The big fae saw light reflecting from Neep’s dropped shears and picked them up, holding them in his large hands. “Why my cousin would employ such ugly beasts to serve him…” he twirled the shears in his hand and, quicker than lightning, shut them with a loud ‘snick!’ right in front of Oyce’s nose. “Of course, he’s a repulsive beast as well.”
Lowe felt a stir of indignant resentment, but it was quickly quashed by his fear and the certainty that he could do nothing to help.
“No loyalty to your Master, then? Oh, of course. Trows are nothing but dirty, little thieves, aren’t you?” He grabbed one of Oyce’s shaking hands and held it in the open jaws of the sharp shears. “Does he have you steal for him then, my dear cousin-king?” he asked in a soft voice. “Does he have you steal jewels?” He positioned the shears at her wrist and closed them just enough to dent her skin, but released them and corrected himself, “No, perhaps he has you steal other treasures.” He scraped the twin blades up to mid-forearm and closed them until they bit, then released them a second time and moved to the crook of her elbow. “Or secrets?”
Lowe felt Neep’s helpless rage and fear tremble through both of them. Where was Tilter? Why wasn’t their Gwyn helping?
“You’re so quiet!” that Efnisien said, and Lowe didn’t know if that Efnisien was feeling genuine pleasure or not, but he knew the words were not praise. “I wonder what it would take to make you scream. You’d scream for your master, wouldn’t you?” He gripped her forearm tightly and repositioned the shears at her bicep. He held them there for a long minute, and Lowe thought his heart would burst from his chest, but then that Efnisien laughed, a sound like a rusted bell, and tossed the shears away. Neep sagged with relief in his arms, but then they both saw that Efnisien’s cruel grin and the grinding snap of breaking bone.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing in my palace, to my servants?”
That Efnisien stood up and said something nasty to their Gwyn. But Gwyn knelt and looked at poor Oyce, and told Tilter to take her to a healer. Tilter and Lowe met eyes as he led her away. A healer wouldn’t do any good.
That night Lowe found Tilter and Boorwid.
<Neep?> he asked.
Boorwid replied, <Taken his sister’s body home. He will not return here.>
Tilter signed with uncharacteristically small gestures, <Wir Gwyn was so angry.>
Lowe hesitated. <Are you going to tell our Gwyn about Oyce?>
<Wir Gwyn will ask about her, and we will lie,> Boorwid stated. Tilter’s hands spasmed open. <Something is not-right with wir Gwyn, and that Efnisien made it worse. Wir Gwyn made it so that that Efnisien cannot come in again, and we don’t have to go outside the protected areas.> He smiled sadly. <Wir Gwyn left out a treasure map for us. I sent it with Neep.>
<But what do we do about that...that Efnisien?> Lowe was young and angry, for all that he had a trow’s frailty and pitiful might.
Boorwid caught his gaze and held it until Lowe bowed his head. <We wait until the time is right.>
Boorwid was supervising a new trow--Perjink-- when Gwyn found them. They turned and looked attentively at him.
“I need-- Do you know where to get, um…” Gwyn stammered, looking confused and frustrated. He growled to himself, “This is ridiculous. I have lakes.” Then he disappeared in soft, golden light.
Boorwid looked at Perjink. <Follow wir Gwyn and see what he needs.>
<But the Gwyn didn’t ask for anything.>
<I know. Follow him and see what he seeks, then tell me,> he repeated.
Later that afternoon Perjink found him. <The Gwyn picked marsh marigold,> she signed. <If he wanted marsh marigold, why didn’t he ask us to pick it for him?>
Boorwid shrugged. <Sometimes wir Gwyn does strange things. What did wir Gwyn do with the marsh marigold?>
<The Gwyn took it to the damp-dark-cells.>
Boorwid nodded and signed, <Tell the kitchens to always have marsh marigold available.>
<Because wir Gwyn wanted it today and had to look himself for it.>
<We don’t have to do something he doesn’t tell us to do.>
Boorwid frowned, and Perjink took a step back. <Wir Gwyn doesn’t have to leave silver in his pockets and in the drawers and under the benches for us to take. Wir Gwyn doesn’t have to leave coded trowie-ties and treasure hunts where we can see them. Wir Gwyn doesn’t have to employ us instead of enslaving us, and wir Gwyn didn’t have to ask for our service instead of commanding it. Wir Gwyn is wir Gwyn because he does these things when he doesn’t have to, therefore wir Gwyn deserves greater consideration from us. Do you understand?>
Perjink waved her hands placatingly. <No, I don’t, but I’ll make sure there’s always fresh marsh marigold around.>
<We serve the Waterhorse now, too?> Hashie asked.
<We are to fulfill any reasonable requests that would not put wir Gryn in danger.> Boorwid clarified.
<We’ll ask you if we’re not sure. The Waterhorse is staying here, then? In the palace?> asked Drooer.
<Yes.> Boorwid paused, then confessed, <I don’t know what’s happening. If the Waterhorse causes trouble, alert me.>
Drooer scratched her head. <What would a waterhorse want? We can’t get it a human to eat.>
Boorwid shrugged. <You’ll find out.>
<Does the Waterhorse know about silver?> Drooer asked.
Hashie poked her. <Our Gwyn takes care of that.>
<I think…> Boorwid paused, considering, and the two other trows waited for him. “The Waterhorse should not be seen by anyone that is not wir Gwyn. He was in the old-damp-cells, but wir Gwyn…> he trailed off again. Gwyn had sounded lucid when he’d given the instructions to Boorwid, but something was wrong, and Boorwid didn’t know if the Waterhorse was the cause of it or not. <Watch the Waterhorse carefully,> he finished.
Some days later, Gwyn asked about the Waterhorse. “Is Augus-- Has he treated you well?”
<The Waterhorse has taken a room, and spends time at the lake,> Boorwid signed slowly. Seeing Drooer, Boorwid gestured her over. <Wir Gwyn wants to know how the Waterhorse is treating you,> he signed, too quickly for Gwyn to follow.
<The Augus is very polite!> she insisted, and smiled at Gwyn.
<What has he asked for?>
<Clothes. Books. A room.>
<When did the Waterhorse become the Augus?>
Drooer cracked her knuckles smugly. <When the Augus left us silver rings.>
Boorwid turned back to Gwyn and signed clearly, <The Waterhorse is treating us well.>
Gwyn nodded and said, “Good. That’s… good.”
Lowe appeared in front of Boorwid, something fey shining in his eyes. <That Efnisien is back, and it has found the Augus.>
They sped to Gwyn’s inner rooms, where they found Hashie and Drooer watching from a doorway. That Efnisien was speaking to Augus, but the trows paid little attention to the words the large fae exchanged.
Hashie asked, <What should we do? That Efnisien is not supposed to be here.>
Drooer added, <We cannot let that Efnisien hurt our Augus!>
<We should get our Gwyn,> Lowe signed, fingers twisted with anger. <Our Gwyn-- >
<No,> interrupted Boorwid.
<Wir Gwyn did not destroy that Efnisien when it killed Oyce. Something keeps wir Gwyn from ending its life. The Augus will destroy it.>
<Watch,> Boorwid commanded, just as silence fell between the two bigger fae, a silence pregnant with malice and spite. The Augus said something, and that Efnisien chuckled darkly.
Then the Augus grabbed that Efnisien’s chin with one hand, shoved the heel of his other hand up and tore off its lower jaw. Its eyes widened with shock and the Augus threw the bloody chunk of bone and flesh aside and hooked his fingers into its eye sockets to hold its head still. The Augus punched through that Efnisien’s fine clothes and into his torso, pulling out grey and purple ropes of entrails. The trows heard the crunch of ribs breaking from the inside, wet flops of organs hitting the floor, gurgling screams from a ruined throat, savage snarls from the Augus.
Lowe hissed with feral satisfaction.
The Augus growled something that might have been words before throwing that Efnisien’s body to the floor and kneeling on its ruined torso. The Augus tore out its eyes one after the other, twisted off hands and arms at the joints, tore through its cheeks to tear out its tongue, and finally reached inside its torso and broke that Efnisien’s spine with three savage jerks.
The August stood up, staggering until he hit the wall, breathing hard, covered in blood. When he saw the trows watching, a strange look passed over his face. He said, “I don’t recall very clearly, but I think he was wearing silver earrings that didn’t suit him very well. And the clasps of his shirt were silver, if you can, you know…” he looked at the carnage beside him and waved vaguely. “If you can find them. Though you might want to work quickly,” he added with a smile. “I don’t think Gwyn is going to be very happy with me.”
Lowe stepped forward and signed, slowly and clearly, <It is good that you killed that Efnisien.>
The Augus looked confused. “What?”
<He hurt us. He hurt our Gwyn. You did what we and our Gwyn could not.>
Gwyn’s familiar footsteps echoed further down the hall, coming closer. Boorwid hauled Lowe inside the room just as Gwyn came upon the gory scene and a concussive blast swept through the hall. They peeked their heads around to see Gwyn teleport away with Augus. Boorwid signed to Lowe, <Get your trophies and take some to Neet. You two,> he turned to Hashie and Drooer, <look after your Augus.>
Hashie asked, <Should we clean this up?>, gesturing at what remained of that Efnisien.
<I will wait and see what wir Gwyn wants to do with it.>
Boorwid didn’t think that Gwyn noticed, amidst the other carnage, the holes ripped from that Efnisien’s earlobes, the torn fabric from its shirt, or that its boots no longer had buckles.
Snawie passed Gwyn’s cartography room and stepped inside. Gwyn sat at the desk, a quill in his hand, but the ink on it had dried and he was…
Snawie stood there, conflicted-- Boorwid said that if the Gwyn was asleep, he should be left alone, but Snawie knew that the Gwyn valued his maps, and would be unhappy if ink spilled on his work. After a moment of thought, she climbed onto the desk and stoppered the inkwell, moving it out of reach. She watched the Gwyn a moment before getting a clean cloth and folding it up, sliding it painstakingly under his open mouth. Satisfied that she had done what was best, she continued on her way.
The next time she went by the cartography room, the Gwyn was gone, but folded into the cloth was a nugget of silver.
Drooer smiled as Augus passed her in the work-room, but froze and hid in the shadows when she heard two soldiers approach and see him. No one was supposed to see their Augus but their Gwyn.
She raced past the fight, knowing that she wouldn’t be any help to Augus that way, and asked trow after trow where their Gwyn was. Finally directed to him, she clapped her hands and tugged on his shirt, dragging him towards the fight until Gwyn picked her up and waited until she could sign what was happening. His face twisted with dread and they teleported to the right room.
When she related what happened to Hashie and the others, she couldn’t remember what their Gwyn had done after. When the two soldiers who hurt their Augus were dead, she had left.
<What are you making?> asked Hashie.
<Our Augus’ shirt was torn. I’m making another.>
<The Augus goes through a lot of shirts,> one trow observed.
<So does our Gwyn,> said another.
Hashie twirled her hands to show amusement. <Especially when they’re together!>
<What does that mean?>
Hashie sniffed. <if you don’t already know, I’m not going to explain it.>
Drooer carefully counted out five capers and put them on top of the Augus’ salad. Then she looked at Rashan, who had plated the Gwyn’s meal, but not delivered it yet.
<Our Gwyn is researching something.> Rashan scowled at the tray.
<Our Gwyn likes research.>
<This research does not make him happy.>
<Have you told Boorwid?>
Drooer peered at him. <You can read. Have you looked at what our Gwyn is researching?>
Rashan shuddered. That was answer enough.
She put a hand on Rashan’s shoulder and signed with the other, <Our Gwyn will be okay.>
Boorwid remained still while Gwyn painstakingly signed out his request. Had their Gwyn not been acting so strange lately, and had the request been different, Boorwid would have enjoyed the irony of the King of the Seelie fae using the most formal trow-signs to speak with him--new trows signed very formally to the Gwyn, and clearly he was learning vocabulary and forms from them.
This was no laughing matter.
<The Tigbalan…> he began, then covered his face with his hands. This was connected to what Rashan told him.
Gwyn signed, <If it please you, I need you to beseech the Tigbalan for an audience, honored sir. If not you, my most trusted of kin, then your most trusted of kin.>
Boorwid would have smacked a young trow for such appalling phrasing. He wanted to smack Gwyn for the request, but he could not.
He looked at his Gwyn and signed with careful articulation, <Rashan has spent time in the Tigbalan’s realm. It would be better for Rashan to go.>
<You trust him with this greatest secret?>
<Wir Gwyn, I trust him with you.>
Gwyn swallowed and ducked his head. He turned to leave, and a scrap of paper fell, seemingly unnoticed, from his pocket. Boorwid already knew it would be a cypher to a silver hoard. He looked at it for a long time before picking it up and meeting Rashan.
Rashan was not pleased, but he obeyed. When he returned a week later, he delivered a letter to Gwyn’s room and then shut himself inside his own and refused to speak to anyone. Tuink and Perjink sat vigil outside his door.
The Gwyn left soon after and did not return for two weeks. He told no one where he was going, and the only two trows who could have guessed, Boorwid and Rashan, kept the secret. A week and a half in, Drooer and Hashie confronted him. <Our Augus is worried. Where is our Gwyn?>
<Wir Gwyn will return,> was all Boorwid would say.
And then, he did. Boorwid stood in shock at the bloody, broken body lying on the mossy lakeshore, only identifiable as Gwyn because it felt like their Gwyn, and then the Augus had come in and seen him. While Augus washed Gwyn, Boorwid managed to get to the other trows, send Hashie to ready Gwyn’s room with lots of clean towels and stores of the tinctures that would help him mend, ordered Tuink and Perjink not to let Rashan out of the trow quarters under any circumstances, for any reason, because Rashan would feel responsible and could not see their Gwyn like this, and sent Lowe and Drooer to the human realm to steal sugar. Then, out of things to do and out of ideas, he went to his room and sat on the dirt floor, his back to the door.
Gwyn had earned their loyalty a thousand times, their respect a thousand more, and Boorwid didn’t know what to do. He felt things coming, massive movements, and the overwhelming horror of seeing their Gwyn like this was itself--somehow he knew-- only the first stone falling down a mountain in advance of a rockslide that would reshape the landscape. He was too small a fae to survive it.
Their Gwyn and the Augus had gone away together, and then the Augus had blighted his lake, and the trows couldn’t fix it. It was a relief when Gwyn ordered them to block it off, but Hashie and Drooer were upset because their Augus had enjoyed his lake, so they went out of their way to find things for him to cheer him up. Oddly, the Augus was harder to find these days, so often they left things in his room for him to find.
One evening the friendly ribbing of the trow-quarters was disrupted by their Gwyn teleporting directly in, asking for salves.
<Is our Gwyn ill?> Tuink signed to Lowe as Boorwid gently reminded Gwyn that he had his own private stock of healing unguents and salves in his room.
As the dust settled from Gwyn’s teleportation. Lowe sneezed and signed, <Our Gwyn isn’t being as smart as he usually is.>
Boorwid sighed. <When wir Gwyn is panicked, he does not think.>
<’Something fit for a waterhorse’, he said,> Hashie repeated. <Did our Gwyn and our Augus have another fight?>
Drooer picked up a needle and thread. <We should probably start sewing shirts just in case.>
More stones were falling down the metaphorical mountain, and Boorwid didn’t know how to stop them.
They began falling more frequently when the Waterhorse-King visited with the odd-feeling sack. The Waterhorse-King, Augus, and Gwyn had sequestered themselves for a time, ripples of strange magic unsettled the palace, and then the Waterhorse-King had left, and the Gwyn and the Augus were avoiding each other.
The trows who listened to the Court were agitated, but didn’t know enough to do anything. The trows inside the palace were agitated to the point that they were dusting rooms that hadn’t been visited in centuries just to have something to do. Rashan had twice threatened, in his cups, to force-feed their Gwyn if he wasn’t going to eat himself. Hashie and Drooer reported that their Augus could now turn invisible.
Something big was happening, and it wasn’t going to be good.
Then the Augus was gone.
A week after that, their Gwyn knelt in their trow-quarters again, giving them pieces of paper worth thousands of pounds of silver, and he was apologizing for not having time to properly hide it for them. Boorwid frowned, and put his hand on Gwyn’s wrist.
“Please start making arrangements for yourselves to not be living here anymore, or not be on call here anymore,” Gwyn said. “You know how it is. The Seelie fae have always preferred more typically comely housekeep, and you know your appearance has never bothered me, but it may bother any successor that comes in my stead. You may not be able to keep any employment here. The silver should be enough to… I’m not sure what you do with it, but I think it should be enough to see you well paid for at least a few decades. If I had it my way, it would be a lifelong severance, but I didn’t start placing an importance on acquiring silver until I met you.” Then he laughed weakly.
Around him, Hashie, Lowe, and Tuink signed in one conversation while Rashan, Tilter, and Shalder argued in another.
Boorwid removed his hand from Gwyn’s arm and signed, <Where are you going? We would come with you.> Several other trows signed their agreement.
“I don’t know,” Gwyn said, shaking his head. ‘I suspect nowhere good for me, and therefore nowhere safe for you. I would keep you all in my employ if I could! Believe me. Three thousand years and I’ve never known any fae more helpful, and you are poorly served by the Seelie alignment. Believe me,” he repeated.
<Of course we believe our Gwyn. But why?> asked Tilter, but Gwyn did not see him.
Boorwid signed to Gwyn, <We are what we are, no better or worse. Something is coming?>
Gwyn’s breath caught, and Boorwid saw Lowe reach out to their Gwyn but not quite touch him. Gwyn nodded. “Something is coming.”
<I knew it,> Rashan signed with curled fingers. <I fucking knew it.>
<Will our Gwyn be safe? Our Gwyn can come with us,> offered Hallan.
Boorwid quickly signed to them, <Wir Gwyn would refuse aid.> Then he put his hand back on Gwyn’s wrist and signed, <Be safe.>
“I will,” their Gwyn lied, and teleported away.
Boorwid bowed his head, ignoring the flurry of conversations around him. He raised his hand and everyone else’s stopped. <We will do as wir Gwyn asks. Leave food for him, hide things from the Augus’ stay. If wir Gwyn has not packed his maps, then we shall, and keep them safe for him. Say nothing to any other fae.>
He took a few steps toward the door and turned back to sign, <Wir Gwyn had respected and provided for us, and gone out of his way to compensate us in his time of need. Leave nothing here that would make his life more difficult, if you can prevent it.>
The trows returned home, and gradually news reached them: the Augus was released by their Gwyn; the Augus was Inner Court in the Unseelie Court; their Gwyn had been demoted by the Albion in front of the whole court; their Gwyn was Unseelie and not Seelie, and had been silenced by his family; their Gwyn had been executed by that Albion; a meeting between the Inner Courts of both sides resulted in a lot of shouting and a new lake; their Gwyn had escaped that Albion’s execution and was in the wind, but doomed to die as underfae; that Crielle was searching for their Gwyn to kill him; the Augus was searching for their Gwyn to save him.
No rumors for a time, and then a flurry of them: their Gwyn was hiding in Blighted land and had killed half an army with an unspeakable Light; the Augus found their Gwyn and brought him to the Unseelie court as a prisoner; the Waterhorse-King and Swan-Queen had abdicated from the Unseelie Court and raised their Gwyn as Unseelie King.
That last one, it turned out, was completely true. Sources disagreed, however, about the nature of his Court and just how completely that Albion had shat his salty trousers when he learned of the friendly coup.
Boorwid left one morning to visit his brother. He waited on one side of a rough-hewn bridge until Kippacks approached from the other side, then met him in the middle. They exchanged a brief embrace.
<Brother mine,> Kippacks greeted.
<Brother. Congratulations on your new King.>
Kippacks smirked. <Your loss is our gain.>
<More than you know,> Boorwid tilted his head.
<Oh, this is to be a serious conversation, then?> Kippacks said. <Come inside.>
Once seated with a mug of mead, Boorwid began, <You know that many years ago, the King of the Seelie asked us for our service in his palace. He always treated us with respect, paid us wages instead of ordering our compliance-- >
<Could he have ordered it, though? The King in the Wrong Court?> Kippacks asked slyly.
<Don’t be an ass.>
<Fine, fine. You served our king when he was your king. You can’t serve him now.>
<Which is why I’m asking if you will.>
Kippacks’ slack fingers showed his surprise.
<Wir Gwyn treated us better than any fae, Seelie or Unseelie, ever has. He is generous and asks little in return. He understands our nature, and honors it.>
Kippacks’ eyes narrowed. <Your signs hold great weight. However...> he paused, and switched to the signs of their youth, <...the Unseelie Court is fractured, and almost broken. I do not think that your Gwyn would be able to pay us wages as he did you. And we will not do your work for any less than you were given for it.>
<I will pay equal wages for five years, and longer, if wir Gwyn is unable to do so at that point.>
<In five years, if he is unable, it will be because there is no Unseelie Court left,> Kippacks prophesied ominously. He reverted to the modern signs and said, <I will relay your words on this side of the river and be in touch.>
Four days later Kippacks sent a message to Boorwid: many Unseelie trows were interested, and Kippacks would meet Boorwid at the Tavaline Portal the following day. Boorwid planned to meet his brother by himself, but both Tilter and Lowe told him that doing so would be foolish (<even if he is your brother,> signed Lowe, who held the alignment as more of an obstacle than Boorwid ever had). When Hashie and Drooer heard that he was going, they insisted on accompanying him <in case our Augus is with our Gwyn.>
So the three Seelie trows met Kippacks and Gowsterie at the Unseelie Gate, and Gwyn quickly came to them. When their Gwyn knelt so as not to tower over them, Boorwid signed at his brother, <See?>
Gowsterie looked intently at Hashie and Drooer when they rushed at their Augus, petting his hands.
“Come within, it’s safer,” Gwyn said to them.
Boorwid shook his head and signed, <No, this will be quick.> He gestured Kippacks and Gowsterie closer and continued, <We have talked with our cousins across the river. We have told them of your kindnesses. They wish to work for you. They are like us. But they must eat meat, and they must leave for the human world to feed upon the theft of others.>
Their Gwyn looked at the Unseelie trows and asked them, “How many of you have agreed to this?”
Kippacks signed in return, <Our cousins gave us an advance payment in silver. Three hundred have agreed. However, we are no more trained than our cousins when you hired them.> He signed this with his head lifted as in a challenge, which seemed rude to Boorwid, but Kippacks would be Kippacks, and best their Gwyn know his attitude from the beginning.
Gwyn nodded consideringly. “I am honoured, humbled by this. I wish to accept. Unfortunately, I exhausted my silver stocks making sure your cousins received a proper severance.”
Gowsterie signed, <The King does not understand.>
Kippacks grumbled, <You just told him you gave an advance. Is he always so-- >
<Still your hands!> Boorwid chided him. <Wir Gwyn is cautious and considerate. He wishes to be certain.> To Gwyn he signed, <It is not in our nature to give silver; we guard it jealously. But you gave us more than we needed, and we owed you a debt anyway, wir Gwyn of the Stars. To pay back that debt, we have paid them each in silver, securing their service to you for five years. After that, you will pay them wages comparable to ours.>
Their Gwyn turned pink and asked, “What else do I need to know?”
Gowsterie shifted her shawl and signed, <We steal silver.>
<We tidy. We cook. We fetch items and we find. We do not care for dusting.>
Gwyn laughed quietly. “If you’ll permit it, I can hire others to take care of that. I understand you’ll have to leave to feed. And of course you’ll need time for your henks and other business, as the Seelie trows did. I’m sure they’ve explained what everything was like for them while in my employ? Is there anything else I should know?”
<See? Cautious and considerate,> Boorwid poked his brother.
<No,> Kippacks signed to Gwyn.He nodded at Boorwid and raised his hands. Gowsterie raised hers as well. <Gwyn of the Stars, I swear on behalf of those of us that will serve you and the Unseelie Court, that we will not betray your Court to our Seelie cousins, other Seelie, other Unseelie, or steal anything other than silver. We will serve you, and anyone you ask us to, and not just the Court itself as per your contract with our cousins. We swear by our sturdy caves and the grounds that sing to us. May they fail should we fail you.>
‘I accept your fealty,’ Gwyn said, and Kippacks bowed.
<Show us this Court,> he signed to Gwyn, <and allow us into the outer circles so that we may show you that we are worthy of your trust.>
Gwyn turned back to Boorwid. “You have done me a great service,” he said.
Boorwid smiled broadly and signed, <Perhaps. But you have done us the greater. We have lost favour with the Seelie, but it was favour we never truly had. Those of us who wanted to keep working are finding paid employ amongst Unseelie houses. We like to work. We have been well-served by your faith. May you be well-served by ours.>
“I hope to see you again,” Gwyn said, and then he signed, <Fare-thee take well over sturdy domes and grackles.>
The Unseelie trows paused in shock. <Did he just-- > Gowsterie asked, hands twitching with amusement.
<Our Gwyn tries very hard,> Drooer signed, looking away from Augus for the first time.
Boorwid couldn’t help but laugh. <We stopped using that sign months ago. But I appreciate the attempt, Gwyn of the Stars. Farewell to you also.>
Before he left, he turned to his brother. <Serve wir Gwyn well, or I’ll make you regret it.>
<Oh?> Kippacks scoffed, softening the skepticism with a friendly shove. <How?>
<I’ll tell mother.>
Kippacks waved his hands in mock-terror and grinned. <I can’t promise he’ll be anything other than the Gwyn to us, you overly-sentimental, under-fed gnome, but we will do our best.>