By T.K. Wilson (Rated G)
Continued from the Winter 2023 Issue
Eardwulf leaned his horns against the wall and tried not to move. Katrina shifted slightly, curling up tighter to his side. He so, so gently pushed her hair out of her eyes and looked down on her. How he adored her! She was so lovely and kind… and she wasn’t afraid of him. Part of him hoped that she loved him as more than a dear friend, and that part was handily defeating the part that said she shouldn’t and couldn’t love him.
He was shaken from his thoughts by the sound of a baby’s fussing and a voice singing.
…I said says I to a passerby
“Who’s the maid with the fair red hair?”
He smiled at me and he said, said he,
“She’s the gem of Ireland’s crown.
Rosie McGann from the banks of the Bann
She’s the Star of the County Down!”
From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
From Galway to Dublin Town
No maid I’ve seen like the fair colleen
That I met in the County Down!”
Queen Persephone came walking slowly, rocking the fussy baby. She looked at Eardwulf and the sleeping Katrina and smiled.
“Your Majesty,” whispered Eardwulf.
She nodded and knelt down. “Isn’t she beautiful, Eardwulf?”
“She is, Your Majesty.”
“You probably do not think I should keep her.”
“I want what is best for the baby.”
Katrina’s head slipped off Eardwulf’s shoulder. He caught her in his arms and let her lie across his forearm with her head in the crook of his elbow.
“As you want what is best for Katrina.”
“Yes…” Eardwulf said slowly, choosing his words. “And sometimes I doubt if it’s me that is best for her.”
The Queen turned her eyes away and buried her face in the baby’s neck. “I know I should…but I am selfish. I want to keep this baby.”
Eardwulf could see at a glance this was getting more complex by the second. “Ard-Ri help me, we need a solution,” he muttered.
The queen went back to humming and swaying, and in the distance he heard the bells of a church ring out for eight in the morning. He stopped…
“Kitty? Kitty, I’m sorry to wake you, but I need your telephone. I have an idea!”
In St. Fintan’s Anglican Church, a priest went about his duties fastidiously. Father Paul Woodehouse came from England to this small parish in the midst of a once thriving city some years ago. He knew upon setting down in this place that Rock City needed him. He wasn’t like other priests in many ways, including the fact that he was an Elf-Friend, having been so named while in England. He was a trusted confidant of Eardwulf and their go-to when they found a creature stronger than they could handle, for the Ard-Ri was stronger than any wicked creature.
The telephone in the rectory began to ring. Father Paul picked it up and answered.
“St. Fintan’s Anglican Church, Father Paul speaking.”
“Father Paul? It’s Eardwulf.”
“Eardwulf?” Father Paul sat down. “What is it, dear boy?”
“We’ve got a complicated situation here. Can you come to Evermore tonight?”
“Of course, are you sure? It isn’t more urgent than that?”
“It is, but tonight is the only time it will work.”
Katrina sat nursing a cup of coffee as the Queen fed the baby.
“What’s your plan, Wulf?” she asked.
“It’s quite simple. Father Paul is an elf-friend, and he will make it right with the government, I hope.”
“You hope?” exclaimed the Queen.
“I was inspired by the plot of an old novel, Your Majesty. I’m not certain it will work. But you must trust me.”
The Queen nodded. “I will trust you.”
Katrina turned to the Queen. “I know your people don’t trust humans, and honestly? I can’t blame you. But you can trust that we want what is best for the baby.”
“You may call her Nuala.”
“That’s a pretty name.”
“It isn’t her true one, you understand.”
“Of course, yes.”
The Queen rocked the baby and kissed one of her chubby hands. “I trust you, and I will see my husband comes to feel the same. I tire of being without allies.”
Once night fell, Eardwulf fetched the Queen’s unicorn from the patch of woods behind Katrina’s building. He would be the queen’s groom for the night, and Katrina would be the human advocate for the baby. The Queen, her pets, and her ladies all came out of the house, with Katrina carrying the baby. Eardwulf helped the queen onto her steed then silently led the way to Evermore. He had to take them around a longer way than he himself would have gone by himself. But he had a whole crowd and a baby to manage, so a longer route to the Singing Cavern was the way it would be. Katrina walked just behind him, the baby in her arms. The ladies sang softly in their own language as they marched along. The cats and the owl were the vanguard. Eardwulf had learned the cat’s names were Bast, Freya, Pooka, Uma, and Maneki, and the owl was called Rhiannon.
“Eardwulf,” came Katrina’s voice.
“Are we doing the right thing?”
“Yes, I believe we are.”
Father Paul was waiting for them by the door to the Singing Cavern. He was a mild, unassuming looking fellow, dressed in his clerical black and with his collar on.
“Father Paul, so good of you to come,” said Eardwulf. “I’m sorry to have dragged you all the way out here.”
“What, all the way? I drive further getting to the hospital. Your message sounded urgent.”
“It is, this is Queen Titania of the Wild Hunt…”
Here Father Paul bowed.
“…and Katrina is carrying an infant Her Majesty found abandoned and wishes to adopt.”
“Oh, my! Well, that’s not quite legal…”
“We were hoping you could help, Father Paul,” said Katrina.
“Well… I must have a hard think, but I will help you.”
“Will you come down to Evermore with us and speak to the Queen’s husband?”
Father Paul wrinkled his brow. “Of course.”
Eardwulf took the Queen down off her unicorn and held her arm as the entered the trap door into the cave, which had a stable sinkhole for an entrance. The cats and the owl followed, then all the ladies, then Father Paul, who walked Katrina on his arm. He looked down at the bundle in her arms.
“Is this the little one, then?”
“Yes, Father. She’s just a couple of days old. A week, maybe.”
“Poor wee thing. I wonder what drove the mother to abandon her.”
“We’ll never know. She loved her enough to ask someone to take care of her, and she had a diaper bag with formula, so at least the mother tried.”
Father Paul fell silent for a few moments. “Katrina, do you feel the Queen would be a good mother?”
Katrina thought about it. “She already dotes on her, so I think so. But would it be better for her to have a human family?”
“As long as she is loved, I do not see why the queen shouldn’t be allowed to keep her. But…I believe I have a solution. Eardwulf,” the priest called out. “Do you have a telephone down here?”
“Yes, in my chambers.”
“Good! Take me there posthaste!”
Eardwulf shrugged, trusting that the priest knew what he was doing.
King Auberon sat in a guest chamber, brooding about what he should do about this whole mess. There came a knock at the door.
“Come in,” he called.
Rosealba came into the room slowly. “Your Majesty, your wife is on her way here.”
“Does she have the child with her?” he asked.
“Yes, she does.”
“Then I have no desire to see her.”
Rosealba stalked into the room, all thought of her natural delicacy forgotten. “Listen to me, now. I may not remember everything about my life before I came here, but I think I have some opinions. Have you ever thought that perhaps your vendetta has become a little extreme? Have you ever considered how much you’re wounding your wife’s soul by denying her what she desires most in this world?”
“Life does not always give us what we desire, you should know that better than anyone.”
Rosalba shot out an arm, a vine extending from her wrist and binding the King.
“Rose!” he barked in surprise.
“You are coming with me to see your wife and her child.”
Auberon knew that defying a dryad was most unwise. He quietly followed, though he seethed inwardly. There was no way on this earth he would accept a human child as his own blood.
As they came into the great hall of Evermore, Auberon was faced with his wife and her ladies, now including a human, bunched around a bench across the room from his knights. Persephone indeed had the baby in her arms and was stroking her fine hair and speaking Elvish to her. He could hear what she was saying.
“You will be so beautiful, my treasure. As beautiful as the Daughter of Lir, fair as a swan. You shall have nothing to worry about, not food, nor clothes, or a home. We will make of you a huntress, a Diana, an Atalanta!”
Auberon hung back. There was something melting in him, looking upon his wife and the child. His heart had been cold, cold even to his bride. She had followed him from the Otherworld to take up her residence here…the uncomfortable, dangerous, nerve-wracking World of Men. And all she had asked of him in return…was a baby. And as for being human…Perhaps the child was elf-blood. She was clearly of Celtic stock; the probability was high.
Rosealba pulled him forward. “Will you go to her?”
“Yes,” he responded, fixing his eyes on his wife.
She undid her vine and let him go. He strode toward Persephone, the ladies, including the new human companion, rose to block his way.
“Please, ladies, there is no need for that.”
Led by Helena, the ladies backed away. Auberon approached his wife, who looked up at him and held the baby tighter.
“Persephone…” he faltered before going down on his knees at her feet. “Forgive me. Forgive me, I let hatred blind me.”
He set his head on her knees. She carefully removed his crown and set it aside, combing her fingers through his hair.
“Auberon,” she said tenderly. “Will you look at me? Will you look at your daughter?”
He raised his head and looked at her, then at the baby.
“See? She has your hair.”
Auberon rose, then offered his hand to his bride. She stood up, reaching her free arm for her husband. Auberon accepted her embrace, cradling one arm around the baby.
“She is a lovely child. And we’ll raise her the right way; she will not be the same as other humans.”
“Yes, and perhaps she will find a nice elf-boy to marry.”
“There’s plenty of time for that, my darling.”
Father Paul and Eardwulf came bustling out of Eardwulf’s chambers, the ogre a little ahead of the priest.
“Your Majesties, this is Father Paul Woodehouse.”
Father Paul bowed.
“Please listen to his plan.”
Father Paul cleared his throat. “Your Majesties, I have no doubt you would be fine parents, but your daughter also deserves a chance to be among her own people.”
“That is fair,” said Auberon.
“For this reason, you will have to surrender the baby to me-”
“Just temporarily! Let me explain my plan. I have the privilege of the Seal of the Confessional, which means that no one, not the police, nor any lawyer can force me to tell what is told to me in the process of Confession. My plan is that I will say that a member of the public gave the baby over to me so I could find her a home, and I cannot be forced to say whom. There is a family in my congregation who have no children of their own; they’ve been wanting to adopt a baby for ages. I just got off the phone with them, and they will take your daughter and give her a human home and legal standing. You will be her parents, and they will be too.”
Persephone looked at the baby, then at Father Paul.
“Will we be able to see her?”
“Of course! They are among the elf-friends; they’ll think nothing of it. They will foster the baby until all the paperwork is done, then they will be her parents on paper. Perhaps there’s an arrangement you can come to for equal time with the child. What is her name?”
Persephone looked at Auberon, who nodded. She motioned the Father over so she could whisper the name to him. He nodded and smiled.
“A lovely name. If you will come with me, I will call the police and have them take over.”
The Queen hugged her daughter tightly.
“Don’t worry, I’ve already alerted the foster family. You’ll be able to see her in a few days.”
The next day, Katrina picked up a newspaper with the headline “Baby Girl Surrendered to Local Priest” with a picture of Father Paul cradling Baby Nuala in his arms. Katrina smiled, certain now that she and Wulf had done the right thing.
That night, while she waited for Eardwulf, a knock sounded at the door. She looked out the peephole to see the entire Wild Hunt in her backyard, and the King himself at the door.
Katrina swung it open and bowed.
“Katrina Elf-Friend, we want to thank you for your actions a few days ago.” Auberon held out his hand toward his wife. “My wife was a stranger to you, but you took care of her and our daughter.”
“It was the least I could do.” Katrina responded. “How is the baby?”
“Doing quite well, if all goes smoothly, she should be adopted by her foster parents in a year or less.”
Katrina smiled. “How wonderful! She’ll have two beautiful families.”
“And she will know your people of Evermore too,” said the Queen. “We will soon make an alliance with them.”
“Oh, that’s great news!”
King Auberon shook his head. “What a difference a baby can make.”
Katrina nodded in agreement. Indeed, what a difference!
Her phone started to ring.
“Who would be calling at this hour? I apologize, Your Majesty.”
“We must be off anyway, do not let me keep you.”
Katrina bowed again, then went to pick up her phone.
“Katrina? It’s Marshall!”
“Oh, hi, Marshall!”
“I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“No, you didn’t, I’m a night owl now.”
“You weren’t when we were in school.”
Katrina laughed. “No, no I wasn’t.”
Marshall chuckled. “Listen, I’m gonna be in Rock City on business, wanna get together for lunch sometime? Catch up?”
“Well, sure! It’ll be great to see you!”
Eardwulf checked himself in a mirror, just to make sure he looked his best. Tonight was the night, after seeing her handle the Wild Hunt with such gravitas and compassion, he was going to tell Katrina how he felt about her. He’d gotten down his leather cape, and his very nicest tunic, which was embroidered with knotwork and his father’s gold brooch to wear with his cape. He had freshly braided his hair, binding the ends with silver braid rings. He had confided in Rosealba and she had given him some of her roses and earlier in the day, he had gone to Meridian and bought Katrina a gift- a locket shaped like a book with a rose in enamel on the front. He had tucked a lock of his hair into the locket, there had been no time to get a likeness made.
He gathered up the jewel-box and the roses and set out for the surface, the hood of his cape over his head. He marched his way toward Katrina’s house rehearsing what he would say.
“”You must let me tell you”- No, I’m not Mr. Darcy. “When in disgrace-”, oh, certainly not.” he muttered. “Katrina, I love you. I have loved you all this time, and only now could I say it.” Eardwulf sighed. “If I could but borrow a bit of Cyrano’s eloquence…”
As he came to the open kitchen window, Eardwulf paused, Katrina was talking with someone on the telephone.
“Yeah, we had fun back in those days, hey, do you remember Mr. Hornsworth?” She laughed. “Maybe, but he’s the reason I’m what I am today.” She listened for a moment. “It’ll be great seeing you, Marshall. Tomorrow at 12:30, one o’clock? At L’Oiseau Brillante? Okay, I’ll see you then!”
Eardwulf staggered back. She was meeting someone. Another man. At a very fancy restaurant. A date. He felt like someone had punched him in the stomach, then stabbed him with a boar-spear right in the chest. It was hopeless after all; Katrina couldn’t want someone like him, not when she had human suitors calling for her. He turned and fled, trying hard to hold back tears. But they came anyway.