My father, the East Wind, had a reputation for breezy dalliances with various nature spirits and the sorts of mortal beauties that wander alone in the forest daydreaming of princes. My mother was an elegant wisp of a thing, fond of luring travelers into her swamp, electrocuting them and adorning herself with jewelry made from whatever shiny things they carried. A pair of predators more likely to squabble over their prey than engage in a relationship, really.
Mother found the “gift” of the East Wind to be more of a nuisance than anything else. It’s hard to do a proper wanton luring with a babe in arms. The East Wind himself? Oh, he had more important things (and people) to do. As a result I spent a lot of time in the company of Ajattara and her pestilential brood. They have an evil reputation (mostly undeserved) and a fascination with necromancy. It’s a swamp thing.
Ajattara is also known as the “Devil Mother Dragon of the Woods”. I’ve always thought this appellation to be unfair. She very rarely appears in dragon form. If she does, you’ve been very naughty indeed. She did teach me quite a bit about frightening folk. And cursing. She’s an imaginative curser. It’s funny she’s known as the “Dragon of the Woods” because Torronsuo has very little in the way of trees. It’s a peat bog. Most of the álfar live in turf houses that appear to be little more than mounds in the mire. All that “starlight and rainbows” stuff about the elves? It doesn’t really apply here. So, about the only thing I’d call accurate about Ajattara’s appellation is the “Devil Mother” bit.
To wit, Ajattara’s son Hiisi is devilishly clever. Hiisi is the best combat curser I’ve ever known. He can turn a hero into a klutz with a raised eyebrow. Brilliant. You know when you’re up against some mortal knight who really knows his business? He’s got you back pedalling like mad, parrying to save your life, and he suddenly drops his sword. Heh. Thanks, Hiisi. There was a Polish cavalry officer (they’re the worst) with this saber, hacking through a squad of Dökkálfar I was trailing. Now, the Dökkálfar are vicious. The whole spider thing is a bit of a distraction, but they’re pretty dangerous. And this Towarzysz is laying them out like sheaves of wheat. So, I dropped a curse on him. He dropped his blade and the dark elves suddenly remembered that they outnumbered him and ran him through. It’s delightful to get others to do the heavy lifting.
I first went to the Gloaming Court on a whim. Ajattara is required to attend the Court on occasion, as befits her rank as the Archfey of Torronsuo Mire, and vassal to the Queen of Air and Darkness. She doesn’t really like to do this, and so she often sends one of her brood to make apologies to the Queen, and bring a chest of treasure accumulated from travelers who choose the wrong path through her demesne. Hiisi gets this duty as often as not. He’s pretty good at court courtesies. Hiisi didn’t want to lug the chest, so I volunteered. Not that I was going to carry it either. That’s why namesake Ilmatar created the Unseen Servant spell.
The Court was everything I’d hoped it would be. Admittedly, a kid from the swamps of southern Finland (for those of you playing along in the Mirror) doesn’t have much to reference for court splendor, but the Gloaming Court is impressive. I met Surma, who is either the ugliest wolf in creation, or the worst shapeshifter ever. Surma’s a guard at the Court. He knows the scent of everyone there, so invisibility, or the ethereal shadows you’ve cloaked yourself in to appear mysteriously dangerous aren’t going to fool him. I gave him a bone. Polish officers are big-boned fellows, and Surma enjoyed it. Never underestimate the power of a gift. Surma gave me a full tour of the place while Hiisi paid his respects to the swirl of shadows and power that was seated on the throne of ice in the great hall. When it came time to offer up the tribute, I was summoned to present it. Unseen and I entered the great hall and presented the goods with a respectful flourish. The Queen of Air and Darkness laughed.
Now, I will be the first to admit that this angered and offended me. But, as I was bowing before one of the most powerful Archfey in existence, I swallowed my pride. Regretfully, I didn’t swallow my words. I had the temerity to ask, “What does my Queen find so funny?” Turns out one does not ask the Queen of Air and Darkness questions.
“Child of the East Wind,” she pronounced, “Go to the Eldarin of the Shifting Zones. And do whatever they bid you. This, I command thee.” Apparently, this last bit formalized the Geas. I walked out without so much as a “Goodbye, your Majesty. Thank you for not slaying me outright.” I didn’t even get to bid farewell to Hiisi. A Geas bestowed by the Queen of Air and Darkness is pretty potent. I change my mood or my mind as quickly as I change key in a song, but my loyalty to the Queen is unwavering. That last bit is the Geas talking. No way around it, really. Turns out the Gloaming Court have some kind of plot against the Eldarin and some fellow called the “Lord of the White Marble Tower”. I’m the eyes and ears of the Queen in the Shifting Zones. If the Eldarin suspect me, I don’t know anything about it. The Geas forces me to do whatever they ask, so I quickly established myself as a “reliable agent”. They’ve set me to a variety of tasks, including spying on the Gloaming Court! Things get a little complicated at this point … The Geas prevents me from revealing to the Eladrin my allegiance to the Queen, but the Queen compels me to report on Eladrin intentions, while the Eladrin have ordered me to gather information on the activities of the Gloaming Court. I feel like a mouse in between two cats.