“It’s beautiful my Lord”
Inside a broad yet thin jewelry case designed for necklaces, lying on a bed of red silk, was a golden neck torc in the Celtic style. Like other necklaces of this style, it consisted of several strands of golden wire, wound to form a “rope” that went around the neck. The necklace was rigid, and usually had an inch or two of gap centered at the throat; making it something like a metal choker in terms of fashion accessorizing. The “rope” terminated by tucking into two end-caps, one on each side of the gap. Traditionally these end-caps were heavily decorated. This torc was no exception and the end-caps were bejeweled with garnet, onyx, and carvings of deep relief. Set into the end caps were two sterling silver open hands. They faced each other – virtually palm to palm – across the gap in the front of the torc. The open silver hand had become something of the symbol of Conor O’Neill’s household within the Dallas Summer Court.
“This is not a gift Roxie, but rather a reward for loyal service rendered. These past few weeks fulfillin’ the Duke’s request to reduce the numbers of the Winter Court; I want you to know that your magical assistance was often timely an’ always appreciated.” Conor was holding the case open, presenting it to Roxie. They were standing in one of his Dallas home’s several “den” areas.
She reached out her hand, “May I?” After a nod from her Liege Lord within the Summer Court, Roxie took off her current pendant (also a sterling silver hand), and took up the torc. Once it was around her neck she inhaled sharply, sensing a surge of magical energy.
Conor smiled, knowing something of what she was sensing. “I have recently been given several tokens an’ trinkets; rewards from the Ducal Household for my services. I made sure that one of them would go to my most stalwart vassals. When I saw this one, I knew it would be for you. I understand it may even augment your magical talents somewhat.”
Roxie nodded, “Of that there is no doubt my Lord. Summer spellcraft has indeed been woven into the strands.”
She gently set her old pendant in the jewelry case. Then, she held her hands in front of her mirroring the position of the hands of the torc – palm to palm with a few inches of gap in between. She closed her eyes, willing the magic of the Seelie to come to her call. Within seconds, a ball of dancing flame floated in mid-air, suspended between her palms. Both of their faces glowed orange in the flicking firelight.
Conor grinned, “Well?”
His Valet opened her eyes and extinguished the fireball, “Indeed my Lord, the gifts of the Summer Lady do seem to flow to me with greater ease.”
He closed the jewelry case, tossing it upon a nearby coffee table. “Glad you like it. It looks good on you; suits you.”
Grinning impishly she gave Conor a coy glance, “It bears your emblem. I intend that I shall always wear it my Lord, even when I wear nothing else.”
Her comment had an effect, Conor appeared to be about to say something when she continued. “I will wear the the Silverhand’s mark with honor my Lord, so that all will know to who… se House I belong.” She ended her sentence with a curtsey.
Her pause in the middle of the word “whose” was blatantly deliberate, both knew it, no comment was required. Lord Dallas took several seconds before he finally decided to remark.
“You don’t belong to me Rox.”
“I beg your pardon my Lord, of course you are strictly correct. However, the Duke first gave me to you as your servant to rid himself of his obligation to me. Then, then you gifted me with arms and accepted my Feal Oath. Though there is nuance of course within the Oath, for all intents and purposes of note; I am… happily and unreservedly… thine.”
A wrinkle creased Conor’s brow.
“Does that displease you?”
“You’re not my slave Rox.”
Now a wrinkle creased Roxie’s brow, “Of course not my Lord, I’m your Vassal.” She said it with a tone that seemed to imply a tremendous doltishness on the part of her Liege Lord.
“Right, so you don’t belong to me Rox. You’re a Vassal, not a Slave.”
She seemed to ponder his words for a moment. “I do belong to you my lord. I’m your Vassal, not your Slave. But perhaps…”
She looked at Conor’s face; then smiled. She adopted body language as if she were a tutor. “Your language is imprecise, or perhaps mortals have forgotten a great many things of the old ways?”
Conor shrugged, hesitant, but said nothing.
She continued, “My Lord, should you neglect my protection, or bring me direct harm yourself, my Oath to you would be potentially void. I would be free to seek another Lord’s protection. Within that dangerous gray area is the source of much of history’s conflict betwixt the great houses… and courts.”
Lord Dallas, one of the newest Earls of the Summer Court, chuckled.
“But, if I was your slave; only my death or your whim would release me. If I had such a luxury as Free Will, one would allow that to still be in effect, the other would have little regard for it even in the slightest.” The corner of her mouth was crooked into a grin.
Conor muttered something.
“Yes indeed my Lord. It is a very slight difference, but key.”
He said nothing further, walking over to the bar to pour two whiskeys. “Fae an’ their politics an’ wordsmithin’… it’s enough to drive a man to drink.” He took a drink of one, proffering the other.
Roxie nodded sympathetically, taking up the glass in her dainty hand.
“My Lord, allow me to offer the observations of one lowly member of the Court?”
“Always Roxie, you can always speak me your mind when it’s just we two.” He sat down in one of his absurdly comfortable leather chairs.
“You do not understand because you do not fully understand one of the gifts of your mortal Free Will.”
Conor nursed his drink, listening but saying nothing.
“It is impossible for us to violate our nature, to be anything but what we are my Lord. This you already know.”
“Within the society of all supernatural creatures my Lord, there are those who rule and those who do not. This also, my Lord, you already know.”
He sipped his drink.
“My Lord, how does a vassal disobey the whims or requests of those placed above her within the society in which she finds herself?”
Conor looked at Roxie, her pronoun choice making it very clear that for perhaps the first time in their acquaintance, she was speaking from someplace very private. He hesitantly replied, “She cannot.”
“No my Lord, she cannot, unless she is now higher in the society than what she was previously.”
“She has to play the game and dance the dance.”
“Yes my Lord, the only way to have the freedom to do as one wishes, is to have the freedom that comes with position.”
Roxie knelt down, being so bold as to rest her hand on one of Conor’s forearms. “My Lord, you must understand this next point for the security of your House.”
He looked into her eyes, paying careful attention.
“Everything – every thought, every action, and every plot has that goal of freedom in mind. It is your mortality, and your rank as a High Lord of the Court, that grants unto you a nearly unimaginable freedom – unimaginable to us who are not High Lords that is. Everyone beneath you resents the potential threat you pose to their freedom… or even their lives as you can compel them to battle. Similarly, everyone above you is wary of the same resentment festering within you.. and you are powerful my Lord, they would be fools to not fear you.”
Conor shook his head in disbelief, “It’s an endless madness.”
“Exactly my Lord.” Roxie bowed her head, “It drove the former Summer Lady mad with the futility of it all. But such is the game; we have no choice but to play.”
He finished his drink; thinking to himself as he did so. Roxie had taken a seat in the sofa across from him in the den.
“Do you resent me then? Is that it?”
“Not anymore my Lord, but I did. You are… different.”
“What do you mean?”
Roxie giggled, it was like sunshine in the room. “You are so recklessly blunt and truthful, so accustomed to the … the … egality of your home and adopted cultures … that you do a dangerous thing without knowing it my Lord.”
He looked concerned, again furrowing his brow.
“You treat those who are your social lessers as you would treat an equal, or even a friend. From a High Lord of the Sidhe my Lord, that is a dangerously addictive freedom. To be given leave to say what we actually think and feel, to do as we wish, or even to banter and be jovial in the presence of a social better… it is … uncommon.”
Conor put his hand to his face, “Madness.”
“So yes my Lord, I belong to you. But please understand that though another Noble could command anything from me and I would be obliged and compelled to obey, for you I am happy and honored to comply.”
After long moments Conor looked anew at Roxie. “Any Noble?”
Roxie nodded, “Any with a claim of dominion over me, yes. It it not accidental that I am always at your side my Lord. I have neither position nor power within the Duchy other than as your Valet.” She grinned, “Not that being valet to the Black Knight is without advantage.”
He chuckled. “Well at least that name is useful to someone… What about before? Was it so grim before you came to be in my service?”
“Though the Low Fae are beneath me – as I am one of the Gentry of the Court – all else are above. Fortunately, it is Summer – not Winter – but fire can still burn my Lord, especially when set loose wild and without restraint. Once, it mattered not… now all things have changed. If possible, I would ask to be able to defer giving any further answer to this question.”
Conor nodded and said nothing for several long minutes, eyes unfocused. He seemed lost in thought.
Finally Roxie broke the silence, “Will you require anything further of me today my lord?”
That snapped him out of his reverie. “No Roxie, thank you. As always you have been a tremendous help. I’ve much to think on.”
Roxie stood and walked past him, allowing her fingers to fleetingly trace a trail along his forearm. “… I would be happy to acquiesce to any request…”
Conor looked up at her eyes and smiled, “Good night Rox.”
She returned the smile, their nightly ritual continues, “Good night my Lord.”