In the busy streets of Orléans, a willowy woman walks the markets of the central square. She is especially interested in the wares of the booksellers, whose booths and tents grow with every passing year. The cathedral school in Paris is rapidly becoming a university, and demand for books for the students of theology (and other subjects) is expanding.
Hawkers from all over the Western Mediterrean provide the learned of Orléans with books: French Christians and monks, troubadors and Goliards from Languedoc, the occasional Jewish rabbi, and, the one who interests Béata most, a Moor who possesses tomes of knowledge from all over the Saracen and Christian worlds.
There, she finds a copy of the long-presumed-legendary Prophecies of Merlin
, written in Latin and the tongue of England. While apparently incomplete, it appears it is enough to sate Béata's appetite for knowledge. But another hand comes down on the ratty leather book; a hand covered in a chainmail glove. Béata looks up into the face of a man, skin tanned and lined, hair shorn close to the skull, beard hastily groomed, and a white tabard bearing the red cross of the Templars.
"So, my wife, do you not like this home?"
Moira looks out onto the Irish Sea, the sea spray not only stinging her as its cold salty mist covers her face, but actually wounding
her, the longing she feels for the deep blue of the sea manifesting as a powerful Echo that causes her pain with every churning wave.
"It is... fine, husband." The house, built of stout stone and wood, sits on a rock outcropping on the boundary between the soil and sand.
"I know... your kind loves the sea, so I thought you would want to look upon it every morning!" Moira's husband, Eoin, is cheerful and happy as he contemplates this great gift he has given his newfound wife. "It is your lifeblood."
"Indeed, husband." The sadness in Moira's once-bright-blue eyes is palpable. Eoin takes his nets and poles and trundles off for the skiff to take him to the sea to fish. "I suppose Lir is not coming today. I will be back this evening," Eoin says, and kisses his wife, oblivious to her pain and sadness.
In the present day, Béata sits at her old desk, an empty bottle of ink before her. On the walls of her home, huge pieces of parchment are tied to the walls, covered in glyphs, arrows, and other small boxes and rubrics connected in a seemingly-meaningless pattern. Thibault the troubadour sits on a chair, looking exhausted. They have worked all night on the prophecies within Kornloen's tome, translating and interpreting the words written in the tongue of the Autumn Court.
"Would it be all right," Thibault says, "to borrow some of the pages, some of the copies I've made? I wish to work on these on my own."
Béata hesitates, but then realizes this does not violate the Oath and that she has originals of all the pages they've interpreted. As long as Thibault shares everything he learns, this should be fine.
Thibault, subject to the hungers and exhaustion of mortals because of his changeling nature, walks slowly out the door. "My lady, I must leave you know. I hope to return with even more knowledge."
Béata, late for an appointment at Marie's home, gathers her herbs and supplies and makes her way north to the Pêcheur home.
Marie wakes Siobhan, who has been moody, distracted, and angry as of late. Going to her bed, Marie smells that the linens are permeated with the odor of mildew, as if they have sat in stagnant water for weeks. Siobhan, tossing and turning in what is obviously a disturbing dream, can only croak, "Take me to the church, mother. Please. Get this spirit out of me."
Marie is trying to find the words to soothe her daughter's addled spirit when Béata's knock is heard at the door. Marie reassures her daughter, and then goes outside to greet her guest, making sure she offers her something to eat first.
Béata hears how Siobhan has gotten worse since her last visit, and avers, "You must tell her. You must tell her what she is. There is nothing wrong with her."
Marie, angry like a she-wolf protecting her pups, reacts with choler. "There is
something wrong with her! This is horrible!"
"You may not be happy with what is happening," Béata says, "but we need to let her know."
"What would you have me do," Marie responds, still angry. "You want me to take her to the woods, to Kornloen? Do you know what they would do to her?"
"Well, yes. It would be best for her to learn of her nature, but gradually." Béata looks with concern at both Marie's house and the woods where the Court of Bois-Chênu resides.
"It is overtaking her," Marie says. "The changes. She's not a bright girl; I worry about her."
Béata says, "She seems intelligent enough to me."
Marie, darkly, responds, "She wishes to go to the church. To have some priest exorcise her. She believes evil spirits are haunting her."
"How can we let her proceed that way? She needs our guidance," Béata says.
"She cannot know what I am!" Marie sounds like she is cornered by danger, threatened. "She cannot know..." she mutters to herself.
"Will it endanger you?" Béata asks. "Are you afraid she will not accept you?"
Marie says, simply, "You cannot know."
Béata, quite uncharacteristically, suggests that the two of them swear an Oath. Marie agrees, saying that she wants Siobhan to learn control at Béata's home, knowledge of herself and her nature, but it is imperative
that Béata does not
foster Siobhan in either
the Autumn or Winter Courts. If Marie does not let Siobhan go to learn with Béata, the next child she bears will
be a changeling. If Béata does not instruct her or does not return her safely to her home, Béata will be unable to teach or instruct anyone for a year. The two bind their Oath.
After some resistance from Siobhan, Béata takes her back to her home for the first day of her instruction. While walking with the girl, Béata remembers the last words of concern Marie had with her before the two of them left.
"She will never marry."
Béata and the Templar discuss the provenance of the Prophecies of Merlin. The Templar, whose name is Gregoire de Tours, much like the great Frankish saint, insists on a rather recent authorship, within the last two centuries, while Béata asserts her belief that the Prophecies are cotemporaneous with Merlin himself. Gregoire says that sadly, as a poor mendicant Templar, he cannot afford such expensive books. Béata smiles, knowing that the Templars are rapidly becoming one of the richest orders in all of Christendom, and agrees to purchase the book as a form of alms for the Order.
Béata and the Templar walk through the marketplace, Gregoire acknowledging that walking with a strange woman is firmly against St. Bernard's proscriptions for the order. But Gregoire says he's never met a woman who would be walking among the booksellers and researching such... esoteric tomes. Sensing that Gregoire is trying to say something, Béata draws him out. The Order, Gregoire confesses, collects many of these sorts of books, because of the learning they gained in the Holy Land. It is the task of every Brother Templar to find said texts whenever possible and bring them back to the Chapterhouse.
As they continue to talk, Gregoire confesses yet again that he regrets the oaths he has taken in the Order, oaths not to God but to other powers. Béata, intrigued, presses him on this but he says no more. In fact, Gregoire continues, many Brother Templars have left the Order recently, to become monks or to even marry and take on their familial duties upon the deaths of their older brothers in the Crusade. But they all remain tied to the Order, even after leaving. There are so many doing that that the Master here in Orléans is offering rewards to Brothers who remain, usually in the form of advancement. But Gregoire says he cannot help but think he needs more knowledge of his own. He is sick of surrendering all his wisdom to the Chapterhouse library.
Béata, silent now, nods and acknowledges the young holy knight's complaints...
Later that day, Moira is at home alone when there is a visitor at the door. It is Eoin's fishing companion, Lir. "I missed the boat this morning," he says, coming into the new home. Moira welcomes him warmly, makes him some broth. Lir, so forgetful, so simple. Marie and Lir set down to talking about the new home. "We built it well," Lir boasts. Moira looks less sure of the superiority of the house, looking at the tools of Eoin's trade on the walls: nets, knives, a harpoon, and feeling the preternatural sting of the sea air on her skin with every motion of the air and her body inside those too-close walls.
Moira, looking distracted and despondent, agrees noncommitally with Lir, and Lir looks slightly concerned. "Is anything the matter, Moira?" Moira shakes her head no, and is unable to explain more to him. Lir, returning to the subject of the home's construction, kicks at a loose stone on the hearth, and sees that it contains a hollow place. Within it is an old piece of cloth: perhaps a cloak, perhaps a shawl. He looks at it strangely, and asks Moira what it's doing there. She cannot answer, and simply says it must be some old rag.
Upon Eoin's return home that evening, he makes comments about Lir's incompetence. Moira, saddened, defends the simple fisherman, and earns herself severe chastisement from her husband for being so presumptuous. Moira eyes the hearthstone beneath which a simple ragged piece of cloth slumbers, waiting for someone to rescue her and return her to the sea.
In the present day, Béata is walking her new charge, Siobhan Pêcheur, to her cottage to begin her education in herbs, folk remedies, medicine, and perhaps her fae identity, depending on what Béata discovers. But their journey is interrupted by an old woman of the village named Nicaise, walking in the woods. The woman sees Béata and speaks a single word, "." Béata is doubled over in pain as the woman briefly glimpsed at the Court's equinox gathering, revealed now to be a dark-skinned Saracen of some kind, appears and summons arrows of dark, brittle wood and flings them at Béata. Béata fights back, still trying to figure out how this Saracen woman suborned old Nicaise to harm her with her "Christian" name. As Béata tries to Unleash to fight back, the Saracen woman, apparently also an Autumn Court sorceress of some power, uses Cloud-Dancing to fly away and retreat, leaving Béata physically and supernaturally wounded.
The sanctity of Marie's home, too, is about to be violated. With Siobhan gone, Marie must keep tabs on all her children, and when her 8-year-old is found to be missing, Marie takes to the woods around her home in a desperate search. She finds her son playing with a pack of wolves in the woods. He oddly does not seem to be afraid, nor do the wolves seem to be threatening him in any way. But Marie, knowing what almost happened to Hauviette, brooks no such threat to her son, and tries to pull her son away from them. He cries, saying that the wolves "are my friends" and that "they only want to play!" The wolves do not respond to Marie's feral calls, and eventually disperse, not taking Marie's son with them. Marie, concerned, knows that she must visit the King of the Wolves, eventually, to protect her home.
Over the next few weeks, Béata and Gregoire meet several times to discuss intellectual matters: philosophy, theology, cultures outside of Christendom, prophecy, and magic. A few times Gregoire almost lets slip some of the secrets of the Knights Templar, their initiations and ceremonies, but stops short, knowing that if he does wish to leave the Order and marry Béata and pursue his learning with her, he must be as pure as possible before the Chapter's master.