Leaving the quit inn room in the Sign of the Rooster, by the edge of Ionad, Mab and Cwyn headed across the city to Diarmuid’s office hidden away in the quiet residential neighborhood near the White Canal. He’d said he needed help with something at sunset.
They arrived more or less promptly, Dolain the Wanderer was high in the sky, his deep blue face peering curiously down at their passage along the canal. They passed under Diarmuid’s obsessively polished brass sign and stepped inside… to find Diarmuid was not in his shop! There was something purple burbling away. There were expensive pastries and several different drinks laid out by the door. But no Diarmuid.
They waited a small amount of time, and then the little brass bell at the door clanged excitedly as a lady entered in a “rough spun peasant cloak” that fit her like a glove and had wire worked into the hood so it concealed her identity but allowed her to see quite well.
She wondered which of them could let the healer Diarmuid know she had arrived for her appointment?
Sputtering excuses, Cwyn set the difficult task of charming the lady, and Mab went off in search of Diarmuid.
There was no one in the examination room behind the curtains.
Outside, in the paved courtyard with the manicured ornamental plants… Mab heard a monster. Under the earth. There was a basement door, leading to a basement they didn’t know the building had. And a terrible groaning and huffing came from it as Mab inched forward, hand drifting with some concern back to the hilt of the knife in his belt.
Diarmuid appeared in the basement gloom, hauling a large box of sweet purple beets up out of the gloom. Sighing at his own imagination, Mab snatched the box from the healer’s hands and urged him to clean himself up and get inside.
The Lady, somewhat impressed by Cwyn in their absence, smiled at Diarmuid, and suggested that perhaps they could… and Diarmuid escorted her through the layers of curtain into the examination room, setting the brass balls in there clacking away to block outside sound.
Across the street, they found a bard tuning his country lute. Intimidated, he told them “It were just a woman made up like a bloke climbing the building…” he pointed up to where several slate roofing tiles were teetering on the edge of the roof. Back inside the duo went, and Mab went out the back as quietly as possibly (which were not so quietly as you might hope, given what might be happening behind the examination curtain).
A rope hung down from the roof, and… indeed… a young woman, clad in leather, was rapelling somewhat slowly down the back of the building.
Mab grabbed the rope, yanked on it hard, and caught the young lady as she plopped down into his arms.
Marching her to the door to present her to Diarmuid, she resisted, telling him she was just on the lookout for –
With the door open, it became clear that the “peasant lady” and the girl were connected. Largely because she sighed exasperatedly under identical hair to the young girl and said, “Avergrain, what on Arcodd are you up to!?”
A small bit of family drama and apology ensued as Cwyn jumped in to help Diarmuid prepare a special tea for the lady. Mab recognized the ingredients, including Belladonna, as something which pregnant women might use to no longer be pregnant. At her age?
Diarmuid saw them out.
A minute later the door jingled softly and Mab rose to ask just what the –
Meraig entered, dressed easily in a dark cotton tunic and high boots, hair tied back with an intricate knotwork band. He smiled, faintly at them, his pale eyes looking like holes in the world. Surly, the two friends wondered what on earth he could be doing there.
“Such hospitality,” Meraig said softly, the saving of their lives like a shadow at his back. He selected the golden liquor in the short bottle that Diarmuid had set out, “Oh, such hospitality indeed!” He poured out the thick honey liquor into a stoneware glass and settled lightly on one of Diarmuid’s ochre velvet chairs.
They settle warily against the counter, aware of fire and other handy things in reach behind them.
To spare them his gaze, Meraig contemplated the mead. “As you know, tomorrow is the feast of Mabon, the Dying of the Light,” he smiled grimly as he said that. It was not the true name of the festival, but it wasn’t inaccurate either. “There will be people everywhere. Ionad will be a madhouse,” why did he sound a little afraid of that?
“During this time, the Siar na Siaraí of Gaudr,” and there was his sardonic tone, “Lord of the Lighted Vault of Heaven will doff his ceremonial symbol and hang it on the altar to catch the sunset and the sunrise.”
The pale stare was back again, like the unfriendly shadow of something vast, “I want you to get it for me.”
There wasn’t anything to say to a suggestion so ludicrous.
On his way out the back, Meraig’s voice floated back to them, “He puts it back on just after the end of the day after Mabon.”
The door dingalinged. Diarmuid didn’t understand why his friends didn’t share his delight over him finally securing a proper client. At least they’d drunk some of the mead he’d gotten.
It was late when Mab went out across Widebridge to the Serpentine where the Day House loomed above the city, its many fantastic arches and decorations illumined by barrels of white gas burning slowly through the night – a Mabon custom.
It was square. There were entrances front and rear. The rear entrance was occasioned by a dock with a winch and a ladder leading down to the dark waters of the Abhainn Ión, the river that poured through the city.
Back in Diarmuid’s shop, they put the slightly drunken healer onto his examination couch and hatched a plan involved barrels, impersonating a dock worker, waiting in a barrel and other things that were guaranteed to test the self-sacrificability of Cwyn’s character.
It was quite early. Mabon began tonight. Might as well get a jump on things.
With a barrel from Diarmuid’s cellar that stank of apples, they crossed the sleeping Ionad. It had been eerily quiet since the day began – presumably everyone was resting up for the feast night.
It was a long walk and ahead of them, the Nightwing Dolain watched, as Brugán rose behind them, the heartstring filling them with anxiousness and doubt.
They ended up at the back corner of the Day House, near the docks, because the light spilling from the front archways was so strong, and Brugán’s silver light was not inconsiderable.
As they struggled to pull the swollen lid back off from where Mab had jammed it in place, a light bloomed at the corner of the building. A tall figure clad in pale colors lifted a lantern, and they froze. His silver beard was once golden, his long hair was pale and pulled back under his hood.
“Ah. You’ve come. Good,” his voice was rich and melodious. They said nothing. He looked them over. He blinked. “I saw your coming in a vision. Come with me, at once.”
He moved away, shuttering the lantern.
He led them into the Day House, through the service areas in the back and into a side area of the huge, window-vaulted Chamber of the Voice.
He slipped through a door hidden behind a tapestry where knotwork emerged from the vault of heaven to make up the fabric of the sun.
He led them up a tight and winding flight of stairs. Higher, and higher, breath coming to them quickly.
Through a short hall and another concealed door.
He turned to them and pulled back his hood, the light falling on his high-browed features.
“I saw you coming in a vision. From Gaudr. I am so glad you’re here,” his rich blue eyes dropped to the carpets with shame. “You were sent to help me. You see,” and he looked up and there was such loss in his gaze, “I am the Siar na Siarái of Gaudr, and my holy sigil has been stolen. You must find it for me.”