My messenger Johanna may be mortal, but I encourage you to show her the highest of hospitality. Most of all, I recommend that you introduce her to Diana, if you have not done so immediately upon noting her condition. Do not ask of Johanna's last name.
I imagine that by now my absence has been noted. To those who sought to dissuade me, my apologies. You are entirely correct in that I should not have departed for the Kingdom of Willows on my own and unescorted.
Unfortunately, I saw little alternative: it is imperative that we retain as much of our strength as possible at Heartwood, and remain alert and ready for defense there. I make to you what assurances I can that I shall remain in the shadows which are the sluagh's first home, and avoid confrontation and conflict wherever possible. Nor do I plan to seek further into the Kingdom of Willows than the Duchies of the Triangle and of Winterthorn - the mortal states of North Carolina and West Virginia.
Though my actual report focuses on my search for Sir Athos's mortal wards and my investigation into the current status of the Kingdom of Willows, it has occurred to me that you may enter this reading with somewhat less information on the Kingdom itself than I possess. Thus, I begin with a brief overview:
The Kingdom of Willows encompasses most of what is known as the South to the mortals. It is ruled by King Meilge ap Eiluned, who was selected by royal lottery after the assassination of the previous king, Barabas ap Eiluned. King Meilge is a veteran of the Accordance War and a popular figure among nobles and commoners alike; he rules the kingdom from Willow's Heart, a freehold located in a penthouse in an Atlanta skyscraper. As may be apparent from this, His Majesty is entirely of Modernist inclinations. (Note, thus, that any conflict will not be one in which Willow forces are poorly armed: I doubt that His Majesty or his soldiers would flinch from the use of firearms, explosives, and modern tactics.)
A number of duchies exist within the Kingdom of Willows. These include:
The Duchy of Cotton, officially encompassing Mississippi and Alabama, more accurately lacking Mississippi. Its duke is Firedrake of House Fiona.
The Duchy of Magnolia's Heart, a disputed realm which consists of the State of Mississippi. Igrania of House Gwydion claims to rule it, though her title is unacknowledged as of my most recent information.
The Duchy of the Delta Crescent, containing the State of Louisiana. Note that it borders the Kingdom of the Burning Sun. Duchess Lisanietta of Eiluned rules here - as she rules also a certain small mortal population as Lisette Levay, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.
The Duchy of Palmetto holds claim to South Carolina. It is ruled in name by Duke Antoan, a Liam, but his power over the changelings in his domain is minimal. Else would I venture further and speak to him of Athos' fate. As it is, I will leave the news to be carried by his House.
The Duchy of the Triangle is one of those within which I do choose to venture. It contains the eastern and central portions of North Carolina - thus, our neighbor to the south it is. It is known as a "nocker's paradise" for its inclusion of the Raleigh - Durham - Chapel Hill mecca of learning and research. As befits such a place, it is ruled by a Dougal, Duke Murdoch, referred to by his students as "The Professor."
The Duchy of Appalachia rules over the mountains - or attempts to. Its Duchess, Dianan of Fiona, is more inclined toward her romance writings; her pen name is Melissa Ardsley. I intend to avoid this Duchy - I understand that the redcaps there are particularly dangerous, nor do I have any wish to court a meeting with the Nunnehi inhabitants.
The Duchy of Blue Grasses comprises the non-mountainous regions of Kentucky. The commoner-nobility split is particularly visible here. The reigning Duke is Araby ap Gwydion, a hunter, horse-breeder, and fop.
The Duchy of Graceland needs no explanation. It is ruled by Duke Florian of House Ailil.
The Duchy of the Ozarks contains the entire State of Arkansas. I will not bore you with the recitation; suffice it to say that I received much of my teaching there. Why there? The reason is simple: its Duchess is one Kerry Dunwood, who is (most unusually) of my own kith.
Winterthorn is another disputed Duchy, its separate existence under much debate. Its self-proclaimed Duke is Gwrhyr ap Gwydion. Worse, the land comprising Winterthorn is in large part separated from the remainder of the Kingdom of Willows by a portion of the Kingdom of Apples: the State of Virginia. That is to say, us.
As I write this, I sit in a hotel room in Harper's Ferry. I find the place distasteful in the extreme, but it is necessary: more congenial locations have frequently been claimed already by the John Brown Society, and I have no particular desire to explain my presence to an irate redcap. Harper's Ferry, of course, is within the Duchy of Winterthorn - granting for the sake of argument that such a duchy exists.
I have finished investigation of one of the trailer parks mentioned to me by Sir Athos' mortal cousin. The location should be clearly marked on the map Johanna carries, always presuming that it has not been lost along the way. The results of that investigation are these:
Firstly, the brother-and-sister pair whom Sir Athos singled out for his protection here are - or were - also a pair of Dreamers. Johanna is one of the two. I do not know whether the seed of Dream within her can be reached again. I suspect that her brother may yet have the potential to work with a Muse, but it will be necessary to remove him from the area before determining that for certain. As he is currently in the hospital, I cannot personally facilitate such a thing; I recommend contacting the relevant Child Protective Services.
Secondly, if this pair is representative of Athos' wards, the Liam knight chose to protect not merely Dreamers but Dreamers at considerable risk. I was unable to so much as approach the parents of the pair; I suspect both to be Autumn People. I intend to pass their names and locations on to others in the area, who have the time and wherewithal to deal with them. The mother might merely be despised, but the father is a monster as much as or more than any nocnitsa, and cannot be left to continue his depredations.
Thirdly, there is a young man by the name of Robert - Johanna corrects me; "Bob" - MacMahan who is currently in intensive care, suffering from numerous broken bones, a punctured lung, and blood loss. (Particular blood lost; it is my understanding that his throat was slit.) This is the individual whom I mentioned above. The injuries were inflicted by his father. I would be willing, if necessary, to testify to this in court; I trust however that the fae of the area will remove the necessity for me. I trust that you will understand why I do not intend to return, if possible, until I have visited each of those who were under Sir Athos's protection.
Finally, I turn to what I have learned about the current state of the Kingdom of Willows:
I have not ascertained any of King Meilge's plans, of course. It is far too soon for that to occur. I doubt that I will learn anything so detailed at all; if I do, it certainly will not be in Whitethorn. The Triangle is the more likely staging ground, being technologically inclined and far more convenient in terms of Meilge's supply and communications routes. Fortunately, the Triangle is also more accepting of outsiders, and its native-born less close-mouthed.
I am, however, somewhat disturbed to find that the Separatist faction seems to be particularly active. I do not speak merely of those who wish Whitethorn to be a separate duchy, but of those who wish the Kingdom of Willows to be a separate kingdom entirely. Separate from Concordia. Not under the rule of the High King. Rumour has it that the Southern Cross has grown bold, carrying out terrorist actions as far north as the Triangle - most often it restricts itself to its places of power, Graceland, Appalachia, Cotton, and the Ozarks.
Though I do not intend to remain in Appalachia, one of Sir Athos' wards appears to be resident within that Duchy. The Southern Cross targets primarily Northern fae - that is, those not fortunate enough to be born and raised within the Kingdom of Willows - and supporters of the High King. With fortune, I may escape their notice altogether, or escape at least with mere harassment. With less fortune... let us not dwell upon that.
I should at this point note that it is in theory possible that the Southern Cross may have been responsible for the attack upon Athos, but I find that less likely than that some enemy of his at court took advantage of his disfavor, or that he discovered something that one of Meilge's vassals considered better hidden. (His Majesty's battle plans, perhaps? Hmm -)
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To the Fae of the Free Holding of Heartwood, greetings.
I regret that this message must be sent via the mundane mail, but no suitable courier has shown him- or herself among Athos' mortal wards. I have visited several, and most are unable for one reason or another to leave their current situations. Or believe themselves so, which is often sufficient in itself.
It is true that Sir Athos' mortal wards are primarily victims of abuse or neglect. I suspect that he may have been trying to keep them from losing the ability to Dream altogether. Where possible, I have whispered their names to the nearer of the sluagh... some may call that a worse fate still, but it is all that I have in my power to do.
Sir Athos, from all that I have been able to gather, arrived at Willow's Heart from the Kingdom of Northern Ice (specifically, the city that most call Montreal, for the geographers among us) approximately half a year ago. At King Meilge's Fall Court, there was a particularly unpleasant scene between Sir Athos and one of House Eiluned, that has made its share of circuits of Rumour's thousand-tongued wheel. Apparently the Eiluned accused the Liam of having too much familiarity with the mortals of the lower class.
Apparently, the Eiluned was a Baron by the name of Dorian. I trust that you all remain familiar with this name.
Rumour also tells me that Dorian ap Eiluned was implicated in the murder of one Sir Tristan ap Gwydion during the Accordance War. However, nothing could be proven; thus, Dorian was acquitted. (Are you paying close attention, class? There will be a quiz in future.)
My final piece of information on Dorian himself is this: he has been seen in the Duchies of Cotton and the Delta Crescent, though my most recent information puts him in Willow's Heart and at King Meilge's court. Draw what political conclusions you wish; however, I would note that the Duchess of the Delta Crescent is also of Eiluned.
Also, and most dire: I have learned (and I recommend that you do not ask how) that Duke Firedrake is supplying weapons forged of Cold Iron to the malcontents of the Kingdom of Willows. I do not as of yet know whether King Meilge knows of this or not. However, I do note that Duke Firedrake rules the Duchy of Cotton, to which, as I have said, Dorian has been rumored to pay certain visits. I have no proof, but the evidence is suggestive.
Finally, certain smaller notes: Also at Willow's Heart is one Sir Berin O'Donnall, of House Scathach. He is, or so I am told, King Meilge's Captain of the Guard. If his House-kin should know aught of him, it might prove of some use. Also, the so-called "Comfort Inn" chain proves to live up to its name - for sluagh, and disreputable sluagh even by our standards at that. I recommend the rest of you avoid it at all costs.
From the city of Durham,
in the Duchy of the Triangle -
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