by Stephen J. Herron

Belfast, Autumn 1995

The man pulled his coat more tightly around himself. The rain lashed down, and the streetlights glowed softly through the mist. A red and white bus roared past him, drenching him in water. He swore softly, but kept walking. As he passed the well lit City Hall, he allowed himself a smile. The familiar sight made him feel at home. He entered the well lit city centre, its shops closed and shuttered. Soon, he turned down a backstreet, and almost immediately, turned again. Now surrounded by disused buildings just off from Royal Avenue, he was nearly there. He walked towards a bricked up doorway, and paused. As he took out a thick lump of natural chalk, he quickly glanced around, making sure he was unseen.

He traced out a door with the chalk, making a damp white rectangle. He hummed softly to himself as he did so, pleased at his unrusted skill. It had been months since he had used Glamour in such a way. Suddenly, the white line flared with soft light, and the man smiled. He stepped into the bricks that blocked the doorway, and disappeared.

He stepped into a dark hall, with open sky above him and soft grass below. This was the interior of the building, just a shell now. Grass now grew where the linoleum once was, and vines and bushes abounded. In the centre of the building, where the massive printing machines once stood, was an oak tree. It could only have been there for twenty years, yet appeared to be centuries in age. Such was the magic of this place. He had not been here for many months, and he let the atmosphere surround him and pervade him...

A huge shape, born of nightmares, emerged from the shadows in front of the new arrival. It was a man, or the dream of a man, eight feet tall. It's skin was blue, and two small horns curled up from its forehead. It was clad in fine robes, with plaid mixed through. A smile appeared on its lips.

"Well met, Kestry," it rumbled, "welcome to the Brick Glade."

The man looked up into the giants face. He opened his coat, revealing a tidy business suit and a long curved sword, sheathed into a jewelled scabbard.

"The blade must remain here," warned the huge figure.

The man nodded and handed the sheathed weapon over to the Troll. "It will be safe with you, Lord Galway. As will I. You have nothing to fear. I am still Seelie," he murmured.

The Troll looked relieved. "We haven't seen you for a year, Lord Kestry. It's good to see you once more."

Kestry nodded. "You wear your Seeming openly, Galway. Is it so safe here ?"

The Troll smiled, and melted into the shape of a six foot five human, bearded and cold in the ragged clothes of a tramp.

"This is my mortal seeming, Lord Kestry. I can bear it for only so long, such is the banality and hopelessness that it generates. Your mortal seeming is little better, if I may be so bold."

Kestry grinned. "You may."

He changed. He became taller, more regal in appearance. Galway averted his eyes for a moment, such was the light that shone from Kestry during his transformation. There was a hint of summer, the rumour of song, a tale of dancing and merriment as Kestry took on his true form.

He wore golden armour, now, and a long red cloak marked with the symbol of his noble house. His physical appearance had changed, but only a little. As the tramp was a reflection of the Troll, so was Kestry the reflection of the noble Elf that now stood in the overgrown hallway.

"My Lord Kestry," apologised the Troll, "I had forgotten how impressive the Sidhe were. It's been so long since your kith have been with us."

Kestry sighed, and even that sounded like a song. "That is true, Lord Galway. A major fault in my people, and one I have tried to repair." They began moving through the building towards the Great Oak.

"Is that why you retreated into the mortal world for so long ?" asked Galway. He instantly regretted asking. Kestry smiled slightly.

"Yes. The whole affair hurt me more than you can guess. My kith are arrogant beyond reason. I suspect that I have been exiled for my actions." They walked through the building in silence.

"Exiled by exiles. It seems a strange fate, does it not ?" laughed Kestry. Galway halted, looked at his face and laughed deeply and loudly.

"Their judgement lies lightly with you now, I see ! I must admit to being somewhat relieved, my Lord. I had worried that we might have to avoid the subject !" Kestry laid his hand upon the Trolls massive arm, and patted gently.

"Thank you, Galway. I have missed your kind words, and the company of my friends here. I regret leaving my return so long. As for my exile, well, I will have more to say later. It cannot be avoided. Did you send out the invitations ?" Galway nodded.

"As soon as I received your letter- which, I may say, was a most unexpected pleasure."

They entered the vast printing room, which contained the Great Oak. It reached far into the sky, just peaking over the top of the crumbling brickwork. The rain still fell, but was filtered by the Oaks leafy arms, until it fell like a soft mist into the orange lit courtyard. The ground was moist and soft with moss and lichen below foot, and a tremendous sense of peace filled the air.

Kestry moved forward, and laid his hands upon the bark of the Oak. The air shifted slightly, and the tree began to sway ever-so-slightly. The leaves rustled.

"Yes, I've missed you too," whispered Kestry. From the shadows of the room, small bright points of light emerged, and danced around the Sidhe Lord. They whirled and skittered in excitement, like hounds greeting their master.

"Your Chimera have also missed you, Kestry," smiled Galway. Kestry nodded, tears in his eyes.

"I have neglected my friends for too long. I really have," he said softly. A laugh like bells rang around the Brick Glade. High above, in the branches of the tree, a figure sat. It was a young girl with red hair, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old. She wore jeans and a tee-shirt, her feet bare as she swayed from side to side on the branch. She let go, and fell. Kestry looked up in surprise, and moved to catch her. Galway smiled knowingly.

"Catch me if you can !" she laughed, and instantly became a robin. She flew and looped around Kestry, who gazed in wonder at the chirping bird. It almost seemed to be laughing at him. It perched on his shoulder for an instant, before flying off again.

"A Pooka ! At last !" laughed Kestry. Galway nodded.

"The first in many years. We found her about a year ago." The robin changed back into the girl. She curtsied politely.

"Well met, young Pooka. What is your name ?" She smiled innocently.

"My name is Peter !" Galway shook his head.

"Her name is Robin. She tends to lie a lot." Kestry walked forward and shook her hand.

"It's in the nature of Pooka to lie. I hope, young lady, that your untruths are better than 'my name is Peter'." Robin shrugged.

"You'll always know when I'm lying, Mister Kestry," she lied. Kestry gazed at her in wonder.

"Where did you find her ?" he asked Galway. The Troll moved forward, and lifted the girl onto his shoulders. She giggled and laughed.

"She came to us. It was almost a year ago. She flew into the Glade, and has stayed with us ever since. It was not long after you left, my Lord." Kestry winked at the girl.

"It will be good to have a pooka amongst us. We have become too serious in the year since the Ceasefire," explained Galway.

Kestry nodded. He kept having to remind himself that the city was no longer troubled with bombs and terrorism. In the year since the terrorists took their fingers off their triggers, the city has blossomed, along with the rest of the country. New possibilities existed, new dreams.

"The Ceasefire has brought on many changes, Galway, not least for we Kith. There are more of us now than ever." He smiled up at Robin.

"The dreaming here in this city is has shifted. The girl is proof of that. How many more have realised their true nature ? " Galway lifted his mighty hand, and rapped three times on the trunk of the Great Oak. The intricate whorls and knots upon the bark of the Oak swirled darkly, dark shadows upon dark wood. Then, as if it had been there all along, a door could be made out upon the bark. It had only appeared with the Troll's knocking. Galway opened the door, to reveal an oaken stairwell, spiralling down into the ground.

"After you, my Lord," said Galway politely. Kestry stepped through the door, and made his way down the staircase. It spiralled three times to the left, each step a foot deep. Kestry found himself in the middle of a large chamber, the trunk of the Oak continuing far below the earth. Tapestries of the five noble houses hung on the walls, and Kestry could see that the table was set for a banquet. The other guests had not yet arrived, but their places were set. At the head of the table. Kestry saw his chair- carved from oak, with a high back, it resembled an ancient throne. It was undecorated, but stood out nevertheless. He walked slowly towards the throne, and carefully settled into it. Galway and Robin emerged from the Oak stair.

"The Duke has returned." The voice came from all around him. He recognised it as the voice of the Brick Glade itself, the force that occupied it, and was in turn created by it. He addressed it by its true name.

"Gohain. It's been a while. It's good to be back."

Kestry sat at the head of the table, a goblet half full of brandy in his hands. Galway was at his right hand, representing the Trolls. Beside him, holding his hand was Robin, for the Pooka. Most of the other Kith were represented. Seamus, the Redcap sat like a squat demon opposite Galway. His diamond hard flat teeth ground together as he ate his glass. He glared out from below a bony low brow. Beside him was Govain, the Slough. She was willow-thin, and looked emaciated. Her mouth, toothless, was curled back in a cold smile. She was a dark shadow of a Sidhe. Beside her, and at the far end of the table, sat Sean O'Neil, the chosen representative of the Boogan. He sat, wizened and hairy, like a gnome from legend.

"I'm glad to see so many friends here," spoke Kestry. He smiled warmly at the group.

"In the year that I have been away, I have spoken with many Kithain across the island. As suspected, they have been little affected by the Ceasefire, except for a rise in Crysalis, and the same influx of outsiders. The Kithain of the world seem to think that Ireland has lain empty all this time. Most discover otherwise, and are smart enough to leave. There is more Glamour here than ever before, but if Ravagers from outside come in, we may lose it all." Kestry gazed across the table, capturing each Changeling for an moment, then moving on.

"We are still relatively safe. The Unseelie Ravagers who lived off the Troubles have left us. My last act before my journey last year was a duel with a fellow Sidhe. You may remember him- Lorenzo. I wounded him severly enough to persuade him to go. He took his troupe with him." Kestry sighed.

"His exile ends tomorrow. His people cannot return, but he can." The other changelings were silent. They remembered well the events of last summer. Prince Kestry had been forbidden to act against his fellow Sidhe by the Irish Court. He disobeyed them, and found himself stripped of Glamour in a painful and violent public demonstration at Newgrange. Lorenzo, once a respected Noble, had succumbed to his darker side, and had left the Court. He had travelled from Cork and ended up in Belfast, living off the despair fuelled Glamour. He led a group of non-Irish Unseelie, and Kestry eventually took action. The Irish Court seemed still to support their lost son, and punished Kestry severely.

For many here tonight, this was the first time they had seen Kestry since then. They all had the same question on their mind. Kestry sensed it, and answered.

"My status as Duke has been revoked." It still hurt him to say it. The others felt it, too.

"But that matters little. My status was not granted by the Court. It was granted by you, and by the Kithain of this city. Had you been unhappy with my rule, I would have sensed it, and stood down." He smiled, and the room seemed brighter for it.,

"But that can wait. I have good news, as well. Our numbers are rising. Many new Wilder have come forth, freed from the Banal chains of the Troubles. These are Kithain who would have emerged as Childlings, had they not been repressed. Even though they have missed out on that part of existence, at least they now know their true nature. However, we are faced with the daunting task of finding and educating these older Kithain. Their Glamour, though weak now, will grow, and we need to teach them how to use and manipulate it. And, more importantly, we can use their skills to inspire Glamour in the mortals." There was silence as the Kithain considered this. Then came a whisper.

"Who has replaced you as Duke, in the Courts eyes, and why have they not yet come ?" The voice came from Govain. All of her Kith, the Slaugh, spoke in whispers. It only added to their air of mystery. Kestry shifted uneasily. It was time to break the worst news of all.

"I believe that he returns from his exile tomorrow."