by Stephen J. Herron

The Night of Cold Iron

Monday, May 13th 1996

The War began in silence. With the stealth that only darkness and shadow can create, four Unseelie Sluagh enter the Freehold called Splendour Falls Road, and slit the throats of three Fae that sleep there. Across the city, in a very upmarket gentleman's club, an elderly Troll is killed in the restroom, just another victim of a terrorist punishment shooting. Or so the mortals would think. And the wound of the violence would run deeper in their Dreams, and Belfast would die a little more.

In another part of the city, Kestry and his allies celebrate his release, unaware of the murders being carried out against those of his people who were unable to make it to the party.

When the Sluagh eventually return to their master, five Fae, fully one tenth of Belfast's population of Changelings, lie dead. The message has been sent. Stay out of trouble. Raise a hand against Lorenzo, and die. Shut up and live.

The War Has Begun.

"Remind me why we're doing this," asked Rocky. He sat high up on the side of Cave Hill, in the dew soaked grass of the early morning. Beside him, Lady Eithne gazed out across the city below them.

"The little boy, Matthew, will one day be King of all Ireland. We exist to protect him until that day."

Robin and Giant were playing with the 8 year old boy further up the hill. They were rolling in the grass.

"Can't he protect himself ?" asked Rocky. Eithne shook her head. "If he uses his powers, he risks being found by King Finn and Lorenzo." Rocky nodded. His head hurt still, after the celebrations of the previous day. "And that's bad, because ... ?"

Eithne sighed. "They will try and use him and his powers to help the Shadow Court." Rocky grinned "I see. And thats a bad thing." Eithne glared at him. "Yes. That would be a bad thing." Rocky shrugged, and thought for a moment. "And why would that be a bad thing ?" Eithne looked at him carefully, and saw that he was only trying to get things clear, not state any dangerous political opinion. "Imagine a place where the only dreams are nightmares."

They both looked across to where Matthew sat. He was watching Robin, in her bird form now, flutter around Giants head. Matthew was nearly crying with laughter as Giant lumbered around trying to catch the bird. He fell on his face, and Matthew broke into new gales of hilarity.

Rocky nodded. "Okay. I see what you mean."

A figure was running up the hill towards them. It was still a few minutes away, and Eithne gently touched Rocky's arm to point out the approach. He nodded, and slipped his hand into his pocket. Eithne knew that he had a spudgun concealed in that pocket. Harmless, if annoying to mortals, but very dangerous to other Fae. If the figure was just some human who was out for a run, then it wouldn't matter.

Kestry's return had been welcomed, but all the Fae in Belfast knew that it was a matter of time before the King would move.

The figure got closer, and Rocky stood up, and started walking down towards it. Giant noticed this, and followed him. Matthew ran over to Eithne, giggling, and she swept him up into her arms. She murmured silently the words to a song, gathering up Glamour from within, ready to use it to flickerflash herself and Matthew away from danger. Robin landed on Giants shoulder, and watched silently.

The figure kept running. He reached Rocky, and fell over, gasping for breath.

"Seamus ! For god's sake, you had us worried there !" said Rocky, sitting down beside the Redcap. Everyone else relaxed.

"Huff...cheers, Rocky, I just love running up mountains to deliver messages..."

"Heh. When did you turn into a Pooka ?" joked Rocky. Seamus sighed.

"You are what you eat," he replied. Robin chirped in anguish. Seamus grinned, too wide.

"Joking, wee girl, don't panic."

He took a moment to catch his breath, the Rebels sitting around him.

"Bad news, Lady," Seamus informed Eithne from his prone position. "Go on," she prompted. Seamus sighed, long and deep.

"Kestry has been informed of several deaths during the night. Murder most foul, Milady. The War has begun."

Robin squeaked, and dipped behind Giant, where she changed back into her human form. Giant was silent. Rocky swore, and Eithne placed her head into her hands. Matthew looked grave.

"Kestry requests your presence at the Brick Glade. The War Council is meeting in an hour."

"Then, Seamus, we will be there. Let's go."

The redcap sighed again, and followed the Rebels down the mountainside towards Belfast.

Lorenzo stood at the steps of his Manor House outside Belfast. Before him stood a dozen Fae of all shapes and sizes. Folly was there, as was Sir Vasrik, along with two other Trolls. The remaining eight were a mixture of Nocker, Redcap and Sluagh. Few Sidhe would pledge troth to this group, Unseelie or naught.

"My dear Vikings," grinned Lorenzo, and his voice dripped with honey, "It hs been far too long since you've been unleashed upon this city. I know you've been waiting for this moment for ages. Well, your patience is about to be awarded."

He looked up at the Smoke Dragon, perched high above on the roof of the Manor, keeping watch across the estate.

"I have prepared a surprise for you. Follow me."

He took the around the back of the Manor House to the stables. Unlocking the door with an intricate key, Lorenzo flung the doors wide open. Inside was a collection of weaponry, real and chimerical, like they hadn't seen before.

There were pistols, sub-machine guns and rifles. Shotguns, heavy machine guns and rocket launchers. Grenades and mines hug from the walls like baubles, and had all been painted with bright cheerful colours. Swords and knives lay on the ground, with shields and armour at their side.

In the middle of the room was a stack of plastic explosives that, had it gone off there, would have shook windows ten miles away.

"Happy Christmas," smiled the Duke.

The Brick Glade was busy. There was about two dozen Fae there, nearly as many as had been at the celebration. The atmosphere today, however, was tense and cold.

Kestry sat at the head of the great table, with Galway at his right, and the Duchess Aishling of Down at his left, her almond shaped eyes downcast.

At the table sat the other six Harpers- the Shanachie, Divis, Magpie the Mage and Euan the Dreamer, as well as the two other Eshu, Richard and Jon. Four seats were left empty.

"They'll be here," said Kestry, again. Galway nodded. "Of course."

"How many supporters do we have ?" asked Kestry. Shanachie looked at Richard, who took out a notebook and flicked through it.

"Locally, we have about thirty. That's over half of the Fae in the city. Of those, perhaps ten will fight with us. Outside the city, we have perhaps fifty, sixty supporters, and tirty are coming to the city in small groups. They're here from all over the country, Kestry. And further."

Kestry nodded, smiling. "Our American cousins," he said. Everyone knew that Kestry had made friends in the States during his exile.

"The Countess Alexis of Astoria is coming with some of her compatriots. And there will be others."

Galway pursed his lips, in thought. "What's the political consequences of their participation ?" he asked.

"There will be none. They come without the permission of their Duchy, and so are here as private individuals. They know what they're risking, and it's much more than their holdings. I wish I could repay them for their help." Kesty was burdened with the responsibility of others decisions moreso now than ever. He sighed deeply.

"They'll have stories written about them, at least," commented Jon, a typical Eshu comment. It at least raised a smile from Kestry.

"I'd like to think there'll be a story for each of us, Jon."

They all smiled, too serious to laugh, but the tension was disarmed a little. Only Aishling, didn't smile. Duchess Aishling was grave in her tone, soft in her voice.

"We're running out of time, Kestry. There are only a few months left. Everything has to be in place by then."

She looked each of the Harpers in the eye. They looked back, confident, trusting, loyal.

Magpie smiled at her. "We know what is required of us, Your Grace. We'll be ready."'

The others grinned. Even Divis smiled. The Garou leant back in his chair. "You're taking a risk, though." he said to Kestry. Then he looked at the Duchess. "But not as big as risk as you, Milady. "

"It's all a matter of timing," said Kestry, and he squeezed the Duchess's hand reassuringly.

The door above opened, and the Rebels ran down the Oak Stair into the room. They looked around at the gathered figures, and hesitated a moment. Matthew stood between Eithne and Robin, holding their hands. He grinned at Kestry.

Kestry smiled back, and stood.

"Please, we've kept chairs for you all… er, except for Matthew…"

Shanachie sniggered. "A fine way to treat the High King…"

The others laughed at this, and Kestry blushed very slightly.

"He can sit on my lap, Milord Kestry," suggested Eithne sweetly. Kestry nodded, and gave her a grateful smile. Robin tutted, maybe too loudly.

"Then we can begin ? Good."

The Harpers, the Rebels, Kestry and Aishling began to plan.

The Smoke Dragon soared over the city. It was swooping between the wispy clouds, trying to stay out of sight. It flew down close to the Brick Glade, and winced slightly, as powerful Cantrips of protection kept it at bay. It landed and perched on a rooftop as close to the Glade as it could get.

With a deep growl, it sent its vision back to Lorenzo who sat with Folly in the empty library of the Ducal Manor.

"There we go..." he breathed, and he could see the bricked up doorway that was the entrance to the Glade. Nothing was happening.

"Are Vasrik and his Trolls ready ?" he asked Folly. The Sidhe nodded, and raised his mobile phone to indicate that he was currently in touch with the three Trolls.

"Send them in. Rattle the cage, see what we flush out."

The street outside the Brick Glade's entrance was suddenly filled with dust and rubble, smoke and broken glass as the bomb went off. People screamed and ran, and Lorenzo shivered with delight as the fear poured out of the mortals who fled from the bomb blast.

The smoke began to clear, and Lorenzo was annoyed to see that the front of the Brick Glade was undamaged. He wasn't surprised, however. Vasrik and his Trolls ran up the street, and placed their hands against the bricked up doorway, and stepped through it. The blast, and the dark Glamour that it had produced had disrupted the Cantrips protecting the Glade.

The Trolls disappeared into the shell of the building. The Smoke Dragon leapt off its perch, and settled on the rafters of the Glade, looking down into the broken and empty chamber below it.

The Oak stood proud, firm, but it shook as Vasrik's axe bit deep into its trunk. Lorenzo grinned, and nodded.

"More of the same," he ordered, and Folly relayed the words into the mobile phone.

Branched erupted from beneath the ground and stabbed up into the legs of the Trolls. They howled, and staggered back, but the steel like projections whipped and stung the Oak's attackers in deadly strokes.

The Trolls battled, cutting at the limbs of the Oak, but were soon overwhelmed.

The Smoke Dragon breathed hot ash and burning coals upon the Oak, which singed and smoked but stood firm. A long tendril came from nowhere, and struck the Dragon, which howled, and beat great wings to escape. It pierced the clouds, and vanished, trailing ashes from it's wounded leg.

Lorenzo cut the connection between himself and the Dragon, and grasped his bleeding arm, an echo of the wound received by the Dragon. He ran out of the room, swearing so profanely that it would make a Nocker blush.

Folly was shouting into the phone. but all he heard were screams.

The meeting was nearly over. Everyone knew what was coming and when. The timing was important, and they all had to last until the time was right. Then the plan, three years in the making, and a hundred years n the waiting, would be put into action. If all went well, then the war would be over within a month. Otherwise... they all knew what the worst case scenario was. It ended in the eventual death of each of them.

Then the explosion rocked the Glade, and dust fell from the ceiling. Eithne tucked Matthew under her and disappeared below the great table. Kestry and Galway were at the foot of the stairs almost as soon as the noise died down, while Shanachie and the other Harpers were escorting Duchess Aishling to the entrance of Trod back to her Manor.

"What's happening " Robin cried out, her voice shrill. Rocky and Giant took up defensive positions in the room, better to protect Matthew. They moved with instinct, no need for words or gestures or planning.

Kestry and Galway emerged from the Oaken Stair and saw two Trolls lying hurt on the ground, bleeding from many wounds on their legs. Then an axe smashed into the ground in front of them, and they stepped back, turning to see their attacker.

"Vasrik," spat Galway. "Hello, father," grinned Vasrik. Kestry blinked. "What ?" he asked, but a punch from Vasrik knocked the surprised Sidhe onto his back. He was stunned, and not just from the punch. Galway, with a fury that Kestry had not seen before, grabbed Vasrik, and threw him twenty feet across the Glade into a wall. Vasrik's breath was forced out in a gasp, and he lay winded and staring on the ground. Galway walked over, and picked the Troll up. He carried him to the bricked up door, and pushed him through it, dropping him outside. He thought for a moment about stepping through it after him, but the sound of sirens outside made him think twice. He helped Kestry up off the ground, and between them, they managed to get the other two Trolls outside. "The police will think they were just caught in the blast," mused Kestry. Galway nodded. "Worst luck. Perhaps they'll be charged with causing the explosion." Kestry looked up at his friend, and began to ask a question. Then he decided against it. He realized how difficult it must be for Galway not to have spoken of his son before this, and didn't want to put him through it now. It could wait. Then he noticed the horrible gash on the side of the Oak, and the burning smell and the soot on its bark. He sighed deeply, and touched the trunk with his hand. It came away dark with burnt wood, and he could feel the pain from the ancient tree. "They'll pay for this," he told Galway. The Troll nodded.

They walked down into the cool basement, and addressed the fearful stares of the Rebels. "They've attacked the Glade. It is no longer safe. You know what to do." The Rebels gathered up their belongings, and followed Kestry and Galway to the large room filled with bricked up doorways that was the Room of Trods. Kestry whispered words before one of the doorways, which shimmered and seemed to open into a silvery pathway.

"The Duchess will be waiting for you. She'll keep you safe until the time is right. Then we'll need you."

Lady Eithne curtsied to Kestry, who took her hand and kissed it gently. "I leave the High King in your charge, Milady." She blushed deeply, and smiled, demurely looking up though her lashes at Kestry. He took Giants hand, and shook it firmly. Then he did likewise with Rocky. Robin was sniffing back tears. He looked at her, smiling sadly, them hugged her tight. She clung to him, crying. "Take care of them, Robin. And come back safe." She nodded, wordless. Matthew watched this, a bit uncertain. Kestry lifted him up, and grinned at him. "Matthew ? You take care. You've got an important job to do later." The boy nodded, and giggled as Kestry ruffled his hair. He set him down by Eithne who took his hand. "Good luck, my friends." They walked through the doorway onto the Trod, and the doorway vanished behind them.

Galway stood beside Kestry and was silent. "Well," sighed Kestry, "I guess we have a war to fight." Galway nodded, and smiled. "When did we not ?"

Across the city, other bombs are going off. Small ones, designed to create fear, not carnage. But then, that's what the Vikings, and Lorenzo, and the King, and the power behind them all, really want. The fear that pollutes Dreams, and dispels hope like a breeze through gossamer is the meat and drink of those that live in the Shadows. And now is the time for their greatest feasting.