by Stephen J. Herron
Sometimes, in the midst of the tale, the protagonists shift and shimmer, different than before. Those you thought were to be the bearers of the tale take a step backwards, leaving room for new Heroes. Sometimes the True beginning is not at the start. But always, a thread remains, linking one Cycle to the next, and so on. And finally, perhaps, the Grand Tapestry will be apparent.
Shanachie, True Bard. 1st May, 1996
Robin McCallister sang happily as she flew through the air. Female robins don’t generally sing, but no one was around to notice the incongruity. Instead, she was alone, with just the Oak and its strong spread of branches to keep her company. It was the May Day holiday, and all Robin knew about it was that it got her off school. Perhaps, deeper down in her soul, she would have recognized the greater significance of the festival. As she wove between the branches of the Oak, it’s young leaves brushing her back, there was a sense of beginning in her heart, a taste of the tale.
Her feathers tingled as she felt Glamour from below. She flew down behind the Oak, and changed back into her human form. She had begun to grow quite quickly, adding an inch to her height since Christmas. Her mother, laughing, teased Robin about having to buy her a new set of clothing every week. Robin was secretly glad. She had been a little girl for a little too long.
She quickly brushed her hair into a semblance of neatness, and made sure she looked as good as she could. The particular feel of the Glamour opening the door to the Brick Glade was unmistakable.
Kestry walked through the bricked-up door, leaving a ripple of Glamour in his wake. As the interweaving bands of colour faded, he paused, looking around the Glade, eyes sparkling with amusement.
"Robin ?" he called, his voice rich and deep. She stepped out from behind the tree, eyes downcast, smiling demurely. She knew she looked more and more like a young woman than the little girl she used to be. Glamour welled around her as it answered her unconscious desire to look perfect for Kestry. A chimerical chain of flowers, tiny white flowers blushing with red adorned her brow, her jeans and tee-shirt cloaked with a dream-stuff green dress.
Above, the sun came out from behind a cloud, and the light which filtered down through the branches of the Oak was soft and subtle. It glinted off Robin’s hair in pleasing ways.
She walked over to him, and looked up into his eyes. He gazed back at her, and gently touched her chin, drinking in every feature of her breathless face. Kestry raised an eyebrow in question, waiting her reply.
"I love you," she whispered to him, the truth coming easily, so unusual for a Pooka. She trembled, awaiting his answer. Kestry said nothing, but leaned down and gently kissed Robin lightly on the lips.
And then she woke up.
Wednesday, May 1st, 1996
It was a nice day in Belfast. That meant the rain had stopped, and the sun was trying, unsuccessfully, to bathe the folk of that city with it's warmth. The wind had dropped from gale force to just 'biting', and there had been no frost the night before. A nice day, for the start of May.
Duke Lorenzo of Belfast stood by his Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, drumming the roof impatiently with his hand. He winced as a mild ache rushed through it, and he stopped. It wasn't the first time this week he had forgotten that his hand was still healing. He gazed down at it, and narrowed his eyes in thought. To normal, human eyes, his hand looked fine. But to the perception of a Changeling, like himself, there was still a dull red scar where the Chimerical bullet had passed straight through.
He turned his attention back to the view. He was high up over West Belfast, on the Airport Road that was draped between Divis and Cave Hill. No one really used this road anymore, since the motorway was quicker, even it wasn't as straight. Behind him, just over the brow of the gap, was the long steep slope that eventually, fifteen miles later, ended up at Lough Neagh.
Lorenzo was waiting at the edge of his Duchy. The top of the hill marked the end of Belfast, and he knew that waiting in the undergrowth, as usual, was Eoin's Trolls. Eoin Connor was the Duke of Antrim, and he was paranoid about protecting his boundaries. Especially when one of them opened up onto Belfast.
The Airport Road was also known as the King's Road. It was the only road that could be used by the Duke if he wished to enter Antrim on Ducal Business. Yes, he had been up the motorway and back dozens of times, but he was Oathbound to use the King's Road when he wanted to talk to his counterpart.
That wasn't the reason for Lorenzo's presence here today. He was just here for the view. That was another reason for this road being the King's Road. The view itself generated Glamour, and he breathed it in deeply. Directly below him was Ballysillan, and then Andersonstown and the Shankill. The town spread out then, and he could easily see the City Hospital towerblock, it's gold-tinted windows sparkling in the sunlight that strained down upon the land. The River Lagan curled briefly before emerging into Belfast Lough, with the Port of Belfast proper bustling with activity. The giant twin cranes of Samson and Goliath marked the shipyards, and a propeller aircraft lifted up from the runway of the City Airport just beyond. Across the city from Lorenzo's vantage point, the Holywood hills hid the town of Newtownards , though Scrabo Tower and a hint of Strangford Lough was visible through the murky clouds that were beginning to lower once more.
Lorenzo lit a cigarette, and took a long drag. He puffed the smoke out, and closed his eyes, arching his head back as the grey trail emerged from his mouth and nose.
"Afer Ventus," he whispered, the words making tiny eddies in the smoke, which started to billow and curl like a serpent.
"African Wind," he hissed, and the smoke billowed up, and began to coalesce into a shape. Lorenzo opened his eyes, and grinned as the black crystal eyes of the Smoke Dragon gazed down at him. It's mouth curled into a cruel smile.
"You have summoned me," it growled, and a breeze that smelt of burnt paper washed across Lorenzo and his Silver Ghost.
"Yes indeed," chuckled Lorenzo. "I have a job for you to do."
The Dragon whipped it's tail around, and it sounded like a jet passing over head.
"Don't you always," it commented without humour.
Lorenzo shook his head. "That's not true. Sometimes we have fun. Don't we ?"
The Dragon swooped down, and curled around him.
"Yeeesss.....sometimes, yes," it said. The Dragon's head emerged in front of Lorenzo's. It's eyes and nostrils were inches from the Sidhe's face.
"Well ?" it murmured. Lorenzo raised an eyebrow.
"We've tried so hard to find the boy. Perhaps we should start doing it properly. Those Seelie fools of Kestry's don't know where he is. Good. We find him first."
Lorenzo looked from side to side, and leaned close to the Dragon's ear.
"Find him. If you have to tear the city apart. They all belong to me, after all. And when they start complaining, we'll let them know how they can help us." The Dragon unwrapped itself from around Lorenzo, and hung in the air above him.
"Well ? Go on !" yelled Lorenzo, shooing the Dragon away with his hands, the lit cigarette still burning away. The Dragon glared at him briefly, but then dropped silently down across the city. The clouds that still hung above the city began to let their rain fall, and the Dragon disappeared into the mist.
Lorenzo finished his cigarette, and flicked the stub contemptuously towards the city. He smiled, and climbed into the Rolls Royce. He had a party to plan, with this being the Beltaine.
Robin McAllister sat up, her breath fast and sharp. Something between a smile and fear played across her face, as complex emotions raced through her mind. Things lotted into place, at least for the time-being, and she climbed out of bed and got dressed. She was about to put on the tee-shirt she had been wearing in her dream, but her hand stopped, and she put a dress on instead.
Her mother had prepared a light breakfast for Robin, who scoffed it down quickly, her mind distant.
"You’re quiet this morning, Robin," commented her mother. Robin merely nodded and continued to eat her grapefruit.
She had been having dreams like this for a few weeks now. They unsettled her in a way she couldn’t possibly put into words. It was like... being someone else. There was more to it, of course, but only some of it her mum could explain.
The ‘difficult’ conversation had taken place. Robin already knew most of the biological reasons behind much of her changes, and was secretly quite excited. But the other stuff, the effects on her Changeling nature, well, she couldn’t think of anyone she could talk to about that.
The effects were difficult to pin down. There were the dreams, of course. And then, there were the chimera.
Robin had been learning to create them for some time. Galway had shown her the basics, and Govain had taught her how to create simple clothing and jewellery. Robin found this interesting, though it tested her patience. Over the last few months, though, Robin found chimera scuttering into cover under the bed when she got home from school. When she finally managed to catch one last week, she was horrified to discover it was one of her childhood imaginary friends. They had a long discussion, and the small furry ball with huge eyes used words like ‘redundant’, ‘post-required’ and "imaginatively downsized".
Robin was fairly sure that something was going on deep inside her. Perhaps she suspected the truth of what was really going on.
"Are you going to your friends house tonight ? For that party ?" asked her mother. Robin nodded quietly, her mind still far away. "Mmmm," she commented.
Kestry stood outside an old abandoned shop about half a mile from the Brick Glade. It was an old building, the shop on the ground floor with two floors of apartments above it. Part of a row, the shops here hadn’t seen business since the large shopping malls had opened nearby, and they would remain empty for years to come. No one ever came by here now, and no one would notice kids playing in the street.
At least, that was the plan. Kestry and Galway had come here today with a task in mind, one which took power to carry through.
Galway carried a small silver box, which was hot to the touch. It seethed in his large hand, but the sensation was refreshing, not painful. The fire within was pure and perfect and the very life of the Dreaming. Galway had lifted the Balefire from his own Freehold, and placed it within this ancient box, designed especially for the purpose.
The pair waited until the sunlight flickered out from behind a cloud. Kestry looked up, and gauged how long the direct sunlight would last. He exchanged nods with Galway, and smiled.
Kestry gazed at the building, and let his focus slip slightly. The Dreaming flowed into vision, and the dual Seeming of the shop became clear. He lifted his hand towards the dark slumbering masonry, and whispered words of awakening.
The young woman awoke from her dreams. She sat up in bed, and yawned, stretching luxuriantly. Then she washed and got dressed. Today was an important day, and she needed to look her very best. The girl combed her long dark hair until it was soft and silken, flowing in an almost living way around her slender figure. Her soft grey eyes sparkled with energy, and her lips curled into a natural smile. As she examined herself in the mirror, she grinned impishly at her reflection, and giggled. Her nose wrinkled in just the right way, she noticed.
She knew she was beautiful- not simply attractive, but classically beautiful. She could rarely show it when she was at school, since she tended to distract others with her presence when she fully unveiled it. Hers was the beauty that touched hearts, that inspired the creative to music or poetry. When she smiled at someone, their day was uplifted, and her face would be in their mind until they slept again.
"Eithne ?" her mother called up the stairs. The girl sighed. "Yes, mother," she replied, her voice musical and strong. "You may be 16, but if you don’t come down when I call you, you just won’t get your breakfast." "I’ll be down soon, mother," replied Eithne, and she put her brush down.
She touched the reflection in the mirror, and whispered something in Irish. Glamour rushed and surged around her, and she hid her beauty from mortal eyes, just as she had been taught.
Eithne ran downstairs in her best jeans and cotton shirt for breakfast.
Michael was a Troll. He was fourteen years old, but as tall as most adult men- and he would get bigger. Silent and thoughtful, his Fae soul had emerged a short time after Robins, early in 1995. Lord Galway had been pleased that another Troll had emerged, and enjoyed the regular meetings he shared with the boy. Galway had high hopes for Michael.
He was called Giant by his peers, though the prefix ‘gentle’ was never far from anyone’s mind. Giant had been in fights at school, and usually won them. Pretty soon, others stopped picking on him- had he sought confrontations, he might be in more trouble than he deserved, but the quiet air of confidence and controlled strength that his Fae nature granted kept the bullies away.
He was a watcher, an observer. When he spoke, it was because he needed to. There was no small talk with Michael. Michael didn’t like lying to his mother, but Lord Galway had long ago outlined to him the need for such ‘minor infractions’ of honour. Something big was going to happen, and the greater good had to be served.
Michael thought about what he should wear. He knew that Lady Eithne would be there, and wanted to make the best possible impression. He wore a shirt and tie, and his school trousers, hoping that formal was best. Michael’s house was near a bus stop, so he crossed the Antrim Road beneath the shadow of Cave Hill, showed the driver his school pass, and made his way into the city centre.
Patrick McCrory lived just off the Falls Road. Like so many working class children across Belfast, he discovered that he could put his aggression into a sport. Patrick chose Boxing. He began when he was ten years old, and showed a lot of promise. When he discovered that he was a Changeling, less than a year ago, well, he took it in his stride- and what an unusual stride it was. He was a Satyr, and well built for the delicate foot , or rather hoof-work that made boxing into an artform.
He was strong, quick and powerful. And very very popular with young ladies in the sixteen to twenty age group. Patrick was now fifteen, and had been out with girls five years older than him. He did look older than his real age, but it was the ‘something else’ of the satyr that really made a difference. Patrick’s main love was the sport. It was hoped by his coach and the Falls Road boxing club that someday Patrick would go professional, giving people like Mike Tyson a run for his money- and oh, how much money.
Patrick just wanted to be the best. At everything.
He would leave school next year, and probably spend all of his time in training. He already had a part time job delivering coal, and it made him a bit of money. Most of it he gave to his mother to help out with costs, but he kept a bit himself.
Patrick had quickly met two other Satyrs after his Chrysalis, and they took him out to pubs once or twice a week. He was also surprised to find out that Seamus, the old guy at the YMCA had been a Changeling all along.
Patrick enjoyed his new abilities, and was young enough to let the world and it’s troubles slip by him.
This morning, Patrick just didn’t bother going to school. He didn’t need excuses. Everyone sort of understood. No one would say a word.
Money in his pocket, his best shorts and t-shirt, he began walking down into the city.
Robin fluttered into the Brick Glade, as she had a thousand times before. She alighted upon a high branch of the oak, and shimmered back into her human shape. She among the budding branches of the tree, and looked around. There was a sense of excitement in the air, and she found herself trying to remember her dream.
Kestry came into the Glade, and Robin’s heart leapt. He was followed almost immediately by Lord Galway, and she was both disappointed and relieved. She clambered down through the branches, and jumped the last few feet to the ground, in front of the pair. Kestry gave her a broad smile, and Galway chuckled.
"Nice to see you, Robin. Nervous ?" asked Kestry, eyebrow raised. Robin paused, looking guilty for a second. Then she smiled.
"No, not at all," she lied, and he laughed.
"It’s a big day… Beltaine, of course… and a surprise !" he told her. She followed meekly behind Galway as Kestry opened the Oak Stair. They wandered down into the basement, and the Balefire sparkled and flickered with renewed strength.
"The others, my lord ?" asked Galway. Kestry nodded.
"Any time, now. We’ll wait until they’re all here, and then give them their gift."
Galway paused on the Stair, an whispered urgently but quietly making sure that Robin could not overhear.
"What of your summons, Lord ?"
Kestry sighed, and his face darkened.
"I have not forgotten."
Galway nodded and they continued their way down into the basement.
There, Robin had already taken her usual seat. Kestry smiled sadly as he watched her weave chimerical clothing around herself. She was trying very hard to look as good as she possibly could. He knew that she had heard of Lady Eithne’s beauty, and he suspected that Robin might not enjoy sharing the limelight with another girl. Or perhaps, he mused, the extra effort was for one of the two young men who would be joining them.
Robin watched Galway and Kestry settled into their seats, and frowned with curiosity as Kestry gazed into nowhere, lost in thoughts. Her ears prickled as she wondered what was on his mind.
"You know why you are here, today ?" asked Galway. It took Robin a moment to realise that he was addressing her. She turned to face him with a start.
"Oh ! Because it isn’t May Day ?" she suggested. Galway nodded.
"That’s correct. Today is traditionally the start of Summer, and the rule of Seelie Court. We will have a celebration and a feast tonight, in honour of the Sun and the long days ahead. The Wilders and the Grumps will doubtless celebrate long into the night. The Childlings, such as yourself, will have an earlier celebration."
Robin shifted uneasily in her seat, and bristled at being called a Childling. Galway continued.
"But specifically, today, you will meet three new friends, and Kestry will give you a present- a Freehold of your own, to look after and protect."
"But I hate it here ! I never want to come here again!" she whispered fearfully. Kestry smiled.
"This is Lord Galway’s Freehold, and although we are always welcome, it’s time that you began to take on some responsibility. You’re getting older, Robin, and you need to start making your own destiny."
He smiled warmly at her, and her feelings softened slightly.
"Who are the others ?" she asked.
Kestry was about to answer, when the Glade itself rumbled for attention.
"Lord," it addressed Galway, "The first is here."
"Gohain," replied Galway, calling the Glade by it’s True Name, "allow him to enter."
Heavy footsteps were followed by a young Troll, stepping down from the Stair. His skin was a rich blue, his horns small but sturdy. Beneath his newly formed chimerical robes rippled strong hidden muscles, and his eyes were deep and calm. Robin blinked.
"This is Michael Grant. He’s a Troll, like me," explained Galway quietly. Both he and Kestry stood to welcome the newcomer, and Michael bowed deeply to both of them. Galway walked over and clasped the young man in a warm greeting.
"Giant, " smiled Galway, "welcome at last."
"Have you met him before ?" asked Robin. Giant cleared his throat, and spoke softly.
"He found me on the day I became a Changeling," he said, but left it at that. Robin nodded, and didn’t inquire further. There would be plenty of time for that later.
Giant, as Galway called him, took a seat beside Robin. She looked up at him, and realised that she couldn’t see the top of his head. She shrugged, and looked back at Kestry and Galway.
The young troll turned his head slightly, and took in the little girl beside him. He tried to imagine what she would be like to work with. Because that’s what he was here to do- work.
"Giant is the first of the three new faces you’ll be seeing here today, Robin," commented Kestry.
The girl looked back at Giant, and frowned as he looked away. She eyed him up and down, and sighed.
"Why the sigh ?" asked Galway. Robin shrugged.
"I’m not bored already," she commented. Galway smiled, and Kestry nodded in agreement.
"There’s a lot to do today, Robin, you’re right. But this is important."
There was the sound of squabbling from the top of the Oaken Stair. Galway stood, and walked up to meet the voices.
"That will be the other two," commented Giant softly. Robin perked up.
"Do you know them ?" she asked. The boy nodded.
"I met them briefly last month." he said, a slight smile on his lips.
The voices came down the stairs.
"...I think it’s most inappropriate that you should ask me such a thing..." came a girls voice. It sounded like music.
"...Ah come on, lighten up..." replied a much rougher, louder voice. Whoever owned this one was nearly an adult- it was a man’s voice, with a slight teenage waver.
Robin, head to one side, listened to the voices like a bird listens to song. She could tell more than ever from voices, something she was starting to improve on.
The voices owners emerged from the stair. Giant stood immediately, and Kestry did likewise. Robin waited for a moment, and then joined them.
She was beautiful. There was no other word. Her long dark hair glowed with life, and her eyes were luminous. In her Sidhe form, she was as close to perfection as Robin had ever seen.
Robin quickly glanced at Giant and Kestry to gauge their reactions. Giant’s eyes were wide open with adoration as he gazed at Lady Eithne, and Kestry just smiled warmly. As usual, his expression was unreadable. Robin looked back at the young woman, and noticed, with dawning horror, that she was gazing at Kestry with what could only be described as ‘adoration’. Robin went pale.
Paddy stepped out from behind Lady Eithne. He grinned at her, and then smiled broadly at the rest of the room. Robin noted that he had very strange legs... like a goats. Then she remembered what Kestry had told her about Satyr. He had been very delicate in his description, but Robin was fairly sure that she could handle them.
"Robin, Giant, this is Rocky, " Galway indicated the Satyr, who bowed deeply, "and Lady Eithne."
"Lady Enya ?" asked Robin. Eithne nodded.
"That is how you pronounce my name, Robin, and I am very pleased to meet you."
Her words were measured, careful, and each one held weight. Robin had noticed that about the Sidhe she had met, especially during ‘occasions’ like this.
"Lady Eithne," whispered Giant. He took her hand, and ever-so-gently kissed it. Robin made a face, and Rocky chuckled.
"Thank you, Giant," replied Eithne, smiling radiantly.
"You all know each other... that’s really fair," mumbled Robin, still annoyed at Lady Eithne’s interest in Kestry. Rocky put his hand on her shoulder, which she quickly removed.
"Well, wee girl," he said to her patronisingly, "we can all get to know each other."
"That sounds great," Robin seethed. Rocky grinned, missing the point. He obviously hadn’t met too many Pooka.
"Perhaps you should stop teasing her," suggested Giant. Paddy looked up at the boy.
"You’re a big one. Have you ever thought about boxing ?" he asked, impressed by the Troll’s size.
"Moreso since I met you," commented Giant, face straight. Paddy blinked, and then laughed until tears streaked his face.
Even Lady Eithne smiled.
Kestry and Galway watched the four interact. He whispered something to Galway, who grinned and nodded. It was as if they were evaluating the group, sizing them up.In many ways, they were. Something important was happening in the Glade, and even as the four talked and asked each other questions, and made jokes, they were bonding.
The Smoke Dragon mingled with the low cloud across the city, hovering with slow beats of its vast wings. The coal-red eyes searched road after road, estate after estate, looking for the tell-tale glitter of Glamour. Occasionally there would be a flicker of Dream-magic, and the Dragon would note it’s position. It could easily tell a Freehold from the less defined Glamour of an individual. But, according to Lorenzo, the one he was looking for could not be missed.
It had been some years since the Dragon had been put to such a task. During the last days of the Troubles, the Dragon would find likely looking targets, and swoop down upon them, destroying it with fire and dark black scalding smoke. For those mortals who could not see the Chimera, the detonations would be like that of a bomb. So many times, the police were confused by the lack of physical evidence. That had made Lorenzo laugh. The Smoke Dragon, however, never laughed. Although it enjoyed it’s work.
The Dragon stopped, and hovered over a row of terraced houses in West Belfast. It had been distracted from its search by this train of thought. It considered it’s relationship with Lorenzo for a few more moments, before something caught it’s eye.
Below it, in the street, a small boy had stepped out from the boarded up door of an abandoned house. The child looked up at the Dragon, and grinned.
The Dragon raised a smokey eyebrow. Then it too grinned, but with malice and hate and the anticipation of pain.
The boy puffed up his cheeks, and blew. The Dragon narrowed it’s eyes in thought, and then felt two emotions that it had never felt before.
Panic and Fear.
A rush of Glamour, beyond anything it had ever felt before caught it’s wings, and it was blasted miles upwards, the smoke of it’s wings tearing and ripping. Five miles up, it was caught by the jetstream, and was dispersed in the two hundred mile an hour winds like a rumour.
"Bad Dragon," scolded the boy.
The boy smiled, and climbed back through the boards across the door.
The party started at about tea-time, and would last all night. All the Fae of the city were invited, since Lorenzo would never through a party like this. Some of the Unseelie came, but most had been forced into cowering obedience by Lorenzo and Folly long ago. And, noted Kestry, as he looked through the crowd, so had some of the Seelie. There were less of his supporters here than there had been six weeks ago.
Thanks to Peter McKibben, the celebration was at Belfast Castle. Peter had come to get used to his new allies, though it would pain him, and if he was in a bad enough mood, pain those around him, to admit it.
The ballroom hadn’t seen such Glamour since the night Kestry and Duchess Aishling had danced. It didn’t seem like two months ago. It wasn’t, really. St. Patrick’s Day had only been six weeks ago, and it had been the last time Kestry had felt in control of events. It was kind of Duchess Aishling to come and show her support for his cause, but really, there was nothing practical that she could do.
His own research through ancient Fae texts, concerned with Sidhe law, had shown a couple of possible avenues, but there was one problem left.
King Finn had demanded that Kestry appear before him on or before Midsummer. Kestry looked around the throng of happy faces, and realized that he might never see any of them again. He had been coming to a decision for a few weeks now, and tonight, Beltaine, seemed to be the best time.
Peter McKibben moved through the dancers. He ignored them as best he could. Kestry waved to him, and he altered his course. A few dancers moved out of his way, the others got glared at until they did likewise. Kestry had to smile.
"What are you smiling at ?" asked Peter suspiciously. Kestry forced the smile away. "Oh, nothing, nothing... are you enjoying yourself ?"
"Are you trying to be funny ?" Peter replied. He sighed, and looked around, as if only now taking in the sight. "It’s okay, I suppose. Better than the parties we used to have. Better music."
Kestry nodded. He knew what Peter was referring to. "Actually, Peter, that’s part of the reason I wanted to have this celebration here... there’s something I would like you to do."
Kestry handed a wax sealed letter to Peter, who glanced at it. Then he stared at it. "But... he can’t read this. Not at the moment. I don’t know when..."
He sniffed the letter, his Garou senses sharp. "How old is this ?"
Kestry shrugged. "I don’t honestly know. I had a Dream, and I was shown this letter. It had been walled up in the Brick Glade. It must be at least a hundred years old."
Peter shook his head, but put the letter in his jacket pocket. "For what it’s worth, I’ll deliver it."
Kestry shook his hand warmly. "Thanks. Thanks a lot," he said, then he walked off, leaving Peter, the letter and a bemused look.
He made his way through the group to where Robin and her new friends stood. Lady Enya perked up when she saw him, and Paddy sipped his wine, a grin playing on his lips. Giant stood somewhere behind the group, his watchful gaze scanning the room.
"My friends," Kestry said warmly to the four, "I have a gift for you." He handed them a set of keys, and pulled out a small bundle of photographs. "This is your Freehold."
The photographs showed the ruined facade of a boarded up shop, two floors in height. But the picture was blurred, and a more colourful image of the shop could be seen, if you tilted your head slightly.
"Why, Milord, thank you !" said Lady Eithne softly.
"It’s for all of you," said Kestry, "for your Oathcircle."
They all exchanged looks.
"But... we’re not..." started Eithne, but then Paddy interrupted. "I knew there was a reason you had got us together. So, what’s the mission, Boss ?"
Kestry leaned closer, hoping to be heard by only the four. "There is a child, in Belfast, who recently underwent his Chrysalis. He may be the most important Fae in Ireland, and we- you - must find him before King Finn or Lorenzo. Once you find him, you will protect him."
"We are but four, sir," said Giant softly, "And we are not knights or warriors."
Kestry nodded. "That’s exactly why you have been chosen."
"I understand what you’re saying," said Robin, "and we are the best ones to protect a little boy from Lorenzo’s Trolls and that... cuddly Dragon..." she finished, with a shiver of fear.
"I have had a Dream that you are the ones," explained Kestry simply.
Giant nodded. "Dreamings are important. I understand."
"Good," sighed Kestry, and he looked as if at least one worry had been lifted. He looked at the group, and smiled.
"You are The Rebels. You represent the spirit of Freedom, the fight against unkind and unjust rule. You are the Light that Lorenzo’s Darkness cannot extinguish." Kestry spoke with a clarity that struck each word into their hearts. The music stopped, and the dancers stood, listening to Kestry form the Oathcircle.
"You must each take an Oath, the Oath of the Rebels. You will support each other, and protect your charge, though night falls and winter blows cold around you. You will swear to fight the Darkness, and carry the light within your hearts. You will swear that you will never leave each other’s sides until the Belfast Child sings again."
They stared at him, mouths open. Kestry was surrounded by a nimbus of light, as Glamour flowed through him, using his words and his physical presence to create Destiny.
"I swear," said the Rebels, their voice as one.
The light dimmed, the music started again, and the party continued, although it was more subdued than before.
"Good. Good," was all Kestry could say. He turned, and walked away, his face unreadable. Robin looked at the rest of her Oathcircle, and she felt a satisfying warmth. These were to be her friends, her fae family. She smiled.
"Whoa... what a rush !" grinned Paddy. Giant blinked in slow amazement, while Lady Eithne just glowed. Her smile was etheric.
"Did you feel the Glamour ? His magic ?" she breathed. Giant frowned, and Robin glared at the girl. "What do you mean, his magic ?" she asked. Eithne shrugged delightfully.
Robin shook her head, and wandered into crowd after Kestry. She began to get a bit worried when she could see him. She just about made out Galways massive form at the doorway out of the ballroom, and she followed him.
By the time she reached him, Galway was outside the Castle, and was staring at a car which drove down the hill, back into Belfast.
"What’s going on ?" she asked him. He said nothing, his head bowed, eyes dark. She watched the car disappear around a corner.
"Was that Kestry ?" she asked, a tingle of fear in her stomach. Why was Galway acting so strangely ?
"Yes. Yes it was. He’s gone, Robin."
She chirped, a sharp intake of breath. "What ?! What do you mean, gone?"
"He’s gone to see the King. Remember that letter ?" Galway’s voice was as soft and as sorrowful as Robin had ever heard.
"But... I didn’t really think...it’s not Midsummer yet... why would he..." Robin started... and then she remembered Govain’s whispered words of warning... if he’s lucky, he might just die...
"No ! You mustn’t let him go !" screamed Robin, her tiny frame stronger than Galway had thought. He struggled to hold her back- she seemed to flutter against him.
"ROBIN !" he shouted at her. "Do you really think I want him to go ?"
Robin clutched Galway, sobbing into his great shoulder.
"I don’t know what I’d do... if he didn’t come home..." she cried. Galway nodded. He knew how Robin felt. He had spent too much time being Kestry’s protector, and if he lost that role, that identity... how could he cope ?
"Shhhhhh..." was all he said. They stood there, outside Belfast Castle, silent and alone.
It began to rain.