by Stephen J. Herron

The Storm Breaks

May 12th 1996

They arrived back at the Brick Glade just after midnight. Galway and Peter helped Kestry down the Oak Stair, whilst Malcolm followed with the Rebels and Matthew.

The Balefire roared into bright leaves of flame as Kestry entered, and Glamour rushed to comfort and heal him. The power of it lifted the Sidhe an inch off the ground and he bathed in the green light.

Peter stared in amazement as Kestry's Sidhe Seeming was revealed to him for the first time. Everyone in the light of the Balefire was shown in their true form, except for Matthew, whose little boy eyes sparkled with a secret joke.

Peter's features reflected the wolf in his heart, while Giant, Rocky and Eithne couldn't hide their shapes. Robin's shadow included wings. Galway seemed even taller than before, and Malcolm… was Malcolm. His eyes glinted with the light, and he was silent.

The walls of the Brick Glade glowed in response to the Balefire, and a great stone, set in the ceiling seemed to shimmer, as if only being noticed for the first time. Slowly, the light began to fade, and the shadows returned.

When Kestry's feet finally touched the ground, he was radiant, if still tired and weary in appearance.

"I needed that," he commented with a raise of eyebrow. Everyone laughed.

The chamber was much tidier than it had been when Rocky and Giant had last visited. Galway had obviously spent the time between their visit and the journey to Emain Macha working at it.

Kestry sat in his chair, and sighed long and happily as he finally relaxed. His eyes closed, and he tried, hard, to put the images and memories of the last week out of his mind. He drifted into a state where things slowed down, and then he was Dreaming.

He stood on top of Cave Hill, overlooking Belfast. It was a summers day, and the scent of hill flowers and the gentle hum of the city filled his senses. He sat down in the damp grass, and looked out over Belfast, the Lough, and the Irish Sea. In the distance, he could see Scotland, clear and green.

"Hello, Kestry."

He looked around. Standing there was a boy, perhaps eight years old. For a moment, he thought it was Matthew, but it wasn't. He had fair hair, and, quite obviously, was Sidhe.

"Hello. Who are you ?"

The boy smiled. "I think you know, Kestry."

Kestry's eyes widened.

"Oh. Your Majesty," he said nervously. Then he smiled, and laughed, a bit embarrassed, because of the expression of amusement that the child wore.

"Not yet, Kestry. Right now, I'm here, with Matthew."

Kestry looked around, and with a wave of his hand, indicated the sight below to Ardry. "I'm dreaming, then ?"

Ardry nodded, sitting beside Kestry. "Yes. I thought you could do with a nice Dream. I'm sorry about what happened with Lorenzo."

Kestry winced. "I felt it was necessary. I needed to draw the attention away from Belfast. While I was with them I wasn't looking for you. Or so they thought."

Ardry smiled. "Yes, it was a good idea." He said nothing more. Better to let Kestry think it was his idea all along. No harm. The boy stifled a laugh.

"What ? What is it ?" asked Kestry.

"Nothing," sniggered Ardry. "I just hope you like surprise parties…"

Lorenzo started by throwing things. Then he started kicking things. He summoned a servant, and started to punch and kick the poor Chimerical butler that appeared. It vanished, and he turned on Folly.

"No ! Lorenzo, don't !"

The furious Duke threw his punch to miss the cowering Sidhe, and smashed the mirror on his dressing table.

His quarters in the Palace were a ruin. He had cut the bed into firewood fairly early on in his fury, and had long broken every pot and vase in the room.

Lorenzo sat heavily down in the midst of his destruction.

"We had him. In our hands. And. The. King. Let. Him. Go."

He looked up at Folly and the nervous Sir Vasrik.

"Why ?"

They shrugged. Lorenzo shook his head. "Right. King or not, he's going to tell me what he's doing."

Folly followed his master out, and down the long corridor. Sir Vasrik lingered a while longer in the doorway, looked back in the room, and smiled. Then he too followed.

When Kestry opened his eyes again, the room was filled with people, sitting, quietly talking and keeping a careful eye on him. There must have been thirty or forty there, including some mortals, and others…

Duchess Aishling was there, with her two quiet mortal brothers. Govain, the Sluagh sat in a corner, watching him silently, while Rocky sat with Clancy and Dermot, his fellow Satyr, trying desperately not to make any noise in their revelry. Seamus the Redcap sat, making paper planes for the dozen or so Childlings of all Kithain, who were sitting around him, watching in awe. He occasionally had to watch his language, but he was enjoying himself. The Rebels sat near Kestry at the head of the table, while Peter and Malcolm stood near the door, keeping a careful eye on what was going on.

"Hello !" said Kestry, surprised.

"He's awake !" cried Robin.

"About time," sighed Rocky in relief.

There was a cheer, and the music began, loud and fast, from the fiddles and guitars that seemed to suddenly appear from different parts of the room.

Within seconds, it was a party.

Kestry stood, looking around, in no small amazement. He stepped into the crowd, and began to talk to old friends.

Robin watched him disappear into the crowd, and sighed. She felt happy, yet there was a tinge of sorrow in her heart. It confused and hurt her. Deciding that it would be best to be alone, she found a small room in the maze of underground basements that made up the Brick Glade, and sat in a corner, deep in thought.

Rocky noticed her go, and started to go after her, when Eithne caught his arm. "Leave her, Rocky, she needs to be alone."

The Satyr nodded, and quickly picked up Eithne and led her in a jig around the table. She laughed and shouted, but joined in. Even Giant smiled.

Kestry moved through the throng until he was standing face to face with Duchess Aishling.

"Hello, old friend," he said warmly to her. She smiled, her delicate heart shaped face shining as she greeted Kestry.

"I'm so glad to see you, Kes," she said softly, and Kestry kissed her gently on the cheek.

"How's Down ?" he asked. Aishling sighed. "The Duchy is well. But tensions grow amongst the Dreamers. The Glamour is flowing, though, and the time is drawing near. We'll have to act soon, Kes."

Kestry nodded, and took her hand in his.

"I know. I wish… it could be different. For other reasons, I mean."

She shook her head, and moved closer to Kestry, looking up into his eyes. "I know. It's the only way. At least we have some time."

Kestry and Aishling stood together in silence, drawing strength from each other, while the gathering got louder and happier.

No one was sure where the beer had come from, but it was probably the Satyr.

Lorenzo knelt before King Finn, in silence.

"Next time you come into my private chambers, Duke Lorenzo," said the King softly, "I will serve your eyes to my wolf-hounds. Now, try it again."

The sweat was dripping from Lorenzo's brow, and he was wracked with silent pain as the King's powerful magic kept him in order. The grip lessened, and Lorenzo took a gasping breath.

"What I was trying to ask, my liege, was…" he stood, painfully, "was, 'why did you let Kestry go', my liege."

King Finn smiled cruelly, and let Lorenzo stand. Folly and Vasrik didn't even get in, and were nursing wounds out in the hall while two Fianna stood with dripping fingernails.

"What I did, Duke Lorenzo," explained the King, as he continued to dress for bed, "is end the stalemate. What point was having Kestry here, where he was a martyr for those in your Duchy ? He still has support amongst the other nobles in Ulster, and further afield if rumour is to be believed- and I do not ignore rumour, Lorenzo. So, we let him return to his people, and prepare them for war."

Lorenzo was stunned. Rare, indeed. The King was far from Lorenzo's control, and the Duke had to wonder, for how long had this been so ?

"War ?" he asked in a hiss. Finn looked around, amused.

"Did you think this state would go on forever ? You're a fool, Lorenzo. You can't even find the Belfast Child. Well, those children have. They're the Rebels, Lorenzo. There are books written about them, you know, saying what they'll be like and when they'll be formed. I've known about them for years. Now is their time."

He stepped forward, and pointed a finger at Lorenzo.

"And it happened on YOUR watch, Duke Lorenzo."

Finn laughed. "Just bad timing, Lorenzo. Bad timing. You weren't meant to find the Child. Sorry."

Lorenzo didn't really understand, but he thought it wise to say nothing.

"Now, return to Belfast. Get your people ready. It's going to be a long bloody war, Lorenzo, and we've got to make sure it doesn't spread beyond the city."

Lorenzo nodded, and stood. A sudden dizzy feeling came over him, and he felt sick. "Yes, Majesty. Your permission… to leave ?"

Finn brushed him away with a flick of his hand. Lorenzo ran out, past Folly and Vasrik, and didn't stop until he was outside in the May night.

He fell to his knees, fighting for breath. "Wha… what's happening ?" he gasped.

A figure stood behind him in shadow. She stayed in the darkness behind him. "Come to Doireanna," she whispered. Lorenzo nodded, and whispered his reply. "I am here, ready for your bidding."

The woman chuckled. "You never took summoning well, Lorenzo." The voice had a thick Londonderry accent, and dripped with scorn. "Listen. You will forget this meeting. As usual. The King has slipped from our grasp, it seems. We can live with his decision, however. Here's the new agenda…"

Lorenzo, his mind temporarily not his own, took orders from his true mistress, before she disappeared back into the night.

Kestry spent some time with Aishling, talking and holding hands. When he left her to look for a small group he hoped had come, he looked back, trying to memorize her face, her features, her laugh, her smile. He backed away, wondering why fate was keeping them apart when they both wanted more…

He bumped into the very ones he was looking for.

"Hey, there, Kestry, watch where you're going !"

He turned, and saw a man with a brown goatee smiling back at him. "Shanachie ! I'd hoped you'd be here."

The Eshu laughed, and sipped the beer he was drinking. "Did you really think I'd miss a party ? No, not with beer like this, and tale in the telling such as yours… my goodness me, no."

He turned, and pointed out five others who were standing around as if they didn't feel quite as if they belonged.

"They're all here. There's Jonathan and Richard- drunk, as usual. And there's Euan talking with Magpie there. And Divis, trying to avoid Peter," he pointed at each in turn. The first two were other Eshu, and Shanachies regular storytelling companions. The next was a mortal in his early twenties, who had been enchanted some years ago by Kestry himself. He was an artist who had needed protection from Ravaging, and had fallen in with Kestry and the others. Since then, he had been allowed to use Freeholds allied to Kestry, and had spent time travelling on behalf of the group to which he belonged. Magpie stood tall, and looked a bit awkward. His long coat was decorated with black and white feathers, and he looked like his namesake. He was a Mage, rare in Ireland, until recently. Kestry had met him soon after his Avatar had emerged, and had discovered how much they had in common. The last stood in his leather jacket, the same man as both Kestry and Eithne had sought out at Homeless Action. He raised his glass to Kestry, who smiled and waved in return.

They all wore silver harp brooches, like Kestry's, and only they could see the other brooches.

"It's been so long since we were all together, "murmured Kestry. Shanachie nodded.

"The last time, we were twelve in number. Now, there's seven of us. A lucky number, don't you think ?" asked Shanachie. Kestry nodded.

"Yes. And quite a seven." Kestry seemed pleased.

"I have a feeling that we'll be needed, soon," commented Shanachie seriously.

Kestry sighed, and shrugged. "I formed the group for a reason." He stepped forward, into the Circle of Harpers, and greeted each in turn. They sat at a table, and began to catch up with business, left untouched for so long.

Folly and Sir Vasrik waited for the master by the Trod. He arrived eventually, with the Smoke Dragon above him. His face was subdued, quiet.

The Trod was opened, and they all walked along it for a short time before it reopened outside the Manor.

"Duke Lorenzo," said Vasrik softly, "You are uncommonly silent."

Lorenzo looked up at the Troll, his face unreadable. "Get the Vikings ready. Bring them here in the morning."

Folly blinked, and Lorenzo turned to him. "Get our allies in Belfast ready, and have them here in the morning. And get the armour and swords ready."

He looked up at the Smoke Dragon. "Find and secure our supply of Semtex and explosives. We'll be needing them."

Folly and Sir Vasrik stood there, surprised. Ever the Dragon paused, unsure. Lorenzo waited, and looked at them all, annoyed at their inaction.

"Get a move on. We've a war to start."

He walked sullenly back into the Manor, and slammed the door behind him.

Kestry was looking for someone important. He moved through the various chambers of the Brick Glade, smiling at those that greeted him. Finally he found Robin, sitting in a corner, looking sad. She saw him across the room, and stood quickly, frantically trying to tidy herself up. He walked over, and stood beside her. Her took her hands, and leant closer. She swallowed, hard.

"Robin," whispered Kestry, and the girl gazed up at him. "You were the thought that kept me alive in there. Without you, I would have fallen into the Mists, and forgotten who I was… for that, I will never be able to thank you…"

Robin blushed. Then she bit her lip as a mad, crazy thought came to her. It was out of her mouth before she could stop it.

"A kiss would do," she whispered, her heartbeat faster than she could count. Kestry smiled, paused for a moment, and leant down. He kissed her on the cheek, very softly. She felt like someone had struck a bell deep in her very soul.

"Thank you, my Robin," he said quietly. Then he hugged her, and moved back to the crowd.

Robin stood, the chime in her soul fading. But something was different. She looked down at her hands and placed them on her cheek. Yes. She was different. Things would never be the same again. She had lost something, but she didn't miss it. She grinned.

"I'm a Wilder…" she gasped, and ran up the Oak stair and into the night. She leapt into the air, and was a bird. Robin swooped and turned, rolled and tumbled, joy in her tiny heart, and love in her soul.

And as long as that was there, she could Hope.

January 21st 1998

Pages Torn From the Journal of Duke Kestry ap Liam of Belfast

I write now using the power of hindsight- not some odd Cantrip, merely the grace of having survived this last, most difficult year. Could I tell myself then what I know now, things would have gone differently.

Robin sits beside me now, here in the Brick Glade. She is growing up fast, and has been a Wilder now for so very long. She is no longer a child, but a beautiful young woman. Her sixteenth birthday is weeks away, and I am aware of how she has changed. She is quieter than before, with a wisdom and sadness that I wish she did not yet have to carry. But she is alive, with us today, and for that I am grateful. Lord Galway stands at the far end of the room, showing some young Sidhe Childlings around the Glade. It is the new Ducal Seat of Belfast, since I could not bear to return to the Manor. We lost too many friends, during the war, and the battle at the Manor House was one of the bloodiest.

Because it became a war.

The Rebels recovered me from Finn's dungeons, and I am still touched by the courage they showed that night. We returned to Belfast, and had a celebration in the Brick Glade like we hadn't seen since the first Ceasefire. Duchess Aishling was there. Sometimes, my heart aches with her absence. Fae and mortals alike came to show their solidarity, and all of the Harpers were there, for the first meeting we'd had since I was exiled. I was able to drive some of the memories my away in the company of my friends and comrades. It was magnificent.

But if there is a point in any tale or conflict when everything changes, the point upon which everything turns, it was that night. That was the last night of peace for the Fae of Belfast, and of Ulster.

Tooth and nail, we fought. Smaller conflicts echoed around the Counties, but it was here that the secret, silent war was fought. It took as much to stop the mortal Dreamers from being hurt as it did to save ourselves.

We had victories. Some few small glorious victories which we could sing about, to keep our spirit alive; the Harper Raid on Dunmurray, the Sidhe charge at the Giant's Ring, Malcolm and Peter's unbelievable fight against thirty six formori that attacked Belfast Castle on that dark night in December 1996. The fight that lasted two minutes, and saw Malcolm and Peter without so much as a scratch. Malcolm moved so fast, he couldn't be seen, and Peter threw one enemy two hundred yards into a cliff face, so hard, the body had to be cut out.

It was, in truth, the stuff of legends.

When, on Midsummer's Eve 1997, the war ended, it came as a shock and surprise to both sides. It was completely unpredictable, and yet inevitable as day follows night. We had waited and planned for that day- one day in a hundred years when we had a chance to win. But even so…six months after the fact, I can still barely find words to describe those last moments, when everything we had fought for seemed to be slipping from our grasp- and unless you were there, the literalness of that phrase will be lost on you.

Robin is smiling up at me- I think she wants to go to that play she's been on at me about for weeks. I promised to take her as a birthday gift, but so what if it's early ? Time is precious enough without having to wait for a particular day or month to do something.

Speaking of time, I've had a word with the Shanachie. He's writing a history of the War, and has been hanging around here for days, waiting for something. He says he needs something to finish his current Book with.

The Shanachie promises that the final Book of the Belfast Child will be finished soon. I hope so. People need to read about the heroism that we saw, the evil that nearly won, and the way it was defeated.

I think people would enjoy it, any way. The Shanachie is quite a tale-spinner, so I'm told. I only wish I could write as well as he does, anyway.

I asked him if he wanted to write something here, but he insists that his tale finishes with the end of the war.

He said, "For gods sake, Kestry, if you want stuff about after the war, write it yourself !"

Perhaps I will.

From the Pen of Shanachie, True Bard.

Well, he's helped me finish this part, anyway, if he knows it or not. I feel bad about stealing those pages from Duke Kestry's journal, but now it's done. The final Book awaits, the Rebel's War, and when its' done, I'll set my pen down, perhaps forever (I have a woman across the sea who calls to me, and it's nearly time to go to her).

We all have our parts to play, and my part is nearly done, but there's more to tell, and until then…

I remain your Bard, Tale-Spinner and Storyteller (and devilishly handsome)

James Spencer, The Shanachie.

Thus Ends the Second Book of the Belfast Child