by Stephen J. Herron
Friends and Favours
Late January, 1996
The classroom was clinical white, with brown formica covered tables. Robin sat, her head resting on her crossed arms as the teacher spoke on the complexity of algebra. Her head hurt,and her eyelids felt like lead.
Robin was in her first year of Grammar School. A lot of children in Northern Ireland got the opportunity to attend such places, and most would come out the other end with a bag full of qualifications. Robin doubted she would survive until the end of class bell.
She turned her head, and gazed out the window. The January sky was a clear light blue, and the air seemed crisp and clean. She wanted more than anything to feel the breeze upon her face, to feel the uplift upon her feathers and to soar across the snowy fields....
The Glamour began to whirl around her, frustrated by the presence of others....she couldn't hope to change here... she would have to wait until later.
Waiting, waiting, waiting....it was at times like this she understood what this Banality stuff was all about. Galway and Kestry always seemed to be lecturing her about it. She didn't know what they meant...but more and more, it was slowly dawning on her. She knew that she was losing her Childling feelings , and that she was on the brink of becoming a Wilder...
The thought made the butterflies in her stomach flutter. If she was a Wilder, then maybe Kestry was take her more seriously. After all, he was only twenty six. That's just thirteen years. If she was eighteen, then he would be thirty one...no difference at all.
Except that he would be a Grump by that point. Ugh.
Her face was reflected in the glass, and she poked at it with her finger. She wasn't unattractive, or so she thought. Her hair, which was a rich deep red when she was in her Fae seeming was merely a dull auburn to others. She hated her hair. Her eyes, a deep green to her Kithain friends, was just a dull brown now. No wonder Kestry didn't look twice at her. And he kept calling her 'child'. Robins' lips thinned at the thought, and her eyes narrowed.
Kestry, who, according to Galway, used to be Duke, or something. It sounded important, but it obviously wasn't. He had been in some fight, or something. She didn't really understand it. Galway had tried to explain it all, but she had lost interest, and had stared out the window for most of it. She didn't understand all the talk about Winter, as she quite liked the season...all that snow...
"Robin ? Pay attention."The teacher had stopped her lesson, and was staring at her. So were the rest of the class.She blused.
The lesson continued, and Robin could have sworn she felt her brains melting. She checked her ears, just to be sure.
Kestry had a problem. It was a big one, and needed to be solved very soon. Before it was too late. Galway was travelling to the Court in Sligo, so he wasn't any help. The rest of the Kithain had their own problems at the minute, and his problem wasn't really related to the Harpers.
Kestry needed an apartment.
"I can't stay here indefinately, " he said to the Brick Glade. The throne room was empty and softly lit by candles. The air seemed to shift as the spirit of the Glade replied.
"You are welcome, Liege..." the voice faded away, like the sigh of a wave ebbing back into the sea. Kestry sighed, and shook his head.
"I won't stay, then. It's not right. I gave this place to Galway, and I'm acting like a petulant landlord."
The very Banality of the problem scratched and gnawed at the corner of his mind. He could feel the battle in his heart.
"Get one of your subjects to help you," suggested the thick deep voice of the Glade. Kestry nodded slowly.
"But who ?"
The bell rang joyously, and the school day was over. The young girl who had looked asleep seconds before it rang was out of the door before it had a chance to stop. She ran down the corridors that were still empty, in those few seconds before the mass of pupils had a chance to get out of their chairs. She emerged into the large schoolyard, and seconds later was a tiny bird flying loops of exultation in the sky. The little red-chested bird fluttered its' way into the centre of Belfast, very near the school, and rested on the top branches of a tall treethat spread its arms out from the empty shell of a red brick building.
"Someone's home, " it chirped, and flew down to the group, near the base of the tree. Then it wasn't a bird anymore, but the girl, complete with school-bag. She rapped on the hidden door of the oak, and skipped down the stairs.
Her heart skipped a beat when she saw Kestry.
"Ohh...hello...I hate it when you're scare me like that," she said, and she wondered if she was lying or not. Kestry smiled, and her legs went weak.
"I know you do. I'm just here thinking..." The look in his eyes became one of a question as he looked at her. She felt veryuncomfortable, worried that he might be reading her mind.
"What is it ? I haven't done anything wrong !" she stammered, and bit her lip at the lie. Sometimes it was hard being a Pooka.
"Oh, nothing," said Kestry with a smile, "just a thought."
She looked away from his gaze. He smiled, sensing her discomfort. She was so young, but getting older. Galway had warned him that she was on the verge of Wildhood...and that girls often get very attached to older role models. Kestry remembered his own adolescence,and wondered how he had survived it at all.
"How was school ?" he asked, trying to break the ice. She sighed, and sat down at the end of the table.
"Rotten. Why does Galway make me go ?"
Kestry took a book out of his pocket, and pushed it down the table towards her. She picked it up, and opened it.
"It's in another language !" she shouted in disgust.
"Ah, but which one ?" asked Kestry with a grin. She flicked through it.
Kestry clapped his hands.
"Very good. And someday, you might be able to read it."
Robin examined it very carefully.
"What is it ?" she asked. It looked very old, yet had a feeling of great love and affection. Someone, or many someones had taken a lot of pleasure from it over the years. And Glamour, too.
"A book of French Faerie Tales. Some real, some not. It was given to me by my Mentor, just after my Saining. It's kept me going during some really bad times."
Robin smiled, and pushed the book back to him.
"I see. It's so hard, though. I hate the....boringness of it," she sighed. Kestry liked her new word.
"I have problems, too, " said Kestry, and wondered why he had said it. Perhaps it was the quality that Pooka possessed, they drew you out...made you want to talk.
"Yes ? You mean that new Duke ?" she asked. Kestry sighed. He had yet to encounter Lorenzo. They had both been back for three months now, and both had been keeping low profiles. It was a waiting game.
"No, child, " he said softly, missing the frown that passed over her face. "I need to find somewhere to live."
She shrugged, and looked away.
"Oh. What are you going to do ?" she asked softly.
Kestry smiled suddenly, as a thought occurred.
"I remember.....I might have a friend that can help."
Peter McKibben was very tired. The nights were very long at this time of year, and he needed to spend most of them awake. The night duty was purely his decision, but he didn'thave to enjoy it. There were too many things to keep an eye on in Belfast, and most of them happened at night.
Not as much as it used to, however. Not since that night, in 1993. He shifted uneasily in his car, which was parked on the Antrim Road, a mile or so out from the town centre. He remembered it vividly. The insane screams of the Sabbat as they drove motorbikes into the Castle grounds. Belfast Castle had been a hotel for many years, run by the Vampire Prince ofthe city. The Sabbat had known that, and had as little regard for the humans as they did for the Vampires. There had been too much bloodshed that night, and in the end, the Sabbat had been beaten. Just. It had been a Night of Fire, and many buildings in Belfast had been burnt down that night. The general public thought it terrible, but knew nothing of the dozen Kindred who had lost their unlives in those same infernos.
His friend, Malcolm Fletcher, a Malkavian Archon, was still healing from his wounds, in the frightening coma the Kindred called Torpor. He wasn't the only one. Across the city, his other friends amongst the Kindred lay in similar states. Time would heal them, but they would reawaken into a Belfast which, without their influence, knew peace for the first time in a quarter of a century.
Anger began to build in Peter, which he recognised well. The silver crucifix that he clutched tightly in his hand cut into his skin. The anger fell away again, and his heart-beat resumed a safe rate.
Peter McKibben couldn't afford to lose his temper. He was a Garou, a Werewolf, and his unloved and unwanted kin would just love it if he lost control. He had no feelings for his own kind, beyond hatred, and shifting form reminded him of a birthright he hadn't asked for.
His attention was moved to a car that pulled out of a driveway in front of a large house. He had been waiting here for six hours, ready to follow. Stakeouts were so boring.
"Time to get some answers, " he murmured, and drove off, after the large black car. He wondered how long he had been talking to himself. Hanging around with a Malkavian for two years was obviously not doing his mental health any good at all.
The car made its way through Belfast, heading towards the docks, a well maintained E-Type Jaguar. Peter had been tracking it's movements for some time, now, ever since it had been seen at the scene of a ... how could he describe the incident ? The policemen who had filed the initial report had told, rather incoherently, of a tall man in a Wolf mask who had been terrorising a building team on the outskirts of the city. The report had barely made any sense, though it had been placed to one side, as per his orders.
When he looked through the file, he had guessed that the RUC men had seen something few mortals did without surviving. A Werewolf, in its monstrous half-human form, called Crinos. Peter had spent some time in that form, and he was well aware of the affect it had on the human mind. Like so many things, the mind couldn't cope with the information it was given, and it would desperately attempt to define the experience as something else, less fantastic. A man in a Wolf mask. So close to the truth, yet so very far.
Peter had been there when the Vampires signed an agreement with the Garou in Enniskillen. It was a sharing out of territory, the West of Ulster for the Garou, the East for the Kindred. For two years after that, he and Malcolm Fletcher had hunted down rogue Werewolves who had chosen to breach the agreement. It had kept war away.
Just before the Sabbat attack on the city, he had received information regarding a Garou Caern- or Holy Place, within the City Limits of Belfast itself. He hadn't even had time to report this to the Prince before all Hell broke loose.
Things had calmed down enough now for him to follow the leads out. He had no doubt that the old agreement had been thrown out the window after the Sabbat War, but he was in no position to go hunting as he had before. Times had changed, and he had changed with them. Subtlety was now the weapon.
He knew the name of the car driver. A Michael Forbes, who worked at a bank in the city. He was a computer programmer of some reputation, and Peter had guessed that Mr Forbes was one of the Glass Walkers, a tribe of Technological Werewolves who had embraced science as being part of Nature. He had even done enough research to take a guess at his name- Eff Tee, the well known hacker, and less well-known Garou.
The Jaguar pulled up at an empty dock. Peter parked behind a container some way behind, and watched as a well-dressed young man with a ponytail climbed out. He carried a briefcase, and wore a big smile and sunglasses. He looked around, and shimmered as he stepped into the Umbra. Peter swore, and drew his gun. He gazed into his side mirror, and felt the air vibrate as he followed the other Garou into Nowhere.
"So, where are we going ?" asked Robin as she and Kestry walked through the quiet afternoon streets of the city.
"Well, after I walk you back to your bus, I have to go and meet with an old friend," explained Kestry. They had reverted back into their mortal seemings, and Kestry now wore an expensive casual suit. They didn't look out of place in the crowds.
Robin fumed. She hated being left out.
"I don't mind not being invited," she said quietly. Kestry sighed.
"I'm sorry, but my friend likes to meet in private. It's nothing personal, Robin."
They walked up to a bus-stop, and waited in silence.
"How long until it gets here ?" asked Kestry, glancing down at his watch. Robin shrugged,still huffing. He shook his head.
"You aren't coming. That's that."
There was more silence.
"How's that story going ? The one that your mother's writing ?" he asked, trying to draw her out. She fidgeted.
He thought for a moment.
"Are you still telling her those stories about your 'friends' ?" he asked. She nodded, and Kestry narrowed his eyes in thought.
Already, at such an early age, Robin had managed to secure herself a source of Glamour. By inspiring her mother to write stories about Robins 'make-believe' friends, she would be able to reap from the imaginative energy that the stories created. There would be plenty left for her mother to use to actually create the tales, and get them down on paper. Someday, maybe other children would read the stories, and be inspired....
Just like he had been. Kestry put his hand into his jacket pocket, and touched the precious book of Faerie Tales that had shown him his True Nature, so many years before.
The bus pulled up, and Kestry patted Robin on the shoulder.
"Sure, we'll see you tomorrow at the Glade. It's a Saturday, after all, " he told her. She didn't say anything, but rubbed the tear from her eye, hoping that he wouldn't see it. Or would see it.
"Okay. Bye," she said shortly as she climbed onto the bus. She showed her bus-pass to the driver, and found her seat. Kestry waited until the bus had pulled away, before starting towalk on. The office to which he was headed was nearby, though it had been some years since he had been there. He arrived at the front desk of a building filled with a dozen little businesses, and was ushered up the stairs.
The door he arrived at had two words printed on the window.
"Homeless Action," whispered Kestry, and, after a moment's doubt, he entered.
Kestry sat in the waiting room, looking around at the other faces. Five people sat in the room with him, all homeless. Most looked casually dressed, and wouldn't have attracted a second glance from most. They didn't live down to the expectations the public had of homeless people. Their clothes, whilst not pristine, were far from dirty, and they looked well washed and fed. The pain could be seen in their eyes, however, the hurt that someone feels when they are at the bottom of the heap. There is a particular type of suffering which occurs when a normal, ordinary person, has all their hope and indentity stripped, leaving them with just their names and the clothes they stand in.
Some of the people looked at Kestry, with his suit and tie, and smiled at him. He could feel the potential these people had, lost far within the banality of their lives. This is what would happen to more dreamers if the Unseelie Court had their way. The very magic of these peoples lives would be torn away.
A couple, with a little boy, sat across from him. They looked so tired. The boy was maybe eight years old, but his eyes had the look of experience. He gazed at Kestry, and the Sidhe wondered what the boy could see.
Kestry reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small ball. He bounced off the ground a couple of times, watching the boy. The child followed the movement of the ball.
"This is for you, son," said Kestry.
The little boy looked up to his parents for permission, and they just smiled back. The father, just a young man himself, nodded his thanks to Kestry.
As the boy touched the ball, Kestry gathered up Glamour from within himself, and placed it upon the ball. He transferred a little of the magic that made the Sidhe respected and well treated amongst the Kithain into the boy, and from there, into the child. It would last a long, long time and he knew that everyone would view the child and his parents in a different way. Perhaps they would get more money when they were out begging, or maybe the father would get offered a job by someone who would have passed them by before. Whatever he could do was a small gesture. It would never be enough.
"Mr Kestry ?"
The man who had taken his name before stood at the doorway to the Charity managers office. He smiled at Kestry, and indicated to follow him.
Kestry was shown into the room, and the helpful man left. Sitting in a chair by the window, looking out into the streets, was a tall man with dark hair. He looked sad as he turned to face Kestry. His eyes were strangely wolf-like, sharp and keen.
"I felt what you did out there. I had been worried about you, but I shouldn't have. You've not changed since last time."
The man had a deep voice, and he smiled. He stood and walked over to Kestry.
"Nice to see you back, old friend."
They embraced, and patted each others back. Kestry stood back from his friend.
"Phillip, it's good to be back. But I need your help."
The man nodded, and offered Kestry a chair, which he took. Phillip returned to his seat near the window.
"Anything, Kestry, you know that."
Phillip gently touched a small jewelled harp brooch that no human eye could see. He wore it on the lapel of his leather jacket.
"After all, we all took the Oath."
Kestry smiled, and tapped his own brooch, identical to Phillips. He breathed out, relieved.It had been over a year, and even he had been worried about who he could trust, and what had changed. He saw now that nothing had, and that the Harpers still worked in Belfast, at least.
Outside, on the window-sill, a small red-breasted bird sprang back and forth,desperately trying to listen to the conversation inside the room, and wondering where the pretty brooch had come from.
Peter hated the Umbra. He felt alien in this dark, shadow-filled version of reality, even though it was a second home to the Garou. It looked horrible to him. Shining webs of light hung over everything, strong and perfect near the buildings changing to dark and broken at the ends of the disused dock. He knew enough about the sights to understand the work of the Pattern Spiders and the Weaver they were part of. He just didn't care.
Ahead, a figure stood, facing him. It was Eff Tee, his Sunglasses shining in the darkness of the Umbra. He was grinning.
Peter was furious. He felt the Rage rising, and had to fight it back.
"So it's a trap. You and your spirit chums are going to take me on your own ground."
Eff Tee laughed, with some humour.
"It's your ground, too, mate. Lighten up. It's not a trap, but I knew you were following me."
Peter didn't drop his guard, but pulled the gun out anyway. He had carried out the Garou ritual which allowed it to follow him into this realm, and it was as much a gun here as back in the real world. The Glass Walker knew this, and his grin faltered slightly.
Peter stood his ground, staring bleakly at Eff Tee.
"Listen, Peter, it's not a trap. We just want to talk to you."
From behind Peter, came another voice. Peter swore, and turned. Standing there was another Garou, in human form. He wore biker leathers, and for a moment, Peter's mind was taken back to the night of Fire. That thought poured off him like light in the Umbra, and the newcomer raised his hands, palms open.
"We're not here to fight, Peter. I'm Divis. You know me."
The man spoke softly, yet with great authority. Peter felt the urge suddenly to give ground to him. The man's Rank within the Garou must have been high indeed.
"Your real name is Phillip. Phillip Martin. I know. You work as a volunteer for Homeless Action."
Peter spoke softly, gun raised slightly. Eff Tee grinned, and even Divis smiled.
"Actually, I own Homeless Action. I fund it and run it myself."
Peter's eyes narrowed. He hadn't known that, and his sources were the best. Divis watched him quietly. He sensed the young man's unease, but knew that he was forbidden to influence him beyond reasonable means.
"So. You know me, I know you. What now?" asked Peter. He took a few steps backwards, so that he could see both Glasswalkers. Eff Tee and Divis exchanged a long look, which ended with a nod from Divis.
"We have something for you. A request, if you like," said Eff Tee, and he placed the briefcase on the ground, then took a step backwards from it.
"Open it," snapped Peter. Eff Tee shook his head.
"Do it yourself. You can, you know."
Peter snarled, and threw his mind at the lock. The spirit within it jumped with a start, and the lock popped open. Within, were papers and documents, as well as a envelope filled with money.
"What is this? You trying to bribe me?" Peter almost laughed. Divis and Eff Tee shook their heads.
"A favour. You do one for us, we do one for you."
Peter shook his head.
"There's nothing you have that I want. Trust me."
"You've got to learn to trust us, Peter. We've no reason to be at odds with each other."
Eff Tee nodded.
"Sure, McKibben. You know enough about us to know that we could have killed you by now, if we wanted. Yeah, it might have taken all of us at the Caern, but we would have done it."
Peter thought about that. He had spent the last year in fear of his life, knowing that all they had to do was to Sidestep through the Umbra to where he slept and he would die. He hated being vulnerable. Without the Vampires, he had less back up than he would have liked.
"Maybe...okay, what's the favour?"
"We need you to provide a safehouse for a friend of ours. For the time being,anyway."
Peter looked first at Divis, then at Eff Tee.
The two Glasswalkers exchanged looks.
"It's all in the file. The money is for him, not you. Also, there's some information in the file regarding influential members of the IRA and UDA. We hear things as well. You can do what you want with the information."
Peter looked down at the case, and told- no, demanded that the spirit within move over to beside him. The case slid over, and Divis smiled. The cub was showing some ability.
"Okay....I'll think about it. If I decide not to, then I'll leave this case back here within 24 hours."
The two Glasswalkers nodded.
"That's very reasonable, Peter, " said Divis, and he smiled.
"I'd offer to shake hands on it, but I'd like to keep mine."
The two Glasswalkers vanished as they stepped back out of the Umbra. Peter did likewise, along with the case. When the air cleared, Eff Tee was driving past him with a wave, and Divis was riding his motorcycle ahead of the Jaguar.
Peter watched them go, and picked up the case. He walked back to the car, and climbed in. The Ford pulled away, and Peter drove back to Belfast Castle to read the documents, and to consider the implications of the meeting he had just had.
The streets of Belfast were quiet again. The shops had all but shut, and people where heading home- if they had one. Kestry knew that tonight, at least, he would be sleeping at the Glade. As he walked past the couple with their child, he wondered briefly if there was anything else he could do. He saw the new air of nobility they posessed, and bit his lip. Would it help?
The little boy bounced the ball up and down in the doorway where his parents cuddled close together for heat.
The voice belonged to a tall blond man, well-built. He looked like a cop.
"Who wants to know?"
The man looked weary and just a little bit cross. Kestry narrowed his eyes, and looked with his Changeling eyes. The man who stood in front of him was Garou.There was something strange about him, and for an instant, he thought he saw.... no.... he was a Werewolf, not a Vampire....and certainly not a Malkavian....
"Stop it, " snapped the man, and Kestry saw him again as the ordinary man he almost was.
"You're Divis's contact, aren't you?"
Kestry spoke softly, as the three mortals were still nearby.
"I suppose so. Are you coming? I've arranged for a safe house for you...." he paused and smiled slightly, "for the time being."
Kestry looked at Peter, and back at the child.
"Let them have it. Tonight, anyway."
Peter gave Kestry a piercing look, then looked at the child and his parents. They stood like that for a few long moments.
Peter opened the door of the Granada that stood nearby. The couple looked up, and Peter waved them over.
"Courtesy of the Fairy. Get in."
They exchanged looks, but got up. The boy ran and jumped into the front seat of the car, and Peter had to hide a smile.
As the couple got into the back, Peter and Kestry exchanged a long look.
"I don't believe in you, by the way. I just wanted you to know that."
Peter's eyes sparkled.
"I didn't see you clapping, Peter," he said, almost smiling. Peter nodded back,understanding.
"Be at Belfast Castle tomorrow night, if you want the place."
Kestry closed the side door of the Granada as Peter climbed back in. He knelt down by the front door window and smiled in at the young boy. The child placed his hand against the glass, and Kestry did the same.
As the car drove away, Kestry felt something from within it. It began as a rumble that only Fae feet would feel. It got stronger and stronger, until he had to fall to his knees. He slipped involuntarily into his Kithain seeming as the rush of Glamour overwhelmed him. Colours that had taste and smells that had colour flowed through him until he thought he might go mad...was it Bedlam?
Then, like a crack of thunder that was silent, it ended. A few people had gathered around him, and were helping him to his feet.
Kestry ignored them all. His attention was focused on the car that had driven away, and was turning a corner. Then it was gone.
"The child....." he stammered, but since he was on his feet again, the samaritans had moved on. Only a small voice remained.
"Kestry?" He turned, still stunned, to see Robin standing behind him. He was too shocked to tell her off, but he noticed that she looked very agitated.
"What was that? That explosion of light, sound.....I've never seen anything like it before...."
She was trembling, but not with fear. It was excitement. Kestry answered her in an awed voice.
"You're the youngest Changeling in the city, so you wouldn't have seen this before. But I have."
She held his arm
"What? What was it?"
Kestry looked around, and back in the direction the car had gone.
"It must have been the Cantrip. It was my Cantrip that started it."
"That was the birth of a new Changeling. A Chrysalis. That boy is a Changeling,like us."
He turned back to her, his face white.
"I've never seen a Chrysalis like that before. Ever."