by Stephen J. Herron
High and Low
Friday, February 1st, 1996
Morning broke over Belfast, cold and crisp. The air was light with the promise of snow, the sky clear and blue. The end of another week filled the hearts of the early birds with hope and there was a sense of purpose in the soul of the city.
Lorenzo stood on the roof of the City Hall, looking down at the scurrying mass of humanity far below. Buses moved at a snails-pace through the crowded streets. People hurried to work, their minds already fixed on the weekend ahead. He shook his head and sighed at their antics.
The second word came out as 'eejits'. He savoured the accent of the people here. His own voice would remind a listener of a faraway land. They might think it was French, or Italian. His own opinion was that it made him sound more interesting. His real accent couldn't be heard by human ears.
Duke Lorenzo was here for a reason, this morning anyway. He did enjoy watching the city go by. especially when it was his city. He would often come up and sit watching, wondering what fruits the collective unconscious of the city would produce.
The reason today was more serious and immediate. He, like every other Changeling in the city and for ten miles around it had felt the Chrysalis a few days before. It had occurred here, very close to the city hall, and Lorenzo had narrowed it down to a single street. He wasn't sure if he would be able to track the new Changeling down, but it was critical that he did so. The word had come from King Finn himself, and Lorenzo was powerless to do anything but obey his Leige.
As he scanned the crowds below, a single figure caught his gaze. A young girl, maybe twelve, maybe older, stood at a bus stop across from the City Hall, and was looking up at him. Her eyes were keener than mortals. He had a sudden idea, and began to scatter a handful of rose petals upon the soft breeze. The Glamour began to rush and weave around him.
Robin stood waiting for a bus, looking up at the figure who stood on a balcony at the City Hall. Her keen eyes could pick out his Fae Seeming, and she could feel the Glamour that surrounded the Sidhe. It felt unusual, however. It reminded her of Kestry, yet it was cold and dark in comparison. The colour and smell of the Glamour was wrong. Whatever, the Sidhe was working up a Cantrip. She felt a shiver run down her spine as the tall dark haired Changeling pointed at her. Then she saw something really amazing. A huge dragon, formed from mist and smoke, rose from behind the dome of the City Hall, and hung in the air, it's eyes seraching. And finding. It's smoky black orbs gazed at her.
"I'm not afraid. I'm going to stand here, and pretend that nothing is wrong," she whispered to herself as she began to walk away from the bus that was pulling up ready to take her to school. The mass of people were unaware of the Chimerical Serpent that writhed above them, and were deaf the the huge roar that made Robin's legs turn to jello.
"I'm totally in control, and I'm not going to run away as fast as I can and try and find Kestry or Galway."
She turned, and ran. Her legs became a blur as she sprinted down the back streets, weaving her way towards the Brick Glade. She could feel the beat of wings behind her.
"My problem, which I don't have, of course, isn't anything to do with the fact that I'm worried about Duke Kestry. Who I don't care about in the least, by the way," she puffed. She desperately looked for a place hidden away from mortal eyes. That way, she could change into the small bird who would be able to hide from her pursuers.
The dragon swooped and turned impossible angles as it followed the girl. She darted around a corner, and it followed. It was confused for an instant when it lost sight of her, but it caught sight of a tiny trembling bird that hid under it's wings on a high up window ledge. It slowed to a silent halt, and rose like warm air to the same level as the bird. The robin opened it's eyes and found itself staring into the dark orbs of the dragons gaze.
"I have no idea where they are. Get out and leave me alone, Tinkerbell!"
Peter McKibben stomped angrily out of the Ballroom, leaving Kestry frowning in his wake. Belfast Castle was busy, as the staff prepared for a function that night. The ground floor was empty, though, and had been since Kestry entered.
"Peter, wait," Kestry shouted, as he followed Peter. The young policeman walked outside, and stood in the slowy falling mist that was pouring off the top of Cave Hill. It was like slow- motion rain, and the feel of it against his face made him feel calmer.
He sensed a presence behind him, and frowned, concentrating hard. He could feel something different about Kestry. It was a quality he had never sensed before, a kind of potential. Despite (or even because) of conversations with Fletcher, his Malkavian hunting partner, on the subject of Changelings, he had never really given it much thought. Until now, and his sudden immersion in the politics of the Fae. He had enough on his plate, without worrying about a bunch of pixies and their fairy-dust problems.
The Rage began to build again, and he clutched the silver crucifix that had been a gift from Brother Brian tightly in his hand. It reminded him of so many things. Painful things. Brian was gone, and he missed him now more than ever.
Just the memory of his old friend took the pain and anger away, leaving a sense of loss in it's wake. He turned to face Kestry, who stood silently behind him.
"They left the next morning. They wouldn't say where they were going. And I didn't stop them," he told Kestry softly.
"Thank you, Peter. Is the offer still open for myself?"
Peter reached into his pocket and pulled out a key and a scrap of paper.
"Yes. I made a promise. Here," he said, handing both items to Kestry.
They stood, quietly.
"What do you really look like?" asked Peter quietly. He regretted asking almost immediately, but Kestry just smiled.
"Someday, I'll show you. But not now, and not here. You've enough to worry about."
Peter nodded, and walked back into the Castle without speaking. Kestry let him go, and sighed deeply. He walked back to the Land Rover he had borrowed from Galway.
Lorenzo sat in the small kitchen of the Manor House. Folly sat with him at the table, pale and tired looking. He moved carefully, the wound in his chest still painful despite the work of the Wishmaker. It had decided to leave him with a temporary reminder of the incident. He was watching a small Cold Iron cage, within which was a tired and frightened looking bird. It fluttered around, getting weaker all the time.
Folly spoke to Lorenzo, never taking his eyes of the bird.
"This is pretty cruel. She can't rest without being drained of Glamour, yet it can't fly around the cage forever."
"Isn't it? I'm quite pleased with it."
"What happens if she is drained of all her Glamour while still in the bird form?" he asked.
"I guess we'll soon find out."
Robin would have been in tears if robins could cry.
Lord Galway stood at the gates of Belfast Royal Academy, waiting for Robin to come out. She had told everyone that he was her Uncle, and noone questioned his presence here. She had arranged to meet him at ten o'clock, under the pretence of a dentists appointment. They were all going to the Glade, to discuss the powerful chrysalis of the small boy earlier in the week. Galway had been in Sligo at the time, and had felt it from there. Perhaps it was his affinity with Belfast, but no other Kithain had felt it. He had returned here immediately.
"Where is she?" he tutted, glancing at his watch. He suddenly realised that her exact words had been, I'll be there at ten o'clock exactly, and he groaned at his stupidity. He might be waiting here for hours. He slumped back against the wall, and hoped that Kestry would come back with the car.
Lorenzo carried the cage and the silent, motionless bird, into a small attic room. He shut and locked the door, and opened the cage. He tipped the robin onto a table, where it lay, panting like a tiny steam engine. He sat by the table and watched it.
"Poor thing, " he grinned, and tapped it. It squeeked weakly, cross yet too tired to bite. He shook his head, and let some of his own Glamour flow into it. He closed his eyes.
"Ahhhhhhh....uh.....uh......." Robin changed back into her human form, which now looked like a ruffled schoolgirl. She lay on the table, catching her breath, and trying to focus the Glamour within her. There was an icy hurt within her where the Cold Iron of the cage had left Chimerical burns on her legs and arms. She felt sick, and the influx of Lorenzo's tainted Glamour hadn't helped at all.
"I'm perfectly fine...." she sniffed, a tear welling in her eye, "I'm not scared, and I don't want my mum."
Lorenzo opened his eyes, and smiled. She looked so young, so helpless. He really didn't like Pooka in general, and he was very sure that Robin would be no different.
"We're going to have a little talk, " he told her, as she sat up on the table, " and you're going to tell me everything."
She eyed him warily.
"Of course. You'll get everything you want out of me. I'll tell you everything, " she muttered darkly, and rolled off the table. She looked frantically around for an escape route.
"I won't give you any problems, " she said, looking past him at the door, and rushing towards it.
"And I won't kick you in the guts if you try to stop me."
She ran at the door, and fumbled at the locks. Lorenzo watched her in amusement.
"My dear young girl. I had forgotten how...difficult it was getting answers from your particular breed. Very well."
He stood, and reached inside his pocket. Robin watched him in terror. He pulled out a photograph, and threw it at her. She picked it up, and felt sick.
"I believe that we can talk now, " he said, and indicated a chair for her. She nodded, and sat down in silence, clutching the photograph of her mother tightly in her tiny hand.
Kesty pulled up outside the school, and was concerned to see Galway talking with a teacher. They both looked worried. Kestry climbed out of the car and walked over.
"Ah. This is her brother, Kelly, " said Galway to the teacher, who nodded at Kestry.
"Hello, Mr McAllister. Your sister didn't come to school this morning. We had her note about the dentist from a couple of days ago, and we knew that her uncle would be here to pick her up," he said, smiling weakly at Galway, " but she just didn't come to school this morning. Noone has seen her. She didn't even get her usual bus."
Kestry and Galway exchanged looks.
"Did you phone her mother?" asked Galway, voicing both their fears. The teacher shook his head.
"I knew you would here. It seemed more immediate."
"Don't phone her. Let us handle it. She'll feel better if it comes from us."
The teacher looked relieved. It was obvious who would have to have made the call. Kestry and Galway walked back to the Land Rover, deep in thought.
The attic room was cold. Robin shivered uncomfortably as Lorenzo's eyes drilled into her.
"I could make you tell me, you know."
His voice was strong and firm. Robin could feel the Glamour within him begin to coil like a spring, ready to be unleashed at her. She didn't like it.
"No, you couldn't, she said quietly, her voice was filled with bravado. Lorenzo chuckled.
"I could. I've done it before."
He stood, and walked around the table. Robin shifted in her chair nervously, following him with her eyes.
"The first time was with a Redcap. Her name was Anna. She was acting against King Finn's interests, and he asked me to sort her out. I did."
"Did you enjoy it?" asked Robin softly. Lorenzo shook his head.
"No. It was awful. She screamed and screamed, and by the time I was finished, she had forgotten her true nature. She never did remember. I don't know what she's doing now, but she'll never see with Fae eyes again. I stripped her of all her Glamour, and handed it to the King on a plate. I still hear her screams."
He looked haunted, and his eyes were heavy with pain. Robin knew that she was beginning to draw him out. It was a peculiar ability of the Pooka, that others would reveal deep secrets to them without a second thought. Some did it without thinking, but Robin had to concentrate. It was so hard.
"Are you going to do that to me?" she asked, her voice a whisper. Lorenzo shook his head.
"No. I'm just going to threaten you a bit, and then let you go."
He looked distant for a moment, then seemed to shake it off. He turned to look at her, hate in his eyes.
"Where were we? Ah, yes. I want you to tell me everything that happened a couple of nights ago. With that Chrysalis in the city."
He sat back down in front of her.
"If you don't, I'll Ravage your mother, and she'll never be able to write again."
Robin knew that he wasn't lying about that.
Kestry and Galway stood looking at the bus stop where Robin usually got her bus from. People passed by, giving them the occasional curious glance.
"She was here, but I can't feel any trace of her now," Galway told his Duke. They both looked around in frustration.
One figure moved through the crowd towards them. The boy reached up and tugged Kestry's arm.
Kestry and Galway turned around to face Seamus, the young Redcap. He looked around, and wiggled his finger at them conspiratorially.
He wondered off towards the same back street that Robin had disappeared down earlier. Galway shrugged, and followed. Kestry looked around and did likewise. The day was nearly over, and the sun was almost down. Robin's mother would really start to worry in about an hour or so, which left them little time to sort the problem out. Standing in a shadowy doorway was a gaunt young woman. She smiled toothlessly at the three Kithain who walked toward her.
"Govain? What do you want?" asked Galway. The Slaugh opened the door and walked into the disused shop. Seamus indicated for them to follow, and he stood guard at the door.
"I'm glad you came. I might be able to help with Robin's disssappearence."
Her voice was a silken whisper, but it carried in the empty shop. Her sibiliant tone raised hairs on the back of Kestry's neck.. Galway shifted into his Fae Seeming, as did Kestry. Govain raised an eyebrow.
"Do you expect trouble? I am your faithful ssservant, Duke Kessstry. My home is yoursss."
Her words carried irony, but neither Galway nor Kestry could sense a deception.
"You sssstill don't really trussst me," she sighed, and turned away from them. She waked towards the back of the shop.
"Wait, Govain. Yes, we do. You're right, we were wrong to have accused you. But that was almost two years ago!" Kestry walked forward, his eyes pleading.
"I'm really worried about Robin. She's just a child," he said softly, as Govain stopped and turned. Her eyes glittered.
"No, she isn't. That is your second mistake. But I like her too. Seamus saw her this morning, being chased by a Chimerical Dragon. He has been trying to find you all day to tell you." Galway's face hardened, and his hand went to his belt. The huge Chimerical Sword glittered. Kestry's faced paled.
"The Smoke Dragon. Damn."
He took his mobile phone out, and tapped in a short series of numbers. Galway looked at him curiously.
"Who are you calling?"
Kestry placed the phone to his ear and sighed.
"What was his name?" Lorenzo asked, his voice a sigh. They had been at this since this morning. He was tired, and annoyed, and the little girl seemed to get brighter and more confident at each turn.
"Robert. His name was Robert. He's my brother," said Robin sincerely. Lorenzo shook his head.
"Do you know his name?" he shouted at her.
She glared at him crossly.
"I don't mind you shouting. That will help immensely, and make me much more helpful. Go on! Keep shouting!"
"Kestry was there, wasn't he?" Lorenzo asked with a slimy smile.
"No," said Robin. The Unseelie Duke nodded.
"At last. Straight answers. So he was there."
Robin shook her head. She bit her lip and forced a true answer.
"Yes. I meant yes."
It worked. Lorenzo looked bewildered.
"What? You mean he wasn't?"
"No, he wasn't. Sorry." Her smile was sweet, and made Lorenzo even more confused.
"Okay, forget it. Where is the boy? Where did he go?"
Robin narrowed her eyes, as if she was thinking hard.
"I don't know," she said, forcing another true answer out. It was harder to lie to people who she wanted to like her, but with Lorenzo, as with teachers and other bullys, it was harder to tell the truth. Lorenzo would be assuming that everything she said was a lie, since it was in a Pooka's nature to exaggerate and fib. She might be able to use it to her advantage.
And it was a lot of fun.
"Right, then. Where is he?" he asked, with a pleased smile.
"He isn't in Scotland, now. He wasn't going on the Ferry that night. I don't think he's got family in Glasgow, but I might be wrong."
Lorenzo's eyes lit up, and he scribbled down the information. Robin waited until he had almost finished.
"Nah, I was lying. I don't know where he is," she said lightly.
Lorenzo snapped the point of his pencil on the paper. He didn't look up.
"Do you want your mother never to have another original thought again? Do you?"
His words were firm and angry. Robin's stomach turned again.
"Yes, " she said, feeling the tears coming again.
Lorenzo stood, and slammed the pencil onto the table. He glared at her, and left the room, irritated and annoyed at the game. The door slammed, and the numerous locks spun and clicked.
Robin was alone, for all the good being a bird would do her. She ran around the room, her sharp eyes searching. All she could see and sense was the Glamour surrounding the whole building, which she knew to be Kestry's old Freehold. She wished he was here. He would keep her safe, with Lord Galway punching nasty Lorenzo's face in.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. She sat, cross-legged, where she had been standing. Robin shut her eyes, and gathered her remaining Glamour. Words to a song she had heard once before came to her lips unbidden, and she sang softly.
"You move me, with your buildings and your eyes, Autumn woods and Winter skies, open sea and city lights, busy streets and dizzy heights. You call me."
Glamour whipped out from her, and a warmth filled her as it came back tenfold. The old manor building opened it's soul to her, and began to whisper truths and secrets. Robin listened intently, nodding to the silent voice's instructions and directions. She smiled.
Galway was driving like a maniac through the hills that surrounded Belfast. Kestry held tightly onto the passenger bar in front of him, his thoughts faraway and long ago. He remembered the Smoke Dragon, and the way it drew it's power from the bombs and explosions of the Troubles. It's presence was a harbringer of doom and destruction, and he wondered whether it was Lorenzo's companion, or whether he belonged to it.
"Did you bring it?" he asked Galway. The Troll nodded his head towards the back of the Land Rover. Kestry turned, and saw a long heavy object, wrapped up in rags, and strapped into the back seat.
They came up to a major junction, and Kestry smiled as he saw two RUC cars blocking the roads that intersected onto theirs. Officers nodded at him as he sped past, and he silently thanked Peter for his help.
"Handy," commented Galway. Kestry nodded.
"We'll have a clear road between here and the Manor. The Police think that we're acting on a Kidnapping case. We are, I suppose."
Galway took the Land Rover around a tight corner, and shifted gears as they climbed a hill. Kestry closed his eyes, and began to prepare himself.
Lorenzo walked up to the door of the attic room, and opened the locks. As he opened the door, he shivered at the cold breeze that wafted out. For an instant he was confused, and then, as he realised what had happened, he was furious. The room was empty, except for a flapping panel in the ceiling, perfectly hidden to even Fae eyes before it had been opened.
He turned on his heel, and ran down the three flights of stairs to ground level, shouting and swearing.
"FOLLY! Folly! She's gone! Get the pistols! We'll sort her and her mother out."
The other Sidhe ran out to meet Lorenzo at the front doors. The Unseelie Duke was already weaving another Cantrip. With a hiss like a runaway steam engine, the Smoke Dragon swept down over the house, and circled above the lawn, searching for Robin. It shot off towards Belfast like a bullet a moment later, and Lorenzo smiled grimly.
"Let's go. Get the car."
Robin's wings were beating as fast as her heart. Birds of her size were not designed for long, fast flights. Lots of short bursts were more appropriate. She barely managed to get to a branch before fainting. Noone was looking, so she changed back, sitting in the branches. She puffed and puffed, her head hurting with the exertion. The sun had almost gone down, and she wondered what her mother would be thinking. Far below her was the back road between Lisburn and Belfast, and the most likely route that Kestry and Galway would take if they were going to help her.
"Why haven't they come yet?" she sniffed, wiping a tear from her eye.
She heard the flapping of great wings far above her. Looking up through the bare arms of the tree, she could make out the Smoke Dragon gliding across the sky like an errant cloud. It circled around, and whipped past the tree, making the branches shiver. Somewhere in the distance, from both behind her and in front of her, she could hear cars.
Lorenzo and Folly drove along the back road towards Belfast, the engine of the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost humming like a tuning fork. Lorenzo was leaning out the window, watching the form of the Dragon. It began to circle a few hundred yards ahead, and he narrowed his eyes in triumph. He pulled out an old Flintlock pistol, barely working to the mortal eye, but a dangerous weapon to other Changelings.
"We've got her. Just ahead," he cautioned Folly. The other Sidhe lifted his own Flintlock, and nodded.
Kestry saw the Smoke Dragon far ahead. It was swooping around in the twilight, the setting sun glinting off the dark eyes of the beast. Galway saw it a few moments later, and slammed the breaks. Both men jumped out, and Galway took the long wrapped package out of the backseat of the car. Kestry was already running towards the group of trees over which the Dragon was circling. Without a second thought, he slipped into his Fae Seeming, and began to shine brightly, as if the noon sun was reflecting off his armour and his hair. The long coat vanished to be replaced with clean silver platemail, and his longsword glowed with the perfection of a summers day. He drew it, and shouted at the Dragon.
He could see Robin shivering in the arms of the tree, and he winced at the fear he felt pouring off her. She was desperate to hide from the Dragon, but the only way was for her to slip into the Banality of her human form. She might not be able to change back, and she would forget everything.
Kestry knew that Galway was setting up behind him. It would all be a matter of timing. He was too busy watching the Dragon that he didn't notice Lorenzo step out into the road, just beyond Robin's tree. He raised his Flintlock, and aimed it at Robin.
Robin heard both cars screech to a stop, and saw two people emerge from both. They were on opposite sides of the tree, and she knew that Kestry and Galway had come for her, just in time. Lorenzo and Folly lept out, and began to split up. She couldn't see Folly, but saw Lorenzo watch Kestry run towards her. She looked back at her friend, and caught her breath as he fully came into his Sidhe Seeming. She had never seen anything so magnificent. A thought came to her, and she turned back to try to see Lorenzo. He was lifting his gun, and it was pointed at her. She shut her eyes.
There was a snap-crack of a rifle, and Lorenzo fell to the ground, clutching his arm. Kestry glanced back at Galway, whose Matchlock rifle was raised with a rock steady arm. He was so glad that the Troll was on his side, and such a good sniper. Lord Galway was still aiming, the Chimerical Matchlock rearming itself silently as his eye searched for the Dragon.
Kestry reached the bottom of the tree, and he looked up at Robin. She smiled gratefully down at him.
"I'm so glad to see you!" she cried, meaning every word. Kestry winked at her, and spun around with his sword. It struck Folly, who had been creeping up behind him. The Unseelie Sidhe gasped as the Chimerical Longsword slashed into his Fae form. He staggered back, moaning as the Glamour poured from his unreal wound, the real world encroaching upon him.
"Jump! I'll catch you!" shouted Kestry. Robin nodded, and jumped down into his arms. She planted a kiss on his cheek, and he grinned.
"I wasn't scared, you didn't have to come after me. I had it all under control, " she sniffed as
Kestry ran back towards the Landrover.
"It's not over yet, Robin, " he warned.
The Smoke Dragon screeched over their heads, and a very solid claw raked Kestry's back. He fell forward, protecting Robin as he rolled. His armour had been slit open like paper, and he could feel a damp pain in his back. Robin put her hands around his neck, and summoned up her own Glamour. The price of the Cantrip rose in her mind, and she had to bite her lip to make it come out right. Hopefully, he might think she was living up to her Pooka nature, and was lying through her teeth.
"I like you, " she whispered, just quietly enough that he wouldn't hear. It was the worst bunk she had ever enacted in her short Changeling career. However, it was enough. The magic surrounded him, and Kestry sighed as his wound disappeared.
Lord Galway, one eye shut, watched as the Dragon rushed over the Duke and flew straight at him. He pulled the trigger, and a bright flare of light erupted from the end of the barrel along with a puff of smoke. The Chimerical shot passed through the Smoke Dragon, leaving a trail of disrupted smoke and mist in it's wake. The Dragon soared past Galway, and straight up into the low cloud base, a huge scream echoing into the distance. The air was still once more.
Lorenzo staggered back to the car, and he exchanged a long gaze with Kestry, who stood up, still holding Robin in his arms. Folly limped back to Lorenzo's side, and climbed into the Rolls Royce. Lorenzo followed, and they sped quickly off.
Galway walked over to his friends, and laid a hand on Kestry's shoulder.
"Are you injured, Liege?" he asked in a deep voice. The Duke looked down at Robin, who huddled close to him. He slipped back into his mortal Seeming.
"Yeah. I loved driving that car," he said, watching the Silver Ghost disappear around a corner.
The three got into the Land Rover, and drove back into Belfast.
Robin's mother was very pleased to see her daughter. Peter McKibben flashed his badge at her, and explained that she had been clipped by a bus after school in the City Center. He told her mother how he had been passing, and had taken her to the ER department at the City Hospital. Peter explained, with the help of a forged doctor's letter, how she had just been given a fright rather than hurt, and ended by telling her that Robin was very brave, and should really be kept off school for a couple of days.
He walked back to his armoured Ford Granada, and nodded to Kestry and Galway who sat within it.
"Nice wee girl, " he commented, "but I can't believe she's a...well, one of you lot."
He started the car, and they pulled away from outside Robin's large house, just outside Belfast.
Kestry smiled, and took out a silver harp brooch from within his coat pocket. It glinted in the moonlight, and Glamour sparkled around its' edges.
"This is the symbol of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, isn't it?" he asked.
Peter glanced over.
"Roughly. The RUC badge is a little different. But it's a Harp, yeah. Why?"
Galway smiled, and looked away.
Kestry took a deep breath, and decided just to say it.
"Well, I'm gonna make you an offer you'll probably refuse..."
Peter sighed deeply. It was going to be one of those evenings.