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by Stephen J. Herron

Rumours

Wednesday February 7th 1996

The man and his wife sat huddled in a dark damp room, somewhere in the west of the city.

She was coughing, and the man was worried. She had been coughing for a week now, and it sounded painfully dry now.

"Mary," he whispered to her, "are you alright?"

She smiled weakly at him.

"Aw, of course I am. It's just a cold. You worry too much, Liam."

They held their son between them, giving him all the warmth they could. He stirred in his sleep.

Liam thought about that night when an RUC detective called McKibben had taken them all to a warm apartment. When they had asked him why he had refused to explain. They had stayed for the night, and had left early the next morning. Mary had wanted to ask if they could stay longer, but Liam was worried. He had been arrested before, and felt uncomfortable with the local police. Like so many from the poorer Catholic communities, he had no reason to love the representatives of the Government which refused to give him money or food.

Their child had started to act strangely that evening, retreating into himself, refusing to speak or eat. Matthew was a quiet child anyway, but this was unusual even for him. He had slept badly that night, though he had ate a little food that morning. He had spoken two word as they left the secured apartment.

"I remember," was all he had said, and Liam was still considering the meaning.

They had all ended up here, high up on the Falls Road, where Liam had been brought up. The old street was almost completely abandoned now, in favour of council houses further into the city. Most of the terraced houses had metal sheets across the doors, and concrete blocks in their windows, to stop vandals and squatters. Liam hadn't grown up here without learning a few things, and he had soon found them a room in one of the old places. He spoke softly to his wife.

"This used to be Mrs O'Brady's house. She died in 1984. Her son was in the Crumlin Road jail. Stole a car, and set fire to it down in the Shankill. Right nutter so he was."

Liam smiled at the memories. He could smell the soda bread that Mrs O'Brady made every morning in her small kitchen. She would keep him a bit, and he would call in on the way to school for a piece of soda with butter melting through it. His mouth watered at the memory. He closed his eyes, and could taste the fine breakfast he had loved so many years ago.

Matthew stirred, and mumbled in the middle of his dreams.

"Soda bread," he murmured, and snuggled closer to his father.

Kestry stood at the window of the safe house that Peter McKibben had arranged for him. The view was good- and he wondered how much that had to do with the young man he seemed to have so many arguments with. The sun was rising above the Holywood hills, and the lights of the city were beginning to fade. Below, the River Lagan lay calm and serene, and a few joggers puffed their way along the embankment path.

He sipped his coffee, and pulled his dressing robe tighter around him. This was were the Childling had spent his first night as a Changeling. This very place. It was less than a week since the Chrysalis, and still the Glamour echoed around the city. The Glade had seen its plant life do a month's worth of growth in a day, thanks to the infusion of Dreamstuff. How many others would have been affected? Perhaps it was time to go and meet some of the new Kithain in the city. Maybe some who didn't know what was what. That might be very useful. And a little bit fun.

Kestry lifted his mobile telephone, and tapped its keypad.

"Good Morning, my Liege, " came Galways deep voice.

"It is, isn't it? Can you pick me up?"

Robin lay in her bed, watching the alarm clock. It was very, very nearly at eight o'clock. This last minute would last almost forever, if she concentrated enough. Then she would have to get up, get washed and dressed, and leave for school. Robin usually got the bus in with her friends, but her mother had been given a scare by her little adventure last week and was still driving her to school every morning. Robin didn't really mind this, but she did miss the time with her friends.

She shut her eyes and imagined Kestry in his armour, as he smiled up at her. He had come to rescue her. That meant something. Right in the back of her mind, like an itch she couldn't scratch, she knew that it meant something.

The alarm rang, and she sighed. Time for school.

Govain sat in her empty shop, deep in the shadows behind the counter. A dusty floor hinted at mice and light footed people, and she sighed. People moved back and forth outside, making their way to work. A shaft of feeble sunlight lay upon the floor, slowly moving towards her. She flexed her muscles, and stood in a slick, liquid motion. Her arms balanced her stance, like a high-wire walker, and she tossed her hair back.

In her mortal form, as she was now, she was lithe and attractive, if painfully thin and uneasily flexible. She enjoyed the freedom of movement. She knew that others found her attractive, amongst the mortals anyway. She would go to the dark basement clubs in the hidden corners of the city, and dance with strangers. She would take them back here, make love to them and reap the Glamour that her acts would precipitate. Then she would reveal her true nature to them, and most would forget the events of the night, or if they did remember, it would be with a fading sense of cold pleasure stolen in darkness.

"Ahhhhhh......." she sighed, bending backwards until her hands and feet touched the floor, her body a snake-like arch. She flipped onto her hands, and back onto her feet again, her back against the wall of the shop.

The shop had sold leather clothing, expensive and a little bit risque. It hadn't lasted long in Belfast, where the hypocritical influence of the Churches had slammed the store for it's more evocative goods. And some of her best customers had been of the so-called Faithful.

Govain pictured The Brick Glade in her mind, and she flickered out of reality, to appear moments later a half mile away, inside the Glade's walls.

The candles within the underground chamber sprung into life, and the massive sentence of the Glade rumbled into consciousness.

"Govain," it spoke, the echoes of the word reverberating off the walls. The Sluagh smiled her toothless smile.

"Gohain," she said, and was amused by the similarity of their names. In an ancient tongue, they meant nearly the same thing as well. There was a link beyond the similarity of name. The two had a long history shared history.

"Welcome," said the Glade, and a chair appeared as if from nowhere. It was made from blackened roots and twisted vines, and seemed out of place in the simplicity of the chamber. Govain sighed, a long silken rasp, and danced over to the chair.

"You remembered, " she whispered, deeply satisfied.

Sean O'Neil was a Boggan. He was in his early fifties, very very old for a Changeling, and had a little of his black hair left. He was round and short, and looked like someone's grandfather. He had been aware of his nature since the late 1960's, when he began to work as a volunteer worker at the YMCA in Belfast. His heart had gone out to the homeless and the poor of the city back then, and he knew that he had to do something about it. Within a month of starting, he underwent his Chrysalis. This was just before the start of the Troubles, when Catholics were being severely treated by the Protestants of the country, especially here in Belfast. He didn't care why, but made his priority the safety and well-being of all those affected by the political differences. Within the walls of the YMCA, there were only People. He worked closely with the manager of the YWCA a few hundred yards away, and between them, they made a little bit of a difference.

Sean had been working there for nearly thirty years. He had been Manager for most of that time, but had recently retired from that work, feeling the pain of Banality. He had forgotten his Kithain background several times over the years, and had it not been for the help of many fellow Kithain who were now dead or lost to Banality themselves, he would have become just another casualty of reality.

Some days it hurt more than others. But very recently, two important things had happened to change all that.

Firstly, an old friend became a brother. The Old Man, as he liked to be called, was a Nocker who had, himself, rediscovered his nature. Sean had known him for the previous few years, and had been saddened by the death of his wife. He regretted not having been able to go to her funeral. Kestry had asked to represent him at the graveside, and Sean had agreed, although he had been baffled at the time. Now he understood clearly. The Old Man and Sean had done a lot of talking since then.

Secondly, his heart had been filled with Glamour by the Chrysalis of an unknown Changeling a week before. This event had shaken up all of the city's Kithain, especially the older ones who had been slipping into Banality. Not only had that cold reality been kept at bay by the birth, but Glamour had rushed into the soul of every Kithain across the city center.

This meant something big was happening. Kestry had not been able to answer any questions, and had been as surprised as everyone, but the priority now was to find the homeless boy and his family, before Lorenzo and the Shadow Court.

Kestry had charged Sean with keeping the doors of the YMCA open for the family, something a little bit outside the organisations functions. Sean had agreed, and even though he had retired, the YMCA still allowed him full access and veto at the facilities.

He sat in the cafe downstairs, looking down the long corridor to the front doors. A steaming cup of coffee sat in his hands, and he enjoyed the warmth from it in his old hands. Sean remembered the old days, when, as a Wilder, he would rant and rave about how people weren't being looked after properly. He would go into his office at lunch, and craft small toys for the children. Their parents would give him curious looks as he handed their children small crudely carved wooden shapes, and then shake their heads in wonder at the amount of joy and pleasure the child would get out of playing with it. And sometimes, maybe, they would understand, and see the potential in such a simple item.

Those days were long since past for Sean.

"Mr O'Neil? Don't get up."

The voice sent shivers through him. He looked up, and saw a tall, thin man look down at him. He thought for a moment that it was a Sluagh he had never seen before, but then realisation struck him. He tried to move, but the gaze of the Sidhe held him motionless.

"My name is Lorenzo. I'm your Duke, Sean, and I thought it was about time we had a little chat."

Lorenzo took a seat beside the Boggan, and patted him on the shoulder.

"Very good. Well, " he said, straightening his coat, "I'm here for the child. You know the one."

Sean sipped his coffee, and was ashamed to see his hands tremble.

"What about him? He's not been here," he snarled at the Sidhe. Lorenzo tutted, and shook his head.

"Now, now. Is that anyway to talk to your Duke?" he asked, an amused smile coming to his lips. Sean tried to look away, but there was something about the Duke's gaze that made him feel giddy.

"No, sir, " he said automatically.

"Good. Now, " said Lorenzo, releasing the Boggan from his gaze, "I am going to give you a message for your friend Kestry."

Lorenzo took his hand from his pocket, and Sean could see a bandage wrapped tightly around it.

"Did you hurt your hand, Liege?" said Sean with a dark smile.

Lorenzo's gaze hardened, and he used his good arm to lift a knife from the table top. With a swift movement, he slammed it through Sean's hand into the table, where it became firmly stuck.

The Boggan's eyes bulged, but he kept in a scream. His eyes watered, and tears of agony poured down his face. Lorenzo, having looked almost flustered, regained his composure.

"Yes, my hand has been injured. Doesn't feel very nice, does it?" he said, taking an envelope from the inside pocket of his coat, with his bandaged hand. He slapped it on the table across from the Boggan.

"Get blood on it, and I'll come back and make you blind, you old fool, " hissed Lorenzo into the Boggan's ear. Sean just nodded, feeling faint.


The next week went by quickly.

King Finn returned to Belfast with Kestry, and he held a council at the Castle. There, the King announced the end of the War, and the exile of Lorenzo and the Vikings. He gave Freeholds back to their rightful owners, and apologised for his actions.

Kestry gave back the Duchy of Down to Michael, Aishling's brother, and King Finn gave Kestry back the Duchy of Belfast.

Duke Kestry ap Liam of Belfast was thrown a party that lasted a whole week.

The Rebels met with Malcolm, who explained why and how, and told them that he would need them again, when he was ready to come into his heritage. Their story had not ended. This had been merely the first chapter.

Lord Galway offered the Brick Glade as the new Ducal Manor- no one really wanted to go back to the old one, after all that had happened there.

Kestry got stuck into being Duke again, and quickly began to reverse the damage done by Lorenzo.

And the Wishmaker ?

Let's just say it's in safe keeping.

Duke Kestry ap Liam sits in the Ducal Chambers of the Brick Glade. King Finn of Ulster sits with him, dressed like Kestry, in tidy casual clothing.

"So, it's been a month. How are you settling back into your role ?" asked Finn.

Kestry smiles and sips his tea. "It's good. I'm rebuilding things, getting the town back in shape. Lorenzo did a lot of damage, to the Fae, the Dreamers, and the city itself."

Finn nodded. "I don't know how to make it up to you, Kestry. I let Lorenzo torture you..."

Kestry shakes his head. "It's in the past. I'm just glad to have my friend back."

Finn smiles sadly, and nods. He sips his tea. "How are the Rebels ?" he asks. Kestry thinks a moment.

"Lady Eithne took up her role as a Knight well. She's coming along very nicely. She wears the emblem of an axe, in memory of Giant."

Finn nods. "She's a beautiful woman. She'll need all her fighting skills to keep the young Sidhe nobles at arms length."

Kestry grinned. "Rocky is concentrating on his boxing career. He's promised to help the young ones in West Belfast, keeping their dreams of hope alive."

Then he smiled. "And Robin is still Robin. And I'd not have her any other way."

"What has she been doing ?" asks Finn. "She's been seeing her mother, since she was away from her for so long. She meets up with Eithne and Rocky once a week. And she's here at the Brick Glade a lot as well."

Kestry smiles warmly, and sips his tea. "Without them, I'd never have made it. Without her."

Finn nods, and raises his tea cup. "To the Rebels. And their Stories Yet To Come."

Kestry clinks his cup off the Kings. They laugh at their unusual toast, and choice of drink.

"What about Matthew ?" asks Finn. Kestry laughs. "Malcolm left him back with his parents, and gave them a house, and a car, and all of his money. Then he left. Only the Rebels know where he is, and they're not saying. To be honest," said Kestry, smiling ruefully, "I don't really want to know where he is. I think I'd be surprised and a bit worried. Our future High King is probably standing outside a train station somewhere with a guitar and a hat trying to get enough change to buy his dinner."

King Finn laughs, a sound like music. "Quite an image, Kestry ! Let's hope he's a good guitar player !"

Kestry laughs. He sighs, and looks more serious. He places his Harper's Brooch on the table in front of him, and watches the candle light glint off the silver and steel.

"The Harpers were there for you, my King," says Kestry. Finn nods. "I know. That's why I gave them to you. I knew that I'd need you someday. You saved me. You saved the Kingdom."

"Me ? I don't know. It wasn't just me."

Finn shrugs. "I know. But you led them. You're a natural leader. They followed without question."

Kestry shakes his head. "I wish they'd asked more questions. It might have saved some of them."

He sighs. "What about Lorenzo ?"

Finn sips from his cup, and sighs. "He's in America, I've heard. He'll make new allies, but he can never step foot back on Irish soil. The land itself will reject him."

"Is that punishment enough ?" asks Kestry.

Finn nods. "Imagine never coming home, Kestry. Imagine the land you love never accepting you. Is there a better punishment ?"

Kestry shivered. "No. No there's not."

They were silent for a while, each deeply involved with their own thoughts.

"I had a Dreaming about the future," says Finn casually. Kestry sits forward, intrigued.

"Really ? Do go on."

Finn grins. "You'll be doing a lot of travelling. The United States. "

Kestry nods, fascinated. "What else ?" he asks.

"You'll be Duke for a while. Until your final destiny calls you to the Role that all this has been preparing you for."

Kestry blinks. "Really ? Sounds a bit ominous."

He drinks his tea, deep in thought.

"Anything else ?"

Finn pauses before answering, and he can't help but smile. He remembers this part of the Dream the best. It was the bit with flour and water, and smiles and laughter and the promise of love and Dreams and butterflies. It makes him feel happy, and for so long he felt only bitterness and pain.

And he knows that Kestry will eventually be rewarded by Destiny for his work in Belfast. A reward beyond words, beyond description… and beyond the wildest guess that Kestry could ever have made.

King Finn sips from his cup before he answers. "I hope you like nightingales…"

The End

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