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by Stephen J. Herron

The Last Choice

Duke Kestry of Down stood at the bedside of the woman he had loved, before his exile. When he had come back, he had hoped that he would eventually be able to make things right with her, after his experiences with the Eshu herald of King Brand, he wasn't sure if he could love the Duchess again. He had been wrong. Not only had he still loved her, his love had been forged stronger..

"Sometimes I wonder if I'm more House Fiona than Liam," he commented to Galway. The Troll nodded, his eyes filled with tears.

"Will she live ?" he asked Michael, her youngest brother. He was a medical student, and had arranged for Aishling to be cared for here in the Manor.

"Yes. Just. But her Seeming. It's mortal now. The Duchess is gone."

Kestry wept then, kneeling by the bed, and clutching her hand. He wept for her, he wept for Shaheen and he wept for himself. Galway was crying too. Michael was long past tears.

"Sir," he said to Kestry, "You have to decide what to do now."

Kestry looked up at her brother. "I'm only the Duke in name. It was part of our plan, she'd get the title back... I don't deserve it."

He sat heavily on the floor, defeated.

Michael sighed. "You've got to face Lorenzo. Otherwise we lost her for nothing. Get Belfast back, and we can worry about Down later."

The Duke was lost in his despair, only darkness in his heart. His soul bled, his soul was cut to ribbons. He felt Banality tug at his dreams.

Then he felt a gentle touch upon his heart, a hint, a whisper of what had once been her. He opened his eyes, and looked at her face.

She was peaceful, quiet, and so ordinary. And beautiful.

His enemy had tried to remove her beauty from the world, and had failed. Lorenzo would always fail, and Aishling lay there as proof of his failure.

He knelt by her side, and kissed her brow gently. She shifted in her bed slightly, and a hint of a smile appeared on her lips. She would live, and love, and she would never remember Kestry or her heritage, except in her deepest Dreams.

Now she was a Dreamer, and Kestry would protect her.

Kestry stood up, tall and defiant.

"Right. Time to go. We're going to find Lorenzo."

Galway nodded, and they left the small room without looking back.

King Finn walked the halls of Emain Macha. His mind was racing, and he knew that something was about to happen. Something big. He could sense endings in the air.

Lorenzo was waiting for him at the entrance to the Throne Room.

"What do you want ?" the King asked Lorenzo

"I've arranged to meet with Kestry for our little duel. Except it'll be a trap, and we'll get him and the boy."

Finn nodded. "Good. Where will this take place ?"

Lorenzo smiled. "The Kings Seat, in Antrim."

Finn nodded. He smiled at Lorenzo. "Good. I will be there.

Lorenzo left.

Finn walked into his Throne Room, and looked up at the vaulted ceiling. Shadows played about the beams, and Dark Glamour glittered like frost on the nails and metal work.

"So. This is how it will end," he murmured.

It's raining.

The cemetery is cold and quiet, only the sound of distant traffic was a reminder of the city beyond the trees. The air is cold, promising snow later, and softly announcing the presence of Winter.

Standing by a new grave, the flowers still fresh upon the ground in front of the clean new gravestone, are four figures.

Eithne is crying, holding Robin's hand. Robin is sniffling into her hankie. Rocky holds Matthew's hand, and is looking down at the flowers sadly. The little boy is sad, but distracted, He keeps looking over at an old man standing by another grave.

He slips his hand out of Rocky's and walks over to the grieving man.

"Hello ?" he asks quietly. The Old Man looks down at him.

"Hello, boy," he says softly. His eyes are red from tears. Matthew looks at the inscription on the grave.

"She was your wife ?" he asks. The Old Man nods. "Yes. I miss her."

Matthew sighs, and looks into the Old Man's eyes. "You're a Changeling as well, aren't you ?" he asks. The Old Man grins, and Matthew can see his nose grow, long and pointed, his eyebrows swirled and grand, and his cheeks ruddy.

"I'm a Nocker," he smiles.

"I'm Matthew," replies Matthew.

Robin appears by his side. "Goodbye," she says to the Old Man, "I wasn't here before. When your wife wasn't buried."

The Old Man nods.

"I recognise you, wee girl. You were here with the Duke."

"Ex Duke," says Eithne, who along with Rocky has now joined the small group.

"I see." says the Old Man. He reaches into his pocket, and takes out a beautifully crafted wooden ball, the size of a small child's heart. It is inlaid with brass and silver, gold and ebony. It lifts itself off his hand, and it whirs and chirps as it rises, spinning slowly at first, then with increasing speed. The patterns that decorated its' sides begins to blur, and a soft note begins to rise, a perfect middle C.

Robin coos with delight, and Matthew giggles. Rocky narrows his eyes thoughtfully, while Eithne's eyes fill with hope.

"This is the Wishmaker. I made it a long time ago, and it'll soon be time to give it to its true owner. In the meantime," says the Old Man quietly, "I would like you to give it to Kestry."

"But... isn't it too dangerous just to hand out ?" asked Rocky. The Old Man nodded. "Yes. Yes it is, but it will be needed. The risk is worthwhile."

Eithne took it, and stared at it.

"It grants wishes..." she said softly. She looked at the Old Man with hope in her eyes. He smiled very sadly.

"There are only three things it cannot do, child." He looked down at the grave of his wife, and sighed. "This is one of them. Believe me, I know. Don't think I haven't tried."

Eithne cast her eyes down, her hopes shattered. The Old Man put a gnarled hand on her head, and gently smoothed her hair in sympathy.

"I know. I had a lifetime with my true love. I told her every day that I loved her. But I would give up the rest of my days for a chance to tell her once more. And the pain of her absence will be in my heart until I die. "

Eithne nodded.

"I understand," she said simply, because she did.

The Old Man turned back to his wife's grave, back to his grief.

The Rebels walked off, and Eithne held the Wishmaker in her hands. She turned to Giant's grave, and closed her eyes.

"I wish he knew that I loved him," she whispered.

Robin's birdlike hearing heard each whispered word, and she sighed.

She had made that wish a thousand times herself.

Galway drove his Land Rover up the drive to Lorenzo's Ducal Manor. Kestry sat beside him, quiet angry, but focused. They had arrived in Belfast via the Kings Road, an indication of official business, a rule that any noble had to follow. It meant, of course, that Lorenzo would know he was coming. But that was fine, that was what Kestry wanted.

The Manor was silent, and the pair walked up to the door. It swung open.

"LORENZO !" yelled Kestry, the word echoing through the empty rooms. Kestry stepped into the hallway, followed by Galway.

"There's no one here," breathed the Troll. Kestry was frustrated. He hadn't expected this.

"Where is he ?" he shouted. Galway was helpless to answer.

"He said to meet him here," insisted Galway. "He knew what would happen if he didn't turn up. He knows the Eschat, especially when it comes to something this serious." Kestry stared at Galway, confused.

"He must now that he'll lose by default ! What's he planning ?"

Somewhere in the Manor, a door opened. Kestry was suddenly still, listening. Galway silently moved to a better position, to see up the staircase, as footsteps progressed along the upper landing.

Then a voice echoed down the stairs.

"Lorenzo is at the Kings Seat, in Antrim. He waits for you there." Sir Vasrik appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Hello, father." he said to Galway. "You may not call me that," replied Galway, his expression dark. Kestry was amazed to see such a look of hate upon his friend's face.

Vasrik began to walk down towards them, taking out a long club with bent and bloody iron nails through it.

"How about 'Daddy', then ?" he chuckled.

Galway drew his own axe.

"The new Duke of Down," grinned Vasrik. He nodded in mock respect. "I'm sorry about your predecessor, by the way..." he said, and he took a flake of dried blood from off his club. He tasted it, and smiled.

Kestry's jaw dropped open in horror.

"You..." he whispered, stunned by anger.

Galway lifted his arm and threw his axe with a mighty shout. It shattered the club, and Vasrik staggered back a step with the force of the impact. Then he was up the stairs in one massive step and grabbed his evil son.

"You tried to murder Aishling," he spat at Vasrik, "and I'll make you sorry for that."

Vasrik headbutted Galway hard, and the older Troll staggered back, his nose broken. Then Vasrik punched him, hard. Kestry had to step back to avoid being crushed by his friend. He knelt down and helped Galway back up.

"I'm only sorry that I failed," scowled Vasrik, and he drew a long curved blade. "I'll not be so lax with your execution, father," he snarled, and he leapt upon Galway.

He cried out as the blade cut deep into his arm, but he managed to roll out of the way of a killing blow.

Kestry punched Vasrik in the guts, and swung again, connecting with his jaw. The Troll flinched twice, but swatted the Sidhe easily away.

Galway took the distraction offered by Kestry, and smashed his mighty fists down onto the back of Vasrik's neck.

Stunned, Vasrik fell to his knees. Galway planted a kick into the small of his back, and Vasrik collapsed.

"Finish the job," he groaned. Kestry was pulling himself up, and watched Galway. His friend took his axe, and paused. Then he put it back into the sling upon his back, and walked away. Kestry hurried after him.

"There's no way I could kill him," he explained. Kestry nodded.

"I understand."

Kestry turned back to see Vasrik pulling himself back up, and aiming a gun at him.

"I'll save Lorenzo the trouble, Kestry."

He was about to pull the trigger, when Galway's axe ploughed into him. Vasrik, looking surprised, fell back. He was dead.

Kestry looked at his friend. Galway's face was calm. "I've always thought of you as my son," he told Kestry quietly, "It wasn't hard to throw that axe."

Kestry smiled, and patted the Trolls arm. Galway nodded, and they walked out of the Manor.

They drove back to Belfast Castle, and waiting there in the grand ballroom were the Rebels, Matthew and Malcolm. They stared at Kestry and Galway. They looked as if they had important news.

They did. "It's today." said Matthew.

Kestry and Galway exchanged looks. "It's now." said Matthew.

"The Kings Seat ?" asked Kestry. Matthew nodded.

"It's a trap," said Galway.

Matthew nodded. He looked up at Malcolm. "You know what to do ?" Malcolm nodded.

Matthew looked back to Kestry. "Three of us will be going. This is the last time we'll speak like this."

Kestry sighed. "Alright. Let's go."

The sun had set, and night had begun. There was no guarantee that it would ever end.

The pit fell dark and deep below them. Why it was here, and how it was built was information lost in time. But within it lay the darkest nightmares of the people of Ireland, every hate filled daydream and murderous fantasy filled the Pit nearly to the brim with darkness. If it led to Hell no one would be surprised.

It breathed in hate, fear, and kept it in, as if tensed and ready for a violent exhalation of concentrated evil.

It wasn't hard to find. The King's Seat was a popular place to visit, an interesting overgrown hill near the motorway. But only the eyes of the Fae could make out the twisted path to the small cave entrance that led deep inside the hill. It was, in a way, a twisted version of Emain Macha, but as it had once been a mighty fort, the Kings Seat was a blister, a bulge of poison and evil on the face on the land.

Lorenzo and Folly stood on the flagstones that edged the pit, and stared down. The Abyss stared back.

Folly took a step back, his face white. Lorenzo leant over the Pit, and spat down it. He took a step back, grinning. A fetid blast of ichor slammed into the ceiling and barely missed him. He chuckled.

"Lorenzo, no offence, but that was a stupid thing to do," Folly said, his voice trembling.

The Duke turned to him and raised an eyebrow. "Oh really ?" he inquired dangerously. Folly shook his head.

"Forget I spoke," he mumbled. Lorenzo nodded. "For your sake, I shall." "Lorenzo. Don't move."

Kestry stepped into the Chamber, his gun pointing at Lorenzo. Behind him was Galway, with Matthew in his arms, cradling him. The boy was playing with a ball.

"Duke Kestry ! Welcome !" said Lorenzo expansively.

"You lost by default," said Kestry , carefully covering Lorenzo as he walked further into the Chamber.

"What ?" asked Lorenzo irritably, then he smiled. "Oh, the duel. Completely forgot about it."

Kestry shook his head. "I don't believe you."

Lorenzo looked a bit doubtful for a moment then shrugged. "No, really, I don't remember. Really. The King ordered me to be here, so here I am." Kestry stopped.

"The King ? Why would he do that ? He knows the rules..." Lorenzo and Kestry stared at each other, and they both knew that they had been set up, for different reasons.

Galway started to move towards the way out, and Kestry turned on his heel to follow, but the entrance to the chamber was blocked by another figure

The King entered the stone chamber, and even Lorenzo shivered. Finn was icy with Dark Glamour. He looked at Kestry, then Galway, then he smiled at Matthew.

"Come here, boy." he said. Matthew looked up at Galway, who frowned, and handed the child to the King.

"GALWAY !" screamed Kestry, disbelief and horror across his face. Lorenzo grinned.

"Well, if all I had to do was ask, we'd have finished this months ago," he laughed. The King picked up the boy, who still held his ball close to his chest. Then Finn surveyed the chamber, and the pit.

"This is the place then." he said, his voice filled with unreadable emotion.

Lorenzo nodded. "Yes."

Finn smiled. "This is where I will be betrayed."

Folly blinked, and Lorenzo looked a bit confused. Kestry was staring at Finn. He couldn't bring himself to look at Galway.

"Er..." Lorenzo said, trying to gauge the King's words, his mood. He couldn't.

"You do not know yourself, Lorenzo. There is a Geas upon you, that you are unaware of. Your mind is being used by another, for some unknown purpose."

Lorenzo felt uncomfortable. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that the King was right.

"I have known of your passenger for some time, but I did not know who it might be until now. Until you asked me to come here."

Now Lorenzo looked worried. "You asked me to come here, My Liege."

Finn shook his head. "See ? You cannot even remember the moment. You came to me earlier this very day, and told me that you would have Kestry and the High King in your custody here, now. When you mentioned the Kings Seat, I knew who you were working for."

Folly looked around nervously. The shadows around the edge of the vast chamber were dancing in the flickering light, pulling fear from his heart.

Lorenzo shook his head, and stepped back from the Pit. "No... you're lying... I've helped you every step of the way..."

The King smiled. "Why didn't you turn up for the duel with Kestry ?" he asked. Lorenzo opened his mouth to reply... then realised that he didn't know the answer.

Kestry tried to move slowly around the chamber, closer to the King. Desperation ran through his mind. Could he get Matthew from the King and survive.

The King was ignoring him, still intent on Lorenzo. "Lorenzo. What House are you ?"

The Sidhe looked around fearfully. "Eiluned..." he said. The King shook his head.

"Try again," he suggested, and lifted his hands. Light danced around his fingers, and leapt at Lorenzo, who fell to his knees in agony as the blocks in his memory were torn open.

"Balor... I'm Lorenzo ap Balor..." he stuttered though a grimace of pain. Then it stopped, and he looked up.

"I remember.." he said.

A figure stepped from the shadows. She slipped a knife into Kestry's side, and he went down, his flintlock clattering into the pit. Blood seeped from the wound, though not dangerously so. He pushed Glamour into the deep cut, and it started to heal. But the woman just stepped over him, and closer to Lorenzo.

"Hello, cousin," said Doireanna to Lorenzo. He looked around at her, and smiled. He saw Kestry on the floor and winked at him.

"My dearest Doireanna ! You have been a busy girl," he said, grinning warmly.

"So you remember who I am ?" she asked.

"Only one of the most violent, unpleasant Changelings I've ever known. Accomplished terrorist, and the power behind the Shadow Court in Ulster." She smiled.

"Not quite the power, but yes, you've basically covered it all. Oh, and the one who will sacrifice the High King to Balor in order to secure him a place in this world. Thanks to you, Lorenzo. Nicely done."

Lorenzo nodded. "Oh yes. I think I remember something else." He pulled a gun, and fired a single shot at the woman. She stepped to one side, but the round caught her in the side. There was a cloud of red, and she fell to the ground, moaning softly in pain.

"I told you I'd kill you if I remembered."

King Finn chuckled, and Folly looked around for an escape route. He took his chance and ran. Lorenzo pointed the gun at his back, but didn't fire. Folly disappeared into the labyrinth of tunnels.

"Why didn't you kill him ?" asked Finn. Lorenzo shrugged.

"Hard to find good cronies without killing them."

He pointed the gun at King Finn. "Now. I'm starting to remember a few things. Like how I was meant to get you into the Pit as well."

Finn said nothing, his face was a mask. "But you are my King. So," he said, putting the gun back into it's holster, "lets throw this bitch in instead."

Finn smiled. "What about Matthew ?" he asked.

"The High King ? Well. Doireanna wants him dead, so we'll keep hi alive. Raise him our way, and make sure that Winter in Ulster never ends."

Lorenzo looked very pleased. Kestry and Doireanna were wounded and at his mercy. Galway was frozen in place, unmoving, and the boy was theirs.

"A good day's work," he commented to no one.

Then the Smoke Dragon arrived. It formed from the smoke of cordite in the air from the gunshot, and it's wings filled the vast chamber. The pit rumbled, and a horrid hint of brimstone filled the air.

"What do you want ?" asked Lorenzo. The Dragon grinned, and with a swipe of its claw, Lorenzo was pinned to the wall. Doireanna got up, and ran painfully across the room, and grabbed his gun.

"Nice to see you," she said to the Dragon. It nodded to her, then turned its attention back to Lorenzo.

"I've been waiting for this, you uncivilised cur," it murmured to Lorenzo.

"Don't," said Doireanna. The Dragon whined.

"Ah, go on," it pleaded. She grinned.

"Not yet."

Then she winced. She was losing blood, and she knew she didn't have a lot of time. "Now. You," she said to Finn, who still held Matthew, "get in there."

She indicated the pit with a wave of the gun. Finn looked at her, then at Matthew.

Time takes on an urgency.

A feeling of now, of right now.

Matthew smiles up at Finn, and holds the ball up to show him. "Make a wish," he whispers.

King Finn smiles, and closes his eyes.

Doireanna watches as the ball rises, spinning. The Wishmaker flares, bright as the sun, and it engulfs both the King and the boy. Ice forms on the walls of the chamber, and the pit is alight with Glamour, Dark Glamour that pours into it from Finn, here, in the only place in Ulster where so much tainted power could be placed.

No one can move.

Kestry, now healed, pushes himself back against the wall.

Galway isn't there. Some one else stands in his place, and it was him all along, not the Troll. The figure smiles. Glamour shines around the golden torc that is wrapped around his neck, and ancient magic unravels to show the wearers true form.

Doireanna can only stare at the power being called forth. The High King and the Wishmaker reweave Finn, making him new, clean, pure, reversing three decades of corruption.

Doireanna screams and runs forward. The light clears, and Finn stands there, radiant, a being of Light and Life. He looks beautiful. Matthew is grinning at him, and hands him the Wishmaker. Finn sets him down, still dazed from the experience.

Then Doireanna has the boy, and lifts him, and throws him into the pit.

She stands over the pit, watching. Finn falls to his knees, and then passes out, overwhelmed by his reweaving. Kestry screams out in horror, and runs for Doireanna. Her expression has turned to one of disappointment, and she aims the gun at the little boy who is holding onto a ledge, a few feet into the pit. His fingers are slipping, and long black tendrils are arcing up towards him. One wraps around his leg, and starts to pull. He's crying.

The pit wants to unwrap his flesh like paper. It wants the real gift, the soul of the future High King of Ireland.

Doireanna is about to fire. Kestry just won't reach her in time.

But Malcolm does.

Wrapped in Glamour, he had taken on the appearance of Galway, a wild card to be played when the time was right.

The time is now.

Malcolm is behind her, and he takes her hand, the one holding the gun, and snaps it casually. He picks her up and throws her into the heart of the pit. He reaches down, and takes Matthews hand.

He pulls, but the tendril is stronger than even him. It pulls, and now Malcolm is the only link to the world that Matthew has left.

They look at each other.

"Choose," says Ardry through Matthew's mouth.

Malcolm smiles slightly. "Did I ever really have a choice ?" he asks rhetorically. He chooses.

Ardry's soul shifts, leaps, leaves Matthew, and Malcolm's soul is released from two hundred years of pain, undeath. It flees, to it's final reward.

And Malcolm is Ardry.

The tendrils let go of the child's leg, now that he is just a mortal child. There is no reason to hold him. Malcolm pulls him easily out, and the pit closes behind them.

Time slows down again.

Lorenzo looked at the scene, and the Smoke Dragon looked at him. It let him go, "Sorry about that," it apologises. Lorenzo eyes it carefully.

"You were under her control " he asks it.

"Er, yes."

Lorenzo looked doubtful.

King Finn pulls himself to his feet, helped by Kestry. "I'm sorry..." whispered the King to Kestry.

"I know."

Finn had tears in his eyes, as the memories of what he had done, to Kestry, to so many, filled his heart. He wept.

Lorenzo started to edge out. The Dragon turned into a cloud of smoke, and vanished, taking the easy way out.

"Stop." said the King. Lorenzo stopped. He looked over at the King, and smiled grimly.

"It wasn't my fault," he lied. "Doireanna was pulling my strings. She's gone now."

Kestry shook his head. "You were the perfect tool for her work. You didn't need much direction, Lorenzo."

The Duke of Belfast shrugged. "So what now ? We fight ?" he smiled, and he pulled out his sword. Kestry stepped forward, and drew his own blade.

"At last." whispered Lorenzo.

"No."

The voice was that of Ardry. He stood tall in his new body, and shook his head. "There has been enough fighting."

King Finn nodded. "Lorenzo, you are to leave. You may never return to Ulster. I will ensure that the exile includes the rest of Hibernia."

Lorenzo narrowed his eyes. He couldn't believe it. "So, I get to walk away ? After everything I've done. The death of that boy, of Aishling, of all those innocent people?"

Kestry looked at Finn in frustration. He wanted to fight Lorenzo, to plunge his sword through his black heart.

Finn, wise, perfect, looked deep into Kestry's eyes, and the Duke of Down felt his soul touch the Kings.

And would that bring her back ? Bring back Giant ? Bring back all the dead of the last 30 years ? Would they thank you for adding to the blood ? Three thousand lives call out for peace. Who are you to ignore them ? Sparing him will save your own soul.

Kestry nodded, and cast down his eyes and his sword. It hit the ground with a steely clatter. Lorenzo moved towards the mouth of the chamber.

"I'll leave. Your wisdom is as I remember it, King Finn. As is your mercy. And you remain as foolish as ever. Still," he sighed, "I'll be going." Lorenzo turned on his heel, and left.

Kestry waited for him to go, then he picked up his sword, and threw it after him. It slid into the wall beside Lorenzo's head. He stopped, but didn't look back. Then he was gone.

King Finn lay his hand on Kestry's shoulder. "He will never trouble us again."

Kestry wanted to believe him.

Malcolm sighed. "Time to go. I have to visit the Rebels, and then leave Matthew back with his family."

Kestry nodded. "What then ?" Malcolm smiled. "I think I'll tour the island. After that... well, I don't know. It will be a while before my time comes. I think I'll get to know the world before I change it."

He looked at Finn, and at Kestry. He grinned. "You'll see me again. You have some work to do now, getting things back to normal. Good luck."

He held Matthews hand, and walked out of the Chamber with the boy. King Finn and Kestry watched them leave. Then they left too.


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


The Belfast Child by Stephen J. Herron

Credits

This is the part of the movie where the lights go up and you start to file out of the theatre.

I hope you are the type who sits and watches the names roll up the screen. I know that I am.

The story has finally ended. At least, this one has.

Many remain to be told.

I started writing this story late in 1995, and now, three years later, I'm happy with the finished work, apart from some bits here and there which I may fix later.

The Belfast Child could not have been written without the help and inspiration given by others.

I would like to thank the following.

Boon, Rick, John, and Joanne for being the original inhabitants of Belfast by Night, the source of all the WoD adventures in my city.

Jim Gaynor, for being the first place to give the stories a home.

Ian Lemke, Nicky Rea and Jackie Cassada along with White Wolf, for making my own Dreams come true.

Jane Lambert, for taking on the stories, and giving them their new and final home.

Helen, Paul, Cathy, Mouse, Barry, and even Gary for playing the Rebels and their allies so well.

I'd like to thank Zahida, for once being my Autumn and the inspiration for my favourite part of the tale.

I'd also like to thank Stephanie for reminding me how fragile Dreams can be, and Helen P. for showing me how Friendship is eternal.

Book Two and Three would never have been written without the support of my friends at Firnost, but you know who you are, and if I mention Jimmy, Sav, Naoise, Thea and of course Gale, I'd be just scratching the surface… If you hadn't have been there, I'd not have bothered finishing the stories !

At least that's what I think. Stories, as the Shanachie might say, have a way of writing themselves, and they sometimes just use the writer in order to escape. That's how it felt sometimes.

Book One was written on a Psion Series 3a palmtop, and a handbuilt 386 PC.

Books Two and Three were written on a Psion Series 5 palmtop and a handbuilt Pentium PC.

Music was listened to on a variety of formats, including MP3, CD, Tape and on one occasion, vinyl. A lot of albums have come and gone in that time... I'd like to thank Simple Minds for the theme tune of the novel, and Enya and Mike Oldfield for the soundtrack and incidental music. The Corrs provided some of the love themes, and Horslips filled in some of the gaps quite nicely.

I found this in the editorial of the News Letter, on October 9th 1998, the day I finished writing the Belfast Child.

"If Glasgow can be the City of Culture, and Leeds the City of Light, then surely Belfast can become the City of Dreams."

The Belfast Child is dedicated to the Children of Belfast, past, present and future.

Thank you all.

Stephen J. Herron

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