by Stephen J. Herron
May 11th 1996
A cool breeze came down off the mountains, as the sun disappeared behind them. Today had been warm, for this time of year, and the night promised to be pleasant. The stars glittered in the deep blue black sky, and a few clouds caught the last red and violet of the sunset.
Belfast was already lit up, bright and sparkling, ready for the nightlife to make it its own. The town bustled with late night shopping, and seemed even busier than it had been during the day.
Even in the lesser used parts of the city center, people moved back and forth, parking in front of the abandoned shops and apparently empty derelict buildings.
The Rebels Rest was lit up by soft candlelight, just enough to read by. The tenants definitely didn't want to be noticed, not now, not with the guest they had staying.
Malcolm stood by the door, senses extended to outside. The sun down, his powers were now beyond the comprehension of those he protected, bar perhaps one.
Matthew slept soundly in the small camp bed that Rocky and Giant had made up in the small room they had decided was the safest. The doorway was open, the door long ago having gone to fuel some bonfire or another.
Malcolm stayed in the Freehold when Matthew was there. When they took Matthew out, Malcolm went out with them. Occasionally, Peter McKibben came with supplies, and with letters and documents. He would talk with Malcolm, and leave. But since his appearance, he hadn't spent more than a couple of hours away from the Rebels side. And they still knew almost nothing about him.
Eithne and Robin sat now in the meeting room, trying to think. Rocky was out getting some supplies for Malcolm, while Giant sat in the room with Matthew, reading a book.
"So. We've found the Belfast Child," sighed Eithne happily. Robin smiled. "Terrible, isn't it ?"
Eithne nodded. "Thank goodness."
Robin played with her hair, and looked around the room. "So… now what ?" she asked.
Eithne looked up, doubt in her eyes. She said nothing, but shrugged very slightly. Robin sighed. "That's very helpful," she mumbled. Eithne frowned at Robin.
"Kestry just told us to protect him. He didn't say for how long."
Rocky walked back in, with bags of groceries under his arms. "Maybe we'll still be looking after him when we're Grumps," he said with a sarcastic sneer. Eithne looked more frustrated than ever.
"I don't know ! If Kestry was here, well, he could advise us…" she said, her voice trailing off. She slumped in her chair.
Malcolm listened from out in the hall, and narrowed his eyes in thought. He delved into the tattered remains of his memories, trying to search for something that could help.
Inside the room, Rocky was laying out everything he had bought for Malcolm. There was an odd variety of food, from all over the world. Then from a hardware store, was lead pipe and a blowtorch.
"That Malcolm sure has an odd taste in food," commented Rocky. He rubbed his neck self-consciously. Robin smiled. "Perhaps he's always been able to eat all these different foods, and hates trying new things. He's been able to eat whatever he wanted for ages, you know."
Eithne looked over the selection of food in front of her. Then she looked at the lead pipe and the blowtorch. "Perhaps we shouldn't even ask what those are for," she murmured.
Rocky smiled nervously. "He mentioned the fact that his 'special gun' needed new bullets."
Robin groaned. "Guns. Why do we need them ?" she asked plaintively. Eithne nodded in agreement. "Yes. They are so crude."
Malcolm walked in, and examined the groceries. "That's good. Well done, Rocky," he commented. He looked through the food quickly, then took the lead pipe and the blowtorch.
"Excellent." He packed the food back into the bags, and took them along with the less edible items back into the kitchen.
"He's a scary man," commented Rocky. The girls shivered in agreement.
Malcolm was packing the food into the fridge when Giant walked in. The tall young man was nervous of Malcolm too, but he wouldn't show it. He barely paused in the doorway, but even that fraction of a second was enough for Malcolm to notice. "Come in. I won't bite."
Giant paused before answering. "So you've given it up ?" he asked. Malcolm smiled then. "Yes. For the time being. Sit down."
Giant took a seat. Malcolm handed him a coke from the fridge, which Giant accepted gratefully.
"They're scared of me, aren't they ?" he asked the youth. Giant nodded, and sipped from the can.
"Yes. But Matthew isn't."
Malcolm smiled, and took a seat at the table, with his blow-torch and lead pipe. He placed them on the table before him, and looked across at Giant.
"Matthew has no reason to fear me. Neither do you. I'm here to protect you all."
Giant thought for a moment, and then put the can back down. "For how long, Malcolm ? Is this it ? What do we do next ?"
Malcolm sat back in his chair. "We wait until the next sign comes. And that won't be long, trust me."
Giant shook his head skeptically. "Signs and portents ? Really."
Malcolm raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. --------
Lorenzo drove down the M2 motorway. He was heading back to Belfast after a good day's fun with his prisoner. He whistled tunefully as the Silver Ghost sped towards home. Folly sat beside him, looking out at the cars that they were passing, while high above them, keeping pace with ease, a smoky shape could just be seen, if you knew what to look for.
"Sir Vasrik has found the boys parents," commented Lorenzo to Folly. The other Sidhe nodded.
"The boy wasn't with the, I suppose," he said. Lorenzo nodded.
"No, he wasn't. Apparently Kestry's agents got to him first."
Folly smiled. "Are we going to hurt his parents ?"
Lorenzo scowled at his lacky. "Of course not. What's the point ? We'd only piss our new High King off." He drove in silence for a few minutes.
"You saw what he did to the Smoke Dragon. He could snuff us out like candles, if he wanted. No, we're going to make friends with him. Take him to the King, and let Finn work his magic on the boy. He may be mad," he commented with a smile, "but Finn is still the King of Ulster, and he has certain… powers that come with the job, if you know what I mean."
Folly nodded. "I've felt it. It's hard to think harshly of him, let alone want to hurt him. Sometimes… sometimes I feel guilty for what we're doing to the King."
Lorenzo tightened his grip on the steering wheel, but said nothing.
Matthew stirred in his sleep. Dreams were rare now, but this time, he'd remember it.
He opened his eyes, and was standing in a dark room, a single light illuminating the chamber. Before him, on the floor, was a man with fair hair and a bruised and battered body. Matthew vaguely recognized the figure, and was a little bit frightened by the scene.
"He's Kestry, the true Duke of Belfast," said a young voice behind Matthew. He turned and saw his friend, Ardry, standing by the wall, looking sadly down at the prisoner.
"Can't we help him ? He wasn't a bad man, he doesn't belong here !" whispered Matthew. Ardry shook his head sadly.
"It's too dangerous for us, Matthew. But Malcolm and the Rebels can help him. In fact, it's just about time. Kestry has done his job, and he was brave and kind to do this for me."
Matthew frowned. "You asked him to do this ?" he said, looking a little bit confused, and a bit angry. Ardy smiled sadly.
"Not as such. But he knew he had to distract Lorenzo for a while, long enough for the Rebels to find us, and for Malcolm to wake up from his sleep."
He walked over to Kestry. "Now it's time to bring him home."
Ardry turned to Matthew. "When you wake up, tell Malcolm that it's time."
Matthew nodded, and fell back into the darkness of slumber.
"Hello ?" Matthew's soft voice barely carried through the meeting room, but they all heard it. He walked in, and sat down on a chair, looking around. Giant and Malcolm came in just after him, Malcolm's face concerned. Robin hopped over to beside Matthew, and she smiled at him, while Rocky and Eithne looked on in interest.
"Mr. Malcolm ?" he said, and the Vampire knelt down beside him.
"It's time." Matthew watched Malcolm's face for reaction. He didn't know what to expect.
Malcolm blinked once, and stood. He looked at the Rebels, one at a time.
"We're going to get Kestry. Get ready."
Robin leaped up and down, clapping, Eithne placed a hand gently on her heart and smiled ethereally. Rocky grinned, and Giant smiled slightly.
Malcolm turned to the two young men.
"First, you've got a job to do."
Lorenzo pulled up outside the Ducal Manor, and walked in. Folly followed, having a quick look around for trouble.
The Smoke Dragon beat it's grand wings, and landed softly in the stable yard. It snorted at Folly, who quickly followed Lorenzo inside.
"I have a feeling about tonight," commented Lorenzo, as he poured himself a drink. Folly sat by the big wooden kitchen table.
"What do you mean, Liege ?"
Lorenzo sipped at his port, and shook his head. "I don't know. A bad feeling." He looked out of the window, at the Smoke Dragon as it curled into a misty ball in one of the stables.
"Perhaps…" he mused. He set down the glass on the window sill, and took his glove off.
"Let's see how bad it's going to be…" Lorenzo began to draw a bear finger around the rim of the crystal glass, slowly at first, then more quickly as a pure ringing tone began to raise.
As he moved his finger faster and faster, the tone began to pulse regularly, getting louder. Folly winced, and the Smoke Dragon looked up, annoyed by the sound.
Lorenzo began to sweat as his finger blurred around the edge. Glamour began to swim around in the glass, and with a bell-like chime, the glass shattered into countless tiny pieces in Lorenzo's hand. The pieces were dust, and as it fell into the sink, a child's bright tinkling laughter could just about be heard as the crystal melted into the water in the sink.
"Bugger," commented Lorenzo, wiping his hands clean.
"What is it ?" asked Folly, standing.
"The most powerful Fae on this side of the Atlantic has just played a prank on my attempt to Scry for him. Which means that he's blocking me, even while he hides inside the child's body. I can't even taste his Glamour."
"So… what exactly ?" asked Folly. Lorenzo turned on him.
"Something's up, for sure. We'd better go back to Emain Macha. Just in case."
Folly sighed, and put his coat on again.
"No, not that way. Come on," said Lorenzo, as he walked into the stable yard.
He took out a tuning fork from his coat pocket, gold and brass in perfect combination. He struck it casually against the wall as he walked past the Smoke Dragon, and it began to sing. Lorenzo let it feed on his Glamour, and he threw it up into the air. A rippling fold in the air rustled open, and fell to the ground. Through it, sparkling stars filled the sky of a snowy countryside, and a bright sliver of moon shone through, casting shadows even in the stable yard.
"Let's go. You too, faithful pet," he said, stepping onto the Trod.
Folly exchanged looks with the Smoke Dragon. "Who was he calling pet ?" he asked. The Dragon raised an eyebrow, and swooped into the Trod before Folly.
"That's what I thought, " commented Folly to no one. He stepped through, and the entrance closed behind him with a soft whisper.
Giant and Rocky stood outside the Brick Glade. It was late now, most of the shops having closed about an hour ago. Rocky glanced at his watch.
"It's well after ten now. He won't be here."
Giant shook his head. He could sense the presence of Lord Galway. "He's here. It's a Troll thing," he explained.
Rocky shrugged. "After you, big man."
Giant looked around, and then knocked twice on the bricked up doorway. It shimmered, and the two youths both stepped through.
It was dark- very dark. The Oak stood, silent, sullen even, in the center of the Glade. Giant shook his head slowly. "This is not a good sign. Not at all."
Rocky looked around the open roofed chamber, and shivered. "It's cold, too, " he commented. They opened the Oak Stair, and started down into the Glade itself.
The main chamber of the Glade was dark, the Balefire dull and quiet. The table was broken, smashed, and the chairs were strewn about the room. Galways great axe lay imbedded in the floor, having cut into the stone by a good few inches.
"Er…" suggested Rocky, but Giant was grim faced. He stepped forward, around the wreckage. At the far end of the room, a vast figure sat, his face in darkness.
"Lord Galway." Giant spoke firmly, his voice strong. His hands were clenched tightly, though.
"Go away," rumbled Galway, not moving.
"I can't do that. We're here to get you."
The figure rumbled, a dark chuckle. "Why. I can't do anything. I'm useless."
Giant moved forward, into the light. "You are far from useless, Lord Galway. We need you, your strength and determination."
Lord Galway lifted his face from his hands, and Giant could see long streaks of tears.
"I let him down ! He's in the hands of the enemy ! And I couldn't stop him." Rocky looked around at the sight of Galway's rage and frustration. He swallowed hard.
Giant wouldn't be stopped, however. "We're going to get him, Leo," he said, using Galway's real name. The Troll looked up.
What ?" There was a glimmer of hope there, a seed of optimism. Giant nodded.
"It's time. Malcolm is taking us to the Court, tonight."
Galway nodded slowly. "Malcolm Fletcher, eh ? So he's part of the tale, too. I see."
He stood up, and dust fell from his shoulders. He had been grieving for days, it seemed.
"I'll be there. Wait for me at the Rebels Rest."
Giant nodded, and bowed. He turned, but Galway spoke once more.
"Giant. Rocky. Thank you."
Rocky grinned nervously, and Giant smiled.
Peter McKibben had received the phone call from Malcolm about ten minutes ago. He had spent eight of those ten minutes arranging for a police and army roadblock to be set up around Navan Fort, which was pretty routine in that part of the countryside. No one could get out or in, unless Peter said so. He sat outside the Rebel's Rest in his car, waiting now for Malcolm's next instruction.
"Hello, Peter. "
Malcolm had appeared from nowhere, and was sitting beside Peter in the car.
"I hate it when you do that, " he commented.
"Good," smiled Malcolm. "This is the fun part. I'm going to stay here with Matthew. You will escort the Rebels to Navan Fort. They'll be with Galway in his Range Rover. No matter what happens, Peter, " he said earnestly, "Don't get involved. You'll get hurt, and they're only kids."
Peter growled. "I'd be able to protect them. You know what I'm capable of," he said, trying to keep control of his temper.
Malcolm shook his head.
"If it comes down to a fight, then they'll have done something very wrong. It's not meant to be a fight. Something else will happen."
"Like what ?"
"I'm not sure." That seemed to be a point of contention for Malcolm. "I wish I did know how it would go."
"Okay… fine. I'll take them there. And wait. And bring them back."
Malcolm nodded. "That's what I liked about you Peter. You do what needs to be done, no matter how stupid it all sounds."
Lorenzo stepped out of the Trod, just in front of the main gates at Emain Macha. Folly and the Smoke Dragon were right behind him. The Duke brushed the snow from off his shoulders, which began to melt in the mild May air.
"That can't be right," commented Folly. "All that snow."
"I rule Belfast now, " said Lorenzo, "and the Trods follow my mood."
"Not the King's, then," breathed the Smoke Dragon.
"Shut up," advised Lorenzo. He banged on the doors.
"Let me in, fools."
The door was opened by the same young Fianna who always let them enter. He exchanged looks of scorn with Lorenzo, but said nothing.
Lorenzo and his party walked around the spiraling corridor which led to the throne room. Many bronze and gold doors opened off the corridor, to rooms and stairwells that to many would be a maze. Lorenzo, and to a lesser extent, Folly, knew the place well, and would never lose their path.
Eventually, they arrived at the center, where King Finn sat. His face was unreadable, though he shone with the light that only a True King can. He looked over at Lorenzo.
"It's late, Duke Lorenzo. Why have you returned ?"
"Your Majesty," smiled Lorenzo slyly, "I merely worry about your safety. I have returned because I fear that something will happen here tonight."
The King nodded. "You are perceptive, Lorenzo. But what will happen is Dan, destiny, and you cannot stop it."
Lorenzo clicked his tongue softly, but the King heard him.
"My most trusted servant," said the King softly, "We are all bound by our path. You may watch what happens, but you may say nothing, and do nothing."
Lorenzo knew an order when he heard one. He nodded, and smiled, but inside he was screaming in frustration.
The doors into the throne room opened again, and four figures stepped through, escorted by two young Fianna in human form.
They were four children, of varying age. The tallest was male, and his blue skin was pure and deep, and he wore fine shining armour. His axe was slung across his back, peace-tied, as were all the children's weapons.
Beside him, was a young Sidhe, her skin unblemished and shining with pale light. Her hair was long, black as night, tied back with gold and silver chains, as delicate as gossamer. She wore a long white dress, which flowed across her body like moonlight. Her head was raised, and at her belt was a short glass sword, glistening in the light of the throne room.
Next to her, a young Satyr stood in black and brown, his goat-legs bare. His clothing was functional, that of a warrior who needed no armour. He was unarmed, but his hands were clenched like clubs, and the gleam in his eye was like a blow in itself.
Finally, a young Pooka girl stood, her green eyes glinting with determination. She wore a green dress, with a simple necklace of red stones around her neck. Her hair was swept back, held in place with a comb of red gold. The front of her dress was decorated with tiny embroidered feathers, the same size and colour of the feathers behind her ears that swept back instead of hair. A tiny knife was at her waist, but it glinted with silver.
Lorenzo stared. He wanted to speak, to say something snide, but his mouth wouldn't work. A hint of feeling played in his gut, and he would have given up his Duchy before admitting that it might be fear.
King Finn stood.
"You have come here tonight for a reason. You have a request to make."
Lady Eithne stepped forward. "King Finn, My Liege and Majesty, I would ask that a friend be returned to us."
King Finn nodded. "I know of who you speak. But he is a criminal in my Kingdom. Why should I give him over to you ?"
Giant stood forward then, and spoke clearly to all in the room. "We petition the King for mercy towards this man, whose reputation is surely flawless and has been sullied by rumour and happenstance."
The King nodded in recognition of Giants words, and spoke in reply. "It is my duty to uphold the law of the Sidhe in this land. Would you have me do any less ?"
Rocky stepped forward, a look of fierce pride in his eyes. "Your Majesty is wise and fair. And so must be his justice towards his subjects."
King Finn held Rocky's gaze unflinchingly, and replied softly. "I care deeply for all my subjects, but I cannot let my feelings get in the way of Justice."
Robin stepped forward, trembling. She looked at Lorenzo and the Smoke Dragon, who stared back, daring her to speak. The King looked at her, waiting. She could feel the support of her friends beside her, but she was terrified. Then she remembered why she was here. For whom she here. Her eyes glinted with heat, and her small voice carried like a ringing trumpet throughout the hall. "Justice must be tempered with mercy. Show mercy to our friend, and let us take him home."
King Finn began to speak. He stopped, and looked across the room at Lorenzo, who was furiously silent. He looked at the Smoke Dragon who was staring hungrily at the children. Then he looked back at Robin.
"Tonight, there is a meeting of many paths. You four could have come here, and fought for your friend. And with the strength of your hearts and of your purpose, I believe you might have been victorious. Yet you came before me, fearful, and asked."
Lady Eithne smiled. "My Liege, do not mistake politeness for fear. If you do not grant us our wish, then we will fight you. And we will win. For tonight, the Dreaming is on our side. The Tale leads us here, and no matter what, we will leave here tonight with Kestry."
The King looked at Eithne for a long time, deep in thought. The Fianna guard placed hands on Glaives, and the Sidhe guards untied their peaceties.
Finally, King Finn smiled. "I will have him brought to the Gate."
Lorenzo snarled, and gritted his teeth. Folly took a couple of steps back, and even the Smoke Dragon started to look for a quick escape.
The Rebels relaxed slightly, as the Fianna opened the Throne Room doors, ready to escort them out.
King Finn sat back in his throne, and watched them leave. His smile vanished as the doors closed behind them.
"Next time, Lorenzo," he said to the steaming Duke, "I'll let you kill them."
"Yes !" shouted Robin as the throne room door shut behind them. She hugged Eithne, who laughed, while Giant and Rocky shook hands, and slapped each other on the back.
"That was brilliant," said Eithne breathlessly to the others. Rocky grinned. "Giant was cool, very cool," he commented, and the Troll blushed.
"Not as good as Robin," commented Eithne.
"Yeah, she was the best," agreed Rocky.
"Aw, of course I was," smiled Robin, very embarrassed.
They could barely stop themselves from running back to main Gate, but when Robin saw Kestry standing by the vast doors with Lord Galway, she couldn't help it. She ran and leapt up into his arms, clutching him tight.
"Hello, Robin…" whispered Kestry to his friend. He was cut and bruised, and looked so tired and weak, but he held Robin without effort, smiling as if it was the first day of summer.
The others shook Kestry's hand, and welcomed him back. He smiled, still holding Robin, and nodded, words inadequate to his gratitude.
Robin couldn't speak. She was crying too much.