by Stephen J. Herron
Book Two - Prologue
As told by Shanachie True Bard and Storyteller
Summer and Winter begin to battle over the city of Belfast once more. The long cold nights are being replaced, slowly and inexorably by the shorter, fairer nights of Spring. Soon, even the days will be warm and long, and Winter will be a distant memory…
The battle brings showers and breezes to the city, and the people wrap up warm, wondering when the Summer will finally reign supreme. Snow can fall, and in the same day, the sun might shine as if it was the middle of July, if only for a moment…
Against this tapestry of season, the Changelings of Belfast also fight. To them, the battle is also one of Summer and Winter, a reflection of the oldest rhythm. The battle has been going on for many years, with many small Winters and Summers, short lived periods of apparent victory before the wheel rolls onwards… The city holds the background of the conflict between Seelie and Unseelie, between those who would nurture and protect the dreams of the people, and those who Ravage and rape those dreams. Let me explain…
Northern Ireland has been under the shadow of violence for over twenty five years. Then came eighteen months of peace, as the gangster lords of the city held their fire, punishing their own for a while. The violence then returned, even if it was a ghost of it’s former self…
Within the year and a half, however, people began to dream of peace, or normality. For Changelings, dreams are everything. And many that had been sleeping within the souls of normal folk in the Province awoke and emerged, filling the land and city with those who reap and harvest dreams for survival. I myself, must humbly claim to have emerged as one of these new Kithain….
Despite the efforts of those who want violence, despite the twenty five years of anger and bigotry that has gone before, the Dream of Peace has not died. It survives, and grows.
Perhaps the presence of the Fae within the city makes the Dream more solid. Perhaps the collective hope of the Northern Irish speaks louder than the guns that have barked and snapped for all those years before.
Perhaps their voice will be louder too.
But behind the struggles of the dreamers of the city, the Changelings have their own political struggles.
The Kingdom of Ulster is an old one, and when the Sidhe returned, so did the Kings. Ulster was chosen by Finn, a Sidhe of graceful honour and just demeanour. He ruled the land with a kind hand, choosing his Dukes with great care and thought. He elevated Kestry, a noble of the Oath-broken House of Liam, to the level of Duke of Belfast, a gesture which earned the King a reputation for wisdom. The two were friends for a while, Kestry faithfully carrying out the wishes and plans of his King.
The King is his Land, however, and Ulster was.. is… a land racked with Banality and pain. The Tourists that come to the Province take all the magic away with them, and its beauty is reduced to plastic Leprechauns and shamrock laden hats and ties.
The Glamour that the Province naturally generates became tainted with the Banality of Tourism and Terrorism, and the King began to suffer. The Glamour that each of the Duchy’s tithed to the King filled his heart with doubts and fears, and he withdrew for a long while, turning his back on his friends and subjects as he battled with his doubts.
When he emerged, he had changed. Duke Kestry was the first to notice, and began dealing warily with the King. The other Dukes and Duchess’ seemed oblivious to the changes that had occurred.
A lank and untrustworthy Sidhe called Lorenzo appeared on the scene, and took the King’s ear for his own. He travelled the land, on behalf of the King, and distributed tainted Treasures to each of the Duchy’s. Kestry refused, and sent Lorenzo back to the King without a word. Lorenzo was only too glad to report Kestry’s treacherous behaviour to the now Unseelie King of Ulster.
Kestry had his own problems to deal with. The bombs and killings in the Province, nowhere more so than in Belfast, generated a powerful Glamour, though it was dark and cold. Lorenzo led Unseelie Ravagers on raids across the Province, unchallenged by the other leaders. In Belfast, however, Lorenzo and his Vikings ran into resistance. Kestry led and directed counterattacks, with Sidhe Knights on Chimerical Horseback. Many died, and Kestry eventually had his worst fears confirmed when he met Lorenzo face to face across a bomb site.
A few more months went by after this, and Kestry could take no more. He met and fought Lorenzo in a duel, one which he won, despite Lorenzo’s plans to cheat. When he went to the King with his evidence, he was shocked to find himself in chains before the feet of King Finn, his erstwhile friend.
Kestry and Lorenzo were both convicted of Duelling without Cause and Reason, and Kestry was charged with attacking the King’s Herald and Messenger, for so Lorenzo was. The two Sidhe were exiled from Ulster for a year, to wander where they may, and Kestry was stripped of his title, his Freehold and his Treasures. With Lorenzo gone, and his Vikings inactive, the Province underwent some changes.
A Ceasefire was called by the Terrorists and Gangsters, and the city of Belfast especially began to rebuilt, and grow strong with the pride and hopes of it’s residents. Where Lorenzo went, nothing is told or said, except that he returned to be granted the Duchy of Belfast, which he took with glee and ill-hidden plans for continued Ravaging.
Kestry travelled the Island, and met with other Kings and Queens, travelling even to America. His meetings and discussions remain his own affair, though one might suspect that he holds secrets for later use.
Both Kithain arrived back in Belfast within days of each other, and bid their time, planning and growing stronger, gathering allies and Glamour to use in the inevitable war that would follow.
In the midst of this, Kestry and his young Pooka admirer, Robin, witnessed the Chrysalis of a new Sidhe child in the city. The power and Glamour that the ‘splashdown’ created could be felt in the other Kingdoms, and it was certain that the High King of Ireland had been born into his Kithain Heritage.
As soon as the Chrysalis occurred, the child suppressed his nature, hiding within his mortal Seeming. Both the Seelie and Unseelie would be hunting for him, and the boy knew this. Neither side could keep the child as safe as simple anonymity might do.
Lorenzo went so far as to kidnap Robin, and torture the child for information. Kestry and his Troll Chamberlain, Lord Galway, confronted Lorenzo briefly in the midst of rescuing the Pooka, but no Duel would be fought on that day.
Then, at the end of February, Kestry received a letter from King Finn, demanding his presence at the Court in Emain Macha, before the Midsummer, else Kestry face execution for treason. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Ceasefire ended just before this letter arrived, but Kestry refused the Summons anyway.
The sides have been drawn up, and the prizes are clear- Belfast, and the High King of Ireland are both for the taking.
The tale is long in the telling, and will grow longer still. I, Eshu and True Bard to the Kings of the Fae, do not know how it will end, and I do not pretend to be unbiased.
They say that a King is his Land. Is not a Duke, then, his Duchy? And who grants the title- the King, or those who follow? Have not Kings and Dukes both fallen, overthrown by their unsatisfied people?
I say, then, that Kestry is Duke, and I henceforth pledge allegiance to both he and his cause. I say that he is the True Duke of Belfast, as granted by the Kithain and Dreamers within its demesne. I will take the Harpers Oath.
I, Shanachie, vow to seek and protect those who create. I vow to nurture and inspire their Art, and to defend the Creator and Created from those who might Ravage. This I swear.
Thus ended the First Book of the Belfast Child