St Patrick's Day, 1996
Robin McAllister loved school holidays. They were a time of freedom and laughter, when she and her friends could play and talk all day without having to worry about lessons or teachers.
Since she became a Changeling, the holidays had become even more important. There were a whole new group of friends for her to play with now, and of course, there was Kestry.
This weekend, however, was even more special. Robin had been told by Kestry and Galway that a little girl from America was coming to stay at the Brick Glade, along with a few of her friends. Robin had hoped that this particular girl would come, since they had been pen-friends for quite a while now.
She sat in the Brick Glade, impatiently swinging back and forth from the huge old oak. Robin had been warned not to do it by Galway, who had been quite cross when he had found her last week hanging by one arm to see how far she could climb. The bricked up front entrance into the Brick Glade shimmered far below her, and Kestry stepped through into the interior of the building. Robin's heart leapt, and she changed into her namesake. She fluttered down, and around his head, singing her welcome. Kestry laughed, and put his finger out for her to sit upon. She lighted there, and chirped happily.
"It's nice to see you too, Robin," smiled Kestry, and he let her sit on his shoulder as he opened the Oak Stair, and walked down into the basement.
Morgan Daniels sat beside the Air Hostess as the plane circled the city of Belfast. She felt excited, but a sadness lay on her young heart. A close friend was gone, and she mourned him still, despite all that had happened. And even though her friends had returned to Arcadia, something to be celebrated, she missed them terribly. Her parents had decided to send her on a holiday. Morgan had many pen-pals, but out of all of them, she only wanted to visit one.
The plane landed softly, and drew up to the small Harbour Airport terminal. Morgan walked into the white building, looking around for the man who said he would be waiting for her. She caught her breath, imagining that her grandfather was standing by a door. It was indeed a Troll, tall and strong, yet somewhat younger and more sure of his Fae nature than Tor had been for most of his life. The Troll smiled as he saw the pretty Sidhe stare at him, and he walked over.
"Lady Morgan, I am honoured to meet you," he said softly. She curtsied politely, and gave the Troll one of her brightest devastating smiles.
"Lord Galway, the honour is mine!" she smiled, and Galway blushed, despite himself. "My car awaits. Robin has been looking forward to meeting you, Milady," said Galway, lifting her luggage with ease. She took his other hand, and they walked out towards the car-park.
"I've been looking forward to meeting her, too."
Galway sensed the sorrow in her voice, but decided not to comment. Although he and Kestry had been told of the recent events on the west coast of Ireland, they still didn't fully understand what had occurred. The news of the death of one of the American Kithain had come back to them. Even Robin had gone quiet and thoughtful when she received her letter from the young Sidhe. Whilst the young Pooka had not fully grasped the intricacies of Changeling existence, some things were clear cut.
Galway helped Morgan climb into the Range Rover, which he had waxed and cleaned only the day before. Morgan looked excited, and peered out of the tinted windows. Once he had carefully placed her luggage into the back of the car, he climbed in himself, and drove out of the airport.
"Where are we going?" asked Morgan, watching the brick terraces and the nearby Oil Refinery go past.
"To a secret place. Milady, " he said, his voice low, "It must remain a secret. The Shadow Court must not hear of where we now go."
Morgan nodded, her little face serious.
"I know. I won't tell."
Morgan had Unseelie friends, but even Valmont had warned her about Ulster. The rumours of an Unseelie plot, perhaps even by the House of Balor, were serious enough for even her to understand.
They drove through the city, and Galway pointed out the interesting buildings and places to her. Many of the shops had shamrock above their doors in celebration of St Patrick’s Day. Morgan’s nose was pressed up against the glass for most of the journey, but finally, they arrived at the Brick Glade.
Robin sat at the end of the table, opposite Kestry's honorary chair as Head of the Freehold. He sat in the chair uneasily, aware of Galway's true place as the Baron of the Brick Glade. He read his book of French Fairy Tales, deep in thought, and unaware of Robin's fidgeting.
"I'm not excited at all," she murmured, nibbling a lock of hair. She had begun to grow it longer, wondering if Kestry would notice.
"Stop biting your hair, " he said without looking up, "You'll get split ends." Robin seethed.
The sound of the Oak Stair opening made them both look up.
"Oh! Oh! I'm so calm!" squeaked Robin, and she checked to make sure she looked as pretty as possible. The bright new Chimerical bracelet she had made earlier shone on her wrist, and she had created her first Chimerical Dress, far nicer than the jeans and T-shirt she actually wore. She stood, as did Kestry.
Galway entered first, a slight smile of amusement on his lips.
"The Baroness Morgan of House Eiluned," he announced. The little dark haired girl could wait no longer, and ran past him into the room.
Morgan ran up to Robin, and gave her a hug. Even though Robin was older than her friend, they were very nearly the same height. Both girls giggled and held hands as they spoke at supersonic speeds, Morgan about her journey and Robin about her lack of excitement at Morgan’s presence.
Galway and Kestry exchanged a long amused look, and quietly left the Glade.
A little later, the two girls both sat on a middle branch of the great oak. They swung their legs as they looked around, the sounds of the city far away. They spoke quietly and seriously, at that point which two girls always appear to end up talking about life and love. And death.
"He's not at all nice- And he's as stuck up as most Sidhe," commented Robin. She blushed, and bit her lip.
"Offence meant," she apologised. Morgan laughed, and shook her head.
Robin's gaze was distant as she stared down at the ground.
"I'll be a Wilder soon, just like him. Then he'll see."
Morgan was silent, her smile turning sad as she watched Robin. The young Pooka looked up after a moment, and gave Morgan an questioning look. The Sidhe looked away, a tear in her eye.
"He was a Pooka, like you," said Morgan quietly.
"He wasn't a bird?" asked Robin.
"No, he was a rabbit. Or a hare, maybe."
Robin remembered Morgan’s letters, and the great joy which the rascal Rasputin had given her.
"I really liked him. He was so soft and sweet. He hurt, sometimes, but maybe towards the end, he hurt a little bit less. I hope he got back to Arcadia alright." Morgan’s voice was very sad, and Robin reached out and held her hand gently. "He must have loved you. All of you," she said softly, no trace of a lie or exaggeration evident. Morgan nodded.
"We were oathmates," she said simply, as if that would explain it all. Robin nodded, but she felt distant from her pen-friend, aware that she had yet to suffer such a loss as Morgan. She wondered what losing Kestry would be like, and she felt a cold hand squeeze her heart. She shivered.
"Can you stay long?" asked Robin. Morgan nodded.
"A week, anyway, but my parents have missed me while we were on our Quest," she explained, but Robin seemed happy.
"I think that Kestry and Galway are planning a bit of a party for you. We'd better get down from the tree."
The dark-haired girl nodded, and a smile reappeared on her face. The pair climbed down, not without a few minutes of excited giggles.
The party was a good one. Kestry had arranged for Belfast Castle to be empty, although Peter stood at one side of the main function room, silently watching the festivities. He watched as someone walked past carrying a green pint of Guinness, and shook his head.
"St Patrick's Day or not, that," he pointed at the coloured stout, " is unnatural." Kestry laughed.
"Just wait until he tastes it!"
The room was filled with humans and Changelings. Not all the humans present were aware of the unique nature of some of their fellow guests. Robin's mother was there, her father away on business as usual. Seamus, the Redcap, had brought a few of his mortal friends along, and they stood at one side of the room, looking embarrassed as a group of Robin's friends stood with Robin and Morgan at the other side of the room. More than one of Seamus' friends had been smiling weakly at the girls, and Seamus looked vaguely embarrassed.
Lord Galway, resplendent in an ill-fitting suit, mixed through the group, smiling and frowning when necessary. There were nearly fifty people here, friends and family of the Kithain of the city. Kestry had thought long and hard, and knew that the fae of Belfast were only as good as those who supported them.
Peter McKibben looked distinctly uneasy. "It's like the air's alive," he commented. He also felt uneasy in his tuxedo. Kestry shrugged.
"You're sensing the Glamour. Parties tend to generate a lot of it."
There was some movement at the entrance, and Peter's nose seemed to twitch. "Another Fairy," he said quietly, and moved towards the door. Kestry followed. A tall, regal figure stood at the double doors, her soft gaze taking in the throng of revellers. She smiled, and let her brother take her cloak. Peter's jaw dropped, but just for a moment. He regained his composure.
Kestry just looked stunned.
"Duchess Aishling!" he said, his eyes searching hers, looking for a reason. She smiled, and the sun seemed to have risen once more. Most of the party-goers stopped talking, and stared.
"I do like making a good entrance!" she laughed, her voice like birdsong. The party continued, a few people laughing good-naturedly at her comment. The Duchess glided into the room, smiling at faces she recognised.
"I'm very… well, pleased to see you here!" commented Kestry. Peter looked first at the Duchess, and then back at the amazed Kestry, who remembered his manners.
"Peter McKibben, this is the Duchess of Down, Aishling." He pronounced the name, Ash-leen. Peter nodded, and smiled unconvincingly.
"Hello," he said. The Duchess nodded, and took his hand. Peter looked at Kestry, panic in his eyes.
"You don't have to kiss it, just shake," smiled the Duchess. Peter did so.
"Uh, I'm, uh, Peter of Belfast," he said, shrugging. The Duchess nodded.
"I'm aware of your good work in the city. As are many who are on the side of Justice," she said, leaving Peter more than a little mystified. She wandered through the room, her quiet mortal brother following. Kestry knew that Timothy was enchanted, and as such was aware of the Glamour of the Fae. He exchanged a nod with the tall quiet man.
"Look!" cried Morgan, and ran over to the Duchess. She curtsied politely. The Duchess laid her hand on the little girls head, and spoke softly to her.
"You are welcome in my Duchy at all times, Baroness Morgan. As are your friends and family. And Oathmates, should they ever return." Morgan’s eyes faltered at that, but no one except Robin saw it.
"And in answer to your questions, Duke Kestry," said Aishling, and both Kestry and Galway looked surprised at her use of the title, "you have my full and unswerving support. And it was Morgan herself whom invited me. She and her friends- well, I've been keeping an eye on them recently. And she knows of me."
Kestry nodded, mute.
Duchess Aishling turned to Robin, and reached out to take her hand. Robin felt compelled to kneel, and did so, her eyes downcast. "Robin McAllister, you are a bright new fire in the city. May you walk a path that brings you honour and adventure, such as you wish." "Thank you," answered Robin meekly, the strange blessing a mystery to her. She was impressed with the Duchess's nobility and bearing, and wondered vaguely if Kestry used to be like that. Or if he was still, yet kept it hidden.
Duchess Aishling turned to Kestry, and held out her hand.
“You asked me to dance, once. I now accept."
Kestry took the offered hand, and Galway ordered the quartet of musicians to strike up a waltz. They exchanged looks of confusion, but did so.
The floor cleared to allow the pair to dance, but soon other couples joined them. Morgan was whisked away by Seamus before she could refuse, and Robin glared at a boy who began to ask her. He walked away very quickly.
Her eyes burned as she watched the Duchess and Kestry move around the ballroom, far too close together. She felt suddenly unimportant- Morgan was swept away by a group of young admirers, Kestry dancing with...well, her, and everyone just ignoring a short, ugly little Pooka.
A hand on her shoulder made her jump.
"They look well together, do they not?"
She turned to look at a young man, roughly Kestry's age. He had brown hair, and was heavily built, someone who enjoys his food. He watched the two Sidhe waltz around the ballroom, and stroked his goatee with his freehand. Robin looked again with her Fae eyes, and saw that he was Kithain, but one she had not seen before.
"Who are you?" she asked. He looked down and smiled.
"I am James Spencer, " he said, bowing expansively, "A True Bard and Storyteller. I wander the Four Fair Kingdoms, sleeping where I may, and telling a tale or two as I travel. And you, my dear young Pooka, will be the heroine of many a story. I promise."
He pointed at Kestry.
"He, too, will have his part to play. Some say the story has already begun," he said conspiratorially to the red-haired girl, "And I am not wise enough to say otherwise. You will know your part. Morgan, too, is part of the Great Tale. But she rests now, to let others continue the story."
Robin stared up at him blankly.
"Every word you say makes utter and complete sense to me," she said, frowning in confusion. James smiled.
"Do you remember when Galway brought you back to the Brick Glade?" he asked her. She nodded.
"I remember it all in complete clarity, each and every moment of it. Why?" James smiled.
"I was there. He found me, when I Became, so I stop by to see him occasionally, and I just so happened to be passing that particular day. Funny that. Anyway, that was the last time I was at the Brick Glade. And when I saw you come in, I knew that a Great Tale had begun. And I was right."
Robin looked deep into his dark eyes, and saw long roads and longer nights spent beside fires and hearths, her name on his lips, and great stories following. She blinked.
James looked around as two other Eshu called for him. One was roguishly handsome, with a coy smile, the other older with wise eyes.
"My two colleagues. We have tales to tell, no doubt, to earn our keep and our supper."
He shook hands with Robin.
"I will remember our meeting with fondness and great honour. Until the next time," he smiled, and disappeared into the crowd. Robin watched him go, her mind spinning.
"I hope I never see him again," she said to herself.
Robin and Morgan spent the rest of the week together, and no one seemed to mind that Robin was missing a few days of school. Her mother had been told that her young American friend had suffered the death of a close friend, so they had all the time and space that they needed.
When the day came to drive Morgan Daniels to the airport, both girls were sad and tearful. Kestry came with Galway to leave their guest at the Harbour Airport, and they promised to see her onto the plane to London, from where she would catch another all the way to Los Angeles.
Morgan spent a few minutes on a telephone at the airport talking to her mother and father. She hung up, a little more cheerful.
"They’ve missed me," she said, wiping a tear from her eye. Robin nodded, her own cheeks wet with tears. She held Galway's hand tightly.
"I have something for you, " said Kestry. There had been a new expression in his eyes since Monday night, when he had danced with the Duchess of Down. Robin wasn't too pleased to see it there, but Galway looked relieved.
Morgan nodded, and stood on her tippy-toes, in an attempt to whisper. Kestry smiled, and bent slightly to assist.
"I will open it on the plane, Duke Kestry," she said. Kestry nodded.
The two girls exchanged hugs and farewells, and Galway led Robin back to the car. Kestry and Morgan walked out to the plane, and they shook hands, getting a few amused glances from mortal passengers.
"It was an honour, Milady Morgan," said Kestry. Morgan nodded soberly.
"I am glad that I could bring you and the Duchess Aishling back together. She told me that you and she were once close."
"Once. Maybe again. I would never have guessed that your visit here was one of court business."
Morgan shook her head, smiling slightly.
"It wasn't. I needed to be with a friend, one who wasn't there when Ras.. well, you know."
She sighed, trying to force the sadness from her voice.
"But I thought that I might help you whilst I was here. The Seelie Court of Goldengate at least, supports you."
They regarded each other for a moment, then Kestry reached into the pocket of his suit. He took out a small silver box, and handed it to Morgan.
"You know what this is, Lady," Kestry continued, his voice low, "Keep the flame, Morgan, in case the Darkness here banishes it."
She nodded, and shook his hand again. "Good luck, Milord Kestry, " said Morgan, and ran up the steps into the plane.
Kestry walked away, deep in thought.
On board the plane Morgan opened the silver box, and smiled delightedly. She took out the silver harp that sat within, and watched as the light glinted through the spun-glass strings. She placed it on her dress, and sent her hopes and wishes out to the besieged Duchy of Belfast that fell away below her as the plane soared into the bright blue March sky.
Let's go home, too.