Mask of Tears
"To this, to this, after my hope was lost, To this strange victory; To find you with the living, not the dead, To find you glad of me; To find you wounded even less than I, Moving as I across the stricken plain; After the battle to have found your voice Lifted above the slain." --Sara Teasdale, "Strange Victory"
The setting of this story is the Duchy of Caer ABE (also known as the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area and the Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania). Cradled in the Piedmont hills of the Appalachian Mountains, the Duchy is ruled by His Grace, Mharyon Lord-of-the-Valley of House Gwydion, a Seelie Sidhe Grump, who, as with most Sidhe nobles, came to power during the Accordance War. He is aided in his rule by Her Excellency, Liannan Silverhair of House Gwydion, his daughter, and the Countess of Eastlyn; His Excellency Ciaran Nighteyes of House Eiluned, Count of Whitehall, and Kendrick Mountainstrong of House Dougal, Count of Overhill; as well as the Barons of numerous smaller Freeholdings, various Knights both landed and unlanded, and a substantial number of Redcap mercenaries. Prior to the Accordance War, Caer ABE was ruled by the commoner Duke Akbar Worldstrider, an Unseelie Eshu Grump, who, despite the darksome reputation of the Shadow Court, was a wise an egalitarian man, less inclined to rule than lead. From his court at Mountain of Hawks (Hawk Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, which lies in the migratory path of virtually every form of predatory bird in North America) he governed a primarily Unseelie populace with a light hand and a delicate manner. His heir and foster daughter was a Liam Sidhe who arrived well before the Resurgence, having been summoned forth during a Beltaine night celebration by her Kinain parents. Siobhan Skyfire was, in fact, virtually the only Sidhe in Caer ABE for nearly two decades but for the odd Scathach wanderer who occasionally passed through the area, one of whom, the mercenary known as the Huntsman, having cordial relations with the Nunnehi of the region and acting as liaison between Akbar and the native Fae cousins. When the Resurgence finally did arrive, it was a brutal shock to everyone, particularly to the ruling Duke and his family, who were ordered by the newly-arrived Mharyon to yield their Freeholds to him and his Gwydion Sidhe minions. Needless to say, this went over like a lead balloon with the Fae of Caer ABE, who, for the most part, promptly rallied behind their already-seated leaders, and the Accordance War in the Lehigh Valley was on. Horrendously bloody and costly for all concerned, the commoners made a spectacular showing for themselves despite the general superiority of Sidhe arms and, in this case, numbers, at least early on. The Beltaine Night of Iron Knives Massacre changed that, Mharyon's Redcap mercenaries, specially hired for the occasion, cutting a wide swath through the commoner nobles of the city, a swath that included Akbar Worldstrider himself. Siobhan Skyfire survived, however, having been spared an iron knife between the shoulderblades by virtue of at least being Sidhe, and was proclaimed Duchess by her commoner supporters. Unwilling to surrender to the murderer of her foster father, Siobhan and the surviving commoner nobles pressed on against Mharyon's forces, eventually hiring mercenaries of their own in the form of the Company of the Shadowed Blade, lead by the Scathach Sidhe, the Huntsman. With the Company's aid, Siobhan and her followers were able to fight Mharyon to a standstill, forcing both sides to sue for peace or else risk destroying the entire region for generations of Fae to come. Siobhan relinquished her claim to the throne of Caer ABE on the condition that Mharyon leave all presently-seated commoner nobles in their Freeholds and give the commoners equal voice in his government; Mharyon agreed, taking the throne as Duke of Caer ABE, establishing the Council of Barons to give the primarily-commoner Baronate a voice in governance, and also reconfirming Siobhan as Countess of Whitehall. If Mharyon expected Siobhan to bow and scrape in thanks for the concessions she wrung from him over the negotiation table, he was to be bitterly dissapointed. Siobhan hated Mharyon with a passion for what he had done to her foster father and friends and, while she did not obstruct him when his policies were instituted for the good of all Fae and his governance acted from good conscience, she was not inclined to satisfy his whims or humor him in most ways usually expected from a vassal. Friction remained between them for as long as they knew each other, even when they were cooperating, Siobhan's integrity and rather justifiable anger and Mharyon's pride and considerable annoyance with the Countess combining to tragic effect. Lady Skyfire, like her Kinain father, was a scholar of all things Fae, and pursued an active study of the various sorts of Gallain, particularly the Nunnehi, who, far from being the barbaric boogeymen used to frighten childlings witless, were of a strangely peaceful and contemplative temperament, at least in Caer ABE. Mharyon, paranoid in extremis about the Nunnehi and what he believed to be their fell intentions, attempted to forbid Siobhan to have further relations with them--a strategy which backfired rather spectacularly. Their clashes after that tended to be intensely heated affairs that usually ended with either Mharyon or Siobhan storming off in a blind fury, and more often than not with both so storming. Eventually, the Countess of Whitehall grew so disgusted with Mharyon that she went into voluntary exile from the Duchal court at Mountain of Hawks, withdrawing to her own Court at Whitehall and only appearing before her liege when propriety demanded that she do so. In the summer of 1971, Siobhan left the rule of Whitehall in the capable hands of her longtime friend, Cassandra Windsweeper of the Eshu, Baronet of the Crest of Cedars Freehold, and disappeared into the mountains northeast of Caer ABE. When she returned, three months later, she was with child. Her son was born in July of 1972 and even in infancy it was obvious that he was touched by the Fae. Shortly afterward, Mharyon summoned Siobhan to Mountain of Hawks to explain her abscence from the Freehold to which she owed primary responsibility. They met alone in a private reune, which ended with Siobhan and Mharyon both leaving in a high rage. Two days later, Siobhan was found at the base of Mountain of Hawks, brutally murdered. Mharyon strenuously denies having had anything to do with Siobhan's death, but only in private--in public he responds to any such accusations with a cold contempt that leads many to believe he is guilty as sin. He appointed his Eiluned advisor Ciaran Nighteyes to fill the vacant County of Whitehall and hold it in trust for Siobhan's infant son, Ryan, whom everyone believed would grow into the next Count of Whitehall.