The sun had just crested the trees of Highland Park. Conor O’Neill was sitting on his rooftop patio enjoying the view.
It was summer in North Texas. For the first time in his life as a member of the “supernatural world” that actually meant something more than just ’it’s freakishly hot outside.’ This was his first season as a member of the Summer Court of the Fae. Not only this, but he was a High Noble of the Court, an Earl no less.
His Fief was Dallas County, which included the city of Dallas itself. Conceptually he knew that these were all great and wonderful things.
He also had absolutely no idea what to do with it all.
In his hands, glinting in the morning light was an ancient circlet of twisted golden wires. It nearly went all the way around in a full circle, save for an inch gap. Two gold snarling wolf heads faced each other at the ends of the twisted wire. The circlet was a neck torc, the gap and wolves generally rested on his collarbones at his throat.
It was also a magical gift from his Fae mother.
"Good morning my Lord! Juice?" The speaker was Conor’s personal assistant, herself one of the Summer Fae. In addition to being something of a permanent houseguest, she was his direct ‘Oathsworn’ vassal within the Court. Not only was she an attractive Fae woman, she was for all intents and purposes, his Valet (in the aristocratic sense of the word).
However, aside from a single kiss, their relationship was employer and employee. However to say there wasn’t tension would be a lie. In one of the grand ironies of his life, it was Conor – the unrepentant womanizer – that had kept things between them on the ‘up and up.’ Roxie had long made her desires on the matter well, well known.
After setting down the torc, he took the proffered glass. He savored the obviously freshly squeezed oranges as Roxie sat down across from him. He observed that summer suited the Seelie Court. She was very nearly glowing with vibrant life and energy. Considering that she had all the magical powers of her kind, it wouldn’t have taken much to make that literal.
She seemed to enjoy the attention, and made something of a show getting comfortable on the rooftop outdoor patio furniture. She wore a lightweight white cotton summer dress decorated with blossoms. It playfully swayed with her movements and the light morning breeze, complimented by her coy grin. At length she pulled out a tablet computer from beneath the tray on which she brought the juice and reviewed it.
“There are no appointments today my Lord, at least nothing on the schedule. Have you yet made your plans this morning?”
"I have. My mother an’ I had a grand chat about things the other day…"
"She is very beautiful my Lord. I should have suspected that you had ties to the Royal Court of Summer, but it’s still incredible to see it all unfold. Never did I expect to see The Summer Lady."
"Well that makes the two of us, sure. As I was sayin’ …" He stopped because Roxie had suddenly put her hand over her mouth in shocked horror. He suddenly stood up and spun around, expecting attack – always a danger of using such an open and exposed perch. If he died today, Elena would kill him for sure for being so stupid.
He scanned the horizon, the grounds, the treetops, the sky… he saw nothing. Invisible? Glamoured?
“Oh my Lord, I am so, so very sorry.”
He turned back around lowering his clenched fists with a look of confusion.
“I interrupted you!”
He said nothing for several seconds straight. “Is that it?” His brogue for that particular bit was as thick as the day he stepped out of DFW Airport when he first arrived.
“You interrupted me talkin’ is all?”
She had knelt down to gather up the empty glasses that had been knocked to the floor in Conor’s sudden rise. Luckily he had drunk the contents. “I’m so so sorry, that was unpardonably rude my Lord.”
He took a moment to calm the adrenaline flowing through his veins and as he did so Roxie had put everything back on the tray on the low table. Apparently he had also jostled the torc as she also placed it on the tray. She was now standing, hanging her head, but her cheeks and ear tips were flushed a rosy shade of pink.
Suddenly he realized his silence might be mistaken for anger. “Roxie?”
“Yes my Lord?” Yep, he could hear something in her voice akin to embarrassment mixed with a healthy dose of fear.
“As I told ya before, it’s just the pair of us. Don’ worry ‘bout all that. You’re fine. No worries.”
Roxie looked up and nodded. She gave him a wan smile, saying nothing, but her body relaxed.
He stepped near her, bending over the pick up the torc. She smelled of wildflowers as always, Summer Fae must save a tremendous amount of money on perfume. “What were ya afraid of?”
She hesitated to reply, clearly deciding on her word choice. “Your displeasure my Lord.”
He reached up and touched her left cheek with his right hand. As she had done several times before, she nuzzled his touch. “I’m not like them Roxie.” The emphasized word seemed to convey all the scorn an Irishman could heap upon the ghosts of monarchy.
“I cherish that difference my Lord; these two months have been a joy… my apologies.”
“Don’t apologize for interrupting me when it’s just the two of us. If you must apologize, let it be for being afraid of me.” Conor noticed that he had started running his fingers through Roxie’s golden hair and stopped, putting his hand down.
She smiled a real smile, “Then please accept my apologies your Lordship.”
He nodded. He then raised the torc up between them at about neck level to him, forehead level to her. He gave then gave it an emphatic shake, “To finish answering your question. Yes I have made plans, but within the Nevernever. Care to join me?”
Conor stood in the Nevernever’s version of Highland Park. Everywhere he looked, the plants and grass looked like plastic. The trees appeared to have leaves printed with the faint outlines of currency. Huge outlines of the various houses wavered in place like ghosts, most of them hollow (his own included, on the roof of which he stood). Various Cobs and low Fae nodded to him as they went about their business. The only things around his ‘property’ in the Nevernever that looked real were the flowers and the butterflies. The morning sun on ‘the Other side’ was bright… and hot.
Roxie had changed her appearance; or rather her appearance had changed. Her face and features were the same, just slightly shifted to the Otherworldly. The tips of her ears were certainly pointed now. Erica and Matthew, fans of that movie with the space ship that looked like a flying pizza cutter and the pointy eared emotionless alien, would have been impressed by her ears.
Her dress looked much like it had in the physical world, save all that he had considered white cotton looked like woven silkworm webs and just as translucent. The floral print was now actually floral and it draped over her body like garlands. The primary bloom was the purple ‘Texas’ Wisteria and its fragrance was much stronger here than in the physical world. Her footwear appeared to be ‘high heeled’ sandals made from the shaped petal of a giant trumpet lily (the straps formed by the stamen, the heel by the stigma).
Unable to help himself, he just sort of… gawked.
Roxie smiled and spun in place, “Do you like it my Lord? I do so love summer. I can wear all my best dresses!”
He nodded, but it took him several heartbeats to feel confident enough again to speak. He was yet half mortal and from time to time he found himself still completely Faestruck.
“Aye Rox, aye. Now if you’ll excuse me?”
As she stepped aside, he took his torc and tossed it off his roof into the Nevernever equivalent of his back yard. He then closed his eyes, held out his arms as if welcoming the sunlight, and breathed slowly and steadily.
When he opened his eyes again, they were gently blazing blue. The sky suddenly became overcast, the Nevernever version of the city skyline obscured by a sudden fog. The plastic grass all turned lush and vibrant, glistening with moisture. The air also became cool as a breeze picked up, strong with the scent of the ocean and coming rain.
He then said, “mo theach, mo théarmaí, mo thalamh.”
Roxie then watched in amazement as the surrounding Nevernever bent itself to conform to Conor’s will. A Lord of the Sidhe was claiming his Demesne.
The backyard started growing, rising upwards and replacing the hollow house. The landscape became lush and emerald green, the moisture and coolness of the coastal air now unmistakable. Within moments, Roxie and Conor were standing on a low mountain peak covered in not only grass and rugged stone outcroppings, but also wildflowers and butterflies.
His eyes were now closed, arms still outstretched.
The golden torc began to grow in size, changing color and shape. It turned to a ring of unmortared stones, rising upwards row upon row, growing in diameter there on the mountain peak until it formed a fortress nearly eighty feet around and sixteen feet tall. It formed so quickly and such detail, Roxie knew that it was a memory of Conor’s given form. What had been the “gap” in the torc for the neck was now a low stone entryway into the ringfort. Then, as she watched, two great blonde Wolfhounds stepped out from within. Their features bore a striking resemblance to the canine heads that had until seconds ago, adorned the ends of Conor’s torc.
She continued watching the ringfort, expecting it to grow further – perhaps spires, a central building, something… but nothing. Then a sound behind and below her caused her to turn about. She was indeed on the top of a mountain, and Conor’s will was creating structures all around it.
Radiating out from the ringfort were concentric rings of terraces. Each terrace seemed to have either gardens or pens for animals; from where she stood she could even see a stone well. However, that wasn’t the truly amazing thing to her eyes.
At the foot of the mountain was a long, clear lake that curled around the base. Tall proud trees and lush verdant vegetation spread throughout the scene. Nestled at the base of the mountain, on the shores of the lake, was a massive manorial estate. It looked like an old castle that had grown over the centuries into a very comfortable residential complex.
Wild, rugged, and pristine wilderness spread as far as she could see, vanishing into foggy mists which she knew to be the furthest extent of her Lord’s Demesne.
She heard Conor exhale, and as he did so, flights of birds took off from various trees and then sounds come into being… rushing waters, the call of the birds, the rustle of the wind in the leaves. She saw a doe and a fawn drinking at the lakeside below, and the surface of the water ripple as a fish jumped. The Demesne came alive.
Conor was looking around as well. He had a grin. Perhaps two minutes in total had passed since he spoke his words.
“Where is the origin of this my Lord? Ireland?”
He said nothing for a heartbeat, “My mind Roxie… but yes. Most of this is back home in Connemara, in my home county of Galway. All save the ringfort, that’s a different memory. It’s to the north in Ulster.”
They said nothing, just enjoying the view for a moment. Then Conor spoke again, “Have you never been to Erin?”
Roxie shook her head, “No my Lord, not that I can recall. I have never been given leave to roam, and none whom I have ever served have taken me. What is this place called?”
Conor motioned to the massive old ringfort. "That is called Grianán Ailígh… I guess Grianan of Aileach in English. It was long ago a fortress of the O’Neill’s of Ulster. It was a symbol of O’Neill power an’ I played there as a child whenever I got the chance to go. I met many a tourist within an’ upon its walls. I had cousins in the North that we’d visit from time to time. Since The Lady Kenna gave me The Red Hand of Ulster in my arms, seemed the thing."
They walked through the very low entryway. “After all, could I call myself a Sidhe without a Líos?”
“No my lord, Sidhe and ringforts have great history. Though, this one is above the ground, so that’s different.”
He nodded, “Aye, but Grianán means a sunny place… I guess the O’Neills have always favored the Seelie.”
Roxie nodded with a laugh as she started to climb the stone steps to the “battlements.” There were a series of rings around the upper walls to form places where warriors could duck down for cover… a primitive battlement walk as it were.
Conor also climbed the walls and stood looking out over his Demesne from the mountain peak. He took in a deep breath and it smelled exactly as he remembered Donegal from so many years ago.
His companion was also enjoying her view of his memories given form. He then looked down the mountain slope towards the castle grounds.
“These mountains are Na Beanna Beola, in English they’re called the Twelve Bens or the Twelve Pins. I walked these mountains often an’ wasted many an hour at the weekend with my amadán friends up here… drinkin’ or tellin’ lies to impress the girls.”
She couldn’t help but laugh. Conor was grinning as well yet his eyes were unfocused; glazed over with memories.
“Down below, that’s Ballynahinch Castle… Baile na hInse… these days only rich tourists can afford to stay there. The lough, the lake there, many were the fish dinners I caught at its shore.”
“And now it’s all yours my Lord.”
His eyes refocused, “Aye, now it’s mine; at least, these shades of them anyway.”
“Dreams and memories given shape and form are real to our kind my Lord. So it has always been.”
He said nothing, starting the long walk down the mountain. It was nearly a kilometer from here to the castle.
After strolling a while he wondered, “Aren’t ya cold?”
Roxie laughed, “My Lord, unless you wish me to be otherwise, I will always be comfortable here. I will also be cold, wet, dry, or otherwise here as you will it.” She smiled. “In fact, it is because you remember the joy of walking down these mountains to Ballinahinch that we’re still moving in this way else we would already be within its walls if you willed it.”
He pondered her words for a few hundred more yards, and then it started to gently rain.
Suddenly Roxie squawked in a much undignified manner, she looked at him with a huge betrayed pout. “Well now I’m cold my Lord.”
Conor grinned, “Well I never remember bein’ here at this time of year an’ mornin’ an’ it ever bein’ much above the teens… em… the 50s and 60s in Fahrenheit. Just seems right to be a wee bit cold.”
He stopped and crooked his left arm, inviting her to hook hers into his own, which she did with a smile.
“My realm eh?”
Conor stooped down to pick up a branch, he then pushed on a random bump on the haft as if it was a button and the branch opened like a golf umbrella.
“Well look at that. A man could get spoiled.”
Roxie snuggled closer to Conor and the continued to walk down the mountain, both to stay dry under the umbrella as well as to share his warmth. She wasn’t quite prepared to use magic yet to stay warm, but was tempted… it was cold! She’d lived in Texas her whole life.
“Ever heard The Galway Shawl, Rox?”
“Is that a song or a garment my Lord?”
“The garment would be nice, if it’s warm. As for the song, I don’t know my Lord, you’ve sung many songs I don’t know the names to all of them yet.”
He thought to try out his “powers” again here in his Demesne. Like a stage magician, he reached into the “handle” of the umbrella and extracted an impossibly large piece of cloth considering the size of the branch. It was red wool, crochet into a rectangle with long fringe.
As he draped it over Roxie’s shoulders and hair he started to sing, “In Oranmore, in the County Galway…”
They had at last arrived at the grand front door of the main building, large portions of its front wall overgrown with ivy. Conor pushed open the unlocked door and stepped inside. It was exactly as he remembered from his tours of the real Ballynahinch as a younger man. The wood panels, the carpet, the furniture, the light fixtures, the smells, everything was as he recalled.
“May I explore my Lord?”
Conor then walked through the many rooms, once again experiencing the wonder of a poor Irish farmer boy seeing such splendors and wealth for the first time.
In the real world, Ballynahinch had become something of a luxury hotel, so all his memories were of it in that configuration. Which explained the room he had just wandered into; the pub. This was now his own pub. None of the fires were yet lit or going, and there was no real food as such as could be eaten by a mortal… but there was a pub. That also meant the restaurant was there as well, what was once the great hall and kitchens.
He continued to explore the various halls and rooms, meeting up with Roxie again in the main “reception” area, the front foyer. She had lit a fire and was sitting in one of the grand chairs.
With as cold as Conor was keeping his Demesne (subconsciously), the fire was quite welcome. He pulled himself up a chair. He reached over and picked up a book. He flipped through the pages and chuckled. The pages were faded, only the sentences that he remembered himself were legible and in many cases, a hand scrawled summary was all that there was.
“Will you see to properly decorating and stocking this place?”
She nodded, “Whatever you require my Lord.”
“Have you picked out a room for yourself?”
“I have a couple that I like; as it pleases you I can show you which and you can tell me which is my own.”
Conor chuckled, "You pick Roxie, you get first pick; then I’ll speak with Knobbycob, Verdia and so forth. I intend to make sure those who have been with me have a place."
Roxie nodded again, understanding perfectly. "What about Sir Trouble Hammer?"
He sat back, setting down the ‘book.’ “If he Oathswears to me, of course, as with any other. Otherwise, he can stay as a guest. I’m sure you can set up a guest wing here.”
“Of course my Lord. Then am I to be Chamberlain as well or Steward?”
He thought for a bit, “If the title will help you do what you must, then for now Roxie, I guess so – just until I get things sorted… Say, a month’s time – mortal month.”
“Very well my Lord. I also feel the need to remind Your Lordship that it is most likely lunchtime in the mortal world… and there is nothing here yet that will sustain your mortal half.”
“Very true, very true.” He was actually getting pretty hungry, but it was so pleasant in his new Demesne he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave just yet.
There was a quiet pause. Into the silence, she spoke softly, “My Lord, always you ask me to do duties traditionally taken by gentlemen…”
“… for simplicity, I would happily be Mistress of thy House.”
“Oh Rox, as temptin’ as that is… an’ believe I’m not jokin’ when I say it’s sore temptin’ … simplicity is one thing it most certainly wouldn’t be.”
“As you wish my Lord.”
Conor sat in the quiet, looking into the flames. He could feel Roxie watching him.
“We’ll have to speak on that matter someday soon I think, just… not today.”
“Of course Your Lordship; I await thy pleasure, as always.”
Among other minor tweaks, I took the Demesne power with my new point of refresh.
Oh by the by “mo theach, mo théarmaí, mo thalamh” (my house, my terms, my land)