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The Changeling
An Ulster Legend

uls3.png

Ireland, January 1088

- 1 -
The Stolen Child​

Part One

Enri Ua Flaithri sat alone on the cold, damp grass, not minding the unpleasant clammy sensation as the wet dew of the grass seeped into his breeches. It was worth it, for a moment of peace, for solitude and tranquillity back at Dún Phádraig was near impossible. Below him lay the stream, and he enjoyed the sound of the gently lapping water and the sight of the setting sun’s golden reflection upon the stream. It was cold, to be expected of the season, but the weak rays of the sun provided enough warmth for Enri.

He was a young man, having not seen twenty summers, fair of face and with a keen intelligence in his eyes. Yet when he had not even reached maturity he had found a great realm thrust upon him, the conquests of his father Cu Uladh, the Hound of Ulster, and a responsibility greater than even the most prestigious of his forebears, the Lordship of both Ulster and Meath, a land that covered much of Eire. And now, his wife had borne him a son, and the Kingship of all Ireland lay within reach. My son, he thought, descendant of Brian Boruma, the golden child of destiny who shall rule as a true king…

But he knew it was not as simple as that. News had come that Lord Muirdetach O’Brien of Munster, father of his wife Imag, had bore another son with his new bride. There was a mutual dislike between the two Lords despite all the pretence of friendship, a jealousy on the part of Muirdetach who coveted Ulster’s power and wealth, and a frustration from Enri who resented this man who would stand in the way of the unification of Munster and Ulster, who would try and deny little Dunechaid his destiny, his birthright.

uls9.png

Enri’s thoughts were disturbed by footsteps, at first distant but gradually louder. Enri smiled warmly as he saw his cousin Donnchad emerge from behind the ridge. He was a powerful man of thirty five years, once a strong, valorous warrior but now serving as Steward of Ulster, a position he was content to keep. In his youth Enri had taken on Donnchad as a role model, aspiring to match his bravery and his courage, and the two remained good friends.

“Ah my lord, there you are! I thought you might have come up here.”

Enri chuckled. “Since I was wed to Imag I feel like I’ve not had a moment’s peace, my good friend. I just needed a few minutes to clear my head and collect my thoughts.”

Donnchad nodded, as the wind became more brisk. “Of course, of course…” He cast his gaze over the scene, and said, “Truly, I think Our Lord was particularly inspired when he made this land. You should feel blessed that He so favours our family.”

“Do not talk to me of Our Lord,” Enri said quietly. “My father’s work was his own.”

Donnchad breathed in sharply, and shook his head. “Oh Enri, I fear for you. I fear for your soul, and I fear that you may wind up gaining a terrible blight upon your person from His Holiness that will torment you for an eternity.”

Enri regarded his friend solemnly before letting out a stifled laugh. “Do not worry, my good man, I’ve learnt my lesson. I would not want to have the church bribe me again for my carelessness and my loose tongue. I‘ll carry on and pretend that I am among the faithful, even though we are taught it is a sin to lie.”

Donnchad was silent, as the sun began to disappear behind the horizon and the wind grew colder. Eventually he said, “I can’t understand, My Lord, why it is you feel like you do, why you hate God so, when your dear father was such a good, pious man…”

“My dear friend, I do not hate God. Tell me,” he continued, as he stood up and brushed himself down, “Do you hate the Sidhe?”

Donnchad’s brow furrowed with puzzlement. “No, of course I do not. The Sidhe do not exist.”

“Ah, then you must see why I do not hate Our Lord. Come, let us go back to the keep, for it grows inclement.”

They walked in silence, and Enri could not help feeling somewhat bad, but he knew what was in his heart and that he owed it to himself to follow it no matter what. If there was a just, all-loving God, he would not have taken Cillíne.

When they returned to the fort they found the place was gripped by some kind of a commotion, with servants and courtiers scurrying and hurrying their eyes filled with panic and confusion.

“What in blazes…”

Something had happened, that was obvious, and it was with great worry that Enri fought his way through the crowds into the Great Hall until he found Chancellor Affraic, whose face was as pale as a spirit.

“My Lady, what on earth is going on?” Enri said.

“Oh my Lord, it’s so terrible…”

He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her harder than he intended. “Tell me!”

“My lord, your son…"

"Yes?" he breathed.

"Your son, he is gone.”

Enri stood back, his mouth gaping. “Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“Just disappeared, vanished!”

Enri reeled with shock. It was not what he had dreaded, that Dunechaid lay dead, but somehow this felt worse. How could this have happened?

“Where is my wife? And the nurse?” he said.

“They are in the child’s quarters, follow me.”

He trailed after the young lady, only listening vaguely as she continued, “The nurse is devastated, and I believe her grief is genuine. It’s inexplicable, that he should have disappeared, for it is simply impossible. There are people coming and going all around, there is no way anyone could have got into the room and away with the babe in tow without being seen.”

When Enri came to the bleak room, he found himself set upon by the nurse, with limbs flailing and a flood of tears streaming from her red eyes.

“Oh my lord, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!”

He gently pushed aside, and saw his wife sitting beside the crib, looking at the emptiness where Duinechaid should have been. As his shadow passed over her she looked up, her expression blank.

“Who would do such a thing?” she said in almost a whisper. “Who would take my child?”

uls5.png

The Stolen Child
 

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Ah, Crusader Kings, my old haunt. This is a story based off a game starting as the Count of Ulaid in 1066, based on an idea I've had for an Irish AAR for quite a while now. It begins in 1088, and will only cover a small amount of game time. I've decided, like in Coz1's AAR The Eagle in Winter (which you should read, if you haven't already) to maintain a list of characters to avoid unnecesary confusion. Obviously the list will grow as it goes on. :)

Also, if your leery about narrative AARs or anything concerning the supernatural, be warned, for I see this more as an attempted novel than an AAR. ;)



List of characters in The Changeling

Enrí Ua Flaithri (1068 -) - Lord of Ulster and Meath, hero of the story.

Imag O’Brien (1068 -) - Wife of Enrí, eldest daughter of Muirdetach Lord of Munster.

Dunechaid Ua Flaithri (1086 -) - Firstborn son of Enri, heir to Ulster and second in line to Munster

Haíllíui (? - ) ?

Sechnassach Ua Flaithri (1058 -) - Marshal of Ulster

Affraic O’Connor (1068 -) - Chancellor, wife of Dun Sleibe’s son Corcc and daughter of the Lord of Connacht

Donnchad ua Flaithri (1053 -) - Steward of Ulster, younger brother of Dun Sleibe.

Cu Uladh Ua Flaithri (1024 - 1085) - Father of Enri, former Lord of Ulster until his death from old age.

Cillíne Ua Flaithri (1069 - 1082) Younger brother of Enri, murdered by poison.

Muirdetach O’Brien (1041 -) Lord of Munster.

Ruadri O’Connor - Lord of Connacht
 
Last edited:

unmerged(10971)

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Bah, the fairies seem to be slipping, the idea of a changeling is that the parents oughtn't to know anything happened. :D

I'm always good for a bit of Irish mythology (as long as it's properly done and not the modern-made mess people tend to throw out these days)
 

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Judas Maccabeus said:
Bah, the fairies seem to be slipping, the idea of a changeling is that the parents oughtn't to know anything happened. :D
Indeed it is. ;)
 

unmerged(59077)

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Interesting start.

And not good news for Ulster in general.
 

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RGB said:
Interesting start.

And not good news for Ulster in general.
Thanks. :)

And no, not good news at all. :eek:
 

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Part Two

Enri was silent. Imag looked at him pleadingly, imploringly, her eyes red with sorrow.

“There’s only one person who would do such a thing,” he said, coldly and quietly. Imag after a few seconds gasped, and eyed her husband with horror.

“You’re surely not suggesting-”

“Who else? I’m sorry, my love, but who else would desire to see some mishap befall my son?”

Imag shot up, glaring at her husband with furious, wretched eyes. “How dare you! How dare you! My father would never do such a thing! Duinechad is his grandchild! My father loves that child as a grandfather should. He is a good man.”

“He killed Cillíne,” Enri said so quietly it was barely audible.

An angry silence ensued, and Chancellor Affraic looked from husband to wife nervously before deciding to speak.

“Um, my lord, your suspicions, however well grounded they may be, simply cannot be true. As I said before, it is impossible that the child should have gone, for no man could have taken the babe without attracting notice.”

Enri shook his head, his heart pounding from anger and worry. “So who could have taken him?”

The next few hours were spend talking to everyone in the vicinity, questioning and interrogating everyone who was even vaguely near the child’s room, but Enri’s efforts were in vain. No one had seen or heard anything, and Enri had developed a severe headache. Clutching at his temple he retired to the solar, followed by Donnchad and Affraic.

“So the last person to see the child was my wife?”

Affraic nodded. “As far as we can tell, my lord. She called for the nurse and left the room, leaving little Duinechad alone for all of a minute. When the nurse entered the room, she found him gone.”

“Well,” said Donnchad, “if there is no natural explanation, we must begin considering a supernatural one…”

The sentence hung in the cold air for several moments unchallenged. Enri looked at Affraic, and then to Donnchad, and groaned loudly.

“I must sleep, my head gives me great pain. But tomorrow, as soon as dawn breaks, I shall start searching for my son. I will find my golden boy, no matter what. And I shall find whoever took him and make them pay with their blood.”

“I will talk to Aelflaed and have her instruct some of her servants to scour the land, my lord,” said Affraic smoothly. To her shock Enri slammed his wrist on the table, causing the wooden surface to reverberate loudly.

“No! I will go, and it will be I who finds him!”

Affraic and Donnchad exchanged a look, and very tenderly she said, “My lord, forgive me for my frankness, but I think you are not thinking straight. Ulster will not run itself.”

Enri sighed deeply, and spoke softly. “I don’t want Duinechad to be in the hands of strangers for any longer than he need be, would it be that he has not already been slain by my enemies. At dawn tomorrow I will leave, Ulster be damned.”

Without any warning he stood up and trampled out, leaving Affraic and Donnchad in a shocked silence.

“I fear his mind is made up, no matter what we say,” said Donnchad. Affraic nodded wearily. “All semblance of reason seems to have deserted him.”

“That dear golden child means more to him than anything in the whole world.”

uls11.png


***​

“You cannot be serious?” said Imag, incredulous. Enri had just told her what he intended to do, as they lay together on their bed some time later, his headache having abated somewhat. He looked at her in the soft moonlight which illuminated the room.

“I am, very much so. Whoever or whatever has stolen my child tries to subvert fate. This I cannot allow.”

“No, NO,” said Imag with forceful desperation, “Please, my love, think this through. You are a king, the most powerful man in all Eire. What would become of this land if, say, you were beaten to death like a common peasant on some god-forsaken road by brigands and bandits? Or you lost your way in the forest and never returned? You must think, please Enri, for all our sakes!”

Enri untangled himself from his wife, and lay on his back staring at the ceiling. “You cannot rely on other people in this world, my darling. If you want something doing, you’re better to do it yourself.” He shook his head sadly. “I never asked to be my father’s son, I never asked for this towering responsibility. And poor innocent Duinechad, neither did he…”

Imag stared at him, as a single tear trickled down her face. “Oh Enri, do not speak such words. The Lord has a plan for us all. But please, enough talk, we must try and sleep.”

With that she turned and lay facing away from him, leaving Enri staring into the moonlight, gravely pondering the mystery of his son’s disappearance.
 

LlywelynII

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Nah, this is very good. If you're really concerned about readership and fast replies, though, mebbe try HOI2. ;)

Two niggling points: a, he ain't got the crazed trait; and
b, it's really easy to find the kid. Just click on the shield to the left of his portrait.

But then, you already knew that :D
j.
 

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Llywelyn said:
Nah, this is very good. If you're really concerned about readership and fast replies, though, mebbe try HOI2. ;)

Two niggling points: a, he ain't got the crazed trait; and
b, it's really easy to find the kid. Just click on the shield to the left of his portrait.

But then, you already knew that :D
j.
I suck at HoI2. :(

And Enri's not mad, his son and heir has just gone missing, so we can forgive a little bit of irrationality, can't we? ;)
 

unmerged(59077)

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Hey. I'm still reading this.

And no, I don't think he neccessarily needs a "mad" trait though "stressed" would be appropriate.
 

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Part Three

Enri woke up, and for a few blissful seconds felt refreshed and carefree. Then he groaned, and rolled over, only to feel emptiness where he had expected Imag to be.

“Hmmph?”

He looked around the room, wiping his eyes, surprised to see the vibrant late morning sunlight that streamed into the room. So much for being woken up at dawn, he thought, as he stumbled out of bed and got hurriedly got dressed.

The keep seemed unusually quiet, and as Enri made his way towards the courtyard he was puzzled by the lack of activity. There was a hushed silence, almost as if everyone but he had fallen under some kind of enchantment. His footsteps echoed loudly on the stone floor, and as he walked Enri concentrated not on his surroundings but his own thoughts.

There was a small part of him that was angry that he had not been awoken at dawn, as instructed, but also a part of him that was glad. He felt bad for his harsh words, and of course realised that he had spoken foolishly; Imag and Affraic were right, it would be best to leave the search to the spy mistresses network of agents, men and women who knew how to gather information with delicate subtly. The Lord of Ulster and Meath doing the same thing, he thought with a wry laugh, would stick out like a sore thumb.

He came at last to the courtyard, and found the air to be fresh and pleasant, if with a cold edge. The small enclosed area was deserted apart from a solitary figure, someone he had definitely not expected to see.

“Enri! Oh Enri, I heard the news! So cruel, so cruel!”

“Mother?!”

They rushed to embrace, and as they did Enri said, “But we were not expecting you back for several weeks!”

Jimena de Leon nodded. “War has broken out with the Moors again, so my brother thought it best I come back early. King Recaredo hopes to drive the infidel out of Iberia completely, wouldn’t that just be marvellous?”

“It would, it would,” said Enri, with a degree of feigned conviction. “So how is Uncle Rodrigo? Has he gained any lands from the heathens?”

“No, my son, no. And I think you don’t really care about Rodrigo at the moment…”

Enri nodded glumly, as they sat down. “Forgive my lack of enthusiasm. Who was it that told you?”

“Your wife. It was she who greeted me.”

“Where is she now?”

“She said she was going to stay with her father.”

Enri tried not to grimace too much at mention of his father-in-law. “And I suppose as much as a goodbye was too much to ask for? Ah, well, let her do as she wishes. I need to speak with Aelflaed; I want all of Ulster, no, all of Eire itself scoured. Duinechad must be found.”

Jimena smiled. “Imag was talking with her earlier, and has already done everything.”

Enri stared at her incredulously. “Am I actually still the Lord around here, or has my wife secretly usurped my position?!”

Jimena laughed lightly. “You should be grateful, my son! But oh, you do look drained, Enri. Pale, like a ghost.”

“I am sick with worry. I lay awake for much of the night, and when I did sleep my dreams were twisted and disturbed. And the impossibility of Duinechad’s abduction, the sheer impossibility of it! I just don’t know what to think.”

“If only your father was here…” Jimena said, wistfully.

What, you mean Cu Uladh the pathetic drunkard, who talked of little else but ending his own life for most of the years I knew him? The man who would happily beat me and Cilline one moment and tell us he loved us the next, yet who is right at this moment being considered for sainthood by the hypocrites in Rome? Yes, I’m sure he would be really helpful!

That was what he wanted to say, but he did not want to upset his mother, who seemed blind to his faults, and so bit his tongue. Instead, he said simply, “But he’s not, is he?”

uls12.png

The "Hound of Ulster"

***​

Enri ordered the cook to lay on a special meal for his mother’s unexpected homecoming, but he could not help but feel Imag’s absence, nor could he shake off the feeling that he had driven her away. The more he thought the more he knew it to be true, and he felt frustrated and angry that she had not even allowed him the opportunity to apologise.

The food was a simple, yet nourishing and delicious, meal of game; pheasant and partridge soup followed by a main course of rabbit stew. Enri ate as much as he could manage, and when he had finished he wandered around the keep somewhat aimlessly, not knowing what to do. Jimena, tired from the journey, was sleeping, and there was no pressing affairs of the realm that he could delve into to distract his thoughts. So he decided to take a walk and have a look at the beautiful land he ruled, and wrapped himself in a plush fur cloak, a gift from one of his vassals. As he was leaving he caught sight of Chancellor Affraic, who ran towards him with an alarmed look on her face.

“My lord, I-”

Enri shushed her, and she blinked in surprise. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I only go to get some fresh air, to clear my head. And let me apologise for my unreasoned behaviour, I’m sure you appreciate the anguish this whole dreadful business has caused me.”

He turned and walked away out of the fort leaving Affraic staring, and headed for the woods.
 

unmerged(59077)

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And now on to meet the Sidhe.
 

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Fiftypence said:
Anyone? At all?


*raises his hand sheepishly and asks in a nervous voice:*

May I read along?


Enjoying it so far. And we have something in common: I suck at HoI2 too. :D
 

LlywelynII

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Good stuff. :) Esp. like the characterization on the mother and the job you do of fleshing out his skepticism. I'll be disappointed if he loses it by event.

Fiftypence said:
What, you mean Cu Uladh the pathetic drunkard, who talked of little else but ending his own life for most of the years I knew him? The man who would happily beat me and Cilline one moment and tell us he loved us the next, yet who is right at this moment being considered for sainthood by the hypocrites in Rome? Yes, I’m sure he would be really helpful!

Patron saint of Meath, Ulster, and "parental discipline."
Heh.
 

Estonianzulu

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Excellent AAR, I'm intrigued to find out the future of the young boy; not many heirs are raised by the fey.
 

Fiftypence

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RGB: Not just yet. ;)

Garuda: Good to know I'm not the only one. :D

Judas Maccabeus: Yeah, I guess.

Specialist290: Thanks.

Llywelyn: Uh, well he's already lost the sceptical trait. He was until I got one of those events where you have the choice of either paying a load of money or getting excommunicated. In the story he's still sceptical at heart, but not in front of anyone he does not trust. ;)
 

Fiftypence

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- 2 -
The Lady in the Woods​

Part One

The path through the woods was well trodden by the feet of men and the hooves of horse, and it was a path Enri knew well. The trees were bare and barren of leaves, and the rays of light that crept through were pale and weak, and apart from the occasional rustling of some hidden creature, it seemed gloomy and lifeless. As he walked, following the path of the gushing stream, Enri could imagine that he was the only person in the world, the dead forest a vast chamber of solitude.

He was used to traversing through the forest on horseback, and with the company of Donnchad and Marshal Sechnassach as part of a hunting party, and while being on ground level lacked the exhilaration of riding it allowed him to appreciate it all a bit more, and despite the desolation he found it to be quite a magnificent place, full of beauty often unseen.

As he came to a fork in the path, he wrapped his furs tighter around himself and stopped, wondering which way to go. The path to the left, he knew, led ultimately towards Dublin, and it was obviously very well travelled, but the one to the right was unfamiliar. It was uninviting, with a tangle of branches and roots, and Enri knew that if he went left he could stop at Conlae MacEnnai’s tavern that lay not a mile away, and get some shelter from the cold. It was tempting, but in the end natural curiosity won and he turned right, and cleared a way through for himself, cursing and muttering as he repeatedly caught himself on the prickly brambles.

A couple of minutes later, with his clothes scruffy and torn and his hands red from scratches, Enri began to regret his decision. The brush got increasingly dense and overgrown, and he was thankful when he heard the trickling of the stream ahead, and a moment later came upon a clearing. He clambered out into the open space and dislodged all the twigs and dirt from his tatty clothing, and looked up into two fierce eyes.

“Uh,” he said, as the great, powerful stag before him stared with surprise and malice. For one surreal moment the world seemed to stand still, with neither beast or man moving, just staring, both absolutely still. Enri swallowed hard, and could feel his heart racing. The stag grunted, the warm, leafy stench of it breath hitting Enri with all its force. It’s eyes were filled with a hauntingly intelligent hatred, almost as if it was saying, you’ve killed so many of my friends and family, puny human, now it’s payback time. But there was also something else, something beyond that, but he was in no position to give serious thought to the matter. Hiss legs were aching and painful, and he desperately wanted to wash his wounds in the enticing stream that lay tantalisingly close, blocked only by the hulking great animal that stood before him.

He had encountered stags before, but always on horseback and armed, and so he had no idea how he should react now, face to face with this great beast with its huge antlers that reminded Enri of thick tree branches. He was used to seeing them running, their eyes glinting with terror, but this stag had no fear in it’s eyes. It sensed the advantage, and was waiting for Enri to make some kind of move. Fight or flight, the choice had to be made.

As Enri gulped with fear, the stag seemed to lose concentration, something had distracted it. The beast abruptly turned its head, and Enri vaguely heard a rustle from the undergrowth, barely audible over the thumping of his heart. To his astonishment he had the decision made for him, as the stag breathed its last breath and it’s eyes filled with a look of overwhelming terror, before collapsing heavily to the floor, the thud echoing all around the woods. Enri, completely bewildered, had no time to think, and prepared himself for this new threat, whatever it could be. He dreaded to think; what on earth could be so horrifically terrifying to make a stag fall and die from the shock?

He turned, preparing for the worst, and could not help crying out with surprise, for beside the stream there stood a woman, with a voluminous mass of golden hair and dark, cat like eyes. She was dressed head to toe in what looked like a dark blue gown, haggardly and torn in several places. Despite her calm demeanour she looked flushed and tired, and he realised that he probably looked the same to her. She stepped towards him, not appearing to take any notice him, and looked down at the corpse of the stag and sighed. Then she looked up at Enri.

“Well, aren’t you going to say thank you?” she purred, with a sly smile.

“Uh, well, yes, I suppose,” Enri said with a stutter, as he tried to get a grasp on the situation. “Um, Forgive me for asking, but what exactly did you do? The fear in it’s eyes…I mean, well…”

“Don’t worry about that,” she said softly, dismissively. She kneeled down beside the stag. “They think I don’t know the kinds of tricks they use…” she murmured, seemingly to herself. She laughed softly. “They are going to have to try harder than that.”

Enri opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. He had no idea who this woman was or what on earth she was talking about, and decided the only thing he could think to do was to introduce himself.

“My lady, I am Lord Enri Ua Flaithri of Ulster and Meath, at your service.”

Her eyes shot up, and a smile came to her lips. “My name is Haíllíui. Ulster and Meath, quite impressive. At my service, you say?” She stood up, her eyes glittering.

“Well, it’s not meant to be taken literally, of course,” he said, the strange smile of the lady making him somewhat uneasy. “And the stag…”

“Forget the stag, I will explain it later. But come, you are bleeding, you should cleanse your wounds in the stream.”

With the dirt and blood washed away Enri felt much better, but many questions were forming in his mind about this strange lady, questions he was determined to find the answers to.
 
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