Honouring a promise to the feral Esmalia and her hoodlum friends, Swampy smuggles Gretchen into the city of Merkabar. The main gates are guarded by Elyon Knights and detect chaos is routinely used on disreputable travellers – and Gretchen is very disreputable – so Swampy approaches the River Elves to find a barge willing to take them through the River Gates and drop them at one of the Silent Wharves with the usual contraband.
Escorting Gretchen through the sewers, Swampy is unnerved by the growing crowds of rats that emerge and shadow them. Once inside the city, they follow a storm drain into the Nether Courts where a boat is waiting for them, crewed by four Cauldron-born with their eyes and lips sewed shut. Gretchen boards the boat like visiting royalty but then turns and speaks to Swampy for the first and only time.
“Are you coming with us all the way?”
Swampy is curious but a wise head overrules a burning imagination. He watches as the boat passes through a curtain of water from an aquaduct high above and vanishes.
Up in the Arcane Sook, he rescues another Swamp Elf, Achachak, from abuse by a crowd that dislikes his preaching. The prattling Achachak reveals that the Elders are receiving prophetic visions again and asks Swampy if he has seen omens in his descent into Stonehell.
Swampy sends money to pay the Elfin Dignity to Molimo, but with the rest he goes gambling and befriends a plated-ghoul named Silvernose who is pursuing a gambler with unpaid debts. Swampy hires Silvernose to investigate Gretchen.
His friend Horatio contacts him with a request. Horatio wants to visit the Swamp Elf Deepings to purchase Sweetsedge for Molimo. This aromatic reed is treasured by the Myrhaku and adorns their holy places. The shaman Bemidye is reluctant to sell any but an Myrhak woman named Huyanah is willing to help. She is the widow of a sedge harvester, owns her own skiff and knows the craft. The three of them travel into the swamps, avoiding cockatrices and lizardfolk, and find a crown of Swampsedge, which Huyanah cuts down with a single sickle-stroke, letting now reed touch the water. Swampy collects a fallen flower as a good omen.
On their return to Merkabar, they see the city is ablaze.
Sick of high-handed and oppressive treatment from the ruling Ellyon – and especially the Dowager Sheryna of the Stainless Spire – the Danaan of the Western Paradise have risen up in riot and revolt. Their protests are joined by an Unseelie insurgency from the Nether Courts: boggarts and bugbears and troops of Cauldron-born. Patrol groups of Eunuch Guards are set upon and hanged in the streets. Ladies are pulled from their divans and abducted. Homes are broken into and babies snatched from cradles. The pleasure gardens of the Hekaloth of Virgins (or at least its lower apartments) is invaded by toadstool people and handmaidens and at least one Virgin Sheryna are dragged shrieking into the night.
Dawn rises over a stunned city. Realising the scale of the riot and its likely consequences, the O’Tigernaich are is first to respond. Sagard Credne orders the first barricade of the district’s main throughfare, cutting off the Western Paradise from the central courts of the city and sending pickets to block the viadicts to the Northern Paradise. The O’Niall Clan is quick to follow, closing down the bridges to the Southern Paradise.
Many Danaan join the barricades, adorning them with banners and the corpses of the hated Eunuch Guards. However, the Clans are divided. Laird Tyron O’Tigernaich is in the Heavenly Palace at a banquet. His high priest acted without his order. Laird Fiach O’Domnhaill bides his time, reluctant to act against his Ellyon friends.
Then the Unseelie Jest is revealed. Babies in their cots that had been so quiet for the last couple of days reveal themselves to be changelings: mere bundles of twigs animated by a fey glamour. Among the kidnapped infants is the newborn son of Laird Fiach O’Domnhaill – also the grandson of the Sher Adnazzar, a powerful Ellyon, and the twin daughters of Laird Quinn O’Fergus.
Dian observes these events with alarm and visits Suibne O’Niall and his lady Marain. The lord and lady are losing control of the situation, since they seem powerless to retrieve either the abducted infants or the kidnapped Ellyon virgins. Dian knows that Urisk the Satyr has perpetrated these outrages as insurance, to make sure Dian gifts him the Philtre of Love he craves. However, Dian doesn’t have the Philtre…
Meanwhile, the agents of Aofe O’Moen and the other Lairds comb the Nether Courts for the abducted babies and the crowds start to abandon the barricades in grief and confusion. Sensing advantage, the Ellyon muster their cavalry. Rumours swirl that the Satrap of the Western Paradise has been executed for incompetence, that Tyron O’Tigernaich languishes in a dungeon, that Fiach O’Domnhaill has committed troops to help the Ellyon restore order upon his own people.
The Dawn of Danaan pride begins to look like the Dusk of Danaan exile and slavery.