Paris Picnic

After leaving Alice and Jerod, Vere decides to take a walking tour of Corwin's palace, poking his head into each door he passes, greeting all the servants and staff with a smile and a nod. Eventually he makes them nervous enough that someone asks if they can direct him somewhere.

Vere pauses at this question, tilts his head to one side, and then asks, "Actually, yes, I belive...." his gaze sharpens. "Is there such a thing as a library in the palace?"

Celina turns the lever handle and enters the library. The smell of leather and paper catches her by surprise. Nothing in Rebma or Seaward has really prepared her for the aroma.

And it seems to touch something in her heart immediately. That in turn is a mite disturbing. But she is looking for Lord Vere... and the servants assured her that he might be found within.

She moves about the complex space, only the slight slither of her metal-bead gown herald to her approach.

As she turns a corner she comes to a smallish nook, well lit by a high window facing the sun. Vere is sitting at a table, a finger marking his place in a book titled "La Vagabone," his face turned towards her. He rises when he sees who she is, and bows slightly. "Your Highness," he says. He is wearing the same simple robe he wore when he walked the Pattern, but now he wears a thick leather belt as well. In addition two streaks of colour now mark his right temple, that were not there last night or this morning.

The Seaward girl stops and smiles. "Lord Vere. Good morning, and congratulations on your experiment. Did you find it... tantalizing?"

Vere raises an eyebrow, and answers, "I do not believe that would have been the first word to occur to me in describing the walk. I can see a certain applicability, however."

With a gesture, Celina indicates a chair nearby and gives a questioning look to Vere.

"Please," he says.

She slides into the leather chair with a rustle. "You wanted a chance to ask about Rebma. Since I don't know how long you might be here, I thought I'd try and help you sooner, rather than later. This seems a good place for it."

Vere waits for her to be seated before he returns to his seat. He flips the book open briefly to memorize the page number, then closes it and sets it aside.

"You have my gratitude, Your Highness," he says. "Perhaps it would be best if I first explain my reasons for going to Rebma. Your father mentioned to you that I am the son of Gerard, who is his youngest brother save the King of Amber. My mother is The Lady of the Isles of the Dannan, a position which combines the roles and powers of Queen and High Priestess. During the period of Amber's war against Chaos her chancellor led a rebellion against her. My father and I only recently learned of this. In the normal course of things it would be his duty, as her consort, to lead troops to battle in her cause. However, he currently suffers from severe injuries, which make this impossible. It thus falls to me, in my former position as Lord Commander of the Brotherhood of the Stag, and as Prince Royal of the Isles, to raise troops and bring them to the defense and restoration of my mother's throne." He pauses for a moment, then continues. "The Isles, like Rebma, are ruled by the women of the realm. My hope is to find men who would like to seek a new life, to earn through valour a place of honour in a new homeland. Men who fight alongside me in this battle will be looked on favourably as husbands by the women of my land, so long as they are not too..." he pauses again, considering her, before finishing "...not too headstrong. Men who accept that a husband's place is to be his wife's loyal defender and obedient consort. I wish to petition Queen Moire to allow me to recruit for warriors in her realm, and I hope as well to begin a process that might lead to future trade and friendship between Rebma and my mother's realm. I think that The Isles would benefit from commerce with other realms, and I think Rebma would be the most logical place to begin such relations."

Celina's reactions to Vere's summary are complex but chiefly delight. Her head tilts like a cat watching a twitching target and her eyes dilate a bit in spite of the sun coming from the nearby window. She steeples both hands with her fingers loose but precisely matching tip to tip. Leaning a bit toward Vere, she waits as his summation rolls to a stop. "If you'd like, please call me Celina. That was an excellent precis. You will impress in Rebma's court." She licks her lips. "That is, Moire and her advisors believe strongly that the champion of a cause needs to have the passion of the cause. You seem to be that sort of man."

"I have two questions," she asks. "One: what truth is there to the rumor that royals of Amber command huge armies in shadow? Is your own army too far away? Two: do the Isles of the Dannan have those who can talk to the ocean? Is the living sea a factor in this coming battle?

"And as side comment, just for clarity, I don't know your source of information on Rebman men, but they are not as biddable as you may have heard in Amber." Celina shrugs, "It is more complicated than that. As someone from beyond Rebma, I see the men as being more partners with a predilection for giving the women their way with strategy while the men take care of implementation. Rebman men, certainly not all of them, can be very headstrong."

"Allow me to address the side issue first," Vere says. "The men of Amber are used to women who defer to men, at least among men and women of the same social rank. The women of the Isles tend to expect the same from their men. I am under the impression the situation in Rebma more closely remembers that of the Isles than it does Amber. I oversimplified the situation if I implied that the men or either Rebma or the Isles might be called 'biddable.'" He smiles, a trifle ruefully. "It is certainly the case that the women of the Isles often bemoan the fact that despite their strictest orders to the contrary their men will insist on fighting duels over the most trivial matters." He waves the matter aside for the moment with a graceful gesture.

Celina's expression says, 'ah'.

"Moving to your questions. I take it that you have not yet had instruction in the powers of the Pattern."

The girl agrees with a bob of her head.

"You are of the blood of Amber, and you have walked one of the Patterns. Therefore, you have gained certain abilities. Chief among these is the ability to travel between the worlds and to seek out whatsoever you desire in those worlds. So, yes, in theory I could travel the worlds and find an army ready to serve me. How long such a thing might take, and what dangers I might face in seeking it, I do not know. So, I seek a quicker route. I think it the wiser course."

This time, more engrossed, Celina actually gives a quiet, "Ah."

He frowns. "As to the question of the sea. That is a difficult one. Sorcery is the right of women in my world, and men are not allowed to study it. I do not know the full extent of the powers of the priestesses and sorceresses my mother commands, nor those that have turned traitor and joined her chancellor. And the abilities of the Witch Queens of the mainland, our traditional foes, who have joined forces with my mother's enemies, are even more a mystery to me."

"Well, even knowing it is already an important factor where you come from tells me much." Celina lapses into silence for a moment.

Vere nods agreement to this point.

"Your plan is a good one. An alliance with Rebma would be dependable, have magic counters to your enemies, allow for a future reciprocal strength, and be compatible culturally. Are you willing to put yourself under Queen Moire's authority?" Celina surprises herself with that last, but she rushes on. "I mean that the Queen might make it personal. For example, she might want your personal guarantee of something in return. She might want you to marry someone she names, or provide some service that benefits Rebma. It might even be more mysterious--were despite all you know, you can't guess at what She gets from the trade."

Celina's voice slides to a rueful tone. "She's like that."

"She is a queen," Vere replies. "I would not be surprised if my mother or sister were to act in a similar fashion, were someone to come requesting aid from them in their power." He frowns. "I have previous binding oaths that limit my ability to make promises, and they must take precedence over whatever Queen Moire would ask of me. I cannot make personal guarantees as to what my mother will agree to, of course. I am Prince Royal, not Crown Princess. I can offer the possibilities of trade and alliance, but make no promises." He sighs. "It is a position of weakness for negotiation. I understand this." A smile chases away the frown, and he adds, "And I fear I am not a candidate for marriage at this point, as I have been sworn to another."

"You do have a few....difficulties to work around," Celina offers. "Except congratulations on the engagment. I hope that it offers you many years of full heart." Celina suddenly leans far forward. "Tell Moire that in exchange for military aid you will spend your heartfast journey in Rebma as her guests. Then you might also mention that you have walked Paris' Pattern. I think that will be a significant offer to her--though I'm not exactly sure why." She smiles.

She leans back to a more relaxed seat. "Moire wants more connections to Paris, which she sees as a vital new place. Paris' Pattern is not just a symbol of that, it is a real connection to that. You would be able to see Rebma and make the associations with it that might foster connections of the heart?"

Celina shrugs.

Vere regards her with interest. "This is not something I would have thought of," he admits. He considers the concept in silence for a few moments. "If you truly think it might be a matter of interest to her..." His eyes grow distant. "I confess that I have wondered if a part of my decision that Rebma was a logical place to seek warriors was not my own desire to see that realm. The sea has been a great passion of mine since my earliest days, in all her mystery and power. To actually dwell within her..." he blinks, and forcibly brings himself back to the here and now.

Celina gives him a huge smile.

He smiles at Celina with genuine warmth. "I thank you for the advice, and I thank you also for the congratulations. Of course, I also face the problem that I cannot truly make this promise to Queen Moire, for where we travel will of course be up to my...." his face grows distant again, and his smile slightly foolish, " wife-to-be," he finishes. He absently reaches up and twines the hair on his right temple between two fingers. "The Lady Robin in Rebma. She will either love it, or...." he chuckles slightly. "I had not considered it before, but my lady is most like unto the sea herself."

"Then she will not shy from giving her opinion of the idea," Celina comments. "In some ways, that's the start of a beautiful relationship."

"Not shy, no," Vere murmurs quietly, his smile growing a little wider.

Celina relaxes into the chair and lifts her feet off the floor in a stretch. Then settles them again. "I'm glad I could help you. You were kind to me last night, when things could have been grim."

Vere inclines his head, "I feared at the time that you misinterpreted my tendency towards silence as mislike. In truth, I was raised to defer to the greater wisdom of the women around me, and since such deference is not always to my liking I learned silence as an alternative. Most women in my homeland interpret a silent man as an obedient one." He shrugs, the smile slipping slightly. "It is a lesson that I have had some trouble unlearning. Silence and watchfulness still come most naturally to me in the majority of situations."

Celina flushes. "I was confused. Maybe more tired than I realized. That's part of why I wanted to talk to you as soon as I could today. The Rebmans have accepted the news of my 'elevation' with grace and practical aplomb. I haven't offended anyone today..." and she puts one hand over her right eye "or tried to hit a man on bended knee. Starfish." She shakes her head. "No. Today is much better and tomorrow will be even better than today."

Vere tilts his head to one side and lets his eyes drift as she speaks, so that they are looking somewhere just over her right shoulder. After a few moments, he says, "If I might, Celina, I would ask if you would permit me to make a personal observation? I seldom like to do such, for I have found that few people wish to hear honest opinions. Please, if you would prefer that I not intrude my personal opinions, do tell me so. I shall not be offended."

"Well," Celina looks at him. She traces the outline of his face, the steady reflection of his eyes. That gaze seeking a distant horizon, or one so close as to be invisible. "I am used to personal observations. I can imagine comments that aren't personal, and how useful they might be to some. But even in Rebman court, I preferred the personal to the abstract or merely placating." She runs her palms forward on her thighs to her knees. "Go ahead. Be personal."

Vere nods, his eyes still focused in the distance. "You worry about causing offense. That is admirable. You are concerned about your lack of understanding of the political intrigue and the intentions of those about you. That is wise. However...." His gaze abruptly snaps back to hers, and he leans forward, "However, Celina, you allow this to show. Your concerns, your worries, they all run near the surface. Where the predators can see them, and interpret them as weakness."

Celina's eyes narrow on his look.

He holds out a hand, palm up, to forestall comment. "I do not say they are weakness, nor do I necessarily consider them such. But the watching eyes will. And you are now a recognized Power, Celina. And there will always be eyes, judging you, deciding how they can best approach you for their own ends, how they can twist the weaknesses they sense for their own benefit." He sits back, fall silent, and watches her, his eyes judging her reaction.

She is not static in repose, but she seems to be slowed between one breath and the next. Her face focused on his as if they had known each other for years and years.

"That's not offensive. That's the truth." She responds. "I suppose--." She relaxes now, letting her hands slide back into her lap and leaning back into the seat. "I'll get a lot of practice now, sharpening up my few skills. All those predators. All those weaknesses attacked, tested, and toughened. I'll be an easy target. A fish out of water. Isn't that what they say, 'topside'?"

Celina smiles at him, part lazy, part mystery. "I like you."

"Thank you," he says gravely, bowing his head slightly. "I rather think I like you, as well. And I think my lady would as well. I hope the two of you can meet sometime soon."

"Gladly will I kiss her hand," replies Celina, "and tell her of your kindness." She waits a moment. "Will you go with Jerod to Rebma? And as he might say, is there anything else that I might do for you? Some question about the women of Rebma?"

"I shall indeed be going with Jerod," Vere replies. "As to the second question...." he pauses and considers for a moment before saying, "Perhaps what I should ask is that you tell me what you think I should know?"

"My very humble observation is that you are a delight and already know what you need to know. The ladies should find you charming. Your mission may not succeed as you wish, but I think you will make a good impression." Celina purses her lips. She eyes his marked hair. "Doesn't hurt that you've marked your betrothal oath visibly either. A man serious about his oaths is one that a queen can deal with."

Vere laughs lightly, and touches the side of his head with fondness. "Thank you," he says. He looks at her silently for a moment, then asks, "Is there anything else I can tell you, about Amber, the family, or any other matter? You have been thrown among us suddenly, and while I have not lived in Amber for long, comparatively, and have not had great experience with many of our relatives, I do flatter myself that I have some talent at observation. I will be happy to answer whatever questions you might have."

This question makes the lady smile slightly, which she smothers lest she give yet another wrong impression. "That's kind, except that Rebma is not so far away from Amber that there isn't a lot of talk about it. Though your direct experience is probably much more accurate. It would take time to whittle down what I already know that is wrong and start to rebuild something more useful--since I'll go off assuming various things."

She mulls a moment more. "I think it a while before I'm likely to be invited to Amber. But there is something that I know nothing about--and changing that might be a better piece of work. Faster, too.

"The War... people talk about it. I was small and far from any battle. In Rebma, and recently here they talk about the Chaos men and not-men who tried to take Amber down. I thought to ask Jerod, but those enemies killed his father. I didn't know what sort of response stirring that all might get.

"Now one of these Chaos wants to kill or punish my brother, perhaps my father too. I need to know more about them. Can you tell me anything about Chaos, Vere?" she looks frankly hopeful.

Vere will tell her everything he has heard about Chaos - not nearly as much as he'd like to know, unfortunately. They're natural shapeshifters, everything is malleable, Will is the most important attribute of all, trumping everything else. They appear to be hazy on the concept of cooperation, preferring dominance, submission, conflict and avoidance. He'll describe the creatures of chaos that have been described to him by those who were at the Battle of the Abyss, stressing that these are second-hand reports. He'll describe in greater detail a few of the monstrous beasts that came out of the Black Forest, the manifestation of the Black Road in the Isles. He'll describe Dame Aisling, the descendent of Benedict, and her retainer Ce'e in some detail, although he is careful not to offer any sort of personal opinion about her.

Vere's idea of a general briefing is quite thorough, and he'll happily recite every single mention of Chaos that he has ever heard in his life, which could take several hours....

[[how cool. Celina will try not to moan in ecstacy. How many hours do we get? Anyplace else he has to be?]]

[This is the afternoon of Vere's walk, he was planning on staying in the library until he finally went to bed. All his appointments are for the next day. So he's hers for as long as she wants him. Finally meeting a relative who actually wants a full report on something is a delightful change for Vere....]

Well then the day wanes. Servants arrive to light the library lamps. Perhaps some thoughtful person brings a tray from the kitchen when the two fail to break for dinner. Celina will not quite hang on his every word, but she will be most attentive. Her questions will often more about 'terms' so that she has clarity about language twists from deep to surface. The questions will be short and direct, so as not to break the flow of information.

Vere appears to find the nature of the questions she asks to be fascinating, and several times clearly has to forcibly restrain himself from wandering off topic onto a discussion of the way in which differences in environment lead to differences in perception, and the way these differences can be analyzed through language.

And, of course, she will expose in herself such a thirst for knowledge that Vere will understand all the more how vulnerable she is. Come some late hour, Celina will allow manners to turn this seminar back into chat.

"Vere, I do think I'd be most partial to getting to know your lady. I don't think I caught her name?" her eyebrows will make hopeful the question.

"Ah," he says. "A serious failure on my part. The Lady Robin of Arden, the daughter of Prince Julian." He smiles. "Another of our many cousins whose existence was kept carefully hidden."

"Lady Robin," Celina smiles, "I will remember." She goes on. "I should probably let someone know I'm alive. It is a good sign that no one has come around checking my whereabouts." Celina unbends to her feet like a willow branch shaking off wind. "I am very appreciative of what you've shared. Even the secondary names and such. The Family names I'm trying to learn quickly, but we'll see."

Vere rises smoothly as she does so. "I am gratified that I was able to assist, Celina. Please call upon me if there is anything else I can do over the next couple of days. Or if there are any messages you wish sent to Rebma in a less official fashion than might otherwise be the case."

"What a challenge that would be--having you a successful diplomat to my Queen while carrying messages of how wroth I am with..." she pauses. She looks at the wall beyond him, then back at him. "Yes. A message. Please tell the Queen that I was well received here. Tell her that I look upon your personal mission with favor."

Vere nods.

"Good eve to you... cousin," she says with a smile. She takes Vere's hand and kisses the fingers lightly. Nods.

"Cousin," he says. He bows his head slightly to her, casting his eyes down for a moment before raising them again to look into hers.

Then, if no interruption, makes a casual sashay out of the library.

Vere watches her leave. Then, a smile still on his face, he collects the book he was reading and heads for his bedchamber.

There is a shadow over her. Above in the water.

With a start Celina wakes in the satin rumples of sheets. She rolls and thrashes. She gasps and whines. There is nothing there. No water. Nothing to breathe.


The thought hammers home through the swirl of her dream dregs. Celina smells the ginger from Jerod's special drink. The memory of it calms her breathing.

I can do this.

She goes slack, burying her head in the sheets. Calm. Her body shivers in the cool air.

Celina towels off from the scrubbing in the amusing rain shower booth. In the mirror's fog, she sketches Merlin's profile. She thinks to daub moisture from her center and draw an image of him to her.

No. Rude. And he's on edge, and a sorceror. Later, for my silly fetishes.

She ponders. Ravenna must be addressed immediately. But Merlin... ah, she should wear something of Paris. Nothing yet. Whatever. Go. Do this now. No stopping.

She smiles, realizing that without Moire, she snaps the whip on herself.

summary mode:

Ravenna will get the "honest version" of events. Celina is shocked. Moire has revealed that Corwin is her father. Celina is very shook up. She needs Ravenna to take over. Keep Celina from doing more than she should and placing either monarch's "stamp" on the negotiations.

Celina will not follow Jerod's ideal of implying that Moire will know if Ravenna allows this inforation to benefit Ravenna personally.

Celina will introduce Prince Merlin. Her "quiet" brother.

But she will tell Ravenna that Prince Jerod has offered to carry messages immediately if Ravenna desires. That in fact it appears that King Corwin is still considering the matter of Celina's birth and consequences. That it is likely no messages but Jerod's might pass Corwin's muster. Celina will not say these things are true, or absolutes. She will not speak for Corwin. She will make sure that Ravenna doesn't question her too closely about the King's plans. "I don't know him. What might he do?" is about what Celina will say on Corwin.

Then, Celina will tell Ravenna that there are other issues as well. And that Celina needs to find out much more. Celina will be on her own schedule. Ravenna will hold things together for the trade mission.

But for the Throne's sake, Ravenna should keep the entourage together and accountable. There are "enemies" hunting one of the Amber royals. Several attacks have happened. The Parisians have not told Celina who or what---but Celina doesn't want the Rebmans to be caught in the wrong place or implicated in anything that happens to Corwin's people.

So keep every Rebman in sight and heads down. Please.

To Ravenna: !Get that trade agreement!

One of the parties to the discussion is Kaia, the former ambassador to Amber, relieved of her post by the Duchess Valeria. She knows Merlin already, having come from Amber with him and Jerod, and questions him closely on the risks.

From her discussion with Merlin, and comments by Ravenna, it becomes clear to Celina that someone named Dara attacked Amber during an event to celebrate Random's coronation, and that a number of people were wounded and killed. Among the wounded, although apparently not badly so, was Prince Martin. Meanwhile, Duchess Valeria has remained in Amber to investigate the murder of her father, along with Bend and Montage. It now turns out that the murderer is a member of the Amber royal family, a son of Princess Fiona, and there are all sorts of complications that spring from that.

[Celina's understanding is that Valeria's father was murdered, probably along with the Gateway Ambassador, by the First Secretary of the Amber Embassy. Not surprising that she would investigate the murder there.]

There's a great deal of concern about how Moire will take all these interesting developments--not so much the Celina development, which, while shocking to Ravenna and Kaia, is presumably known to Moire--as the messy business of Valeria, Martin, and the Harga'rel murder. There is hope that Jerod's return will change what appears to be a very messy equation.

They take the opportunity to question Merlin about what Corwin is likely to do about Celina. He plays dumb. They should ask his father. He ignores flirtation when it is pointed his way. Nobody asks for his hand in marriage. While they don't discount him entirely, they are a little more free in their discussions than they might be in front of a woman.

Not so free as to discuss the intimate details of trade, however.

Directly from putting in time with the Rebman delegates, Celina excuses herself from Merlin in order to do a few morning exercises she was too tense to do earlier.

She spends about twenty minutes of morning in her room.

She changes clothes to a metal-beaded gown, something casual, and goes looking for a small meal. Luckily, in the airs of Paris, tracking these scents to the kitchen is not difficult.

Where she creates a modest amount a surprise by asking about food while eating samples of things standing up. She nods to the explanations by staff, and smiles quite a bit. She is also free with her explanation that she has never been 'topside' before and needs to know a bit more about her diet here.

Whether by chance or dint of other staff, Lady Alice finds her there.

"Good afternoon, Lady Celina," the older woman greets her. "Tasting what the kitchen has to offer so early? You'll spoil your dinner." But Alice's tone is teasing.

"Would you like to walk in the gardens for a little while? I can have the cooks prepare us a basket and tell you all about the contents."

"Delighted," Celina responds. "Gardens aren't likely to be similar here to what I'm used to. That makes it quite a good way to spend a bit of time. Thank you for asking." She gives a 'thank you' smile around to the kitchen staff. Stepping off to the side, she waits while Alice makes arrangements and they depart for the outside.

The basket seems quite heavy from the way Alice carries it.

"We'll have an afternoon picnic in the Tuileries Garden," Alice says, smiling. "We'll stay in the near reaches; there are cafes near the far end."

"This is all lovely. I'll let you be my guide." Celina nods.

Alice and Celina wander along the broad expanses of walkway and find a lovely reflecting pool, so large as to be a lake. Ducks swim in the center of the pool, undisturbed by the women's passage. When they settle at the edge of the pool, Alice doffs her shoes and stockings, and sticks her bare feet into the water.

Celina is delighted with this, she pulls the ankle-length hem of her dress up to waist and slides her feet into the water. A moment later, one foot kicks upward sending droplets into the sky like prisms. Then she just enjoys the pond. "Very sweet of you. This is lovely. Getting my feet wet in Paris."

"I thought you'd like it."

Celina does the courtesy of a nod confirming this. She glances at the basket as Alice opens it up.

There are different kinds of meat and cheese, some bread, a variety of fruits, and some sweets packed in the basket. Also, a bottle of wine and some glasses. Alice explains what each of the different kinds of food is, and a little about where they all come from as they eat.

Celina watches Alice carefully. At the first, she uses the top of her bare thighs for a tray. She adds a napkin when Alive provides.

"Your man is important to things past and future. He's a sharp knife. I hope we can be friends, Alice. I may be here a while."

"So Bill tells me," Alice says. She lowers her voice, even though there's no one by to hear. "He says you're Carl's daughter, by the Queen of Rebma, and that neither you nor Carl knew until last night. That must have been very upsetting for you."

Alice's voice is carefully neutral. She hands Celina another bite of cheese. "This is something like a cheese we call Havarti where I come from. The little green things are bits of dill, from a plant."

Respecting the lady's ways and sense, Celina lowers her voice as well. "I made a fool of myself. That's all. In front of everyone. The Duke who leaves for Rebma soon enough. Lord Vere. Merlin. Corwin. And your, Bill. I was a complete flying fish." All this time, she has fussed and studied the proper approach of her cheese nibble. Obvious to any observer that she is quite at ease.

She snacks then.

The taste is delightful and familiar. Then Celina remembers it from the Chemistry Incident at academy. "Did you say plant bits and dairy cheese? This isn't an stimulant is it?" She runs her tongue through the taste again. It is the same. "Are you trying to get me drunk?" The last is whispered with a smile of delight. "What's dill?"

"Dill's a plant we use for flavoring. It's not a stimulant as far as I know, although I can only guess what they've found out about it since I took home ec. The wine will get you drunk if you drink too much of it, but you'll develop a tolerance over time, and it's always easier on you if you take it with food. Now this is what I'd call "Swiss" cheese, but there's no Switzerland here. It's milder. You can tell it by the holes."

Celina rolls the phrase 'home ekk' around in her head and decides it means something about 'home shadow extro-chemistry'. She relaxes. Wines she has had before. Her tolerance ought to be the same in this air of Paris.

Alice tears the slice of cheese in half and hands the larger part to Celina. The smaller part she folds in two, and bites into it.

The Seaward lass sniffs and then tries it in small nibbles. Finding the subtle flavor very nice. She smiles back at Alice. She wants to ask about the holes --- but the gaffe with the dill-spread holds her back.

Once she's swallowed the bite of cheese, Alice asks, "Have you thought about what kind of role you'd like to have in Paris? Or will you even be staying?"

"Honestly," Celina responds quickly, "with the tales of bias against Llewella by topsiders, I can't imagine making a law that everyone has to like the girl with green hair." She stretches out her arm to the sun. "I'll probably darken in this heat, too." She matches her green gaze to Alice's.

Alice looks a little confused at the mention of a bias against Llewella, but either comes to her own conclusion or shelves the question for later. She picks out another hunk of cheese and starts slicing off bites for Celina and herself.

"But I'm willing to remain here as my father and brother work out problems that existed before I got here. So in that time, I'll take a role that allows me to wave a cheerful farewell at some point.

"Merlin has travel plans. I hope to be part of them. Somehow, I don't think my father will try to keep me here." Celina slides closer to Alice on the pool edge-stones. She flips her hems entirely into her lap so to not be dragging the exquisite beadwork on the stone. "But of course, you might have suggestions on a role. Figurehead involves too permanent a position. Mystery daughter seems to frivalous. Perhaps someone needs the river explored? Unlikely, I suppose." She stops. Smiles. "Your turn."

The bite of cheese Alice hands Celina is a brighter orangey yellow. "This is a cheddar. Medium sharp. They get sharper as they're aged, which is to say left longer. See what you think of it."

Celina takes it in hand and wafts it under her nose; raises her eyebrows with interest and looks at Alice.

"It's going to be difficult for you no matter what you do, Celina. As long as you stay here, people will have certain expectations of the King's daughter. Some of them will be disappointed in you even if you do everything perfectly, so you'll have to expect that. Maybe I can explain a little better if you tell me a bit about what you did in Rebma."

Alice bites into her own chunk of cheddar with obvious pleasure.

Celina nods to her advice. She bites her cheddar precisely with teeth. Crumbling it on her tongue she finds it better than the first. "Oh, this is good. It bites the senses. That's very perky." She savors a bit, thinking what to say about her life in Rebma. "Well, as lady of the royal bedchambers, I was the ears and legs for the Queen. Geting things from the Archive for Her. Taking messages around the palace galleries. Dismissing and tending servants at the Queen's chambers. Answering questions that She wanted to ask of a neophyte. Sometimes I would be included in informal court council, I always thought -- as the 'every person' voice -- since my upbringing was the merchant class."

Her voice is steady. "I guess that wasn't the real reason. She was seeing what sort of mind I had. What kind of person I'd grown up to be." Celina's eyes start to brim, she shifts her glance to the treeline slowly, so that Alice might not see. "My two aunts, they were all teacups and hand-oil, you know. Gentile ladies of a long line of merchant princesses. They could be quite fussy, but they did give me old fashioned manners. By design, I suppose."

Celina goes on more softly. Hoping Alice doesn't think her rude for not looking her way. "You're quite right about the... difficulties. Even if I was not so obviously different, people are going to measure what I do. I'm not good about that sort of thing. Always gets my back up."

"Is there something useful, but dangerous, that might prove to locals that I'm willing to help around here?"

She studies the tower of shadowed lace in the distance. Celina nods with her chin. "Little starfish. What is that, Alice? Is it pointed at something in particular? Or is it some sort of mooring for sky-ships?"

[assuming Eiffel's Tower clearly dominates one of the vista's...she didn't notice yesterday.]

[Yes, it does.]

"It's the Eiffel Tower, or at least that's what they called the one I knew. It was built as a showpiece for an international exhibition and they liked it so much they decided to keep it. I'm sure if the Princess Celina wants to tour it, they'll be very happy to show her around."

Celina stares at it. She tries to guess at the visual diffraction across distance in air. Wonders at its size. She licks her lips. "That is so arrogant and lovely. A showpiece. Yes." She brings her hands up into the air and gestures as if running her palms down the outside of the graceful slopes of lace. "It is quite provacative. I would like to see it closer."

Alice pulls a bottle of white wine out of the basket, and then two well-padded glasses, which she unwraps. Opening the wine is quite an effort for Alice--she explains apologetically that Bill used to do it at home--but once the job is complete, she pours out some for Celina and herself.

"It's to clear your palate," Alice explains.

"Salute. To your health. To Bill. To you." Celina sips and immediately enjoys the flavor. She eyes the distant Tower of Eiffel thoughtfully. Sips again.

"To adventures and princesses and living in palaces," Alice replies, and drinks.

"You know," she adds, "If you wanted to stay here and help your father for a while, much of what you've done sounds like practical preparation. Since Carl's not married, there would be a lot of--social duties--that would fall on you, though. Things that Parisians expect women to do. Danger isn't what the people of Paris expect women to get up to."

"Ah, I would like to help some way," murmurs Celina. She studies Alice over her glass of wine. "They expect women to manage the social side of a strong King. They expect a bit of exhibition. Showpiece." She adds a good-natured smile. "A goodly suggestion if it did not go on too long. I could take my visible differences and make a show of them. Perhaps women would begin to wear green eye-shadow, netted dresses, or..."

Shaking her head, she tosses off the whole fantasy. "Alice. I expect from what I've heard that you know what needs to be done. Are doing it already. That you have reason to--and enjoy--the social duties that my unmarried father would feel could be made brighter for your care and interest." Celina doesn't quite sigh. "I would never be happy with it--though I might well study with you just to understand it better." Celina leans closer. "Meaning I have so much to learn--things you understand implicitly--I'd be guessing at. You can't be a social icon and guess at people's reactions to you or your language. Am I wrong in this?" She raises an intimate eyebrow at Alice.

"I suppose I could help you establish your position more strongly--if there are some ambitious women that you might need help taming." Celina adds mysteriously.

While Celina speaks, Alice has been unwrapping another pale cheese, this one with green bits in it.

"There's not enough of a court to attract that kind of woman yet," Alice says, "Although I'm sure there will be. But I'm not to the manor born, either. I'm a middle-class housewife from the New York suburbs, Celina, not a noble lady from a fairy tale."

Which sparks an idea just out-of-focus with Celina. She goes back to studying the Tower of Eiffel.

She adds, "This one's spicy. At home I'd call it Monterey Jack, and that's some kind of peppery thing in it. Which just goes to show you that this isn't our Paris, because I'd look for that in Dallas instead."

The Seaward girl sniffs the offering. Nibbles at it. Scrunches her nose. "It has..." She bites and rolls the flavor about her mouth; then chuckles. "Oh, like a mismatched bit of caviar. Entertaining."

Celina looks at Alice. "We both seem to have similar backgrounds, if I understand what middle-class wife of house is. Values that are quite different from the tasks set in front of us today. I'll not tax you by asking about the rest. Yawk new. Or old. Burb below." She muses on her reflection in the water. Stirs her long leg in the pool.

"Pretend you have just asked for a primer in court politics," Celina says without preamble. "You are not to the manor born--so hear this."

Celina starts with poems of the 'Sisters Song of Interdependance'. She then moves to the 'Triple Axis of Intimate Access' and explains the twenty-seven personalities types that may present desires and agendas to authority. She continues, as long as Alice seems to listen, to unwrap the various things she was bade study when she first arrived at Rebma and was directed to stand at the edges of court.

She offers these things to Alice--who will someday hold influence for women who want power and plan to use Bill and Corwin whether Alice is present or no. Whether Alice is canny or not to the manor born.

The time slips foward. Celina seems relieved of some burden when she finishes.

Alice listens for as long as Celina speaks, at first sipping her wine, but eventually becoming so fascinated that she forgets to drink and produce more bits of cheese. At the end of the discourse, she sits still for a minute before remembering that she is, in theory, hosting here and offers Celina a little more wine.

The Seaward lass is thirsty after the long discourse and grateful to have another drink.

"I had no idea about all of that," she says. "It makes entertaining Bill's friends from the firm sound so--genteel. But I guess a law firm is sort of like a court, isn't it? I never really thought of it that way."

"Agreed. There are many things about it all I still do not like--even if I understand them in principle." And is that an understatment.

After a moment, she adds, "But things will be a little different for me. I'm the wife of Carl's hired man. Carl can knight him and call him Sir, and make him a lord, but I'll never be the King's kinswoman. And particularly not his marriageable daughter."

As she speaks, she unwraps another kind of cheese, crumbly and speckled in a bluish color.

Celina starts to object--but cannot complete the thought as Alice closes with 'marriageable daughter.' She counts to thirty internally and is surprised when she is able to completely erase the 'Celina packaged for marriage' image that appeared in her head.

Instead, Celina clears her throat, "I'm, ah, just the new girl in town. That said, I think Bill is much more than Corwin's--er, Carl's hired man. I think he is Carl's friend. Honored and accompanied by a very generous wife who may stick by the King when others do not." Celina takes Alice's hand and kisses the fingers. She puts it down again gently. "The daughter isn't looking to be married. Nice thought. Completely unlikely, even having just known my father for a few hours. What's more, it won't take much work for others to realize that there isn't a plankton's chance of convincing anyone in my family it would be a good idea unless I thought it was a good idea."

Celina kicks her feet beneath the surface of the pond. "Those women and men that look to the King's daughter as a route to power and influence will not succeed or see results. They will not expend themselves for such meager returns. Not those kind of people."

She takes another taste of cheese. "My turn."

"What kind of women is Carl attracted to, Alice?" She smiles.

"He certainly got along with every woman I paired him with at the dinner table, but I never asked beyond that," Alice replies. "I don't think he's looking to marry soon. He has an heir and a spare now, so there's no urgency."

Celina laughs a bit.

She pulls a baguette from the basket and breaks it in half, offering the slightly longer end to Celina.

Who nods and accepts.

"Paris is a bit of a frontier town. It's heavily male right now, so there aren't a lot of eligible women to throw themselves at your father. I'm sure that will change in time, though."

"I'm sure it will," Celina agrees. "He'll certainly see to that I would think."

"If only to make sure there are enough women to feed him home cooking at dinner parties," Alice agrees, with a sparkle in her eye.

Celina scrunches up her nose and avoids a telling chuckle though it rests in her eyes. She nods.

Celina spends a moment musing on the Lady Robin and Vere, but doesn't have a good idea of what Robin might look like. Something vaguely bookish occurs to her. Her idle shifts to Carina and Jerod in marriage finery. Then again on Moire and Corwin, both naked in her mind. She glances up at Alice, mentally stripping down her clothes and garbing her royally in gown and jewelry of Rebman sophistication. She smiles.

"Perhaps my new role for a few days is to make sure that Paris gets its fair share of women who have an idea for the future." She nods, and looks off at Eiffel's Tower. It suddenly occurs to her that Eiffel is probably a man.

"Yes." Celina nods definitely. "That's a very good idea. Alice, thank you."

Celina starts to laugh.

"Oh-ho," says Alice, but she's smiling too. "Bill told me a bit about Rebman women. I don't know how they'll take to bra-burners here, but it will be interesting to find out." Another cheese, this one crumbly but without the speckled bits, is unwrapped and presented to Celina.

"I'd call this a feta." She adds, "It's a good thing you're Carl's daughter or I'd worry about spoiling your dinner."

Bra burners? Celina accepts the cheese delight. Tastes it while trying variations of the unfamiliar words Alice has just used. Bra burner. Brazier? Ah, the Rebman lava stones in brass caskets used to warm the currents passing through common rooms. So Alice is making a clever twist on how a Rebman woman might 'heat things up' in Paris.

Celina grins at the word play. "Yes. It would be interesting. I'm sure that a lot of men wouldn't mind at first. New ideas in pretty wrappers. And a frontier needs women who are a bit wetter than linen and fingerbowl types." She nibbles the feta. Thinks about 'spoiling' dinner. Never. If anything, I've been hungrier breathing air. I wonder if the waters of Rebma also have some nutrient component I'm now missing? Starfish, the food tastes so delicious.

"It'll be a while before Paris can support the sort of idle rich women who can afford the daintiness of fingerbowls. Women like I used to be," Alice says, grinning ruefully. "Do you think women from Rebma would really be interested in coming to Paris? Or are you going to look somewhere else for them?"

Celina nibbles and looks over Alice's shoulder at the Tower. "Somewhere else, I think. Rebman women would be possible, but might think they were here for the wrong reason. Things in Rebma need to find a peace before I will be eager to mix my own hopes with those of her subtle sisters." Celina pauses thinking she has said enough, and then finds herself going on.

"I wanted to be part of it." She finishes the cheese. "Seaward hears about Rebma. Things of culture and awe filter out to Seaward and we all find a fascination with imagining ourselves going to Rebma and being a part of the vibrancy. Rebma is awesome. Beautiful. The Galleries of Art can touch you right down to your toes. There is a statue in one gallery that I kissed once--I couldn't help myself. There are also dark places no mirror sheds light. Where a girl can't even keep her love warm for how cold the shadows are."

Alice nods, and it occurs to Celina that Alice really might understand about that.

And Celina is pleased that some peripheral part of her awareness registers this bridge to Alice.

Celina comes back from far away. "Yes. I will go into the shadows and find women to put their hopes in Paris. By this I will also put some of my own here."

Alice fishes out a paper of some waxy substance, not unlike the oilskins one uses to hold messages to air-breathers in Rebma, and unwraps it. In it, there are little swirled slices of pink meat and some pale cheese, as if they'd been rolled together and sliced like bread. "Prosciutto and mozzarella," Alice says by way of explanation.

She takes one herself and nibbles on it.

Celina tries one also, smiling to Alice. The message is clear that she is having fun.

After [Alice] has swallowed her bite and washed it down with a sip of wine, she asks Celina, "Will you be looking for a bride for your father?"

"Never." Celina snaps. She starts then, saddened that it came out so. "No, Alice, not your question. I mean to say-- that I don't want anything to do with my father's relationships." Her next words are chill. "Or my mother's." She recovers some warmth. "And the last thing I'd do is try to insure that such things turned out one way or the other. Spines! That would be insane. What do I know about--." She stops dead before she informs herself out loud.


Aranging things. Preparing me for Moire. Bending me to a shape that suits the need. Royal need.

Talk. Say something. Keep the conversation going. Idiot.

My aunties. Perparing me. Moire.

Spines. There isn't any love in any of it.

Celina wraps her arms about her stomach, trying to hold back the sensations. She knows the flutter of her diaphram is tears coming. She knows she is going to lose control. Again. She leans forward on her arms, trying for a deep calming swallow of cool water--but it is only warm air.

Tears fall on her legs. She holds very still. Breathing.

She does not turn her face away from Alice. Some thought registers that it would make things worse for Bill's wife if she tried.

Alice scoots over to Celina and puts her arm around the younger woman. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked that." She pets Celina's shoulder, waiting for her to regain her composure.

Breathing brings her forward moment by moment. The pain does not stop. The tears do not stop, either. "Why not? It was a perfectly reasonable question. I'm just not a reasonable woman."

Keep going. Don't stop. Celina works the mantra deep within herself and slowly straightens.

"My father will someday need a queen. If he wants my opinion, I hope he feels free to ask for it." Celina slides her arm about Alice's waist and gives her a squeeze. She does not fuss with her tears at all. "I hope I will have some good things to share about the matter." Yes. What do I know about love? What did you teach me Khela? Why?

Shaking back her hair, she looks again at the distant Tower. One tear falls off her chin.

"Several someones shaped and made that a beautiful thing. Does that mean they loved it? Could they all? No. Not likely. Did even one person love it? Worry over it at odd moments of the night?" Celina narrows her eyes. "I hope so. I'd hate to think something that stands so straight and graceful was never loved."

Celina shifts her legs. "I... don't think I'm hungry anymore, Alice. Don't mind me so much. Everything is still too new."

Alice gives Celina a squeeze. "We'll wait here a little while and see if your appetite comes back. And maybe we can talk of lighter things for a while."

I wonder that I'm not boring her to tears. She's very kind. Celina uses her fingertip to very precisely dab at her eyes and carry away the excess water that normally would wash away in the currents of the sea. She drops her hand then to the pool beneath her legs, returning the water to source.

"Lighter?" Celina nods. "Children? Daughters, Alice? Have you and Bill started a family?"

Celina will attend to Alice, learning more about the world that Corwin came from in returning to Amber.

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Last modified: 30 December 2003