Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Once the festivities are well underway, Edan and his troop of city defenders arrive on their horses and hand them off to waiting grooms. The applause is plentiful and seems to be enthusiastic. Lord Mayor Ash greets the Order in the name of Xanadu and the King, and officially gives them the freedom of the city. Edan is asked to give a few words.
It is later in the afternoon, and the lengthening shadows combined with the harbor breeze have sapped much of the unpleasant heat of the day. Lamps are everywhere around the square, and the dancing area is already filled with moving bodies as a dance band plays fast and lively music.
And finally, the Order of the Lamp appears. Still but a company, around forty strong, but each rider is clad in a colorful uniform of red and white and black, and the horses are energetic and glossy and beautiful. Anyone in the know could see that Michelle did an amazing job in the preparation.
Normally, Edan would be clad in the same uniform, but today he is in dancing silks of his own colors; spotless white with a wide crimson sash as a belt. His feet and head are bare, and his hair transitions from dark roots to reddish ends. Here, there is no hiding the color of his eyes, and anyone can see the molten fiery gold of the irises. His sleeves are gathered strangely, lengths of extra crimson silk at his wrists. A pair of heavily taped and weighted Avernus hook-swords are thrust into his sash.
The riders' formation is like and yet unlike to the rangers; for as the rangers operate in groups of three, these troops ride and fight in groups of six. Their horses make patterns of stars as they make their way down to the town square.
They are relaxed as they can be, with the eyes of the city upon them and the applause around them. The mounts are well behaved, showing off, really, as the company moves down to the square. Grooms are there to take the horses as the knights dismount.
Celina notes the arrival of Corwin and Silhouette in serious conversation. Dolphin's face maintains its normal pleasant mien, but her Father seems very interested in the conversation.
Really? Celina sighs to herself.
Whatever it is, they finish their conversation momentarily thereafter and Corwin makes his way toward the dais, though it's not clear if he's coming for Celina.
Signy and Brita are also looking toward the dais where the Rebman party has gathered with the Queen. In the absence of Corwin and Random, Celina may be the senior Royal on the dais.
Celina judges that her Father is the weather. You cannot say where it is going but be prepared. So she waves to Signy and points to the stand area the Rebmans are holding.
Silhouette turns from her former companion and drifts toward the Rebman 'camp' with a purposeful gait. She tries to catch Celina's eye, bowing her head reverently.
Signy gives Brita a quick grin of farewell before threading her way through the crowd, managing to time it so that she falls in besides Silhouette, easily matching her stride.
"Cousin," she says quietly. Ho are you finding the festivities? There's business to be had, if you're looking for supplies."
Her face makes a momentary pout of distaste at the need for the practical realities of operating a smithy.
Silhouette quirks a brow, "Indeed? Business is my ambrosia, as it were. We can discuss this further whenever you desire." Her smile curls up, "And soon, I should commission you for a blade."
Celina nods a welcome as they approach the stand. She makes introductions to her Archivists present for Signy. The Rebmans know Silhouette. "How nice to see you both. I think the excitement is about to start. I admit I do not know much about horse dancing."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "If I'm not mistaken, my Queen, the stallion leads - with the exception of waltzes and soft-shoe."
From near the dais there is a fanfare of trumpets. For those who know Random (or Syd, as he called himself in Texorami)'s early compositions, it's a short piece entitled "Don't Tell ME not to give you high notes".
People across the square and beyond become still and quiet, anticipating some sort of presentation or speech. Those people are not disappointed, as first Prince Corwin welcomes Edan and his knights in the name of his brother-the-King and then, following applause, Edan himself speaks, magically amplified. People seem as impressed by that as his riding, although a few seem less than thrilled to experience actual magic.
Lord Mayor Ash has several young men light additional lamps, and the floor is cleared for Edan's entertainment and demonstration of skill. Ash also has people to keep the crowd from pressing too close to the knights as they perform.
Celina spends some time examining the methods of her cousin's mastery of the sound amplification. She then nods to Silhouette. "Does the stallion always lead in Xanadu, or were you speaking for all shadows you have seen so far, Silhouette?" Celina grins to let both cousins know she is enjoying the jest. She'll find out what soft-shoe is later. Probably a kind of horse footgear thing.
Silhouette continues to smile, "Regrettably, it appears to be a widespread truism. Pity, really, as through observation, I've found mares far more kinesiologically-inclined."
She pauses to observe Edan's use of magic, cocking her head mechanically. "Intriguing. I must speak to him afterwards. His technique might benefit the work I've done for King Random." She glances between her companions, "Do the paradigms here allow magic or is this an anomaly?"
Celina responds so quietly, even Family ears must listen closely, "Xanadu is blessed with such anomaly, though I have studied it only in passing. I think many things associated with sound are easier here."
Signy briefly frowns.
Soft horse shoes doesn't seem terribly practical, but then again there was much Weyland didn't teach her.
She scans the crowd again from the new vantage point.
"Both yourself and King Corwin are here, but King Random isn't?"
Celina nods. "It is a puzzle, but King Random likes to surprise with his appearances." She looks at Signy, "Unlike many royal courts, the people seem to enjoy it."
Their conversation concluded, and on a level of amicability that surprises even Jerod (will wonders never cease), he heads over to the bar to catch up with his sister.
The presence of the Octave does not deter Jerod from his approach, though part of him thinks that if he leaves Octave alone with Valeria long enough, Jerod will have to clean up the greasy spot on the floor, and that's just too much work right now.
As for Huon, Jerod had noted the arrival of the kin-slayer very early on, but since he arrived with the Queen, that pretty much puts him off limits...at least from receiving the business end of sharp, pointing things like spears and swords. Admittedly he is somewhat depressed by this set of circumstances, but only for a moment.
Thus he will arrive at the bar in relatively good spirits, while he waits to see how long that might last.
As a good barman, the barman catches Jerod's eye as he comes up. "Can I get you something, highness?"
"Something dark, very strong and lots of it." Jerod says simply.
From near the dais there is a fanfare of trumpets. For those who know Random (or Syd, as he called himself in Texorami)'s early compositions, it's a short piece entitled "Don't Tell ME not to give you high notes".
People across the square and beyond become still and quiet, anticipating some sort of presentation or speech. Those people are not disappointed, as First Prince Corwin welcomes Edan and his knights in the name of his brother-the-King and then, following applause, Edan himself speaks, magically amplified. People seem as impressed by that as his riding, although a few seem less than thrilled to experience actual magic.
Lord Mayor Ash has several young men light additional lamps, and the floor is cleared for Edan's entertainment and demonstration of skill. Ash also has people to keep the crowd from pressing too close to the knights as they perform.
Jerod collects his drink from the barman, and the stronger the drink, the better the barman. He makes sure to pay at least moderate attention to the events that Edan has put such effort into, though regrettably his sister warrants more attention, so he will intrude upon her time at an appropriate moment.
The Barman is one of the better ones in town. His drink is strong, simple, dark, and strong. Given the southern latitude, it's probably molasses based.
Ossian seems to have headed directly to interrupt Octave and go off with Valeria.
After a short break, Edan appears at the center of the square. He looks up in the general direction of the castle, murmurs a few words, and touches the side of his throat with a smoking index finger; after that, his words carry outwards to the square as if he were standing next to each listener.
The trumpets sound, and the proclamation is read, welcoming the Knights of the Lamp to Xanadu. He waits through it, draws breath to speak...then stops. He smiles, and says, "I am not used to this. I am more used to shouting orders across a field, not giving speeches or lectures. But that is exactly what I will be doing, because our vision is that of a school. A place of learning. We will explore excellence in the martial and arcane arts. Horse and foot, sword and spell. At the same time, we pledge ourselves to the defense of the King and of Xanadu. We are deeply honored to be welcomed by you. We are proud to join the brotherhood of the Knights," and he rattles off the list of active knight orders that Michelle drew up for him. "We will strive to be worthy of this honor."
He turns and gestures to where the drums were being set up. "And...we have arranged a little entertainment, an introduction of sorts. A sword-dance of my adopted homeland. I hope that you enjoy it. I think that you will."
From near the dais there is a fanfare of trumpets. For those who know Random (or Syd, as he called himself in Texorami)'s early compositions, it's a short piece entitled "Don't Tell ME not to give you high notes".
People across the square and beyond become still and quiet, anticipating some sort of presentation or speech. Those people are not disappointed, as First Prince Corwin welcomes Edan and his knights in the name of his brother-the-King and then, following applause, Edan himself speaks, magically amplified. People seem as impressed by that as his riding, although a few seem less than thrilled to experience actual magic.
Lord Mayor Ash has several young men light additional lamps, and the floor is cleared for Edan's entertainment and demonstration of skill. Ash also has people to keep the crowd from pressing too close to the knights as they perform.
Three score of vertical drums are set up in a precise circle that dominates the central area of the square. Earlier dancers might have noticed premeasured marks on the dance floor, which are used to set the position and alignment of each drum. It was not an easy task; the drums are each about eight feet tall, and the base of each one is weighted with sand or earth. They break the plethora of torchlight and lamplight into a kaleidoscope of color and light and shadow within the ring.
Between the vertical drums and the crowd are arranged the Knights of the Lamp, each carrying a djembe for the hands or sitting at various larger drums or water drums; were this not Xanadu, one might wonder if they've claimed all the drums in the kingdom. The exception to the formation is Kyauta, who in dragonet form is flying from perch to perch around the circle. There are two openings in this drum ring; on one side, there is a low table behind which Vere sits, cross-legged. A bowl of golden coins is placed before him.
On the other side is the space where Edan enters. He is still in his dancing silks, shining white with a crimson sash tied at his waist. Lengths of crimson silk are sewn at the cuffs, long ribbons that look capable of reaching any of the drums from the center of the dance space. His feet are bare. Small bells are worked into the hair at the back of his head, such that sudden movements are accompanied by a ringing chime that can be heard through the crowd. A pair of Averni hooked swords are thrust into his sash, the swords blunted and heavily taped.
Those observers with Third Eye or other magical senses can tell that Edan has divested himself of any magical effect. For now, it's just him and a pair of swords.
Edan crosses to the center of the space. Though he was disappointed that Vialle was not here to experience this, he does not let it show. He had intended this to be partly for her enjoyment. Well, no matter. He removes another, shorter length of silk from his waist sash and ties it securely around his head and eyes, ignoring what shocked reaction he hears from the crowd. With blindfold in place, he moves from pose to pose and finally freezes, balanced on one foot, arms extended. He extends his other leg, toes pointed, and stretches it up towards the sky. He balances there, motionless, turned in Vere's direction.
Vere sits quietly as Edan makes his preparations. Once Edan is in position, holding his balanced position in perfect stillness, Vere slowly runs the fingers of his right hand through the coins in the
bowl. The clinking of metal on metal sounds unusually loud in the hushed square as the spectators watch. Vere lifts his hand from the bowl, one coin caught between two fingers, and with a sudden snap he sends the coin hurtling towards one of the vertical drums. It strikes the drum with a 'thrum' that echoes through the square and bounces off it onto the floor.
As the first coin hits the floor, Edan is moving; his leg comes down, there is a turn and then a pirouette, and his arm snaps out. The attached length of silk extends and taps the same drum that the coin had hit. Around the circle the Knights start up a quick beat. Edan uses the cadence to dance around again to the center, and eventually takes another pose. His arms are together, one knee raised, toes pointed to the floor, head down as if contemplating. His body becomes still. The drummers end their drumming all on the same beat, and silence claims the square again.
Vere waits until the Knights end their beat and Edan is once more motionless, then with a faster movement of his hand he sends a coin towards another standing drum. It hits much harder this time, and bounces across the ring to strike yet another drum before rebounding onto the floor.
Two drums. Edan throws his arms up high, and the ribbons float down to gather in his hands as only silk can do. He snaps out both arms this time. Again, the ribbons snap out to strike the two signaled drums. Again, the Knights give him a fast beat, and he uses it to move and dance back to his starting place, silk swirling around him. He is in his Knights' hands as much as they are in his. And then the beat is gone and Edan is frozen again, this time a martial pose, one arm defensive, one poised to attack some imaginary foe.
Vere allows himself a small smile as he watches Edan's mastery. Once more his fingers snap forward, and a coin flashes through the air towards a drum a third of the way around the circle. Vere had calculated the force and trajectory precisely, and the coin rebounds off the drum to fly past Edan's ear, barely missing him, before striking a drum on the opposite side of the hall, rebounding again to another drum, and then again to a fourth drum before landing, spent, upon the floor.
Four drums! This time, Edan pulls one of the Avernus hook-swords out of his sash with his right hand and throws it, even as he spins and snaps out the silk from his left. The sword spins end over end and smacks flat against one of the signaled drums as the silk snaps against another. Edan's spin turns into a short leap and a few steps; the handle of the thrown sword, having bounced off the drum, smacks back into his palm. How long had Edan spent with tape and twine and grinding wheel to weight this length of metal well enough to fly true? How many hours spent practicing the throw, the bounce, the catch? But he does so, perfectly, blind, in step and to the beat. And then he does the movements again to the other two drums, with the other sword, using the opposite arms, to show it is all practice and discipline and skill and not luck or sorcery.
And then, in another movement, the swords are back in his sash and the ribbons are back at his wrists. He hangs there in another dance pose, on one foot again, body extended much like that of a swan in flight. The beat stops again.
The moment Edan stops moving Vere is on his feet. His eyes flick once to his cousin, then down at the coins in the bowl. His hand seizes the bowl and he spins once in place, eyes fixed on the coins, calculating. As he completes his turn his hand flashes forward and the coins fly from the bowl in a golden stream, the first of them striking the drum immediately to his left and then the rest, in a glorious cacophony, striking each of the drums in turn.
Edan smiles, eyes still covered by the blindfold. Such is Vere's skill that none of the coins have touched the dancer, only the drums. All the drums. Magnificent.
After the last of the gold stops bouncing and clinking on the ground, the drummers around the ring set a fast beat. And after four measures of this, Edan dances.
Arm to the left, sword to the right, move to the left. He spins, he leaps, he turns. Edan's jumps are amazing. His footwork is perfect. His timing is godlike. He hangs in the air with each leap, making the eyes ache to follow him, to deduce all the movements he makes seemingly all at once. Here, too, showcases the skill of the Knights of the Lamp, who could only have kept up with their Sultan through months or years of repetitive practice. When he slows, they slow; when he speeds up, they do the same. They support Edan through every leap and step and turn. Bare feet, long used to shifting sand, are not affected by the coins on the floor. Indeed, the fact that there is a solid floor seems to make things even easier. Turn. Stretch. Throw. Extend. Snap. Catch. A routine that cycles through all the variations of movement, even as the drums are systematically struck. The bells in Edan's hair chime in time to the beat as he whips his head this way or that. The silk ribbons are like the flow of water around him: here a wave, there a cocoon, different shapes forming as he dances. Fractured torchlight flows and reflects along the fabric of his dancing uniform as he moves. Faster faster faster. Turnthrowcatchsnapextendturnspin. And when Edan is down to the last twenty or so drums, the best trick of all; for instead of striking drums, he throws out the ribbons to snake around the handles of the hook swords in mid-flight. The beat, and the dance, changes. The swords are an extension of him now, waving at the end of his arms of silk. He spins, he shifts direction, contortionist efforts to keep both swords in the air and moving to strike the last of the drums. His targets shiver with the weight of the strikes he makes on them, heavy metal barbs at the ends of silken whips. The drumming is as wild as Edan's dance now, keeping him aloft and moving. He and the Knights feed off each other. They are his kin, extensions of his will as the ribbons are extensions of his arm. He is their mentor, their teacher, their Sultan. He is a warrior, a rider, a sorcerer, a Knight. He is a Sword Dancer, and this is his Dance.
Vere smiles more broadly as he watches Edan's skill. And as the last of the last of the drums are struck Vere's hand flashes forward one last time, sending the bowl hurtling through the air directly at the head of his blindfolded cousin.
Even in mid dance, Edan's smile matches Vere's. One sword drops to the ground. The other, he pulls to him. The handle smacks into his palm even as he spins in a circle and brings the blunted edge of the sword down on the bowl. It shatters before him. And the final turn, the final pull of the other sword into his hand, the last movement brings Edan back to the center of the dance floor with swords in hand and a rain of delicate colored pottery to clink and bounce on the floor around him.
Edan finishes, then, with a bow towards the king's place and another bow to his partner and a third to his Knights, without any of whom this would not have been possible.
The crowd applauds, at first tentatively, then enthusiastically. It lasts perhaps longer than is needful, but people see the royals on the dias applauding and keep their applause up.
There is a flash of light, momentarily dazzling from the balcony of the Mayor's house, and the King appears, wearing his crown and the state jewelry. Next to him are the Lord Mayor and his wife Tjaden, also applauding. Prince Bleys is on the other side of the King, with his sister Fiona. "Welcome, our gallant Knights of the Lamp! Your King is proud to have you defending our land from enemies, and teaching the philosophy and arms to those who wish to learn! Long may your red light shine!"
Random steps back, then steps forward again and adds. "You may all dance until dawn, there is no curfew tonight, and tomorrow is Red Lamp Day henceforth, and an unsolemn holiday."
Then the King retreats into the mayoral manor and does not return.
Edan holds his smile for the crowd, for his brethren, and for Vere. A smile is enough for the latter; they both know they nailed it.
Something is Not Right, however. The King was polite but abrupt. The Queen was not present. And with Father and Fiona there, sorcery might be involved.
There are going to be delays. A kind word to the Knights. Family come to talk to him. At the moment, Edan doesn't espy Hannah. But when there is finally a moment, he heads towards the mayor's residence; if nothing also but to tell his father of the impending grandchild.
Edan is going to have the toughest time of anyone getting to the manor. He gets to the Mayor pretty quickly. "Very impressive. Should we organize a reception line? Everyone wants to meet you." Ash frowns. "I'd've expected Syd to organize that, at least informally."
Edan smiles, because he knows he's neatly trapped. He spares a glance towards the manor house. With Random not here, Edan can't very well disappear. Not tonight.
"Something on his mind, I suppose. Has Random, er, Syd, has he organized a reception line down here before? We could follow that setup, or I could call some of the Knights together to help."
The Lord Mayor is visibly relived. "The Knights would be excellent. People will want to meet them as well."
Michelle comes up to Ash and Edan. "Is everything in order, my Lords?"
Edan holds his smile for his seneschal. "Look all around, how well everything is organized. You did that. People will talk of this for years to come. The Lord Mayor and I were talking about an impromptu reception line, since Random has left that duty to us. I was just about to send Kyauta to round up some of our more loquacious and sociable knights."
"Thank you, my Lord," says Michelle. "If you will send your message, the Lord Mayor's men and I will arrange a reception line by the dais. It will facilitate access to any royal who wishes to be accessible."
Ash nods and turns to one of his aides, an officer named Viper, telling the man to work with Michelle.
Edan sends out through his link to Kyauta that he needs help from a specific list of knights. Women from multiple realms want to meet and compliment them. He asks Kyauta to fly and pass this message along.
Kyauta flies overhead and makes a loop, then flies towards the troops. The weeks of marching have, at least, meant that this no longer panics the horses. Or the troops.
Those singled out will head to the reviewing dais shortly.
When it's clear he's done, Ash looks at him and gestures for him to lead the way (to the dais).
And there Edan goes, with a short trail of knights behind him and Kyauta perched on his shoulder. He does bow to his men before they go, thanking them for this small sacrifice of time and effort. And a smile in the general direction of Celina's group, too, as he sees them start a dance that reminds him of the dance styles he saw in Rebma.
Brennan watches the grand entrance of the Knights of the Lamp with a critical eye, although generally a constructive one. He will, after all, be handing off a small group of his own Knights into Edan's care, the better to help turn this group of forty horse warriors into the first cadre of something more. A fresh and professional perspective never hurt anyone. Well, that may not precisely be true, Brennan corrects himself, remembering the Family stories of Corwin and Eric in particular as the King welcomes the new Knight. But Brennan and Edan are not Eric and Corwin.
And anyway, Edan has good material to work with, and more than enough heat to forge them. Interesting swords, though, he notes to himself. Haven't seen those in quite a while.
As Edan is giving his introductory speech, Brennan catches a glimpse of Ambrose and heads in his direction. "Ambrose, I'm glad you're here. It's good to see you," he says. "Come join me watch Edan's display?"
Ambrose smiles and says something that sounds like "of course" though it's hard to hear him over the crowd and the amplified speechifying. Whatever he said, he comes to join Brennan. They make their way toward the dais, where much of the royal family is gathering, while Corwin is speaking. There are opportunities to at least nod a greeting to a lot of different relatives.
Brennan does take those opportunities to nod to relatives he's not seen in a while, especially since most of his time at the pre-revel buffet was spent out on the balcony with Robin, Vere and Edan.
After Edan's display, he offers up genuine applause. After Random's abrupt appearance and retreat, the applause continues, pro-forma. There is a phrase in Uxmali whose idiomatic translation is something close to, "The universe is a sonofabitch," which, in addition to its mild vulgarity, carries a substantial weight of blasphemy when spoken by the priestly caste, much less the son of a god. This, Brennan mutters to himself as the pro-forma applause continues.
Ambrose's own response in Uxmali directly translates to something like "as the God wills it", which is a ritual response to a divine appearance and command, but given Ambrose's tone and his own godly priesthood, not to mention the arch of his eyebrows, sounds distinctly unimpressed.
"How goes the project with Signy?" he asks, once the roar has died down.
"I showed her the innards of one of the code wheels that's failing and Fiona and I taught her basic Uxmali in the direct manner. She's got the hang of speech, but not of centering her words yet. She has a prototype of the small wheel made of balsa wood but the enchantments-" Ambrose pauses and shrugs. "Our father couldn't make anything simple." The last sentence is in Uxmali and centers on the negative.
"Our father lost his own center before either of us were born," Brennan says, as though that explains it. Uncharacteristically, he does does not employ any of the Uxmali circumlocutions that would make 'center' the center of the sentence without actually saying it. Uncharacteristic of any discussion of their father, the statement is melancholy rather than bitter or angry. "I'll help her practice, if there's time before the end of Mandatory Fun. Allowing for the fact that I can't really stay beyond that, anything useful I can do?"
"If you have any observations about the wheels that you'd like to make, since you've worked with them too, that would be helpful. I can explain what I know, but even a god's perspective is necessarily limited." This Ambrose says in Thari but it's evident that he's thinking of how it would sound in Uxmali: a cross between nonsensical and deadly blasphemy in his mouth.
Brennan smiles at the blasphemy-- his own opinion on the Uxmali gods is well-known, at least to Ambrose.
"Just one: Those things are modular. Is it possible that no one, not even you and I ever saw a complete one? I have some dim memories of seeing a wheel with a hole in it, as though for some sort of fixture that I didn't have. But the memory is so old... I remember asking Tayanna about it, but not if I ever got an answer much less what it might have been. It would have been like him to focus everyone's attention on part of the apparatus while keeping something in his back pocket for his own private use."
"I hadn't tried that," Ambrose says grimly, "but you're right--and it's not like he hasn't used two wheels together to imbue a glyph series with double-meanings in the past." His mind is racing, but he quells it enough to ask, "How are your works faring, and can I offer any aid in them, given my own circumscribed ability to act at the moment?"
"Fairly well, actually. If Moire herself is not in Avalon, then her agents are, and Conner and I have narrowed down her plans to a set I think we can deal with and foil or disrupt. There is something you might be able to help Ossian with, though. Your knowledge of Uxmal is far more recent than mine-- do you know of any eye-based iconography associated with the pyramids?"
"No, not the step pyramids." Ambrose shakes his head in the negative. "I've seen the Klybesian eyes in the pyramid but it's not related to Uxmal. Our father wasn't involved with that priesthood as far as I know; they wouldn't have accepted his claim to godhood. And he'd hardly want a priesthood as dedicated to their own causes as they seem to be."
Brennan nods and scratches his chin idly. "That's about what I'd expect. I was too young when I left to trust my lack of memories of a group I know I hadn't even heard of at the time, but that's about what I'd expect. Here's why I ask: Ossian found his mother, Regenlief of Asgard. Since I expect that will be part of the more formal news exchange and strategy, I've brought her with me even though she won't be part of the closed council."
That's an open semi-invitation to introduce them-- when/if Ambrose expresses interest, he'll send for Regenlief.
Ambrose doesn.t interrupt, but his eyebrows rise and he's clearly interested.
"The monastery Ossian was found at? Klybesian. The people who stole him at birth? Klybesian. So either they had a reason to take the child of a Valkyrie, or they had a reason to take the child of an Amberite and somehow knew who or what I was." Brennan lets pass unstated which conclusion the narcissism of Amber supports. "It had crossed my mind that perhaps Brand entered into a bargain to keep tabs on me."
There are flaws in that idea, but Brennan leaves them unpicked to see what Ambrose thinks.
Ambrose has to pause and consider that for a time. "It's not out of the question. As you put it, we have insufficient data to state conclusively, and if they've got half an organizing brain, we won't have any way to get the data. But if they're as all-encompassing as they seem to be, and able to move through Shadow easily, they could have been following you on your own. So: inconclusive. But the probabilities there are the sort that could easily be manipulated." He's lapsed back into Uxmali, and the last sentence centers on 'manipulated'.
He ponders that more. "And if our father made that bargain at some time, and later ended it, do you think they'd stop watching?"
"No," Brennan says. No hesitation. It's not even a sentence, just a glyph that would lie like a negation over a whole sentence. "Not a snowball's chance."
"I'm really of two minds," Brennan says. "If they were working for him, it would explain how they knew who I was after centuries of not using my real name. And it would explain why Abford is still standing instead of razed to the ground. But it doesn't reconcile with my memories of him... or yours, apparently." 'Memories' forms a very awkward center. "Something about this nags me, aside from the personal angle. I'm beginning to think there's an actor we don't see, yet. Maybe this mysterious Turcopolier, maybe someone else."
He shakes his head and sends a page to fetch Regenlief. "One word-- no, two words of advice. She hates the Klybesians about as much as Ossian and I do, so expect to get grilled. And she's probably gotten the Brita question half a dozen times today already."
"The Brita question--oh." Ambrose is fast on his feet and works his way through that. Brennan can see when it hits him. "I'll not ask, then. And not mention my own godhead, either. Do you mean to introduce her to all of us one at a time, or will there be a mass inspection for the poor woman? I'm happy to be a relatively friendly face."
"There's nothing for it but to announce her during tomorrow's Mandatory Fun," Brennan says, "but she can't be there for that. She's met a few of us already, and Ossian and I gave her the sketch of the Family earlier today, but it seems only decent to let her put as many names to faces as possible before that." He shrugs. "She's a Valkyrie, she's looking at this like a battle, which is almost right-- it's part of a larger campaign."
He frowns. "I've got enough urgent business that has to get taken care of before tomorrow that that might not be possible. You, Brita, and Edan-- she already knows Connor-- are where I'd thought to start, and then expand out time permitting."
"I'll do what I can to assist here, but I don't know that--" and that's when Rides in the Van, one of Bleys' Altamareans, arrives in the middle of their conversation. "Ambrose, Brennan, I have a message from your uncle Bleys. All is not well. Please come to the Mayor's house as soon as possible."
Also approaching through the crowd is Regenlief.
Brennan isn't sure which will be worse: if this is connected to Vere's and Edan's tale of Cambina and Vialle, or if it's some entirely new disaster, unrelated and presumably even worse.
He shoots Ambrose a "buckle-up" glance, before taking out Bleys' Trump and giving his full and considerable attention. Hard to be faster than that in Xanadu. If Bleys answers, he holds out his hand for Ambrose to join the conversation.
Ambrose reaches out his hand to Bleys, making a firm connection to allow himself to be pulled through.
Bleys opens the connection promptly. "Ah, yes. We're having a little discussion at the Lord Mayor's. I think I hear some of your cousins downstairs. Come through?" Bleys reaches out his hand.
"We received your message from Rides in the Van," Brennan says. "It seemed best to Trump directly."
He reaches out his hand in return.
Ambrose has his other hand in Regenlief's and Bleys pulls the three of them through. Ambrose looks chagrined, Regenlief looks curious, concerned, and doing math behind her eyes.
Bleys says, "Regenlief, charmed to see you again. This is family business and I don't think your sword-arm will be needed, but it would be helpful if you took up a station at the door and kept the rabble out." Conner is already in the room and at the door, preparing to open it.
This is, at Brennan's best guess, the room that opens out onto the balcony that Random was speaking to the crowd from. Random isn't here. Neither is Fiona.
Brennan walks with Regenlief to the door, assuming that's where she's going. "I have no idea what's going on, yet," he says in a low voice-- low enough that polite non-listeners can choose to tune it out, at least, "but I have reason to expect it to be unpleasant. And I'm more pessimistic than Bleys. We may need that arm yet. Did you come over to join us with news, or to meet Ambrose?" That is not a flippant question, but quite serious-- Regenlief may not be familiar with Xanadu and its court, but she's a sharp-eyed Valkyrie, and Brennan believes in the virtue of fresh eyes.
"I was coming to meet Ambrose, but I wanted to ask you--what's going on with the King? I guess we're about to find out, or you and Ambrose are, at least." Regenlief looks less resentful about this than worried. Although she's not armed, since she's not formally a Knight in any of the orders, Brennan knows Regenlief can appropriate or scavenge a weapon as needed. He's seen her do it many times.
Regenlief knows Brennan well enough to know when he's on edge-- this is one of those times, although Brennan tends to get sharper when he senses a threat, not distracted. "I'll tell you what I can, when I can. I expect this to be... revelatory." By which Brennan clearly means unpleasant. When the stairs clear, he escorts her to them, but does not depart.
Regenlief takes up a guard position at the top of the stairs so she can keep people out.
During Edan's performance, Robin is mixed in with the crowd and wildly enthusiastic about the artistry, the joy, the playfulness and the comradery she sees. She cheers, she whistles, she applauds, she stamps her feet and claps in time and she is very, very much in love with that brilliant coin-thrower.
Her other cousin is pretty good too. Soooo much better than stilted court stuff. That's what life and living is all about!
When the King makes his appearance, Robin stops and listens. And tilts her head in bewilderment as her brows furrow in confusion. Afterward, Robin shakes her head though she can't shake the pensive expression from her face.
She moves toward the trumpets distractedly. Because while something's... off, there are also brass instruments to lick.
Ossian comes to the bar as Edan starts his speech. He nods and smiles at Octave and says to Valeria, "I have not forgotten about that dance."
Valeria smiles and finishes the drink she was working on. "Sir Octave, it's a pleasure as always--I look forward to discussing this further on the morrow." She turns her full attention on Ossian and adds a high-wattage smile. "Prince Ossian," she says, keeping the promotion that she gave him in her last conversation with her brother, who is edging his way up the bar.
Sir Octave looks like he might correct her but decides better.
She continues, "Let's find a better sightline for whatever your cousin is doing next. I do enjoy watching a man dance. Almost as much as dancing with one." She offers her arm to Ossian.
Ossian takes her arm. "Edan is a very, very good dancer. I have danced with him at one point. Forceful.
"I thought you 'princed' me to tease your brother. But he couldn't hear you now. Why?"
"Now, because it pleases me." She glances down the bar to where her brother has landed. "And perhaps because it will get back to him. But mostly because it pleases me."
After the speech, once they're up in the dais, Valeria waits for the swell of noise that rises to die down a little before saying, "You did promise me the dance. Edan is forceful, I agree, but I think I prefer you. He is fire and you are water."
Ossian smiles. "Maybe so. And dancing with someone is quite different from watching." He goes quite quiet during Edan's dance. After Random's speech he takes Valeria's arm.
"Let's see if you prefer my dancing."
The music has started so people can dance, though more people seem to be lining up near the dais in a reception line so people can meet Edan and his knights. Valeria, however, is more than content to be taken out into the open area where Edan was performing and joining Ossian in a dance to the tunes.
The music is up-tempo and drum-heavy, with only acoustic instrumentation. (Think something like swing or big band.) Ossian is in a position to lead and set the pace, as he and Valeria are the first couple from the royal family to dance and other dancers will follow their lead. Valeria will try to match Ossian and dance with him, but her ability to execute will depend on his style and the amount of effort and energy he puts into the dance.
Ossian is a gentleman and a good dancer. He will work hard to make Valeria both enjoy the dance and look good on the dance floor. Still he keeps on the very edge of her ability, while covering any mistake she makes, so that maybe even she will not notice. If she starts to get too winded he will suggest that they join the reception line after fetching drinks.
Valeria will dance with him for quite some long time. Her style is fluid, of course, though she has some reflexive tendencies to swing large that Ossian intuits come from her expectation that there will be water resistance to certain of her motions that just isn't there on sweeps. So there are plenty of minor mistakes to work with, though Valeria is aware of many of them and does her best to compensate, and makes fewer as time goes on.
She tires out more quickly than Ossian, but not too much so; she's not an Amberite but she is a Rebman royal and enough of that blood runs in her that she seems to be able to outlast most Amberites. Still, she's ready for a drink and a move toward the reception line after a while.
As they stand in the line Ossian asks: "So what brings you here? Not just Edan's new order, I guess."
"I've been in Xanadu for some long time, since before my mother abandoned Rebma and went off on her mad warfare spree against my Aunt Celina and the rest of our family, and yours." Valeria frowns a little poutily at that, but it's pretty, and Ossian suspects she knows it.
"I hope to speak to Celina tonight and return home with her when she goes back. If she's taking in your uncle who nearly destroyed the city, she can find something useful for me to do as well. I've been doing little or nothing since I arrived with the Amber refugees, and I have no use here. And neither Random nor Vialle look on me with favor, so I'll do no worse under Celina," she explains.
From someone else it might be self-pity, or seeking pity from Ossian, but she's simply being honest as far as Ossian can tell.
Before Ossian can reply to that, he can see Paige's bodyguard/babysitter Rides in the Van headed in his and Valeria's direction.
Ossian smiles. "How can we help you?"
"I am Rides in the Van of the Knights of Altamar. Prince Bleys has sent me to ask for you to join him at the Mayor's House. I can keep the lady company in your stead." He nods politely to Valeria, and adds, "Madam."
Valeria looks to Ossian to see what he's going to do.
Ossian frowns and turns to Valeria "Although I am loath to leave you, I think I will have to answer the Prince's summons. It is too uncommon to ignore. In fact I think this is the first for me." He the turns to the knight. "Keep Lady Valeria company, as long as she wishes. Neither less, nor more."
Sir Rides in the Van bows. "As your Lordship commands."
With that he kisses Valeria's hand and goes for the mayor's house.
"Good night, sweet Prince. We shall dance another time."
Rides takes her hand and the two of them swirl off to the music. He is a good dancer, but no Prince of Amber.
Paige heads to her son, kneels at his side and simply asks, "Where is your sister?
"Somehow, I'm sure, even among all these people, you can find her."
He smiles. "Yeah, I can hear her. She with grandfather. She's not going to leave the square. That's the game."
He's gotten more vocal since the onset of puberty. It's odd, Paige once would've guessed that she would be the vocal one.
She nods at him and takes a mother's liberty, kissing him on the cheek.
Someone is trumping Paige. From the urgency they're using, it's probably family, and by family, it's a redhead. Or Nana Clarissa.
The urgency alarms her, but she's careful to not startle her son. Still kneeling, she answers, "Who calls?"
"Mother Hannah...I mean Brita. Brita Calls. Cousin Hannah is Birthing Now. Come. Help?" Brita seems a little flustered but she is reaching out a hand.
Paige nods, calling back over her shoulder to Grizzle, "My regrets to the Quartermaster, but he's the duty this evening, as it seems my cousin is having a baby. Leif, please listen to Alain and ensure that your sister adheres to the game, no place beyond the square without supervision? Understood?"
Without waiting for his consent, as it was a rhetorical question anyway, she extends her hand to Brita and disappears in a flash of rainbow brilliance.
Brita briefly watches Cousin Signy head to the dais and continues her rounds around the dance area. She watches as the drums are set up -- intrigued by the precision of placement and the scale of the instruments. In the bustle of people, she pulls out a plain scarf and ties it over her braided hair, twirling and tucking the braids up so they are completely covered. She meanders a bit, watching Cousins Edan and Vere perform with a slight smile at the drama. It is really rather impressive and she will have to remember to tell both of them. She pauses as Random appears and then disappears just as fast. A look of disappointment flickers across her face -- Uncles can be So Annoyingly Wiley sometimes. Maybe they All have a little of Uncle Loki in them. She notes the placement of her mother through this brief sighting of the King, wondering at her level of insight into what is going on. Something to ask later. She continues to wander seemingly randomly through the crowd, listening to the people's reaction to the new Knights and Cousin Edan. Eventually, she nears the bar and that cluster of Kin.
Brita suddenly strides up to Hannah out of the crowd. "Cousin. Your Water? Do you Need Assistance?"
"I do, I suppose. I'd like to stay on my feet as long as possible, but may need support. It's good to see you." Brita gets a genuine smile, and Hannah takes a moment to clasp her hand.
The Victorian upbringing just can never quite be put away though. "Have you met our Uncle Huon? Uncle, Brita was the first welcome me to Amber."
"...don' t know." Robin is muttering as she walks up to the bar. "The last time I licked a trumpet it did not taste like that. I think it was the polish. You know, because of the formal occasion."
On her shoulders, Peep and Chirrup are trading a look of disgust and concern. In her arms, Ooot is making sounds and gestures much like a dog with peanut butter on its tongue.
"One club soda, please. In a dish if you can." She tells the barman.
As she waits for her drink, Robin looks up and around at the cluster she has suddenly found herself in. A brilliant smile is sent to Brita. A glare to Huon. And... a Julianic eyebrow is raised to Hannah.
Hannah doesn't even hesitate, but gets a grip on Robin's forearm with her right hand. "Sister, I'm going to need your attendance. Have you been introduced to our Uncle Huon yet?" She looks between them.
"Well, consider yourself attended." Robin smiles at her sister as she covers Hannah's gripping hand with a comforting one of her own. Then with a sigh for her sister's fine manners, Robin's eyes dart to Huon. 'We've met' is what she tries to say. Really. But it comes out as pretty much as a growl.
Peep uncharacteristically does not react harshly, but instead croons at Hannah. The boys do not like 'Uncle Huon', who finds them amusing.
Hannah lets go of Robin to offer Peep a perch on her wrist.
Robin nods. Excellent! Peep is officially on distraction-duty.
Brita, courageously supporting Hannah from the other side, has bared her teeth at Huon in a semblance of a polite smile. It is unclear if the stress behind it is due to the impending dangers of childbirth or her uncle until, she says "uncle huon." She leans around Hannah to smile more gamely at Robin and notes, "We should Probably Alert Cousin Paige. She is More Knowledgeable about Children."
Robin's eyes sparkle briefly at the lower case 'uncle huon.' Someone's been appropriately dissed. And she nods back to Brita with a comfortable and confident smile. Robin is obviously not fashed by breeding issues. In other people.
Huon nods. "Please, let's not dwell on formalities when you have your sister and/or cousin to help. Hannah, you will be here all day if you attempt to introduce me to everyone, and that is not how I believe the King expects you to dance all night. I shall absent myself to find Paige." Huon bows briefly, from the neck, scoops up Hannah's unwanted drink and heads for the dais.
Hannah's eyes follow Huon away. "Well, I don't like that he knows who Paige is, and where Paige is. I have her trump right here if one of you want to grab her ahead of him." She flips it out of her dress top and offers it.
"Would you mind, Brita? Damn things never work right for me." Robin shakes her shoulders to get the boys into the air and searching for easy paths out of the crowd.
"Soooo, Ms. Hannah, do you think the patient should walk to her den or be carried?" Robin stands ready to assist with either.
Hannah gives her sister a little smile. "Gravity is the friend of labor. Never let a mother rest while she can walk or stand. People who lay women down for birthin' don't have the least notion of how awful they are... that is, ignorant. Ignorant nonsensical..." Her voice has gone tight along the way, and she shifts her hold from Brita over to Robin. She holds tight, but not too tight while another contraction passes. "Five minutes, I think. I need a stopwatch. People in pain can't make accurate measures of time, usually. Are our bodies really this efficient, that I might skip right over the first stage of labor, or not notice I'm in it? Or that the first stage of labor is shorter but more intense?" Obviously, she's coming out of it. Her grip loosens.
"Hey kitten, do you feel that?" she asks Peep. Hannah grins at Robin again. "I wish I'd been able to midwife for Folly. Paige will know this, but stage one most women can go about their business, but they feel it. 'Bout 7 mins between. Stage 2, usually 5 to 3 minutes between, mother is generally too pain distracted for conversation. Last stage is pushing. Women who can't stand up in stage 2 need to be held up for pushing, excepting exceptions. Like breech and hangin's and bleeds. Those are why you have a midwife."
Brita is studiously concentrating on the image of the newest red haired Warden. Much more energy in her stare and she might bore a hole through the card.
"Or a Robin." Robin has been listening carefully to Hannah's explanations. "I don't usually get to see the early bits." She explains, "Usually by the time I'm brought in, there's a boat or a tree or wild animals involved. Sometimes all three." She grins.
Paige hasn't answered yet, but looking at the stage, where she is, it's clear she's felt the trump. Huon is nearly there.
Hannah gives Robin a confused look. "Involved in a woman giving birth, or themselves giving birth?"
Brita speaks, presumably to Paige. "Mother Hannah...I mean Brita. Brita Calls. Cousin Hannah is Birthing Now. Come. Help?" Brita seems a little flustered but she is reaching out a hand.
Robin chuckles to Hannah. "I've never delivered a baby boat. But the universe is infinite and I might be around for quite a while, soooo..." She shrugs. An errant thought bird hops across her mind, wondering if The Psyche and Martin's sailboat have met. Robin shoos it away with another chuckle.
"Trees and wild animals, definitely. But yes, I was thinking about them being involved with women giving birth. Human-type women. Ooorrr mostly human-ish type women." Robin allows to be fair to some of her memories.
As she is speaking, Robin is gently steering Hannah away from the bar and toward the edge of the crowd, while maintaining very clear sight lines and proximity to Brita.
Hannah laughs. "She just called me 'mother Hannah'." This seems tho make her contemplative.
"Yep." Robin nods sympathetically, "Get used to that."
Paige appears in a quick shimmer of that rainbow brilliance that accompanies someone Not There then Two Dimensional then smiling at her cousin. She begins by taking a quick appraisal of the situation, giving Hannah the once over. "Right, I had wished for more time, but children have a mind of their own, especially Powers," she states.
"How close are the contractions?" the redhead asks. "Did your water break already?"
"Water approximately ten minutes. I was distracted. They're at about five, but without predecessors. I've never seen anyone who wasn't..." she clears her throat, "induced in some way skip right into stage two. I think I've got a minute to the next. Come feel it. It's definitely full-banding contractions."
Hannah looks over at Brita. "Cousin, it's nothing to be afraid of. Come with us and learn all about it."
Now that Paige is there and asking Knowledgeable questions, Brita seems less stressed. She nods at Hannah's invitation and is clearly following although letting Robin and Paige take center stage with Hannah.
Robin nods to Paige as she appears, passing the first responder baton to the obvious designated lead. And grins to Brita - Hannah is apparently a group breeder, instead of a solo spawner so the more 'human female' energy around the better. Robin slides into her role as soux-midwife and back-up 'oh shit!' manager as the four woman (and three lizards) exit the square.
Paige waits to palpate until they've found someplace for Hannah to sit. Her focus is keeping the new mother comfortable before asking questions about the color and odor of the amniotic fluid, and when she does she turns to Brita, because she's the Nose of the family.
"I'm not calling my brother until you're at least into active labor, but one supposes someone should at least inform him that he's only another day of carefree life before him," she chuckles.
"It smelled fleshy, like a ripe apricot and was slightly yellow," Brita notes with a slight wrinkle of her nose.
Paige nods pleased that the baby hadn't fouled it.
Hannah is not keen on sitting, and strongly prefers Paige just feel without poking and prodding. Hannah is full of opinions about childbirth, and during her time away had gathered and made all the traditional items she needs.
She's very confident that there will be no major issues, that she will be able to perform a proper silent birthing, that if the child is difficult and breech that Paige will 'simply' turn it, and that she herself can endure an extended painful manipulation as required.
Of Edan, she says, "Your brother and I talked and he has agreed he has plenty of duties down here to see to. Let him know when I finally feel like pushing. That will give him time to worry without it being torture."
Robin takes a mother/midwife distraction moment to whisper to Brita. "Any floaty-moon women show, you take 'em out no questions asked, right?" Then Robin pauses and thinks about it. "And don't ask about this 'cause I can't say, but if the Queen shows, politely stall like the dickens. Okay?"
Paige feels the rising contraction and agrees with Hannah but thinks her cousin is likely further along than either had realized. "Walk while you can," she allows.
Paige looks to Robin and Brita. "So, do we know who might still be up the hill or are one of you going to ride ahead with one of my Trumps?" she asks, implying that Hannah isn't walking that far.
Brita, looking appropriately threatening at the air and darkness and all things floaty (present dragonettes excluded), notes "All of My Contacts are Here" with a brief nod encompassing the square and town.
Hannah gives Paige a short look. "I wasn't planning on walking all the way up. Anyone have Solange? She doesn't seem to be around."
Robin shakes her head, her contacts are either at the party or irrelevant. "I could run up there and call one of you from the Trump Booth. I'mmmmmm pretty quick on my feet." There's a lot Robin's understating there.
Paige bites her bottom lip and pulls out her deck, unwrapping it from the green silk. "I may actually have Solange," she mutters. "We can at least try it."
It's halfway through the deck before the diviner locates it, as Paige keeps all her cards in play with the Fortunes, and well after she locates one of herself to send with Robin as a backup plan.
"I drew this of Solange back before the Trumps worked again, so it may not chill, but I can't anticipate any adverse effects to the attempt," she explains.
Paige centers herself and reaches for Solange, willing the image on the card to life...
Solange answers. "Um. Hello? Who is this?" For all that she knows the theory, she doesn't seem very versed in using the cards. Amongst other things, she seems to be leaking emotions, and she's unhappy about something.
"It's Paige," she offers gently. "I was hoping you might be at the palace. Hannah is in labor and I'd like to get her back up the hill." Her voice is call and imparts no sense of urgency.
"Oh," says Solange, and then, "OH. Of course, let me get up and--where should I go?" She doesn't have the strength or frame of reference to hide where she is; she's in a sitting room somewhere in the castle as best Paige can tell by the look of things.
Solange says, "It's Hannah. She's in labor and she wants to come through," which is clearly not directed at Paige. Then she adds, for Paige's benefit, "Kyril is here and so is his niece Allie. He's going to get what we need. You can hand Hannah through any time."
Robin and Peep unobtrusively take over primary Hannah-watch while Paige is doing the communication. Though she smiles to Brita as the Goddess takes up the defensive duty. Yep, it's a good team.
Hannah leans into Robin and says quietly, "I don't want to be going through that trump contact during the contraction and there should be one coming very soon. Safest for all involved to wait it out."
As Robin waits and provides strength to Hannah, she sends a brief 'all claws on me' directive to the boys in the air.
"How many times have your dragons been through trumps?" she asks.
Robin purses her lips as she thinks about the answer. "A couple of times. With the assistance of Princess Fiona." Robin grins in fond remembrance. "She fireproofed her tower for them. And then took us to a wonderful Family Monument where a giant lizard lived. We didn't have time to talk to him then. Hopefully, someday we can go back and visit." Yep, idle distractive chatter -- Robin-style.
Paige nods to Solange, explaining to both groups, "She's in a sitting room with Kyril, and I'm also going to be sending Brita and Robin." She then proceeds to start passing women through.
Brita notes the dragonettes in the air and nods to herself. "I will Go First to Assess while Cousin Hannah Works." She puts a hand on Paige's shoulder to enter the Trump, grasps Solange's hand with a brief "Cousin" in greeting and goes through. She remains in contact with Solange on the other side with a light hand on her arm to remain in the Trump contact.
Robin nods her understanding and complete agreement with this plan.
Solange really isn't used to large-group contacts, but she does know how to pull someone through, at least. This she does with Brita.
On the far side, Brita's in a sitting room in Castle Xanadu with a very wide-eyed young woman who looks like she's related to Kyril. "Uh, hi," says the woman who must be Allie, who has clearly never seen someone come in on a Trump before.
Hannah keeps her eyes open through this contraction, using the pain as an experiment in perception changes. She looks at the scales on the little dragon, the colors in Robin's hair; she sniffs at Peep, just to see if he smells like anything other than bird. Her mind, though, keeps wandering back to Gerard, and how much pain must color everything he sees. She forgets to breathe and has to remember, as she gasps, "Ah, yes, now I have to think of breath. That's why it works. Robin, do you think your wanágthe knows what is happening to me? Can she... understand? She's still a young one, yes?"
"She's young, yes." Robin nods, "But I think she knows. Her kind don't seem as... reliant as we are on formal teaching to understand the world." She smiles at both of Peep and Hannah.
When Paige reaches for Hannah she will go through.
Robin and the fair accompany Hannah: bright, confident and very, very much there.
Paige passes Hannah once the contraction ends and then Robin and Peep, following herself in the end. Once in the palace she kisses her cousin on the cheek in thanks and begins setting about making sure that Hannah is comfortable.
"I think you are further along than you think," Paige suggests.
Solange brings everyone through, including the fair. The fair are sitting on Robin's shoulders when she comes through, and Solange gives her and Hannah each a bit of an extra squeeze when they're passed through.
Robin grins at her "baby" sister and returns the squeeze.
They all arrive in one of the sitting rooms of Castle Xanadu with its chairs and love seats. Kyril comes back in the door, saying, "I've sent for water and towels and blankets, and my medical kit. How far apart are the contractions?" He doesn't sound worried, just like he's turned on professional detachment. "Paige, you've done this before, haven't you? How about you, Solly? Allie?"
"'bout five mins, and I agree with Paige that I'm farther along than that timing might lead you to believe. Doctor, I appreciate it and all, but we've set up a birthing suite, and my traditions forbid men. Though it's good to see you're well. Nice to meet you Allie. Solonge, you are coming with us, right?" Hannah asks in her best 'eldest sister with expectations' tone.
"Sure, I'm coming with you," Solange says, and sounds remarkably cheerful about it.
Robin nods politely to everyone present, and catches Kyril's eye. She's got something to add when Hannah is... in a less directive place. Other than that, she and the firelizards remain in a supportive background role.
"I know you're against poking and prodding," Paige comments, "But I'd have a better idea of exactly how far and how quickly this will progress if you would let me check dilation and effacement."
"Can we do that in the birthing suite? Allie, Kyril, get whatever you sent for--water, whatever--forwarded to the birthing suite. The servants should know where that is. I'll catch up with you two later," Solange tells them.
Kyril starts to say something and decides he's better off keeping his mouth shut.
Hannah's eyes narrow, not quite able to make out what's happened here with her sister and her parolee.
Allie asks, "Do you need someone to stand guard at the door? I'm good for that and I've got field medic experience if you need it."
"Sure. Don't physically try to stop anyone though - and all the women can come in. If it gets too crowded someone will sort it out."
She lets go of Solange to reach for Paige's arm. "Let us proceed to your domain, trusty midwife."
The Warden smiles at her cousin and friend in agreement.
Hannah turns back to Kyril. "Would you mind, after you're done with sending necessities, stopping by Lady Corvis' suite to see if she is available to come sit with us? She'd be a comfort."
Kyril nods. "Not at all, Doctor. Just remember the old saying about lawyers who represent themselves."
Brita, after nodding to Allie's greeting, has been surveying the room purposefully. She notes to the girl, "I will Guard the Inside and Alert you to Any Issues." She is hoping the birthing room is large enough for Hannah's growing entourage.
Paige leads the way with Hannah on her arm, pausing when the next contraction occurs, again palpating gently. "I'm not experiencing them, but they seem stronger," she observes.
As she ushers Hannah into the birthing suite she continues, "I'm not worried. Just noting it."
The suite is exactly as Hannah has prepared, and the proximity to the baths make the provisioning of fresh towels and clean water extremely easy.
Solange mentions that she's been in barns when horses have given birth, but this will be the first human she's seen do so.
Solange gets the side-eye from Hannah at this comment.
It's pretty clearly nerves.
Allie stations herself outside the door, her soldierly demeanor kicking right in.
Hannah starts handing out assignments. "Solange, if you could please, write a note to my father introducing yourself and let him know labor has begun. I have no idea where he is..." She looks to Paige to see if she knows.
"Brita, you're so wonderful. It will be fine. Have you seen women die in childbirth? You seem nervous." Hannah offers her a hug. "I'm not even going to get loud." They've managed to get a pretty big suite, with birthing room with about a half dozen chairs, and a sitting room half set for tea and cards, and the other half holding medical supplies and baby equipment. The baby board and cradle are beaded works of art.
"Robin... if you'll take turns with Solange keeping me hydrated. Just hydrated enough, you know..." she waves a hand. "And upright as long as possible. And probably do what Paige says, even if I'm not complying." Hannah grins, and finally turns to Paige.
Robin snorts in amusement as she sets the firelizards loose in the room. Keep things wet? Yeah, she can do that. But Robin bets that if she is not careful, Hannah might end up having an aquatic birth. Regardless of how high up on a mountain in a Pattern Realm they are. Her eyes are sparkling at that thought when she nods in response to Hannah.
"I can feel one coming on. That's closer. We'll check, I'll change clothes, and then you can tell us where we're at and if we need anyone to change what they're doing. Maybe if we're lucky I'll get to eat and sleep and eat before this meeting."
Brita accepts the hug. "I have Seen Many Births. As Goddess of Clear Waters, I was Called by Prayer to the bedside of Many women in Hard Labor. My Powers were Not Always Strong enough to Help and I Have Seen a few Die - both Mothers and Children. Here... I Have Nothing to Offer but My Watchfulness."
"Your watchfulness is no small thing cousin. I've seen them die too, when it was my responsibility to prevent it. I could use a favor though. If Vialle comes up, try to talk her out of coming back. It can be right stressful for a pregnant woman to see another in labor. Her first duty is to herself, not me. Don't push the issue... but tell her I said that and want her to keep safe." Hannah shrugs. "I guess that'll go for anyone pregnant that shows up. Maybe you can pass that out to Allie - except for Vialle, of course. She'll need family attention..."
Robin nods in confirmation. A Goddess of Clear Waters is good member to have on the team, regardless of what she thinks of her effectiveness. Robin's lips quirk as Hannah brings up Vialle and she catches Brita's eye. And gives another small nod. No Vialle. Everyone is on the same track here.
Brita nods in acceptance to the task and then returns Robin's nod with a look of stoic resolve. No floaty women will be allowed past Brita's guard either. She moves towards the door and alerts Allie to her task to protect other pregnant women from the trauma of childbirth and with a offer of assistance with "Any of the Family, Including the Pregnant Queen, who Might Feel that Young Allie is not Worthy of Their Obeisance." She indicates she will remain close inside the door.
By the time everyone has had a chance to listen to and start on Hannah's tasks, Solange has written her note and folded it, and asked Allie to send for a page to deliver it. In deference to Hannah's sensibilities, they hear her ask Allie to send a female page so that the page can deliver any message to Hannah personally. And also has Allie repeat the message for the page in case Solange has written in the wrong language. (Solange knows Thari but isn't sure what the written dialect of Hannah's home shadow is.)
Robin has a task for Allie too but Solange's comes first.
Once that has been seen to, Robin asks Allie to ask Kyril if he might find some fireproof baby supplies to have on hand. Just in case. Maybe some minor fire suppression gear too. Nothing too much, mind you. Robin doesn't want to scare anyone, but Afrit heritage has been mentioned.
Allie also takes care of this, though she doesn't know what kind of fireproof supplies might be in the castle.
After Paige has done an examination and Hannah has changed into what she considers a birthing gown, she sits, finally, and draws her sisters to either side of her for a quick discussion. She motions to Brita and Paige that they're welcome to come join them.
Robin and Peep snuggle in. The boys have found themselves out of the way perching places.
"Robin, Solange and I have talked about this, uh, curse or unholy connection or whatever it is between the women of our line, the Isles, and childbirth. I can't remember us speaking about it. Have you heard of this notion that women of our line lose... something with each birth and the third kills us?"
Hannah shifts. "I bring it up because I told Solange I'd test it first - get pregnant and see what happens. And I just wanted to say, that isn't what this is." She gestures to her stomach. "This... was me not expecting to meet... to share... I got caught up and didn't regain my sense for some time. All my scientific goals were somewhere else. So I wasn't consciously addressing the issue of how our intent may or may not influence our fertility. I have no regrets, and it would break my heart if Edan were to think this was all some experiment."
Solange puts her arms around Hannah. "I would never think that. Never mind say it to Edan." She gives Hannah a quick squeeze before stepping back to give Hannah room. It's obvious to Hannah and Paige that she really hasn't ever been present at a birthing before.
Paige smiles, suggesting that Edan will never hear of any of this from her lips. Considering the point settled, she busies herself about preparing for the evening's labors.
Robin nods, less concerned with Edan's feelings than her sister's risk. She licks her lips nervously as she tries to find the diplomatic words.
"Ah, yes. Ladies?" Robin addresses the various powers in the room. "My Father and I have spoken a little on this subject, and there may be a sort of 'life-link' between the mother and children of our Line. I'm hoping I can mitigate that or help it somewhat if it becomes too great a burden. But... well, I'm not supposed to get all... Family Heritage around sorcery," Robin looks at Paige, "'cause it creates 'nodes.'" Bleys' words, not hers. "And the Heritage would definitely limit any divine or technologic effects." She adds looking to Brita and Solange.
"Aaannndd," Robin finishes reluctantly as she turns to Hannah, "If things start going seriously sideways, I am calling Dad." She holds up Julian's Trump. "Regardless of cultural taboos. You can hate us both later." The girl is both embarrassed but determined.
Brita pipes in "I Can Call My Mother, if Needed."
Hannah sighs. "First... I won't hate anyone for something done out of love but I'd rather have Gerard, if it *must* be a son of Rilga. I'd rather a woman if it needs magic." She starts to say something else but stops for a contraction. She gets up and waddles though it, stretching and making uncomfortable faces.
Once the pain passes and her breathing calms down, Hannah sits again. "Now, I need clarification. Define 'sort of life link' and 'Family Heritage' and 'nodes', please."
Solange clearly has some thoughts but she's letting Robin speak for herself to start. She offers Robin a reassuring hand in case Robin needs it.
Robin takes Solange's hand with a smile, then takes a deep breath, waits for a moment when there is only Family in the room and tries to find the words.
"My sister," she says to Hannah with warmth and care, "I want to be careful, because I know how much of this is based on confidence." She waves her hand at Hannah's... situation. "But, if all doesn't go well, then that might be a good time to stop pretending you are human so hard.
"See... My impression from Dad and from my visit to Danu is that our maternal grandmother was a divinely-descended... Something. And our mother was a Goddess of the Isles. Both of them were tied to their land. And in order to give life outside of it, they were... 'drained in ways they did not expect' is what Dad said. He said he remembers his mother as always being tired. That sounds like a life link to me." Robin shrugs.
"Family Heritage are the words I grew up with for..." Robin waves her hand again and lowers her voice, "calling upon the Pattern within ourselves to bend the worlds to our whim." She shrugs nonchalantly, "I've heard some of the boys call it 'Pattern' or 'using the Pattern.' But that's a misleadingly technical term for something that is basically an Art. Soooo... I call it Family Heritage.
"Bleys is the one who called the badness-one-gets- when-Heritage-and-Sorcery-mix 'nodes.'" Robin shrugs again, "I'll take his word for it. I'm no sorcerer.
"But to get back to my previous point. I understand that you would prefer Gerard Son-of-Rilga or Fiona-for-Sorcery, but what I... both me and my Father are private people so we don't talk a lot about what we do. But we are... life-makers? Practitioners of Exalted Husbandry and Agriculture? Mastercraft Species Desingers? Uhhh.... I don't know the words." Robin gestures helplessly. "We create lifeforms. For purpose and for fun. Using our Family Heritage. 'Cause... it's kinda neat..." She trails off.
"Anyway, if you or the baby are having trouble channeling life forces or getting the biology working well, I can track a short ways. But if really creative solutions are needed, we want Dad. Definitely." Robin's sure about that.
Solange looks to Brita to see if she has anything to add, and at Hannah to see her reaction.
Brita nods with Robin's description of her skills "Far Better to have one who Understands what Makes Us Real and who has Experience to Detect any Taint of the Deep Green."
Paige doesn't flinch at the mention of the twins grandmother and her influence, but she nods in agreement at the idea of Julian's support if they must break the Ponds taboo.
Hannah has many questions, so she asks none. She gets up and stretches before the next contraction, and during it pulls a feather from her hair and whispers the same invocation she'll later be using to pray with the local ladies. As she relaxes again, she places the feather into her medicine pouch, wipes off her brow, and sits back down. "Mon petite oiseau, I have never been more glad not to be human. I would accept your father, if you cannot do it yourself. I'd like to see you do it sometime when it's not on me. It sounds like the life-link isn't mother to child, but mother-Isles. Two questions: what do you and Solange think the life-link is? What will happen if my connection is with the Blue Earth - please speculate. Oh, and a third just for Robin. Let me write it down." She gets up to stretch again and brings back a note, folded, that she hands to Robin.
Solange has been thinking about what she needs to say while Hannah is writing her note. After a moment, she starts talking. "I don't know what the life-link is, really, and since I haven't been in a position to fall pregnant, and don't want to right now, I haven't worried about it, Hannah. But I would think it's--well, you're a medicine woman, connected to those powers. Corvis is a priestess and our mother was a goddess working with those same powers. And Robin works with them too, in a different way, as a life-shaper. If how we use the Pattern, the Family Gift, whatever you want to call it, shapes us, then it seems like that would be a form of shaping that affects you. But you don't work in the tradition that Corvis worked in, that our mother was a goddess in, so maybe not."
Robin is a slow reader, but she's been practicing so her lips do not move as she sounds one word out in her mind. Once she finishes, she smiles at Hannah. She doesn't quite agree but she truly appreciates the sentiment.
Robin shakes her head. "Dad made real sure I was disinclined to get comfy with the Isles. Even after the Isles hadn't exactly made themselves welcoming anyway." The girl sticks out her tongue at the memory. "But even then, knowing that I had no connection to that Land, he... asked me very seriously to seek him out if I ever found myself pregnant.
"On the other hand, I don't know where I was born. But it wasn't Arden. If Solange and I were both born in Danu, and you were born in the Blue Earth... maybe that would have an effect. " She shrugs. "I don't know."
Celina cheers when Edan is done with his speech.
Celina applauds with great delicacy and precision.
Random steps back, then steps forward again and adds. "You may all dance until dawn, there is no curfew tonight, and tomorrow is Red Lamp Day henceforth, and an unsolemn holiday." Then the King retreats into the mayoral manor and does not return.
Celina laughs. "I accept the challenge! Dancing until dawn it is!." She applauds again.
Signy dutifully claps at the dancing and theKing's speech, but as the King retreats back inside, Signy shakes her head ruefully.
"And yet after announcing the big party, he heads back inside."
She looks around at the crowd before a worried look crosses her face.
"Was that a command? Do we all need to dance until dawn?"
Celina smiles and puts a hand on Signy's shoulder, "While I'm sure the King would be amused if we chose to interpret his humor such, I do not think it is a royal command in that sense."
Silhouette smiles softly, "Although, I suspect your dance card will be quite full, might I trouble you for at least one dance this evening, my Queen."
She glances over at Signy, "And you, cousin. Do you dance? Sometimes the forge takes us away from such aspects of life."
Celina nods with excitement, "It may not be custom above the waves, but in Rebma, three ladies may dance a number of styles together if you wish."
Celina adds with a smile, "It's not hard to learn. There is no dance that is done wrong. I've taught this many times."
Silhouette bows her head, "I think, for tonight, custom shall be considered fluid and all-inclusive, my Queen. I would be delighted to be Enlightened upon this form of dance. Thank you."
Celina gently nudges Silhouette towards the crowd of lively celebrants.
"We don't have to do much, just let people experience some joy," Celina says softly. "This is an entry and memory night for Edan. We can give people a treasure to carry away and tell their children about."
Silhouette regards her for a moment, some wicked thought apparently inspired, rising to her lips, yet remaining unspoken.
"The boguin is a sword dance actually but we will not worry about that. Keep your eyes on me, we'll walk through it together. It will feel like a mirror dance at first, then get more fun as you find the currents it has."
Celina begins. She keeps her head always level and matched to Silhouette's gaze. A big smile seems balanced and weighted for the crowd. As they sway a bit towards each other and then away, their arms move in the same ways that the horizon calls to sailors of the double dozen seas.
Silhouette's focus is almost unnerving in its intensity, studying Celina's every movement, every nuanced gesture. With perfect symmetry, she mimics the dance, matching motion and timing. Outwardly, it is beautiful to behold. Yet, her dancing is too perfect, too exact. It lacks true grace.
Celina adjusts her style a bit, warmer, more open, allowing Silhouette to appear to be almost leading. Her smile is still for the crowd, but she is an inviting partner.
Silhouette eases her stance slightly, encouraged by Celina's openness. As the dance progresses, she allows her partner to shine, As they close, she whispers, "Even above the waves, you are the most graceful woman in the room." She quickly adds, "My Queen."
"Would that my City and People found me so," Celina replies in gentle whisper. "But dancing with you will suffice for today."
"Give them time, Milady," Silhouette says, touching Celina's hand. "They will soon love you as I do."
She drifts away, only to return, fully taking control of the dance now - apparently inspired by Celina's kindness.
"We shall see, Fierce Beauty," Celina whispers now, "for I do not think time is on our side. I would gladly give the Emerald City my time, sworn to it, in fact, but while I intend to, what moves in shadow to take away these choices? That's what tomorrow's family conference will tell. You shall join me there, yes?"
Silhouette slows her steps and movements, perfectly in sync with the music. "The conference? I believe so, my Queen. Ossian and I must report our findings," she says, her voice edging toward cool professionalism. Then she adds, "But, I serve you above all others. Where you say, I shall go."
Celina perks up, her smile grows, "All right then, we'll try to ride the storm together. And if I end up sounding too stuffy, you give me a slow wink. OK?"
Celina adds a more complex step to the shared balance, since Silhouette is now so relaxed.
Silhouette matches her step for step, adding in a few of her own - playing perfectly off her partner's natural rhythm and grace. For her, the outside world drifts away, everything framing in this moment, these movements. She ignores the watchful eyes, even though it's likely people will talk about this dance, whisper about the unrestrained joy of it. Let them talk.
"Might I ask a favor of you though?" she says, fingers brushing over Celina's wrist as she makes another fluid step in time. "Spend a single afternoon with me exploring this city? I wish to see its marvels, but have found sharing such experiences more Enlightening when shared with someone..." She swallows the last words, but they shine in her forest-dark eyes.
Celina considers. Xanadu is fresh and probably wilder than Rebma. People will talk. Could that get back to Rebma and put Silhouette in danger? Anyone who seems a favorite of the Queen is subject to added scrutiny.
Yet Silhouette is hardly defenseless. Truly, Celina realizes that she is more concerned that her reliance on a friend will be exposed. Celina worries that the Queen is too exposed already to those who will wish to end her bond with Rebma as soon as possible.
"I will agree," Celina says quietly, "depending on the Family conference delivering news that I must act on short-term. I can delay my return and visit Xanadu with you. We should both have modest disguises."
Silhouette bows her head and smiles, "But of course. No on will recognize us, of that you can be assured."
She completes the final movements of the dance, letting the fading music draw them to a regretful conclusion. At the end, her hand lingers in Celina's, yet only for the briefest monents.
Finally, she steps away and provides her partner with a stiff bow, "Thank you for indulging me, my Queen. I fear my skills were not up to the task."
"Let me kill your fears," Celina says, "for I enjoyed it so much. Dancing for fun is something I need to do more. And your words lifted my spirits."
Celina nods to the crowd, "We can mingle, and provide addition lift to spirits around this event. I shall try my best. Come rescue me if I get stuck dancing with Huon."
Silhouette smiles softly, "He has two left feet and isn't as charming as he believes himself to be. But for you, and only you, I shall make the sacrifice."
Raven, in the crowd, frowns slightly at the shortness of the King's speech. It doesn't hurt her feelings that it's short, but it does seem like the dance and all that should have maybe produced a slightly longer one. Or maybe that's just the way this king does things. She shrugs a little then and looks around. Her brother probably needs even less keeping an eye on at his age then she did, really, but she is curious what he was talking to a Prince and an Admiral's son about.
"Don't know that we've properly met," the captain says as she approaches. "You're Vere, right?"
Vere had been staring thoughtfully at the now empty window of the Mayor's Mansion, but he turns slightly before Raven speaks. He nods slightly. "I am," he answers, "And I believe that you are correct that we have not met."
"Sorry - name's Raven," she supplies. "Still figuring out who's who, but your father pointed you out at dinner. If you don't mind my asking - everything okay with my brother? I saw you taking to him earlier."
"Ah, Captain Raven," Vere offers his hand. "I have been told of you, and young Max mentioned you when speaking of his siblings. He appears to be taking his responsibilities quite seriously."
Raven returns the gesture. "Which responsibilities was he talking about? The last time he and I talked about that, he was making noises about a vendetta, and I'm pretty sure he ain't old enough for that kind of talk yet."
"He did not say anything about vendetta this time. Whether that means he has changed his mind, or merely learned discretion, I do not know." Vere smiles slightly. "No, he was saying that he felt your father had left him the responsibility of locating and protecting his younger siblings. Why Lucas would have that duty fall upon him rather than you he did not say."
"I'd imagine," Raven says dryly, "that has a lot to do with it being unlikely that Lucas was my father too."
"Ah," Vere replies. He gives a slight bow of the head. "My apologies. I made an unwarranted assumption."
Raven smiles and shakes her head. "No need. Can't say as how it's unreasonable," she offers. "You'd have to know a bit about our mother, or been there when she was explaining. Only mostly sure myself, at this point."
"The parental strategies of our elder generation are..." Vere pauses as though seeking just the correct phrase, then settles upon "...quite mysterious in their variance." He pauses again, regarding Raven. "Victor is your uncle, as I understand it? He is an old friend of my beloved, the Lady Robin, although I do not know him well myself."
"That's what I've been told." Raven shrugs. "He wasn't around when I was a kid - didn't even know I had an uncle. Actually met him the same day I met Robin. And her..." She pauses. "Friends? Pets?"
"Companions is probably the best word," Vere answers. "Highly intelligent and psychically linked to her. And they definitely have strong personalities and their own minds."
"Ah," Raven says. "I saw them, a bit, but things got busy - we ended up tracking someone down, there was a riot, and then I've been off with Jerod. Part of why I haven't talked to Victor much, there. What kind of man does he seem like?"
"An experienced demon hunter, so a man capable of taking care of himself physically. He likes to affect a somewhat rough exterior, but he's actually extremely sensitive to the subtler points of communication. Good at subtly disappearing into the background, as well." Vere considers for a moment, then nods decisively. "Yes, 'surprisingly subtle' is the phrase I think I would use for him."
Raven glances in the direction she'd last seen her mother, with a thoughtful look, and then shrugs. "Huh. Thanks. Nice to have a hint about what I'll be stepping into." She shoves her hands into her coat pockets, in a way that looks very habitual. "Hope I'm not keeping you from anything with a bunch of nosy questions, here."
Vere glances back at the Mayor's mansion for a moment then smiles slightly. "No, in fact you probably kept me from making a mistake." He laughs very quietly then continues, "If it is not intruding, might I ask if you were raised in secret, knowing that you were a member of the Family, or if your parentage came as a surprise to you?"
Raven snorts in amusement. "Surprise is a good word for it. Grew up dockside in Amber, and Ma didn't care to say much on who my father was. Pretty much had given up on it, really, until Brita announced I was part of all this."
Vere nods thoughtfully. "I can understand her desire to keep her children out of the politics of the Family. Especially considering the way things seemed to be under the reign of Oberon, with rivalries and backstabbing common. The younger generation is trying to create a better way of doing things." He shrugs slightly. "Time will tell how well we succeed."
"Guess that's a reason she might've kept it to herself." Raven's expression says she's not so sure that's actually why. "Speaking of the old King... seeing as how I've only been around for a little of this one, is that a normal royal speech now? Seemed kind of short."
Vere's eyes go back to the empty window, and he frowns slightly. "No, that was not usual for our king. His speeches are sometimes short, but always ... interesting."
He looks back at Raven. "Will you be at the Family meeting tomorrow? I have the impression that we will be discussing matters of grave import."
Raven nods. "As long as I don't get told to do something else. Jerod and Brita and I came back from Gateway with one of those, I think."
"Ah, you were with Jerod, then." Vere gives a slight nod. "I heard a very brief synopsis of that mission. Weyland Smith, two dead mages and one left alive creating an army of the dead, and a thief who sees the future. That last is a little unclear, I confess."
"Well, sounds like you didn't get the part where he was a bird when we found him the first time," Raven says dryly, "but I don't know that I can clear the subject of him up much past that. We were about to go down after the mage that's left, and he came running up to tell us not to. Said the dead would threaten Xanadu and Rebma if we went down there without a whole army."
"A bird?" Vere blinks once. "No, I did not hear that part. Jerod suggested that I speak with him, but whether he meant that seriously or if it was a bit of dry humour referencing the fact that I occasionally have visions, I am not sure."
Raven shrugs. "We brought him with us so's people could ask him questions and figure out if he's making things up or not, but don't ask me if he meant one at a time or if everybody's going to have at him tomorrow."
Vere sighs. "There is going to be much to discuss tomorrow, and little of it pleasant. There are forces on the move, and they poke and prod to determine if Random is as strong a ruler as Oberon, or if the defeats he gave his enemies can now be reversed. I rather suspect there will be an assigning of tasks by the king."
"Aye," Raven agrees. "As I understand it, any gossip that's not been taken care of today gets taken care of tomorrow, too? So maybe it ain't all going to be grim."
Vere smiles. "The family does love its gossip. During the days when our elders were at each other's throats the tale is that they would still pause when meeting to share news of the family before fighting. This may be an exaggeration, but it reveals an underlying truth. There is a certain etiquette to it, as I understand. It is normally the duty of the less senior member to share their news first." He shrugs slightly. "Some elders are more fixated upon that sort of thing than others. In my opinion it is usually wisest not to antagonize them over such relatively unimportant points." He smiles again. "Other members of our younger generation might be less concerned about the customs of our elders than I am."
"I was reminded of that rule earlier," Raven says wryly. "Not screwing it up again, am I?"
"Not at all. I did not bring that up in reference to this conversation," Vere hastens to explain. "Merely that it is something that I have observed does not consistently get passed on to new members of the family, leading to friction through misunderstanding. As opposed to friction through deliberate action."
"It was made a point of for me." Her voice is still a little wry. "I figure it's a chain of command thing, aye? Once I wrap my head around who it gets used with that wasn't a Prince or Princess when I left Amber, I ought to have it. Ain't so sure that part's easy. That's why I asked."
Vere laughs quietly. "I think it was much simpler for our elders. They mainly were concerned with their own birth order. We have to consider our parents' relative ages, our own ages, and any official or semi-official positions we hold. I can understand why some relatives prefer to ignore the whole thing. Others have egalitarian leanings, of course."
"Did anyone think of making a list?" Raven suggests, a certain amused dryness back in her voice. "Ignoring that kind of thing ain't going to cause anything but trouble."
"Has someone been telling tales about me?" Vere inquires with a laugh. "I was noted during the Regency for making endless detailed lists of all manner of things. That one in particular I have not yet made, however." He looks back at the Mayor's Mansion and appears to make a decision. "I have enjoyed our discussion, and look forward to speaking with you more. But right now there are some matters I really think I should attempt to deal with." He nods his head to Raven.
"No, but I'll keep that in mind." Raven chuckles, then nods in return. "Aye, don't let me keep you, please. And thanks for answering my questions."
"A pleasure, I assures you." And Vere departs, heading through the crowd.
Celina greets townsfolk in the milling crowd as she navigates the currents around the plaza. She raises a hand briefly at one point so that her entourage of guards and archivists cannot doubt she is fine and still soothing the locals with kind words.
Celina misses Ossian's departure by several moments. She stands watching as the Knight dances with the Rebman, taking a measure of the lady's stamina with the surface dances. That walks her mind past a stray scene of dragging Silhouette into her royal bedrooms in the palace. Celina sighs but turns it into a cleansing exhale from deep in her Takhi.
When she thinks the couple has made a pleasant number of turns, she slips closer to see if she can take a turn with Valeria. "Well met, friends," Celina says.
The two stop just as the music stills, a new song will start shortly, but the band has paused to allow people to change partners.
Valeria gives a perfect bow from a member of a royal house to a sitting monarch, both in another's Kingdom. Rides in the Van bows as well, and his movements are smooth and somehow slightly disturbing to the eye.
Valeria smiles and it's "Your Majesty. My dear Aunt. I saw your entourage arrive, but did not know if you wished to see me. I fear my branch of the family has been willful."
"All our branches are willful, Valeria," Celina says with a slight smile. "In fact, we may as well stitch that phrase into a banner for the Rebma heraldic. I hope you have enjoyed Xanadu. Perhaps you'd like to tell me about it while we take a dance." Celina looks back and forth from Valeria to RidesintheVan.
Valeria smiles at Rides in the Van. "I will dance with the Queen now. Thank you for the dance, and for your good service, sir." She offers him a courtesy before turning her attention to the Queen.
Rides in the Van politely waits for the Queen to dismiss him as well.
Celina addresses the Knight directly, "Our thanks for your courtly consideration. We will take the lady in hand. May I ask you to have two ginger waters waiting at the bar for us? Thank you."
Rides in the Van bows politely and says, "It will be as Your Majesties command." He goes off to take care of the ginger water.
"We have much to speak on, Your Majesty. But first, I would ask, have you heard from my sister or mother at all? I have little enough news of Loreena and Rilsa here in Xanadu these days and that concerns me deeply." Celina does not doubt the sincerity in Valeria's voice and demeanor on this matter, if nothing else.
Celina taps a foot to give them both a visual cue to the music. She nods once to Valeria, "I have heard a bit. Both were well last I spoke to them."
While there is no significant change in Valeria's demeanor, Celina intuits through the changes in the TaKhi stance of the dance that Valeria is relieved.
Celina pauses, enters deeper into Valeria's dance space, and uses her fingertips to write in her dance partner's palm, 'more later'.
Celina takes the lead and smoothly circles the dance steps so no one view of the speaking pair can gain view of their mouths.
Valeria lets Celina take the lead and maneuver the dance in whichever way Celina wishes. Her dancing is poised and she follows with alacrity and skill rather than merely letting Celina pull or push her wherever Celina wishes. It takes her a moment to catch the point of the circling but then she tilts her head to widen the distance between their mouths, the better to foil sorcerous watchers as well as the more mundane sort.
"What would Your Majesty ask of me?"
"I'll need to talk to you. Your mother made a request of me, which I intend to honor," Celina says. "Passing you that information and letting you help me would be pleasing. Perhaps that's the best place to begin."
Valeria twirls as the music suggests for a moment before she returns close in to answer Celina. "Should I attend on Your Majesty privately later tonight? I am at your disposal."
Celina bites her tongue. Surely the universe did not hate her that much?
The chimney of years blows the words back at her, so close, so far. Khela so alive. Celina trying to make her laugh at the sideways lewd reference.
Celina keeps the flow around the paired dance. It is easier to swim with current than bleed irony all over your sex life.
"There will be calls on me to attend politics tomorrow. Tonight would be fine, if you can arrive in shadows," and Celina describes where her rooms are in the castle. "I'll make sure the Rebman watch believes a Trade Factor wishes to advise me discreetly. But please don't let the Xanadu guards turn me into limerick fodder tonight."
Valeria's look can only be described as indignant on Celina's behalf, and Celina doesn't sense any falsity behind it. "I will be careful, but Your Majesty, you are my mother's sister." She lowers her voice a little, hissing, "I know this isn't Rebma, but Queen Vialle will surely feed any guard who mocks you so to the fishes."
"If you wish," Celina replies with a warm smile, "you can tell me why you think so this evening. This isn't Rebma. Will never be anything like Rebma. And I am beholden to keep a peace in Xanadu as I would in my dear Rebma. Therefore I am not relying on the kindness of people I do not know very well. Instead I ask for your help to keep me in balance here. I feel from your passion you will be willing to offer your expertise. So we should not have to count on Queen Vialle for assistance. Yes?
"And really, Valeria," Celina laughs and swallows long, "I would never complain even if Xanadu confounds you on your way to me. Rebma asks me to be stronger than mockery. Just do your best and we shall prevail."
As part of the dance, Valeria makes a sweeping gesture that is best interpreted as a neck bow. "It shall be as Your Majesty commands, of course. I would not see the men of Xanadu mock Rebma as the men of Amber did of old. I want a better age for Rebma, my Aunt, and I want to help you achieve it."
"Excellent," Celina responds, keeping the flow moving to compliment the pair and the larger crowd. "A better age is already begun and those who seek to mock or hinder us will swallow their own venom. I look forward to tonight."
"As do I, your majesty." As the music changes, Valeria sketches a bow.
Knowing the king's proclivities, Folly told herself that she would be keeping a close eye on the crowds, and musicians, particularly in the vicinity of the drums, during the evening's festivities.
But then Edan's dance started, and suddenly it was impossible to pay attention to anything else. At its conclusion, she cheers wildly and enthusiastically...
...until the king's appearance and brief speech reminds her what she's supposed to be doing.
She bids a temporary farewell to Paige -- "I have to go run an errand, but I'll find you later for dancing if I can, okay?" -- and then turns to her mother and daughter.
"Are you two going to be all right if I leave you alone for a few more minutes?" she asks in a studiously neutral tone, and kisses her daughter's wet hair. It's difficult to tell in the play of torchlight and shadow, but her eyes might be twinkling.
Brij stretches her arms up and locks her fingers at the extremities, showing off her gymnast's figure and Folly's best spangly dress. "We were thinking of taking a swim, but I hear they've closed the pool," says Brij. "You do whatever you need. I'd offer to help Hannah, but I think you've given birth more recently."
Brij smiles. "Run along, we'll do fine."
Folly hesitates just an instant, wondering whom Hannah is midwiving that she would need assistance with, but decides other matters are more pressing. "Perhaps for now you can substitute dancing for swimming," she offers, mostly to Lark. To her mother she continues, "I shouldn't be gone too long."
Given her recent history, she could be using any time scale from minutes to days for that particular estimate. But probably minutes. Ten or twenty or... even two hundred minutes is still not very long in the grand scheme of things, right?
Brij nods. "Just don't leave me to explain things to Martin without you, is all I ask."
"Explain? What is there to explain?" Folly asks with a twinkle in her eye -- but more seriously, she adds, "I promise."
As Folly leaves, she hears her mother greeting someone. From her tone, it's someone she doesn't like. At all.
Then she slips into the crowd to look for Syd. She's headed to the Mayor's house by way of a circuit around the edge of the drum circle to see if he's managed to show up there yet. If not, she'll be on the lookout for him moving in that direction.
The crowd is excited and reasonably happy. Folly sees many people. Julian is talking to a young child wearing his cape. Gerard is wheeling through the crowd somewhat freely. Most of the notables of Amber society from the Regency are around, and several greet her. The show-drums are being removed, but there are a number of musicians on seaward side of the square, playing in a band shell. It's clearly an impromptu band, because they're playing typical session style, which is good for the dancers and friendly to inexperienced players. There are 4 drummers, none of whom is Syd. Eventually she gets to the Lord Mayor's house. There are two guards at the door, and they do not look like the fun kind of guards that are at the rest of the party.
Just in case they are the super-obstructive kind of guards, Folly whistles a little melody as she approaches, loudly enough and at the right pitches to cut through the crowd noise, but cheerful enough that she could reasonably just be whistling to herself out of joy. If Syd (or anyone else in the band, for that matter) is anywhere within earshot (and the house isn't too thoroughly soundproofed), he should recognize it -- as well as who is likely to be whistling it.
When she gets close enough to hail the guards, she greets them cheerfully in a voice that carries: "Hi, there! I'm looking for Haven and Tjaden. Could you tellthem Folly is here to see them?"
The door opens from the inside and a young man looks out at her and opens the door wide. Edan arrives at that moment and he is also admitted. The guards close rank on the door behind them.
The man who introduces himself to Folly. "Your Highness, my name is Viper, I work for The Lord Mayor. Apologies for the men not recognizing you. Your uncle is upstairs. I'd see you up, but I need to wait on further arrivals."
One of Michelle's assistants, a young man named Liam, stands unobtrusively behind Edan and tells him who each approaching person is. He either has some sort of telepathic powers or he has an amazing memory for faces.
The faces and names and greetings come very fast, including a number of boys who are interested in training (or else their fathers are in their names).
Edan needs no introduction to the one of the later well-wishers. From his walk, he is Altamarean and Liam confirms that he is "Rides in the Van", a warrior and confidant of his elder. "Greetings from your father," he says, hugging Edan. He whispers in Edan's ear. "All is not well. When you can discreetly escape, come to the Lord Mayor's house."
Even worse than he thought. Edan nods, covers up his dismay with a smile, and says, "Of course. So glad to meet you."
Hannah hasn't come through the line yet, either, and the odds are pointing at one likely answer for that, too. Silently wishing her the best, he stays as long as he can stand it and then turns to his lieutenant.
"Thank you for taking this duty with me. I must look for someone, and the reception line appears to be flagging- would you take over?"
If all is clear and he can be discreet, Edan heads onward to the Lord Mayor's residence.
Edan maneuvers through the crowd which somehow manages to part reasonably easily before him. He notices Viper and some of the other Lord Mayor's men are intercepting and moving people to help him through, still it takes a while to cross that many people in a square. Edan sees many people he knows, including Julian, Corwin, Florimel, and many people from the city who he only just met in line. Even with help, Edan is not making as much progress as he wants, and is only halfway across the square.
Kyauta finds that there are too many people and contents himself to fly over the crowd. He notes that Edan's cousin with the flying lizards is here. He finds them fascinating and puppy-like.
Edan is amused by this. There are several options here, all of them flashy, and most magical, but it's not worth drawing that kind of attention to himself here and now. He keeps his affine up in the air and uses their mental link to plot as best a path as he can through the crowd while he continues onward.
Edan fights he way to the door, where a guard is blocking Folly's path. A man inside opens the door, and waves them both inside. He introduces himself to Folly. "Your Highness, my name is Viper, I work for The Lord Mayor. Apologies for the men not recognizing you. Your uncle is upstairs. I'd see you up, but I need to wait on further arrivals."
"Thank you so much, Viper -- who else are we expecting?" she asks.
"Prince Bleys sent for his sons and nephews, Ma'am."
Edan nods to Folly. "Hello, Cousin. It's been quite a while since we last met. Would you like to go on up?"
"Hi, Edan -- your thing was fantastic!" Folly says brightly, though her expression betrays other emotions. She gestures toward the stairs and falls into step beside him to head up.
The stairs go up (as stairs do) to a landing. There are rooms off the long hall to the left and the right, and one at the end which is where the balcony that the King appeared on is.
Edan heads straight towards the door at the end and will eventually knock unless Folly stops him. "Thank you! It has been some little while since I have had the chance to dance in that way. I am glad that I still remembered it. Vere made things easy." There is a hint of tension in Edan's shoulders, and he can't help but spare a glance towards their destination.
At the mention of Vere, Folly puts a hand on Edan's arm to stay him, just for a moment. The pressure of her fingers betrays her own tension. "Have you his card if we need it?" she asks, her voice low and intense. "Or do you know enough of his news to relay it?"
Edan may intuit that she is carefully not saying that news out loud herself.
Edan quirks an eyebrow, then shakes his head a little for emphasis. "I do not have his Trump. I assume- hope- he saw the king and is headed this way. I made oath to Vere that I would not discuss anything before he spoke to Random himself. It is his story to tell."
Folly nods once, abruptly. "I fear this might turn out not to be the best time for it anyway," she says grimly, and gives his arm a gentle squeeze that feels not so much like reassurance as a signal of solidarity.
Then, with a quirk of one eyebrow to make sure he's ready for what comes next, she proceeds to the door and knocks.
The door opens to reveal Conner. "Folly. Edan." Conner nods to both of them and is speaking as if announcing them to whoever is behind him. "Come on in." Conner steps back and opens the door wider to allow them entry.
Edan smiles at Folly and turns his attention to Conner. "Conner. Haven't seen you in a while, either. It is good to see you." He almost makes it look like he isn't worriedly looking beyond into the room.
Beyond Conner, Edan can see Brennan and a tall, muscular woman, her dark hair matching the long cloak she has wrapped around herself that evokes raven's feathers. There may be others in the room, but the area around the door is quite crowded.
"Thank you, Conner -- what news?" Folly asks as she enters the room and looks around with purpose. She does not bother disguising the concern in her voice and body language. "Where's--- where's the king... and queen?"
Conner shrugs slightly. "Just got here myself. I think Uncle Bleys is waiting until all are assembled before what he knows." Conner sighs. "For all that he tells the same stories often, he claims to hate repeating himself." Conner smirks.
Having escorted Regenleif out, Brennan joins the group of cousins, but only long enough to say, "For that matter, where is Fiona?"
Brennan walks back over to Bleys and Ambrose.
"The Princess Fiona attends the Queen, at her majesty's request and the King's command. They, and the King, have returned to the castle." Bleys is not rushed, but his tone displays a certain urgent quality.
"Your Highness, your presence is an unexpected pleasure. It's good that someone outside our circle know of these matters."
"Brennan, you.ll have to catch your son up on anything he may miss."
Bleys leans towards the youngsters.
"About an hour ago, Fiona called me in to consult on a problem she was having. She had accompanied the Queen to Rebma, at the King's request. While she was there to look after the safety of the Queen, what she found was that the King is enchanted. And in a way that his own tie to the Jewel and the pattern prevent us from removing it.
"We are concerned. There are very few who could do so, none of them could do it in Xanadu, they aren't here and we know them all." He pauses to let that sink in.
Folly, who has the advantage over some of her cousins that her most relevant applicable vow in this situation is to protect the king, nods as though this is all completely obvious and blurts out, "You have to get the King away from the Queen, if you haven't already." She's bouncing on her toes with nervous energy, like she's ready to jump through a trump right now to make that happen. "I think she's trying to use Vialle's pregnancy to recorporealize."
Distantly, Edan feels his jaw click back shut. "Maybe he'll be okay with just telling the Reader's Digest abridged version," he says.
Conner looks at them both as if they grew an extra head each. Conner examines his whirling thoughts and plucks out the most relevant question. "What is the nature of this enchantment?" He asks Bleys.
Brennan evidently would like to hear Bleys' response to Conner and especially Folly more than he would like to hear himself talk. With eloquent silence, he looks to Bleys.
Bleys takes a second to process all the replies. "Last things first. We don't know. It seems to sap his will and his initiative. He seems to have a few things he cares about, but they are all. We cannot actually look on the King with our Third Eyes, but by looking at reflections and shadows, we can see that something magical is affecting him. Fiona is working on answering 'what' and 'how do we break it'.
"And Folly, I am afraid you have raced ahead of us. What makes you think someone is using Vialle's pregnancy to recopoeralize? And, for the sake of fullness of understanding, who is and how did you discover this?"
Folly's reply comes out in a rush. "I knew something was wrong as soon as Martin told me about the pregnancy -- and then when I got home earlier this evening I could feel the wrongness in the family wing. My daughter did, too. The 'who-or-what' was only a very, very strong hunch until just now when you described the enchantment, immune to Pattern defenses. It's the Queen of Air and Darkness."
She gestures in Brennan's direction and says, "I'm glad Brennan's here, because he's the one that mentioned the Queen might be... I think he said 'looking for a new host'... when last we spoke. I was already concerned about Vialle's disappearance and re-appearance in the near vicinity of Tir. Then the pregnancy, the palpable wrongness, the enchantment...." She laces her fingers together to signify 'everything clicking into place'.
She carefully does not look at Edan, but she turns her laced fingers palms-upward in a way that seems to invite further evidence from any who might wish to provide it.
Having something to focus on and grapple with seems to have settled Brennan's mind considerably. This is no longer worrying, this is the start of planning.
"I got that from Benedict, the 'searching for a new host,' speculation" Brennan says. "And to my knowledge, the vast preponderance of her appearances have been to female Family members.
"But I have some questions of my own," Brennan continues. "Chiefly: Does the King know and understand he is under what I have to assume is an attack, or does the nature of the attack prevent him from seeing its effects? Is he in a position to discuss this or receive private and urgent news?" Brennan obviously has a long list of follow-up questions, but the answer to that one will inform just about everything else.
Edan sighs. "I assisted Vere on a visit to Tir last night, with the king's permission. I believe Vere can explain more- but he wanted to talk to Random first. This news complicates things."
Conner clearly has questions of his own but waits to hear the answer to those already asked.
The door opens, and Bleys pauses a moment, while Ossian comes in. Regenlief shuts the door behind him and returns to hall guarding duty.
"Well," says Bleys, having gathered his thoughts, "I certainly hope they are related phenomena we are severally chasing down, because it would be quite unfortunate if two different magical attacks were happening at the same time.
"To your first point, I am concerned about separating the King from the Queen. At this point it may be dangerous to him. When separated he seems to lose most of his drive, eventually ending up sitting down and waiting for her. He doesn't even drum, which is most unlike him. He will answer questions, but unless it's about Vialle or their unborn child, he is mostly indifferent. You heard his speech below. After that he was insistent that he needed to return to the palace and the Queen. The only other thing he talks about is getting all of us to swear allegiance to the unborn child as his new heir. I suspect that's what the meeting tomorrow is about.
"We had not been thinking of the Queen as the vector for the attack, but rather as somehow immunizing him, but that may not be the case. I'll have to tell Fiona what you shared with me, it will affect our investigations.
"Tomorrow, I'll be skipping the meeting, because I will be trying to avoid the magic he's under. Your highness, if you can keep your husband away, it will be bad for him in the short term, but probably good for him in the longer term. I won't advise you to stay or leave yourself, I know you're close to my brother and will have to make whatever decision is best. Whoever does attend should remind the King that he send any of us who do not on secret missions and expected us not to be there."
He pauses, perhaps dramatically, perhaps to see what else needed to be said. "My family, I can tell you I don't know how this ends, but there are some possibilities that are grim. I want you each to take care of yourselves and each other. And remain careful, alive, and loyal to the family, even if the path to do so seems fraught."
"What questions do you have?"
"You said that there are very few that could do this and we know them all." Conner asks. "Who are our suspects?"
Brennan nods. That was one of his own questions, that he'd like to hear the answer to as well.
"Vere needs to know this immediately," Brennan says. That's not even a question. And frankly, Robin and Jerod, but especially Vere since he was the primary witness. "With the obvious proviso of Family Only, who exactly are we planning on telling and not telling?" Brennan, by his expression, doesn't think there's any good answer to this question. All answers are seriously flawed at this point.
There is time to stop him, but unless that happens, Brennan crosses the room, sends for a senior page, and sends that page out with a simple directive: Bring Vere.
Edan says, "Even if you're not attending tomorrow, I will have to be there. Am I going to need to ward myself? Strongly?"
After a moment he adds, "Oh... and we should talk. Just a moment of your time."
Partly in answer to Brennan's question, Folly says, "Soren knows that something's not right -- that the king has been acting weird lately, especially around Vialle." She hesitates, then adds, "And I think Vere reached out to him about trying to set up a meeting with the king. He won't have the context to understand the metaphysical details, but he should be kept in the loop at least in broad strokes."
She looks at Bleys and adds, "And if there's any chance this enchantment can be weakened by reminding your brother of who he really is, Soren and I probably have the best chance of that. I think I'm going to need to get my daughter out of here for her own protection, and warn my husband away for the nonce, but I have to stay and help. Whatever it takes." She looks grim.
"So my questions are mostly about that, and mostly metaphysical -- things like, you've found Pattern won't work against this enchantment, but what about trying to reach his mind through Trump? Based on your observations, how dangerous would it be for me to try to talk to him that way -- assuming I could even get him to answer -- or face-to-face? What's the likelihood that our enchanter has enough power here that she'll be able to sense our movements against her? I recall at our last family meeting Benedict cautioned against even speaking her name because...." She wiggles her fingers to signify 'creepy juju heebie jeebies'.
Bleys holds a hand up. "Too many at once. Let me try to answer everyone and then see if there are still questions." He points at Conner. "Your Grandmother, for one. Some of her friends. Dara. The High Marshall of the Moonriders. The Dragon of Arcadia. We hadn't thought of the Queen of Air and Darkness, because she has been acting indirectly, but if she has a vector, then she's the latest one, and she's the most likely to have power to affect a pattern maker."
He moves on to Brennan. "I was planning on telling my son and nephews, and the distaff side if they needed to know. We are far too large to keep a proper secret, so I have no answer for you."
He points at Edan. "Yes, please. And watch with your third eye, as indirectly as you can, to see what is happening. And help and reinforce your family. And we can talk soon. I saw your cousin gathering her ladies, including your sister, for her birth."
He turns to Folly. "I am not worried about saying the Queen's name. If I knew how to break this spell, I wouldn't be here, I'd be there doing it. Now, is the castle unsafe for Hannah to give birth in?"
Folly, who never made it to dinner, hadn't realized that Hannah was quite so far along, and it shows on her face. What she says, though, is, "If it were me, I doubt I would risk it. But Hannah's child is perhaps a less obvious threat to that 'get everyone to swear fealty to Vialle's unborn child' plan." She grimaces, as if she'd just had an unpleasant thought, but shakes it off and adds, "I suppose the original threat that had Floaty Woman sizing up any female family member she ran across is greatly diminished now that she has seemingly found a host."
Ossian frowns. "I guess Trumping could be incredibly dangerous. Still, we could learn things from it. But, honestly, Folly, Martin would kill us all if we let you do it."
Folly smiles wryly. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, the most likely outcome is the same thing that happened the last several times I tried it -- namely, he won't pick up."
To Bleys, she asks, "How has Vialle's behavior been? Any new weirdness?"
Edan looks like he's running all the scenarios in his head regarding a newly-invested knight taking orders from a possessed and/or mad king. He looks more horrified with each one. "Hannah won't be leaving anywhere except by Trump, she's that close to time. And I doubt she would accept to do that, or accept any warding I might want to create. Not right now. Not to mention I'd have to be in there, causing disruption, and I will not be welcome until it is over."
"Then someone capable of observing with the Third Eye should be there," Brennan says. He does not volunteer. "Which probably means widening the circle.
"We should also consider that, 'not picking up the contact,' might mean either deciding to refuse it or ignore it, or it might mean it's not going through. I assume the card is still cold or Folly would have said something to that effect. Bleys, bearing all of us in mind that this situation is... highly fluid... how can we help?" Brennan asks.
Once more, Conner holds his questions so as to not overwhelm his uncle.
Bleys points at Folly. "I have no sextant or map by which to tell ordinary pregnant woman 'weirdness' from possessed by our worst nightmare 'weirdness'. Can you be more specific? I thought the most surprising thing in the whole affair was that Random slept with his wife again. He'd been catting around for months."
"Well, in case it helps," Folly says drily, "Peeing a lot and craving strange foods: normal. Trying to make a kingdom swear fealty: maybe not so much, unless that sort of thing is your normal MO. Failing to notice your spouse is acting aggressively weird, also not so normal."
On this Bleys corrects her. "I can tell you're not from a fundamentally monarchical society. Nothing is more normal than attempting to promote your offspring at the expense of all of the other lines or offspring."
The Prince catches his breath. "Be very careful. The Jewel, most of the Princes, some of the Princesses, will overwhelm your third eye. Do not look directly at the King.
"Thank you for asking how you can help. You can protect the family. Conner, get Celina out of here. Corwin and Benedict are safe--they have their own patterns. Celina is at risk. Edan, take your knights out of the city. Brennan, see to yours. They may be needed sooner than we want.
"We'll need to guard the approach to Tir, which means Paige's Rangers. Hmmm. Brita, Robin, and Solange are the obvious choices if Paige isn't available. Perhaps Vere. Ossian, do you think you can take the order to the Rangers 'protect the three steps at all costs'?
"Ambrose, can you protect your Cousin Folly and her child?
"Folly, I may have been exactly wrong. Edan, do you have the magical artifact we captured from the Moonriders? We need to know where it points right now."
Conner looks to Edan expectantly.
Folly gives a small nod; she doesn't know precisely what Bleys is asking Edan for, but she intuits what he's trying to accomplish.
Brennan looked about to make the same point about Corwin and Benedict, but settles for just giving Conner a side-nod when he beats him to it. Then he, too, waits to hear Edan's responses.
Edan holds out his arms, showing the empty sleeves of his dancing silks. "It is in my rooms, tonight," he says. "I can go get it, or we can go there." A second later, he adds easily, "I can send the knights out for exercises with the gathering army in Broceliande. But I will not leave here before Hannah and the baby get away, even with the best of excuses. Several rooms will need their auras cleansed as well- someone with Blood or Sex or Psyche Principles could use those rooms to affect the two for the next half-century."
To Edan, Brennan says, "Take the cadre of Ruby we arranged. They're ready and waiting. Conner, you and I can talk later, but we have an orphaned force in Avalon that was due for at least another cadre. Aside from that..." he closes his eyes and shakes his head, thinking of how this will sit with Marius and Lilly. "We're going to end up having a Midnight Family Council before the actual Family Council at this rate."
Ossian says, "I can take the order to the Rangers. Let's just hope they recognise my authority.
"I worry that this is the time when the Klybesian monks will strike." he blurts out.
Ambrose says, "I can certainly act as magical bodyguard to the family. But first, I will bring in Lord Vere," and goes out the door.
It's odd because there's no evidence that Vere is here.
Bleys says "thank you," as Ambrose leaves. "I see your point, but I think that Random had a particular weakness for magic from Vialle that not even Corwin shares. It also took a very long time to affect Random. Months, at least. I might worry more about people who've been in the castle and in daily contact with her. Her staff and confidants, anyone she's taken a special interest in. We might find them to be less loyal to the King than they should be."
He turns to Ossian. "It's a possibility, especially if they're colluding with the Queen of Air and Darkness. What we really need is a way to stomp on them, drive them into disarray, without depleting our forces or our reserves. I wonder if Benedict has any help he can give us. Or if anyone knows where their Turcopiler is.
"It would be jolly useful if Jerod and his little corps of fuzzy thugs gave them a distraction on his way home. We'll probably need Brita to help nudge that one along, once she's off Baby Duty."
Having slowly made his way through the crowd while ruminating on the incredible natural beauties of his native Isles, Vere approaches the door of the mayor's mansion.
As Vere is approaching the house, one of Mayor Ash's assistants comes out and spots him. "Ah, Lord Vere. Prince Bleys sent me to find you. Thank you for making my job easy." He opens the door and ushers Vere inside, to the consternation and annoyance of the guards.
The assistant walks Vere up the stairs and escorts him to the door, where there's a Valkyrie waiting in guard position, though she doesn't have an obvious weapon. To Vere, her nature is clear: she is a Chooser of the Slain. Her power is pooled around her like wings to Vere's senses.
"Thanks, Viper. I'll take it from here." To Vere, she adds, "I'm Regenlief. Prince Bleys and a number of your kin are talking inside." Her expression suggests to Vere that whatever they're talking about is probably not good.
"Chooser," Vere nods a respectful greeting.
She knocks on the door and after a moment, Ambrose opens it. "Ah, Vere. Come in. Edan and Brennan said you had some things to tell us." And to Regenlief, "Thank you."
Vere is ushered inside.
Vere nods to her once more as he passes through the doorway.
When Vere comes in, Brennan goes to greet him. He gives Vere a brief moment to take note of who is in the room before continuing.
"Vere, thank you for coming," Brennan says. He is filled with quiet intensity, moreso than usual. "There is news that I think is absolutely crucial for you to hear-- let me quickly summarize what's been said:
"First, and most importantly, Bleys tells us that he and Fiona have discovered that King Random is presently afflicted by a spell, what I might describe as a geas or something related. Its chief effect is a single-minded focus on a very few topics, and magical apathy when separated from the objects of his focus. Those being: Vialle, their unborn child, and having the Family swear allegiance to the child as heir. This prospective oath is the likely topic of tomorrow's meeting. Related, the enchantment seems to be leveraging the strength of his ties to Jewel and Pattern against removing the geas.
"Second, Folly has a separate report from Soren that the King has been acting strangely and especially so around Vialle. So it is noticeable. As one might expect from apathy so strong that when separated from Vialle, he simply sits and waits.
"Finally, the conversation has turned to making sense of this information and what exactly to do with it. The list of capable entities, per Bleys, includes the usual suspects: Dara, the Dragon of Arcadia, Clarissa and few associates, the High Marshall of the Moonriders, and the Queen of Air and Darkness. Most of the speculation has revolved around the later two on the strength of Folly's intuition, the warning I had from Benedict of her search for a new host, and her recent spate of appearances. I am of the opinion that more information is better.
"You can see why I thought it vital that you be part of this discussion," Brennan finishes. His focus remains accutely on Vere.
"I see," Vere says. "This is ... distressing news. Have you yet passed on any of the matter I had discussed with you and Jerod?"
"No," Brennan says. "It's best from you."
"I'll go get the device from my rooms in just a moment," Edan says, espying Vere. "I've waited to hear the other half of this tale."
Bleys nods. "Please start at the beginning. Why did you choose to ascend the stair? When you asked the king for permission, was Vialle present? Did the king seem quite himself?"
Vere nods. "I shall speak on the King and Vialle when I reach that point in my narrative. For background, my trip to Tir occurred due to a request from Caine. Robin has discovered two Ladies of Ancient Power, locked in a metaphysical knot as part of a Truce between their respective courts. They call themselves Lady Laudine of Lothian, Countess of Landuc, and Lady Morgne, Princess and Lady of the Lake. And their respective Champions. Robin cut the knot, resulting in a release of metaphysical tension that separated us. While Robin went with one of the Champions to Rebma, I undertook to guide the other three and ended up in Amber." He smiles thinly, "With interesting side trips that I would think vital to relate were the matter of principal interest not so pressing. Benedict was visiting with Caine, and I presented the Ladies to them. They were welcomed and made guests, and I assume they still wait in Amber. Caine later asked me to venture to Tir, with Random's permission, to see if I could gain a vision of the Ladies, to give some clue as to whether they were more than they seemed. I trumped through to Random, who was entertaining Edan upon the waters of the bay."
He nods to Edan. "My cousin had been speaking to Random for some time previous, and perhaps has more to say on his manner, but he seemed very much himself to me. Joking, inventing silly games, but with a deep understanding behind the facade of jester. He read the message from Caine and granted me the right to visit Tir, so long as I would give him the report of what I found as well. We then climbed the cliffside, and met with Vialle. She also seemed much herself. Random mentioned that we had a mission for Caine, but did not mention Tir to her. Whether she learned it later, I do not know."
Vere pauses for a moment, as though reviewing that conversation again in his head, and then with a slight shrug continues. "With Edan watching me through trump I ascended to Tir. There I did have a vision of the Ladies. In the interest of brevity I will pass over it unless you think it important. What is more vital is that I saw a masked woman who seemed to see me, interacting with me in way that no other Tir ghost did, and she led me to the Pattern chamber. There, she revealed herself as Cambina, and spoke with me. She told me that Vialle had requested that Cambina accompany her to Tir, and she had done so because she had forseen herself doing so, and because Vialle said she would attempt the ascent without aid if Cambina did not come with her. Once they were at Tir the Queen of Air and Darkness appeared and held Cambina in place while Vialle walked the Pattern. Vialle completed the Pattern walk as dawn came, and Cambina fell to her death."
Vere carefully does not look at Brennan as he tells this part again. "She then found herself trapped in Tir, in the form of a spirit of that place, but with awareness and apparent free will. She has been hiding from the Queen of Air and Darkness since then, believing it would go very bad for her if the Queen learned that she had not been completely removed from the board by her death."
Vere shrugs once more. "That is pretty much all she could tell me. Dawn was coming, so Edan trumped me back to the foot of the stairs. I asked him to tell no one of what he had heard until I had a chance to speak with the King in private. We returned to Xanadu to learn that the King had announce Vialle's pregnancy and departed, so at that point I turned my attention towards gaining a private audience with him as soon as possible, and informing a very small circle of individuals of what I had seen."
Vere stops then, and awaits comments and questions.
Brennan knows what's coming, and lifts his chin fractionally in defense, or perhaps in defiance. "Thank you Vere. I am able to speak more freely, now, without speaking for you.
"To forestall some obvious questions: Robin, Jerod, and myself," Brennan says, thus explaining also the grim conclave out on the balcony a few hours ago. "The plan emerged to do everything possible to get the King's attention until midnight, and failing that to regroup, find a mutually agreeable aunt or uncle and seek advice. The conundrum was how to get that information to him privately and before the greater Family meeting, which we judged might be.... embarrassing. That plan is now a bit overcome by events, but now Robin and Jerod are behind. I have other things to discuss with Robin-- I'll bring her up to speed as soon as possible.
"I have a number of observations and questions coming directly from that account, but I'll hold most of them while everyone digests that. Except this: My son is right-- neither the Klybesians, the Dragon, nor others will wait patiently while we assess and take action here," Brennan says.
Folly offers, "Although I can't say so with complete certainty, everything I've heard from those in a position to know suggests no prior suspicion that Vialle would be able to walk the Pattern. And anyone who has drawn a Pattern should be able to sense if she could."
She turns to Edan and asks, "What is this device you speak of, and how will it help? If you plan to take a fast way back to the castle to retrieve it, I may want to join you, if you're willing and able." To the rest she adds, "And does anyone here feel they know Vialle well enough to have an unbiased sense of whether she is acting strangely?" She looks particularly to Vere and Ossian, who were in Amber for the whole of the Regency, and Conner, who knew Vialle in Rebma.
Conner lets out the breath he did not realize he was holding. "I've made a point to visit the Queen when in Xanadu and I knew her rather well from her visits to the Embassy with the King. I would hope I would notice but..." Conner trails off and falls silent for a moment. "I took tea with her shortly after her rescue. Aside from being weak and tired, she was the Vialle I always knew. Staying locked away in her rooms was unlike her but after being abducted, it was an understandable break from habit." Conner shrugs. "Silhouette spent quite some time with the Queen then. She wouldn't notice any changes but I am now curious what their relationship was like. I also wonder what tales Vialle's servant Ember might tell."
Vere frowns thoughtfully. "Also, I was told the King and Vialle had gone to Rebma. Do we have independent confirmation of this, or is it possible she took him somewhere else? Somewhere that this spell might have been cast?"
"Yesterday was the second time I've met Vialle, so I cannot speak to her state of mind," Edan says, "but the king acted his normal self. Note that he officially endorsed the 'Order of the Red Lamp', and the joke is not lost on me. Cambina... looked like Cambina. I wasn't about to confirm it with Sorcery through a Trump. Folly, the item in question looks like a compass. We took it during a raid on a Moonrider camp. They were looking for natural shadow paths, so it was not a stretch to assume that was involved- though maybe it points to someone rather than somewhere. I'll have to ride; I have no Trump to the front gate and it's hard to fly here."
Bleys listens to Edan and then says "I have a Trump of your sister. It's been quite handy in the past. She can pass pull you through and then send you back, if she's not too busy." He reaches for his belt to pull out his deck. Fiona's card is on top, but Paige's is just below it. He hands it to Edan. "Don't lose it, I'm partial to my daughter's art style. Anyone going with Edan should go soon."
Folly holds up a hand to forestall him. "You needn't part with it -- I have one as well." She withdraws her own trump of Paige and offers it to Edan.
To Vere he looks as if he's considering things. "We were somewhere underwater. I came at Fiona's request, she had Trumped in at the request of the King. We should find out if the Royal Couple presented themselves to Queen Vialle. It would be quite a breach of etiquette if they hadn't. It's most likely that Fiona first detected problems with Random when she Trumped him. It may have been a call for help. Conner, can you ask them what they know?" If Bleys is unclear on who "they" are, it's likely that it's clear to him.
"Brennan, can you find your cousin Jerod and suggest a Klybesian target? It would be a feint, but we really should knock them off their guard if we expect other troubles at home in short order.
"It's too bad the moon won't be full tonight. I'd like to go to Tir myself now. Although I might need to bring Regenleif.
"I'll be nearby, working on determining the problem and trying to restore the King. If you need to get in touch with me, Paige will know how."
Brennan's teeth grind as he is reminded that Tir will not be accessible for nearly a month.
"Reme," Brennan says. "Regenlief stashed a rutter of Klybesian shadow paths there. I haven't been there in decades, but if Reme is a Klybesian stronghold these days, let Jerod be the obvious threat, the hammer, while someone," Brennan looks over at Ossian, questioningly, "escorts her to slip in and retrieve the rutter. Then let the hammer fall. If it's not, then that rutter will let us go for the jugular.
"Something else," Brennan continues. "For those who will attend tomorrow's Family conclave, you mentioned warding. It will not go well," he looks around the room, "if half the Family is using Sorcery and the other half is using Pattern. Before we scatter, we should know which approach is better."
"Is there anything you need me to do?" Vere asks Bleys. "Has anyone yet told Father any of this?"
Ossian nods. "I can't be in two places at once. Of course I could run to the Rangers first and go to Reme after that."
Conner parses Bleys's statement and responds. "I'll check with Queen Celina and Princess Llewella to see what they know of the Royals movements in Rebma. Is Mother still here? I would talk with her before I go."
Bleys nods. "Vere, can you see to the Rangers? We don't want Ossian to need to be in two places at once. Conner, your mother is with either the Queen or the King. Or most likely both."
Edan raises the Trump in salute to Bleys. "Folly, if you're ready, I hope to be there and back quickly. Brennan, it does not matter to me how we ward tomorrow, but I will be more effective with Sorcery."
Folly nods her readiness and offers, "I would guess Sorcery, since our presumed foe is not repelled by Pattern...? But that's not really my area."
Bleys frowns. "It's hard to do sorcery in a pattern realm, and twice as hard to manipulate the pattern. I think that is your best approach. Don't let the King notice you, because that in itself might be enough to disrupt your castings."
Vere nods at Bleys' comment, then says quietly, "I will, Uncle, but might I ask exactly what it is you wish me to do regarding the Rangers?"
"Guard the approach to Tir," Brennan explains. But he's puzzled himself and asks: "Why, though, if the stairs aren't there for close to a month? Are the Moonriders not subject to that constraint? And what about the Avalon side?"
"That was an excellent question and I'm sorry you asked because it made me think of the problems with the answer. Because of Time magic. If they take it during the dark of the moon and bubble it up for a tennight, then they waltz up it like two Rebmans passing court secrets.
"Or worse, they take it now and send themselves back at the spot by a tennight, or a year, and our problems begin to include time-decay effects. Anything else?"
Brennan doesn't need to do more than scratch the surface of that idea before he nods in understanding. "Now is not the time, but we're going to have to sit down and talk about these people and their tactics. But for now-- if you get to Ben before I do, tell him I offered to watch the Avalon side. Aside from that, good luck and remember that Fiona has my card."
Folly makes a small gesture to remind him that she also has his card, and she's not afraid to use it.
Vere nods as well. "I will try to find Paige as soon as I leave here," he says. "If she is not available, I should know most of her captains from the Regency."
"You'll want the captains; per our uncle, Paige has headed back to the castle already for a spot of midwifery," Folly says. "We'll fill her in on what's happening, once we get there."
Signy slips off as the Queen and Silhouette make their way towards the dance floor. The closest thing to entertainment that ever happened at Weyland's was watching some poor visitor find out that he had gotten the short end of the stick when bargaining with the famous smith.
A wicked smile briefly twists her lips as she heads towards the bar. If she were to go out there and dance, that may end up with Random revoking his challenge, and quite possibly cancelling the holiday.
She catches the eye of a bartender, and she quickly brings Signy her drink. She leans her back against the countertop, eyeing the throngs taking their King up on his offer, before noticing Jerod within arms reach. She tips her glass briefly in his direction in a silent salute and takes a pull.
"Cousin." she says with a nod and a smile, before taking another pull from her drink.
"Signy." Jerod replies, passing his empty glass back to the bartender only to find another ready before he has a chance to even motion for a refill.
"We've not had the opportunity to properly meet I believe. We find ourselves in a fortunate circumstance then at the moment. How fare you this day?"
Signy pauses and thinks back before ruefully shaking her head.
"No, I don't believe we have met. I'm sorry -- it's hard to keep track of whom I've met and whom I've just heard of."
She mentally traces the Family Tree in her head, remembering where Jerod fit.
"I'm well enough, though I've spent the past...." Here she frowns, trying to figure out the time of the whole thing before giving it up as a lost cause. "Well, however long in Aunt Fiona's Shadow working on a project for Ambrose.
"Where have you been lately?"
"Where lately?" Jerod replies, taking a long slug on his drink. "I'm not sure the bartender has that much booze." and he looks back at the bar. "Though it might be worth trying to find out.
"Dealing with a situation in Gateway actually. Involves Marius, some rather unpleasant mages who sorely needed to have their asses handed to them, and some regime change. Managed to take care of some of that, though one mage is still...well, active I think is the correct word. Not sure about alive or dead....not yet at least.
"And we ran into Weyland the Smith." he says, taking a sip of this drink while waiting to see Signy's return serve.
Signy stalls for a moment by taking a sip from her drink, before realizing that her sip managed to empty the full glass. She gestures at the bartender for a refill at the same time as the bartender places a new glass in front of her.
"Yes, Brita may have mentioned that you ran into him."
She takes another drink.
"What was my father doing in Gateway? That seems rather far afield for him."
"Officially? His stated reason was vengeance upon the Triumvirate for their actions against Marius." Jerod replies, his slight smile ever so precise from years of Court. "Which from an immediate, no questions asked, perspective, makes perfect sense. I'm pretty sure that any Prince who had family treated thusly would have been burning Gateway to ash.
"Now unofficially? Not sure. After everything went to hell, we actually were heading out into Shadow, to the Tower Lords. Didn't get there of course, but we were heading in that direction. We were dealing with some chaosian tag-alongs that were merged with the Triumvirate. The paranoid side of my personality always looks to wonder where a gift-horse is really a Trojan one, but so far nothing has come up."
Signy decides to just give up at this point, and quickly tosses back the rest of her drink. She gives the bartender a welcoming smile at the drink that appears next to her elbow before the empty glass makes its landing.
"Of course, if we're asking questions it would be interesting to know how someone who has been more of a rumor and myth to the Family came to know not only that his son that he had never met had been stabbed, much less the ones that were responsible."
She takes a mouthful of the new drink, thinking.
"I wonder if there was anyone in the Family that Weyland was close to, that may still be in touch. I tend to doubt that anyone holding one of his Blades would have been overly fond of him, knowing how he deals."
She lifts her glass again, but pauses before taking her next drink.
"Did he know about our little gathering tonight and tomorrow?"
"He knows we were called back, but not why...that I can verify." Jerod says. "He is apparently somewhat bemused by the idea of Trumps, so that would suggest he is not fully aware of our abilities. It is possible he has assets here that could provide him with information on Marius, or us, whether those assets are family or otherwise. Given his connection to the family through Marius, via Deirdre, we should discount nothing. I do know that Corwin actually once offered to get me in touch with Weyland if I were interested in one of his weapons, so that tells me he at least had an ability to reach out. I decided then that I'm dysfunctional enough all on my own without adding to it." and he smiles, finishing his drink.
"Since he is a Chaosian, I would be hard-pressed to be surprised that he could not track his own offspring through Shadow, or to follow-up on rumors concerning whereabouts of said offspring. Given that the Triumvirate were foolish enough to do what they did, they had to realize that we would retaliate at some point. Even word of that would send out ripples to be noticed by those with the talent for listening."
Signy takes another mouthful from the tumbler while her cousin speaks before putting it down on the bar. Her fingers remain curled around the glass loosely, one finger absently tapping out a steady rhythm.
"He remains in his Tower all those years," she muses. "Doesn't really leave for Patternfall, no mention of my having a brother all those years, a man who is infamous for a lack of sentimentality, then suddenly he's off to wreak Family vengeance."
The chain doesn't appear to add up too well for Signy, but she also doesn't seem to have any way to come up with a better answer.
"I wonder if there was ever anyone in the Family that he was close to."
She pauses for a beat.
"Well, besides my mother."
"No idea." Jerod says. "Given that he was mythic to most family would tend to indicate he has minimal family involvement directly that others are willing to share. Doesn't mean people might not know him... just that they're not talking about it. With his history of providing weapons of power to individuals, I'd guess in the good ole days no one would talk about it because he'd be a resource for them. Don't want to give your enemies access to better weapons and all.
"As for now, who knows. Dara's rather nuts about her son Merlin, so there's always the possibility that he does care, though if he's following Dara's path, it's more about re-absorbing a stray of himself to gain what it has learned. Not a lot of familial love and affection on that path."
Signy frowns, thinking about Dara and Chaos and Family.
"What is Madoc's status with the Family?"
"No idea." Jerod replies, finishing his drink. "Never met him. Only have third hand knowledge, much of it suspect and not verifiable so I won't bother repeating it. The redheads would be a better source to approach for answers to that if they are necessary, since if you actually do get anything, it's likely to be more reliable."
Signy nods and files that away for later.
She gestures with her glass at the surroundings. "I noticed a lack of our parents at the big event," she notes. "I'd have thought that some of them would at least have made more of an appearance."
Jerod smiles slightly. "Well, both of mine have good reasons for being absent. Though yes, I did notice that. One would think with the usual family gathering going on that more of them would be around, at least for a brief time," he says as he looks around, then frowns.
"And it would seem we're missing some of our own crew as well. The number of cousins has dipped noticeably."
Signy looks around at how few are left and blinks in surprise.
She thinks for a moment, scanning the surroundings again.
"What is the etiquette on these things? How much of an insult to not attend the event like this? I get that not showing for tomorrow's meeting is a Big Deal, since the King commanded it, but this...."
She waves her glass vaguely at the surroundings.
"One can get away with not showing up here." Jerod says, his glass on the bar as he moves out to look more fully.
"I'm not seeing a bunch of people who I was just talking to a short while ago." as he frowns, putting pieces together as to missing parties, in particular the redheads and Vere and he moves closer to Signy to talk without raising his voice.
"I'm thinking someone went to find the King."
Signy nods soberly, though her face somehow doesn't change expression.
"His speech after Edan's dance seemed oddly...subdued. Should we go and check on them as well?"
"Uhhh....not yet." Jerod says slowly, deciding that patience is better in the situation. "Enough of the cousins are out of touch that having two more show up isn't going to do anything besides clutter up a meeting room and reduce the supply of any available alcohol or food. If they want us, they'll come get us. I'm guessing if they want someplace invaded or smashed into rubble, they'll come get me. I'm hoping they don't - still have stuff in Gateway and the Weir to settle. If it's seriously important, then we'll find out in due course. Tonight if it's a screaming, the-universe-is-about-to-implode problem, or tomorrow if it's just the run of the mill world-ending problem.
"Let us instead keep an eye on things out here. Never know if one of the not-so neutral delegations decides they want to cause a problem. I'm very surprised right now that our kinslaying unworthy-to-wear-the-title-of-uncle Huon hasn't been stabbed yet by his one-time allies, for example. Their restraint would appear to be considerable." and he points out Hannah's people should it be necessary.
Signy suppresses a sigh and masters her brief flash of impatience.
"Huon was one of the ones that had his hand involved in what happened to Marius, right? Do I need to be worried that my brother might try something?"
Keeping an eye on things proves immediately fruitful. Jerod and Signy both spot Prince Martin, looking as if he's just come in from the woods, talking to Garrett and Lilly.
"Ah, things are appearing to get more interesting." Jerod says, spotting his friend. "As for your brother, I suppose that would depend on whether Marius will choose to disobey the King to seek vengeance. Uncle Random has meted out his judgment on Huon and everyone is expected to follow it. I understand why Random is worried about Huon's death curse and all. Too much crap going on right now to deal with that kind of stuff too.
"Though I suppose if your brother did want to kill Huon, he could always do what Caine did and shoot him in the throat like with Brand. Or like I tried with Huon and stab in straight through the heart. If you can't speak, you can't curse."
He motions to the bartender for a drink that is very large and in a mug that is not going to be missed if left somewhere before motioning to Signy. "Come on...let's see what his Majesty the Crown Prince is up to. Who knows...we might get into trouble." and he smiles a little wolfishly.
Signy quickly collects one last glass for herself, and falls into step with her cousin.
"I don't know him well enough to know if he is the type to completely disregard the King if he felt like it, though I think that it would also depend on what the consequences might be," she muses quietly, almost to herself, clearly thinking about the King's edict about their Uncle.
"You may rest assured that Martin is the son of the King." Jerod says quietly. "That means he'll do what he needs to do, when he figures it's needed. And then see about asking for forgiveness later.
"Oh, and he'll definitely know where to bury the bodies. Make him your friend."
The drumming was magnificent. As the amazing display of rhythm and precision wraps up, Garrett finds himself breathless and shaking his head in awe, completely forgetting the company of Max, Victor and Abd-allah nearby. His father's speech is half over by the time it registers to Garrett that the King is speaking.
As he begins to regain his composure, Garrett glances around the circle of faces at the front of the audience. Many of them are familiar; lords and merchants and relatives mingle together in the crowd. At the far edge though, one face in particular causes Garrett's breath to catch in his throat once again.
Her head turns, eyes locking with his. Panic flares in her chest. Would he want to talk to her? Had her departure ruined any chance they had at a lasting relationship? Perhaps Garrett had already found another. At once Lilly feels both foolish and afraid. But their eyes had met. Running, as she had during dinner, would only make her feel more pathetic.
Swallowing hard, Lilly pushes through the crowd. As she comes face to face with Garrett, words fail. She stops a few feet away, her fear keeping her from going any forward. How is this harder than combat, she wonders vaguely. Unable to speak or move, she stands, holding her ground and trembling ever so slightly. A single tear flows softly down her cheek.
As Lilly starts to move through the crowd, so does Garrett. He slows as she comes up short and stops just out of reach, his head cocked and expression tentative. He gulps involuntarily, but that seems to be all that's needed to clear his expression. A small smile starts at one corner of his lips. He remains still, but holds out his hand gently, as he might approach a timid and unfamiliar mare, allowing it to come if it will.
The hint of a smile is enough. Lilly closes the gap in a single movement throwing her arms around Garrett, pulling him into an embrace. "I've missed you," she says into his ear. "I didn't think I would be gone so long."
Garrett grunts as her weight suddenly hits him around the middle, but he eagerly wraps his arms around her, bear-like, and lifts her feet off the ground. "And I you," he breathes back. Setting her back on her feet, he breaks the embrace, but reaches for her hand. "We should talk," he suggests, nodding toward the edge of the crowd. "Come on."
Lilly nods her agreement as she comfortably allows him to take the lead. "You are lacking the small child I saw you with at dinner. Who was she?" she asks in a neutral tone as they walk.
"My niece, Lark," Garrett declares proudly. "She's a spitfire, that one."
He looks back at Lilly as what she said just registers, "Wait. You were at dinner? I didn't see you."
"You were quite caught up with Lark," Lilly responds with the hint of a smile. "And then Gerard, I believe. While I was hiding over with Corwin. I slipped out quietly. I wasn't sure I wanted out reunion to happen amidst a family meal. They are unsettling enough as it is."
Garrett leads them to a garden beyond the worst of the crowd and offers Lilly a seat on the wide stone ledge that surrounds it. He sits beside her, at a comfortable but not intimate distance. "That they are," he replies, "And yeah, I reckon I was distracted when I came back to dinner. You probably came in while I was out taking the Trump call from Folly to bring her and Lark in." At that thought, Garrett frowns and lowers his voice before continuing, "She needed her whole household brought in as well. There's trouble in the Shadow she came from. Martin's still out there."
"Everyone is just so full of good news this evening," Lilly responds flatly. She shakes her head and sighs. "What happened? Is Martin safe?"
Something in Lilly's tone makes Garrett turn to look at her quizzically. A little smile of apology appears and his eyes grow softer. "I'm sorry. I'm mucking this up, aren't I?" he says, taking her hand and resting their joined hands between them on the seat. "I haven't seen you in forever and I open with disaster. Martin can wait. Where have you been?"
Shaking her head, Lilly responds gently. "You are not mucking this up. You know that Martin is like a brother to me and I would prefer to know if he is in some sort of mortal peril. The tale of my travels can wait. It wasn't that exciting. Time with Benedict is more about education. But I did learn quite a bit and now I'm back. That's about it."
Garrett looks solidly into her eyes and nods. "I had forgotten that you and he lived together for a time. At the Tecys, wasn't it?"
"Anyway," he continues, "Folly said that she believes the trouble he's in involves Klybesians. That makes sense, considering that the name keeps coming up in pretty much every conversation I've had since my return. He encountered what Folly called 'zombies' - ghost men in physical form, I believe - in both the shadow they were in and another shadow he frequents. It sounded like he had things under control for the moment," and Garrett's expression conveys that Martin's version of 'under control' probably differs from his own, "but Folly will likely be calling out the cavalry if he's not here by morning."
"I'm sure she will," Lilly agrees with another nod. "We seem to be under attack from all sides. Brennan has concerns. It seems that a 'ghost island' of sorts has just appeared far too close for comfort. And there are rumors of other strange occurrences. I am not convinced that anywhere is safe. Keep your wits and stay armed. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you."
Lilly's last words appear to take Garrett by surprise. He smiles reassuringly and starts to speak, but seems to be at a momentary loss, perhaps deciding that this is not the time to make light of her concerns. "I will," he agrees finally. "And you as well. You're more likely to be on the offensive if anything comes up. They'll put me to guarding Queen and Castle, I reckon," he says, with no indication that that is a bad thing.
"Did Brennan say anything more about his concerns?" Garrett asks. "I didn't see anything particularly odd while I was traveling, but then again, not having much experience in shadow, I might not have recognized something as being out of place."
"Just that Islands suddenly appearing right outside of Benedict's stronghold seems to be cause for concern," Lilly replies dryly. A moment passes and she shrugs. "The death of a cousin. Threats in shadow. Old enemies appearing. Lots of details best discussed in less public places. So many things coming together at the same time. He's alarmed and that's enough for me to be on my guard."
"Yeah, Brennan doesn't alarm easily," Garrett agrees flatly. He sighs and rubs the back of his neck wearily. "And you're right. There's naught to be done for it now. Or here," he gestures at the crowd.
Garrett's eyes soften as he changes the subject. "So you said you were hiding by Corwin at dinner. Were you really hiding?" he asks gently.
Lilly cocks her head and shrugs. "Maybe, " she responds with a grin. "You did come in with a date after all. Perhaps I was feeling intimidated." Not a lie, the warrior maid decides as the words come out. Young children were truly frightening creatures.
"Well, Lark IS sort of a force of nature," Garrett smirks, then adds more seriously, "Did you think she was mine?"
"Maybe," the grin remains. "There is a family resemblance. And, with the way time flows in shadow it was possible that I was gone much longer than expected."
Lilly shrugs, as her features melt into seriousness. She pulls a homemade ring from a pocket and holds it out to Garrett. "This hasn't left me since you gave it to me. It has been my constant companion on my toughest days. But with so much time passing... I just... I just wasn't sure that I should still be wearing it." She takes a deep breath. "I wasn't sure you would want me to or maybe that you would be hoping I lost it or some other thing." Lilly shakes her had and tries to laugh. "I'm sure I sound insane and I'm sure I'm over thinking everything."
Garrett carefully takes the well-worn horseshoe-nail ring from Lilly's fingers. It still resonates the warmth from her body. He looks down at it, rolling it gently in his fingers as he speaks. His hair drops over his forehead to hide his face. Uncharacteristically, he does not brush it back.
"I was angry at first," he begins softly. "And hurt. I wondered for a long time why you didn't tell me where you were going. Or that you were going at all." He pauses and sighs. "Then I reckon I... I guess I just... moved on. Sort of. Got busy with assignments and obligations and such. And once I was out on my own, in shadow, I didn't have much contact with the family for months, if not more. There was no one to ask."
He glances up at her shyly from under his hair. "Sometimes in the rigging, on watch in the middle of the night, with the breezes blowing... I'd wonder. Think about you and wonder where you were. If you were all right. I reckoned you must still be alive somewhere 'cause no one ever told me you weren't. I reckoned you were doing like I was...exploring and learning."
He shrugs and raises his head, still turning the ring in his fingers as he looks at her fully. "And then I got called back and things happened so fast from there that it never hit me that you might be here too. I never even thought about it. Or what I would say if I saw you. And then I DID see you," he smiles then and offers the ring back to her, "and all there was was 'Lilly.'"
Lilly takes the ring with a nod, the ghost of a smile playing upon in her lips. "Our parents... or maybe I should say my father has long forgotten how time passes for our generation. There was a need to leave suddenly and he told me it would be for a very short while so I went. I felt a duty to do so. In his mind, we have only been gone a very short time. It's the perspective of his years. I am sorry. I think, if we want to continue having any sort of relationship, that we need Trump of each other. Surely one of our cousins can help with that. I might need to offer a favor in return but I am happy to do that for you."
"You're right," Garrett says with a quick nod. "Folly drew one of me some time ago. I'd trust her to do one for you. She might not even ask for a favor, though I expect she'll have her hands full for a while. Have you ever had a Trump drawn of you?"
"Paige and Ossian were both working on them," Lilly replies. "Between the three of them, I am sure some one can help out. In the meantime, I may just have to stay put and if duty does call I promise to give you a warning before running off."
"That's all we need for now," Garrett nods with a smile. "We both know duty comes first. Next time, I'll know not to question it." He squeezes her hand to emphasize the point.
Lilly squeezes his hand back as she leans in to kiss Garrett gently on the cheek. She steps back and takes a moment to reorient herself with their surroundings. They can not afford to let their guard down for too long.
When they look up, there's Martin, looking like he's been drug through a wringer in a burning swamp, with a short duffel over his shoulder that's moving. "Hi Garrett; hi, Lilly. Good to see both of you. I just got here and Ben said to check in with you and find out what's going on.
"I've got some cargo for Fiona here and we probably ought to get it stowed safely. Would you mind helping me with that?"
Lily eyes the bag suspiciously. "Not a problem at all," she responds. "We can catch one another up on the way once that's done."
Garrett stands, his expression matching Lilly's. "Of course," he says with more enthusiasm than his body language reveals. He steps around to look the bag over while asking, "Are you all right? Have you seen Folly yet?" Leaning in closer and squinting at the bag, he adds, "And...what's the best way to 'stow' it?"
"Yes, no, and probably a cold room in the castle well away from the food. And restricted to family access only if we can get it. Is something going on with Folly?"
Jerod and Signy are making their way over from the bar to join Garrett, Lilly and Martin.
The duffel makes a thumping noise and jerks like something is moving in it. Martin flips it over his shoulder so the bag is in front of him, not behind him, and punches the side of the duffel. There's a echoing thump inside the duffel, like he smacked the side of a box hard enough to knock whatever was in there to the other side.
"Might want to get a move on with getting this thing properly secured. Letting it loose here would be bad."
Signy and Jerod show up after having made their way over from the bar. Signy polishes off a glass of a translucent amber liquid as they join the three of them on the dais.
She gives Lilly a quick smile of greeting, before turning her attention to the other two. "It seems like the party may be getting kicked into high gear," she notes in a bored tone of voice that doesn't carry beyond the five of them, pointedly not looking at Martin's sack. "At least, if you know where the good after parties are."
If she notices Brother Tomat nearby, she doesn't seem to give any sign or indication.
Martin has tossed the duffel, which is now quiet again, back over his shoulder.
"I think it's time to head up the hill. I've got a delivery for Fiona in here and I don't want to delay it getting to her for too long. Where is everybody? What's going on?"
Lilly is still eyeing the duffel. "Let's walk and talk, shall we? I'd hate to have to stab Fiona's souvenir." She takes Garrett's hand as she starts moving towards the palace. "The Family is all supposed to be here at the party. Is Fiona expecting the package or do we need to call her?"
Garrett seems surprised at Lilly's display of affection, but he takes her hand with a smile and begins walking along. "First off, Folly was fine a couple hours ago. That was when I saw her last. And so was Lark," he assures Martin quickly. "Everyone scattered after Edan's performance, so other than those who stayed in the square, I'm not sure where they all went. Lilly and I got to talking and I wasn't paying that much attention," he admits with a rueful smirk.
"They seems to have all disappeared into the official manors as it were." Jerod says, also pointedly not looking at the sack, though Martin gets a nod that combines official, friendly and curious all at the same time. Must be a Rebman thing.
"That was just after the King's official comments. There are a few bits of information from Vere and Brennan that would be good to review with them, that I figured would be coming out in the official family gathering tomorrow. They're not for public commenting however, if you get my drift," as he pointedly ignores the people around the group.
Fletcher finds himself at the edge of the dais as the receiving line is breaking up. Edan has moved on and people are either dancing or sitting out dances.
"Fletcher!" says a voice from behind him, "There you are at last."
It's Brij, Martin's monther-in-law, with her granddaughter in tow. "I knew I'd find a helpful cousin eventually. I need a favor, which is to ditch of my awful ex. Can you pick up Lorelei and help me find Haven and Tjaden?" Her tones are smooth and friendly, but if Fletcher hears a bit of desperation, it's not his imagination.
Fletcher looks up quickly, pulling himself out of his personal reverie. Too much time inside one's own head can be a problem. A damsel in distress is just the thing to distract the knight. "Of course!" He waves to Lorelei, "We may not have been formally introduced my lady. I am Sir Fletcher, you cousin. You've grown up quite a lot since I first heard you." He extends his arms, "Will you help me see if we can find the others for Lady Brij?"
Lark puts her hand out to shake his, and it's clear she's Martin's child even at this young age. "I'm Lark. Pick me up and tell me what they look like."
Fletcher shakes Lark's and kneels to scoop her up.
Brij takes his other arm and lets herself be led into the crowd.
"I suspect we can spot them by looking for valleys opening up in the adult crowd where they pass through. Lady Brij, do you know what colors they're wearing?" Fletcher asks as they wade into crowd.
"They'll be wearing the last of my daughter's unnatural materials that haven't turned to rags yet. Check the bandstand first, they're both musical. Tell me about yourself. They say you're older than the King..."
Fletcher steers them through the crowd toward the bandstand, eyes intently seeking their quarry. "Oh, me. Well, yes. Though we seem to have more than one King in the family these days, so it's more accurate to say I'm older than the local King. Corwin is still older than me. I grew up in Amber. My court title is Defender of the Faith, and part of that responsibility was dealing with religions and religious issues for the Crown. Amber attracted all sorts of people, including believers in any number of things that weren't native to Amber. I'm also a Knight of the Unicorn. It seems that only some of them have made the trip from Amber to Xanadu so far. But all of that was some time ago. I spent much of the interim walking in shadows, handling problems for Grandad in places that can't be gotten to quickly or easily. Generally trying to keep problems from getting unmanageably big. Of course given where we are it's clear that all it takes is *one* problem getting too big. What about you? I gather you settled down in Texorami?"
Brij laughs, genuinely amused by his wording. "The last thing I did in Texorami was 'settle down'. I was born there, and I didn't know about my Grandfather's heritage. My grandmother, like me and like Folly, picked up strays. Hers was Julian, mine was Huon, and Folly's were Random and Martin. I kicked at the traces pretty hard there, until I figured out I really didn't belong there."
Fletcher pauses a moment and looks at Brij. "Oh. That must have been... awkward. Learning about it all later. There must have been a lot of catching up to do." He thinks he spots one of the kids in the crowd and turns to look again. He asks, "Do you see them Lark?" To Brij he continues, "Then again I was raised in Amber and I'd hardly say my formal court upbringing prepared me for all of this."
Brij shrugs. "I never knew any different. People assumed I did crazy workouts and diet and surgery to stay young looking, but really, I haven't aged much since about 30. I looked even younger when I had Folly and people used to talk. You were raised in Amber? I've seen it, but I hear it used to be more... something."
From her perch on Fletcher's arm, Lark calls out, "I see them!" and points to the bandstand. Sure enough two women wearing stretch metallic fabrics are standing next to the band, apparently waiting their turn to take the stage.
Fletcher's head snaps around in the direction Lark is pointing and sighs, "Yes, it was something, but we'll have to continue this after we finish our hunt." He begins making a way for their group politely but forcefully through the crowd. "Keep your eyes on them," he tells Lark. And a moment later once under way he asks, "Shall we prevent them from taking the stage?"
Brij, being small, follows in his wake. "As long as not too much blood has to be shed, that would be good. Otherwise you might have to dance with us."
They push through the crowd and reach the two women, who are now waiting as the prior band packs up. The audience is clapping. "Jade!" shouts Brij, "Hey, Haven!"
Haven turns and pulls on Tjaden's arm and the two of them usher another act towards the stage. "We'll swap," Haven says.
The sudden replacements rush on stage and start setting up.
"Hey, I was just with Folly and she made me promise to introduce you to her daughter. And also to her cousin-uncle, Fletcher. Fletcher just saved me from a boring and/or terrifying discussion with my ex-.
"Jade, Haven, this is Lark. She's grown up fast."
"Mamma's teaching me to sing your parts," Lark says to Tjaden.
Haven says hello to Fletcher. "Cousin-uncle?"
Fletcher bows slightly, giving the added effect of Lark dipping slightly as well. "I am both Lark's first cousin once removed and (if I understand correctly) her first cousin three times removed, because nothing in our family is every simple. The 'uncle' part is probably a reference to how terribly ancient I am. Laaa-dy Brij was concerned about the durability of your shining armor so I was happy to help her find you." Fletcher may only have a vague idea of who Haven and Tjaden are, but figures it's safe to at least tweak Brij in return for 'cousin-uncle.'
"More like Lady Brij really has no idea who's related to whom." Brij laughs. "Apparently we're no longer trying to mass-murder my ex- and he's a relative, too. Folly tried to explain it all to me and my head started spinning. Mister Not-My-Favorite-Person is here with the Queen of Atlantis, and they're pals, but I think it's politics.
"And what my ancient uncle is trying to say, is that we found you because nobody else is wearing silver lamé spandex."
Tjaden turns to Lark. "OK, sing one with me. I can do all of Folly's parts."
Haven leans in to Brij. "Is something wrong with Sid?"
Brij looks around. "Yes. Or I think so. Soren was totally out of his mind in the castle and dragged Folly away as soon as he saw her. Can you get Ash prepped for... whatever? I don't know if it'll be an intervention or a kidnapping. But something."
Neither one of the two women seem to mind that Fletcher is next to them, hearing their talk.
Fletcher asks, "I was under the impression we were supposed to go somewhere. Is there time for a performance?" He looks scans the surroundings for possible carriages to commandeer.
Brij smiles his way, her nose wrinkling up. "We're not supposed to be anywhere until tomorrow, and then only you and Lark, because I'm not in the club. But I don't think they're going to perform, just sing at each other."
Haven looks at the crowd, and does a double take. "AoD is here."
Tjaden stops singing.
Fletcher shifts Lark to make sure he has unimpaired access to his sword and inconspicuously scans the area, still smiling. He asks, "Who's Ayodie?" He pauses a beat and then continues conversationally, "And what's this about exclusive clubs? I don't remember getting any membership cards."
Brij blinks. "Almost assuredly, you literally did, but let's not get into family semantics at this point, I can tell you later about me. A.o.D. is a code-name certain people have for Martin Prince of Xanadu, Duke of Earl, Earl of whatever comes next, Knight-Commander of the Order of the ahem Card, and Lark's father."
She points him out in the crowd. "He's the scruffy looking one who needs a bath over there, beating up his own duffle bag."
Raven circles back through the crowd, this time looking for the other side of the family. Whatever's going on with the King, it's clearly not an all-hands emergency, so this is as good a time as any to actually talk with her surprise uncle.
Once she finds Victor, she'll greet him with a nod and a, "So I'm thinking we should actually talk, if you're free?"
Victor nods back. "As long as you aren't looking to dance. I'd hate to show up Prince Edan at his own festivities."
"Oh, and is this an 'at the bar over drinks' talk or 'find a convenient alley and try to inflict bodily harm' talk?"
Raven chuckles and shakes her head. "Had enough of the bodily harm today, so if you're not in the market for it, I sure ain't. Just figured we could use this whole 'being in the same place at the same time' thing to get to know each other a little. You know, since I didn't know you existed and all."
Victor ambles towards a bar, where he orders a sailor's drink for each of them. "What do you know about the family already?"
Raven snorts at that.
Silhouette walks by, moving with purpose and focus toward the bar. She catches Raven's eye and smiles with respect. "Captain," she says, bowing her head.
Victor smiles, and waits to be introduced or to be dismissed.
Raven likewise smiles, with a polite nod. "Silhouette. This is one of my cousins," she explains as she reaches for her drink. "And cousin, this is my uncle Victor. And I get the idea he's a friend of Robin's as well?"
Silhouette extends her hand to Victor, "Well met, sir. A friend of Robin's is a friend of mine. Have you encountered her this evening? She appears to be in good spirits."
She steps back, the smile remaining. "I am not one for such celebrations, but I must admit this evening has been most acceptable. Have you both enjoyed yourselves thus far?"
"Robin and I spoke earlier. She's in good spirits. She was anticipating the performance tonight with something akin to glee." He looks at Raven. "Robin and I go way back. Not 'Rebma' way back, but definitely way back."
Victor looks around. "Where is she? It's like all your cousins are disappearing."
Silhouette collects her drink from the server - a lilosa. "Last I saw her, she was with her beloved. They wished to speak with other family members, so are likely mingling." She glances back over her shoulder, "I am unsure what the remainder of evening requires of us. Do either of you know?"
"So far's I know, the general plan was 'party,'" Raven answers. "Might have something later for myself, but I think the next official thing is breakfast." She takes a look around of her own, with an eye towards those family faces she recognizes, as she adds, "I think Vere was headed for where the King gave his speech, but Robin wasn't with him."
"As far as I could tell that was a 'you are dismissed if and only if you want to be dismissed' kind of dismissal. The populace seems inclined to drink the king's drink and dance to his music, whereas all it makes me want to do is climb to the top of the upper falls and scan the horizon to see if the enemies are closing in by land as well as by sea.
"I'm an old pessimist, though, so that's to be expected."
"Pessimism is a wise stance in these days of doubt," Silhouette says, nodding.
Victor smiles. .It.s pleasant for me that it.s come back in vogue."
"Won't catch me saying that's a bad thing," Raven says, shaking her head. "Well, maybe wait until the sun's up to go climbing a waterfall unless it's life or death. What's the crowd from the sea say about it, Silhouette? Since you were over there with them and all."
"I fear I am catching up on current affairs, so I could not rightly say. I hope to speak with my Queen at greater length later this evening," Silhouette admits. "I've only just returned from Shadow, after conducting reconnaissance against our adversary. A slightly disheartening experience." She sighs faintly, "Our elders do not appear entirely concerned, however. Odd."
Victor purses his lips. "Any signs they're ensorcelled? I am a demon-hunter by profession, and demons dearly like to ensorcel royalty."
"What kinds of things would we be looking for?" Raven asks.
Silhouette raises a brow at Victor's question, determining whether or not he is serious. At Raven's follow-up, she gathers he is indeed sincere in his query.
"I do not know them enough to fairly judge their normal behavior," Silhouette says. "However, from my brief observations, I would say King Random's lack of verbosity this evening out of character. However, this may simply be explained as distraction from non-demonic sources."
She pauses and then speaks in a low tone, "My mother's animosity toward me does hold some concern. Even her siblings have suggested the vehemence with which she has behaved to be perplexing. Whether or not this stems from some supernatural source, I could not say. My experience with magic is more engineering based."
Victor nods. "Strange humors are a sign, usually tied with other signs. It can be hard to tell without an expert opinion. Sometimes the problem is that the Prince is eating paint chips off the walls, other times the problem is that demon is making the Prince eat paint chips off the walls.
"Everyone will be able to tell if there is demonic influence if the king kills his family and rules from atop a pile of skulls, if that wasn't in his character before. And sometimes it's not even a demon, just a run-of-the-mill sorcerer who has a grudge against the king, or his ancestors. Those are easy. They bleed blood."
Victor turns to Silhouette. "Tell me more about your mother, Lady."
Raven sips at her drink; for the moment, she has nothing to add.
Silhouette frowns faintly, "It has been some years since I knew her. She left us in my early years. However, before she returned, my family was murdered by slavers and myself sold into servitude. That said, she was a dutiful mother - even to my step-sisters. She loved my father very much and treated him as an equal, despite her obvious superiority to him. She tested me frequently, honing my skills and knowledge, yet always with patience and a gentle hand. Sometimes she appeared... haunted? But I suspect that stemmed from her past with the Family."
She glances over her shoulder, scanning the room before speaking. "I do not recognize the woman I've encountered here."
"A woman consumed by grief, losing her second child in short order, being suspicious of the first child, miraculously returned?" He looks at Silhouette. "I would think it a bitter effort to close off her emotions rather than a demonic possession. But I can run some tests. Can you get me some of her blood?"
Silhouette's benign expression remains perfectly unfazed. She breaths in, preparing to speak, only to state, "No."
"Getting the idea there's a lot of blood involved in your job," Raven comments dryly.
Victor thinks for a moment. "Not as much as you might think, at least not when it's going well. Lots of ichor, though."
Silhouette smiles at that, but only briefly. "You may wish to refrain from mentioning blood and the collection thereof amongst the Family. Our enemy has stolen the blood from a few of our members. As such, it is a touchy subject at the moment."
She thinks, "Although your advice on blood may be welcome and provide Enlightenment into our current troubles."
"Monks or dead people?" Raven asks, looking at Silhouette. "Not sure there's much blood involved in the walking dead."
"Monks," Silhouette replies. "They appear to have a keen fascination with our blood. And have kidnapped some of our cousins to that end."
She cocks her head, "The Dead. Do you refer to the Riders?"
Raven shakes her head. "Don't think so. This was more of a 'the dead are risen and walking around, might want to fetch an army,' kind of thing."
Silhouette's brow rises again, "Surely, you jest. Vrykolakas are something reserved for frightening children." She pauses, looking over at Victor. "Then again, if demonic entities exist in this world, perhaps the restless dead do as well."
A faint sigh, "The Family does collect its share of enemies."
"Starting to get that idea, aye," Raven says dryly. "Not sure what your 'vrykolakas' are, but I'd say these dead ain't so much restless as press-ganged. There's a mage that's raising them."
Victor nods. "That's not a bad case. You usually just have to fight your way to the mage and then the rest of them collapse.
"Generally. Most of the time. At least seven in ten times."
Silhouette smiles despite herself. "Reasonable odds to be sure. We might consider increasing them by employing long-ranged weapons, such as my rifles."
She finishes her drink, "Once I considered utilizing the dead as weapons platforms. Very efficient, low maintenance, and restockable by the virtue of battle. However, my arcane talents lay elsewhere." She looks to Raven, "Do you know how large this mage's army is? And what are his intentions, beyond conflict?"
"Didn't see it myself," Raven answers. "Could be small, but I'm not gonna bet on that. Even aside from whoever's been buried where she's at, I followed a bunch of bodies to Gateway when we finally made it there. Ain't all that far from the city where we started seeing them."
"This mage is a woman?" Silhouette asks. She sounds impressed, almost hopeful.
Victor nods. "It would be surprising if she were not. The famous gateway between worlds, the place where the civilizations of the seafloor meet the civilizations of the land, is a place where women lead. That's well-known. They say it is because men do not have the logical head for serious magic, being too prone to fighting."
Victor's eyes narrow. "Is that who I think it is, talking to the young prince and his lady?"
Sure enough, Martin, looking bedraggled, has stepped up to Garrett and Lilly.
"Well, I guess that's one thing off my plate," Raven comments. "Aye, the mage is a woman. Wouldn't expect to have a chat with her. The line of people who'd like to get rid of her for good ain't getting shorter, and some of that list is doing it to as part of Crown orders."
Silhouette cocks her head considering their words, "Do you mean Rebma? This mage... She would not be Moire, by chance? The Fallen Queen. I know she is magically-inclined, but didn't not know that extended to necromancy. That would explain the Family's reluctance to deal with her, though."
She follows Victor's gaze, squinting to make out the faces. "I know Martin only by name, but recognize Garrett. They are brothers, are they not?"
"Not Rebma," Raven clarifies. "Part of Gateway's under the waves. And this mage goes by the name Klaya and was ruling Gateway for a while with two others, so I'd lean towards it not being Queen Moire."
Silhouette nods lightly, "Thank you for this Enlightenment. I've not heard of Gateway."
Victor says, "Gateway has always had ambitions to be important. They'd like to replace Rebma as a trade hub for Amber instead of Rebma. They're well placed for it in some ways, but it's a long voyage by boat and it's not on any of the standard shadow paths of the double-dozen seas.
"On the other hand, it's where the sea and land come together to trade. If it were in a position to control trade either way, they would get rich like Amber was.
"I haven't been there since before the black road appeared, but I've never heard of this Klaya. Is she from the College of Magic?"
"Aye, believe so." Raven thinks for a moment. "There were three of them that took over in Gateway for a while, before Jerod, Brita, and I helped put the old folks back - this Klaya, Dexamene, and the one that ended up melted somewhere inside that tower... Kranto, that was it."
"And who have you placed in power? Can they maintain enough support to prevent Klaya from returning to power?" Silhouette says.
Victor doesn't have anything to add here. But he's watching the royal reunion in the middle of the square with half an eye...
"Well, when those that were in power before are nice enough to help you pull off a coup, it's hard to argue with putting them back," Raven says dryly. "And if she goes the way of the other two, I'm thinking her returning to power ain't going to be a problem, at least not for a while. Hard to do that if you're a coat rack or melted into rubble."
"What a mess," Brennan says to Ossian, after everyone trickles out. "You're okay with staying on the Klybesians' trail and going to Reme?"
"Yeah. I have found a focus with the monks. And we should be able to get Jerod to help us too. " Ossian smiles wryly. "I had the strangest conversation with him. We agreed on something."
"Good," Brennan says. "I thought that's what you wanted, but I can get focused on the best person for the job without worrying about their plans." Brennan shrugs-- Ossian knows this.
"I'll ask about Jerod in a minute," Brennan says, "but we're going to have to call Regenlief back in shortly. So before that: are you going attend this grand meeting tomorrow in the light of... all this?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe it's better to start working on the monks. I guess the meeting is more dangerous the fewer of us are there. And some will surely be. You?"
"Stay and get strong-armed into swearing fealty to a... I'm not even sure how to describe it, a changeling host to the Queen that killed Cambina?" Brennan says. "Does this child have an existence independent of the Queen of Tir? There's no part of that I look myself in a mirror and live with. I don't know. Maybe I'll get lucky and Firumbras will be under attack when I check in on him."
He sighs. "For that matter, Jerod may or may not accept Bleys' suggestion on any of this, for any of a number of reasons. The whole Family is stretched thin-- you should have an alternate in mind."
"Jerod might be a problem in that regard. He will need quite hard proof. Or Martin to persuade him.
"As for the meeting with the king. If we don't show up, what will we be then. Traitors? That is not necessarily a bad thing, of course."
"Disobedient, at best," Brennan says, "especially since everyone knows we're here. At worst...." He shrugs again. "I haven't figured out what I'll do, either. At this rate, there will be a desperate conclave of cousins at midnight all trying to figure out what to do.
"There is one other thing I want to say before we talk to Regenlief. I was going to try to do this myself, but there are too many other things to do. Try to introduce her to Brita. There's a reason. If she ever mentioned if or how she's related to Odin, it's long forgotten. What I didn't know then was this: As far as I can tell, Bestla would have been my first cousin, which makes this Odin fellow your second cousin."
Ossian nods. "Let's see. So Bestla is Odin's mother? With Finndo, right?
"I do believe I have almost been in Asgard one time. I do at least speak their language.
"I will introduce her to Brita at the first opportunity. But the Rutter has higher priority, I believe. Do you want Brita to smell her?"
"Bestla was Finndo's daughter, is the way I heard it," Brennan says. "Who the mother was, I never heard. Fletcher might know. And, yes, for lack of a better term. Subtly, maybe. There's a reason beyond the obvious one. I've been wracking my brain for weeks trying to figure out how the Klybesians found me to take you. But they were founded around Finndo's and Osric's time. Maybe they know-- or think they know-- something we don't." He shrugs. "I don't know. It makes some things make more sense, but not others."
Ossian nods. "I wonder about our eldest relatives. Their memories seem so fuzzy. Sure, they are hiding things, but I also think they actually don't remember. Let's go get Regenlief."
"Stop wondering," Brennan says, with a wry smile. "Seven hundred years from now, someone's going to ask you who Daeon's various kids are like it's the most important thing in the world, and all you're going to remember is this conversation."
Brennan gets up and heads for the door, making just enough noise that anyone on the other side of the door can easily hear him coming, without making so much noise that it's obviously done on purpose.
[Assuming Regenlief is there]
"Thank you," Brennan says to her, and means it-- for not making a fuss when Bleys deftly put her outside, and for waiting. "I've got good news, bad news, and news I can't explain or say much about.
"The bad news is," Brennan continues, "that there's major trouble on the horizon, sufficient that it almost drew Ossian away from retaliation against the Klybesians. The good news is, we talked ourselves back to the position that we need to seize the initiative against the Klybesians at least far enough to set them back into some level of confusion so they don't take advantage of that trouble. You've been to Reme more recently than I have. Is there a major Klybesian presence there? We obviously want that rutter, it just matters for how it's done."
Conner emerges from the Mayor's house and sweeps the crowd looking for his quarry: his queen and his Princess. Spotting Celina first near the dance floor, Conner moves purposely through the crowd towards her. His smile is fixed in place. He replies to any that hail him with courtesy but swift regret that he must move on. His manner might fool the general party goer but to Celina, Conner's body language is screaming that something is wrong.
Celina sees that change is in the currents as Conner approaches. She does two things: nods to the guards and archivists at the review stand, putting them on higher watch, then she feigns being winded and wipes her hand along her neck and shoulders as if tired. She is pleasantly surprised to be rescued by Conner from further dance. "Oh, yes. Your timing is excellent," she offers when Conner arrives.
Conner offers Celina his arm to escort her to a place to sit. As they walk, Conner leans in close to whisper. "We need to withdraw from here and talk. Preferably somewhere we can ward against being watched and overheard. Probably best to avoid the Palace for the nonce."
Celina walks more easily at Conner's side, leaning only slightly on him. "Why don't we commandeer one of these houses off the plaza. At chance, it will not be a place any would notice." Celina whispers, "Family or something else?"
"Family with a capital F." Conner replies. "With a possible Rebman connection and a threat to your Royal person thrown into the bargain." Conner follows Celina's lead to select a house to commandeer. She is the visiting monarch after all.
Celina eyes the nearby homes and selects one that appears to have some wealth and privilege of location on the plaza. She'll accept it may be large enough to have many ears inside. She moves with Conner to it and knocks on the door, opening and entering as she does.
"May I ask for a cool pitcher of water?" she says as she looks around.
Houses along the square are for the first and richest migrants to Xanadu. The residents are having a small gathering themselves, and invite the royals in. Their bows are practiced and Conner and Celina are sure they spend time at court regularly.
A girl runs to the kitchen to fetch some water.
Celina gives Conner a look of serendipity, and follows the girl to the kitchen. Looking around once there, she notes easy exit, views of the circulation of the house, and no one present who will presume to socialize for a few moments. When the girl turns around with the water, Celina is right there smiling. "I could use a chair. I need to sit a few moments." Celina speaks to the others present, "And I need to loosen my (nonexistent) corset. May the Knight and I be alone for a moment? Thank you all."
Once the kitchen empties out and their anti-eavesdropping counter measures are in place, Conner smiles thinly and shakes his head. "Loosen your corset? Is it not enough that one court thinks I'm bedding you?" Conner chuckles but it trails off quickly.
Conner sighs and comes closer to Celina to speak near her ear. "Before I tell you the news Uncle Bleys has shared, I must first ask a question. Did you have any idea that King Random and Queen Vialle had visited Rebma in the last few days?"
Celina immediately looks worried, "No, and I just came from there. I expect I would have heard such a thing." She bites her lip, now waiting for more bad news.
"I thought not. We must check with Llewella." Conner murmurs and sighs. "Bleys summoned most of the Redheaded cousins to the Mayor's residence. The short version of the story is that my mother accompanied Queen Vialle on a trip to Rebma as a safeguard for Vialle. While there, my mother studied the reflections of the Royals and determined that King Random has been enchanted. More disturbing is that the enchantment was laid upon him such that his attunement to the Jewel holds the spell in place and works against its removal." Conner pauses to let that sink in. "The enchantment causes him to be listless and uninterested unless he is near Vialle or speaking about Vialle or their unborn child."
Celina's worried expression passes into something more primal for a second, then settles to a simmering intensity. "That is bad news on several fronts and at many levels." Celina reaches suddenly and puts a hand on the hilt of the Sword of Rebma, she immediately senses it is real and relaxes again.
Celina whispers, "Ah, it is you. Good. Conner you know these people better than I do, and you accept this story. However, if a conspiracy against the King were already this successful, why would it not advance the additional step? Why should I believe word passed thru Bleys from Fiona? Why would Vialle's safeguard not be compromised immediately? In all the Family, Fiona's expertise is most regarded for this kind of magical complexity, so isn't it likely she is also enchanted by now?"
"There are few beings in existence that could ensorcel my Mother." Conner asserts. "Admittedly that is cold comfort as that short list overlaps perfectly with the beings that hold both power and knowledge enough to enchant a King through the protections of Pattern and Jewel."
Conner moves off a bit from Celina. "However you need not take only their word. Folly was there and reported that Soren told her about the strange apathy of Random when away from Vialle. Most disturbing of all was Vere's report. He ascended the stairs to Tir with Edan holding his Trump. Vere met a shade there that revealed herself as Cambina." Conner takes a deep breath to steady himself. "Cambina claimed that Vialle led her through Tir to its Pattern chamber and successfully walked it. Cambina was frozen in place, able only to watch, by the Queen of Air and Darkness. She held Cambina there until dawn and you know how that ended."
Conner sighs. "Folly's conjecture is that the Queen of Air and Darkness is trying to be reborn as Vialle's child and Bleys further opines that the purpose of the family meeting is to have us swear fealty to the babe."
Vere gives his relatives a general nod as he leaves the room. He gives another brief nod to Regenlief, pausing long enough to say, "I regret not having a chance to speak with you, lady. Perhaps we shall have a chance at a later date. If you are agreeable, of course."
Then he is on his way out of the mayor's house. He pauses on the steps, looking over the crowd, for anyone he recognizes as a senior member of Paige's Rangers.
It's hard to tell her Rangers from other Rangers, and there aren't that many of anyone's Rangers here. Paige's sometime associate Alain LeClaire is on the dais, across the way. Alain is the quartermaster of the Rangers, so he's at least a lead. Her son is on the dais, as well.
In the middle of the crowd, Vere recognizes Prince Martin, talking to Garrett and Lilly.
Vere heads through the crowd towards Alain, but keeps an eye on Martin as well.
Martin keeps talking to his brother, but while doing so, he flips his rucksack over and holds it in front of him, and then cold-cocks it. It stops moving so much.
Alain is one of several people on the dais, including a number of Rebman archivists and Brother Tomat. He bows when he sees Vere approaching him. He seems oblivious to any alarms or events and is enjoying the music and the night.
Vere joins Alain on the dias and nods a greeting to him and to Tomat and the archivists. "Step aside with me," he tells Alain, and pulls him off a short distance away from the others. Keeping his eyes on Martin, he asks, "Can you assemble the captains of Paige's Rangers who are here? Immediately."
Alain's smile doesn't drop, but his manner tenses. "Of course, your highness. Discretely, or do we raise the hue and cry? The latter will involve other Rangers and belike Princes."
"Discretion, please," Vere answers. "We do not want a general alarm. That is the reason I did not use cadence to summon them." He frowns, watching Martin's group beginning to move. "Damn. I had hoped someone else would talk to him." His eyes switch back to Alain quickly, and he leans towards him, speaking quietly directly into his ear, "Paige is up at the palace and does not know the situation yet. We need to guard the stairs to Tir. No one goes up, or comes down. Until Paige can be notified I will be taking charge. I need to speak with Martin, then will meet you at the stables. Get everyone you can find there, and continue spreading the word. Those available will head to the stairs immediately, others to follow as they are notified."
And with a final nod he dismisses Alain and heads toward Martin.
Word comes that Corvis is on her way, and some time after that, the lady herself arrives. It's clear that the reason she had remained in the castle and not gone to see the men dance is that her health would not permit; while she's not in a wheelchair, she has one of the girl-pages at her elbow to help her walk.
Hannah, when she has the focus to speak, wants to make sure Corvis is comfortable and has water and gets fed. Hannah seems quite happy to have someone to worry about beside herself. She does suggest that, "My lady should consider having a two seat wheeled-chair made so you can travel with him."
"I'm past watching the young men dance in that kind of ceremony," Corvis says with a smile. "That's for young women like you and Avis. If we really need to see one dancing, we can call them to the castle."
"So long as you're not missing it, my dear," Hannah grins. "Edan is gifted and I didn't get to see him dance. Maybe we'll make him re-create it for us. I'm sure it's artistry."
Also during this time, there are visitors: women of the Xanadhavian household with small gifts for Hannah and the child that is soon to be born. Most are new-made but some carry the signs of use and love. It's clear that the customs of many lands are being observed in this new castle, where Hannah will be the first to give birth.
Hannah has hospitality gifts for these visitors too, and has Solange help when Hannah can't speak. She's giving out simple bracelets of soft leather cord, strung with blue chalcendony agate. A tiny silver horse dangles from the clasp. There isn't anything magical about them, but they were made as part of her ritualistic practice, with intent, direction and purpose on her part, by hand.
Solange is pleased to help Hannah when she needs it in addition to making sure Hannah drinks a lot of water.
Robin stays quiet during most of the female socialization time. And is noticeably a little awkward around Corvis. She helps Solange with the hydration and is immediately available for any lifting, hauling or steadying that needs to be done. Otherwise, she keeps out of the way.
And if things are going on too long - maybe Brita would be interested in a game of S'yang Stones?
Once it becomes clear that Hannah has gifts to give, some of the women, mostly the pregnant ones, also ask for her blessing as medicine giver.
Whenever anyone asks, Hannah makes the offer to pray with anyone in the room who'd like to, as soon as her next contraction passes.
She encourages them to take hands in a circle, and she prays.
"Sun, Moon, Stars, all you that move in the heavens, hear us!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, that they may reach the brow of the first hill!
"Winds, Clouds, Rain, Mist, all you that move in the air, hear us!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, that they may reach the brow of the second hill!
"Hills, Valleys, Rivers, Lakes, Trees, Grasses, all you of the earth, hear
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, that they may reach the brow of the third hill!
"Birds, great and small, that fly in the air,
Animals, great and small, that dwell in the forest,
Insects that creep among the grasses and burrow in the ground, hear us!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, that they may reach the brow of the fourth hill!
"All you of the heavens, all you of the air, all you of the earth, hear
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, then shall they travel beyond the four hills!"
(Omaha Children's Song to celebrate a birth.)
Corvis doesn't know this song to start with, but she familiarizes herself with it and helps to sing and to bless the petitioners at Hannah's direction. It.s clear that she is used to working with other priestesses even if the details of her tradition are different.
Hannah then, while she still can, reminds them that hand washing kills disease, teaches them a washing song, and talks about care women need after birth. When she can't talk long enough to get it all in, she motions to Paige to teach them recipes that promote healing and ease some recovery pains.
Paige is full of old wives tales but tries to offer the ones that she can justify with some evidence, not just antecdotes.
When her body pushes into full intensity, she lets Robin block the door, and crying, tells Corvis once again that, "I miss my mothers. I am so grateful to have you here."
Corvis walks with Hannah and holds her, dabbing her brow with cool water. "I will be your mother and stand for them on the day, as I have done for so many others."
Robin trades a nod with Brita before returning to his sister's side. After one more quick check to make sure everything is where Paige wants it to be, Robin takes up her position to help the midwife.
Paige smiles and lays a thankful hand on Robin's arm. When the time comes, she is calm and precise with direction and request. It's apparent that Paige has seen her share of births and despite Hannah's practices it's not much different than others.
Hannah gives birth.
As Paige and Robin are dealing with the afterbirth and setting the crying child on Hannah's body, Kyril's cousin Allie appears in the doorway. "Queen Vialle is here and wants to visit you, Hannah."
Corvis's hand pauses in her work of putting a cool compress to Hannah's brow, and every servingwoman who has come to assist Hannah and receive blessings looks to Hannah and Corvis.
Robin growls under her breath and visibly mantles. With her eye on the door, Robin's hands drift toward sword and Trump.
Hannah's intense focus is on the child, so it is only when Robin moves does Hannah looks up. Her brow wrinkles at Robin's behavior, but it's Robin, so she looks back to the baby.
"Of course. I just need 10 minutes, we're in the thick of it right now. Brita, can you get the Queen some tea? Her timing is very good, actually."
Brita glances at Robin with a slight nod of acknowledgment. She moves out the door to intercept the Queen with some tea and conversation. "Your Majesty. Cousin Hannah needs Time to Clean Up and Greet her Newborn Child. Would you Like some Tea while you Wait? How are You Doing?" Brita can Do Court Polite.
Vialle is waiting in the outer room with Ember, her assistant. Ember looks mildly frightened, though Vialle appears to be her normal self.
"I'll send for the tea," Allie says, since that's something she knows how to do and there's clearly a bunch of stuff she doesn't know about going on.
Meanwhile, in the birthing chamber, Corvis has taken charge, calmly. "Robin, please take charge of the door. No one may enter or leave that way. Solange, please put the gifts in this chest--" she indicates a large one that sits at the foot of the bed where Hannah now rests-- "and when you are done, please close it and spread a blanket so we can sit on it. Paige, please keep attending to Hannah."
Robin nods her gratitude for Corvis' understanding to the former Lady of Danu. But knowing that the formidable Brita is on the job, Robin takes a moment to rest her hand on the head of the baby as she kisses her spent sister on the head.
As she does so, she calls upon her Family Heritage, tunes herself to the syncopated beat that is Xanadu, and makes a quick check that everything is alright with mother and child.
Corvis turns to the half-dozen or so women in the room who are not family. They're all clearly nervous. "Ladies, please leave through the service passages. We will arrange it so no one knows who was here." That evokes relief in the women, who gather up and move toward the exit that servants use.
Hannah watches all this in silence. She's managed to get the baby feeding, so she looks back up as everyone is leaving. She catches up with what Corvis has been saying and her brow wrinkles again. "Did we break a protocol? Vialle won't mind, I don't think we need to fuss." Her move to pull out her long-destroyed bun and attempt, with one hand, to rake her sweat-soaked hair into submission suggests she doesn't exactly feel that's true. She's also glancing about the room with some relief that it's not the mess she expected. Lots of ladies have cleared away everything she's crushed and whatever other marks of childbirth were there. She has been really focused... for some time. "It's not morning, is it?" she asks.
"No, just about midnight," Paige answers smiling at how well the beautiful new life latched on and obviously pleased with the child's nursing. She sets about taking care of Hannah's hair, drawing it back in a lover's knot for now. "I'll wait until we've settled with Vialle before calling my brother."
"Powering up," Robin says -- a little belatedly -- as she makes her way to the door. Time to warn the sorcerers, the divine and the scientists that shit is going to be working the Ordered Way for a while. With each step Robin calls on the Pattern, the lightning in her blood, the music in soul, matching her footsteps to Xanadu's rhythm until by the time she reaches the door, she is (hopefully) able to affect some small but nasty probabilities in this oh-so-Real Realm.
"I'm not you or your Father, but I'm not unskilled, cuz. Mom and baby are doing fine if you need me." The redheaded midwife comments, remembering having helped cast the Dragon from Amber once, what seems years ago.
Robin nods that she's heard but her mind is on other things.
"Does that mean I've staunched enough to get up? I'm starving," Hannah asks. "And I don't want Vialle to have to be assaulted by her sense of smell."
"Should I get candles to hide the scent, or should we strip the bed and remove the sheets?" Solange is clearly ready to be put to work beyond hiding gifts. She just doesn't know what she needs to be doing to help and looks to Paige for direction.
While they're talking, Corvis finishes hustling the women of the castle out of the servants' doorway and into the back corridors of the castle.
Hannah sighs. "Nope. Here Solange, take him. Let me try to stand. Worse thing that happens is my parts fall out. Paige will catch them," she teases. "But really, I'd like to go out to the sitting room if I can. It will be easier to eat and to see the Queen and the men in my life and I want to swaddle him and put him in his cradleboard and make sure it's right." There is clearly a longer list in Hannah's head but she ends with, "I need to rinse us off and put on my fancier dress."
When Robin reaches the door, a couple of things (hopefully) happen. One, if it's not already, Robin closes the door firmly - not slamming it, mind you, just definitively shutting it. Two, the door suffers an unfortunate failure due to hurried workmanship and recent overuse and the latching mechanism wedges solidly in place. Three, Robin's firelizards drape themselves around her in full 'on-guard' mode, their eyes whirling quickly.
Robin sighs and looks back at Hannah, "I... could tell you some polite social lie, sister. Badly." She admits. "Or I could pretend to have an accident that I'm too agile to ever have. But instead, I'm just going to tell you. I have reason to believe that the Queen might be a threat to your child at this time. If I'm wrong - I'll endure my exile gracefully." She shares a grim smile with her sister. "But for right now, nothing comes or goes through this door." She finishes echoing Corvis' words.
Hannah looks at Robin as if she's gone mad, and then looks at Corvis, whose behavior makes more sense now, in that it is also mad. She shakes her head and reaches back to Solange for the baby. "You might want to secure the back door from... Vialle, then, but I think we could take her." Hannah says dryly. "Paige, I'm getting up, please catch me if needed. Oh, Solange, please grab the umbilical cord for me. I have an amulet it needs to go in." She's not kidding, but her eyes do sparkle, because for some reason it's fun to make her sister uncomfortable.
Paige follows her cousin to ensure she's ambulating with a steady gait, a hair closer when she's holding her new nephew.
Solange makes a face but she starts to do as Hannah has asked.
"Hannah," Corvis says, "I know it sounds foolish, but the women of the household are afraid of Vialle now for a reason. Something has happened to her, and we don't know what it is. Most of the time, she's still herself, but sometimes she is ... not. And when she is not, she can be cruel, and we don't trust what that means for those who have no power. You could stand against her, but could your son?
"And it's not just her. There's something wrong with the King as well. Frankly, for all that he's my husband's well beloved brother, I wouldn't think a newborn infant safe with him, either. When he's apart from her, it's as if he's under a geas of some sort to return to her. Without life and spirit and music, which is so wrong for him.
"Perhaps we're overreacting, but keeping an unprotected infant safe is my first priority, and I think Robin's as well."
Robin smiles a little grimly as she nods. She'd far rather be thought mad (been there, done that, has the scars) and be wrong than be too timid and be right.
Hannah seems to find is easier to believe Corvis isn't over-reacting to something. She shifts the baby to her other arm, holding him close. She reaches over to slip open the drawer of the nightstand, taking out two knives. She just sits back down by them, at the edge of the bed, for now. "Hurting a newborn isn't cruel, it's vicious. It is also suicide, in this instance. If Random is influenced somehow, then the land is as well. Whatever protections aren't provided by the sigil could be weakened or collapsed. When exactly did you first notice these symptoms? And what have your ladies been telling you that she's done? Has anyone gotten Ember alone?"
Paige busies herself with tidying the other implements, thinking it will be harder to procure ice for Hannah's swelling with doors locked. She's obviously listening closely.
Robin shakes her head as she fluffs a little. That would require hanging around the palace and talking to people and stuff, totally someone else's track.
"I've tried to get hold of Ember privately but she's almost always with Vialle now that the Queen is with child. But she seems upset or worried to me, and I don't know what Vialle has said or done to her behind closed doors.
"Vialle has been behaving strangely since she was rescued. Some of it was nightmares she was having, and I know your kinswoman Fiona was helping her with that. But she's become angry and volatile, and I'm told that wasn't her nature before, or during the Regency." Here Corvis looks to Paige, Robin, and Solange for confirmation. "The women fear her. I don't know if she's struck any of them, but she says harsh words, makes threats. If she has a hold over Random, a magical one, there's no stopping her.
"Everyone has noticed that Random has become--less vital, less himself, of late. It's hard to say exactly when, but it's finally become noticeable to those of us who have been here, never mind those who have come from abroad. And yes, you're right, the land is threatened by whatever is happening to Random. And Vialle. Fiona is working on that, as the best-qualified. This is beyond my magics, but I promise you, Hannah, I will protect your son with my life."
Meanwhile Solange has collected the umbilical cord in a white handkerchief and has it ready for Hannah.
She takes the handkerchief from Solange, and lays it gently down on the bed. As she reaches into the drawer for the amulet, she says, "My lady, I... the sentiment is appreciated but honestly, if, uh, Vialle can go through Brita, Robin, Solange, Paige and I, I'd rather you surrender and survive. So... is our plan now just to sit in here and leave poor Brita out there to hold up Vialle until she gets mad enough to do something?"
"Well, there is always the option of us going to my brother rather than he to us here," Paige offers now that her hands seem finally clean. She draws a packet wrapped in green silk from her jacket and taps them against her palm. "If Trump travel didn't harm him in utero, I can't think it should in your arms.
"When asked we can explain that he couldn't wait to see his son, so we sent you two on," she suggests.
"Or you could go out the back way like the servants did, if you're physically up to it," Solange reminds Hannah.
"But what I want to do is confront her and see what she does. What can she do with this many people here but lie and play nice? I just... we're talking around what the problem must be. How about I send the baby off with you, Corvis, and Solange can go along to help. Then he's out of sight for a bit, and Robin, Paige and I can poke at Vialle and see what we can get at." She looks at her sisters and her midwife. She seems to think she has the energy to do this, and also, that it'd be fun.
Robin's expression cannot contain how very, very bad an idea she thinks that is. And this from her. But what she comes up with is, "Can't. Door's busted. Nothing in or out."
"Robin, that's not going to hold forever," Solange says. She turns back to Hannah. "It's a terrible idea, Hannah, but if you're going to insist, I'll do it. But Corvis has to be the one to bring the baby." It's clear she's not taking chances with her father's wife.
Hannah looks between her sisters, and then fiddles with wrapping up the umbilical cord, one-handed. "Fine, let us evacuate. What about Brita?"
Paige extends her arms to take her nephew for the moment and free Hannah's hands. "One of us can always Trump her out," she suggests while trying to see Edan in the pudgy face.
Vialle smiles at Brita once she hears her voice. "I am well. I hoped to see Hannah and her child. Is it a boy or a girl?"
Brita gets an amazingly dumfounded look on her face. "You Know, I Forgot to Ask." She shakes her head in amazement and smiles at Vialle, "It was Healthy, Regardless, and Not Aflame." Brita smiles a Conner Bright Polite Court Smile.
"Goodness. I wasn't aware aflame was an option. I've brought a gift for the child and for Hannah as well."
Ember steps up and offers a bundle that's obviously a hand-embroidered gown, or perhaps a blanket, for the baby. It's not white, exactly, but undyed and soft.
Allie returns and bows to Brita and Vialle both. She makes a little cough before she starts speaking and says, "Tea for three will be here in a moment, Your Majesty, Princess Brita, Miss Ember."
Ember says, "Thank you."
Brita gives Allie thanks as well and then replies to the Queen, "Cousin Edan is the Father, and His Shadow heritage Could have Come Into Play. This is Lovely," she says as she gently fingers the material. "Very Soft and of a Good Weight to be Warm but not Too Warm for a babe. Did You Embroider it, Your Majesty? The Work is Exquisite."
There's a thump-crunching kind of noise from the other side of the door. Allie looks at it, looks at Ember, and looks at Brita for guidance.
Vialle has to have heard it, but she ignores it. "Thank you, Brita. Yes, I did most of the work, with some help from Ember when I needed actual sight, and to help keep me from pricking my fingers. I hope the child will enjoy it. It won't be as cold here as it was in Amber, but a child could still have something warm to wrap up in."
Brita also ignores the noises. She waves the group towards the chairs. "Let us Sit as we Wait for the tea And for Cousin Hannah to get Cleaned Up." She moves close to the queen, although she doesn't touch her, and takes a deep breath. "Birthing Seems Very Tiring, even for those Not Directly Involved. All I did was Stand and Watch and I Feel Wrung Out."
Allie goes back outside to resume her guard position and pulls the door shut behind her.
Ember says, "I've been present at births before, but I suppose it's different for the royal family. Or maybe not." She looks at Vialle, as if waiting for the Queen to say something.
Which Vialle does. "Was it terrible, then? I know Random means to tell you all in the morning, but it won't hurt if you already know. I'm with child and soon enough I'll be in Hannah's position."
To Brita Vialle smells mostly like herself, with a hint of royal family smell, now. Which makes sense if she's pregnant with a royal child.
"Congratulations, Your Majesty! May Your Child be a Clear Spring of Purity, a Life Spring of Health, and a Well Spring of Fortitude." Brita's tones sound like the formal blessing of a prayer. She continues, "The Birth was Better than Most I have Seen. Cousin Hannah has a Calmness and Strength that are Rare in Shadows. I am Certain You will Also have that Strength to bring Your Child into Reality."
Once Edan has Folly's Trump of Paige in hand, he gives her the same salute he just gave Bleys. "Right, then," he says, and concentrates on the image of his sister. "Paige? It's Edan and Folly. Are you at the castle?"
After a long moment he frowns and turns towards Folly. "No answer. You know, she never did forgive me for that bird I sent that bled all over her tea party."
"Well, you know, some people are sensitive about that sort of thing," Folly says with an almost-straight face as she takes back her card.
She holds up her little finger and tilts her head like she's listening for something. Then, "Horses. This way...." she gestures, and begins to lead the way, but asks, "Is that magnificent beast of yours stabled with the others? Something tells me he'll be the quickest non-magical way back up the hill. Unless Ash has somehow built a motorbike."
She tilts her head again, like now she's trying to suss out the location of the nearest motorbike.
"I am egotistical enough to think the stable hands wanted to wait for the dance. Yes, Aramsham should be here, and still saddled."
Folly nods. "If he's willing to take two -- and you're willing -- let's try that, then."
Edan smiles at that. "Aramsham is strong and tireless. He will carry us both. Then he will think up some deviltry to make me pay for it."
"Then I shall try to be extra-nice to him so he thinks he's getting a good deal," Folly says. She pats at her pockets with a thoughtful frown. "I'd offer him an apple, but I'm afraid all I've got are little cheese-flavored crisps shaped like dolphins and surfboards."
Edan can tell Folly is anxious to get to the castle as quickly as possible -- she is a buzzing bundle of tension -- but even so, on their way up the hill she says, "I suppose congratulations are in order? I would gladly offer piles of parenting advice, if you wanted, but it turns out I'm sort of making everything up as I go."
"Thank you," Edan says. "I have siblings but know nothing of raising children. Every question I come up with, though, Hannah already has an answer."
Folly chuckles. "I get a little of that from Martin, who had rather more direct childrearing experience than I did, before Lark. Sometimes, especially early on, it was quite helpful and comforting. Other times...."
She hesitates, thinking, and when she speaks again Edan can hear the wistful smile in her voice: "I know some cultures think that mothers always know best in matters of child-rearing, but don't forget you get to have opinions and input, too. You and Hannah are both sensible people and will sort out the family dynamic that works best for you. Just... don't go into it thinking you always have to be the one that steps back. I mean... I wouldn't be who I am without my papa. And I know the same is true for Lark."
"I will have my input," Edan says. "I figure that the afrit blood will be strong, because of me. So might Sorcery. Each of those things are very dangerous, untamed. Or untrained, I guess that is a better word."
"Ah. Yes. I can see how that might be an issue," Folly replies. "Perhaps for safety's sake your fire-baby should hang out with my water-baby. Not that her own gifts manifest in quite that way -- so far they are more mental than physical -- but if she's teaching him to surf there will be fewer chances for accidentally burning down the castle, you know?"
After a moment's thought, she asks, "Are you looking forward to it?"
Last modified: 15 October 2017
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.