Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
The ride from the steps to Castle Xanadu is uneventful, although as soon as the Castle is sighted, it's clear that it's more awake than usual at this hour. The road down from the castle is busy, and the staff seems to be hard at work.
Vere and Edan ride into the stable area and see the stablehands hard at work. Some are cleaning out stalls, while others are handling horses from the city below.
Stablemaster Donovan comes up as the hands are helping Vere and Edan with their mounts. He's sweating a bit, as if he's been exerting himself, and he's still waving stablehands and journeymen around as he speaks. "Prince Vere," he says with a nod. "Sir Edan, Well met! I was going to send a boy as soon as I could spare one. May we use your facilities to house some of the overflow from the gathering? We'll be full here when everyone comes in."
Vere blinks. "Gathering?" he asks.
"You may," Edan adds, "but remember that Aramsham can have a very foul attitude." He looks up wistfully towards the castle. "And I had the dance all planned out, too."
Donovan smiles. "Your dance goes as planned, Sir Edan. But the King has summoned a family conclave and has a public announcement to make on the morrow. You'll need to see Prince Gerard to get details." He leans closer to the two, conspiratorially, "My lords, Prince Garrett gave me instructions to tell those who did not know the reasoning of it.
"The Queen is with child."
"Ah," Vere says. He glances at Edan, then back at Donovan. "Such excellent news. I must congratulate the King. Do you know where he is right now?"
"Up in the clouds, I am sure," Edan adds.
Donovan looks confused. "No, my Lord, under the waters. Prince Garrett told me he had to visit her relatives, but would be back for Lord Edan's event." He looks down. "I'm sure you'll do better asking him or Prince Gerard, in the house. You may want to keep Aramsham below, my Lord. Morgenstern and Stripey will both be here within the day."
Vere frowns very slightly. "Thank you, Donovan," he says.
Edan nods along. "Now? He has to be there now? Well...please make the arrangements for my horse, if you would, something that solves your space problem and yet will provide as much comfort for Aramsham as possible." He turns to Vere and adds, "We could always Trump him."
"Not immediately, my Lord. Tonight would be soon enough." Donovan attempts to soothe Edan, without actually touching him.
"I must attend to the preparations," Edan tells Vere, "But I would like to be there when you discuss this with the King. I'd like to hear the whole story."
Vere leads Edan out of the stables as they talk.
Edan waits until they are out of earshot of everyone. "Will you be attending the event tonight?"
"I would have said not, before this announcement. I need to report to Caine, and see to the Ladies. But I see no point to traveling to Amber, only to return immediately. So unless some other event intervenes, I will be there." Vere pauses for a moment, then asks, "It is a presentation of your new order to the city, yes? And presumably to those of the Family who have arrived by tonight."
"Yes," Edan says. "I have forces slowly gathering outside Broceliande, but the Order itself is setting up on the outskirts of the city. It is absolutely necessary that we make a good introduction to the people and the Family." Edan smiles. "Random has arranged us a debutante ball of sorts. I hope my dress will be ready."
"Is there anything I can do to assist in this?" Vere asks.
The courtyard outside the stables is being swept, servants are cleaning the windows facing out of the castle, and wagons with goods are arriving from the town below. It's quite likely that someone has spotted the two Lords, but no one approaches.
"Normally I would say no," Edan says to Vere, "as I am sure my majordomo will have already handled all the details. But on the final dance... I have chosen the Echo Game, so that the Queen may enjoy it as much as any other observer. My men have seen me do this dance before, and can play the drum circle I will require, but still it has been a number of years. How good are you at throwing small objects, like coins, or beans?"
"Quite good," Vere answers seriously. "What do you have in mind?"
"The Echo Game is a seamless meld of dance and swordsmanship," Edan says. "I will dance in a clearing, surrounded by a ring of vertical drums. The circle of drummers sit beyond them. You would sit at one end of this ring with a bowl of coins. There are three parts to the dance: in the first part, you would need to bounce individual coins off one or more drums, and I would echo the pattern. In the second part, you would need to sling the coins out of the bowl so that they hit all the drums at once. That is where the dance starts in earnest. And at the end, you will have to fling the bowl at me as I hit the last of the drums."
Vere laughs. "It sounds like fun," he says with a smile. "Do we get an opportunity to practice beforehand, or do I have to do it right the first time?"
"Oh, definitely, we should practice," Edan says. "I'll get the drums set up at the Order. I need to hear what your bowl will sound like, in the air. Also, you are one of the people who will need to intervene if there is a wild throw." He pauses, remembering. "I practiced the dance itself many months in the desert. It is one of my favorites. Very dramatic, as you can imagine. The secret, of course, is the precise placement of the drums- after that, it's all a matter of timing and consistency and knowing where you are. In the second part of the dance, I hardly even notice the blindfold."
"It sounds fascinating," Vere responds. "Let me go to the palace now to make arrangements for a message to be sent to me as soon as the king is available. I should also look over my clothing here to make a choice in what to wear tonight, and speak to Caine to make my report and see if I can arrange for the Ladies to be brought here. Shall we make an appointment of a time to rehearse?"
"I...will rest," Edan says, chewing the words out slowly as if he hadn't said them in some time. "After I see how my engineers are planning to drag a gold star out of a lagoon." He smiles. "We will be ready when you are. Just stop by and we will practice. Ah...would you arrange to return the portrait?"
Vere takes the portrait. "My thanks to you again for your assistance. I will see you later today."
Edan makes his way back to the Order's compound. When he arrives, his plans are to sleep, but he starts by taking a few minutes to whip the place up into a frenzy. "Where are the riders practicing? Where are the plans from the engineers for the star? Where are the drums? Are we a knight-order, or a hotel?"
Smiling to himself, he's ready to handle any immediate problems, and warn the others of Vere's arrival, before he heads off to a nap.
Knights scramble and move to get out of his way, and to appear as if they have not just awoken.
Michelle comes up, tells him the answers to his first three questions, and hands him a folded piece of paper. "Lady Somers stopped by, Lord Edan. She gave me this for you."
The paper is scented and bears Paige's crest on the top. "If you haven't heard the news, call me immediately. And yes, the fact that I'm back means she is back as well. — P"
That brings a smile. "I will pen a reply and send a runner," he says to Michelle. "Thank you. Things look very well handled. For my part, my cousin Vere will come to practice with me later today. Please extend him every courtesy."
When he makes it to his quarters (or, at least, the quarters that have been set up for him), he finds paper and ink and pens a note under the Order's tughra:
"I am most pleased to hear you both are home and safe. I have heard- Vere and I were told as we came in."
He pauses then, and wonders if there isn't a better answer than a sleep-deprived run to Paige in the early morning, or messengers running back and forth all day. He holds Paige's letter above a candle for a moment, letting the fire mix with Paige's perfume. Hopefully, she will notice a nearby candle smoldering with a ribbon of smoke, and either light the candle or Trump him directly.
Shortly, Edan feels the mental push of a Trump contact.
"You’re lucky I noticed your candle trick. If the King didn't want everyone contacted, I'd be asleep somewhere, or in a long, long bath. We were completely wrong about where Solange was, by the way. And I cannot stand the smell of mechanical oil.
"Oh, and I am upset with you. You were going to throw a party and didn't invite me? Your own sister!"
Edan's look of surprise is almost comical, and completely genuine. "I am most ashamed," he says. "I guess Michelle assumed I would contact you myself, instead of sending some formal invitation through her. Which is a right and proper assumption, but I have been distracted ever since I arrived." He smiles and slumps. A little. "I was about to nap myself, so I don't kill anyone with a wild throw tonight. And yes. You must come to my thing."
She smiles, coyly. "I'm teasing. Michelle already invited me for you, but you could've trumped me. I'll be most pleased to come to your thing. I'm sure it will be amazing and talked about for years..."
"I do hope so. If it is not amazing it will still be talked about for years." A pause. "Hannah is back with you?"
She shakes her head, her red hair moving as if she was in Rebma. "She's back, but being her, she went down to that clinic in town. You should almost certainly send her an invitation yourself. Oh, and Ossian and Silhouette are also just back. You may want to delegate inviting people (other than Her, of course) to Gilt Winter, since they'll all go through him..."
Paige smiles. "She's looking radiant, and we were in a faster shadow, but you're not a father yet."
Edan nods. "Thank you, Sister. I will message Hannah and ask Sir Winter to help me with the others. I would have come to see you myself, but I have had a long night, and need to sleep a bit before tonight. Somewhere in between, Vere is coming to help me out with my dance." He shrugs and smiles. "I see how things are going to be in this town. Everything is already so complicated."
Paige lets her eyes smile for a moment, and Edan can see she's truly amused. "You sound like Robin, more than Edan. You can go live in a yurt, if that's what you want, but the city is alive, and you can't help but be swept into the dance."
She gets more serious. "It is like music, just like you'd expect from the King. If you can hear the music, you can feel the rhythms and learn how to thrive here, not just survive. It's going to be the difference between those who plant real roots here and those who merely pass through.
"You will save a dance for me, won't you, during one of the times you allow us peasants onto the dance floor?"
"You will steal the show, dear sister, and you know it."
She laughs, and is clearly pleased with the compliment. "Flatterer. You did learn a thing or two from Father, after all."
After the connection is broken, Edan will nap. When he wakes, he will send a runner to Winter to beg his indulgence in passing along invitations to Family. Another runner will be sent to Hannah, with a heartfelt flowery invitation in Edan's own hand.
After leaving Edan Vere returns to the palace. His first priority is finding an upper level member of the staff, preferably Random's steward or chamberlain, and impressing upon them that Vere absolutely must report to the king at the first opportunity. He will try to get an estimate of how long that might be.
Assuming that it isn't immediately, he will return the trump of himself to the trump room, and then turn to Caine's trump. He will touch it lightly and think, "Uncle." He won't push if Caine is not ready to take the call.
Caine takes the trump immediately. He is standing somewhere in the harbor area; Vere can see the masts of ships behind him. "Nephew! Our plans have been overtaken by royal events. You've heard the news of course?" Without waiting for confirmation, he continues. "Tell me what you learned."
"To use the word 'learned' when referring to Tir might be presumptuous on my part. I observed something, and certain conclusions can be drawn, but I hesitate at deciding which of them might be correct." Vere frowns very slightly. "I saw both of the ladies, and their champions. They were playing a game, and using people as the pieces. The game was not familiar to me. It used a grid inside an octagon, with a tower in the center." He pauses a moment, recalling the scene. "There was a knotted piece of rope in the tower. I do not know what that might have represented.
"Morgne was dressed in green and red, while Ophiuchus wore green and gold. Laudine bore a lion on a field of vert, Ywain a lion on a field azure. They were playing as partners, with the ladies concentrating on offense while their champions focused on defense. The goal seemed to be to take territory, although neither possessed a clear advantage that I could tell while I watched."
Vere shrugs very slightly. "Numerous interpretations could be given to such a vision. I hope you are much better at interpreting the visions of Tir than I am, Uncle."
Caine nods. "Often, the largest danger of Tir is assigning too much meaning, or assigning a second meaning to something perfectly meaningful on the face of it. This sounds much as you tell me your guests described the state of conflict between their kingdoms prior to their spell.
"What sounds different is that in your vision, they are driving forces, not pawns. When you return, you may want to subtly question them about their true role, all those years ago.
"Beyond your report, I'd also like your opinion, Prince Vere. What do you think it means?"
"I was struck by the same thing," Vere answers. "Though they had said that they were simply guarding the border from each other, in a stalemate designed to end the war between their respective courts, the vision seemed to imply that they were seeking to gain advantage over one another. It leads one to wonder whether they are still playing the game. Immortals, I understand, can think in very long terms."
Caine nods. "The advantage to us is that for a long game, they'll want to build up some trust. That should at least put them out of the immediate threat while we deal with more immanent ones.
"How do you wish to dispose of them, assuming both of our plans for the next day or so are altered to suit the pleasure of the King?" He smiles just a bit as he says 'dispose'.
It's probably nothing.
Vere does not react to the smile. "I would like to continue with the original plan," he says. "And settle them in Paris and Rebma. With the addition now that I tell Celina and Corwin what I saw in Tir." He tilts his head to one side, considering Caine. "With the change in plans, I wonder if you might arrange for them to come to Xanadu? It seems more efficient."
Caine shakes his head. "Too many unknowns, and we're about to have a conclave. We'll see if we can get it on the agenda. You should have a Royal answer within a day, so we have no need of rushing."
Vere nods. "Understood, Uncle. Is there anything else?"
Caine looks at him. "Just that you should get some sleep. Tir drains us more than a mere all-night binge would do. It is a difficult place, you did well, nephew."
Vere awakens around noon, in his bed in Xanadu. A page sticks his head in. "Good Den, M'Lord. His Highness, your father, has asked that you attend him when you awaken. Would you prefer to go down for Lunch or should I send for food for you?"
"I will attend upon my Father at once," Vere answers. "Have food sent to me there." And he will head for his father's chambers.
"Of course, your lordship," the page says.
Vere arrives before the foodstuffs, of course, and one of the household staff welcomes him to Gerard's suite. Apparently he's doing enough work right now that he has a functionary to send the less important people. Vere, however, isn't one of those, and he is ushered in to see Gerard at once.
"Vere," Gerard says, delighted, and rolls over to give him a clasp. "I gather you've had some wild adventures. Tell me all about them. I've been hearing from your cousin about his stories. Now it's your turn." He gestures to the other person in the living area he seems to have commandeered as an office-cum-meeting room.
"Garret," Vere says, walking over to is cousin and clasping his hand. "Well met, indeed. What have you been up to?"
Garrett grins widely and clasps Vere's hand with a strong grip. "Good to see you, Cousin," he replies. "Been up to the topmast on a merchantman out of one of the near Shadows, lately." And indeed, Vere would likely recognize the patterns of roughness on Garrett's hand as that of someone recently returned from service on a ship. He also appears a bit older, though no taller, with a heavier brow and more meat on his bones. "I'd been out testing my shadow skills until I got the call back. And you?" he asks, genuinely interested in hearing Vere's tales before his own.
Vere tilts his head to one side, considering. "It has been some little while," he says. "Since returning from my sojourn to Chaos with Merlin I have been working with Prince Julian and his rangers. That led to assisting Robin with a matter concerning some Ancient Powers, and Prince Caine sending me up to Tir to gather some information." He shakes his head. "I see now for myself that he Visions of Tir can be quite confusing."
"They always are," Gerard says. "Except when they're even more confusing. Caine said something about ladies and lords and chessboards and fountains, but I wasn't entirely clear on the lot of it and with Random away and this do of Edan's tonight, there's far too much to worry on for me to spend much thought on it. But I always have an ear for your stories.
"Jules says, by the by, that Robin will be coming in on his Trump." There's a bit of a mischievous twinkle in Gerard's eye as he says it. The work of regenting, even for this short period, seems to have infused him with energy somehow. Maybe he just likes being busy and useful.
Vere grins. "That will truly be excellent," he says. "I had promised to contact her as soon as possible after my walk to Tir, but I am sure she will understand the new situation makes that more difficult." He glances at Garrett then, and seems about to say something else, but then does not.
"New situation?" Garrett asks, quirking an eyebrow. "You mean Father's callback or something else?" He glances at Gerard as well and continues apologetically, "Forgive me. I've been out of touch for some time."
Vere nods. "The accompanying confusion and rush caused by the summons," he clarifies.
"Aye," Gerard agrees with Vere, "It's a lot of work all at once, arranging everything, but it's better to gather everyone and tell them at once instead of yelling at us all individually. That's how Dad did it. Probably going to be a lot more ale and wine drunk down this way though." He turns back to Garrett. "Why don't you tell Vere a bit about what you've been doing?"
"A lot of learning, mostly," Garrett replies, settling into a nearby chair and indicating Vere to do the same, if he chooses. "I reckon you must've heard I walked the Pattern some time ago. Since then, I spent some time in Paris and sailed to Gateway to deliver some trade goods for Jerod. Dad thought the trip would be a good, low-risk learning experience. And it was. But once I was done, I decided to try sailing further. I rather liked being out on the water. It was a good exercise in manipulation of the skies without the distractions you have in trying to shift on land. I sailed with a number of different crews, so that I could make my way back to familiar places eventually." Garrett realizes he's running on now and shortens the tale. "I was on the last leg of my journey home when I got the call from Dad to come back immediately."
Vere grins at him. "I have always preferred a small ship," he confides. "And now that I have learned how to 'find' the Psyche wherever I go in Shadow I expect to eventually sail between many worlds. If we ever find leisure I would be delighted to sail with you some day."
"Enjoy your time of leisure while you've got it. Family meetings mean Random's doling out more assignments and there'll be work aplenty for us all," Gerard advises. "Though perhaps you can sail together to whatever Random sends the both of you off to do."
"I would like that," Garrett says with a nod and a smile. "I enjoy learning new ways of interpreting the experience, especially from those who have gone through it recently.
"You mentioned Tir, though," Garrett continues more seriously, "and it reminded me of something. Do you know anything about the 'Ring Road'? It's something that came up during my expedition with Dad to rescue the Queen. Something about it being perhaps a back door into Tir, I think? I never had a chance to follow up on it."
Vere frowns slightly. "Direct connections between the realms with Patterns, is it not? The stairs to Tir and the stairs between Rebma and Paris are part of it, if I am remembering correctly. If it is a ring, then that implies each realm has a minimum of two connections."
"I thought Conner found a back way out of Rebma, which was how he and his lady of Gateway escaped from the Tritons. Maybe the two of you should talk to him," Gerard suggests. "This is a moment for giving information, and it's not like it was with Dad where we all hoarded and traded. Share it all out. It worked for us during the war."
Vere frowns very slightly at his father's words. "And yet there are still secrets," he observes. "Matters touching royalty or personal affairs."
"I reckon there always will be, to some extent," Garrett offers pragmatically. "Especially in the subjects you noted. But secrecy doesn't seem to be as ingrained in most of this generation as it was in the one before. We've been more inclined to cooperate." He glances at Gerard, "Often because we had to in hard times," he adds, acknowledging his uncle's point.
"All to the better. There's so much left broken and damaged--" he frowns at those words "--that we need everyone's wisdom and knowledge to heal. Even if I have to beat it out of some of them."
"We shall talk," Vere says to Garrett. "After the meeting tomorrow." He smiles slightly. "Assuming that we are not both sent out on missions for his majesty, of course."
"Of course," Garrett replies with a grin to both of Vere's points. He turns to Gerard. "So, Uncle," he begins, "I haven't had a chance to get the full rundown on things here. The town seems so much more - well, MORE - since I left. And what of the rest of the family? Has everyone else been afield as well?"
"Most of them, aye. I know Folly and Martin have gone off into shadow to see to their daughter. I hear there's been some trouble in Benedict's Avalon, which some of your cousins have been seeing to. And I know there have been some visitors to Rebma, as well, though I think Corwin knows more about what's happening there than I do. Plus Jerod's trip to Gateway to deal with the trouble there." Gerard's brow furrows; he clearly mislikes whatever he's heard about that business. Or it could just be misliking Gateway after what they did to Marius. "And Vere has his own tale to tell about what he and Robin have been up to."
But before Vere can get to that particular story, there's another knock on the suite door and another figure is ushered in to join them by the pages.
"Greetings one and all." Fletcher strides in, waving a salute to the assemblage. His frock coat might seem a bit rumpled from travel, but the knot in his tie is crisp and his scabbarded long sword is slung over his shoulder. "Lady Paige said I might find some of the family here. She tells me there's to be a meeting of the minds. What news? I was on a steamer in the subarctic regions off Bellum when she called. I hadn't been planning on returning so swiftly. Has duty called upon us all once again to face the the usual tide of crisis?" He smiles and looks about in search of liquid refreshments.
"Not yet," Garrett replies, waving his hand toward a bar in the corner where the liquid refreshments most likely reside. "I was just getting the full update on recent events myself, but the more immediate news is that the Queen is with child. I'm sure there's more to discuss at the meeting of the minds, but that's the first part." If the Prince has feelings one way or the other about this "first part," he's not showing them.
"I'd've thought whoever was made responsible for summoning you might have mentioned that fact, Fletcher," Gerard says, sounding mildly bumfuzzled, but it quickly passes. "But aye, the Queen is with child, and it's all hands on deck, both to celebrate and to speak of all our news. Tonight there's to be some sort of exhibition from the new order of knights that Random has settled on Edan's shoulders. And I think it's the family meeting in the morning where we'll find out what do to with them."
Vere also greets Fletcher and moves to fetch him a drink.
Brennan breaks away from Bleys and Conner, locates Regenlief, and draws her aside by means of eye contact. However Bleys' privacy sorcery works, Brennan's is a fundamental working of entropy, destroying the information of their words more than an arms length away.
"We're speaking privately," Brennan says. "The others can't hear us unless Bleys or Conner are interfering. Bleys brings news, and a summons that neither Conner nor I can ignore. King Random of Xanadu-- my father's half-brother-- will announce the impending arrival of a new heir to the throne, at a public event, a celebration or gala of some sort, I expect. Attendance of his brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces and a few select others is not optional, it is mandatory. In this scheme, our son is considered a nephew. If I had my preferences, we would deal expediently with Moire, and then Ossian and you and I could find our footing privately. This gathering is to be very public and very political-- I would not bring you there unaware, unprepared, or unwilling. Nor, though, would I delay the first face to face to face meeting with you and I and Ossian. I will support you in this decision: If you wish to come back to Xanadu with us, please be welcome as my guest; otherwise, I will talk to our son privately.
"But these things may inform your decision:
"First, the public event tonight will be followed by a private event tomorrow morning for the King's Mandatories. I have no authority to extend that invitation. After that morning conclave we should be free to return.
"Second, Ossian has told me something of the Klybesians' part in all this, and I am a fool for not having understood it earlier. Anger toward the Klybesians runs hot in the Family, right now-- or cold, according to our natures," and Brennan's voice is gravelly with what might well be ice chips as he says that. There is no doubt where Brennan's temperament lies in this regard. "That will almost certainly be a topic at the morning conclave. I don't know how far news of their involvement in Ossian's history has spread, or yours. It was my hope to settle these matters between the three of us privately. But you may well find Family asking questions about it.
"Third, I need someone to watch Ramjollock and his men for the day we are gone, to keep them from declaring war on Avalon or something equally self-destructive. Feel no pressure: Firumbras can do this. But it is yours to decline."
"I was wondering when we were going to have this discussion," Regenlief says, a bit drily. "I was hoping we'd have a chance to talk before we arrived at this--I was expecting a battle. I suppose where you’re going is one, even if it's fought with words instead of swords and shields." She expertly flips the spear she's currently carrying, landing the butt end on the floor. It's hard for Brennan to read her at this distance in time and space, but he guesses she might be considering her words, or perhaps her questions, carefully. "Is the goddess known as Fiona going to be at this meeting in Xanadu?"
"At a time less thick with Maghee warlords and skogen, was my hope," Brennan says. "I expect it was something of a gift from Corwin, putting us together away from most of the Family for a time to do just this, but no one could have predicted the timing of an heir.
"To answer your question: Yes, I assume so. I expect this will be as large or larger a gathering of the Family than the King's coronation. It's not supposed to be a battle, but it may end up as a gauntlet. Although at the coronation, two of my cousins and my brother declared war on the rest of us." He shrugs, stoically. "Good times. The brother is rehabilitated, at least."
Regenlief doesn't say 'I didn't know you had a brother' but Brennan might guess she's thinking it. "His good fortune pleases me, especially given my own situation. I'll go," she says. "I don't want to put this off any longer than I have to. I'm ready to go to war against the eye in the pyramid. And when I kill them, none will go to Valhalla." She smiles grimly. "Not that there is one anymore, not since Ragnarok and the remaking of the worlds. But if there were, I'd send them straight to Hel."
Brennan infers her meaning from her expression: "I didn't even know I had a brother, until that day. Hell of a way to make an introduction. I didn't know Ossian was my son until much later. All right, here's the plan: We'll settle Firumbras into his new and temporary responsibilities, explain to the Maghee what's happening, and accompany Bleys and Conner back to Xanadu. From there, we'll find our son, and talk." From his own impression, he caught that reference to 'her own situation,' which should be included in the list of future conversations.
Brennan drops the sorcerous spell of interdiction around them and walks back to Conner and Bleys, presumably with Regenlief although she could elect to stay apart for some reason.
She agrees and returns with him to the others.
Once back with Conner and Bleys, Brennan calls Firumbras and Ramjollock over to them to explain what's happening: "Our uncle brings us news from Xanadu, and a summons that cannot be denied. Conner, Regenlief and I will be departing shortly, returning tomorrow morning. Sir Firumbras, I would like you to remain here and advise the new Ard Righ."
Firumbras nods slowly, his beard sliding up and down his breastplate. "An thou does ask, I shall so do. Pray, tell King C- my King where I am."
Ramjollock looks him over. "We can discuss the Fir Bolg, and other ancient peoples of our land. My lookouts have sighted sails, but they fly our colors. We should have more troops 'ere your return, Sir Brennan. Will you be bringing more demons with you then? We would meet any such who came to our lands..."
"Thank you, Sir Firumbras. Of course I will bear your message to the King," Brennan says. Then, turning back to Ramjollock: "That's not the plan, but anything is possible. Perhaps additional Knights of my order, though." It would be good to have Dignity back as counsel, or a few of the Knights he knows less well.
"In the mean time, I have some very forceful suggestions to make," which Brennan is clearly expecting Sir Firumbras to take as somewhere between an instruction and a command... as close to a command as he's comfortable with, actually. "First, if-- more likely when-- the Protector's forces show up to investigate, do everything in your power to avoid battle. Parley at all cost, parley in mine and Conner's name if need be, but parley. Second, try not to leave the island. Which is only good sense if you've more forces approaching," which Brennan devoutly hopes is true, "but also because it will simplify rejoining you tomorrow."
The Ard Righ nods, solemnly. "We have been gone long enough, and hope to stay, peacefully, for some time. But I think you for your advice, my friend demon."
"Ard Righ," Brennan continues, "I ask that you listen to Sir Firumbras' counsel if he should have cause to give it. He is a seasoned and experienced leader, and has valuable insights into this conflict."
Bleys has a quick word with Sir Firumbras. "I'd prefer that stay above ground, if possible, but don't get yourself killed over it."
The Prince pulls out two trumps, one mostly consisting of a mass of flame-colored hair surrounding the face of his daughter, and the other the courtyard of Xanadu's keep.
He stares at each for a second before putting Paige's trump away. "Best to come in by the front gate, so they can count us on their scorecards." He reaches out to Conner and Brennan, and in a scintillating rainbow flash of light, The tower of Tara disappears and the grand castle of Xanadu is before them.
Bleys squints at the sun. "It appears that today, at least, we shall be morning people. Shall we?"
"Any time of day that brings coffee and bacon is welcomed by me." Conner replies easily. "I wonder who else has arrived."
"I wonder who wasn't invited and who will claim to be too busy," Brennan says with some cynical, if wearied amusement.
Bleys nods. "Yes, that's the game to watch. Take some time to talk to people and get a feel for the city, if you haven't been here yet, nephews. You are seeing something none of us recall, which is the birth of a new kingdom. In a generation or two, this will be different, so it's worth seeing how it is born..."
"Welcome to Xanadu," [Brennan] says to Regenlief.
She smiles and gives a brief bow. "Thank you, Sir Brennan. I expect to learn quite a bit, seeing you in your native environment. Is it always so hot here?"
He answers Bleys' question by beginning to make his way to the front gates. "Anything else we should know, before we part ways, Bleys? If Ossian isn't already here, I trust he will be shortly."
Bleys heads for the side of the castle, "Can't think of a thing, but that doesn't mean there's naught that I am unaware of. If your son is in the kitchen, I'll let him know you’re here."
As in many situations, Conner likes the way Bleys thinks and follows him to Xanadu's kitchens.
Unless there's a reason not to, Brennan goes through the gates and enters the castle, announcing Regenlief as his guest.
A functionary writes her name down. Or some phonetic equivalent, perhaps. "Very good, Sir Brennan. Will your guest be requiring her own quarters or will she be staying with you?"
Brennan's true native environment is at the top of a step pyramid looking down at human sacrifices and beating hearts. He favors the undiplomatic functionary with a long, cold glance in that mode before answering, "She requires her own quarters, as befitting an honored guest of the Court." If he has the distinct impression that Brennan just committed his face to memory, so much the better. Because he has. If they need time to figure out exactly where her quarters will be, Brennan doesn't bother to wait, it's their job to make appropriate arrangements and catch up to them. He does commandeer a page, though, to handle a few things on the way to their destination, which is a small sitting room in the castle proper. Small enough to feel something on the order of cozy when three people are there, high enough to afford a decent view and-- because this is Xanadu-- stocked with a bar.
The course they take from the city gates to the castle is mostly direct, with only a few quick diversions that don't take them too far out of their way. He lets the page fill them both in on the recent events of the place, though it will doubtless make more sense to Brennan than to Regenlief. When he hears about Edan's new order of Knights, he smiles broadly. As they reach the castle itself, he sends the page off with a number of assignments. None of Brennan's irritation with the first functionary rubs off on the page, of course.
First and foremost, he dictates a message to King Random and Queen Vialle offering them congratulations on their splendid news, and delicately announcing the arrival of Regenlief to the court. Brennan has no illusions, here-- Random won't read it before the evening event. But it is proper, so he dictates it and has it sent. There is exactly zero upside to surprising anyone with Regenlief, much less dong something that could be interpreted as upstaging, so he has a copy sent to Gilt, as well.
The page is already visibly calculating how many extra pages he’s goi ng to need for this.
Second, he sends a less formal message to Edan, welcoming him to the club, and warning him to expect some insufferably formal communique from Order to Order later on. That, in turn, brings up the subject of the his own Knights. Each and every Knight of the Order of the Ruby present in the city receives notice that they are to show up to the public event in full and proper formals with smile on their faces. Slop slides downhill and if it's mandatory for Brennan, it is mandatory for his Knights. Doubly so to demonstrate that they welcome the arrival of a new Order of Knights.
Third, and still on the subject of his own Order, he has notice sent to the following subset of the Knights that they should be packed and ready to depart by tomorrow morning: Dame Patience, and Sir Crescent, who were Brennan's candidates for Knighthood after Patternfall. Sir Pebble, and Sir Ember, who were Aisling's and Lilly's, respectively. If Jovian's Knights are still with the order, he will add Sir M'Hall. If Dignity is in Xanadu, he is on the list as well. Relatedly, a note to Sir Marius with the appropriate greetings to his Brother Knight-Commander, inquiring after the availability of Dame Jennet for Order business.
Fourth, arrange an appointment for Regenlief with Brita's seamstress later in the day, as the best way to get Regenlief something appropriate to her station as a Valkyrie and to the Court as a whole.
Regenlief is duly appreciative.
Fifth, find Ossian if he is in Xanadu and tell him that Brennan wants to see him in the sitting room to which they are heading.
Sixth, and finally, perform whatever secret handshake the pages do during times like this, to let the rest of the Family know he is here and will be available... he judges the angle of the sun... some time after lunch, several hours from now.
And then, by the time they reach the sitting room he sends the page off on his way to deliver all those messages, leaving he and Regenlief alone. He ushers her inside, gestures that she should sit and be comfortable if she isn't heading in that direction already, hopes that the bar has a bottle of Akvavit, and pours two glasses of it before coming back over to Regenlief. "Skal," he says, draining his. He sits, and there's something in his affect of a very heavy man settling in a chair he knows is solid and sturdy, despite his spare, swimmer's-body physique. "It's good to see you again, Regenlief. I know you have questions. You deserve answers, and I'll give them to you, but I have one for you, and it's not as facetious as it sounds: How long has it been since we saw each other last? I make it as something like sixty years, maybe seventy, and I ask because time runs strangely from place to place. I spent a few days away from Weyland's Tower, once, and returned to find generations had passed, and I've spent some 'time' in places even stranger than that. Our answers will be the same only by luck. Then... tell me where you want me to start. Family history? Personal history?" Something else?
"Skal," Regenlief agrees, and downs her shot, flipping the glass and landing it on the table hard enough that, were it not real, she probably would have broken it. She’s eyeing the giraffe decorations and the high ceilings of the room like she’s wondering what she got into here.
"It's been a long time for me, too. Decades. At a certain point you stop counting years; after Ragnarok, they don't mean as much. But sixty or seventy at least, probably more than a hundred." Regenlief shrugs. It's not a matter of much moment to her. "My first question is what, if anything, they told you about what I've been doing, actually, and where they ran into me."
"Works both ways," Brennan muses at the shot glass. "Anyone under a century is still just a kid, unless proven otherwise. Ossian himself is... something like thirty.
"But the only 'they' that could have told me the tale is Ossian himself. I understand that your meeting with Ossian was connected with the recovery of my cousin Reid's body from the Klybesian Order. He mentioned a place named Greenwood, but the way he told the story made me think that's not where you were met. So I know what Ossian was doing in the area, but not what you were. I'd very much like to know, since I'm sure it involves the Klybesian Order somehow." Brennan does not voice his suspicion that it involved sending a lot of Klybesians to cold, unmarked graves.
This is when Ossian knocks on the door.
Regenlief lets Brennan let whoever it is in. When she realizes it's Ossian, she smiles by way of greeting.
"Father..." he says before noticing Regenlief "Oh, so we are having a family gathering?" Then he sees the bottle of Akvavit. "Oh. That kind of gathering. Better fill up then." He pours a glass for himself, before offering to refill his parents' glasses.
Regenlief takes the refill, though she doesn't toss it back the way she did the first one.
Brennan welcome Ossian and gestures him to sit. Barring emergencies or meddling Elders, they should be undisturbed for the morning.
He nurses his own refill-- they do all have a state function to attend later that day, Amberite constitutions or not.
"Brennan and I were about to tell family stories. About what I was doing when I met you, which, by the way, he was pointing a weapon at me. I was inspecting a burned out caravan."
Brennan gives Regenlief a wry smile at that, as if to say, which side of the family does he get that from?
"We were near Clervaux, which had been an old stronghold of the White Brothers--a branch of the Klybesians. I was looking for information about what had happened there to build into the larger puzzle. I still don't know who that caravan belonged to, or who attacked it."
"Clervaux," Brennan says. "The place has come up in conversation, but I know almost nothing about it. I gather this is where Reid's body was recovered? How did you separately come to be there?" he asks.
Ossian frowns. "I was looking for Reid. So the Pattern led me there. Their story is that he was with that caravan."
"From what I remember, the burned out caravan was older than that. But time runs strangely in some of those older shadows, especially since Ragnarok, and Clervaux is older than many." Regenlief is pragmatic, and moves on from that quickly. "The name had come up in my broader investigations of the Klybesians. It took me a long time to find a shadow path that led there, especially with all the changes from the aftermath of the Black Road and the rest of the end of the universe."
"Clervaux is a place we clearly need to know more about," Brennan says. "I know it's connected to Reid, somehow, but I haven't been able to figure out if it's where his mother, Pastoral, is from, and it was supposedly Pastoral who brought the Klybesians to Amber, back in the day. There was apparently some scandal about Pastoral-- I've heard she was from Amber rather than Shadow. No one seems to remember that far back-- not clearly, anyway." Most of that is for Regenlief's benefit.
"But this talk about Shadow Paths reminds me, Ossian, you made it sound as though that Klybesian outposts are connected by Shadow paths. Did I understand that correctly? And where did the one that led you to Clervaux start, Regenlief? If they have access to shadow paths, then a big part of crushing them may be understanding that network. It's not exactly the artistry of making Trumps, but how do you feel about the cartography of shadow paths?"
"It could be done. Although I think Bleys' equations might be needed. I don't know how many paths they have, but they surely have some. And as we learned just a few hours back, a shadow crossing computer network." Ossian coughs. "Yes."
The term 'computer network' is clearly somewhat alien to Regenlief, but it seems to carry significance to the other two, so she lets it go by for now and shrugs to Brennan’s question.
"I was in Clervaux because I was looking for the old outposts of the Klybesians. I've been acting against them for some years, for personal reasons." She glances at Ossian, then back at Brennan. "They stole my child. Ultimately I was looking for information about him--about you, Ossian--but in the meantime I was foiling their plans on general principle."
Brennan nods long before Regenlief finishes speaking. Almost before she starts speaking, even. That Regenlief was in Clervaux on a mission of vengeance is the very opposite of a surprise to Brennan.
"But how did you get there, is the question. Here's why it's important: What sets the Family of Amber apart from all others is our ability to move through Shadow by desire. What we often forget," he glances at Ossian, "is that others know of and can move through Shadow as well. Just not as easily and often constrained by paths that already exist. This is a failure of vision that afflicts many in the Family: they don't often worry about the details of their opponents' constraints. Here is what we think we know-- what we believe-- about their constraints: That they move by existing Shadow paths." Brennan nods almost to himself, and continues. This is the Ramble that Regenlief knew of old: focused on a goal, though perhaps from an unconventional angle. "To fully understand and USE that constraint, we need to know more about those paths. That they've set up a way to communicate along them by computer network," for Regenlief's benefit, "tells me they are important, and probably not new. So the question of what path took you to Clervaux is important.
"But this bothers me for another reason. As you say, Regenlief, Ragnarok should have disrupted all those paths. In fact, we know it disrupted many. This should have crippled and isolated the Klybesians just as a side effect, but here they are using Shadow paths and building infrastructure along them." He shakes his head. "Ossian, you say they have at least one sorcerer-- I assume you mean a true Sorcerer-- in their ranks as well. I've hinted at this before, but I'll say it plainly now: You may not be the first or the last child taken by them."
Ossian nods. "I think a true Sorcerer, yes, although I'm not completely certain. Probably more than one too."
Then he pauses for a brief second, looking at his father "We did not have time to investigate, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that the computer network follows the Shadow Paths, when they have sorcery, and interest in Trumps, as far as I understand it."
Regenlief has been parsing the discussion, both Brennan's direct explanation and the elaboration with Ossian, and by the time they come back around to her, she, too is nodding. "You want the rutter," she says, and it's not a question. "The rutter I stole from them. When we're done with the meeting here, we can go get it."
"That sounds good" Ossian says, looking a bit perplexed "Silhouette could probably learn a lot from it.
"I wonder if we could date the Shadow Paths relative to Ragnarok. I guess someone could. Maybe Jerod."
Brennan looks at Regenlief with a deeply malicious gleam in his eyes: "You stole a rutter from them," he says. It's not a question, either. "Yes, yes I think we'd like to see that. Have you read it? When we go get it, where will we be going?"
"Reme," Regenlief says. "Because I knew where to store it safely there. And I've deciphered parts of it; it's complicated. Between what I already knew and what I could figure out from the rutter, I've gotten leads on a number of old Klybesian sites. How old they are--the sites or the paths--I can't say," she adds by way of answering Ossian's question. “But the sites at least are old."
"Jerod's a good candidate," Brennan says to Ossian. "So are Conner and Marius. They've all been involved in the navy, which has its own tradition of navigating and maintaining paths like these. They can probably say a lot about using them and detecting them. So can I, from a different angle-- I can show you how to detect the Faiella-Bionin, if there's time, which I think will be similar. The trick-- which quite possibly no one knows because it's never been important-- will be how to tell old from new."
Ossian nods. "My distinct impression is that someone laid those paths. Which makes the matter very delicate."
Then to Regenlief, "Reme, you say. Is Reme contained in this rutter, as far as you know?" Brennan asks as he finishes the last of his glass.
"Most of the important places are in this rutter, but Reme is a crossroads, so it gets more and less attention than most. More because you can reach places from a crossroads; less because everyone knows where it is already. I don't think they'll have found the rutter, though. I had a fine and secret place to hide it." The sharp smile on Regenlief's face looks almost smug.
Brennan gives Regenlief a suspicious look, but not at all an unfriendly one. He may have been the object of that smugness before and come to respect it.
"Good to know," Brennan says, "but that wasn't what I was worried about. Reme is the first place I went after I escaped from Brand." Brennan still does not readily use the word 'father' or describe his actions as 'running away.' He continues: "I've been trying to figure out how they knew of me, and for how long, which is challenging because I'd never even heard of them until recently. Now I'm thinking I may have spent twenty, thirty-odd years laying low right in the shadow of the Order itself." This thought evidently does not please him. "It doesn't explain everything, but it does explain a bit.
"What Ossian says is right, though," Brennan says. "This is delicate, personally and operationally. Given that a great number of people are and will be invested in hunting these people down, how are you on sharing this information?" It's pretty obvious Brennan has some thoughts on the matter, but wants to hear both Regenlief's and Ossian's first.
"It takes more than one Valkyrie to bear the heroes of an army," Regenlief says, seemingly resigned, but she looks to Ossian for his answer.
Ossian nods. "That we are hunting the Klybesians is well known of course. We probably need to involve more people. And let them know the details. But who to trust? I suggested Jerod because I trust him on issues like this despite our differences."
"Who's Jerod?" Regenlief asks, looking to both Brennan and Ossian for an answer.
Brennan, who had been collecting his thoughts to figure out the tangle of who and how and when they should share this information out, is quite grateful for a simple question with a simple answer, even if it's only the tip of an oncoming iceberg.
"Short answer: He's my cousin, and my friend. Longer answer: Jerod is a Prince of Amber by virtue of having been Eric's son during the brief period Eric was King of Amber. I never knew Eric," Brennan says. "I came to Amber too late for that.
"Longest answer is embedded in the capsule summary of the Family, and it touches on something I wanted to ask anyway. Oberon had a lot of wives and lovers over the centuries. Memory currently runs as far back as Cymnea, who bore Osric, Finndo, and Benedict. Osric sired Reid and Cneve. Benedict sired Lilly, Fletcher, and... a confusing array of relatives on the far side of the Tree. Finndo, though. Finndo sired a confusing array of relatives on this side of the tree including supposedly the line of Asgard. It may be very important later to know if you descend from that line-- I think the right name would be 'Bestla,' Finndo's daughter.
"After Cymnea came Faiella, who bore Eric, Corwin, Caine and Deirdre. Eric was briefly King of Amber, making his children Prince Jerod and Princess Cambina." His face falls despite his best efforts and he decides not to say anything more about that just now. "Corwin sired Celina who is Queen of Rebma for entirely different reasons, and Prince Merlin. Caine sired no one we know of, and Deirdre bore Signy and Marius."
Brennan leaves off the narrative for Ossian to pick up as he chooses.
Ossian nods. "Bear in mind that the time is complicated, so the order of things is...confusing. So Oberon married Clarissa. A woman from chaos. She's still alive last I heard." Ossian glances at Brennan.
"From Oberon and Clarissa comes the redheads. Fiona, Bleys and Brand. As far as I know Brand was quite a bit younger than the other two. Fiona has a daughter, Brita with one of the Asgardian Gods, and a son, Conner. Bleys has Paige and Edan. The Klybesians are in Edan’s home shadow, by the way.
"And Brand's children are Brennan and Ambrose." Ossian adds with a shrug. "Brand is commonly known as causing Ragnarok."
"You left out my half-sister Chantico," Brennan says, while Regenlief is mulling that over. "Not really Family, yet, and not to be trusted."
Regenlief's eyebrows rise a little for a moment while she processes those last statements. She looks at Brennan in a way that he can easily read as "we're not finished with this discussion" but instead of saying anything, she nods.
Brennan nods: He's not avoiding, but he is trying to stay on a topic.
Ossian raises an eyebrow, but leaves the Aunt for now. Regenlief does not need the "I have an AUNT?!" discussion.
"So your father is the Loki of Amber, is what you're telling me," she says to Brennan. "Which is why it's important to find a kinsman you actually trust to help us with the rutter." She's condensing a lot of information in short words but she clearly expects both Brennan and Ossian to take the connective leaps with her.
Brennan nods, "Yes, basically. Given everything that's happened, we need people who can be trusted to put the good of Amber-- or now, the good of the Realms-- above personal self-interest.
"To finish the family introduction course, since you'll be meeting many of these people tonight: Between Bleys and Brand is Llewella, born of Moins," Brennan mugs at that to indicate it's a sore spot in many quarters. "Llewella's daughter Khela was briefly Queen of Rebma. She was also a good friend, and would have been on the short list. After Brand: Flora, born by Dybele. Her son Lucas is dead, but her daughter Silhouette is alive. After that, Huon the little bastard," Brennan says with evident contempt. "But his daughter Folly is good people, as they say. Then Julian, Gerard and Ysabeau were born by Rilga. Julian's children Daeon, and Dione, are dead, his daughter Robin lives, and his son Jovian is... away. Gerard's children are Solange and Vere. And last, Paulette bore Random, currently King of Xanadu and head of the Family, as well as Mirelle who is dead. Random's sons are the Princes Martin and Garrett."
Brennan blows out a lungful of air. "We're leaving out a tangled mess in the Courts of Chaos, most of whom are unreliable at best, hostile at worst. A few folks of Ossian's generation or beyond, especially children," he shrugs. "It gets complicated. But of all that, the ones I'm sure Ossian and I will agree on are Jerod and Folly. Chantico and most of the ones from Chaos are right out."
He looks to Ossian for his opinions now that the cousins are on the table, so to speak.
"Worse than Odin's high hall. At least these all sound like they're human and not--" Regenlief considers that and finished "--eight-legged steeds. At least not in the Amber side relations. Whom I assume I'll be meeting during this gathering" But she, too, looks to Ossian for his judgement on which of the cousins are reliable.
Ossian nods. "And we must not confuse trust with liking. Silhouette is already deeply involved in this mess, so I suggest we include her. What about Brita? She's trustworthy, but maybe too trusting in other relatives?"
Brennan tries, and probably fails, to avoid making a face at the mention of Silhouette.
A face that Regenlief doesn't miss, but also files under "later".
"Brita was close to Reid, too, don't forget. He was her other mentor," Brennan explains to Regenlief. "What's this about the Klybesians being in Edan's shadows, though? Does Edan know? I'll be meeting him this afternoon to see what his new Order of Knights is about."
"I came straight here, haven't had time to talk with Edan. But he needs to know. I and Silhouette were actually looking for enemies of the Klybesians. Instead we found monks posing as science clerics. Unless I am totally mistaken this was at least very close to Edan’s home." Ossian looks angry.
"We investigated, but they found us... where we were not supposed to go. I hope I did not wreck the place too much when we fled.
"Where this places Edan, I do not know."
Regenlief not having a lot to add, she mostly listens and nods in the appropriate places. But she does comment, "They use technology to buy themselves tolerance and into the ruling classes in Shadows where they think it benefits them. I've seen it before."
The page leads [Silhouette] back to Random's majordomo, and the circle around him dissipates as she approaches.
He smiles and bows as she approaches. "Ah, Lady Silhouette, thank you for your time. I was asked by your sister-in-law to pass an invitation from her to you. She would like for you to have a chance to meet your nephew and niece, but does not wish to perturb your Mother, who is naturally concerned for her friend the Queen.
"If your Ladyship would be amenable to such a meeting, I am empowered by Lady Solace St. Cyr to arrange it."
Silhouette pauses for a moment, struck quiet. He's caught her off-guard, and it is an unfamiliar sensation. "Forgive me, Lord Winter," she finally says. "I'm still adjusting to the concept of possessing family, let alone nieces and nephews. Yes, please. I would be delighted to meet with Lady Solace and her children." Another pause, her voice dropping low. "This will not cause her undue difficulty with my Mother will it? If so, I would not place that burden upon her."
Gilt smiles, conspiratorially, "Lady Silhouette, please be reassured that I am qualified to arrange clandestine meetings in this castle and that his Ineffable Majesty the King relies on me to make sure that such events do not create a burden of undue difficulty.
"Would you prefer to meet in the gardens or in one of the family rooms? I would recommend such a visit be today, before either Edan's soiree or tomorrow's discussions. If you need to rest or otherwise prepare, then this afternoon might be opportune." Gilt looks at his notepad, just briefly. There's another item on it for Silhouette.
Silhouette's heart stirs at the sight. Few things are more attractive than someone with organizational skills and proper lists. A gentle smile thaws her glacial features.
"And speaking of your cousin, Edan has extended invitations to all of his family that are in Xanadu for tonight's formalities. If you need assistance, I can send a seamstress with a collection of suitable gowns."
Silhouette nods, folding her hands together. "A family room would be most suitable, and undoubtedly safer. Less opportunities for one of Mother's little birds to spot us. I am available whenever the Lady wishes.
"As for tonight, I'd be most appreciative of a good seamstress. Reds and golds are preferable. Lord Edan struck me as a man who enjoyed the Flame."
"It does seem to be his inner nature, yes. I did not know his grandmother, but I have heard stories that she, too had that nature." He looks at his flock of pages. "Marzipan will show you to your room, and arrange anything you need, such as the path to the baths. When you are ready to meet your nephew and niece, send for Page Yaw. She will take you to a suitable private space.
"Marz, please take Lady Silhouette to her room and assure that she has all her needs, including the seamstress."
An older page nods. "This way, My Lady."
Silhouette dips her head toward Gilt, "Thank you for your kindness, Lord Winter. Your eye for details is impressive and appreciated. Until next we meet."
She turns to follow the older page to her chambers.
Marzipan is attentive and helpful and doesn't leave unless dismissed. "If you will return here 20 minutes before you need to leave the castle, I will have several gowns for you to choose from, and a seamstress to make any adjustments needed and to sew you in. Will you need to ride in the gown, or merely dance? Shall I send for any food for you? Lord Winter isn't as used to the Castle's ways, and their comings and goings and odd mealtimes."
There are a number of styles of clothes available for daywear, including riding habits with pants or split skirts, as well as more traditional medieval dresses with kirtles. Silhouette has seen all of them in Xanadu.
When Silhouette is refreshed, dressed, and ready to go, a new page arrives to show her to the sun room. "It's only a sun room in the mornings, Lady Silhouette, but it is open to the King's upper garden."
The room is small, and the tall but delicate doors are opened to allow the breeze from the waterfall to waft inside. Outside, Silhouette can see two children running around with a somewhat hapless young woman in tow. Seated on a divan, watching the children, is Solace, Lady St. Cyr. She rises when Silhouette enters.
Silhouette drifts in like an autumnal shadow - all fiery reds and muted golds. She immediately smiles at Solace, lowering her eyes respectfully. "Milady Solace. Thank you for allowing me this meeting. I am most grateful for your hospitality."
A hint of a smile shapes as the children continue their antics. "I hope you and yours are in good spirits today."
Solace takes her hands and squeezes them warmly. "We are, thank you and thank you for coming. I don't want to let my late husband's penchant for secrecy deprive my children of the joys of family. They tell me you are his older sister. I can scarcely believe it." She sit on the divan, leaving room for Silhouette, if she chooses.
"Shall I call the children?"
Silhouette joins Solace on the divan, "My status as his sister remains in debate, and an issue of some controversy. I'm not even certain he knew of my existence, in truth. It saddens me that we never had the opportunity to meet. So, you offer me a rare gift today, milady."
She laces her fingers together, "I would be most grateful to meet them now. However, might I know their names first? Forgive my ignorance."
"Philippe is my son, and my daughter is--" Solace smiles, perhaps at the ridiculousness of the name in the overall scheme of things "--Hope. Your nephew and niece. My mother-in-law presumes a great deal about how things should be done, particularly where Lucas' legacy is concerned. This, however, is in my gift, and I am glad to be able to bestow it freely on you." Her voice rises then, in a sing-song maternal inflection. "Philippe, Hope, come join us to meet your Aunt Silhouette!"
A few moments later the two children come in: they have their mother's (and grandmother's) fairness about them. Hope is about five, Silhouette might guess, and has that chubby adorability. Philippe is perhaps three, and comes holding hands with his nurse. Both are dressed as children of the court of Paris.
"You're our auntie?" says Hope, looking up at Silhouette with wide eyes. "I didn't know we had one for a long time."
Silhouette tries her best not to look imposing. It's a challenge, granted, but she manages to create the passable facsimile of humanity. Apparently, the children's exuberance has worn off on her.
"Indeed I am, Lady Hope," she says, extending her hand. "It is my great pleasure to meet you. Your mother was most kind in allowing us to finally meet."
Her forest-shadow gaze turns to the young boy, wondering if her brother's features are there. "And this handsome fellow must be Sir Philippe."
With a smile, she says, "I would have made you both toys, but I didn't know what you liked."
The children are both blonde, having their mother's (and grandmother's) coloring. It's not immediately obvious to Silhouette which features other than that might have belonged to Lucas.
The mention of toys seems to brighten up both children, unsurprisingly. Hope says. "Oh, thank you, so nice of you to think of us," in a way that tells Silhouette that Florimel has had a lot of influence on her upbringing.
"What do we say, Philippe?" Solace nudges her younger son.
"Thank you, Aunt Sil-wet," Philippe manages, stumbling over her name.
Silhouette smiles at Philippe's attempt, "You're more than welcome, Philippe. Before we part, I want you to tell me what your favorite animal is. And, with your mother's permission, I will make toys for you both. I believe it is an aunt's prerogative - if not her Duty - to spoil her niece and nephew." She looks to Solace for confirmation.
"Now, Hope. Tell me of yourself. What do you study?"
Solace smiles and inclines her head; it's clear the permission to make toys will be forthcoming.
"I can read, and draw, and dance, and sew a little, and mama says I should learn how to draw a bow, that grandmere Florimel is an archer and so I can be one too. And I can count up to a hundred, and do my plusses and minuses. Mama reads me history and etiquette, from Paris and Amber. And Philippe takse lessons with me sometimes too, but he's not very good at reading and numbers," Hope confesses.
"Yet," Solace reminds her. "You're doing very well for your age, Philippe."
The boy, who had been wilting a little at his sister's lack of praise, brightens at the sign of his mother's approval again.
Silhouette nods to Hope, "Wonderful, young one. You shall show me some of your art on our next visit, I pray? And when your grandmother dictates that you learn the artes liberales, I can assist in your studies." She winks conspiratorially at Solace, "We wish to keep Lady Flora pleased at all costs, yes?"
"Of course," Solace says in a voice in which Silhouette can hear the steel under the velvet glove.
She leans forward, smiling at the young man, "Do not fret, Philippe. At your age, I preferred catching lizards to numbers. It wasn't until I slept inside a wyvern's heart that I learned my love of the numeric language.
"So tell me what you enjoy to do?"
"I like to dance," says Hope. "I want to be a ballerina when I grow up."
Philippe says, "I like to draw, like Papa."
Silhouette grins brightly at Hope, "Then I know exactly what to give you when next we meet."
Her attention turns to Philippe, "He drew did he? Yes, I believe I'd been told that. I'm sure you're quite the artist. I hope you'll draw something for me, yes? Hrm. I think I know what present to give you, as well.
"Now, only to find out what your mother wants," she says. She winks at the children, half-whispering, as if they're a trio of conspirators. Not very skilled conspirators, considering the subject of the conversation is not a foot from them.
"I need you two to watch your mother and then tell me what surprise to get her. It'll be our little secret. Can I trust you two to help me in this?"
Conner sees to checking in and if no one in the castle see fit to snag him, Conner decides to head out into Xanadu city and see how it has been developing. He is particularly interested to see which Amber merchants have settled in.
The city is bigger than ever, and seemingly growing in all directions. Scarlett, who was an innkeeper Conner knew in his sailing days with the Navy, has an upscale establishment now. Rumor has it she has a child by Lucas.
There's a transient camp, where people who came from Amber but haven't finished setting up accommodations are taken care of. In the early days of the trump gateway, it was a tent city, but basically, it has more permanent housing now.
The docks are busy and at this time, even ships that were planning to leave are holding back so they can carry news from Xanadu outward. Lord Captain Marius is in the Portmaster's office, or so they say.
A number of Ambassadors have set up homes in the city, mostly near the Mayor's Palace, which is far from palatial.
On the edge of town, Edan has set up a stables and training grounds for the Knights of the Order of the Lamp. The order is being introduced tonight at a formal ball, and it is the talk of the marketplace. Many of those not attending are providing goods or services for attendees.
The Lord Mayor is still Ash, formerly a confederate of Random and Folly in Texorami.
It is an odd feeling to be nostalgic in a new place but that is exactly what happens when Scarlett is mentioned. Conner decides to see what she has made of herself and this upscale place of hers.
Scarlett's is a large, well-built showroom on the southern arm of Xanadu Bay, near the docks, but not very close. It's closer to the future well-to-do neighborhoods, without being in them.
Conner is greeted at the door by a majordomo who he recognizes as having been employed at many of the finer drinking establishments and clubs of Amber. He seems to have been hired because he knows people. "Lord Conner, an honor to have you join us. May I get you a private table on the second floor, or would you like to be nearer to the stage?" Onstage, a small band is warming up, not a large group, but enough to accompany a singer. "Would you care to dine, or can I send you the wine captain?"
It's a comfortable room, and in some ways reminiscent of the Red Mill. Scarlett is not immediately visible, but the building is large and it's early yet.
"A table by the stage." Conner decides. "Send me the wine captain and tell your cook that I put myself in his or her hands for a light meal. Impress me." He challenges.
Conner is shown a table at the front, where he has an excellent view of the stage, and what is probably most important, he can see and see everyone entering the restaurant. It is definitely a vantage spot for those who wish to see and be seen.
The singer on stage is young, talented, and attentive to her audience. She's just barely old enough to carry off the songs of regret and lost loves. It's not a setlist that would make a man want to go back to sea, except to return to a distant love. Her voice is deep and the three-piece band behind her is versatile, but knows that she's the attraction.
Conner claps politely at all the right points and occasionally graces the singer with a smile.
The wine captain arrives and asks Lord Conner's preferences of the evening. He offers a few choices that Conner assumes came from the cellars at the Prince or the Red Mill.
Conner orders a bottle of sweet white wine, a high end Riesling equivalent.
The kitchen sends out a dish of cold Bellum-style soup. It's a difficult dish to do well, but this is well done.
As the main course is delivered, a striking woman comes over to Conner's table. Conner knows her. Her name is 'Scarlett' and this is her place.
Conner remembers her from years past, before he was a royal. She worked at the Red Mill when she was younger, which explains the quality of service. Both she and he have come up in the world since those days. She sits across from him and smiles. "How nice to see you again, my Lord. Welcome to Scarlett's."
Conner matches her smile with one of his own. "It seems a lifetime ago since we last met, Scarlett. Two actually." He adds after a moment's pause. "I see the move to Xanadu has agreed with you. Has the city discovered this gem in its midst?"
"You flatter me," she says, her face turning slightly red, like her hair. "I have become a fixture of society, my Lord. As have you, though you have come further than I have. While we had a difficult start, 'Scarlett's' is a favorite of Princes and Lords and we are on good terms with Lord Mayor Ashe.
"I took the opportunity to come here early, and to get established before the other places moved. It was a great chance to re-invent myself.
"Xanadu has been very good to me, and I hope I am good to her.
"But speaking of gems hidden in the mists, you spent decades in the Navy and hid your parentage. How did you decide to reveal your true self?"
"As with so many things in life it came down to timing and location." Conner smiles. "I arrived in Amber in the time between the Sundering and His Majesty's return. The method of my arrival made it pretty obvious that I could travel as the Royals did and Amber needed all the help it could get. So I did not try to hide my parentage when asked about it. The need for secrecy had passed."
She smiles back and leans in. "Indeed, and I shall share with you one of my secrets, now well-known to your cousins. My youngest son, Maximillian is your nephew. His father is the late Lord Lucas. While I am not a great Lady of the Court, I am Max's mother, and that seems to matter." She pauses, waiting to see his reaction to the news.
Conner simply nods and eats another spoonful of soup. "I had heard as much and the mother of any of the family most definitely matters." Conner looks up from his soup. "As do grandmothers. Have you come to an arrangement with the Princess Florimel?"
"I have left that challenge for the future. She hasn't yet taken an interest in Max." She lifts a glass and drinks from it. "The King has, and I think that has meaning. And his brother has as well."
Conner nods again and then adds. "If you have not heard already, the King has called a family conclave. I know not my Aunt's mind, but the future may arrive sooner as a result."
"Did you know if you have any children, Lord Conner, from when you were a dashing young sea-captain of Amber's navy? I recall that I was not the only woman who caught your eye."
There is a loud clang of metal on china as Conner's spoon lands heavier than intended. "That is an oddly specific question to ask within minutes of renewing an old acquaintance." Conner notes. "As is your first come to think of it." Conner leans in closer. "I don't recall you as a coy one, Scarlett. If you have something to say, go ahead and say it."
"Fine," she says, not loudly but quickly, as if she needs to get the words out of her mouth fast. "I didn't know it at the time, and you weren't your Lordship then, but Raven is yours. Ours.
"I was thinking you'd've guessed, once you met Raven, seeing as how Raven means 'Corby', which is what you was calling yourself back then, at least to the girls from the Red Mill..."
She looks to see how Conner takes the news.
Conner leans back and drains his wine glass. He grabs the bottle and pours himself another glass. "I have not yet met the estimable Captain Raven." Conner replies evenly. "So if there is any obvious family resemblance, this news has not reached me." Conner shrugs. "We were hardly exclusive Scarlett. How certain are you that Raven is mine?"
"You was the most likely at the time, but you weren't the King's Nephew then. And then you were, and The Vale was lost in the war, so no point in mentioning it.
"Then Raven was back, and had the King's warrant of family. And now you're here, as if you knew we had unfinished business."
She smiles. "I was a popular girl, but not that popular with the Princes. You're the Da."
Conner nods thoughtfully and drains the second glass of wine. He is not conscious of pouring the third. "Very well. There is a test my mother can perform to verify your claim. If it is borne out," Conner winces at the unintended choice of word, "then I will officially claim him as my own. What have you told Raven?"
"She hasn't asked in years, until she turned up royal and all. I told her, back then, that her Da was a handsome Naval officer and I've told Prince Jerod about how we met and you never gave me your name, that one time back dockside, when your man was hurt and couldn't leave because of the curfew and you didn't want to turn him over to the half-hand."
Scarlett smiles. "That was a pleasant night. That was quite a while before the Red Mill, too. Your injured man was the one who told me your name was Corby. I named the baby Corax, after you. You can imagine my shock later when that wasn't really your name."
She looks at her own drink, which Conner suspects is mostly water. "When you talk to Captain Raven, I want you to say that he needs to tell you everything, before you go to the Princess Fiona."
"So I've got Lugg to thanks for the name eh?" Conner chuckles. "Its just as well. Two people with the same name in a family as long lived as ours would be a recipe for trouble. I look forward to meeting Raven. It will be eventful if nothing else."
"Someday Raven might thank me for raising him to be self-sufficient and teaching him to live whatever life he wanted, but right now, I'm still the one who always said 'No'. That's fine. Raven survived the death of two Kings, and didn't end up dead yet, so I count that as something.
"I hope he's not as much trouble to you and to th' King as he were when he was my charge. And that's all the suggesting there might be two sides to things I'm going to do before you introduce yourself to our child."
"Only two sides would be a light change of pace." Conner observes. "I've been juggling five or six sides to stories I've only got half the pages to." Conner sighs. "If Raven finds you before I do, extend an invitation to seek me out. I will do right by our son. Never fear on that score."
She smiles. It's hard to tell if it's a happy smile or not. "I have no fears at all, Lord Conner. I raised him never expecting to see you again. That brings us back to my first question then, but re-phrased. Does Raven have any brothers or sisters? If that's not 'is first question I don't know what will be."
She looks around. "Whatever happens, know you're welcome here. It's not Red Mill and it isn't going to be, but it's mine."
Some time as the morning is sliding from early to middle, one of the pages of Castle Xanadu manages to find Edan. This particular page is heavily burdened with with a number of missives, letters, and notes-- a number approaching a dozen, it seems. One of those happens to be for Edan, as he zeroes in on him as soon as he is spotted. "Lord Edan," the page says, after a bow according to the emerging Xanadhavian protocol, "I bear a message from Sir Brennan. He did not bid me wait for reply, though I shall if you require it."
The contents of the letter are in Brennan's breezy phraseology, if not his actual hand. He must be juggling multiple events, much as everyone else is today:
Cousin Edan, or should I soon say, my Brother Knight Commander,
Congratulations on the new appointment. In the rush of news and events, I'm not sure if anyone has filled you in on one of the finer points of protocol for such situations: The new KC covers lunch for the established ones. And we know how important protocol is. The Iron-Grill Market comes highly recommended-- will you join me, today at Sext? I am fascinated to hear your plans for your Order, and to know if I can assist.
The Iron-Grill market, if Edan chooses to join Brennan, is an open-air patio cafe shared by a number of permanent and semi-permanent vendors, and an informally shared staff of runners, the overall effect of which is something like a distributed tapas market. Brennan will be there at the appointed hour, drinking coffee in the shade of the sun.
Edan sniffs at the smell of coffee in the air as he walks in, and smiles at his cousin. "Brennan! A pleasure to see you again. I am glad you have provided me the excuse to try this place. Ah, when you said 'cover lunch', did you mean handfuls of gold, or more like saddlebags?"
Brennan rises to greet Edan as soon as he sees him.
"It's an evolving protocol," he says. "We'll figure it out as we go along. I took the liberty of ordering some preliminaries, but I'm told the Market conquers large appetites through a multitude of small dishes. Since I haven't eaten since Avalon, the notion has some appeal."
"I doubt I'll be the first, so let me be the most recent to congratulate you on the new appointment and the new Order. I've been mostly out of touch, so please-- tell me all about it!" he asks.
"Thank you," Edan says. "Where do I begin? There must always be a beginning. I suppose this story would start with Trumps. Specifically, Random's. Yes. You see, more than one of our Elders had heard of a sorcerous experiment with Space that I was undertaking. They said I needed to lay my hands on some Trumps, which did a better job." Edan shakes his head. "The point of the experiment was to see if it could be done, not replace the Family cards. Still, I sought out Random at Fiona's behest. He told me a story of a pack of Trumps that he lost before the war, while he was being chased by grackleflints. He asked me to go recover it."
Brennan nods in sympathy, "It's hard to distinguish between the Voice of Experience, and the Voice of Just Do It My Way. I'm guessing your father wasn't one of the consultees-- he's far more to the tolerant end of experimentation than most of our Aunts and Uncles." The moreso, he doesn't add, when it's our time wasted and he gets to pick up the benefits. It's not a bad research model, really, aside from the occasional newly grown island. "What was the experiment? This is the first I've heard of it."
"It has to do with my heritage, on my mother's side," Edan says. "The afriti of the Land of Peace can walk through fire; in other words, they can jump from one flame to the next in a manner similar to parting the veil. As the only one of my kind who can walk through shadow, I extended that ability through shadow as well. Set up a network of permanent magical fires in different shadows, and voila! Place trumps that only I can use. Or, if you prefer, a method of parting the veil that is near-instantaneous and doesn't do the same kind of damage to the involved shadows."
Brennan gives a thoughtful grunt to that, and thinks about it for a minute. "What makes you think you're not still damaging the shadows? And what makes you think it's secure? Have I anticipated most of the Elder objections to the idea? I'd take the second one a little more seriously," he adds. "The way you say it is almost phrased as a challenge."
"Those are good questions," Edan says. "I haven't made empirical measurements yet, but I haven't finished everything I've wanted to do. What I can say is that Parting the Veil is an assault on the senses of those who embrace Order. Walking through Fire doesn't feel the same.
"Security-wise, I've set wards and created guardians for each of the three locations in my little network, and the charms have to be maintained or they decay and vanish over time. Have I mentioned I'm the only one who can use it? It's based on Similarity and Space. If someone wanted to travel through the fire, it would be easier to figure out the destination and Part the Veil themselves than fight through my wards...and if they could do that, they wouldn't need the fire in the first place."
Brennan looks highly skeptical at this claim of security-by-personal-identity, but lets it pass. As interested as he is in the technique, it's not the main point.
He is curious about the whole thing, curious enough to listen to an answer, but not to let it derail the story of the new Order. "Regardless: Random lost a pack of Trumps to Grackleflints? Yes, I can see why he'd want them back, at that. Those things do seem to get around," he says. "Who were they working for?"
"Also a good question. It was Fiona, at the time when Brand was being held in the tower. I traveled to Emil, leader of the Brass Legion, to negotiate for their return. But the grackleflints who had the deck were waylaid by the Klybesians. They have the deck now."
Edan leans back. "To get the monks to give back what is ours, one must either give away something precious that they want...or convince them it is less trouble to do what we want. That requires an army. And thus, the Order was born."
"Ah, the Klybesians," Brennan says, quite sourly. "They also seem to get around. I can see the need to retrieve those cards. But I am confused: What makes an army the right tool of persuasion for a cross-Shadow religious cult? Is not an army predicated on the idea that the enemy can be made to stand their ground and give battle? Why would they not see you coming and simply disperse, go to ground, and wait a hundred years?"
Edan frowns as Brennan speaks, but then the frown disappears. "Ah. Forgive my choice of words. Instead of 'army', then, 'a force of men capable of dismantling a chapter house, fast enough to retain some element of surprise, with tactics available to meet and perhaps overcome the proto-sorcerors and magicians that will be part of the defense'." He smiles a little. " 'Army' is not so much of a mouthful. 'Order' fits better. Will some or most of the Klybesians try to disperse? Of course they will, if we are not fast enough. I intend to harry them in ways that I think they have not been harried in a long time. There will be clues, and prisoners. There will be a trail to the next place, and the next. Eventually, I will degrade things to a point where they will try to fight, or talk. I will be prepared for either eventuality. My demands are very simple."
"Don't mistake me, cousin," Brennan says with a glacially thin smile. "I hardly mean to discourage you from your goal. Quite the contrary, actually-- there are a great many people in the Family with reasons to see this group punished. How far do your goals and your writ extend? Are you simply trying to retrieve stolen property, or is that just the formal cause of war to exterminate them?"
"Random just wants his cards back," Edan says. "Beyond that, he has not encouraged me, or discouraged me, from taking any specific action. I think we all see the Klybesian Order as a clear and present danger to the safety of Amber and Xanadu. I have questions for them, and I intend to ask those questions very hard. I believe that once we go down this path, we will discover more questions that need answering." A pause. "I am as keen as any of us to have them answer for their actions. I will continue my course until the full deck is recovered, at which point I will reassess, or I am ordered to stand down. Until then, they will know that a Prince of Amber stood against them. There will be blood."
"Yes," Brennan says, with deceptive mildness. "Yes there will. I'd like to put the one that snatched my son to the question, if he's still alive.
"This is your command and your task, Edan, despite my personal investment in it. And that is perhaps all to the good. But in that light, I ask: What help can the Ruby give the Lamp?"
"I'm glad you asked that," Edan says, "for I am fighting against time."
His expression softens somewhat. "Let me explain what I want to do. Those knights that I have brought to the city from the Dar-es Salaam, they fought with me against the hamaaj. They have fought against magic and chaos. They beat back the Black Road. I trust them. But more time has passed than I realized; there were less of them than I had hoped, and civilization has dulled their edge.
"The Order of the Lamp will be the leaders and officers for the real army, forces gathering in the near-shadows outside Broceliande. But those riders and fighters, they will be little more than recruits. They will have to be separated and trained in cohorts as they arrive. They must become champion equestrians. They must learn to fight and move in varying amounts of magic and sorcery. They must learn to travel with me through Shadow. If I am successful, we will have a cavalry that specializes in that kind of fighting, one that will counter the Klybesians...and since they are based here, perhaps a counter for the Moonriders when they come.
"The Lamp needs practice. They need to drill, and drill again. They need equipment: long guns, crossbows, horses, tack, mortars, swords. If you have suppliers you trust that would not balk at the extra work, I need them. I need Knights of the Ruby that would be willing to train with, and against us. As soon as I can have them ready, we will have to ride."
"Yes, I share a similar problem," Brennan says. "And I intend to execute a similar solution.
"For the moment, the one common bond between the Knights of the Ruby is shared military service. In particular, at the Courts of Chaos. Even the newest addition, Sir Dignity, served there as my squire. That won't always be the case, of course. I have my own thoughts about the customs-- and customs of entry-- I wish to encourage. I do not, at the moment, intend them to become an army or the core of an army. I intend them to be a general collection of specialists, everything fro commandos to scholars to magicians to logisticians. Our collection of force multipliers. It's the best organization I can think of for an Order with three co-equal Knights-Commander. Four, if Jovian comes back to us."
If that structure also happens to follow Brennan's own philosophy of versatility, well, that's as it may be.
"That being the case," Brennan says, "I've already selected a number of them to come back with me to Avalon to augment the force I've fallen in with there. But our forces and needs are not the same." He's evidently used his time talking as time to think as well, because he gives a number of names with little hesitation: "Sir Crow, cavalry from a family with equestrian roots somewhere back in Shadow. You'll like him. Sir Hub, older fellow, built like a brick and just as steady. Sir Hale. I don't know him well, but he's one of Lilly's inductees, and I trust her judgment. I need to talk to Marius about the next two: Sir License. Good judge of the field, good overall strategist. If you need to split your force for training or for real, he's a good candidate. And Sir Monsun. Marius likes him. You might not. I'm not sure if I do, the mouthy little bastard, but he has a certain genius that he applies to breaking as many rules as he can. When you need to show your men the virtue of unconventional thinking, turn the Monsun loose." Brennan thinks that last one over, then adds, "If you don't think Monsun is appropriate for your force, I have someone else more conventional in mind. And I'll see what the status of Jovian's inductees is, too."
Then he adds, "There's a price, but I don't think you'll mind paying it: Grow my people, Cousin. Push them. Sharpen them. Teach them things they don't already know. Time permitting, if any of them show any aptitude for magic or sorcery, nurture it. I could do that last myself, but I want them to learn from someone who isn't me. Yes?"
Edan nods at intervals, memorizing the names. "I will contact them beginning tomorrow, and put them in touch with my captains," he says.
"As far as equipment and armaments go," he continues, "The King has graciously given the Lamp an infusion of gold to start us out. If money talks, we should be able to have a discussion with your suppliers about speed and quality and quantity. My engineers are retrieving the gift now. Slowly. Random dropped it into the bottom of the lagoon."
He spreads his hands, almost like an apology. "I have little choice but to build a sizeable force. I was told that the Klybesian Order has a mercenary army in their employ, led by one they call the Turcopolier. Eventually we will run into them."
Brennan hesitates a long moment, working his mind over something-- probably the lagoon-- before saying, "No. They'll go to you, not the other way around. They're not being asked, they're being told.
"For suppliers... no, I suppose Xanadu follows Amber in not exactly being a hub of manufacturing and armaments. Most of the forces I've raised were locally raised for local purposes, or close enough-- I wasn't exactly trying to be high profile in those days. I'd also he highly wary of gunpowder weapons for all the reasons everyone will already have told you. That said, my go-to location would probably be Reme. I haven't been there in a long time, so I have no specific contacts, but Reme is a land empire, and an old one at that. They have an imperial backbone for their military, but supplemented it with a vigorous policy of private, punitive expeditions when they felt the circumstances warranted it. It was a good way to move up from the moneyed class to the political class, and those content to remain the former did so by selling to the latter. The Remans might just be the most cynical people I've ever met," Brennan says. And coming from the son of Brand, that is not an empty statement.
"But they're sword, board and stirrup. Far on this side of the Tree, too, so they're not likely to have powder weapons. Not much change from generation to generation. For powder weapons..." he scratches his chin. "That's an awfully large amount of ground to cover. I don't think you want the stuff that's so advanced it's basically magic, so this suggestion is going to sound strange, but: Perhaps New Hong Vegas. It's a glitz-tech shadow, so they're going to try to sell you a load of stuff you probably don't want... but they will sell anything they can make to anyone who can pay. They will think you're crazy, but they will happily take your money and can probably set up a print run for long guns, cannons and possibly even artillery, as long as you supply the designs. But if anyone asks, I advised against it," Brennan says.
"What do we know about this Turcopolier? This is the first I've heard of it."
Edan notices he's reaching to scratch the back of his head, stops himself. "I've heard of New Hong Vegas, but never been there. The Land of Peace is at steam and gunpowder technology as well, but it is a longer trip. It might almost be worth it. And that other one, the one Corwin was at." He shakes his head.
"Turcopolier, yes. All I know is that he leads what army the Order commands. Just the name itself implies he commands light cavalry and mounted archers. His identity, and capabilities, are one of the questions I want to have answered from the Klybesians."
"Now I understand the need for an army," Brennan says.
"How does one lead an army for a group dispersed in Shadow?" The question comes fast. Fast enough that Brennan has had something on his mind close to this for some time.
"I don't think they are," Edan says. "Not very much. The more they disperse themselves through shadow, the less effective they are. Thus, they must be very mobile to make the hammer fall where needed. To get from place to place, they would need good working knowledge of natural shadow paths, or sorcery- something they apparently have in abundance- or, of course, Trumps and someone able to use them."
"Or a Family member," Brennan says.
"Aye," Edan says, softly, as if he were reluctant to bring up the possibility. He casually glances around before adding, "Have someone in mind?"
"By name, you mean? Someone we know?" Brennan is also cagey enough to keep his voice down. "No. We all pride ourselves on playing the long game, but this feels like something else. We've been surprised by long lost aunts and uncles more than once, and Benedict mentioned a few names, recently, so old even he wasn't certain they really existed. Another lost cousin in the scale of Artemis and her kin is possible, too."
Brennan hesitates uncharacteristically long over what he says next, probably less in deciding how to say it than deciding whether to say it at all.
"They kidnap children, too. In sufficient numbers to run an orphanage. That is where Brand found Ossian, after all."
"I did not know this," Edan says. Several things click in his head, from his expression. "I am sorry.
"My chief worry is that we will encounter this Turcopolier and it will be one of our elders," he continues. "If it is a new or long lost cousin...it is what it is. I will just have to decide then how to proceed."
"We only put it together recently," Brennan says. "On the one hand, it causes me to want to see if I can actually unmake a Shadow-- burn it right out of creation, as a warning. On the other hand, it's not hard imagine a world where Brand hadn't taken him out of there..." he trails off, at a rare unwillingness to follow a thought to its logical conclusion. "Something for the King to weigh in on, I suppose, but there's a reason I haven't dropped everything to turn my hand to this personally. Either way-- if it's another Huon it's still a Kingly matter."
Brennan returns to the business immediately at hand: "Do we have any leads on this Turcopolier? Finding a particular person in Shadow is a lot harder than finding an object."
Edan shakes his head in response. "You had it right, it was my plan. I will let them come to me. And to do that, I will have to make enough noise so that I get their attention. In the meantime, hopefully, I will gather some useful information about what I want and the organization at large."
Celina is damp at this point, but the towel she's been using as a mantle for her hair is soaked. She leaves it at the doorway of the room Corwin has indicated has good light for a sketch session.
Celina settles herself on a spindly white piece of furniture with silver traces. It seems more solid than it looks. Still it seems less practical than something her Father would like, so she thinks of Alice and Flora and which one moves what furniture around in the palace.
Celina looks to Folly. "Oh, what joys you have had, gone such a short time. How is your daughter?"
"My daughter is glorious," Folly says with a wide grin, "and very much her parents' child. She's got her daddy wrapped around her little finger." She has settled cross-legged onto a cushioned bench of similar design sensibility; her pencil moves over a page in her sketchbook in long, fluid, confident lines. "It's been much more time where we are than in other places, I think, so she's already walking and talking. And surfing."
She falls silent for a moment as she concentrates on a detail she wants to get just right; when she speaks again, her tone is more subdued. "Our goal was to keep her away from court -- any court -- for as long as possible. Not just to let her have a normal-ish childhood, but to try to keep her away from the scrutiny of those that might use her. But all that talk of queens in exile on the one hand, and queens looking for a new host on the other...." Folly gives a little shudder. "You've studied... metaphysical techniques, I guess you'd call them... beyond just Pattern and Trump, right? Do you know of techniques that might be used to find someone of our bloodline even if that person were unknown to you?"
Celina radiates happiness, her thoughts of the thrill of shepherding young Lark, but it dims when the questions start. Celina considers how Martin is so much more qualified to answer, and yet her friend does not ask a redhead or a blonde this time. "Well, I think you'll be disappointed. Family Blood is like the Center, and around us build up reflections or echoes of truth, whether we think that way or not. Metaphysics fractals as we stay in a place, I think. Less so if we just pass through. So no, the best I have for you is logic and patience and discipline to assist finding a path to a Blood unknown. While a true Master of Pattern might get some small advantage to finding an undiscovered relative, I think it is like more like singing cetacean opera to a shark. It does not entertain the shark and reminds him he is hungry all the time." She offers her palms to Folly with a look that says, 'I know, not helpful.'
"That's... kind of comforting, actually," Folly says. "I mean, for all that it would be useful for us to track down certain of our relatives, I'm glad to hear it would not be so straightforward for others to use those tricks to find my daughter. And I think in this analogy I'm married to the shark, so...." She gives Celina a lopsided smile.
After a moment, her expression grows more serious. "So... am I completely mad for thinking maybe I should try finding your mother without bringing an army to back me up?"
"No," Celina offers simply. Her face sets into a complex emotion that is not worry or confidence, but something shaded between hope and bitterness. "I've tried to imagine how I shall reconcile with her. So it is not mad at all to open some diplomatic overture. The madness starts if she doesn't think she has leverage against Florimel unless she gets Martin (or Corwin) on her side. If she took you prisoner to parlay a defense with Martin or my Father, it would not sit well. Someone could get dead."
And because she thinks Folly already knows this, she just adds, "Lucas did something very bad. Maybe there were complications in what he tried and Moire thought he was going to kill her. If Moire has some version of events that we should hear, it is more likely you would get it and get out than almost anyone I can think of."
Folly is quiet a moment, thoughtful, as she works carefully on some small detail of her sketch. Then she says, "Though it happened after he left Rebma, I suppose she knows what happened to Martin. It's not out of the question that she could've thought Lucas meant her harm, at the very least, even without 'complications'. And from what I understand of her nature, a preemptive strike in response to a possible threat like that certainly seems within the realm of possibility." She gives Celina a querying look, inviting her opinion on that point.
Celina runs her fingers through her drying hair a few times. She's obviously working on describing her mother and it is not easy for her. "She's as old as many of the Elders of Amber, except she's a planner, unlike what history seems to say about my father, and some other princes. She certainly has the experience not to make impulse decisions. I have no clue why Lucas thought he would not be caught at what he was about, but yes, in such a dire case, she would be quick. She was quick.
"What I mean to get across is that she is not preemptive as a matter of course." Celina tilts her head and adds with much warmth, "I would not support you talking to her if I thought she would overreact to threats. For half a hundred reasons, I would not expect it. I threatened her once and she just grinned at me."
Folly can't help but grin at that herself. "Well, I can think of half a dozen ways she might've reacted like that, and not all of them necessarily imply that I would be safe... but on balance, that's comforting." She hesitates, thinking, then asks, "Do you think she intended that you would succeed her as ruler of Rebma? Assuming she didn't just expect to rule forever, that is."
"She ages," Celina responds even though it badly answers the question. Instead she forges ahead. "Yes. Moire expected to train me; did train me in her own cursed fashion. But you should understand I would have been one of her plans, perhaps not the main one. I was a plan that was not ripe. And whether a lie or a cloud of squid ink left behind by Mother's departure, there is a prophecy Queen Celina shall not live out the year. Moire shared it." Celina shows the shadow of a grin, "Loreena tends to use her sharpest words when she's most angry. She'll be pleased to dance in my shrine and water my remains."
Celina flips her hand as if to say, 'nevertheless'. "Moire has reason to think she'll be safer where she is, but needs to be ready to return in triumph upon my death."
"A prophecy," Folly repeats with a frown. "Does Moire cast cards as we do, or something similar -- which, as you know, can be difficult to interpret exactly? Or is this from some other source with a more direct and unambiguous line on what the future holds?" She pauses in her sketching and focuses on Celina, watching her body language as much as she listens to her words.
"Prophecy by Mirror is not a part of my learning," Celina says. "Nor would I want to have spent years chasing fleeting images of other possible Celina's. The few I've seen have been enough for me." Her body is anything but tense. It appears she could talk to Folly for days and days.
"So, whatever is glimpsed is just one possible future, you think?" Folly asks, to make sure she's following. "Which means the sharing of it was meant to warn you or rattle you, or maybe both...?"
Celina watches Folly's hands and smiles. "Such would not be useful unless you could steer into better possibilities. So as the crafter pursues images, you find those with more focus, additional layers that make them more probable, easier to find. So yes, it is a possible future, but at the point where you are acting upon it, it is a refined image, collecting hints from the various possibles." Celina adds, "Of course, Loreena shared it because it fit best with her own vision of the future, while taking away from me any chances of making Rebma thrive through my actions. What she did not consider was that knowing my life may be short, I have found greater faith in Rebma being whole for whatever time I have."
Folly smiles, looks down at the sketch, and adds several long, strong lines. "So, one possibility is that 'Queen Celina does not survive' -- which, with that phrasing, could imply merely a loss of title rather than personal death -- but either way, Moire lies in wait to return in the wake. But you spoke of imagining how you might reconcile with her. If you could make that happen, what do you think that compromise would look like? And how would you try to talk her into it?"
Celina doesn't quote Loreena's hard words on Celina's death since it was more than possible that her words were chosen in anger. Yet, Folly has put a finger on the high threshold for saving the situation with Moire. Celina gestures as if sculpting a plan out of the air of Paris, "She could not hope for forgiveness of the military, nor many of the families. For all the Huon did, he's managed well in Rebma's justice, so something like that could work for Moire. Since there is the matter of Flora's vendetta, it might work that Moire is in service at Xanadu rather than Rebma. King Random may have the greater claim and larger reason to make two and twenty years of service stick." Celina looks at the ceiling, turning more ideas into words, "But it might actually help Rebma more if Moire were to take a lesser role, and swear to release all Tritons, Children of Lir, and Llewella from previous oaths. I could see Moire as Special Archivist. Hmmmm."
"And what do you think would be the best way to convince her to submit to such justice, in either scenario?" Folly asks. "Would she only acquiesce under force or threat of force, or are there gentler appeals to reason that might work?" She hesitates, then continues, "I think I'm really asking what you think are her primary motivators The approach -- not to mention the chance of success -- is rather different if she's mostly motivated by a desire to wield power, or a love of Rebma, or...." She lifts her pencil from the pad and draws curlicues in the air as if they were invisible blanks to fill in. "Or maybe," she adds in a faintly ominous tone, "she does what she does for metaphysical reasons. Which... is a lot of why I want to talk to her."
Celina pauses a long time.
"I fail at every turn to understand her. She likes that." Celina cannot take the bitter edge out of the words, though she makes an effort. "Her reasons are her own. But I have learned that Moins was a much more fearsome figure. So you can imagine that power is quite important to Moire. The children of abusive ruthless people are shaped to defend themselves."
Whatever question or comment Folly intended to follow up with dies on her lips at that last sentence. She goes a bit pale and stops sketching to look at Celina, her expression grim as she sorts her thoughts.
After a long moment's silence, she flicks her gaze about the room as if to make sure they really are alone and unobserved. Then she says, hoarsely, "Martin doesn't know what happened to his mother. Neither does his father -- but I do. What I don't know, though, is was it by her own volition? Or did your mother put her up to it?" She watches Celina's expression closely to see if they're on the same page.
Celina looks a bit wary, "You know? He doesn't?" She pauses then sorting the phrasing and the defensive look about the room that Folly made. Celina reaches into her gown and tosses three crystals on a nearby tabletop. The crystals begin to release their power to scintillate, rising slowly into a glare that fills half the room.
Folly watches with interest; when she understands what Celina has done, she gives a nod of appreciation.
Celina gets up and crosses to Folly then, sitting the floor at her feet and putting a hand on her knee. "It was, I believe, of her own volition. She was counseled against it and would not listen. She would not be stopped any more than Khela. If she was driven to have that Power by circumstances, then yes, you can blame the Queen for the circumstances. In this Family, you can always blame the Throne. But no, I do not think Moire planned to discard Morganthe in such a way."
Folly blows out a breath that she probably didn't realize she was holding, and lays a hand over Celina's. "Thank you for that. I hope it will help me face Moire with more sympathy and less anger if and when the time comes. It's not so much that I thought she would intentionally cause her daughter harm; but I had wondered if she might've put her up to it because she thought it would work. Since it's a power she cannot master herself, I believe she lacks the insight to know whether others can do so. If there were any reason at all to suspect her daughter might have a chance, I figured she might've risked it for the good of Rebma -- but I can also well believe Morganthe might've come to it on her own."
Folly hesitates, and stares upward for a moment as if gathering her thoughts; her lower lashes seem to glitter in the glare of the crystals. "I hinted to... to Random a while ago that I knew something, but this is the first time I've come close to saying it out loud."
"My mother is pretty good at finding ways to make people angry, I think she figures it puts her ahead," responds Celina. "Do not let her discover so much about you. Be politic but not political, I suggest. If Moire has already committed to alliance with Chaosi or Moonriders, she may be more bold than you think."
Folly nods and squeezes Celina's fingers. "I'm not the poker player some of our relatives are, but I try to play my cards close to the vest... right up to the point that I think laying them on the table gives me more of a tactical advantage. With Moire, though -- and her supporters -- I shall try to be careful to reveal them sparingly." She seems on a more even keel now; she leans forward and lays a sororal kiss on Celina's forehead.
As she straightens, Folly asks, "If I do try to use Bend as a path to Moire, what other advice do you have?"
Celina frowns, "Bend is mortal. I find that in the Court of Rebma, the long vision of a queen may be understood as pure ruthlessness for the sake of power, hence I think that Bend and her brother only emulated what they felt were the strengths asked of them. Were they full of the will of Moire. Yes. Did it change them. Most certainly yes. I think Bend would do anything for Moire, and that gives advantage to you, if you can sail in that wind." Celina speaks more softly, "If Bend thinks you bring advantage to Moire, she will make sure you get there safely. If she thinks you represent a danger, she will never aid you."
"That may be an argument in favor of laying at least some of my cards on the table," Folly opines. "My own personal agenda should not be seen as any sort of threat, and I may be the least likely of my cousins to take an invitation to tea as an opportunity to raise an army to further my aims. But the bit about Bend's particular brand of ruthlessness is good advice; it sounds like perhaps I should work through some worst-case scenarios ahead-of-time, along with options for how to navigate around them."
She casts a glance at Celina's scintillation crystals to make sure they are still active. "On a completely different topic, I have one other thing I wanted to make sure to mention to you. It's about Caine, and the Klybesians. There is a possibility he could be involved with them: According to Corwin and Flora, way back in the time of Cymnea and Faiella he was involved with a religious order that eventually got kicked out of Amber, and that got him kicked out of the succession over his activities with them. And also, apparently he knows how to use Trumps to spy on people. So... until we know more, perhaps be careful what you tell him about any Klybesian investigations -- as well as what you talk about over trump, particularly to anyone whose card would be in his possession."
"Hmmm," Celina frowns, "good to know. I just offered him assistance in keeping trade moving to Amber. He did not seem particularly interested. So if there were old secrets there, the Monks may already know routes into Rebma."
"What were his interests, if I may ask? Assuming he showed any, that is." Folly gives a wry smile at the poker-faced ways of their elders.
Celina lowers her voice, they are sitting so close now. "I told Caine what the Monks had done to Master Reid and Marius. He seemed to know. I told him the Monks were considered enemies of Rebma. He was interested in caviar. Especially if I could send the sort Dem Harga'rel used to set aside for him. It could have been a code."
"...Or maybe he just really likes that caviar," Folly counters with a wry smile before they trail too far down what could be a rabbit-hole. "Still, it's... curious... that he should speak of the relations between Amber and Rebma by calling to mind a high-ranking Rebman who was murdered at a coronation in Amber. And what he misses is the caviar, not the man who sent it." She frowns. "Was trade with Amber part of Harga'rel's regular duties? Were he and Caine just really great pals? Or was he trying to stay on Caine's good side?"
"Yes, it made me curious," Celina agrees. "Enough so that I want my people to ask those questions. But also, I want them to do so without my hearing about it from the Families of Rebma, or from my Family of Amber/Xanadu." Celina smiles, "Because I'm not enamored of the entire throwaway comment being there as a measure for Caine to see how good my intelligence capabilities are. If you see what I mean..."
"Yes, and that does seem exactly like something he'd do," Folly agrees.
Celina nodded at the tiny glaring spheres, "The beads are about to fail, is there more? I can set out some additional..."
"No, that was the most important bit. I'm glad -- but not surprised -- to hear you are already exercising some caution on that front. I'll keep you posted if I learn more... but perhaps by some means other than trump. Speaking of which...." Folly smiles conspiratorially at Celina and taps the end of her pencil against her own nose. "Perhaps we should discuss what you would like your trump image to convey, if you have any thoughts on the matter...."
This last appears to catch Celina by surprise. "Well, it should convey me marrying Rebma." She gets up and sits by Folly. "What cautions do you have?"
"About trump images?" Folly asks, then continues, "Mostly that regardless of the style or the pose or the costume or the surroundings, it should in some way reflect your unchanging, core essence -- not just who you are now, or who you hope to be, but the you that is still you regardless of your circumstances, if that makes sense. So to your response, I ask: What is Rebma to you, and what about Rebma is deeply part of your essential being?" She grins. "You know, to start with an easy question."
Celina spends some time thinking. Finally she sighs, "I'm still learning about Rebma. However, I think there is something about both of us that is the same: at the moment of trial, when it seems the light shall be overwhelmed, we reveal our reserve of strength."
Folly's eyes sparkle. "I am suddenly reminded of the day we met. I plaited your hair and we talked of the symbolism of keeping one's power hidden until the correct moment. I don't think either of us could have predicted just how portentious that turned out to be."
She takes Celina's hand and squeezes it gently. "That gives me a pretty good idea what direction to go with your trump image, though."
Celina nods once. "Good. Has Lark said anything about me?"
"I think in her mind her education about things Rebman is still a jumble of fact and fairytale," Folly says with a fond smile. "But she knows you as a friend." Celina can hear the unspoken implication that that probably isn't true of all things Rebman. Maybe not even most things Rebman.
Celina nods slowly, thinking that it would probably be nice to think of Lark as a friend as well. Her expression gets a bit sad but returns to a pleasant calm. "Good. If you don't think the request odd, let me know if she has any dreams about me. But don't bias things by mentioning I was interested. If Lark mentions me or Rebma, just take note."
Celina can tell she has Folly's attention. "I take it you have some experience with that sort of thing?"
Celina puts her hand on top of Folly's. "My dreams are busy, yes, but not nice things like Lark showing up for a chat. However, children have far ranging imagination and boundaries. So I thought it would be prudent to warn you. Also, Lark talked to me during my Pattern walk, and it was probably the nicest thing that has happened to me recently, so I feel obligated to her."
Folly blinks, and a wistful smile spreads across her face. "She talked to me during mine as well, though she wasn't even conceived yet. How did you know it was Lark?"
"She had questions for me," Celina replies, "and I demanded she identify herself before I would trade questions with her. She was the granddaughter of my dead sister through her father." Celina pats and strokes Folly's hand. "How did you know it was her in your walk?"
"She called me 'mama'," Folly replies. "That was the biggest clue. And she had hair the color of straw." She chews her lip, remembering. "She chastised me for being in love with the sky. Which made sense at the time."
"I think she is going to be a survivor," Celina offers. "When you think it might be needed, if ever, you tell her she has my blessing in all things."
Folly gathers up the sketches spread across the desk in her Paris guest room. She has a good idea of the direction she wants to go with Celina's trump, and is well on her way to an initial working sketch -- but other needs press.
From the desk drawer, she takes a sheet of tasteful stationery -- Flora's doing, she's sure -- and scrawls a handful of lines in her angular hand. She folds the note over and over into a little square, like she's going to slip it to someone in class, and writes "READ LATER" on the outside.
She has long since discarded her gown in favor of lounging about in her (modest-ish) underthings, but even without pockets her Trumps are still close to hand. She thumbs one out, kicks her bare feet up on the desk, and concentrates on the face of her husband.
There's the usual resistance that Martin offers to a Trump call, maybe more than usual. Folly has the sense his mind is somewhat busy at the moment--not like Hellriding, where she'd probably just slide off him, but his concentration may be on other things.
It takes a moment for him to shake loose enough to decide to accept the contact. "Who is it?" he says, because he's not the sort to know in advance like Fiona. His surroundings coalesce and he's in the dark somewhere a little more jungle-like than Lauderdale was. Vaguely familiar, even. "And where are you, and can you bring us through if we need to?"
"It's Folly," Folly replies quickly, "I'm still in Paris, and I can bring you through." She holds her free hand at the ready, visible to Martin through the contact. "You need to come now? Some of my news might be easier if you did."
"Nope, not Paris. Still not bringing Lark there. Lark, darling, it's your mama. Come say hello." Martin brings her into the contact. She's a bit older than Folly remembers, but they do grow fast at that age.
"Hello mama," says Lark. "We're on holiday!"
"Hello, sweetheart," Folly says brightly. "I'm sorry I'm missing it -- you'll have to tell me all about it. Are you at the place with the estate house and the boat?" Martin can probably tell, even if Lark cannot, that she's leaving out names on purpose.
"Yes! Auntie Solange is here and she showed me how to shoot a crossbow from horseback. I'm helping Daddy make silver bolts by melting the candelabra." Lark clearly thinks whatever the adventure they seem to be having is, it's fun and not dangerous.
Martin smiles weakly at that set of revelations. "Dad knows we found Solange. I don't think she's welcome in Paris right now and I don't want to leave her here either. We have a minor problem."
"Well, if you or Solange have got Corwin's card, perhaps I should come to you to talk," Folly offers; without taking her eyes from the trump, she's already reaching for another piece of stationery to leave a note about her whereabouts. To Lark, she adds with a twinkle, "And see your handiwork with the candelabra."
"Before you do that you should maybe think about how you feel about zombie apocalypses, or at least some combination of shadow medical tech and magic that approximates a zombie apocalypse." There's a long beat before Martin remembers to add, "We're personally immune."
Folly can't quite hide a flash of a scowl. "Well. Definitely not my first choice of milieu, but it's kind of important. If you're secure enough that we can have a few minutes of mostly non-bitey conversation, that is." She's already scrawling a quick note -- 'Talking to husband offsite, will call back soon' -- without taking her eyes from the trump. "Anything I can grab quickly that I should bring through? Er, besides shoes?" Because immune or not, walking barefoot through entrails and other assorted zombie carnage seems like a bad idea.
"Anything silver that Corwin wouldn't mind losing? I'm pretty sure his sword would do a number on these things but I don't think it would be a good idea for him to show up." Martin glances over his shoulder and shouts, "It's Folly. Do we need anything she can grab from Paris?"
"I lost my favorite stuffie," Lark says. "Can you bring it from Paris?"
"Mama will find it," Martin reassures her. "Or I will. Aunt Solange isn't great at looking for stuffies." He makes an awkward face at Folly that says something like she doesn't know what it looks like.
"Yes, we'll find it," Folly agrees. Still with her eyes on the trump, she goes to the armoire and pulls out the sturdy bag she's been using to tote her art supplies (and whatever other odds and ends may have collected there). She slings the bag across her shoulders and steps into a pair of shoes that will be almost practical once she gets a chance to tie the laces. "I think the desk set is partly silver, but that's not much--- oh!" Folly quickly crosses the room, removes the large silver tray from beneath the china tea-set, and offers it through to Martin.
Then, "Pull me through?" she asks.
Martin grunts, and if she didn't know him so well, Folly wouldn't know what a bad idea he thinks this is. "Solange," he calls over his shoulder, "Folly's coming through. With silver." He pulls Folly through into the decrepit, aging house. The air smells heavy with moisture and rot--plant, at least, not human--and Folly can feel the heat and humidity on her skin.
"Mama!" Lark cries, and throws her arms around Folly's midsection as best she can. Martin quirks an awkward smile at her but doesn't interfere, instead leaning in to peck her on the cheek.
Folly tilts her face toward him to accept the kiss and give him a quick one in return. She hands off the silver tray and the folded-up note before scooping her daughter up to carry on her hip. "My goodness, you've gotten big!" she exclaims -- and indeed, Lark seems weirdly heavier than she did just a few days ago.
To Martin, she says, "Since we're not speaking through a trump you can go ahead and read it now, although it's not the main reason I called. Is this, like, a may-need-to-run-at-any-moment situation, or have we hopefully got a few minutes to talk?"
Then, "Hi, Solange!" she says, peering over her husband's shoulder to see how her cousin is doing.
The note, if Martin chooses to read it now, says: "Watch out for Klybesians. We think they are trying to figure out how to become like us. They had Reid's body, and also Dr Chew is one. Corwin and Flora think Caine could be affiliated with them, and he can spy on trump conversations, so be careful what you say over those channels."
"Well, shit," Martin says.
Solange comes in to greet Folly. Her hair is cut short and ragged, as if either Martin did it for her recently (and Folly has reason to know haircuts are not one of his skills) or she'd had it cut a while ago and not trimmed since. She's dressed in local garb, like a boy, having given completely up on the long skirts, apparently. She sweeps Folly up into a hug. "I'm glad you're here. Even given the circumstances."
When Folly lets go of Solange, she turns her attention to Martin. "What's wrong?"
He hands her the note. "So if someone is looking for eternal life, like we have," Martin adds, for everybody's benefit, "and they fucked it up with magic, that would certainly be one way to get a zombie apocalypse."
"I'm surprised you came," Solange says, "given the general summons."
"Which we're not done arguing about," says Martin. "You're taking the amnesty. Folly, tell her she has to take the amnesty." There's about a half-second pause in which Martin's expression shifts and Folly can tell he's realized something and he doesn't like it. "You don't know. I thought you were going to try to change my mind but Dad hasn't talked to you, has he?"
Solange is starting to back out of the room. "I shouldn't be here for this. Neither should Lark." She reaches for Lark's hand. "Mama and Daddy have something important to talk about."
"No!" Lark dodges her and clings to Folly.
Martin shakes his head. "Folly," he says, taking her hands, "it's like this: Vialle's pregnant."
Folly frowns. "Is it--" she begins, but bites back the rest of the question as she seems to figure out a better way to phrase it, or maybe a better question to ask. "How far along?"
This is clearly the first she's heard of the news. Martin can tell she's sorting quickly through a whole pile of additional questions. From the look on her face, the effort is making her dizzy. She pulls one of her hands away from Martin's grasp to stroke Lark's hair. With the other she continues to hold his hand, a little too tightly.
There's the sound of Solange's feet retreating into another room. Apparently she really doesn't want to be here for this conversation. (Who can blame her?)
"Must be pretty recent because I think it was news to Dad." Martin moves to pull Folly into his arms. "I'm sorry to break it to you this way but we have a lot of things to work out and not a lot of time."
Lark pipes up, "Mama--" and doesn't seem to know what to say next.
"We'll work it all out, kiddo," Martin says, and it's not clear, maybe even not to him, which of them he's talking to.
"But things that happen in Xanadu shouldn't---" Folly is still frowning, but it is a thinking, calculating expression; any underlying upset is being tamped down, hard.
She shakes her head a little as if to clear it. "Yes, we'll work it out," she agrees, soothingly, mostly to Lark. To Martin, she adds, "You talked to him? Did he seem... happy?" She hesitates, processing some of the rest of what he said. "And what am I changing your mind about?"
Martin is moving to ease both of them, Folly and Lark, into a chair. "He wasn't very happy, no, but that was mostly because he was trying to tell me to do something that he knew perfectly well I have no intention of doing. One of the few things I have no intention of doing if asked." His eyes drop to Lark for a moment, and his jaw tightens. "Which is what Solange thinks I need convincing to do. Otherwise, hard to say. What's he going to say to me about how happy he is under the circumstances?"
"Yes, I do rather see your point," Folly agrees with a sigh as she settles into the chair with Lark. Catching his glance at their daughter, Folly unslings her satchel and, making sure she's still holding her pack of trumps and fortunes, offers the bag to Lark. "Pumpkin, why don't you see if your stuffie ended up in Mama's bag by mistake?" she suggests gently, sure that there's an excellent chance it contains at least a couple of toys.
Lark starts digging in the bag to see if the stuffie she wants is in the bag. (While, technically, there's no way it could be, Lark doesn't know that.)
With Lark's attention at least partly diverted, Folly asks, "He wants you to be present, or to present?" She inclines her head minutely toward their daughter at that last. She keeps her tone lightly conversational to keep from re-attracting the attention of her sensitive child with too much naked emotion.
"You know Dad. Why think small and go for one when you can go for both?" Martin follows her lead and keeps his own tone light, even though she can see from the crinkles around the corners of his eyes and his flat expression that he's not happy. He continues, "It's a general amnesty, Folly, and the family gathering is all adult hands. It's not just Solange whose exile is being revoked. You understand that includes everyone? Even prisoners of war?" He doesn't say the name but he's clearly thinking of someone specific.
Folly spares the briefest glance at her daughter to make sure she's staring into the bag before she allows her lips to compress, just for a moment, into a thin line. What she says, though, is, "You know what? Bring it on."
She lifts a finger to forestall any immediate complaint before adding, "And yes, I understand all your reasonable and very pragmatic concerns, but if we're going to have a kinder, gentler extended family than what came before" --and she knows she also doesn't have to name any names, there -- "let's fuckin' DO it. That's what I want for Xanadu.
"Plus," and now she can't quite quelch a mad twinkle in her eye, "I'd love to see my mum try to take him out if he tried anything."
"Your mother will need to get in line," Martin says, and he doesn't sound like he's joking. "She's not fast enough, and unless Dad revokes it in a fit of pique, I still have the right of arms in court. But that doesn't solve the other problem of family business." He tilts his head to indicate their daughter, who's still engaged in looking for her stuffie.
"Well, I have to go, either way," Folly says, as if that is self-evident. "By my count, we've still got about four months, Xanadu time, on the timeline he originally gave us barring emergencies -- of which I think this is one. A really, really non-ideal one."
She blows out a breath. "Any chance we could just pop in to do the thing and then disappear again for another few months?" Which, at their current relative time, would probably work out to something closer to six years, for Lark. "I know it wasn't our original plan, but... I mean, zombie apocalypse training probably isn't the worst preparation for it, you know?" She offers up a wry smile.
"There's also the slight problem of abandoning the people here in the middle of a zombie apocalypse," Martin reminds her gently. "Just because we're immune doesn't mean the rest of the people sheltering here are. If we leave, this whole place will be overrun, not just my estate, but everything in the whole shadow. And this isn't something we—the family—wants to have spreading across the worlds."
Folly nods in grim agreement. "Maybe you should back up and tell me how you ended up here -- did you come because of the zombies, or for something else and found the zombies -- and what your plan was before I called. At least the executive summary."
Weyland slowly comes down to land beside the statue that used to be Dexamene. "Fine. Sorcerer-Girl, can you part the veil to the Gate? We can fly in and hit the other two in their tower before they know what hit them. Or undermine it, if we can do that quickly."
"Can you lot fly?"
"Not yet." Jerod says simply.
"I can Part the Veil, but I have Never Tried Flying," Brita notes. She is ready to proceed as soon as Jerod and Raven are prepared.
Weyland looks at Brita. "Your ancestor is that boy who likes Gods and Monsters, right? If someone taught you to Part The Veil, you can manage a Filmy. I'll summon one." Weyland makes a complex gesture with his hands and adds an oddly echoing whistle to it. "Five minutes. Then get ready for a fight." He looks around the plains. "And probably best to leave the emuraptors behind."
A flat black shape slides silently up to Weyland. He points at Brita, and it approaches her. It's like a flying carpet, except it has no texture, color, or even depth. Brita knows how to direct it, of course, although she's by no means an accomplished filmy pilot yet.
Weyland seems eager to get on with the attack.
Brita grumbles softly that Filmies means riding, not flying. She looks to Jer od, "Do We Want the Statue With Us?"
"Still voting for whatever means making sure she ends up where we mean her to be on the first try. No offense," Raven says, adding the last as almost an aside to Weyland, "but I've had just about enough of things that should be one way ending up another."
Weyland begins to hover impatiently.
"We bring it." Jerod says. "Don't want her mysteriously disappearing if we get side-tracked and I don't want to run around trying to find her again."
Brita nods and adjusts, directing the filmy under the statue before punching a hole through the shadow to Gateway.
Snow comes through Brita’s breech in the shadow, sizzling quickly in warm plains of the the Towerlands. Weyland looks through, and then swoops into the opening. From the opening, Jerod can hear the calls of Weyr, and the sound of Emuraptors. It seems as if the Weyr are, in the end, enough to discourage the murder-birds.
Brita waits until the others mount the filmy (spreading it as necessary) and then maneuvers through the opening with the statue in front like a hood ornament (if she knew what those were).
Jerod is on board immediately, minus murder-birds even if they do seem somewhat useful.
Raven follows, after a moment's eyeing of the portal and their latest steed with a wariness the good captain did not have for the overgrown chickens.
The filmy doesn't seem as responsive or perhaps not as clever as the ones Nana Clarissa uses, but it is more than adequate for the job and doesn't seem to tire or need sustenance. If it can be coaxed to a decent speed, it might make Gateway's gate before sunrise.
The storm that was raging around the forest is clearing up, and the thunder indicates that it is spiraling out to sea as the natural weather of the area reasserts itself.
Shortly after the filmy crosses back to the Gatwegan shadow, Jerod hears a howl, quickly answered by others. It's likely that the group has been scented by the Weir. The filmy couldn't take them all, but a half dozen or so could crowd on.
Weyland squints down at the trio. "You know where we're going, or do you need to follow me?"
"The lay of the land is quite familiar." Jerod says. "We can proceed.
"We'll take a couple for secondary support only." he says to Brita, motioning to the Weir. "I want to send the rest back to the others, make sure the ship is okay and give a message to Harper so she's aware of what's up."
"Wouldn't hurt to send a few to track what's gone on in our wake," Raven suggests. "Better to know what kind of mess we left before we run into it on the way back."
Brita nods in agreement to Raven's comment and begins to steer the filmy towar ds the howls. "Where is Your Harper, Cousin Jerod?"
"Don't take too long, or I'll have to do all the work!", say Weyland. He starts flying south. While a cold, hard rain is still falling, it doesn't seem to be falling on him.
A figure drops from a nearby tree. It's still pretty large, but it seems mostly human. Jerod recognizes Reynart, the red-furred warrior who was the last of the weir on the mission.
"My Lord. We saw the return and I see the prey. What is our next task? The Weir stand ready."
When the pages are asked where Sir Ophiuchius might be, they tell Celina and Robin that he's seeing to the welfare of his steed. But one of the pages would be more than happy to fetch him if Her Majesty would tell them where he's to be sent.
Celina likes moving in paths that are not always the palace, so she will suggest they see the Knight immediately. She also has interest in the aquatic steed to see if there is a variety that would breed into Rebma stock. She asks Robin to do the introductions when they arrive.
Though the Queen's will prevails, Robin is always happier to go the stable than remain in the palace. She indicates that she'll be glad to make introductions, though since she is Robin, Celina can expect to be introduced to the steed as well. Because Eckford is very awesome in his own right.
Robin's steps toward the stable are a bit subdued as she processes what just occurred. But step-by-stroke her heart lightens until she's pretty much forgotten what weighed her down a moment ago. As is her wont.
Arriving at the stable, Celina studies the Knight and the impressive Eckford while Robin makes short work of the introductions. While she has not brought treats for the mount, she whispers a promise she will make up for it in his ear.
Turning to the Knight, she nods once, "And welcome to Rebma. Is there anything you might need in the short term, Sir Ophiuchius?"
The knight neck-bows graciously after something like the Rebman manner, though in a very old-fashioned way that even Celina's aunties might have found rustic and strange. "Your Majesty's kindness to a wandering knight has already been beyond compare; the care you've shown to me and Eckford is more than I could have asked for. But, if Sir Robin has word of my lady, I would hear it, by Your Majesty's leave." He turns hopeful eyes to Robin.
"I do." Robin chirps. "I had word from Vere. He, your Lady, Lady Laudine and Sir Ywain all reached Amber, safely if soggily. Once there, my Uncle Caine welcomed them in his role as Regent." Well, 'welcomed' is an okay word for it, Robin guesses. "Shortly thereafter, Prince Caine dispatched Vere on a mission that he is right now very carefully not getting killed on or I will have words with everyone involved. Anyway, The Queen here has approved your and Lady Morgne's welcome in Rebma as soon as I can get myself up the Stairs to retrieve her." Robin finishes with a smile.
There is another bow from Sir Ophiuchius, deeper this time, directed to both Celina and Robin. "I am deeply in both your debt. If there is anything I can do to repay either of you, I am completely at your disposal, barring, of course, the prior claim of my own Lady."
Eckford the sea-horse can sense his master's delight and is bouncing a little.
Celina smiles. "We can discuss a welcome in Rebma for your Lady, and I would like her opinion on your future plans to find a new home." Celina moves a bit closer to Eckford, stretches her hand out slowly, carefully and just eases fingertips through the mane.
Eckford snorts and lowers his head a little to permit Celina to stroke him.
Robin nods, and then thinks about it. "Ah, pardon me. I'm afraid I have gotten lost. Next steps are... I head up to Amber? Is there more talking to be done before that?" Robin looks over at Celina. Welcoming and diplomatic things are not her forte, but she's willing.
Celina smiles at Sir Ophiuchius. "As Lady Robin reminds me, we travel to meet with family soon but we would dearly like to reunite you with your Lady. Would you be so kind as to stand with us as we seek an answer from my Uncle Caine? There is a walk to make it happen. I do not want to call my Uncle from here."
Celina looks at Robin. "I do have a Trump for Caine. If we go to the Airy Tower, we can ask Uncle if the Lady is able to come through to us. If Caine has already gone on to Xanadu, the Lady is probably still in Amber. Do you think that works?"
"If I am to go to her, I will need to send for clothing suitable to the dry realms, but barring that, I should be glad to accompany you at once," Ophiuchius replies. He, too, is waiting on Robin's answer.
Last modified: 4 December 2016
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.