Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Once the festivities are well underway, Edan and his troop of city defenders arrive on their horses and hand them off to waiting grooms. The applause is plentiful and seems to be enthusiastic. Lord Mayor Ash greets the Order in the name of Xanadu and the King, and officially gives them the freedom of the city. Edan is asked to give a few words.
It is later in the afternoon, and the lengthening shadows combined with the harbor breeze have sapped much of the unpleasant heat of the day. Lamps are everywhere around the square, and the dancing area is already filled with moving bodies as a dance band plays fast and lively music.
And finally, the Order of the Lamp appears. Still but a company, around forty strong, but each rider is clad in a colorful uniform of red and white and black, and the horses are energetic and glossy and beautiful. Anyone in the know could see that Michelle did an amazing job in the preparation.
Normally, Edan would be clad in the same uniform, but today he is in dancing silks of his own colors; spotless white with a wide crimson sash as a belt. His feet and head are bare, and his hair transitions from dark roots to reddish ends. Here, there is no hiding the color of his eyes, and anyone can see the molten fiery gold of the irises. His sleeves are gathered strangely, lengths of extra crimson silk at his wrists. A pair of heavily taped and weighted Avernus hook-swords are thrust into his sash.
The riders' formation is like and yet unlike to the rangers; for as the rangers operate in groups of three, these troops ride and fight in groups of six. Their horses make patterns of stars as they make their way down to the town square.
They are relaxed as they can be, with the eyes of the city upon them and the applause around them. The mounts are well behaved, showing off, really, as the company moves down to the square. Grooms are there to take the horses as the knights dismount.
Celina notes the arrival of Corwin and Silhouette in serious conversation. Dolphin's face maintains its normal pleasant mien, but her Father seems very interested in the conversation.
Really? Celina sighs to herself.
Whatever it is, they finish their conversation momentarily thereafter and Corwin makes his way toward the dais, though it's not clear if he's coming for Celina.
Signy and Brita are also looking toward the dais where the Rebman party has gathered with the Queen. In the absence of Corwin and Random, Celina may be the senior Royal on the dais.
Celina judges that her Father is the weather. You cannot say where it is going but be prepared. So she waves to Signy and points to the stand area the Rebmans are holding.
Silhouette turns from her former companion and drifts toward the Rebman 'camp' with a purposeful gait. She tries to catch Celina's eye, bowing her head reverently.
Signy gives Brita a quick grin of farewell before threading her way through the crowd, managing to time it so that she falls in besides Silhouette, easily matching her stride.
"Cousin," she says quietly. Ho are you finding the festivities? There's business to be had, if you're looking for supplies."
Her face makes a momentary pout of distaste at the need for the practical realities of operating a smithy.
Silhouette quirks a brow, "Indeed? Business is my ambrosia, as it were. We can discuss this further whenever you desire." Her smile curls up, "And soon, I should commission you for a blade."
Celina nods a welcome as they approach the stand. She makes introductions to her Archivists present for Signy. The Rebmans know Silhouette. "How nice to see you both. I think the excitement is about to start. I admit I do not know much about horse dancing."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "If I'm not mistaken, my Queen, the stallion leads - with the exception of waltzes and soft-shoe."
From near the dais there is a fanfare of trumpets. For those who know Random (or Syd, as he called himself in Texorami)'s early compositions, it's a short piece entitled "Don't Tell ME not to give you high notes".
People across the square and beyond become still and quiet, anticipating some sort of presentation or speech. Those people are not disappointed, as first Prince Corwin welcomes Edan and his knights in the name of his brother-the-King and then, following applause, Edan himself speaks, magically amplified. People seem as impressed by that as his riding, although a few seem less than thrilled to experience actual magic.
Lord Mayor Ash has several young men light additional lamps, and the floor is cleared for Edan's entertainment and demonstration of skill. Ash also has people to keep the crowd from pressing too close to the knights as they perform.
Celina spends some time examining the methods of her cousin's mastery of the sound amplification. She then nods to Silhouette. "Does the stallion always lead in Xanadu, or were you speaking for all shadows you have seen so far, Silhouette?" Celina grins to let both cousins know she is enjoying the jest. She'll find out what soft-shoe is later. Probably a kind of horse footgear thing.
Silhouette continues to smile, "Regrettably, it appears to be a widespread truism. Pity, really, as through observation, I've found mares far more kinesiologically-inclined."
She pauses to observe Edan's use of magic, cocking her head mechanically. "Intriguing. I must speak to him afterwards. His technique might benefit the work I've done for King Random." She glances between her companions, "Do the paradigms here allow magic or is this an anomaly?"
Celina responds so quietly, even Family ears must listen closely, "Xanadu is blessed with such anomaly, though I have studied it only in passing. I think many things associated with sound are easier here."
Signy briefly frowns.
Soft horse shoes doesn't seem terribly practical, but then again there was much Weyland didn't teach her.
She scans the crowd again from the new vantage point.
"Both yourself and King Corwin are here, but King Random isn't?"
Celina nods. "It is a puzzle, but King Random likes to surprise with his appearances." She looks at Signy, "Unlike many royal courts, the people seem to enjoy it."
Their conversation concluded, and on a level of amicability that surprises even Jerod (will wonders never cease), he heads over to the bar to catch up with his sister.
The presence of the Octave does not deter Jerod from his approach, though part of him thinks that if he leaves Octave alone with Valeria long enough, Jerod will have to clean up the greasy spot on the floor, and that's just too much work right now.
As for Huon, Jerod had noted the arrival of the kin-slayer very early on, but since he arrived with the Queen, that pretty much puts him off limits...at least from receiving the business end of sharp, pointing things like spears and swords. Admittedly he is somewhat depressed by this set of circumstances, but only for a moment.
Thus he will arrive at the bar in relatively good spirits, while he waits to see how long that might last.
As a good barman, the barman catches Jerod's eye as he comes up. "Can I get you something, highness?"
"Something dark, very strong and lots of it." Jerod says simply.
From near the dais there is a fanfare of trumpets. For those who know Random (or Syd, as he called himself in Texorami)'s early compositions, it's a short piece entitled "Don't Tell ME not to give you high notes".
People across the square and beyond become still and quiet, anticipating some sort of presentation or speech. Those people are not disappointed, as First Prince Corwin welcomes Edan and his knights in the name of his brother-the-King and then, following applause, Edan himself speaks, magically amplified. People seem as impressed by that as his riding, although a few seem less than thrilled to experience actual magic.
Lord Mayor Ash has several young men light additional lamps, and the floor is cleared for Edan's entertainment and demonstration of skill. Ash also has people to keep the crowd from pressing too close to the knights as they perform.
Jerod collects his drink from the barman, and the stronger the drink, the better the barman. He makes sure to pay at least moderate attention to the events that Edan has put such effort into, though regrettably his sister warrants more attention, so he will intrude upon her time at an appropriate moment.
The Barman is one of the better ones in town. His drink is strong, simple, dark, and strong. Given the southern latitude, it's probably molasses based.
Ossian seems to have headed directly to interrupt Octave and go off with Valeria.
After a short break, Edan appears at the center of the square. He looks up in the general direction of the castle, murmurs a few words, and touches the side of his throat with a smoking index finger; after that, his words carry outwards to the square as if he were standing next to each listener.
The trumpets sound, and the proclamation is read, welcoming the Knights of the Lamp to Xanadu. He waits through it, draws breath to speak...then stops. He smiles, and says, "I am not used to this. I am more used to shouting orders across a field, not giving speeches or lectures. But that is exactly what I will be doing, because our vision is that of a school. A place of learning. We will explore excellence in the martial and arcane arts. Horse and foot, sword and spell. At the same time, we pledge ourselves to the defense of the King and of Xanadu. We are deeply honored to be welcomed by you. We are proud to join the brotherhood of the Knights," and he rattles off the list of active knight orders that Michelle drew up for him. "We will strive to be worthy of this honor."
He turns and gestures to where the drums were being set up. "And...we have arranged a little entertainment, an introduction of sorts. A sword-dance of my adopted homeland. I hope that you enjoy it. I think that you will."
From near the dais there is a fanfare of trumpets. For those who know Random (or Syd, as he called himself in Texorami)'s early compositions, it's a short piece entitled "Don't Tell ME not to give you high notes".
People across the square and beyond become still and quiet, anticipating some sort of presentation or speech. Those people are not disappointed, as First Prince Corwin welcomes Edan and his knights in the name of his brother-the-King and then, following applause, Edan himself speaks, magically amplified. People seem as impressed by that as his riding, although a few seem less than thrilled to experience actual magic.
Lord Mayor Ash has several young men light additional lamps, and the floor is cleared for Edan's entertainment and demonstration of skill. Ash also has people to keep the crowd from pressing too close to the knights as they perform.
Three score of vertical drums are set up in a precise circle that dominates the central area of the square. Earlier dancers might have noticed premeasured marks on the dance floor, which are used to set the position and alignment of each drum. It was not an easy task; the drums are each about eight feet tall, and the base of each one is weighted with sand or earth. They break the plethora of torchlight and lamplight into a kaleidoscope of color and light and shadow within the ring.
Between the vertical drums and the crowd are arranged the Knights of the Lamp, each carrying a djembe for the hands or sitting at various larger drums or water drums; were this not Xanadu, one might wonder if they've claimed all the drums in the kingdom. The exception to the formation is Kyauta, who in dragonet form is flying from perch to perch around the circle. There are two openings in this drum ring; on one side, there is a low table behind which Vere sits, cross-legged. A bowl of golden coins is placed before him.
On the other side is the space where Edan enters. He is still in his dancing silks, shining white with a crimson sash tied at his waist. Lengths of crimson silk are sewn at the cuffs, long ribbons that look capable of reaching any of the drums from the center of the dance space. His feet are bare. Small bells are worked into the hair at the back of his head, such that sudden movements are accompanied by a ringing chime that can be heard through the crowd. A pair of Averni hooked swords are thrust into his sash, the swords blunted and heavily taped.
Those observers with Third Eye or other magical senses can tell that Edan has divested himself of any magical effect. For now, it's just him and a pair of swords.
Edan crosses to the center of the space. Though he was disappointed that Vialle was not here to experience this, he does not let it show. He had intended this to be partly for her enjoyment. Well, no matter. He removes another, shorter length of silk from his waist sash and ties it securely around his head and eyes, ignoring what shocked reaction he hears from the crowd. With blindfold in place, he moves from pose to pose and finally freezes, balanced on one foot, arms extended. He extends his other leg, toes pointed, and stretches it up towards the sky. He balances there, motionless, turned in Vere's direction.
Vere sits quietly as Edan makes his preparations. Once Edan is in position, holding his balanced position in perfect stillness, Vere slowly runs the fingers of his right hand through the coins in the
bowl. The clinking of metal on metal sounds unusually loud in the hushed square as the spectators watch. Vere lifts his hand from the bowl, one coin caught between two fingers, and with a sudden snap he sends the coin hurtling towards one of the vertical drums. It strikes the drum with a 'thrum' that echoes through the square and bounces off it onto the floor.
As the first coin hits the floor, Edan is moving; his leg comes down, there is a turn and then a pirouette, and his arm snaps out. The attached length of silk extends and taps the same drum that the coin had hit. Around the circle the Knights start up a quick beat. Edan uses the cadence to dance around again to the center, and eventually takes another pose. His arms are together, one knee raised, toes pointed to the floor, head down as if contemplating. His body becomes still. The drummers end their drumming all on the same beat, and silence claims the square again.
Vere waits until the Knights end their beat and Edan is once more motionless, then with a faster movement of his hand he sends a coin towards another standing drum. It hits much harder this time, and bounces across the ring to strike yet another drum before rebounding onto the floor.
Two drums. Edan throws his arms up high, and the ribbons float down to gather in his hands as only silk can do. He snaps out both arms this time. Again, the ribbons snap out to strike the two signaled drums. Again, the Knights give him a fast beat, and he uses it to move and dance back to his starting place, silk swirling around him. He is in his Knights' hands as much as they are in his. And then the beat is gone and Edan is frozen again, this time a martial pose, one arm defensive, one poised to attack some imaginary foe.
Vere allows himself a small smile as he watches Edan's mastery. Once more his fingers snap forward, and a coin flashes through the air towards a drum a third of the way around the circle. Vere had calculated the force and trajectory precisely, and the coin rebounds off the drum to fly past Edan's ear, barely missing him, before striking a drum on the opposite side of the hall, rebounding again to another drum, and then again to a fourth drum before landing, spent, upon the floor.
Four drums! This time, Edan pulls one of the Avernus hook-swords out of his sash with his right hand and throws it, even as he spins and snaps out the silk from his left. The sword spins end over end and smacks flat against one of the signaled drums as the silk snaps against another. Edan's spin turns into a short leap and a few steps; the handle of the thrown sword, having bounced off the drum, smacks back into his palm. How long had Edan spent with tape and twine and grinding wheel to weight this length of metal well enough to fly true? How many hours spent practicing the throw, the bounce, the catch? But he does so, perfectly, blind, in step and to the beat. And then he does the movements again to the other two drums, with the other sword, using the opposite arms, to show it is all practice and discipline and skill and not luck or sorcery.
And then, in another movement, the swords are back in his sash and the ribbons are back at his wrists. He hangs there in another dance pose, on one foot again, body extended much like that of a swan in flight. The beat stops again.
The moment Edan stops moving Vere is on his feet. His eyes flick once to his cousin, then down at the coins in the bowl. His hand seizes the bowl and he spins once in place, eyes fixed on the coins, calculating. As he completes his turn his hand flashes forward and the coins fly from the bowl in a golden stream, the first of them striking the drum immediately to his left and then the rest, in a glorious cacophony, striking each of the drums in turn.
Edan smiles, eyes still covered by the blindfold. Such is Vere's skill that none of the coins have touched the dancer, only the drums. All the drums. Magnificent.
After the last of the gold stops bouncing and clinking on the ground, the drummers around the ring set a fast beat. And after four measures of this, Edan dances.
Arm to the left, sword to the right, move to the left. He spins, he leaps, he turns. Edan's jumps are amazing. His footwork is perfect. His timing is godlike. He hangs in the air with each leap, making the eyes ache to follow him, to deduce all the movements he makes seemingly all at once. Here, too, showcases the skill of the Knights of the Lamp, who could only have kept up with their Sultan through months or years of repetitive practice. When he slows, they slow; when he speeds up, they do the same. They support Edan through every leap and step and turn. Bare feet, long used to shifting sand, are not affected by the coins on the floor. Indeed, the fact that there is a solid floor seems to make things even easier. Turn. Stretch. Throw. Extend. Snap. Catch. A routine that cycles through all the variations of movement, even as the drums are systematically struck. The bells in Edan's hair chime in time to the beat as he whips his head this way or that. The silk ribbons are like the flow of water around him: here a wave, there a cocoon, different shapes forming as he dances. Fractured torchlight flows and reflects along the fabric of his dancing uniform as he moves. Faster faster faster. Turnthrowcatchsnapextendturnspin. And when Edan is down to the last twenty or so drums, the best trick of all; for instead of striking drums, he throws out the ribbons to snake around the handles of the hook swords in mid-flight. The beat, and the dance, changes. The swords are an extension of him now, waving at the end of his arms of silk. He spins, he shifts direction, contortionist efforts to keep both swords in the air and moving to strike the last of the drums. His targets shiver with the weight of the strikes he makes on them, heavy metal barbs at the ends of silken whips. The drumming is as wild as Edan's dance now, keeping him aloft and moving. He and the Knights feed off each other. They are his kin, extensions of his will as the ribbons are extensions of his arm. He is their mentor, their teacher, their Sultan. He is a warrior, a rider, a sorcerer, a Knight. He is a Sword Dancer, and this is his Dance.
Vere smiles more broadly as he watches Edan's skill. And as the last of the last of the drums are struck Vere's hand flashes forward one last time, sending the bowl hurtling through the air directly at the head of his blindfolded cousin.
Even in mid dance, Edan's smile matches Vere's. One sword drops to the ground. The other, he pulls to him. The handle smacks into his palm even as he spins in a circle and brings the blunted edge of the sword down on the bowl. It shatters before him. And the final turn, the final pull of the other sword into his hand, the last movement brings Edan back to the center of the dance floor with swords in hand and a rain of delicate colored pottery to clink and bounce on the floor around him.
Edan finishes, then, with a bow towards the king's place and another bow to his partner and a third to his Knights, without any of whom this would not have been possible.
The crowd applauds, at first tentatively, then enthusiastically. It lasts perhaps longer than is needful, but people see the royals on the dias applauding and keep their applause up.
There is a flash of light, momentarily dazzling from the balcony of the Mayor's house, and the King appears, wearing his crown and the state jewelry. Next to him are the Lord Mayor and his wife Tjaden, also applauding. Prince Bleys is on the other side of the King, with his sister Fiona. "Welcome, our gallant Knights of the Lamp! Your King is proud to have you defending our land from enemies, and teaching the philosophy and arms to those who wish to learn! Long may your red light shine!"
Random steps back, then steps forward again and adds. "You may all dance until dawn, there is no curfew tonight, and tomorrow is Red Lamp Day henceforth, and an unsolemn holiday."
Then the King retreats into the mayoral manor and does not return.
Edan holds his smile for the crowd, for his brethren, and for Vere. A smile is enough for the latter; they both know they nailed it.
Something is Not Right, however. The King was polite but abrupt. The Queen was not present. And with Father and Fiona there, sorcery might be involved.
There are going to be delays. A kind word to the Knights. Family come to talk to him. At the moment, Edan doesn't espy Hannah. But when there is finally a moment, he heads towards the mayor's residence; if nothing also but to tell his father of the impending grandchild.
Edan is going to have the toughest time of anyone getting to the manor. He gets to the Mayor pretty quickly. "Very impressive. Should we organize a reception line? Everyone wants to meet you." Ash frowns. "I'd've expected Syd to organize that, at least informally."
Edan smiles, because he knows he's neatly trapped. He spares a glance towards the manor house. With Random not here, Edan can't very well disappear. Not tonight.
"Something on his mind, I suppose. Has Random, er, Syd, has he organized a reception line down here before? We could follow that setup, or I could call some of the Knights together to help."
The Lord Mayor is visibly relived. "The Knights would be excellent. People will want to meet them as well."
Michelle comes up to Ash and Edan. "Is everything in order, my Lords?"
Edan holds his smile for his seneschal. "Look all around, how well everything is organized. You did that. People will talk of this for years to come. The Lord Mayor and I were talking about an impromptu reception line, since Random has left that duty to us. I was just about to send Kyauta to round up some of our more loquacious and sociable knights."
"Thank you, my Lord," says Michelle. "If you will send your message, the Lord Mayor's men and I will arrange a reception line by the dais. It will facilitate access to any royal who wishes to be accessible."
Ash nods and turns to one of his aides, an officer named Viper, telling the man to work with Michelle.
Edan sends out through his link to Kyauta that he needs help from a specific list of knights. Women from multiple realms want to meet and compliment them. He asks Kyauta to fly and pass this message along.
Kyauta flies overhead and makes a loop, then flies towards the troops. The weeks of marching have, at least, meant that this no longer panics the horses. Or the troops.
Those singled out will head to the reviewing dais shortly.
When it's clear he's done, Ash looks at him and gestures for him to lead the way (to the dais).
And there Edan goes, with a short trail of knights behind him and Kyauta perched on his shoulder. He does bow to his men before they go, thanking them for this small sacrifice of time and effort. And a smile in the general direction of Celina's group, too, as he sees them start a dance that reminds him of the dance styles he saw in Rebma.
Brennan watches the grand entrance of the Knights of the Lamp with a critical eye, although generally a constructive one. He will, after all, be handing off a small group of his own Knights into Edan's care, the better to help turn this group of forty horse warriors into the first cadre of something more. A fresh and professional perspective never hurt anyone. Well, that may not precisely be true, Brennan corrects himself, remembering the Family stories of Corwin and Eric in particular as the King welcomes the new Knight. But Brennan and Edan are not Eric and Corwin.
And anyway, Edan has good material to work with, and more than enough heat to forge them. Interesting swords, though, he notes to himself. Haven't seen those in quite a while.
As Edan is giving his introductory speech, Brennan catches a glimpse of Ambrose and heads in his direction. "Ambrose, I'm glad you're here. It's good to see you," he says. "Come join me watch Edan's display?"
Ambrose smiles and says something that sounds like "of course" though it's hard to hear him over the crowd and the amplified speechifying. Whatever he said, he comes to join Brennan. They make their way toward the dais, where much of the royal family is gathering, while Corwin is speaking. There are opportunities to at least nod a greeting to a lot of different relatives.
Brennan does take those opportunities to nod to relatives he's not seen in a while, especially since most of his time at the pre-revel buffet was spent out on the balcony with Robin, Vere and Edan.
After Edan's display, he offers up genuine applause. After Random's abrupt appearance and retreat, the applause continues, pro-forma. There is a phrase in Uxmali whose idiomatic translation is something close to, "The universe is a sonofabitch," which, in addition to its mild vulgarity, carries a substantial weight of blasphemy when spoken by the priestly caste, much less the son of a god. This, Brennan mutters to himself as the pro-forma applause continues.
Ambrose's own response in Uxmali directly translates to something like "as the God wills it", which is a ritual response to a divine appearance and command, but given Ambrose's tone and his own godly priesthood, not to mention the arch of his eyebrows, sounds distinctly unimpressed.
"How goes the project with Signy?" he asks, once the roar has died down.
"I showed her the innards of one of the code wheels that's failing and Fiona and I taught her basic Uxmali in the direct manner. She's got the hang of speech, but not of centering her words yet. She has a prototype of the small wheel made of balsa wood but the enchantments-" Ambrose pauses and shrugs. "Our father couldn't make anything simple." The last sentence is in Uxmali and centers on the negative.
"Our father lost his own center before either of us were born," Brennan says, as though that explains it. Uncharacteristically, he does does not employ any of the Uxmali circumlocutions that would make 'center' the center of the sentence without actually saying it. Uncharacteristic of any discussion of their father, the statement is melancholy rather than bitter or angry. "I'll help her practice, if there's time before the end of Mandatory Fun. Allowing for the fact that I can't really stay beyond that, anything useful I can do?"
"If you have any observations about the wheels that you'd like to make, since you've worked with them too, that would be helpful. I can explain what I know, but even a god's perspective is necessarily limited." This Ambrose says in Thari but it's evident that he's thinking of how it would sound in Uxmali: a cross between nonsensical and deadly blasphemy in his mouth.
Brennan smiles at the blasphemy-- his own opinion on the Uxmali gods is well-known, at least to Ambrose.
"Just one: Those things are modular. Is it possible that no one, not even you and I ever saw a complete one? I have some dim memories of seeing a wheel with a hole in it, as though for some sort of fixture that I didn't have. But the memory is so old... I remember asking Tayanna about it, but not if I ever got an answer much less what it might have been. It would have been like him to focus everyone's attention on part of the apparatus while keeping something in his back pocket for his own private use."
"I hadn't tried that," Ambrose says grimly, "but you're right--and it's not like he hasn't used two wheels together to imbue a glyph series with double-meanings in the past." His mind is racing, but he quells it enough to ask, "How are your works faring, and can I offer any aid in them, given my own circumscribed ability to act at the moment?"
"Fairly well, actually. If Moire herself is not in Avalon, then her agents are, and Conner and I have narrowed down her plans to a set I think we can deal with and foil or disrupt. There is something you might be able to help Ossian with, though. Your knowledge of Uxmal is far more recent than mine-- do you know of any eye-based iconography associated with the pyramids?"
"No, not the step pyramids." Ambrose shakes his head in the negative. "I've seen the Klybesian eyes in the pyramid but it's not related to Uxmal. Our father wasn't involved with that priesthood as far as I know; they wouldn't have accepted his claim to godhood. And he'd hardly want a priesthood as dedicated to their own causes as they seem to be."
Brennan nods and scratches his chin idly. "That's about what I'd expect. I was too young when I left to trust my lack of memories of a group I know I hadn't even heard of at the time, but that's about what I'd expect. Here's why I ask: Ossian found his mother, Regenlief of Asgard. Since I expect that will be part of the more formal news exchange and strategy, I've brought her with me even though she won't be part of the closed council."
That's an open semi-invitation to introduce them-- when/if Ambrose expresses interest, he'll send for Regenlief.
Ambrose doesn.t interrupt, but his eyebrows rise and he's clearly interested.
"The monastery Ossian was found at? Klybesian. The people who stole him at birth? Klybesian. So either they had a reason to take the child of a Valkyrie, or they had a reason to take the child of an Amberite and somehow knew who or what I was." Brennan lets pass unstated which conclusion the narcissism of Amber supports. "It had crossed my mind that perhaps Brand entered into a bargain to keep tabs on me."
There are flaws in that idea, but Brennan leaves them unpicked to see what Ambrose thinks.
Ambrose has to pause and consider that for a time. "It's not out of the question. As you put it, we have insufficient data to state conclusively, and if they've got half an organizing brain, we won't have any way to get the data. But if they're as all-encompassing as they seem to be, and able to move through Shadow easily, they could have been following you on your own. So: inconclusive. But the probabilities there are the sort that could easily be manipulated." He's lapsed back into Uxmali, and the last sentence centers on 'manipulated'.
He ponders that more. "And if our father made that bargain at some time, and later ended it, do you think they'd stop watching?"
"No," Brennan says. No hesitation. It's not even a sentence, just a glyph that would lie like a negation over a whole sentence. "Not a snowball's chance."
"I'm really of two minds," Brennan says. "If they were working for him, it would explain how they knew who I was after centuries of not using my real name. And it would explain why Abford is still standing instead of razed to the ground. But it doesn't reconcile with my memories of him... or yours, apparently." 'Memories' forms a very awkward center. "Something about this nags me, aside from the personal angle. I'm beginning to think there's an actor we don't see, yet. Maybe this mysterious Turcopolier, maybe someone else."
He shakes his head and sends a page to fetch Regenlief. "One word-- no, two words of advice. She hates the Klybesians about as much as Ossian and I do, so expect to get grilled. And she's probably gotten the Brita question half a dozen times today already."
"The Brita question--oh." Ambrose is fast on his feet and works his way through that. Brennan can see when it hits him. "I'll not ask, then. And not mention my own godhead, either. Do you mean to introduce her to all of us one at a time, or will there be a mass inspection for the poor woman? I'm happy to be a relatively friendly face."
"There's nothing for it but to announce her during tomorrow's Mandatory Fun," Brennan says, "but she can't be there for that. She's met a few of us already, and Ossian and I gave her the sketch of the Family earlier today, but it seems only decent to let her put as many names to faces as possible before that." He shrugs. "She's a Valkyrie, she's looking at this like a battle, which is almost right-- it's part of a larger campaign."
He frowns. "I've got enough urgent business that has to get taken care of before tomorrow that that might not be possible. You, Brita, and Edan-- she already knows Connor-- are where I'd thought to start, and then expand out time permitting."
"I'll do what I can to assist here, but I don't know that--" and that's when Rides in the Van, one of Bleys' Altamareans, arrives in the middle of their conversation. "Ambrose, Brennan, I have a message from your uncle Bleys. All is not well. Please come to the Mayor's house as soon as possible."
Also approaching through the crowd is Regenlief.
Brennan isn't sure which will be worse: if this is connected to Vere's and Edan's tale of Cambina and Vialle, or if it's some entirely new disaster, unrelated and presumably even worse.
He shoots Ambrose a "buckle-up" glance, before taking out Bleys' Trump and giving his full and considerable attention. Hard to be faster than that in Xanadu. If Bleys answers, he holds out his hand for Ambrose to join the conversation.
Ambrose reaches out his hand to Bleys, making a firm connection to allow himself to be pulled through.
Bleys opens the connection promptly. "Ah, yes. We're having a little discussion at the Lord Mayor's. I think I hear some of your cousins downstairs. Come through?" Bleys reaches out his hand.
"We received your message from Rides in the Van," Brennan says. "It seemed best to Trump directly."
He reaches out his hand in return.
Ambrose has his other hand in Regenlief's and Bleys pulls the three of them through. Ambrose looks chagrined, Regenlief looks curious, concerned, and doing math behind her eyes.
Bleys says, "Regenlief, charmed to see you again. This is family business and I don't think your sword-arm will be needed, but it would be helpful if you took up a station at the door and kept the rabble out." Conner is already in the room and at the door, preparing to open it.
This is, at Brennan's best guess, the room that opens out onto the balcony that Random was speaking to the crowd from. Random isn't here. Neither is Fiona.
Brennan walks with Regenlief to the door, assuming that's where she's going. "I have no idea what's going on, yet," he says in a low voice-- low enough that polite non-listeners can choose to tune it out, at least, "but I have reason to expect it to be unpleasant. And I'm more pessimistic than Bleys. We may need that arm yet. Did you come over to join us with news, or to meet Ambrose?" That is not a flippant question, but quite serious-- Regenlief may not be familiar with Xanadu and its court, but she's a sharp-eyed Valkyrie, and Brennan believes in the virtue of fresh eyes.
"I was coming to meet Ambrose, but I wanted to ask you--what's going on with the King? I guess we're about to find out, or you and Ambrose are, at least." Regenlief looks less resentful about this than worried. Although she's not armed, since she's not formally a Knight in any of the orders, Brennan knows Regenlief can appropriate or scavenge a weapon as needed. He's seen her do it many times.
Regenlief knows Brennan well enough to know when he's on edge-- this is one of those times, although Brennan tends to get sharper when he senses a threat, not distracted. "I'll tell you what I can, when I can. I expect this to be... revelatory." By which Brennan clearly means unpleasant. When the stairs clear, he escorts her to them, but does not depart.
Regenlief takes up a guard position at the top of the stairs so she can keep people out.
During Edan's performance, Robin is mixed in with the crowd and wildly enthusiastic about the artistry, the joy, the playfulness and the comradery she sees. She cheers, she whistles, she applauds, she stamps her feet and claps in time and she is very, very much in love with that brilliant coin-thrower.
Her other cousin is pretty good too. Soooo much better than stilted court stuff. That's what life and living is all about!
When the King makes his appearance, Robin stops and listens. And tilts her head in bewilderment as her brows furrow in confusion. Afterward, Robin shakes her head though she can't shake the pensive expression from her face.
She moves toward the trumpets distractedly. Because while something's... off, there are also brass instruments to lick.
Ossian comes to the bar as Edan starts his speech. He nods and smiles at Octave and says to Valeria, "I have not forgotten about that dance."
Valeria smiles and finishes the drink she was working on. "Sir Octave, it's a pleasure as always--I look forward to discussing this further on the morrow." She turns her full attention on Ossian and adds a high-wattage smile. "Prince Ossian," she says, keeping the promotion that she gave him in her last conversation with her brother, who is edging his way up the bar.
Sir Octave looks like he might correct her but decides better.
She continues, "Let's find a better sightline for whatever your cousin is doing next. I do enjoy watching a man dance. Almost as much as dancing with one." She offers her arm to Ossian.
Ossian takes her arm. "Edan is a very, very good dancer. I have danced with him at one point. Forceful.
"I thought you 'princed' me to tease your brother. But he couldn't hear you now. Why?"
"Now, because it pleases me." She glances down the bar to where her brother has landed. "And perhaps because it will get back to him. But mostly because it pleases me."
After the speech, once they're up in the dais, Valeria waits for the swell of noise that rises to die down a little before saying, "You did promise me the dance. Edan is forceful, I agree, but I think I prefer you. He is fire and you are water."
Ossian smiles. "Maybe so. And dancing with someone is quite different from watching." He goes quite quiet during Edan's dance. After Random's speech he takes Valeria's arm.
"Let's see if you prefer my dancing."
The music has started so people can dance, though more people seem to be lining up near the dais in a reception line so people can meet Edan and his knights. Valeria, however, is more than content to be taken out into the open area where Edan was performing and joining Ossian in a dance to the tunes.
The music is up-tempo and drum-heavy, with only acoustic instrumentation. (Think something like swing or big band.) Ossian is in a position to lead and set the pace, as he and Valeria are the first couple from the royal family to dance and other dancers will follow their lead. Valeria will try to match Ossian and dance with him, but her ability to execute will depend on his style and the amount of effort and energy he puts into the dance.
Ossian is a gentleman and a good dancer. He will work hard to make Valeria both enjoy the dance and look good on the dance floor. Still he keeps on the very edge of her ability, while covering any mistake she makes, so that maybe even she will not notice. If she starts to get too winded he will suggest that they join the reception line after fetching drinks.
Valeria will dance with him for quite some long time. Her style is fluid, of course, though she has some reflexive tendencies to swing large that Ossian intuits come from her expectation that there will be water resistance to certain of her motions that just isn't there on sweeps. So there are plenty of minor mistakes to work with, though Valeria is aware of many of them and does her best to compensate, and makes fewer as time goes on.
She tires out more quickly than Ossian, but not too much so; she's not an Amberite but she is a Rebman royal and enough of that blood runs in her that she seems to be able to outlast most Amberites. Still, she's ready for a drink and a move toward the reception line after a while.
As they stand in the line Ossian asks: "So what brings you here? Not just Edan's new order, I guess."
"I've been in Xanadu for some long time, since before my mother abandoned Rebma and went off on her mad warfare spree against my Aunt Celina and the rest of our family, and yours." Valeria frowns a little poutily at that, but it's pretty, and Ossian suspects she knows it.
"I hope to speak to Celina tonight and return home with her when she goes back. If she's taking in your uncle who nearly destroyed the city, she can find something useful for me to do as well. I've been doing little or nothing since I arrived with the Amber refugees, and I have no use here. And neither Random nor Vialle look on me with favor, so I'll do no worse under Celina," she explains.
From someone else it might be self-pity, or seeking pity from Ossian, but she's simply being honest as far as Ossian can tell.
Before Ossian can reply to that, he can see Paige's bodyguard/babysitter Rides in the Van headed in his and Valeria's direction.
Ossian smiles. "How can we help you?"
"I am Rides in the Van of the Knights of Altamar. Prince Bleys has sent me to ask for you to join him at the Mayor's House. I can keep the lady company in your stead." He nods politely to Valeria, and adds, "Madam."
Valeria looks to Ossian to see what he's going to do.
Ossian frowns and turns to Valeria "Although I am loath to leave you, I think I will have to answer the Prince's summons. It is too uncommon to ignore. In fact I think this is the first for me." He the turns to the knight. "Keep Lady Valeria company, as long as she wishes. Neither less, nor more."
Sir Rides in the Van bows. "As your Lordship commands."
With that he kisses Valeria's hand and goes for the mayor's house.
"Good night, sweet Prince. We shall dance another time."
Rides takes her hand and the two of them swirl off to the music. He is a good dancer, but no Prince of Amber.
The drumming was magnificent. As the amazing display of rhythm and precision wraps up, Garrett finds himself breathless and shaking his head in awe, completely forgetting the company of Max, Victor and Abd-allah nearby. His father's speech is half over by the time it registers to Garrett that the King is speaking.
As he begins to regain his composure, Garrett glances around the circle of faces at the front of the audience. Many of them are familiar; lords and merchants and relatives mingle together in the crowd. At the far edge though, one face in particular causes Garrett's breath to catch in his throat once again.
Her head turns, eyes locking with his. Panic flares in her chest. Would he want to talk to her? Had her departure ruined any chance they had at a lasting relationship? Perhaps Garrett had already found another. At once Lilly feels both foolish and afraid. But their eyes had met. Running, as she had during dinner, would only make her feel more pathetic.
Swallowing hard, Lilly pushes through the crowd. As she comes face to face with Garrett, words fail. She stops a few feet away, her fear keeping her from going any forward. How is this harder than combat, she wonders vaguely. Unable to speak or move, she stands, holding her ground and trembling ever so slightly. A single tear flows softly down her cheek.
As Lilly starts to move through the crowd, so does Garrett. He slows as she comes up short and stops just out of reach, his head cocked and expression tentative. He gulps involuntarily, but that seems to be all that's needed to clear his expression. A small smile starts at one corner of his lips. He remains still, but holds out his hand gently, as he might approach a timid and unfamiliar mare, allowing it to come if it will.
The hint of a smile is enough. Lilly closes the gap in a single movement throwing her arms around Garrett, pulling him into an embrace. "I've missed you," she says into his ear. "I didn't think I would be gone so long."
Garrett grunts as her weight suddenly hits him around the middle, but he eagerly wraps his arms around her, bear-like, and lifts her feet off the ground. "And I you," he breathes back. Setting her back on her feet, he breaks the embrace, but reaches for her hand. "We should talk," he suggests, nodding toward the edge of the crowd. "Come on."
Lilly nods her agreement as she comfortably allows him to take the lead. "You are lacking the small child I saw you with at dinner. Who was she?" she asks in a neutral tone as they walk.
"My niece, Lark," Garrett declares proudly. "She's a spitfire, that one."
He looks back at Lilly as what she said just registers, "Wait. You were at dinner? I didn't see you."
"You were quite caught up with Lark," Lilly responds with the hint of a smile. "And then Gerard, I believe. While I was hiding over with Corwin. I slipped out quietly. I wasn't sure I wanted out reunion to happen amidst a family meal. They are unsettling enough as it is."
Garrett leads them to a garden beyond the worst of the crowd and offers Lilly a seat on the wide stone ledge that surrounds it. He sits beside her, at a comfortable but not intimate distance. "That they are," he replies, "And yeah, I reckon I was distracted when I came back to dinner. You probably came in while I was out taking the Trump call from Folly to bring her and Lark in." At that thought, Garrett frowns and lowers his voice before continuing, "She needed her whole household brought in as well. There's trouble in the Shadow she came from. Martin's still out there."
"Everyone is just so full of good news this evening," Lilly responds flatly. She shakes her head and sighs. "What happened? Is Martin safe?"
Something in Lilly's tone makes Garrett turn to look at her quizzically. A little smile of apology appears and his eyes grow softer. "I'm sorry. I'm mucking this up, aren't I?" he says, taking her hand and resting their joined hands between them on the seat. "I haven't seen you in forever and I open with disaster. Martin can wait. Where have you been?"
Shaking her head, Lilly responds gently. "You are not mucking this up. You know that Martin is like a brother to me and I would prefer to know if he is in some sort of mortal peril. The tale of my travels can wait. It wasn't that exciting. Time with Benedict is more about education. But I did learn quite a bit and now I'm back. That's about it."
Garrett looks solidly into her eyes and nods. "I had forgotten that you and he lived together for a time. At the Tecys, wasn't it?"
"Anyway," he continues, "Folly said that she believes the trouble he's in involves Klybesians. That makes sense, considering that the name keeps coming up in pretty much every conversation I've had since my return. He encountered what Folly called 'zombies' - ghost men in physical form, I believe - in both the shadow they were in and another shadow he frequents. It sounded like he had things under control for the moment," and Garrett's expression conveys that Martin's version of 'under control' probably differs from his own, "but Folly will likely be calling out the cavalry if he's not here by morning."
"I'm sure she will," Lilly agrees with another nod. "We seem to be under attack from all sides. Brennan has concerns. It seems that a 'ghost island' of sorts has just appeared far too close for comfort. And there are rumors of other strange occurrences. I am not convinced that anywhere is safe. Keep your wits and stay armed. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you."
Lilly's last words appear to take Garrett by surprise. He smiles reassuringly and starts to speak, but seems to be at a momentary loss, perhaps deciding that this is not the time to make light of her concerns. "I will," he agrees finally. "And you as well. You're more likely to be on the offensive if anything comes up. They'll put me to guarding Queen and Castle, I reckon," he says, with no indication that that is a bad thing.
"Did Brennan say anything more about his concerns?" Garrett asks. "I didn't see anything particularly odd while I was traveling, but then again, not having much experience in shadow, I might not have recognized something as being out of place."
"Just that Islands suddenly appearing right outside of Benedict's stronghold seems to be cause for concern," Lilly replies dryly. A moment passes and she shrugs. "The death of a cousin. Threats in shadow. Old enemies appearing. Lots of details best discussed in less public places. So many things coming together at the same time. He's alarmed and that's enough for me to be on my guard."
"Yeah, Brennan doesn't alarm easily," Garrett agrees flatly. He sighs and rubs the back of his neck wearily. "And you're right. There's naught to be done for it now. Or here," he gestures at the crowd.
Garrett's eyes soften as he changes the subject. "So you said you were hiding by Corwin at dinner. Were you really hiding?" he asks gently.
Lilly cocks her head and shrugs. "Maybe, " she responds with a grin. "You did come in with a date after all. Perhaps I was feeling intimidated." Not a lie, the warrior maid decides as the words come out. Young children were truly frightening creatures.
Paige heads to her son, kneels at his side and simply asks, "Where is your sister?
"Somehow, I'm sure, even among all these people, you can find her."
He smiles. "Yeah, I can hear her. She with grandfather. She's not going to leave the square. That's the game."
He's gotten more vocal since the onset of puberty. It's odd, Paige once would've guessed that she would be the vocal one.
She nods at him and takes a mother's liberty, kissing him on the cheek.
Someone is trumping Paige. From the urgency they're using, it's probably family, and by family, it's a redhead. Or Nana Clarissa.
The urgency alarms her, but she's careful to not startle her son. Still kneeling, she answers, "Who calls?"
"Mother Hannah...I mean Brita. Brita Calls. Cousin Hannah is Birthing Now. Come. Help?" Brita seems a little flustered but she is reaching out a hand.
Paige nods, calling back over her shoulder to Grizzle, "My regrets to the Quartermaster, but he's the duty this evening, as it seems my cousin is having a baby. Leif, please listen to Alain and ensure that your sister adheres to the game, no place beyond the square without supervision? Understood?"
Without waiting for his consent, as it was a rhetorical question anyway, she extends her hand to Brita and disappears in a flash of rainbow brilliance.
Brita briefly watches Cousin Signy head to the dais and continues her rounds around the dance area. She watches as the drums are set up -- intrigued by the precision of placement and the scale of the instruments. In the bustle of people, she pulls out a plain scarf and ties it over her braided hair, twirling and tucking the braids up so they are completely covered. She meanders a bit, watching Cousins Edan and Vere perform with a slight smile at the drama. It is really rather impressive and she will have to remember to tell both of them. She pauses as Random appears and then disappears just as fast. A look of disappointment flickers across her face -- Uncles can be So Annoyingly Wiley sometimes. Maybe they All have a little of Uncle Loki in them. She notes the placement of her mother through this brief sighting of the King, wondering at her level of insight into what is going on. Something to ask later. She continues to wander seemingly randomly through the crowd, listening to the people's reaction to the new Knights and Cousin Edan. Eventually, she nears the bar and that cluster of Kin.
Brita suddenly strides up to Hannah out of the crowd. "Cousin. Your Water? Do you Need Assistance?"
"I do, I suppose. I'd like to stay on my feet as long as possible, but may need support. It's good to see you." Brita gets a genuine smile, and Hannah takes a moment to clasp her hand.
The Victorian upbringing just can never quite be put away though. "Have you met our Uncle Huon? Uncle, Brita was the first welcome me to Amber."
"...don' t know." Robin is muttering as she walks up to the bar. "The last time I licked a trumpet it did not taste like that. I think it was the polish. You know, because of the formal occasion."
On her shoulders, Peep and Chirrup are trading a look of disgust and concern. In her arms, Ooot is making sounds and gestures much like a dog with peanut butter on its tongue.
"One club soda, please. In a dish if you can." She tells the barman.
As she waits for her drink, Robin looks up and around at the cluster she has suddenly found herself in. A brilliant smile is sent to Brita. A glare to Huon. And... a Julianic eyebrow is raised to Hannah.
Hannah doesn't even hesitate, but gets a grip on Robin's forearm with her right hand. "Sister, I'm going to need your attendance. Have you been introduced to our Uncle Huon yet?" She looks between them.
"Well, consider yourself attended." Robin smiles at her sister as she covers Hannah's gripping hand with a comforting one of her own. Then with a sigh for her sister's fine manners, Robin's eyes dart to Huon. 'We've met' is what she tries to say. Really. But it comes out as pretty much as a growl.
Peep uncharacteristically does not react harshly, but instead croons at Hannah. The boys do not like 'Uncle Huon', who finds them amusing.
Hannah lets go of Robin to offer Peep a perch on her wrist.
Robin nods. Excellent! Peep is officially on distraction-duty.
Brita, courageously supporting Hannah from the other side, has bared her teeth at Huon in a semblance of a polite smile. It is unclear if the stress behind it is due to the impending dangers of childbirth or her uncle until, she says "uncle huon." She leans around Hannah to smile more gamely at Robin and notes, "We should Probably Alert Cousin Paige. She is More Knowledgeable about Children."
Robin's eyes sparkle briefly at the lower case 'uncle huon.' Someone's been appropriately dissed. And she nods back to Brita with a comfortable and confident smile. Robin is obviously not fashed by breeding issues. In other people.
Huon nods. "Please, let's not dwell on formalities when you have your sister and/or cousin to help. Hannah, you will be here all day if you attempt to introduce me to everyone, and that is not how I believe the King expects you to dance all night. I shall absent myself to find Paige." Huon bows briefly, from the neck, scoops up Hannah's unwanted drink and heads for the dais.
Hannah's eyes follow Huon away. "Well, I don't like that he knows who Paige is, and where Paige is. I have her trump right here if one of you want to grab her ahead of him." She flips it out of her dress top and offers it.
"Would you mind, Brita? Damn things never work right for me." Robin shakes her shoulders to get the boys into the air and searching for easy paths out of the crowd.
"Soooo, Ms. Hannah, do you think the patient should walk to her den or be carried?" Robin stands ready to assist with either.
Hannah gives her sister a little smile. "Gravity is the friend of labor. Never let a mother rest while she can walk or stand. People who lay women down for birthin' don't have the least notion of how awful they are... that is, ignorant. Ignorant nonsensical..." Her voice has gone tight along the way, and she shifts her hold from Brita over to Robin. She holds tight, but not too tight while another contraction passes. "Five minutes, I think. I need a stopwatch. People in pain can't make accurate measures of time, usually. Are our bodies really this efficient, that I might skip right over the first stage of labor, or not notice I'm in it? Or that the first stage of labor is shorter but more intense?" Obviously, she's coming out of it. Her grip loosens.
"Hey kitten, do you feel that?" she asks Peep. Hannah grins at Robin again. "I wish I'd been able to midwife for Folly. Paige will know this, but stage one most women can go about their business, but they feel it. 'Bout 7 mins between. Stage 2, usually 5 to 3 minutes between, mother is generally too pain distracted for conversation. Last stage is pushing. Women who can't stand up in stage 2 need to be held up for pushing, excepting exceptions. Like breech and hangin's and bleeds. Those are why you have a midwife."
Brita is studiously concentrating on the image of the newest red haired Warden. Much more energy in her stare and she might bore a hole through the card.
"Or a Robin." Robin has been listening carefully to Hannah's explanations. "I don't usually get to see the early bits." She explains, "Usually by the time I'm brought in, there's a boat or a tree or wild animals involved. Sometimes all three." She grins.
Paige hasn't answered yet, but looking at the stage, where she is, it's clear she's felt the trump. Huon is nearly there.
Hannah gives Robin a confused look. "Involved in a woman giving birth, or themselves giving birth?"
Brita speaks, presumably to Paige. "Mother Hannah...I mean Brita. Brita Calls. Cousin Hannah is Birthing Now. Come. Help?" Brita seems a little flustered but she is reaching out a hand.
Robin chuckles to Hannah. "I've never delivered a baby boat. But the universe is infinite and I might be around for quite a while, soooo..." She shrugs. An errant thought bird hops across her mind, wondering if The Psyche and Martin's sailboat have met. Robin shoos it away with another chuckle.
"Trees and wild animals, definitely. But yes, I was thinking about them being involved with women giving birth. Human-type women. Ooorrr mostly human-ish type women." Robin allows to be fair to some of her memories.
As she is speaking, Robin is gently steering Hannah away from the bar and toward the edge of the crowd, while maintaining very clear sight lines and proximity to Brita.
Hannah laughs. "She just called me 'mother Hannah'." This seems tho make her contemplative.
"Yep." Robin nods sympathetically, "Get used to that."
Paige appears in a quick shimmer of that rainbow brilliance that accompanies someone Not There then Two Dimensional then smiling at her cousin. She begins by taking a quick appraisal of the situation, giving Hannah the once over. "Right, I had wished for more time, but children have a mind of their own, especially Powers," she states.
"How close are the contractions?" the redhead asks. "Did your water break already?"
"Water approximately ten minutes. I was distracted. They're at about five, but without predecessors. I've never seen anyone who wasn't..." she clears her throat, "induced in some way skip right into stage two. I think I've got a minute to the next. Come feel it. It's definitely full-banding contractions."
Hannah looks over at Brita. "Cousin, it's nothing to be afraid of. Come with us and learn all about it."
Now that Paige is there and asking Knowledgeable questions, Brita seems less stressed. She nods at Hannah's invitation and is clearly following although letting Robin and Paige take center stage with Hannah.
Robin nods to Paige as she appears, passing the first responder baton to the obvious designated lead. And grins to Brita - Hannah is apparently a group breeder, instead of a solo spawner so the more 'human female' energy around the better. Robin slides into her role as soux-midwife and back-up 'oh shit!' manager as the four woman (and three lizards) exit the square.
Paige waits to palpate until they've found someplace for Hannah to sit. Her focus is keeping the new mother comfortable before asking questions about the color and odor of the amniotic fluid, and when she does she turns to Brita, because she's the Nose of the family.
"I'm not calling my brother until you're at least into active labor, but one supposes someone should at least inform him that he's only another day of carefree life before him," she chuckles.
"It smelled fleshy, like a ripe apricot and was slightly yellow," Brita notes with a slight wrinkle of her nose.
Paige nods pleased that the baby hadn't fouled it.
Hannah is not keen on sitting, and strongly prefers Paige just feel without poking and prodding. Hannah is full of opinions about childbirth, and during her time away had gathered and made all the traditional items she needs.
She's very confident that there will be no major issues, that she will be able to perform a proper silent birthing, that if the child is difficult and breech that Paige will 'simply' turn it, and that she herself can endure an extended painful manipulation as required.
Of Edan, she says, "Your brother and I talked and he has agreed he has plenty of duties down here to see to. Let him know when I finally feel like pushing. That will give him time to worry without it being torture."
Robin takes a mother/midwife distraction moment to whisper to Brita. "Any floaty-moon women show, you take 'em out no questions asked, right?" Then Robin pauses and thinks about it. "And don't ask about this 'cause I can't say, but if the Queen shows, politely stall like the dickens. Okay?"
Paige feels the rising contraction and agrees with Hannah but thinks her cousin is likely further along than either had realized. "Walk while you can," she allows.
Paige looks to Robin and Brita. "So, do we know who might still be up the hill or are one of you going to ride ahead with one of my Trumps?" she asks, implying that Hannah isn't walking that far.
Brita, looking appropriately threatening at the air and darkness and all things floaty (present dragonettes excluded), notes "All of My Contacts are Here" with a brief nod encompassing the square and town.
Hannah gives Paige a short look. "I wasn't planning on walking all the way up. Anyone have Solange? She doesn't seem to be around."
Robin shakes her head, her contacts are either at the party or irrelevant. "I could run up there and call one of you from the Trump Booth. I'mmmmmm pretty quick on my feet." There's a lot Robin's understating there.
Paige bites her bottom lip and pulls out her deck, unwrapping it from the green silk. "I may actually have Solange," she mutters. "We can at least try it."
It's halfway through the deck before the diviner locates it, as Paige keeps all her cards in play with the Fortunes, and well after she locates one of herself to send with Robin as a backup plan.
"I drew this of Solange back before the Trumps worked again, so it may not chill, but I can't anticipate any adverse effects to the attempt," she explains.
Paige centers herself and reaches for Solange, willing the image on the card to life...
Solange answers. "Um. Hello? Who is this?" For all that she knows the theory, she doesn't seem very versed in using the cards. Amongst other things, she seems to be leaking emotions, and she's unhappy about something.
"It's Paige," she offers gently. "I was hoping you might be at the palace. Hannah is in labor and I'd like to get her back up the hill." Her voice is call and imparts no sense of urgency.
"Oh," says Solange, and then, "OH. Of course, let me get up and--where should I go?" She doesn't have the strength or frame of reference to hide where she is; she's in a sitting room somewhere in the castle as best Paige can tell by the look of things.
Solange says, "It's Hannah. She's in labor and she wants to come through," which is clearly not directed at Paige. Then she adds, for Paige's benefit, "Kyril is here and so is his niece Allie. He's going to get what we need. You can hand Hannah through any time."
Robin and Peep unobtrusively take over primary Hannah-watch while Paige is doing the communication. Though she smiles to Brita as the Goddess takes up the defensive duty. Yep, it's a good team.
Hannah leans into Robin and says quietly, "I don't want to be going through that trump contact during the contraction and there should be one coming very soon. Safest for all involved to wait it out."
As Robin waits and provides strength to Hannah, she sends a brief 'all claws on me' directive to the boys in the air.
"How many times have your dragons been through trumps?" she asks.
Robin purses her lips as she thinks about the answer. "A couple of times. With the assistance of Princess Fiona." Robin grins in fond remembrance. "She fireproofed her tower for them. And then took us to a wonderful Family Monument where a giant lizard lived. We didn't have time to talk to him then. Hopefully, someday we can go back and visit." Yep, idle distractive chatter -- Robin-style.
Paige nods to Solange, explaining to both groups, "She's in a sitting room with Kyril, and I'm also going to be sending Brita and Robin." She then proceeds to start passing women through.
Brita notes the dragonettes in the air and nods to herself. "I will Go First to Assess while Cousin Hannah Works." She puts a hand on Paige's shoulder to enter the Trump, grasps Solange's hand with a brief "Cousin" in greeting and goes through. She remains in contact with Solange on the other side with a light hand on her arm to remain in the Trump contact.
Robin nods her understanding and complete agreement with this plan.
Solange really isn't used to large-group contacts, but she does know how to pull someone through, at least. This she does with Brita.
On the far side, Brita's in a sitting room in Castle Xanadu with a very wide-eyed young woman who looks like she's related to Kyril. "Uh, hi," says the woman who must be Allie, who has clearly never seen someone come in on a Trump before.
Hannah keeps her eyes open through this contraction, using the pain as an experiment in perception changes. She looks at the scales on the little dragon, the colors in Robin's hair; she sniffs at Peep, just to see if he smells like anything other than bird. Her mind, though, keeps wandering back to Gerard, and how much pain must color everything he sees. She forgets to breathe and has to remember, as she gasps, "Ah, yes, now I have to think of breath. That's why it works. Robin, do you think your wanágthe knows what is happening to me? Can she... understand? She's still a young one, yes?"
"She's young, yes." Robin nods, "But I think she knows. Her kind don't seem as... reliant as we are on formal teaching to understand the world." She smiles at both of Peep and Hannah.
When Paige reaches for Hannah she will go through.
Robin and the fair accompany Hannah: bright, confident and very, very much there.
Paige passes Hannah once the contraction ends and then Robin and Peep, following herself in the end. Once in the palace she kisses her cousin on the cheek in thanks and begins setting about making sure that Hannah is comfortable.
"I think you are further along than you think," Paige suggests.
Solange brings everyone through, including the fair. The fair are sitting on Robin's shoulders when she comes through, and Solange gives her and Hannah each a bit of an extra squeeze when they're passed through.
Robin grins at her "baby" sister and returns the squeeze.
They all arrive in one of the sitting rooms of Castle Xanadu with its chairs and love seats. Kyril comes back in the door, saying, "I've sent for water and towels and blankets, and my medical kit. How far apart are the contractions?" He doesn't sound worried, just like he's turned on professional detachment. "Paige, you've done this before, haven't you? How about you, Solly? Allie?"
"'bout five mins, and I agree with Paige that I'm farther along than that timing might lead you to believe. Doctor, I appreciate it and all, but we've set up a birthing suite, and my traditions forbid men. Though it's good to see you're well. Nice to meet you Allie. Solonge, you are coming with us, right?" Hannah asks in her best 'eldest sister with expectations' tone.
"Sure, I'm coming with you," Solange says, and sounds remarkably cheerful about it.
Robin nods politely to everyone present, and catches Kyril's eye. She's got something to add when Hannah is... in a less directive place. Other than that, she and the firelizards remain in a supportive background role.
"I know you're against poking and prodding," Paige comments, "But I'd have a better idea of exactly how far and how quickly this will progress if you would let me check dilation and effacement."
"Can we do that in the birthing suite? Allie, Kyril, get whatever you sent for--water, whatever--forwarded to the birthing suite. The servants should know where that is. I'll catch up with you two later," Solange tells them.
Kyril starts to say something and decides he's better off keeping his mouth shut.
Hannah's eyes narrow, not quite able to make out what's happened here with her sister and her parolee.
Allie asks, "Do you need someone to stand guard at the door? I'm good for that and I've got field medic experience if you need it."
"Sure. Don't physically try to stop anyone though - and all the women can come in. If it gets too crowded someone will sort it out."
She lets go of Solange to reach for Paige's arm. "Let us proceed to your domain, trusty midwife."
The Warden smiles at her cousin and friend in agreement.
Hannah turns back to Kyril. "Would you mind, after you're done with sending necessities, stopping by Lady Corvis' suite to see if she is available to come sit with us? She'd be a comfort."
Kyril nods. "Not at all, Doctor. Just remember the old saying about lawyers who represent themselves."
Brita, after nodding to Allie's greeting, has been surveying the room purposefully. She notes to the girl, "I will Guard the Inside and Alert you to Any Issues." She is hoping the birthing room is large enough for Hannah's growing entourage.
Paige leads the way with Hannah on her arm, pausing when the next contraction occurs, again palpating gently. "I'm not experiencing them, but they seem stronger," she observes.
As she ushers Hannah into the birthing suite she continues, "I'm not worried. Just noting it."
The suite is exactly as Hannah has prepared, and the proximity to the baths make the provisioning of fresh towels and clean water extremely easy.
Solange mentions that she's been in barns when horses have given birth, but this will be the first human she's seen do so.
Solange gets the side-eye from Hannah at this comment.
It's pretty clearly nerves.
Allie stations herself outside the door, her soldierly demeanor kicking right in.
Hannah starts handing out assignments. "Solange, if you could please, write a note to my father introducing yourself and let him know labor has begun. I have no idea where he is..." She looks to Paige to see if she knows.
"Brita, you're so wonderful. It will be fine. Have you seen women die in childbirth? You seem nervous." Hannah offers her a hug. "I'm not even going to get loud." They've managed to get a pretty big suite, with birthing room with about a half dozen chairs, and a sitting room half set for tea and cards, and the other half holding medical supplies and baby equipment. The baby board and cradle are beaded works of art.
"Robin... if you'll take turns with Solange keeping me hydrated. Just hydrated enough, you know..." she waves a hand. "And upright as long as possible. And probably do what Paige says, even if I'm not complying." Hannah grins, and finally turns to Paige.
Robin snorts in amusement as she sets the firelizards loose in the room. Keep things wet? Yeah, she can do that. But Robin bets that if she is not careful, Hannah might end up having an aquatic birth. Regardless of how high up on a mountain in a Pattern Realm they are. Her eyes are sparkling at that thought when she nods in response to Hannah.
"I can feel one coming on. That's closer. We'll check, I'll change clothes, and then you can tell us where we're at and if we need anyone to change what they're doing. Maybe if we're lucky I'll get to eat and sleep and eat before this meeting."
Brita accepts the hug. "I have Seen Many Births. As Goddess of Clear Waters, I was Called by Prayer to the bedside of Many women in Hard Labor. My Powers were Not Always Strong enough to Help and I Have Seen a few Die - both Mothers and Children. Here... I Have Nothing to Offer but My Watchfulness."
"Your watchfulness is no small thing cousin. I've seen them die too, when it was my responsibility to prevent it. I could use a favor though. If Vialle comes up, try to talk her out of coming back. It can be right stressful for a pregnant woman to see another in labor. Her first duty is to herself, not me. Don't push the issue... but tell her I said that and want her to keep safe." Hannah shrugs. "I guess that'll go for anyone pregnant that shows up. Maybe you can pass that out to Allie - except for Vialle, of course. She'll need family attention..."
Robin nods in confirmation. A Goddess of Clear Waters is good member to have on the team, regardless of what she thinks of her effectiveness. Robin's lips quirk as Hannah brings up Vialle and she catches Brita's eye. And gives another small nod. No Vialle. Everyone is on the same track here.
By the time everyone has had a chance to listen to and start on Hannah's tasks, Solange has written her note and folded it, and asked Allie to send for a page to deliver it. In deference to Hannah's sensibilities, they hear her ask Allie to send a female page so that the page can deliver any message to Hannah personally. And also has Allie repeat the message for the page in case Solange has written in the wrong language. (Solange knows Thari but isn't sure what the written dialect of Hannah's home shadow is.)
Robin has a task for Allie too but Solange's comes first.
Once that has been seen to, Robin asks Allie to ask Kyril if he might find some fireproof baby supplies to have on hand. Just in case. Maybe some minor fire suppression gear too. Nothing too much, mind you. Robin doesn't want to scare anyone, but Afrit heritage has been mentioned.
After Paige has done an examination and Hannah has changed into what she considers a birthing gown, she sits, finally, and draws her sisters to either side of her for a quick discussion. She motions to Brita and Paige that they're welcome to come join them.
Robin and Peep snuggle in. The boys have found themselves out of the way perching places.
"Robin, Solange and I have talked about this, uh, curse or unholy connection or whatever it is between the women of our line, the Isles, and childbirth. I can't remember us speaking about it. Have you heard of this notion that women of our line lose... something with each birth and the third kills us?"
Hannah shifts. "I bring it up because I told Solange I'd test it first - get pregnant and see what happens. And I just wanted to say, that isn't what this is." She gestures to her stomach. "This... was me not expecting to meet... to share... I got caught up and didn't regain my sense for some time. All my scientific goals were somewhere else. So I wasn't consciously addressing the issue of how our intent may or may not influence our fertility. I have no regrets, and it would break my heart if Edan were to think this was all some experiment."
Solange puts her arms around Hannah. "I would never think that. Never mind say it to Edan." She gives Hannah a quick squeeze before stepping back to give Hannah room. It's obvious to Hannah and Paige that she really hasn't ever been present at a birthing before.
Paige smiles, suggesting that Edan will never hear of any of this from her lips. Considering the point settled, she busies herself about preparing for the evening's labors.
Robin nods, less concerned with Edan's feelings than her sister's risk. She licks her lips nervously as she tries to find the diplomatic words.
"Ah, yes. Ladies?" Robin addresses the various powers in the room. "My Father and I have spoken a little on this subject, and there may be a sort of 'life-link' between the mother and children of our Line. I'm hoping I can mitigate that or help it somewhat if it becomes too great a burden. But... well, I'm not supposed to get all... Family Heritage around sorcery," Robin looks at Paige, "'cause it creates 'nodes.'" Bleys' words, not hers. "And the Heritage would definitely limit any divine or technologic effects." She adds looking to Brita and Solange.
"Aaannndd," Robin finishes reluctantly as she turns to Hannah, "If things start going seriously sideways, I am calling Dad." She holds up Julian's Trump. "Regardless of cultural taboos. You can hate us both later." The girl is both embarrassed but determined.
A few minutes later, word comes that Corvis is on her way, and some time after that, the lady herself arrives. It's clear that the reason she had remained in the castle and not gone to see the men dance is that her health would not permit; while she's not in a wheelchair, she has one of the girl-pages at her elbow to help her walk.
Also during this time, there are visitors: women of the Xanadhavian household with small gifts for Hannah and the child that is soon to be born. Most are new-made but some carry the signs of use and love. It's clear that the customs of many lands are being observed in this new castle, where Hannah will be the first to give birth.
Celina cheers when Edan is done with his speech.
Celina applauds with great delicacy and precision.
Random steps back, then steps forward again and adds. "You may all dance until dawn, there is no curfew tonight, and tomorrow is Red Lamp Day henceforth, and an unsolemn holiday." Then the King retreats into the mayoral manor and does not return.
Celina laughs. "I accept the challenge! Dancing until dawn it is!." She applauds again.
Signy dutifully claps at the dancing and theKing's speech, but as the King retreats back inside, Signy shakes her head ruefully.
"And yet after announcing the big party, he heads back inside."
She looks around at the crowd before a worried look crosses her face.
"Was that a command? Do we all need to dance until dawn?"
Celina smiles and puts a hand on Signy's shoulder, "While I'm sure the King would be amused if we chose to interpret his humor such, I do not think it is a royal command in that sense."
Silhouette smiles softly, "Although, I suspect your dance card will be quite full, might I trouble you for at least one dance this evening, my Queen."
She glances over at Signy, "And you, cousin. Do you dance? Sometimes the forge takes us away from such aspects of life."
Celina nods with excitement, "It may not be custom above the waves, but in Rebma, three ladies may dance a number of styles together if you wish."
Celina adds with a smile, "It's not hard to learn. There is no dance that is done wrong. I've taught this many times."
Silhouette bows her head, "I think, for tonight, custom shall be considered fluid and all-inclusive, my Queen. I would be delighted to be Enlightened upon this form of dance. Thank you."
Celina gently nudges Silhouette towards the crowd of lively celebrants.
"We don't have to do much, just let people experience some joy," Celina says softly. "This is an entry and memory night for Edan. We can give people a treasure to carry away and tell their children about."
Silhouette regards her for a moment, some wicked thought apparently inspired, rising to her lips, yet remaining unspoken.
"The boguin is a sword dance actually but we will not worry about that. Keep your eyes on me, we'll walk through it together. It will feel like a mirror dance at first, then get more fun as you find the currents it has."
Celina begins. She keeps her head always level and matched to Silhouette's gaze. A big smile seems balanced and weighted for the crowd. As they sway a bit towards each other and then away, their arms move in the same ways that the horizon calls to sailors of the double dozen seas.
Silhouette's focus is almost unnerving in its intensity, studying Celina's every movement, every nuanced gesture. With perfect symmetry, she mimics the dance, matching motion and timing. Outwardly, it is beautiful to behold. Yet, her dancing is too perfect, too exact. It lacks true grace.
Celina adjusts her style a bit, warmer, more open, allowing Silhouette to appear to be almost leading. Her smile is still for the crowd, but she is an inviting partner.
Silhouette eases her stance slightly, encouraged by Celina's openness. As the dance progresses, she allows her partner to shine, As they close, she whispers, "Even above the waves, you are the most graceful woman in the room." She quickly adds, "My Queen."
"Would that my City and People found me so," Celina replies in gentle whisper. "But dancing with you will suffice for today."
"Give them time, Milady," Silhouette says, touching Celina's hand. "They will soon love you as I do."
She drifts away, only to return, fully taking control of the dance now - apparently inspired by Celina's kindness.
"We shall see, Fierce Beauty," Celina whispers now, "for I do not think time is on our side. I would gladly give the Emerald City my time, sworn to it, in fact, but while I intend to, what moves in shadow to take away these choices? That's what tomorrow's family conference will tell. You shall join me there, yes?"
Silhouette slows her steps and movements, perfectly in sync with the music. "The conference? I believe so, my Queen. Ossian and I must report our findings," she says, her voice edging toward cool professionalism. Then she adds, "But, I serve you above all others. Where you say, I shall go."
Celina perks up, her smile grows, "All right then, we'll try to ride the storm together. And if I end up sounding too stuffy, you give me a slow wink. OK?"
Celina adds a more complex step to the shared balance, since Silhouette is now so relaxed.
Silhouette matches her step for step, adding in a few of her own - playing perfectly off her partner's natural rhythm and grace. For her, the outside world drifts away, everything framing in this moment, these movements. She ignores the watchful eyes, even though it's likely people will talk about this dance, whisper about the unrestrained joy of it. Let them talk.
"Might I ask a favor of you though?" she says, fingers brushing over Celina's wrist as she makes another fluid step in time. "Spend a single afternoon with me exploring this city? I wish to see its marvels, but have found sharing such experiences more Enlightening when shared with someone..." She swallows the last words, but they shine in her forest-dark eyes.
Celina considers. Xanadu is fresh and probably wilder than Rebma. People will talk. Could that get back to Rebma and put Silhouette in danger? Anyone who seems a favorite of the Queen is subject to added scrutiny.
Yet Silhouette is hardly defenseless. Truly, Celina realizes that she is more concerned that her reliance on a friend will be exposed. Celina worries that the Queen is too exposed already to those who will wish to end her bond with Rebma as soon as possible.
"I will agree," Celina says quietly, "depending on the Family conference delivering news that I must act on short-term. I can delay my return and visit Xanadu with you. We should both have modest disguises."
Silhouette bows her head and smiles, "But of course. No on will recognize us, of that you can be assured."
She completes the final movements of the dance, letting the fading music draw them to a regretful conclusion. At the end, her hand lingers in Celina's, yet only for the briefest monents.
Finally, she steps away and provides her partner with a stiff bow, "Thank you for indulging me, my Queen. I fear my skills were not up to the task."
"Let me kill your fears," Celina says, "for I enjoyed it so much. Dancing for fun is something I need to do more. And your words lifted my spirits."
Celina nods to the crowd, "We can mingle, and provide addition lift to spirits around this event. I shall try my best. Come rescue me if I get stuck dancing with Huon."
Silhouette smiles softly, "He has two left feet and isn't as charming as he believes himself to be. But for you, and only you, I shall make the sacrifice."
Raven, in the crowd, frowns slightly at the shortness of the King's speech. It doesn't hurt her feelings that it's short, but it does seem like the dance and all that should have maybe produced a slightly longer one. Or maybe that's just the way this king does things. She shrugs a little then and looks around. Her brother probably needs even less keeping an eye on at his age then she did, really, but she is curious what he was talking to a Prince and an Admiral's son about.
"Don't know that we've properly met," the captain says as she approaches. "You're Vere, right?"
Vere had been staring thoughtfully at the now empty window of the Mayor's Mansion, but he turns slightly before Raven speaks. He nods slightly. "I am," he answers, "And I believe that you are correct that we have not met."
"Sorry - name's Raven," she supplies. "Still figuring out who's who, but your father pointed you out at dinner. If you don't mind my asking - everything okay with my brother? I saw you taking to him earlier."
"Ah, Captain Raven," Vere offers his hand. "I have been told of you, and young Max mentioned you when speaking of his siblings. He appears to be taking his responsibilities quite seriously."
Raven returns the gesture. "Which responsibilities was he talking about? The last time he and I talked about that, he was making noises about a vendetta, and I'm pretty sure he ain't old enough for that kind of talk yet."
"He did not say anything about vendetta this time. Whether that means he has changed his mind, or merely learned discretion, I do not know." Vere smiles slightly. "No, he was saying that he felt your father had left him the responsibility of locating and protecting his younger siblings. Why Lucas would have that duty fall upon him rather than you he did not say."
"I'd imagine," Raven says dryly, "that has a lot to do with it being unlikely that Lucas was my father too."
"Ah," Vere replies. He gives a slight bow of the head. "My apologies. I made an unwarranted assumption."
Raven smiles and shakes her head. "No need. Can't say as how it's unreasonable," she offers. "You'd have to know a bit about our mother, or been there when she was explaining. Only mostly sure myself, at this point."
"The parental strategies of our elder generation are..." Vere pauses as though seeking just the correct phrase, then settles upon "...quite mysterious in their variance." He pauses again, regarding Raven. "Victor is your uncle, as I understand it? He is an old friend of my beloved, the Lady Robin, although I do not know him well myself."
"That's what I've been told." Raven shrugs. "He wasn't around when I was a kid - didn't even know I had an uncle. Actually met him the same day I met Robin. And her..." She pauses. "Friends? Pets?"
"Companions is probably the best word," Vere answers. "Highly intelligent and psychically linked to her. And they definitely have strong personalities and their own minds."
"Ah," Raven says. "I saw them, a bit, but things got busy - we ended up tracking someone down, there was a riot, and then I've been off with Jerod. Part of why I haven't talked to Victor much, there. What kind of man does he seem like?"
"An experienced demon hunter, so a man capable of taking care of himself physically. He likes to affect a somewhat rough exterior, but he's actually extremely sensitive to the subtler points of communication. Good at subtly disappearing into the background, as well." Vere considers for a moment, then nods decisively. "Yes, 'surprisingly subtle' is the phrase I think I would use for him."
Raven glances in the direction she'd last seen her mother, with a thoughtful look, and then shrugs. "Huh. Thanks. Nice to have a hint about what I'll be stepping into." She shoves her hands into her coat pockets, in a way that looks very habitual. "Hope I'm not keeping you from anything with a bunch of nosy questions, here."
Vere glances back at the Mayor's mansion for a moment then smiles slightly. "No, in fact you probably kept me from making a mistake." He laughs very quietly then continues, "If it is not intruding, might I ask if you were raised in secret, knowing that you were a member of the Family, or if your parentage came as a surprise to you?"
Raven snorts in amusement. "Surprise is a good word for it. Grew up dockside in Amber, and Ma didn't care to say much on who my father was. Pretty much had given up on it, really, until Brita announced I was part of all this."
Vere nods thoughtfully. "I can understand her desire to keep her children out of the politics of the Family. Especially considering the way things seemed to be under the reign of Oberon, with rivalries and backstabbing common. The younger generation is trying to create a better way of doing things." He shrugs slightly. "Time will tell how well we succeed."
"Guess that's a reason she might've kept it to herself." Raven's expression says she's not so sure that's actually why. "Speaking of the old King... seeing as how I've only been around for a little of this one, is that a normal royal speech now? Seemed kind of short."
Vere's eyes go back to the empty window, and he frowns slightly. "No, that was not usual for our king. His speeches are sometimes short, but always ... interesting."
He looks back at Raven. "Will you be at the Family meeting tomorrow? I have the impression that we will be discussing matters of grave import."
Raven nods. "As long as I don't get told to do something else. Jerod and Brita and I came back from Gateway with one of those, I think."
"Ah, you were with Jerod, then." Vere gives a slight nod. "I heard a very brief synopsis of that mission. Weyland Smith, two dead mages and one left alive creating an army of the dead, and a thief who sees the future. That last is a little unclear, I confess."
"Well, sounds like you didn't get the part where he was a bird when we found him the first time," Raven says dryly, "but I don't know that I can clear the subject of him up much past that. We were about to go down after the mage that's left, and he came running up to tell us not to. Said the dead would threaten Xanadu and Rebma if we went down there without a whole army."
"A bird?" Vere blinks once. "No, I did not hear that part. Jerod suggested that I speak with him, but whether he meant that seriously or if it was a bit of dry humour referencing the fact that I occasionally have visions, I am not sure."
Raven shrugs. "We brought him with us so's people could ask him questions and figure out if he's making things up or not, but don't ask me if he meant one at a time or if everybody's going to have at him tomorrow."
Vere sighs. "There is going to be much to discuss tomorrow, and little of it pleasant. There are forces on the move, and they poke and prod to determine if Random is as strong a ruler as Oberon, or if the defeats he gave his enemies can now be reversed. I rather suspect there will be an assigning of tasks by the king."
"Aye," Raven agrees. "As I understand it, any gossip that's not been taken care of today gets taken care of tomorrow, too? So maybe it ain't all going to be grim."
Vere smiles. "The family does love its gossip. During the days when our elders were at each other's throats the tale is that they would still pause when meeting to share news of the family before fighting. This may be an exaggeration, but it reveals an underlying truth. There is a certain etiquette to it, as I understand. It is normally the duty of the less senior member to share their news first." He shrugs slightly. "Some elders are more fixated upon that sort of thing than others. In my opinion it is usually wisest not to antagonize them over such relatively unimportant points." He smiles again. "Other members of our younger generation might be less concerned about the customs of our elders than I am."
"I was reminded of that rule earlier," Raven says wryly. "Not screwing it up again, am I?"
"Not at all. I did not bring that up in reference to this conversation," Vere hastens to explain. "Merely that it is something that I have observed does not consistently get passed on to new members of the family, leading to friction through misunderstanding. As opposed to friction through deliberate action."
"It was made a point of for me." Her voice is still a little wry. "I figure it's a chain of command thing, aye? Once I wrap my head around who it gets used with that wasn't a Prince or Princess when I left Amber, I ought to have it. Ain't so sure that part's easy. That's why I asked."
Vere laughs quietly. "I think it was much simpler for our elders. They mainly were concerned with their own birth order. We have to consider our parents' relative ages, our own ages, and any official or semi-official positions we hold. I can understand why some relatives prefer to ignore the whole thing. Others have egalitarian leanings, of course."
"Did anyone think of making a list?" Raven suggests, a certain amused dryness back in her voice. "Ignoring that kind of thing ain't going to cause anything but trouble."
"Has someone been telling tales about me?" Vere inquires with a laugh. "I was noted during the Regency for making endless detailed lists of all manner of things. That one in particular I have not yet made, however." He looks back at the Mayor's Mansion and appears to make a decision. "I have enjoyed our discussion, and look forward to speaking with you more. But right now there are some matters I really think I should attempt to deal with." He nods his head to Raven.
"No, but I'll keep that in mind." Raven chuckles, then nods in return. "Aye, don't let me keep you, please. And thanks for answering my questions."
"A pleasure, I assures you." And Vere departs, heading through the crowd.
Signy slips off as the Queen and Silhouette make their way towards the dance floor. The closest thing to entertainment that ever happened at Weyland's was watching some poor visitor find out that he had gotten the short end of the stick when bargaining with the famous smith.
A wicked smile briefly twists her lips as she heads towards the bar. If she were to go out there and dance, that may end up with Random revoking his challenge, and quite possibly cancelling the holiday.
She catches the eye of a bartender, and she quickly brings Signy her drink. She leans her back against the countertop, eyeing the throngs taking their King up on his offer, before noticing Jerod within arms reach. She tips her glass briefly in his direction in a silent salute and takes a pull.
"Cousin." she says with a nod and a smile, before taking another pull from her drink.
"Signy." Jerod replies, passing his empty glass back to the bartender only to find another ready before he has a chance to even motion for a refill.
"We've not had the opportunity to properly meet I believe. We find ourselves in a fortunate circumstance then at the moment. How fare you this day?"
Signy pauses and thinks back before ruefully shaking her head.
"No, I don't believe we have met. I'm sorry -- it's hard to keep track of whom I've met and whom I've just heard of."
She mentally traces the Family Tree in her head, remembering where Jerod fit.
"I'm well enough, though I've spent the past...." Here she frowns, trying to figure out the time of the whole thing before giving it up as a lost cause. "Well, however long in Aunt Fiona's Shadow working on a project for Ambrose.
"Where have you been lately?"
"Where lately?" Jerod replies, taking a long slug on his drink. "I'm not sure the bartender has that much booze." and he looks back at the bar. "Though it might be worth trying to find out.
"Dealing with a situation in Gateway actually. Involves Marius, some rather unpleasant mages who sorely needed to have their asses handed to them, and some regime change. Managed to take care of some of that, though one mage is still...well, active I think is the correct word. Not sure about alive or dead....not yet at least.
"And we ran into Weyland the Smith." he says, taking a sip of this drink while waiting to see Signy's return serve.
Signy stalls for a moment by taking a sip from her drink, before realizing that her sip managed to empty the full glass. She gestures at the bartender for a refill at the same time as the bartender places a new glass in front of her.
"Yes, Brita may have mentioned that you ran into him."
She takes another drink.
"What was my father doing in Gateway? That seems rather far afield for him."
"Officially? His stated reason was vengeance upon the Triumvirate for their actions against Marius." Jerod replies, his slight smile ever so precise from years of Court. "Which from an immediate, no questions asked, perspective, makes perfect sense. I'm pretty sure that any Prince who had family treated thusly would have been burning Gateway to ash.
"Now unofficially? Not sure. After everything went to hell, we actually were heading out into Shadow, to the Tower Lords. Didn't get there of course, but we were heading in that direction. We were dealing with some chaosian tag-alongs that were merged with the Triumvirate. The paranoid side of my personality always looks to wonder where a gift-horse is really a Trojan one, but so far nothing has come up."
Signy decides to just give up at this point, and quickly tosses back the rest of her drink. She gives the bartender a welcoming smile at the drink that appears next to her elbow before the empty glass makes its landing.
"Of course, if we're asking questions it would be interesting to know how someone who has been more of a rumor and myth to the Family came to know not only that his son that he had never met had been stabbed, much less the ones that were responsible."
She takes a mouthful of the new drink, thinking.
"I wonder if there was anyone in the Family that Weyland was close to, that may still be in touch. I tend to doubt that anyone holding one of his Blades would have been overly fond of him, knowing how he deals."
She lifts her glass again, but pauses before taking her next drink.
"Did he know about our little gathering tonight and tomorrow?"
"He knows we were called back, but not why...that I can verify." Jerod says. "He is apparently somewhat bemused by the idea of Trumps, so that would suggest he is not fully aware of our abilities. It is possible he has assets here that could provide him with information on Marius, or us, whether those assets are family or otherwise. Given his connection to the family through Marius, via Deirdre, we should discount nothing. I do know that Corwin actually once offered to get me in touch with Weyland if I were interested in one of his weapons, so that tells me he at least had an ability to reach out. I decided then that I'm dysfunctional enough all on my own without adding to it." and he smiles, finishing his drink.
"Since he is a Chaosian, I would be hard-pressed to be surprised that he could not track his own offspring through Shadow, or to follow-up on rumors concerning whereabouts of said offspring. Given that the Triumvirate were foolish enough to do what they did, they had to realize that we would retaliate at some point. Even word of that would send out ripples to be noticed by those with the talent for listening."
Signy takes another mouthful from the tumbler while her cousin speaks before putting it down on the bar. Her fingers remain curled around the glass loosely, one finger absently tapping out a steady rhythm.
"He remains in his Tower all those years," she muses. "Doesn't really leave for Patternfall, no mention of my having a brother all those years, a man who is infamous for a lack of sentimentality, then suddenly he's off to wreak Family vengeance."
The chain doesn't appear to add up too well for Signy, but she also doesn't seem to have any way to come up with a better answer.
"I wonder if there was ever anyone in the Family that he was close to."
She pauses for a beat.
"Well, besides my mother."
"No idea." Jerod says. "Given that he was mythic to most family would tend to indicate he has minimal family involvement directly that others are willing to share. Doesn't mean people might not know him... just that they're not talking about it. With his history of providing weapons of power to individuals, I'd guess in the good ole days no one would talk about it because he'd be a resource for them. Don't want to give your enemies access to better weapons and all.
"As for now, who knows. Dara's rather nuts about her son Merlin, so there's always the possibility that he does care, though if he's following Dara's path, it's more about re-absorbing a stray of himself to gain what it has learned. Not a lot of familial love and affection on that path."
Signy frowns, thinking about Dara and Chaos and Family.
"What is Madoc's status with the Family?"
"No idea." Jerod replies, finishing his drink. "Never met him. Only have third hand knowledge, much of it suspect and not verifiable so I won't bother repeating it. The redheads would be a better source to approach for answers to that if they are necessary, since if you actually do get anything, it's likely to be more reliable."
Knowing the king's proclivities, Folly told herself that she would be keeping a close eye on the crowds, and musicians, particularly in the vicinity of the drums, during the evening's festivities.
But then Edan's dance started, and suddenly it was impossible to pay attention to anything else. At its conclusion, she cheers wildly and enthusiastically...
...until the king's appearance and brief speech reminds her what she's supposed to be doing.
She bids a temporary farewell to Paige -- "I have to go run an errand, but I'll find you later for dancing if I can, okay?" -- and then turns to her mother and daughter.
"Are you two going to be all right if I leave you alone for a few more minutes?" she asks in a studiously neutral tone, and kisses her daughter's wet hair. It's difficult to tell in the play of torchlight and shadow, but her eyes might be twinkling.
Brij stretches her arms up and locks her fingers at the extremities, showing off her gymnast's figure and Folly's best spangly dress. "We were thinking of taking a swim, but I hear they've closed the pool," says Brij. "You do whatever you need. I'd offer to help Hannah, but I think you've given birth more recently."
Brij smiles. "Run along, we'll do fine."
Folly hesitates just an instant, wondering whom Hannah is midwiving that she would need assistance with, but decides other matters are more pressing. "Perhaps for now you can substitute dancing for swimming," she offers, mostly to Lark. To her mother she continues, "I shouldn't be gone too long."
Given her recent history, she could be using any time scale from minutes to days for that particular estimate. But probably minutes. Ten or twenty or... even two hundred minutes is still not very long in the grand scheme of things, right?
Brij nods. "Just don't leave me to explain things to Martin without you, is all I ask."
"Explain? What is there to explain?" Folly asks with a twinkle in her eye -- but more seriously, she adds, "I promise."
As Folly leaves, she hears her mother greeting someone. From her tone, it's someone she doesn't like. At all.
Then she slips into the crowd to look for Syd. She's headed to the Mayor's house by way of a circuit around the edge of the drum circle to see if he's managed to show up there yet. If not, she'll be on the lookout for him moving in that direction.
The crowd is excited and reasonably happy. Folly sees many people. Julian is talking to a young child wearing his cape. Gerard is wheeling through the crowd somewhat freely. Most of the notables of Amber society from the Regency are around, and several greet her. The show-drums are being removed, but there are a number of musicians on seaward side of the square, playing in a band shell. It's clearly an impromptu band, because they're playing typical session style, which is good for the dancers and friendly to inexperienced players. There are 4 drummers, none of whom is Syd. Eventually she gets to the Lord Mayor's house. There are two guards at the door, and they do not look like the fun kind of guards that are at the rest of the party.
Just in case they are the super-obstructive kind of guards, Folly whistles a little melody as she approaches, loudly enough and at the right pitches to cut through the crowd noise, but cheerful enough that she could reasonably just be whistling to herself out of joy. If Syd (or anyone else in the band, for that matter) is anywhere within earshot (and the house isn't too thoroughly soundproofed), he should recognize it -- as well as who is likely to be whistling it.
When she gets close enough to hail the guards, she greets them cheerfully in a voice that carries: "Hi, there! I'm looking for Haven and Tjaden. Could you tellthem Folly is here to see them?"
The door opens from the inside and a young man looks out at her and opens the door wide. Edan arrives at that moment and he is also admitted. The guards close rank on the door behind them.
The man who introduces himself to Folly. "Your Highness, my name is Viper, I work for The Lord Mayor. Apologies for the men not recognizing you. Your uncle is upstairs. I'd see you up, but I need to wait on further arrivals."
Fletcher finds himself at the edge of the dais as the receiving line is breaking up. Edan has moved on and people are either dancing or sitting out dances.
"Fletcher!" says a voice from behind him, "There you are at last."
It's Brij, Martin's monther-in-law, with her granddaughter in tow. "I knew I'd find a helpful cousin eventually. I need a favor, which is to ditch of my awful ex. Can you pick up Lorelei and help me find Haven and Tjaden?" Her tones are smooth and friendly, but if Fletcher hears a bit of desperation, it's not his imagination.
Fletcher looks up quickly, pulling himself out of his personal reverie. Too much time inside one's own head can be a problem. A damsel in distress is just the thing to distract the knight. "Of course!" He waves to Lorelei, "We may not have been formally introduced my lady. I am Sir Fletcher, you cousin. You've grown up quite a lot since I first heard you." He extends his arms, "Will you help me see if we can find the others for Lady Brij?"
Lark puts her hand out to shake his, and it's clear she's Martin's child even at this young age. "I'm Lark. Pick me up and tell me what they look like."
Fletcher shakes Lark's and kneels to scoop her up.
Brij takes his other arm and lets herself be led into the crowd.
"I suspect we can spot them by looking for valleys opening up in the adult crowd where they pass through. Lady Brij, do you know what colors they're wearing?" Fletcher asks as they wade into crowd.
"They'll be wearing the last of my daughter's unnatural materials that haven't turned to rags yet. Check the bandstand first, they're both musical. Tell me about yourself. They say you're older than the King..."
Fletcher steers them through the crowd toward the bandstand, eyes intently seeking their quarry. "Oh, me. Well, yes. Though we seem to have more than one King in the family these days, so it's more accurate to say I'm older than the local King. Corwin is still older than me. I grew up in Amber. My court title is Defender of the Faith, and part of that responsibility was dealing with religions and religious issues for the Crown. Amber attracted all sorts of people, including believers in any number of things that weren't native to Amber. I'm also a Knight of the Unicorn. It seems that only some of them have made the trip from Amber to Xanadu so far. But all of that was some time ago. I spent much of the interim walking in shadows, handling problems for Grandad in places that can't be gotten to quickly or easily. Generally trying to keep problems from getting unmanageably big. Of course given where we are it's clear that all it takes is *one* problem getting too big. What about you? I gather you settled down in Texorami?"
Brij laughs, genuinely amused by his wording. "The last thing I did in Texorami was 'settle down'. I was born there, and I didn't know about my Grandfather's heritage. My grandmother, like me and like Folly, picked up strays. Hers was Julian, mine was Huon, and Folly's were Random and Martin. I kicked at the traces pretty hard there, until I figured out I really didn't belong there."
Fletcher pauses a moment and looks at Brij. "Oh. That must have been... awkward. Learning about it all later. There must have been a lot of catching up to do." He thinks he spots one of the kids in the crowd and turns to look again. He asks, "Do you see them Lark?" To Brij he continues, "Then again I was raised in Amber and I'd hardly say my formal court upbringing prepared me for all of this."
Brij shrugs. "I never knew any different. People assumed I did crazy workouts and diet and surgery to stay young looking, but really, I haven't aged much since about 30. I looked even younger when I had Folly and people used to talk. You were raised in Amber? I've seen it, but I hear it used to be more... something."
From her perch on Fletcher's arm, Lark calls out, "I see them!" and points to the bandstand. Sure enough two women wearing stretch metallic fabrics are standing next to the band, apparently waiting their turn to take the stage.
Raven circles back through the crowd, this time looking for the other side of the family. Whatever's going on with the King, it's clearly not an all-hands emergency, so this is as good a time as any to actually talk with her surprise uncle.
Once she finds Victor, she'll greet him with a nod and a, "So I'm thinking we should actually talk, if you're free?"
Victor nods back. "As long as you aren't looking to dance. I'd hate to show up Prince Edan at his own festivities."
"Oh, and is this an 'at the bar over drinks' talk or 'find a convenient alley and try to inflict bodily harm' talk?"
Raven chuckles and shakes her head. "Had enough of the bodily harm today, so if you're not in the market for it, I sure ain't. Just figured we could use this whole 'being in the same place at the same time' thing to get to know each other a little. You know, since I didn't know you existed and all."
Victor ambles towards a bar, where he orders a sailor's drink for each of them. "What do you know about the family already?"
Raven snorts at that.
Silhouette walks by, moving with purpose and focus toward the bar. She catches Raven's eye and smiles with respect. "Captain," she says, bowing her head.
Victor smiles, and waits to be introduced or to be dismissed.
Raven likewise smiles, with a polite nod. "Silhouette. This is one of my cousins," she explains as she reaches for her drink. "And cousin, this is my uncle Victor. And I get the idea he's a friend of Robin's as well?"
Silhouette extends her hand to Victor, "Well met, sir. A friend of Robin's is a friend of mine. Have you encountered her this evening? She appears to be in good spirits."
She steps back, the smile remaining. "I am not one for such celebrations, but I must admit this evening has been most acceptable. Have you both enjoyed yourselves thus far?"
"Robin and I spoke earlier. She's in good spirits. She was anticipating the performance tonight with something akin to glee." He looks at Raven. "Robin and I go way back. Not 'Rebma' way back, but definitely way back."
Victor looks around. "Where is she? It's like all your cousins are disappearing."
Silhouette collects her drink from the server - a lilosa. "Last I saw her, she was with her beloved. They wished to speak with other family members, so are likely mingling." She glances back over her shoulder, "I am unsure what the remainder of evening requires of us. Do either of you know?"
"So far's I know, the general plan was 'party,'" Raven answers. "Might have something later for myself, but I think the next official thing is breakfast." She takes a look around of her own, with an eye towards those family faces she recognizes, as she adds, "I think Vere was headed for where the King gave his speech, but Robin wasn't with him."
"As far as I could tell that was a 'you are dismissed if and only if you want to be dismissed' kind of dismissal. The populace seems inclined to drink the king's drink and dance to his music, whereas all it makes me want to do is climb to the top of the upper falls and scan the horizon to see if the enemies are closing in by land as well as by sea.
"I'm an old pessimist, though, so that's to be expected."
Celina greets townsfolk in the milling crowd as she navigates the currents around the plaza. She raises a hand briefly at one point so that her entourage of guards and archivists cannot doubt she is fine and still soothing the locals with kind words.
Celina misses Ossian's departure by several moments. She stands watching as the Knight dances with the Rebman, taking a measure of the lady's stamina with the surface dances. That walks her mind past a stray scene of dragging Silhouette into her royal bedrooms in the palace. Celina sighs but turns it into a cleansing exhale from deep in her Takhi.
When she thinks the couple has made a pleasant number of turns, she slips closer to see if she can take a turn with Valeria. "Well met, friends," Celina says.
The two stop just as the music stills, a new song will start shortly, but the band has paused to allow people to change partners.
Valeria gives a perfect bow from a member of a royal house to a sitting monarch, both in another's Kingdom. Rides in the Van bows as well, and his movements are smooth and somehow slightly disturbing to the eye.
Valeria smiles and it's "Your Majesty. My dear Aunt. I saw your entourage arrive, but did not know if you wished to see me. I fear my branch of the family has been willful."
"All our branches are willful, Valeria," Celina says with a slight smile. "In fact, we may as well stitch that phrase into a banner for the Rebma heraldic. I hope you have enjoyed Xanadu. Perhaps you'd like to tell me about it while we take a dance." Celina looks back and forth from Valeria to RidesintheVan.
Valeria smiles at Rides in the Van. "I will dance with the Queen now. Thank you for the dance, and for your good service, sir." She offers him a courtesy before turning her attention to the Queen.
Rides in the Van politely waits for the Queen to dismiss him as well.
Celina addresses the Knight directly, "Our thanks for your courtly consideration. We will take the lady in hand. May I ask you to have two ginger waters waiting at the bar for us? Thank you."
Rides in the Van bows politely and says, "It will be as Your Majesties command." He goes off to take care of the ginger water.
"We have much to speak on, Your Majesty. But first, I would ask, have you heard from my sister or mother at all? I have little enough news of Loreena and Rilsa here in Xanadu these days and that concerns me deeply." Celina does not doubt the sincerity in Valeria's voice and demeanor on this matter, if nothing else.
Celina taps a foot to give them both a visual cue to the music. She nods once to Valeria, "I have heard a bit. Both were well last I spoke to them."
While there is no significant change in Valeria's demeanor, Celina intuits through the changes in the TaKhi stance of the dance that Valeria is relieved.
Celina pauses, enters deeper into Valeria's dance space, and uses her fingertips to write in her dance partner's palm, 'more later'.
Celina takes the lead and smoothly circles the dance steps so no one view of the speaking pair can gain view of their mouths.
Valeria lets Celina take the lead and maneuver the dance in whichever way Celina wishes. Her dancing is poised and she follows with alacrity and skill rather than merely letting Celina pull or push her wherever Celina wishes. It takes her a moment to catch the point of the circling but then she tilts her head to widen the distance between their mouths, the better to foil sorcerous watchers as well as the more mundane sort.
"What would Your Majesty ask of me?"
One of Michelle's assistants, a young man named Liam, stands unobtrusively behind Edan and tells him who each approaching person is. He either has some sort of telepathic powers or he has an amazing memory for faces.
The faces and names and greetings come very fast, including a number of boys who are interested in training (or else their fathers are in their names).
Edan needs no introduction to the one of the later well-wishers. From his walk, he is Altamarean and Liam confirms that he is "Rides in the Van", a warrior and confidant of his elder. "Greetings from your father," he says, hugging Edan. He whispers in Edan's ear. "All is not well. When you can discreetly escape, come to the Lord Mayor's house."
Even worse than he thought. Edan nods, covers up his dismay with a smile, and says, "Of course. So glad to meet you."
Hannah hasn't come through the line yet, either, and the odds are pointing at one likely answer for that, too. Silently wishing her the best, he stays as long as he can stand it and then turns to his lieutenant.
"Thank you for taking this duty with me. I must look for someone, and the reception line appears to be flagging- would you take over?"
If all is clear and he can be discreet, Edan heads onward to the Lord Mayor's residence.
Edan maneuvers through the crowd which somehow manages to part reasonably easily before him. He notices Viper and some of the other Lord Mayor's men are intercepting and moving people to help him through, still it takes a while to cross that many people in a square. Edan sees many people he knows, including Julian, Corwin, Florimel, and many people from the city who he only just met in line. Even with help, Edan is not making as much progress as he wants, and is only halfway across the square.
Kyauta finds that there are too many people and contents himself to fly over the crowd. He notes that Edan's cousin with the flying lizards is here. He finds them fascinating and puppy-like.
Edan is amused by this. There are several options here, all of them flashy, and most magical, but it's not worth drawing that kind of attention to himself here and now. He keeps his affine up in the air and uses their mental link to plot as best a path as he can through the crowd while he continues onward.
Edan fights he way to the door, where a guard is blocking Folly's path. A man inside opens the door, and waves them both inside. He introduces himself to Folly. "Your Highness, my name is Viper, I work for The Lord Mayor. Apologies for the men not recognizing you. Your uncle is upstairs. I'd see you up, but I need to wait on further arrivals."
"Thank you so much, Viper -- who else are we expecting?" she asks.
"Prince Bleys sent for his sons and nephews, Ma'am."
Edan nods to Folly. "Hello, Cousin. It's been quite a while since we last met. Would you like to go on up?"
"Hi, Edan -- your thing was fantastic!" Folly says brightly, though her expression betrays other emotions. She gestures toward the stairs and falls into step beside him to head up.
The stairs go up (as stairs do) to a landing. There are rooms off the long hall to the left and the right, and one at the end which is where the balcony that the King appeared on is.
Edan heads straight towards the door at the end and will eventually knock unless Folly stops him. "Thank you! It has been some little while since I have had the chance to dance in that way. I am glad that I still remembered it. Vere made things easy." There is a hint of tension in Edan's shoulders, and he can't help but spare a glance towards their destination.
At the mention of Vere, Folly puts a hand on Edan's arm to stay him, just for a moment. The pressure of her fingers betrays her own tension. "Have you his card if we need it?" she asks, her voice low and intense. "Or do you know enough of his news to relay it?"
Edan may intuit that she is carefully not saying that news out loud herself.
Edan quirks an eyebrow, then shakes his head a little for emphasis. "I do not have his Trump. I assume- hope- he saw the king and is headed this way. I made oath to Vere that I would not discuss anything before he spoke to Random himself. It is his story to tell."
Folly nods once, abruptly. "I fear this might turn out not to be the best time for it anyway," she says grimly, and gives his arm a gentle squeeze that feels not so much like reassurance as a signal of solidarity.
Then, with a quirk of one eyebrow to make sure he's ready for what comes next, she proceeds to the door and knocks.
The door opens to reveal Conner. "Folly. Edan." Conner nods to both of them and is speaking as if announcing them to whoever is behind him. "Come on in." Conner steps back and opens the door wider to allow them entry.
Edan smiles at Folly and turns his attention to Conner. "Conner. Haven't seen you in a while, either. It is good to see you." He almost makes it look like he isn't worriedly looking beyond into the room.
Beyond Conner, Edan can see Brennan and a tall, muscular woman, her dark hair matching the long cloak she has wrapped around herself that evokes raven's feathers. There may be others in the room, but the area around the door is quite crowded.
"Thank you, Conner -- what news?" Folly asks as she enters the room and looks around with purpose. She does not bother disguising the concern in her voice and body language. "Where's--- where's the king... and queen?"
Conner shrugs slightly. "Just got here myself. I think Uncle Bleys is waiting until all are assembled before what he knows." Conner sighs. "For all that he tells the same stories often, he claims to hate repeating himself." Conner smirks.
Having escorted Regenleif out, Brennan joins the group of cousins, but only long enough to say, "For that matter, where is Fiona?"
Brennan walks back over to Bleys and Ambrose.
"The Princess Fiona attends the Queen, at her majesty's request and the King's command. They, and the King, have returned to the castle." Bleys is not rushed, but his tone displays a certain urgent quality.
"Your Highness, your presence is an unexpected pleasure. It's good that someone outside our circle know of these matters."
"Brennan, you.ll have to catch your son up on anything he may miss."
Bleys leans towards the youngsters.
"About an hour ago, Fiona called me in to consult on a problem she was having. She had accompanied the Queen to Rebma, at the King's request. While she was there to look after the safety of the Queen, what she found was that the King is enchanted. And in a way that his own tie to the Jewel and the pattern prevent us from removing it.
"We are concerned. There are very few who could do so, none of them could do it in Xanadu, they aren't here and we know them all." He pauses to let that sink in.
Folly, who has the advantage over some of her cousins that her most relevant applicable vow in this situation is to protect the king, nods as though this is all completely obvious and blurts out, "You have to get the King away from the Queen, if you haven't already." She's bouncing on her toes with nervous energy, like she's ready to jump through a trump right now to make that happen. "I think she's trying to use Vialle's pregnancy to recorporealize."
Distantly, Edan feels his jaw click back shut. "Maybe he'll be okay with just telling the Reader's Digest abridged version," he says.
Conner looks at them both as if they grew an extra head each. Conner examines his whirling thoughts and plucks out the most relevant question. "What is the nature of this enchantment?" He asks Bleys.
Brennan evidently would like to hear Bleys' response to Conner and especially Folly more than he would like to hear himself talk. With eloquent silence, he looks to Bleys.
Bleys takes a second to process all the replies. "Last things first. We don't know. It seems to sap his will and his initiative. He seems to have a few things he cares about, but they are all. We cannot actually look on the King with our Third Eyes, but by looking at reflections and shadows, we can see that something magical is affecting him. Fiona is working on answering 'what' and 'how do we break it'.
"And Folly, I am afraid you have raced ahead of us. What makes you think someone is using Vialle's pregnancy to recopoeralize? And, for the sake of fullness of understanding, who is and how did you discover this?"
Folly's reply comes out in a rush. "I knew something was wrong as soon as Martin told me about the pregnancy -- and then when I got home earlier this evening I could feel the wrongness in the family wing. My daughter did, too. The 'who-or-what' was only a very, very strong hunch until just now when you described the enchantment, immune to Pattern defenses. It's the Queen of Air and Darkness."
She gestures in Brennan's direction and says, "I'm glad Brennan's here, because he's the one that mentioned the Queen might be... I think he said 'looking for a new host'... when last we spoke. I was already concerned about Vialle's disappearance and re-appearance in the near vicinity of Tir. Then the pregnancy, the palpable wrongness, the enchantment...." She laces her fingers together to signify 'everything clicking into place'.
She carefully does not look at Edan, but she turns her laced fingers palms-upward in a way that seems to invite further evidence from any who might wish to provide it.
Having something to focus on and grapple with seems to have settled Brennan's mind considerably. This is no longer worrying, this is the start of planning.
"I got that from Benedict, the 'searching for a new host,' speculation" Brennan says. "And to my knowledge, the vast preponderance of her appearances have been to female Family members.
"But I have some questions of my own," Brennan continues. "Chiefly: Does the King know and understand he is under what I have to assume is an attack, or does the nature of the attack prevent him from seeing its effects? Is he in a position to discuss this or receive private and urgent news?" Brennan obviously has a long list of follow-up questions, but the answer to that one will inform just about everything else.
Edan sighs. "I assisted Vere on a visit to Tir last night, with the king's permission. I believe Vere can explain more- but he wanted to talk to Random first. This news complicates things."
Conner clearly has questions of his own but waits to hear the answer to those already asked.
The door opens, and Bleys pauses a moment, while Ossian comes in. Regenlief shuts the door behind him and returns to hall guarding duty.
"Well," says Bleys, having gathered his thoughts, "I certainly hope they are related phenomena we are severally chasing down, because it would be quite unfortunate if two different magical attacks were happening at the same time.
"To your first point, I am concerned about separating the King from the Queen. At this point it may be dangerous to him. When separated he seems to lose most of his drive, eventually ending up sitting down and waiting for her. He doesn't even drum, which is most unlike him. He will answer questions, but unless it's about Vialle or their unborn child, he is mostly indifferent. You heard his speech below. After that he was insistent that he needed to return to the palace and the Queen. The only other thing he talks about is getting all of us to swear allegiance to the unborn child as his new heir. I suspect that's what the meeting tomorrow is about.
"We had not been thinking of the Queen as the vector for the attack, but rather as somehow immunizing him, but that may not be the case. I'll have to tell Fiona what you shared with me, it will affect our investigations.
"Tomorrow, I'll be skipping the meeting, because I will be trying to avoid the magic he's under. Your highness, if you can keep your husband away, it will be bad for him in the short term, but probably good for him in the longer term. I won't advise you to stay or leave yourself, I know you're close to my brother and will have to make whatever decision is best. Whoever does attend should remind the King that he send any of us who do not on secret missions and expected us not to be there."
He pauses, perhaps dramatically, perhaps to see what else needed to be said. "My family, I can tell you I don't know how this ends, but there are some possibilities that are grim. I want you each to take care of yourselves and each other. And remain careful, alive, and loyal to the family, even if the path to do so seems fraught."
"What questions do you have?"
"You said that there are very few that could do this and we know them all." Conner asks. "Who are our suspects?"
Brennan nods. That was one of his own questions, that he'd like to hear the answer to as well.
"Vere needs to know this immediately," Brennan says. That's not even a question. And frankly, Robin and Jerod, but especially Vere since he was the primary witness. "With the obvious proviso of Family Only, who exactly are we planning on telling and not telling?" Brennan, by his expression, doesn't think there's any good answer to this question. All answers are seriously flawed at this point.
There is time to stop him, but unless that happens, Brennan crosses the room, sends for a senior page, and sends that page out with a simple directive: Bring Vere.
Edan says, "Even if you're not attending tomorrow, I will have to be there. Am I going to need to ward myself? Strongly?"
After a moment he adds, "Oh... and we should talk. Just a moment of your time."
Partly in answer to Brennan's question, Folly says, "Soren knows that something's not right -- that the king has been acting weird lately, especially around Vialle." She hesitates, then adds, "And I think Vere reached out to him about trying to set up a meeting with the king. He won't have the context to understand the metaphysical details, but he should be kept in the loop at least in broad strokes."
She looks at Bleys and adds, "And if there's any chance this enchantment can be weakened by reminding your brother of who he really is, Soren and I probably have the best chance of that. I think I'm going to need to get my daughter out of here for her own protection, and warn my husband away for the nonce, but I have to stay and help. Whatever it takes." She looks grim.
"So my questions are mostly about that, and mostly metaphysical -- things like, you've found Pattern won't work against this enchantment, but what about trying to reach his mind through Trump? Based on your observations, how dangerous would it be for me to try to talk to him that way -- assuming I could even get him to answer -- or face-to-face? What's the likelihood that our enchanter has enough power here that she'll be able to sense our movements against her? I recall at our last family meeting Benedict cautioned against even speaking her name because...." She wiggles her fingers to signify 'creepy juju heebie jeebies'.
Bleys holds a hand up. "Too many at once. Let me try to answer everyone and then see if there are still questions." He points at Conner. "Your Grandmother, for one. Some of her friends. Dara. The High Marshall of the Moonriders. The Dragon of Arcadia. We hadn't thought of the Queen of Air and Darkness, because she has been acting indirectly, but if she has a vector, then she's the latest one, and she's the most likely to have power to affect a pattern maker."
He moves on to Brennan. "I was planning on telling my son and nephews, and the distaff side if they needed to know. We are far too large to keep a proper secret, so I have no answer for you."
He points at Edan. "Yes, please. And watch with your third eye, as indirectly as you can, to see what is happening. And help and reinforce your family. And we can talk soon. I saw your cousin gathering her ladies, including your sister, for her birth."
He turns to Folly. "I am not worried about saying the Queen's name. If I knew how to break this spell, I wouldn't be here, I'd be there doing it. Now, is the castle unsafe for Hannah to give birth in?"
Folly, who never made it to dinner, hadn't realized that Hannah was quite so far along, and it shows on her face. What she says, though, is, "If it were me, I doubt I would risk it. But Hannah's child is perhaps a less obvious threat to that 'get everyone to swear fealty to Vialle's unborn child' plan." She grimaces, as if she'd just had an unpleasant thought, but shakes it off and adds, "I suppose the original threat that had Floaty Woman sizing up any female family member she ran across is greatly diminished now that she has seemingly found a host."
Ossian frowns. "I guess Trumping could be incredibly dangerous. Still, we could learn things from it. But, honestly, Folly, Martin would kill us all if we let you do it."
Folly smiles wryly. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, the most likely outcome is the same thing that happened the last several times I tried it -- namely, he won't pick up."
To Bleys, she asks, "How has Vialle's behavior been? Any new weirdness?"
Edan looks like he's running all the scenarios in his head regarding a newly-invested knight taking orders from a possessed and/or mad king. He looks more horrified with each one. "Hannah won't be leaving anywhere except by Trump, she's that close to time. And I doubt she would accept to do that, or accept any warding I might want to create. Not right now. Not to mention I'd have to be in there, causing disruption, and I will not be welcome until it is over."
"Then someone capable of observing with the Third Eye should be there," Brennan says. He does not volunteer. "Which probably means widening the circle.
"We should also consider that, 'not picking up the contact,' might mean either deciding to refuse it or ignore it, or it might mean it's not going through. I assume the card is still cold or Folly would have said something to that effect. Bleys, bearing all of us in mind that this situation is... highly fluid... how can we help?" Brennan asks.
Once more, Conner holds his questions so as to not overwhelm his uncle.
Bleys points at Folly. "I have no sextant or map by which to tell ordinary pregnant woman 'weirdness' from possessed by our worst nightmare 'weirdness'. Can you be more specific? I thought the most surprising thing in the whole affair was that Random slept with his wife again. He'd been catting around for months."
"Well, in case it helps," Folly says drily, "Peeing a lot and craving strange foods: normal. Trying to make a kingdom swear fealty: maybe not so much, unless that sort of thing is your normal MO. Failing to notice your spouse is acting aggressively weird, also not so normal."
The Prince catches his breath. "Be very careful. The Jewel, most of the Princes, some of the Princesses, will overwhelm your third eye. Do not look directly at the King.
"Thank you for asking how you can help. You can protect the family. Conner, get Celina out of here. Corwin and Benedict are safe--they have their own patterns. Celina is at risk. Edan, take your knights out of the city. Brennan, see to yours. They may be needed sooner than we want.
"We'll need to guard the approach to Tir, which means Paige's Rangers. Hmmm. Brita, Robin, and Solange are the obvious choices if Paige isn't available. Perhaps Vere. Ossian, do you think you can take the order to the Rangers 'protect the three steps at all costs'?
"Ambrose, can you protect your Cousin Folly and her child?
"Folly, I may have been exactly wrong. Edan, do you have the magical artifact we captured from the Moonriders? We need to know where it points right now."
Conner looks to Edan expectantly.
Folly gives a small nod; she doesn't know precisely what Bleys is asking Edan for, but she intuits what he's trying to accomplish.
Last modified: 18 September 2017
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.