Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Morgne meets Robin and Ophiuchus at breakfast. She's dressed for riding, or in what some shadows consider a lady's riding habit. It's not as practical as Ophiuchus' clothing, but it's not completely useless.
"Lady Robin, I have considered the weight of your offer. We will leave the lake and these environs, if the spell binding Sir Ophiuchus to the fountain can be undone. We would not have him be bound unwilling as Laudine's husband Owain is to the fountain above the lake.
"Have you a plan for the unbinding?"
Robin's still a little bed-tousled, but she's made an effort to be presentable. It's just that some people are naturally rumpled and those people are Shadows of Robin. The firelizards, however, are buffed, polished and gleaming. It's obvious where Robn's morning priorities lie.
And from the carnage around her table-setting, an extremely hearty breakfast is another of those priorities.
"Thank you for your trust, Lady." Robin bows her head to Morgne.
"I have no formal plan as yet. (OOC – I've got, like, 12% of a plan.) I would like to investigate the Heart of this Land more closely before crafting something. I'd also like to confer further with your land counterparts. In fact, if at all possible, I'd like to get the four of you together..." Robin floats it out there.
She nods. "It would be better for the two of us to meet. Our champions' doom is to fight if ever they meet. Arrange it and we will be happy to see our kinswoman. We have missed her these long years."
"I will"” Robin nods again.
"But first, I'd like to get a better idea of what I'm dealing with here -- Landwise. With your permission, Lady, I'd like to travel to the Heart of this Land to do some direct investigating."
Robin indicates Morgne's attire. "You are welcome to join me, if you don't have other plans..."
She looks unsure. "It is tempting, for who has not wished to look on the heart of a place, and see what unseen shallows and deeps are concealed within it?"
Morgne takes a deep breath. "I wish not to, for fear of what I might learn of it and myself, and yet I must, for if it does not survive, only the five of us will exist to tell the tale, and I must know a thing to know the telling of it.
"When shall we leave?"
"I travel light so whenever the two of you are ready is fine with me." She smiles to Morgne and Ophiuchus. A little wriggle goes through Robin at the thought of riding Ashford again.
But Morgne's struggles bring her back to the present. Robin reaches over to pat Morgne's hand. "There are things in my past that I have been avoiding investigating as well. Your example gives me strength, and hope that when the time comes for me, I can be as graceful as yourself."
Morgne seems surprised by the touch, although she does not flinch away. "I assure you that my inner state is not particularly graceful, Sir Robin. Sir Ophiuchus will not accompany us to look into the center of the place. He is still sorcerously bound and we do not feel it safe to expose him to it. He will pack our things and go to the shore of the lake to await our return."
Robin nods. "Sounds like a plan." She can't resist shoveling a last bite in before wiping her lips and gathering her firelizards to herself.
"I'll miss your company, Sir," she says to Ophiuchus, "and while on this journey, I promise to safeguard the Lady to the utmost of my ability."
And with that she waits for said Lady to rise first -- just like Castor taught her.
Ophiuchus bows, "I shall see you shortly, Sir Robin, my Lady."
Robin returns the bow. "Until later."
They depart the castle and head towards the ridge that marks the point where they can make no further progress. It is not that far a walk/swim. "You may call me Morgne, rather than 'The Lady'. It is a title that attaches to a place that I am relinquishing."
"Very well. And please, feel free to call me Robin. There are no titles in the places I am used to." She smiles to Morgne.
Robin carefully selects a place that she and Morgne can be comfortable for a while; a shaded glade with moss-covered tree trunks that one can settle into. Once she gets Morgne and her own gear settled, Robin scouts around, making a noticeable bit of noise, to be sure that they won't be disturbed by the usual denizens of this place. (Essentially she's nicely shooing away any wildlife that could interrupt her studying and getting her scent all over place to discourage any ranging creatures from approaching too closely. And no, she’s not marking her territory – that'd be rude. This is Morgne's place.)
Once Robin has everything settled in the glade for a long contemplative Listen, she cocks her head as a thought strikes her. "Ummmm, Morgne? Is it possible for me to start a small scrying fire here? It's not strictly necessary, but it'd be nice."
Morgne sticks out her lower lip in thought. "It's certainly allowed, if that's what you're asking. We do not use flame very much because it's difficult to maintain and there are other methods of light and heat that we have gotten used to. Expect to use a lot of fuel or magic to keep it lit, but you may do anything needful."
"Hmmm... okay," Robin says thoughtfully. Time to put some legendary fire-making skills to work then, she thinks. Then she gathers a lot of what she would consider dry wood, if she were in an air-bound version of this forest.
After building a small, safe firepit, Robin puts her Ranger skills to use to get a smallish blaze going. If that works, she then sits herself down comfortably before it and gathers her firelizards around herself. Breathing slowly and deeply, Robin lets her 'civilized' self go and returns to her more savage and primal self; wordless, observant, without thought, judgment or analysis. Just being.
Slowly, Robin lets the odd under-water crackling sound of the fire guide her to the blue lightning that crackles with herself: her Heritage – the Pattern, so freshly rewoven through herself. Robin fans the fire of the Pattern within herself to a bright cheerful flame and then she turns her attention outward to the Shadow around her. Eyes closed, Sense open, Robin Listens to the weave of the Shadow in front of and around her.
(OOC – Backed up with Pattern senses, Robin's taking her time to sense the shadow energies as fully as she can.)
Robin has in the past had the impact of Amberites on shadow like the effect of a number of lead spheres placed on a sheet pulled tight. If that metaphor is accurate, then this shadow had someone tie a knot in it. Robin could probably break it, but it might be ... messy.
Her Listening complete, Robin sits back from the fire with a pensive fluff of breath.
As she carefully extinguishes the fire, she slowly lets her words come back to her. "Soooo, yeah. I can undo that. But I wouldn't want anyone to be near it when I did so." Her blue eyes dart over to Morgne. "And I'd like to consult with an expert before I start messing in there."
Morgne nods. "Of course. I'm curious about your expert. It was only certain Princes of the Realms that were experts in such matters in my day."
"That is still the case." Robin agrees, "I'd like to consult with Prince Julian, Warden of Arden."
And then Robin waits for any reaction that might cause.
She doesn't seem to have heard of Julian or Arden. "A Prince, then. At least that hasn't changed. Who is his mother?"
"Queen Rilga, Oberon's fourth wife... by most counts." Robin smiles wryly. Oberon, what can one say?
Morgne smiles. "Interesting. I did not think they married. A custom adopted from the people, I suppose."
"I always suspected that it was the people that adopted the custom from them. But one never really knows with those types of beings." Robin shrugs with a smile.
"And of course, we still have to check with Lady Laudine to see if she is amenable. 'Cause...." Robin looks out back over the valley, "this thing might unwind... quickly." 'Explosively' is the subtext.
Morgne doesn't quite look alarmed, but Robin thinks she understands the subtext. "Let us go to her castle then."
"Okay then." Robin nods and quickly returns the campsite to as close to natural as possible. Slinging up her backpack, Robin heads back toward the stair.
The stair seems closer and shorter than when Robin descended and after a brief walk, she finds her head rising above the lake's surface. When Robin looks back, all that she experienced under the water cannot have taken place in the confines of the shore of the lake behind her.
Robin breathes deep and happy in the forest air. And with a gleeful gesture, sends her little friends aloft with coos of praise for their wonderful, wonderful behavior while they were underwater. Loves them, she does!
Morgne blinks in the sunlight. "You have no idea how I've missed the surface. Look sharp, Sir Robin, in case the binding recognizes you as a threat and sends Ywain to fight you."
"Ah, I hope not. I kinda like the guy." Robin does indeed look sharp, but she pretty much charges the dry land like a cat getting out of a bathtub.
"How about you?" She asks looking back at Morgne, "Is his binding going to see you as a threat?"
Morgne shrugs. "He would, but I am a witch of no small power. You may note that I have not yet set foot on the land."
There is a small pool of water under her feet. It doesn't go beyond her sandals, and they seem to float on it.
Robin notices that the birds have stopped singing. Fountain and castle are not far from the lake shore.
Morgne starts towards the castle. "Let us go. I am anxious to meet my cousins."
Robin nods as she joins the water-walker on the way to the castle. Yeah, she thinks as she listens to the unexpected hush of the forest, this is going to be an epic Robin-style disaster.
On the walk, her mind wanders to the spatial improbabilities of the Lake. Normally she would just shrug it off as 'Fey-stuff' or 'less-Ordered physics,' but given the age of Morgne... that Shadow-knot might actually be something... formative, maybe?
Oh, well -- after the disaster with Ywaine and Laudine, it will be time to call Dad about the local Shadow-architecture.
A voice rings out from the top of the hill. It is Laudine. "Halt! Lady Robin, for what purpose do you bring Morgne to these shores?"
"Hail, Lady Laudine." Robin puts some projection into her voice. "I bring Lady Morgne to these shores to enter into good faith negotiations to peacefully end the millennium old stand-off between your peoples. Would you kindly join us in such an endeavor?"
Wow, that was a lot of diplomacy in two sentences. Robin is tired after just speaking it. Light and laughter dance across her eyes as she feels Vere's influence upon herself.
Laudine steps out from behind a tree, one which Robin would not have said concealed anyone, and walks forward. She has a crossbow with her. Morgne chuckles at the sight of it. "Clever, not trusting entirely to magic."
Laudine steps forward. "I come, without my protector, to negotiate. Do we truly mean to end what we've done here? Is our sacrifice finally at and end?"
Morgne nods. "I think so, my dear, I really do."
Laudine's eyes flick between the two women. "How?," is all she asks.
Morgne looks to Robin for more details as well.
Robin takes a deep breath. "Morgne was kind enough to show me a place in her realm where the Land is... twisted into a knot." Robin waves one hand to show that she knows what she Heard but doesn't have the words to describe it well.
"I can undo that. Though I am young and would probably be ham-fisted about it." Again, 'it could detonate' undertone is there. "I'd like to see the same knot from this side if I may. And consult with Prince Julian of Amber, an expert on such things.
"I... also really think it would be a good idea if there weren't too many people too close. I've already offered to escort the Lady Morgne to Rebma afterwards, and I'd be happy to get you and Ywaine an escort to say... Paris? as well. If such was needed, of course."
Laudine nods. "Paris will be quite suitable, as long as we can travel to visit each other. We would leave immediately, were we free to do so."
Morgne reaches out and touches the other woman. "What you saw is what there is. We don't understand what you mean by 'this side' of the knot. It is what it is, where it is."
[OOC: I am picturing a sheet, like a bedsheet, pulled flat. Now grab a hunk in the middle. It's all middle because it's an infinite sheet. Pull it up and put a rubber band around it. If you're on the surface of the sheet (which is reality), there's only one side. They don't get your reference.]
"Yeah," Robin nods distractedly as she thinks about her metaphor, "I think there's some kind of watery-pathway-tunnel thing between Rebma and Paris... though I think there's a Queen of A&D pinch-point on it. Hopefully, we'll take care of that soon." She finishes with a wry smile.
"What I was thinking with the 'knot' was," she holds up her fist and walks her fingers in a small orbit around it. "See, getting other perspectives. But you guys are far more familiar with it than I and if you say it's all the same -- I believe you. Soooooo, time to call the expert?"
Robin gets the feeling that there's not much in the way of keepsakes or luggage that these two want.
Morgne nods. "You are our expert, Sir Robin. If you wish to consult another Prince, then now is the time. We have no reason to delay you."
Laudine lets her hand rest on Morgne's, as if seeking assurance that she is real.
Robin raises a Julianic eyebrow at the 'another.' As she digs under her shirt for the beaded bag that was her mother's, she mutters under her breath, "I'm not a Prince..." And though her mutinous mind finishes the sentence with 'those guys are assholes,' she also concedes that that may not be the case anymore.
Robin takes a moment to run her hand over the Thunderbird stitched into the leather. 'Sacred Messagers' is what Hannah called them, but Robin can't help but think of them as Storms on the Wing. A quick fierce smile darts across her lips.
Within the bag is her waterproof, fire-resistant, Robin's-carrying-paper-things case, and within that? A fine collection of the dead, the incomplete and one beautiful Trump of her Father, white against the green. Robin smiles fondly again. Then snaps herself out of what is becoming a reverie.
She looks up to the Ladies. "Now these don't always work for me. But at least they don't seem to be making me ill anymore." Bless Fiona for small -- and large -- favors.
With that, Robin gazes into the Trump and reaches for her Father, the Warden.
Julian's image comes clear quickly. He's sitting in a camp chair, possibly not far from where she left him in the new forest.
"Who calls?" he asks.
"It's Robin, sir." While Robin's tone is professional and respectful, she is -- as ever -- happy to see her Father.
Robin continues speaking aloud for the benefit of her companions. "I am standing in Shadow near the borders of the Deep Green, Arcadia, Arden and Broceliande. With me is Lady Morgne, descendant of the vassals of Moines via Tir-na N'ogth. And Lady Laudine, ...of similar heritage, I believe. They are both Bound Guardians of an abandoned frontier between the Forces of Order and Other Things. That frontier seems to consist primarily of a big ol' knot tied in Shadow, sir. And Lady Laudine and Lady Morgne have guarded this knot with for eons with no relief, as have their Champions. I'd like to do something about that. And about that knot." Her brow furrows slightly.
Robin nods, yep that about covers it.
Julian listens, nodding in appropriate places. "I see. While I am normally loathe to dismantle ancient protections, if they serve no purpose, then they can be eliminated." He pauses. "If you are confident that the consequences of your unmaking are worth the risks, then by all means continue.
"I have Vere with me, and he is uncertain what Ranger tasks he should next undertake," Robin can hear her father's disappointment, but he continues. "Would it be useful to you for me to send him to you?"
At first, Robin's heart leaps -- yay, Vere! Love him, love him, love him! Then she thinks, 'Boy is he going to go all investigate-y with this!’ and then, 'Well, soooommmmeee investigation is called for' and finally, 'Okay, then it's going to be up to me to make sure we don't get bogged down in investigation.'
All of which comes out as, "Yes."
"A moment, then." Julian holds up his hand. He does not drop the trump contact, but somehow Robin is not able to hear his next few sentences. His mouth is moving, and she can see that, but there is no voice coming through the connection.
Robin waits and watches with interest. Another skill that she may try to emulate when she's got as much experience as Prince Julian.... hah.
Robin doesn't quite see the trick of it, but at least now she knows it is possible.
Julian nods, and holds out his hand and his voice is once again in the conversation. "Then, unless you have other business to complete first, I will send you to her."
Julian takes Vere's hand and passes him through to Robin.
Vere appears in a rainbow shimmer. His eyes flick around him, measuring his surroundings, even as he says, "My lady," and offers a hand to Robin.
At the sight of her Beloved, Robin's eyes flare to life like a bonfire. (One drink.) She reaches out to take his hand and an almost visible woof! of joy shoots through her at their touch. For a moment, she struggles. He's right; the setting is formal, the company unfamiliar. Castor's instructions run through her mind in a quick blur. But... in the end, she's Robin.
The girl throws herself on Vere with a joyful and triumphant cry. And if Vere allows it, will do her best to merge cells and breathe in a tornado of ardor.
The two women, sensing that Vere and Robin want some privacy, walk
together a few steps away to
gossip about them allow them to
have a conversation.
Vere catches Robin in his arms and lets all thoughts of propriety and watchers fall away. He hugs her tightly, crooning delightedly but without words, kissing her again and again and willing this moment to last forever.
After an eternity, Robin pulls back from the Kiss and laughingly rests her forehead against Vere's chin. "Someday, I might be able to not do that. But iiiiittt'sss going to be a while." She chuckles. "Love You." She adds with a fond chin bump.
"Forgive me for not sticking around for Togetherness?" Robin says apologetically. "I was all.... restless." She wriggles in Vere's arms. Full of Pattern-energy is what she means.
"There is nothing to forgive," Vere replies. "And it is good to let others see that we can work apart." He chuckles slightly into her hair. "Although I believe you father is not convinced of that. He is not pleased with me, I think. He takes my constant questions and seeking information as indecisiveness and a lamentable lack of independence."
"S'okay. Some folks take my lack of questions and commitment to action as stupidity and recklessness." There's a bitter twist to her lips at that last.
"But we're both still kickin' and serving -- that'll have to be enough. Even if we ain't the popular kids." She grins at him, a hint of wickedness in her smile.
"Soooo, one last kiss..." Robin follows words with action, kissing Vere deeply but not enough to lose her sense of time, "and then to work. Anything to report from the Warden's camp?"
Vere lets her end the kiss with reluctance. "The goddesses continue their war," he tells her. "And it begins to slip over into Arden. Nothing major so far. They are sending armies against each other into Arcadia and some troops are being lost and ending up either in the Deep Green or in Arden. I led a small band into the Deep Green and it sent the spirit of a dead Ranger to speak with me, now nothing more than a part of the Green. It gave me a veiled warning not to enter the Deep Green again and sent a cryptic message to the Warden. Nothing else of import to report at this time."
He cocks his head slightly to one side and asks, "And you? Was your visit to Aunt Fiona fruitful?"
Robin nods as she listens to Vere; that sounds about like what she expected. Though she does raise an eyebrow at the 'warned not to enter the Deep Green again.' Off the top of her head, she doesn't think she's ever gotten a warning like that; just lots of embarrassing moments in front of Goddesses.
She perks up at Vere's question. "Yes, that went great! Aunt Fiona confirmed that I'm not compromised, changed or really weird -- just understandably shook and confused. So we... took some steps to reinforce more fundamental thought patterns." Well, there's a euphemism. "It's definitely helped but there's still more to do." She adds with a shake of her head.
"The initial healing phase was... scary and really awesome; though even more exhausting than ever. I have got to stop doing that." She states emphatically, shaking her head with wry humor. "It was especially wonderful because the healing took place out in the wilderness. And I am so.... happy (read -- overjoyed) to know that one of those is NOT in a city or a dungeon or some other sprawling human place. This one even smelled of a nearby reptilian macro-predator, always a bonus. Though I didn't get a glimpse it because I was kind of busy." She finishes sadly. Someday -- that one and the one in the caves under Xanadu. Someday, there will be time for big lizards. Shaking her head, Robin pulls herself back to the track of her conversation, such as it is.
"Buuuuutttt, I really did like the wilderness aspect of the whole thing. I'd... like there to be more of that in our universes. More wilderness that doesn't serve the need of humans -- or any sentience really. More spaces and places that just... are. But since so many of us are civilized and like cities and dungeons and swarming human places, I guess it's going to be up to me to Dream of the Wild and the Free." She grins at Vere. "I think I'm up to that.
"Don't worry though, Dad made it real clear that I have to show up at Family Reunions and at the Castles so no one thinks I'm off in Shadow planning treason. Which when put that way, makes sense." She wrinkles her nose in distaste.
"Oh! And I forgot to ask for hair." Robin says, reaching out to run her fingers through Vere's beautifully colored Pattern-locks. And like a bounding puppy, she just stops because she's done.
Vere rubs his head against Robin's hand. "Excellent news," he says. "And we shall make time for the wilderness. And perhaps I will even be able to bring you to enjoy the glories of the open sea, given time." He grins at her.
Robin returns his grin and nods, not exactly eager but willing.
"For now," he glances over at the two waiting ladies. "Is there anything I need to know about the current situation, or shall I just follow along as best I can?"
The ladies are indeed waiting. They are regal in bearing, and one stands perhaps a half inch off the ground, on a layer of water. There is a small rivulet running behind her to the lake, which is quite beautiful as well.
Robin nods again. "While I certainly trust your ability to figure it out and react accordingly," love Him!, "here's the nutshell; the two ladies are bound and ancient defenders of a giant Shadow knot designed to prevent Bad Things and the Forces of Order from constantly mixing it up. They and their single Champions have been alone at their posts for a very long time. Despite that, they have a good but really outdated understanding of the nature of the Universes.
"Now I've already determined that I'm going to undo that knot... for reasons I can't... put into words just yet. So, three things: once I undo the knot, the Ladies and their Champions are going to need a place to retire. Lady Morgne," Robin flicks her eyes toward the watery lady, "and her Champion are interested in Rebma. While Lady Laudine," another eye-flick, "and her Champion think Paris sounds like a grand idea." Blech, Paris.
Vere nods his understanding while his eyes flick over the ladies, measuring them without openly staring.
"Second thing: Iiiii'mmmm having trouble determining what the outcome of the knot-untying will be, scale-wise. I've both over- and under-estimated the effect of Shadow work before." She shrugs, only one way to practice this kind of thing.
"So, what I'd like you to do, please, is talk to the very formal and polite Ladies to help me figure out how their Binding tangles into the Knot and what they are guarding against." Robin looks embarrassed, "They told me but I'm afraid it didn't really stick. That will help me determine the scale of what I'm working with here."
Vere nods again, accepting this without any questions.
"Lastly, If things do go well, I'd like your help negotiating the Ladies' relocation. Oh, their Champions are Ophiuchus, honorable cavalier and gentleman, and Ywain, wandering knight who just got caught up in this mess by accident. Both of them are great guys, just really different from one another." She shakes her head with a fond smile.
"If things don't go well, could you start working on an explanation for the rest of the Family, especially Jerod & Brennan, about why this was an important, noble and good thing for the Family to try? I'm really, really bad at explaining myself under pressure." Robin rolls her eyes and looks faintly sick to her stomach.
A faint smile crosses Vere's lips. "Neither Jerod nor Brennan are happy with me right now, but I do not believe they would let that stand in the way of giving me a fair hearing. As for Rebma and Paris, did you wish me to speak with Celina and Corwin before or after we arrive with the refugees?" His smile grows wider. "I can give you good arguments for and against both options, as well as several other options. Exactly the sort of thing that annoys the Warden."
"Don't worry about annoying the Warden, Vere. He's just touchy right now 'cause he's in a war that he sacrificed a lot to try to avoid." Robin shrugs, that'd piss anyone off.
"With regards to giving various rulers a heads-up, let's not. I'm still not sure how this is going to go down yet and if we start talking to folks, they're going to start asking questions, feeling invested and start giving all sorts of advice. I'm... not fond of decisions by committee. But I understand that this kind of thing is what got you in trouble with Jerrod and Brennan in the first place. And you're right - they've shown themselves to be fair. But no, I don't want any more cooks in the kitchen than is necessary."
Vere nods his understanding and agreement.
"Can you quickly list your several other options?" Because Robin knows thinking things through is not her forte and it's just dumb not to use an expert when one is there.
Vere gives a slight shrug. "Nothing that I would seriously advise, beloved, merely a couple of thoughts that occurred to me. We could seek out their respective courts, to try to return them to their own folks. If they are of immortal folk then their relations might still live. We could take them through Shadow to find Shadows of their Desires, where they and their Champions could find rest and reward from their long service to Duty, and not be at risk of being drawn into the political machinations of Rebma and Paris. We could take them to Arden, where their ancient knowledge and power might serve the Warden in his war." He smiles a trifle ruefully. "I can always think of alternate possibilities, my lady. It is my gift and my flaw."
Robin returns his smile with fondness. "I love that about you, both ways.
"But just so's you know, I gather the Ladies' former courts are either no longer existent or so... distant in time/space that they don't know where they are. And their period of isolation has been so long that it really makes me want to get these people where things are happening. But I think an active war might be a little too happening, so no Arden. But keep the thinking going. I'm bound to overlook something.
"In the meantime, let's get this hunt started." She says, turning toward the waiting Ladies.
Vere lifts her hand to his lips for a final fond kiss before taking her arm in his and escorting her to the Ladies Morgne and Laudine. Once there he waits for Robin to present him.
It's a measure of Castor's training that Robin allows the escort. It's a measure of Robin's Robiness that allowing is involved. But for Vere, Robin has all the allowance in the universe.
Once Vere has determined the correct difference -- because he's soooo good that way -- Robin retrieves her arm and speaks as formally as she can. "Miladies, it is my honor to present to you; Vere, Son of Prince Gerard of Amber and Xanadu, Prince of Danu, Knight of the Card, my beloved and fiancé.
Robin then turns to Vere. "Vere, may I present to you; Lady Laudine of Lothian, Countess of Landuc, Guardian of the borders of Order and wife of Sir Ywain, Guardian of Methrin's Font. And Lady Morgne, Princess and Lady of the Lake, Guardian at the borders of Order. Her Champion, Sir Ophiuchus, guards Merlin's Font."
Robin pauses for a moment then adds, "Peep, Chirrup and Ooot already know everyone so they're good." Okay, that last part was a little awkward, but at least it brought closure to the whole thing. Bleah, diplomacy.
"Ladies," Vere says, with a courtly bow. "Lady Robin has given me a brief overview of the situation. But might I beg your indulgence to ask for your understanding of the ways in which you are bound here, so that I may better understand what it is that my lady is undertaking in her unweaving of this mystical knot?"
"Of course, Prince Vere," replies Morgne. "Many years ago, our two cities were frequently at war. Hardly a generation went by without open hostilities, and to the detriment of our various peoples.
"A plan was formed by one of our keenest sorceresses, our sister Basina, to put distance between the realms to prevent fighting. We chose to stay here to prevent the wars that had so hurt all of our people.
"It worked, but the binding outlived the need."
Laudine nods. "As simple as that, but we have not the power to undo it ourselves."
Vere nods thoughtfully. "If I understand correctly, then, the realms were separated, and this area," he gestures at the woods around them, "Created as a buffer zone, to keep them separate, with the two of you and your champions bound into the enchantment as guardians. Is this essentially correct? And the realms themselves either no longer exist, or have drifted away from the binding?"
Robin listens carefully. Already she has a better idea of scope and approach. Whatever Vere may think about his own inquiring nature, Robin loves his analysis skills.
Laudine nods. "Yes, although I would describe us as sentries, rather than guardians. Our castles are not garrisoned. Something... changed the relationship of place-to-place, so that the places were not so close, yes. It was, suddenly, as if they had always been further apart than we remembered them."
"The Remaking," Vere says, looking at Robin. "Does that knowledge change anything?" He looks back at the Ladies, opening his Third Eye.
They are solid to his third eye, more like rocks than trees. It jibes with their claim to be very old. There is some sort of connection between them and something out over or in the lake. It's hard to say where.
Robin looks knowledgable and nods, though she actually doesn't have a clue what 'The Remaking' means. She just figures that Vere will catch her up in private. After all, he keeps up on current theories whereas she vaguely remembers that Edan said... something. Maybe?
Laudine looks pensive. "Do you mean the erasure of the black road? That was not the event we were speaking of. It was... ancient."
Morgne nods. "Perhaps there were two of these Remakings." She doesn't sound very sure.
"Perhaps," Vere says. He doesn't sound as though he thinks it likely. He looks out into the lake and says, "Brace yourself for a bit of Chaos, my love. I am going to violate the natural Order just a trifle." He inscribes a circle in the air with one hand, looking through that circle and the connection between the Ladies and the Lake, and use the Principal of Space to move his vision, both natural and Third Eye, along the connection, looking for whatever the two Ladies are linked to. As he does this he says, "I believe that your intent is to unweave this enchantment, my love. Is that not correct? And it seems likely that if this place is a creation of that enchantment it will cease to be when that enchantment is unmade. Possibly with some violence, if there is metaphysical tension that is released too quickly. Thus we need to unravel the connection to the Ladies as well, to protect them. Do I have the basic idea correct?"
"Partially. But I'm guessing that it's not an 'enchantment' that's the central to this. To me, it looks like someone with approximate Family skills did a little..." she makes a twisting gesture with her hands, "Work... with the... Local Architecture." Darn it. Most of her and her Father's understandings aren't verbal and it's hard to explain.
"There's probably a sorcerous component involved in the Ladies' link. Which I could definitely use your help on. But the Architecture? I'm hoping I can just smooth out the locale. But yeah, tension. In addition, there might be... side effects or ripples in the nearby Realities. That's the bit that concerns me.
"We're close enough to Broceliande that I suspect it's going to provide some stabilizing influence. But Arden and Arcadia are completely shifty right now. And I'm just having trouble figuring if this is a Local problem and I think too much of myself. Or am I going to be shaking the entire spiderweb..."
Vere's sight leaves the lakeshore and moves outward, along the thin but definite link he sees with his third eye. There are two trails, and they go off in parallel. As they near... something at the water's edge on the far side of the lake (one from above, one from below), they get closer together. Vere is not sure that the thing is not chaosian in origin, as it seems that the closer he gets, the more relevant detail shows up and perhaps he is no closer at all. He feels there is some dimensional irregularity at the locale, but he cannot put it into words, precisely.
If this is how the armies were kept apart, it is indeed a practical solution--if they couldn't reach each other, they couldn't fight.
"Interesting," Vere says, his eyes focused on something in the distance. "There is something odd happening. I am unable to reach the place where the bindings come together. It is as though the closer I come the further off it is. It is not an Orderly phenomenon. How do you propose to undo this binding, my love?"
"Hunh." Robin's bangs lift at the puff of air. "I thought it was an Ordered phenomenon, just not one we typically run across. More... freeform, as it were. But you have more experience with Chaos than I, soooo..." she shrugs.
[OOC: The GM has failed to describe fractal geometry adequately. It is ordered, but the dimensionality is not integer based. It would probably not work in a pattern-realm.]
"What I'm thinking of doing... doesn't translate well to words, but the theory is to Listen really closely to the... tunes of the worlds, get a feel for their melodies and then 'Sing' into 'weave' of Reality to tease the melodies apart. Of course that means I have to take possession of all the involved realities and I don't... have a gentle touch. Eventually, I might even have to brute force it... which, of course, could be exciting.
"If it comes to that, it'd be nice if you had a quick Card-type evacuation plan ready for us, the Ladies and the Champions bound to them who can't be in this immediate area 'cause they're bound to fight one another if they're face to face." Robin blinks. That sentence got away from her.
"Their Champions are nearby in their respective realms?" Vere asks. "It might be tricky to get them here and then somewhere else quickly in the event of a sudden catastrophe."
"Weeeellll, it was my understanding that the guys couldn't get together. Ladies? Is there a way of establishing a truce or parley that would allow Ophiuchus' and Ywain's honor and oaths to remain intact but bring them within emergency grabbing-and-whisking-away reach?"
Vere turns to look inquiringly at the Ladies, waiting for the answer to this question before going any further into the mechanics of an evacuation.
Morgne nods. "It is true. If my champion sets foot on land, or hers in the water, then the magic controlling them will cause them to a pass at arms."
Laudine adds, "They can be close, as close as the shore of the lake, but no closer. We used to meet here, long ago, when Esclados was alive." She looks across the water quickly, the topic is sad, but not a fresh sadness for her.
Vere considers this answer. "So then, we can have them stand on the shore within a few feet of each other? That should be sufficient." He looks at Robin. "I see three possibilities. Which we use depends on how much time we have, and the method you use to unravel this."
He tells the methods off on three fingers of his left hand as he explains them. "Primus: we could trump out. The difficulty with that is that we can only hand them through one at a time, which may be too slow.
"Secundus: I could use Sorcery to Part the Veil and rip an opening to another world. The benefit of that is that we can all leap through together. The difficulty with it is that there would almost certainly be interference between my Sorcery and your use of the Pattern.
"Tertius: I could call the Psyche to this lake. Everyone save the Champion of Water can be on board, and he can be in the water holding onto the side. We hellride out of here on the shock wave of the destruction of this shadow."
Vere smiles slightly. "The strong point in favour of that third option is that it is the most spectacular and exciting method."
Robin just smiles. "I must admit, I'm partial to option three myself. But Ophiuchus wouldn't have to hang off the side of the Psyche. He has this... awesome ride named Eckford, who can probably keep up with and alongside of the Psyche. Just in case I'm out of it, what's your drag diameter?"
[OOC: Let's just assume Vere can give the answer to this question, since James doesn't have the faintest idea.]
[OOC - Let's further assume that it's something that allows Ophiuchus to ride alongside the Psyche. Sorry about that Janes.]
"That'll work." Robin nods. "Okay, will you set that up while I see about setting up my end?"
If it seems like everything is in order, Robin nods again to the Ladies. She paces off a few feet and starts gazing into the direction of the fractalized land.
Vere turns and starts walking along the shore of the lake, fully expecting to come upon the Psyche just around that slight bend ahead, behind a small stand of trees.
The ship is where Vere expects. He can return to Robin's position, as there is a place with a deep enough inlet near the shore. Do you intend to board the parties onto the ship before Robin does her work?
Yes, Vere wants everyone except Ophiuchus on board before we do this. Unless Robin has a good reason for why she has to not be on board.
The boarding is accomplished with a minimum of fuss, although Robin and Vere see Ywain give his sword to Laudine before Ophiuchus arrives. Eckford is a magnificent sea-horse, of a size to ride, and built like a fairy dragon.
A minimum, yes. But Robin does fuss a little. This is the first time she's met the Psyche and she will properly introduce herself to Vere's other Lady. She coos, murmurs sweetness, strokes and pats the ship as she would horse, hawk or hound.
And when Ophiuchus, Ywain and Eckford show up, she is friendly and happy to see all. Robin doesn't differentiate her behavior much between men, creature and ship -- other than making allowances for two of them being non-verbal.
Once on board, the ladies turn to Robin. "We will take mostly memories from these places, and those we have a surfeit of," says Morgne.
"We are prepared," says Laudine.
"Is there anything I can do to assist you, my love?" Vere asks Robin. "Or shall I just stand ready for a rapid escape?"
"Weeelll..." Robin says as she seats herself comfortably and securely. "Father said that two practitioners mostly cancel each other out or create really bad interference." Something in her voice says she intends to investigate that further in the near future.
"But seeing to our guests and our potential hair-raising escape really helps with the distraction and focus angle. If you could keep supporting that, that’d be great." Robin looks to Vere with Love and Trust in her eyes.
Once she is settled, Robin takes a deep breath and relaxes into alertness. From within her, she stokes the blue lightning of her Heritage and Blood, summoning the Power of the Pattern to mind and soul. Eyes sharp as a hawk's, head tipped to Listen, Robin reaches out and gently, gently takes the weave of the Shadow into her 'hands.'
Robin reaches out mentally and the pattern springs quickly to her mind. It is clear to her that the thing she sees is ordered, but not naturally ordered, and is kept in place by some chaotic affect on it. It is a wrongness and she can right it. Not easily, but permanently and simply. She's also strongly convinced that she will need to manage it carefully to keep it from exploding like overtightened clockwork.
Vere is watching Robin carefully, trying to follow what she is doing while remaining fully aware of his surroundings. He doesn't expect one of his passengers to suddenly go on a murderous rampage, or a Lord of Chaos to burst up through the water under the Psyche, but he doesn't plan on being surprised if something along those lines occurs.
Gently, gently, like untangling a hurt animal from a snare, Robin begins to free the Order of this place from its constraints. Unconsciously, she hums and tweets under her breath as she keeps herself both aligned to the 'music' of the land and in charge of it.
The 'music' of the land is a steady repeat of a theme. It seems to have been stuck in a single long, beautiful phrase for some time, repeating it again and again, for uncountable ages. The first loosening of the ties seems to release new themes, at first cautiously and then louder and faster, the breech becomes a rent, and soon an entire shadow's worth of space and time and dimensionality are flooding out of the gap. Vere, at the helm of the Psyche, feels the water start to recede from the boat, and the lake level seems to fall. Behind him, one of the ladies gasps. A great wave is forming behind the ship.
Shortly, the Psyche, and with her Eckford, are climbing up the wall of an unimaginable wave. It's that or crash or the now-exposed rocks.
Robin feels a final crack as the Chaosian influence splinters and breaks away, separating the two lands from each other at last. Robin isn't quite sure when the oscillations will dampen, although she thinks it is quite likely that eventually they will.
This place is dangerous to still be in. It's one of the last bits that part of both shadows. Oh, and the tidal wave. And the rocks. It's definitely not safe, at all. It would be a pity to accomplish a great feat of Patternry and then be dashed agains the rocks because the two shadows each need a full ocean.
Vere concentrates on keeping the Psyche stable as she climbs the wave, focusing on minor and transitory things such as bits of foam and small swirls in the currents around them to hellride them quickly away. He's trying to get them onto open ocean, away from rocks and the danger of being cast upon the shore.
Robin looks up for her Pattern work, slightly disoriented. But as she takes in her surroundings, a wild grin of glee splits her face. Robin shifts her focus instantly: no Pattern from her, that's Vere's job. Safety of passengers and outriders, her job. She figures the Psyche probably knows how to take care of herself.
Robin watches Eckford. He's struggling. If it gets much worse, he'll be lost. And it seems as if it's about to.
This being the Psyche -- Vere's boat, Robin is pretty sure there's a life-preserver with line close to hand, 'cause Her Man doesn't head out to sea underprepared. If there is, Robin will throw the preserve to Ophiuchus, using just strength and skill (no Pattern.) If that goes well, Robin quickly ties off the line and hangs on to it, doing what she can to help the unfortunate tow-ees.
If there's no life-preserver or things don't go well, Robin will consider jumping for Ophiuchus and Eckford. If she gets even into their vicinity, she can hell-splash the three of them out of there... hopefully.
[OOC: Well, that's too good an option to pass up...]
Ophiuchus is hanging on to Eckford for his life and can't let go enough to try to catch or use the line Robin throws. She's pretty sure she can reach the two of them, but she’ll get even wetter...
Vere's changes come and go quickly, a swirl, a curl of foam, a hard cross-current at just the right second. It's easy to hell-ride when tossed by a tidal wave, although it's hard to know where the changes will land oneself.
The skies open up and a torrential rain starts, harder and faster than anything could, naturally. Moments ago the sky was clear and blue, but now it cannot be seen. Visibility is non-existent, and the waves are terrifying. Vere's ship and skill seem to be holding, but it's hard to see or hear anything at all. There could be reefs or even mountains just feet from the Psyche and it wouldn't be obvious.
It's at that point that the lightning starts, close enough to blind anyone looking that way. Crashing huge and loud near the boat, the ozone smell temporarily overwhelming the salt sea. The thunderclap, nearly simultaneously, is deafening.
Vere laughs, reveling in the exhilaration of pitting himself against the elements. He steers the sloop as though he and the Psyche are a single being, feeling the motion of the wind and water as she rides the waves, sensing the currents moving along her hull and letting them guide him as he steers her through the storm.
"Verde..." Robin curses under her breath. Wetness... why does it have to be wetness...
She quickly hauls the line back in and dumps it somewhere safe on the deck. "Vere! Meet us in Xanadu!" She yells and then leaps for the struggling Ophiuchus and Eckford. Bleah, yuck, wetness!
Struggling to control the helm Vere has time for a shocked, "What?" before the love of his life and star of his existence vanishes over the side into the merciless sea.
After that single instant of shock he brings himself back into control. His face slides into an emotionless mask as he analyzes the situation, determines that there is nothing that he can do to aid or retrieve Robin, and focuses on the task of guiding the Psyche to safety. The joy is gone, and now there is only grim determination to complete the task. He guides the Hellride towards calmer waters, working to step it down from Hellride to a simpler working of shifting shadows as they leave the shock of Robin's working far behind them.
Vere has two high-priority tasks, which he manages successfully. First he must keep the ship in adequately deep water to prevent her becoming a smear of wreckage along a mile of coastline. Second, he needs to ride away from the rough storm that is making a hell ride the only thing it's possible to do.
Finally, he needs to arrive in a shadow from which he can reach Xanadu.
It's hard to tell if the final goal has been achieved. The sails are in tatters, and the ship seems to have come to rest in some sort of tropical lagoon. The water is clear and shadow, but the island is becalmed.
There's a volcano rising from the center of the island. It looks dormant.
Vere slumps for a moment, allowing the stress of what has happened to wash through him, then throws it off with a shake. He turns to his passengers. "Is everyone all right?" he asks them.
Ywain stretches his lean fighter's frame. "Yes, Lord Magician, I am. I do not feel the call of the basin, which I did even when I left the tower before. I am free, thanks to you and Sir Robin."
Morgne looks around. "Where have we landed, Prince Vere?"
The lagoon, as Vere looks around, has clearly been populated at some point in the past, although it seems abandoned. Vere can see the sunken remains of a sailing ship, which looks as if it may have burned at anchor. On the shore there are a number of bits of wreckage. It's not very recognizable. The wreck may be years old.
While the lagoon is becalmed, there must be some kind of magic involved, because beyond the mouth of the lagoon there is a raging storm wall. If it's what passes for normal here, Vere may be far from the centers of Order.
"I do not know, my lady," Vere replies. "The journey was... somewhat fraught." He gestures toward the storm outside. "I do not wish to hazard that with the Psyche in her current condition. While I could take us all to my father and avoid any other entanglements I am somewhat of a believer in fate and meaning and I would rather like to see where we are to determine if there is a reason for us being here."
He bows his head slightly to the two ladies. "If on the other hand you would wish to speed to a safe destination I shall be happy to see to that instead."
Morgne nods her head. "I'm sure Ophiuchus is fine. He's with your mate, Sir Robin. Do you have a small boat to take us ashore or should we conjure one? I don't think we need to raise the wreck over there."
Laudine looks at the storm. "Even with all of our sorcerous powers, I mislike the look of that storm." Ywain nods at that.
Vere examines the wreck, and then the shore, with his Third Eye. While doing so he replies, "If you can summon a small craft for us then I should be grateful if you would do so. I do not have one myself." He does not mention that he is also interested to see whether their magical powers will operate as they expect in this shadow.
To his third eye, the wreck is non-existent. It is a transient thing, neither alive nor 'real', nor solid rock. He sees the magic of the two witches, reaching into the water and pulling up a boat. It is either from this wreck or an earlier one. While the hull is staved in, the boat seems to be magically free of water.
When Vere turns his third eye to the land, he sees the great volcano rising from the sea. He also sees glimmers of something along the shore, but he's not sure what it is.
Ywain offers to help him into the boat.
Vere lifts an eyebrow at the offer of assistance. "Thank you," he says politely. He makes certain the Psyche is firmly anchored before he joins the other three in the boat. He allows Ywain to row them in, and stands watching the shore with both mortal and sorcerous sight.
"Ladies," he says as they draw near to the beach. "Do you see anything odd about the shore? Something magical, perhaps?"
Morgne frowns but Laudine replies. "The whole place is magical, and slightly wrong. This is taking more effort than it should, and not in the way that sorcery in the Cities of High Order does."
Morgne is still not responding. With his third eye, Vere sees a line from her to the holes in the boat. Laudine keeps talking. "Looks like someone made it ashore. There's a boat pulled above the waterline and some crates and luggage that looks to have been opened. Half-a dozen men, maybe more. I don't see any sign they stayed here long."
Vere nods, then raises a hand as they draw close to the beach when the water is only a couple of feet deep. "Hold, please," he says. "I do not wish us to set foot on the land until I have examined it more closely." He sweeps his gaze up and down the beach, searching for anything out of the ordinary with both mortal sight and the Third Eye.
If he sees nothing then he will ease out of the boat and approach the beach on foot, stopping just before the shore. He'll kneel down and examine the beach more carefully, then raise his eyes to examine the crates, luggage, and the tale the tracks in the sand tell.
It's hard to see details with the third eye. The island is real, but there's something that feels slightly off, magically, here.
When Vere looks at the scene, the story he sees is a boat, maybe a launch from the wreck whose mast is still sticking out of the lagoon. It's pulled up into the vegetation. There are some crates and a large set of what might've once been nice matching luggage is on the shore. It looks like they hastily went through it and proceeded inland.
There's no sign of any kind of struggle; they might not have wanted to drag so much luggage.
Vere nods thoughtfully to himself, and looks back at his companions. "Bide a moment while I test the land," he says. "There is something ... odd. I cannot quite put my finger on what it is."
Then he braces himself, and steps onto the beach. He will wait a few moments to see if anything out of the usual occurs, magically or mundanely, before signalling for the boat to come ashore.
The sky is blue and cloudless, except for the great barrier storm at the edge of the lagoon. Vere can hear the wind howl from that, at a distance, but there is just a warm tropical breeze from the sea where he stands. The boat comes in and Ywain asks Vere how far they need to drag it to keep the tides from swamping it.
It shouldn't be too far up; the high tide indicators are close.
Vere assists Ywain in pulling the boat far enough that it won't be taken out again by high tide.
Morgne and Laudine come ashore, neither caring if their clothes get wet, and head towards the abandoned containers. "I can't see anything more disconcerting than the storm," says Laudine, "but we've only just got here."
Vere smiles thinly. "Indeed," he says. "I am certain fate can supply something, if we give it time." He regards the edge of the forest, then shakes his head slightly, and turns his attention back to the ladies, dropping his sorcerous sight.
"Let us see what we can learn from these containers first," he says. "They should give us an idea of the technological level of the society from which they come, perhaps will have markings that give us information on the owners, and there might even be one or two overlooked items that reveal something about the nature of these people." As he says this he concentrates on the certainty that it is highly probable that this will be the case.
The cases are awash with clothes, and the lower layers seem to have suffered little damage. Very little has been taken from them, as if the owner meant to return but never did.
Everything is exquisitely hand made, but perhaps not all would be considered tasteful in Amber's high society.
Every item is monogrammed, including the codpieces.
They all say "L St. C"
Vere raises a single eyebrow. "Interesting," he observes, but does not elaborate. He looks at the tracks disappearing into the forest, then at the ladies. "I am minded to follow, to learn what happened to the survivors of this wreck," he says. "And to learn what foes or allies we may face. Would you prefer to remain here? Your own powers, and Ywain's prowess, should serve to guard you until I return."
Ywain protests. "Sir Vere, Sir Robin would want me to come with you. Scouting is best done pairwise." He says the last as if it is a lesson he learned long ago.
Morgne nods. "We will be fine. I want to give a proper looking over to this luggage, to see if someone has left us anything useful."
Vere nods. "If you ladies are certain. Ywain is correct that it would be best to travel together. Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable before we depart?"
Assuming they say no, or that whatever requests they have are easily and quickly complied with, Vere and Ywain will set out to follow the tracks. Vere suggests to Ywain that they keep aware to the possibility that traps or an ambush might have been set up along the route, and that they value safety and caution over speed.
Once they are on their way he also tells Ywain, "In truth, it is not Sir Vere. While Robin considers me a knight, for that I was one of the Council who helped to rule Amber under my Father the Regent before the King returned, and all the Council were given knighthoods by the King, I had taken an oath to accept no new titles or honours until my Father is restored to health. And thus I have not yet accepted the knighthood. I am Lord Vere of Amber, and Prince Vere of the Isles of the Dannan."
"As my wife has ties to Amber, I will use that title. When Sir Ophiuchus and I were first here, he spoke more in the Parisian way than he does these days. To him a knight is a horseman, and a lord is simply addressed as 'elder'. If it pleases you, I can refer to you as 'Elder Vere'".
He doesn't seem to see anything ironic or even odd in that, even though he is likely thousands of years older than Vere.
Vere chuckles quietly. "In Amber the term Elder is used by the younger generation to refer to the sons and daughters of Oberon, our parents and their siblings. I should find it strange indeed to be called such."
The trail ends at a clearing. It looks like a large farmstead has been built in the forest here. The land has been harvested, but the ground has not been re-plowed for more crops. There are a few buildings on the far side of the clearing.
Vere crouches behind cover at the edge of the clearing, eyes narrowed. He looks carefully for signs of recent habitation, judging how long it has been since the harvest, and what has been done since then, looking for smoke from chimneys, any sounds from within the buildings, or marks of recent travel across the ground.
Vere thinks the great-house is occupied. It is elevated on brick piers off the ground and has a separate cookhouse, which has smoke coming from the chimney. The house looks well-suited to the tropical environment, and large enough for dozens of occupants. It’s unclear if there are that many, but there are probably some.
Vere is looking at the back of the house.
Either it is immediately between harvest and re-plowing the land, or this field is fallow. While there are stalks and signs of a recent harvest, there has been no attempt to use the land again.
Vere gestures silently to Ywain to follow, and circles around the clearing. He moves silently, keeping his senses open and on the lookout for people, creatures, or traps.
His intent is to move until he can clearly see the front of the house. He wants to see not only what the house looks like, and whether there is anyone outside in the front, but also get a feel for whether it is fortified in any way. He wants to see whether the inhabitants believe they have anything to fear on this island.
Vere moves towards the front. The house does not seem to be fortified, but it does look as if the main living levels are on the second and third floors. The front looks odd, as if the building and grounds have changed purposes. There's a row of great oak trees leading up to the house like a trail. That kind of thing takes decades to mature. But there's also a vegetable garden and some goats corralled beneath those trees.
Ywain points to the house. "I see people through the windows," he says. It's definitely movement, and he's probably right about the people. It's too far to see what they are doing.
Vere thinks a moment, then says quietly. "You remain here, unseen. I will approach openly. If I am attacked come to my aid. If someone else comes out of the house after I have entered follow them. It is possible that there is someone else on the island they must report to, and if they send someone to report my presence I would like to know where they go. If no one else comes out, and I myself have not come back out of the building within half a watch, return to the ladies to tell them what happened."
He waits for any questions or arguments that Ywain might have, and unless they are sufficient to change his mind he will slip out of the forest, then openly approach the house. If there is no reaction to his approach he will pause when he is about halfway across the clearing and call out, "Hallo the house!"
A woman steps out of the main door. She's dressed in clothes suitable for field-work. She has a large dog next to her, but it doesn't seem hostile.
"Who goes there?" she replies.
"My name is Vere. I took shelter in your harbour from a storm. May I ask where I have landed?" He smiles, while carefully judging her reactions and capabilities.
"Oh, yes. We were told you'd arrive soon. This is Asir Island. Please, come up and join us for supper. You may invite your friends, as well. The Elder is expecting you."
Vere blinks, but shows no other reaction. "Very kind," he says. "Give the Elder my regards, and tell him we shall arrive soon. A short time and a place to freshen up before supper would be appreciated as well. We have travelled hard."
(Insert polite leave taking here)
Unless she has anything else unexpected to say Vere will return to the forest, pick up his companion, and head back to the beach. He is silent and thoughtful on the way.
When he returns to his companion, Ywain indicates to Vere that someone is watching them. There's someone quite a long way away in the forest, and he's not moving in or leaving.
Vere doesn't think the man is a farmer.
Vere nods and gestures to Ywain that he is to return to the beach. He accompanies Ywain for a short time, carefully noting what the watcher does.
If the watcher doesn't follow then once Vere thinks they are out of his sight he will signal Ywain to wait while he ducks into the underbrush and carefully and silently makes his way back to where he can observe the watcher.
If the watcher does follow then Vere will wait until he finds a place where he can duck out of sight, signal Ywain to continue towards the beach, and fade into the underbrush and wait for the watcher to come into view.
The watcher does follow, cautiously. When he comes into view, Vere sees a young man of no more than a dozen years. His skin is tanned and rough and it looks like he's used to walking and working in the tropical forest.
He hasn't spotted Vere, but if he goes much further, he'll spot the ladies on the beach.
He's unarmed, or at least not seriously armed.
Once ears stop ringing from the thunderclap, the end of Robin's exultant "WooooHoooo!" is somewhat dampened by well, the damp. Splashing mightily, the girl hauls herself within range of the mounted knight and begins her own soggy Patternwork. Gently, gently so as to not conflict with Vere's path, Robin uses the splash of the waves hitting her face as a visual break to hopefully stutter-step them all out of there and to calmer seas.
OOC: In Range, since there’s no ship with you, basically means “holding on to Eckford’s haunches” or “mounting up behind Ophiuchus".
Robin drapes herself behind Ophiuchus; mounting may be too elegant a description for her sodden flop across Eckford’s haunches.
The flashes of lightning and the tremendous booming are enough to give Robin the visual breaks she needs, or they do as long as she doesn't edit the storm out. There's no sign of The Psyche.
Awwww.... Vere.... Robin has a moment of regret as she desperately misses Her Man. And dreads the apology coming. Even though she knows Vere understands her nature implicitly, she wanted to ride the storm with him so very much. Dung!
Then she turns to the business at hand. Yes, editing the storm out is definitely the first thing on her list. Poor Eckford!
Waves become smaller and bluer, less churny. The booming rolls further and further away. The lightning is fun though. Robin keeps the dark skies but the strikes become more and more diffuse and spidery, eventually fading to brilliant webs of cloud to cloud displays.
And Xanadu-ward? Easy enough for the thunder to start echoing the King's drumming. After all, all roads lead to Xanadu these days.
Before Robin can make this change, but after the storm calms enough for communication, Ophiuchus turns back to Robin and shouts "I have to take us under! Eckford is too tired to swim above the water any longer! Hold your breath, in case it's not breathable!"
Robin gulps in awkwardly. One would think she'd be better at this by now.
With that, Eckford noses down into the water, and Robin quickly finds herself submerged in a peaceful, quiet sea. The water above her and the light are still flashing irregularly, but the sounds are different—more muted.
This would almost be pretty, Robin thinks, if she wasn't underwater! The Ranger forces herself to be still and good luggage for the struggling seahorse and knight. But she's still too charged to be "peaceful."
Ophiuchus turns around. "Breathable!" he says. It sounds bizarrely loud, after the sudden submergence. He is clearly guiding Eckford to alight on a strangely regular column that juts up from the sea floor.
Robin nods her understanding. As quietly and with as much control as she can manage, the girl goes into her routine of gasping, hacking, wheezing and not-drowing! spasms as she convinces her reluctant mind and instinctive body to adapt to the new situation. By the time Eckford's circling in for his landing, Robin's got it under control enough to be a snotty, mortified mess. She really prefers to do that when people aren't watching. Bleah.
She distracts herself by checking out the... landing platform?
It's flat. In the dim reflecting light, it somehow glows or glints. It's hard to tell, but it might be some sort of metal. Robin can see, crusted over with growth, that there's something that might've been a hatchway at the top. As she looks at it, the spire looks like it might be artificial.
Eckford reaches the top and Ophiuchus hops off. "He's going to need to rest. And ideally, eat, if we can find him some food." From the muted sounds his boots make, the floor is definitely metal. In the dimness of the landing platform, Robin sees several others, some distance away.
Robin nods as she slings herself off as well, giving Eckford a grateful pat once she's found her feet.
Remembering what Eckford and Abford (poor Abford) ate when she and Ophiuchus returned from their hunt, Robin gestures down the far side of the column, tweaking things to her desire. "I think there's something growing wild over there. I can get it while you see to the tack?"
Ophiuchus nods. "Very well." From where Robin looks, she can see that this column is joined to another by a bridge. It's probably 30 feet further down.
Assuming this is agreeable, Robin bobbles over in that direction. She keeps an eye and ear out as she goes, hoping the underwater... city? is abandoned, not just unkempt.
Robin finds what she is looking for and, with her bare hands, rips it from the side of the tower. Beneath the plant the metal is shiny, even in the gloom.
Hunh. Robin experiences a moment of water-air confusion as she does not successfully blow a fluff of air at her bangs. Verde... bleah.
A stream of water is what she blows, and it hits the bangs, but it's not air.
Robin snorts and rolls her head in irritation, a gesture she obviously learned from her Uncle Morgenstern.
Robin makes her way back to Ophiuchus and Eckford bearing sea-horse food.
"Looks like we're on some kind of overgrown city. Do you have any knowings, ideas or just plain legends about a metal city underwater?" She ask the knight as she slowly and carefully feeds the steed. (No foundering.)
He thinks. "When we had visitors, we often entertained bards and wandering minstrels. I can tell you a dozen tales of metal cities populated by fiery demons, or underwater cities whose people interbreed with fish, or cities that have been destroyed. I only recall one song with all those things at once.
"The silver towers have drowned, under a sea of blood. How many miles to Abbeylon? None, I say, and all. The silver towers have drowned."
Ophiuchus has an excellent tenor/baritone voice and could make a living as a singer, if he were not a knight.
"But this is no sea of blood, so I don't know if it's the same, or just a reflection of that place."
"Ahhhhh," Robin says, repressing a sudden urge to jump out of contact with the tower, "I know... similar tales. Great, just great."
"Sir Ophiuchus, may I ask a boon of you?" Robin says formally. "The tales of silver towers, whether pure or reflections, are the stories of my Uncle Corwin. I am... unfortunately biased with regards to my Uncle." Her tone of voice clearly says 'I hate his guts.' "However, in these latter days, we are necessarily allies and it would be... less than optimal if I were to allow my bias to blind me to opportunities to... heal divides or... make a clear assessment of our situation." She fights the words out through both gritted teeth and a strong desire to mantle. Not at Ophiuchus but at the situation.
"I have a great respect for your wisdom and acuity. Would you be able to lend those to our cause in the immediate future?" 'Since Vere isn't here to help me think,' she adds sadly in her own mind.
"I owe you a debt beyond repaying, Sir Robin. We all do. Any service I can do you, I will do gladly." He bows slightly from the neck, in a gesture that would look to more courtly Amberites a bit old-fashioned.
"And we will need to rest here for a bit in any case, so I would hear of your Uncle Corum. His name reminds me of a long-ago King..."
"I and my Family know him as 'Corwin,' she pronounces carefully, "but he has gone by many names and his... Influence stretches far into all the Realms."
Sighing, Robin settles herself. "I truly do not know him well, or at all," she concedes. "I have only lived with the stories, the warnings and the... consequences of his actions."
Taking a deep breath, she starts. "Save one, Corwin is the oldest known surviving son of The First King, Oberon. And like his father he is a being of great passions -- he fights mightily, roisters mightily, lives and sings mightily and is under no illusions regarding his own humility whatsoever." Robin lips curl in an ironic twitch. "While the Uncle I know has never shown any desire or talent in the sorcerous arts -- preferring steel, guile and stubbornness to solve his quandaries -- I know that some notable reflections of him do. I believe the term 'Sorcerous King' has been bandied about in his wake.
Corwin has lived many adventurous -- and fractious -- centuries doing both great good and great evil as is his (and indeed, all of our's) way. It is from these centuries that the tales of Silver Towers arose. My Uncle's music from that time is full of sad longing and musings upon Lost Avalon. It was also during these centuries that the enmity between my Uncle and my Father crystalized. My Father is... much younger than Corwin. And of an entirely different mindset than my Uncle, preferring to build and defend than to..." Robin's lips press sharply together. And she shakes herself back to her story.
"Yeah, anyway. I don't remember what the triggering incident was, but Corwin came under censure from King Oberon and The King removed his Wardenship of Arden, the great Green bastion of Eternal Forest that surrounds Amber... which Corwin loved dearly. And awarded it to my Father. The transition was... ugly, and fraught with peril for my Father. I... we still find occasional scars from Prince Corwin's," Robin twists the words angrily, "'little surprises for those ‘trespassed' in his rightful realm."
The Ranger takes a moment to gather herself and continues,
"Regardless, a few centuries ago, a blow from one of his rival brothers struck him down, causing Corwin to lose all sense of himself. During that time... perhaps... he wizened. And came to see the world beyond his own desires. At the very least, he was, at length, able to put aside his..." Robin spits it out, "ambition to come to the greater aid of Amber." Despite her attempts to distance herself from those events with a telltaler's voice, Robin's eyes narrow and she mantles slightly. Her eyes dart over to Ophiuchus, "But not before," she grits out, "he attacked us.
"My Father was triumphant in that attack, but... the unpleasantness between them continued and Prince Corwin cursed my Father with all the power of an enraged Lord of Order. Not that my Father needed any more of Corwin's curses to... Well, anyway..." Robin waves that away.
"Not only did my Uncle's curses hamper one of Amber's most stalwart defenders, they also opened the pathway for our enemies to breach us. And as we were fighting our last most desperate battle, He returned to turn the tides. With the army and weapons that he had brought to, yes -- attack us again... Damn him."
Robin stops there as she's getting more worked up than she wants to be while sitting on a... Silver Tower.
He nods and looks glum. "All too familiar, Sir Robin, to tales from my day. The wars and murders over similar matters were what led my wife and her cousins to separate the lands.
"Would you kill him, if you could do so without being found out?"
"No.” Robin response is immediate, definite and melancholy.
"Though I hate his guts, my Uncle is a firmament of the Realms. His death and his loss would do unimaginable damage to all that is Real. Furthermore, he is the King of Paris. And though I am... skittish about Paris, I would never do to that Realm what was done to Amber. So no, no I wouldn't kill him. In fact, I would guard his life with my own. But... bleah." Robin rolls her eyes and manages to not stick out her tongue.
He nods. "A dilemma. He sounds thoroughly unworthy, and yet you are his ally. You do not even seem to be able to avoid him. I do not know how best to advise you," he adds. "I can say that I am glad your times are not so inclined to war and murder as our time was." If Ophiuchus recalls that Robin didn't actually ask for advice, he's ignoring that detail.
"I can see that you are not completely satisfied with the old saw about 'what cannot be cured must be endured.' You are more proactive than that counsel allows one to be."
Robin snorts softly at that. Genteelly spoken.
"So, to turn the question back on you, how would you like you relations with your perfidious Uncle to be?"
Robin looks at Ophiuchus with blank eyes and an even more blank mind, before she bursts into amazed laughter. "Ahhhhh, one would think I'd get used to that." She chuckles a little more before settling down.
"Pray forgive me, Sir Ophiuchus. This is not the first time I have received such advice for similar difficulties. There is something in my nature that blinds itself to the future. I... hunh..." With some difficulty, Robin pulls her thoughts away from analyzing her own behavior and to the actual question.
"What would I like relations with my Uncle to be?" She wonders.
"Cordial and distant, I guess...." Is the best she can come up with.
Ophiuchus says, "It's probably a city-dweller's trait, which is why it seems so odd to you. In a city, one looks at what one has, what one wants, and plans a path between the two. When one lives in the wild, one takes advantage of what one finds. If the current space isn't adequate, one moves on." He looks over at her.
Robin nods thoughtfully.
"Another way to think of it is tactical versus strategic thinking. As a knight, this should have been drilled into you. You can be a peerless peer on the battlefield, but if you are not choosing how to get to the right battlefield, the war may not be winnable."
Robin blushes and drops her gaze. Yes, she remembers her Father's lessons on logistics and choosing one’s field. She just wasn't very good at it.
He strokes Eckford's flank. "It's easy to be cordial and distant, if you are a forest nomad. You just move on if the current place isn't adequate. As vassals to the King, you and your Uncle are likely to be in contact, and he would, in most circumstances, be senior. Those are the encounters you should prepare for, work out tactics for."
He smiles. "And if he is the King of Paris, plan for very low-key, invisible-to-others victories, like 'I didn't even want to tell him off'."
"My consort and her cousin were once at odds, but time has erased all that."
"Hmmmm,” Robin is quiet for a while.
"Thank you -- very much, Sir. You have given me much to think on. It is true that I have felt myself... trapped by these new times. Facing situations I have no understanding of."
She chuckles grimly. "And this is not the first time my lack of strategic vision has been noted. It's just that planning life like a battle seems so... wrong. And sad..."
"But you are also right. Time -- and familiarity -- does seem to be easing my ire." This time her chuckle is real. "I have another Uncle whom I despise. And quite by accident, I found myself rifling through his bedroom drawers. He certainly seemed more... of a person and less of an overwhelming monster after that!" She grins.
"Soooo," Robin brushes her trousers off and changing the subject, "strategically speaking, should we explore our surroundings or wait for the trouble to come to us?" She says with a sparkle in her eye.
The knight smiles at her. "Strategically speaking, I have no idea. But my personal preference is to go looking for trouble, Sir Robin. I pray you, lead on."
"Ah, a man after my own heart." Robin grins.
After taking a moment to determine the best course of action for Eckford, either taking the seahorse with or leaving him here, Robin leads Ophiuchus in a search for a way into the architecture on which they stand.
Ophiuchus pulls a lantern from the saddlebags of Eckford. It's a collapsible one and apparently it’s powered by some sort of bioluminescence. It's very bright and directional. "Only the one of these, I'm afraid," he says.
Robin shrugs and lets Ophiuchus carry the lantern. After all he knows how to use it and take care of it.
They swim down in the lantern's beam, a tight spiral towards the base of the bunched towers they landed upon. As they go down, the coral growths become smaller, then intermittent, then gone. The tower is, true to its historic name, silver, and it gleams as if it were freshly polished. It reflects the light all around, and Robin can see that this underwater ruin was once the highest point of the region. There are other buildings, in worse shape than the towers, but none are actually reachable without considerable digging.
At base of the tower, aside what may well have been a giant parade ground for troops, there is a great silver double door. It stands partially ajar, as if something or someone dragged it open recently. Dragged, or perhaps, pushed.
Robin chuckles. "Well, that looks like trouble." She whispers gleefully.
"Okay, me first then you with the lantern."
Robin looks away from the light for a few moments, letting her eyes adjust and taking in how sounds and currents bring sense of surroundings. She then draws her sword and goes in the door low and fast. (Investigation, hah! That's for... smarter folks.)
Ophiuchus follows with the lantern, sending the beam ahead of him as he comes in. Most of the surfaces are silver and highly reflective. The light hits a crystal structure and spreads through the wide entrance hall, giving a slight hint of the opulence and riches of the lords of these towers, whose mighty constructions are now buried on the sea floor and invisible to most eyes.
Robin sees signs of some sort of catastrophe here. Not only are the furnishings in disarray, there are what look to be signs of battle: broken weapons, slashes and dings in the walls, arrows-- arrows that wouldn't have flown underwater.
More careful examination reveals that the art of the place, or such of it as survived, was bas relief in hammered silver, and that some of it has been obliterated in place, as if someone wanted to erase the history of the tower. This is most pronounced on the door at the far end of the entrance hall.
The door is 10 feet tall and bound in silver, and that silver is hammered nearly flat, but traces of older scenes remain.
The door is ever so slightly ajar.
Conner spends some time before his departure touching base with the various spies, magicians, and Tritons under his remit to remind them of their tasks and see that they have instructions to carry on on the tasks they were given. Once he feels reasonably certain that the Queendom will not collapse for a few days at least (allow 1 day to a decade for this), Conner calls for a bag to be packed for him with provisions for the journey to Paris.
As his sister has taken the Seaward Route he will go landward and take ship from Paris to the Land of Peace. It will let him check in with Corwin and Flora on the Moire situation and check up on that statue/not statue in the place in-between realms.
After a two day climb up the stairs inside the cave, Conner finds himself pushing aside the vegetation that both screens and signifies the Paris end of the Failla-Bionin. He is noticed by a watcher, who recognizes him, and is offered a horse to ride to the palace. The palace is magnificent and open to the air, which is full of chestnut blossoms.
Conner is escorted to the gardens, where he finds Corwin and Flora with a small circle of courtiers. With him, is Garrett, who steps over to intercept Conner. "Well met, Cousin. I didn't expect to see you here." The boy smiles, and Conner sees, perhaps, more maturity in his bearing than he had when last they met. Perhaps it's merely confidence.
Corwin waits for the pair to approach his pavilion. Conner can see croquet mallets and other gaming materials behind the King.
"The surprise is mutual but it is a welcome one." Conner smiles back and offers him a hand clasp. To give them a little time to talk, Conner walks unhurriedly towards the waiting monarch and Aunt. "What brought you to Paris?" Conner inquires.
"I'm following a path to Gateway. Jerod needs some supplies imported and I'm supposed to seek them out and bring them to Port Thule," Garrett explains. "Dad thinks it's a good and relatively low-risk job to teach me how to do things. He said something about 'training wheels' and I had to ask him what he meant."
Conner chuckles. "Not much call for bicycles in Amber though they could become popular here. I expect skateboarding in Xanadu." Conner smiles. "Well, we might be able to help each other. I too have come to Paris to take ship into Shadow on a fact finding mission for Queen Celina."
Garrett nods. "I have a ship. What facts are you trying to find? If we're going to the same places, we could go together. It might save you some time."
"Even if it doesn't the company would be welcome." Conner admits. "My destination is the Land of Peace. The last time I was there a link between the Marids of that place and Rebma was implied that I did not full appreciate at the time. I want to dig into that a little deeper. Where is on your itinerary?"
Garett looks genuinely pleased. "I'm to go into shadow and gather certain trade goods and bring them to Jerod in Gateway. Since it's the furtherest place from Amber and Paris, Gateway is likely on the way. If you come along, we can probably shift shadow more effectively, so we could get there faster. I have a ship being outfitted at Le Havre."
The Prince turns and glances at Corwin. "You'd better greet our Uncle, I don't want him to think we're ignoring him."
Conner bows to Corwin and Flora as is proper for their station and smiles broadly. "Majesty, Highness. It is a pleasure to once again be in Paris. Queen Celina sends her warmest regards to you both."
Flora, for all that she is in theory the junior of the elder royals present, both by age and protocol, steps forward to give Conner an auntly embrace. "It's good to see you, Conner."
Conner returns the embrace warmly. "The feeling is mutual, my Aunt."
When she releases Conner, Corwin offers a firm clasp. "Welcome to Paris. We thank you for bringing us our daughter's regards, and send them in return when next you see her." The formal greeting having been completed, Corwin lets his tone fall back to normality. "You're welcome to join our game. Or perhaps you've brought matters of state that cannot be delayed for leisure."
Corwin doesn't sound as if that would bother him very much.
"I have been sent forth seeking information on behalf of Rebma and I would seek your counsel on these matters." Conner admits. "There is also news from cousin Brennan that I believe you both would find of interest."
"Well, let's all go inside, then," Corwin says, unfussed and undisappointed. He leads the way back to the castle, explaining to his non-royal companions that duties of state call. If Florimel is pouting a little, well, nobody likes to work when there's playing to be done.
Corwin stops to send for Folly, as well, so she can join them.
Soon enough, they're all settled in Corwin's comfortable study, drinks in hand, and ready to discuss business. "So, Conner, tell us your news and Brennan's, and--I assume you've had Garrett's news from him, so we'll move straight on to the questions on which Celina is seeking counsel after that, unless there's anything else that needs to come first."
Conner nods in agreement and takes a sip of his drink to give him time to order his thoughts. "Just as a preface, the tale Brennan told was a long and somewhat convoluted one so please ask for clarification if my summary is unclear. Following a trail from Rebma, Brennan traveled to Uncle Benedict's Avalon. Once there Brennan agreed to scout some of the islands in the area and took on the guise of a wandering mercenary. Skipping ahead, Brennan found himself at a siege of a strategically important mountain keep fighting off a mercenary force backed by sorcery and he managed to capture one of the sorcerers." Conner sips his drink again.
"In Brennan's words," Conner drops into the light trance that aids his recall and when he speaks again it is with Brennan's speech patterns, "His name was Cameleopardis Findanus, of a tribe called the Maghee, who claim descent from Lir's Castellan. Lir himself, it is written, originally raised the Silver Towers. When he departed to fight with his kin against an army of fish demons, he was slain, and the Maghee people succeeded him. Later, they claim to have been instrumental in the defeat of the Witch-King, sinking their own island and destroying the Silver Towers."
Conner comes back to himself and takes another sip. "This Cameleopardis was part of an expedition to this sunken city and was taken to a place there where he saw visions. He saw the Protector and the Witch-King fighting amongst a glowing tracery that lit up the room. He blacked out and when he awoke, a woman was on a Sapphire Throne. Before the throne, the Protector fought against the Witch King's blade until it severed the Protector's arm.
"Then that vision disappeared except for the woman. She named herself Dara, of the lineage of Lir, and bade Cameleopardis to sleep. When he woke, a Priestess of Lir would give him instructions. He slept and when he awoke, a woman was there and she bade him to raise a fleet and attack the keep that Brennan defended. The Maghee wizard identified this 'priestess' as Moire."
Conner stops there for reactions and questions.
Garrett is looking at Conner like he's not quite sure what he's hearing but finds it fascinating. Florimel is looking at Corwin as if she expects him to have something to say about this story, possibly quite a lot, and it's probably not going to be happy. Corwin, as always, is hard to read, but Conner's best guess is somewhere between disturbed and disconcerted.
"That last part sounds quite a bit like the business with the silver arm and Tir, during the war," is what he finally comes up with. "I got the arm on Tir after severing it from a ghost of Benedict, and later it was severed from him by what some people said was a ghost of me. After it had done something important, I should add. And Dara was involved in that scenario, in both directions. But Moire wasn't."
"I thought the whole story had the feel of Tir's visions." Conner nods. "Which makes it all the stranger if Moire and Cameleopardis somehow found their way to Tir and stranger still that they found each other there. Unfortunately, the wizard is no longer available for clarification. He was enspelled to prevent him from speaking of this matter and the breaking of that spell caused him to age unnaturally fast." Conner shakes his head and takes a long sip of his drink. "Brennan is continuing his pose as a mercenary hoping to find more about Moire's plans and whereabouts. Amongst other things, I'm trying to figure out if this link between Avalon, Rebma and Tir is an actual path that can be traveled and if so is it an opportunity to circle behind Moire or another front that needs to be watched and guarded?"
Folly enters the study in time to hear that last bit. "Ah, Conner -- you've been talking to Brennan, I see. I don't know if this will answer your question completely, but here's what I've pieced together so far...." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small sketchbook, already opened to a doodle that shows the names of Pattern realms, arranged in a rough circle and connected pairwise by arrows: Xanadu -- Tir -- Avalon -- Rebma -- Paris, with a lighter arrow (with a question mark over it) connecting Xanadu and Paris. Amber is pencilled in near Avalon, with an alternate path in dotted arrows connecting it to Tir and Rebma.
The space around the diagram is FILLED with other writing in smaller, hastier text -- some crossed out, some filled with abbreviations or code that make it difficult to read. A lot of what Conner can make out seems to be names of people, including a number of family members. Benedict and Corwin in particular have a lot of difficult- to-decipher scribbling around them.
To Corwin, Folly offers a polite bow and says, "Sorry it took me so long to get here -- I was ensconced in an obscure part of the library, and I'm afraid your messenger had rather a time of it trying to track me down." Her eyes are shining, as though perhaps she found something interesting in her research -- or it could just be the glow of exertion from her brisk walk to get here. She takes a seat beside Garrett, whispers a fond greeting to him, and then looks to see what questions Conner has about her diagram, or what she knows of Brennan's story, or anything else.
Florimel greets Folly with a wave but doesn’t interfere in the discussion. Corwin gets up to get Folly a drink, while Garrett grins at Folly and peers over at the diagram, waiting for Connor's question.
"Benedict has spoken of Avalon as guarding the back way to Tir," Folly offers. She looks at Garrett. "You were in the search party after Vialle went missing, right? Did your path take you through or near Avalon? I seem to recall your father saying you all had run into Benedict along the way."
Garrett delves into the recesses of his memories. "He said we were in the mythical Isle of Apples, but I think he called it Avalon later. We climbed up Dworkin's Thumb and met Benedict--and Dworkin--there. And from there we went to Benedict's castle, and after dinner somewhere that was--part of Tir? But the Grove instead of the city. My father and Benedict were talking about the Ring Road and making fun of Bleys and his higher maths. I didn't know Benedict had a sense of humor until then."
He remembers that Corwin and Florimel are in the room as well as Connor and Folly, and shrugs, a bit apologetically.
Folly gives him an encouraging smile; it's all good information (including that last bit that he may have intended as a bit of a joke).
"And we went back to Xanadu on Gerard's Trump instead of by riding," Garrett closes out the story.
"Well, that is as definitive as we are going to get." Conner muses. "It still doesn't explain how this Cameleopardis took an underwater route from Avalon and ended up in Tir or a Tir-like place." Conner sits back in his chair. "The ring road is starting to feel like a cloverleaf."
Folly nods. "I'm working on a theory about that. But this isn't the first time something like that has happened, right? It isn't even the first time something has happened like that underwater. Did Brennan tell you what happened when they tried to remove the gheas from Cameleopardis?"
Some interested parties don’t seem to know the answer to this question so Folly thinks she’s going to have to tell them before the day is over.
To Garrett, she adds, "And what color was the sky at Dworkin's Thumb? I've been there -- or at least to a Dworkin's Thumb -- but it was on the other side of Ygg."
Garrett takes a moment to recall what it was like. "Normal color--well, roughly the same sort of color we'd get in Amber. It wasn't stormy or anything. I don't think we were in Chaos unless Benedict has another castle called Avalon there."
"...or the topology of the universe has gotten more complicated than we understand," Folly says. "Which I wouldn't necessarily rule out, but it probably makes more sense that Dworkin has quite literally left his thumb-prints all over creation. It's like the dad joke of which all others are but shadows."
To the room at large, she says, "I think I mentioned to Corwin when I told him what I knew of the Maghee wizard's story that we had reason to believe he might be un-stuck in time. Brennan suspected his mind might have been tampered with in some way; he recalled awaking and meeting this priestess person, but he was not able to recall her the way he could recall and recognize Dara. When he saw a picture of Moire, he allowed as to how it could have been her, maybe, but it was all a bit fuzzy.
"So Brennan called in a local... I dunno, hedge witch, or something... to see if she could detect and remove whatever glamour might have been placed on the Maghee. She warned that there might be side-effects, including disrupting other spells that might have been placed on him. But she tried it, and...." Folly frowns. "The poor guy aged right in front of our eyes, perhaps centuries in a matter of minutes. As though perhaps something that had been keeping him alive for all this time was suddenly taken away. I might have been inclined to believe that his long nap between seeing Dara and meeting this priestess-that-might-have-been-Moire was some kind of centuries-long stasis, except that in his conversation with Dara, she was specifically interested in finding allies to help her bring down the new kingdom of the Sorceror-King Corwin." Folly hesitates, clearly puzzling over something. "Which I had thought must mean this place, but now I'm not so sure." She looks at Conner to see if he has any more details or insights to add.
Conner nods along clearly having the heard the tale. "I wish Brennan had not been so adamant about hiding his abilities. That outcome might have been avoided." Conner sighs. "As for the tricks with time, it is quite possible that the order in which Cameleopardis met these ladies was not the order in which they met him. So many echoes from the distant past and futures that may or may not yet come to pass." Conner drains the last of his drink. "I still don't know what to make of most of it."
Garrett, who hadn't heard any of this, is drinking it all in.
"I don't know entirely what to make of it either," Corwin admits, "and I was involved with the arm business. But I think that Conner's point about time being out of order for certain people is true and makes everything more complicated. If they were some sort of Tir-ghost or out-of-time experience, it makes me wonder where the other halves were in Dara's timeline, or Moire's. Because they have to be in the past."
"Do they?" Folly asks. It's not that she's disagreeing, precisely, but she's curious to hear Corwin's reasoning.
Conner squelches the impulse to answer for Corwin and instead waits to see what his Uncle has to say.
"Certainly for Moire. Moire's not a Lord of Chaos. She doesn't reverse time. And it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Dara now that she's taken the Pattern," Corwin explains. "And with Camelopardis—that is his name?—aged out, it cannot be in the future."
"Well, it cannot be in his future, I agree," Folly counters, "but I'm less certain about the other two. I take your point about the need for the right sort of power to generate an effect like that, but -- judging from the story of you and Benedict and the arm -- a time loop doesn't necessarily have to be generated by the people within it. I mean, otherwise---" she turns to Conner "---who would we have to suppose was responsible for that weirdness with your sister and Huon in Rebma?"
Though addressed to Conner, it's clear the question is open to anyone who wants to comment.
Conner's answer to that one is an eloquent shrug.
Flora has been listening all along, and finally she injects a comment. "If I understand these things correctly, brother, from what you've said about the silver arm Benedict had, the two events were parallel but not identical on both ends of that event. So there's no guarantee that what Cameleopardis told Brennan will be what happens, or has happened, with Moire or Dara. Is that correct?"
There's a slow nod from Corwin.
"That," says Flora, "may also complicate things somewhat."
"That about sums it up, doesn't it?" Conner sighs. Turning to Folly Conner says, "When we spoke of the weirdness with Brita and Huon with my Mother, she described it as the type of time distortions associated with Tir but that the Rebman Pattern had not exhibited such behavior before. It implies that whatever happened to Tir's Pattern to make it the way it is may be happening in Rebma. Mother was most disturbed by that conjecture."
Folly chews her lip for a moment, thinking. "I don't suppose there would be any good way to know the timing of Brita's experience relative to the Tir cycle, would there? Unless it's somehow visible from Rebma too, which I didn't think it was." She frowns. "Although I'm not sure which is the more disturbing conjecture -- that whatever happened to Tir's pattern might be happening to other patterns, or that the weirdnesses of Tir are somehow getting stronger so that they can resonate in other places -- other Pattern realms, even -- when it's visible."
To Flora, she says, "And I'm not sure what to make of that, either. How were the scenes different, if I may ask?"
It's Corwin who answers the question at the end. "I saw part of the second scene from outside the door. Benedict and Dara were there, and so was Martin, who didn't appear when I got the arm in Tir. I physically couldn't get into the chamber. I don't know what was keeping me out other than the universe refusing to let me destroy it in a fit of spatiotemporal paradox." His shrug is eloquent. "And I don't like the idea that whatever happened to Tir is spreading. I'm not sure that should be possible."
"If Fiona doesn't know, nobody knows," Flora opines, sounding less than pleased at the idea.
"It sounds like I need to add her to my list of people to talk to sooner rather than later," Folly says, "although I think I still might have a bit of research to finish up here first."
Folly regards her uncle with an appraising look. "Corwin, not counting that business with the arm, have you -- to your knowledge -- ever been displaced in time?"
"But I wasn't displaced in time," Corwin answers. "I mean, I don't think that was me. It was like a distorted mirror of me. And if that's what you mean by displaced in time, not to mention space, well, it's not the first time I've been up to Tir. Not to mention that I think Dad was interfering there, because the arm was useful against Brand--that was the important bit that happened between me getting the arm for Ben and Ben losing it to not-me. I've never had anything else like that happen--
"I mean waking up in Greenwood with my memories shot after Brand had tried to have me electroshocked into permanent crazy was like being displaced in time, but I don't think that's what you're looking for." He glances here at Flora, who shrugs and shakes her head. She doesn't want to talk about that, clearly.
"No, that's not quite what I was getting at," Folly agrees, "although it would not particularly surprise me if your visits to Tir or your father's meddling turned out to be relevant to what I'm working on.
"I was in the library trying to find out more about the ancient history of your brand new city, and I was struck by a couple of things. First, it hadn't occurred to me to mention it before, because I didn't realize it might be significant, but in Cameleopardis's story he referred to the person he witnessed dueling the Protector over the Pattern interchangeably as 'The Sorceror-King', 'Corwin', and 'Carol the Magnificent'---" Folly closes her eyes a moment, remembering the conversation, and amends, "...'Carol le Magne'. Which turns out to be the name of the ancient founder of this city. Whose descendant Clothilde married off a daughter to a merchant of Amber." For Conner's benefit, she nods toward her sketchbook, still in his hands. It may take a moment to find among her scribbled notes, but there near 'Avalon' is Benedict's name in a partial family tree showing his descent from Cymnea... and hers from Clothilde.
"...And it occurred to me," Folly continues, turning her attention back to Corwin, "that given all the other evidence of time-weirdness we've seen, it was not beyond the realm of possibility that you might accidentally be the ancestor of your own big brother." The look on her face conveys that she thinks this is simultaneously totally insane and completely reasonable.
"Patterns repeating themselves." Conner murmurs as he looks over Folly's sketchbook. Conner unconsciously drops his hand to Halosydne's hilt and remembers the image of a young Rebman queen begging her Cneve for help. Lost in that thought, Conner doesn't say anything more.
Garrett, who has been sitting here quietly absorbing the lessons of the elders, openly gapes at Folly. Florimel's response is restricted to a raised eyebrow or two.
Corwin just laughs. "Not that I know of. But I think Grayswandir would protect me from actually being sent back in time, or certainly I'd try to use Grayswandir to protect me. I have in the past, when the Moonriders have tried to send me away to keep me from defending Jones Falls.
"Also, I've had a lot of names while traveling, but Charlemagne isn't one of them. If I were going to pick a major figure in Earth-French history, maybe William the Ninth of Aquitaine. I don't want to be Charlemagne."
"Would Benedict?" Folly asks. "From what I found in the library here, the Carol that founded this place was described as having driven out and then protected the city from foul and inhuman barbarians. I'm afraid I don't know enough of your Earth-French history to know their Charlemagne, though."
"The Charlemagne of Shadow Earth was a brilliant military mind and primarily known for the Empire he built by military conquest." Conner comments. "So that is not incompatible but hardly conclusive."
"He did lose that ugly business in La Chanson de Roland, if the legends are true. I can't see why Benedict would want anything to do with that," Florimel says, as if that's obvious.
Conner is about to remark that no one wants anything to do with the ugly parts of their lives but there is no way to way that without it sounding like a jab at Flora's recent loss. Conner remains silent and nods his head.
"By legend and what we know of history, Charlemagne's court spent a lot of time sponsoring an intellectual flowering described as a Renaissance," Corwin counters. "That sounds more like me than Ben. Though Charlemagne wasn't a bard himself. Just a sponsor of them. I don't intend to have my empire blessed by any gods, though. Just the Unicorn."
"Speaking of long histories, are there any mentions of Osric and Finndo among the history you've been researching." Conner asks Folly. "It has been conjectured that I am following in Cneve's footsteps to some degree but Rebma's archivist was spirited away by Jerod and I am forced to look to other sources for information."
"No, nothing save the speculation that our Maghee wizard may have been descended of Finndo or one of his shadows," Folly replies. "And I'm afraid I don't know anything about Cneve's history or relationship to the family, except that... his death was what got Amber involved in Rebma's Triton War, maybe...?" She looks to Conner, and to Corwin and Flora, for confirmation or more information.
"Cneve was--" Corwin's brow wrinkles here in thought "--Osric's son? Finndo's? Anyway, long before my time. Ben and Dworkin are really the only survivors of those days. I've always wondered if that didn't have something to do with 'dying for the good of Amber' but it's not the sort of thing I'd ask Ben.”
Florimel shakes her head in the negative, but Garrett speaks up. "I think Cambina may have looked into that."
Folly's eyes widen. "Do you know what prompted her interest, or if she was working with anyone else on it?" She blinks, then adds gently, "Is this related to her trip up the stairs?"
She looks to Conner to see if he has more to add about either Cneve or Cambina.
Garrett shakes his head. "Just some things Nestor said that I probably wasn’t supposed to hear. Maybe Brennan will know something." He reddens a little, and hastens to add, "I mean, just because he was likely to know what she was working on."
"If Brennan had any information on Cneve that seemed relevant, I would think he'd have mentioned it during his time in Rebma." Conner observes. "Still, asking the direct question might be worth it when next I speak with him." Conner shrugs. "As for Cneve, the information I have is limited. He was Osric's son and he wielded the Pattern Blade I now bear thought it was named Belagamon then. It is unclear how he came to bear the sword or why he took up arms for Rebma against the Tritons. During that fighting, it is said that Cneve fell in battle. Osric and Finndo then joined the fight to revenge themselves on those that killed Osric's son. They were driven back into the Kelp Beds of Nedra. A peace was struck where the borders between the Dragon and Rebma were fixed with both sides agreeing not to encroach on the other. A portion of the sons of the Dragon were given to Rebma in perpetuity was servants, those we know as Tritons. The peace was sworn and sealed by the the sword and jewel, crown and scepter. Cneve was buried with his blade in a tomb in a place lost to antiquity until Khela found it."
Conner purses his lips. "When I asked Khela why such a valuable blade would be buried in a tomb rather than passed to another, she said that Cneve did not expect to stay dead. No body was found in the tomb."
Folly arches an eyebrow at that last. "Speaking of cross-shadow legends," she says, mostly to Corwin and Flora, "how does that one strike you?"
Corwin and Florimel look at each other. "My tomb was empty for a long time," he finally says. "But I wasn't ever in it. We never had a body for Dad when Eric thought he was dead, or for Ben when he'd been missing for a decade or three."
"But we did have one for Caine," Florimel points out gently.
"He was a special case," Corwin says, but he's nodding in agreement. "So yes, it's possible. But it involves foresight and ruthlessness. If you're suggesting people come back to life, I don't think that's how it works."
"The legend of Cneve sounded Arthurian to me." Conner comments. "Though when I asked if he was meant to return during Rebma's greatest need, Khela did not recognize the reference. But if we follow that legend out, Arthur was taken to Avalon after the war and here we have a path from Rebma to Avalon. There is a plausible symmetry."
Florimel ponders this for a moment, and finally says, "It's a mythic archetype of Earth. There's more than one legend of the same type. There's also Bran the Blessed and Frederick Barbarossa. All of those legends were in place before I ever arrived there. If there's a mythic archetype, Cneve could be the origin. But--" and here she pauses to look at Folly and Conner "--none of them ever actually came back, you know."
"True." Conner acknowledges. "But there is always an unspoken 'yet' at the end of such tales." Conner shrugs. "With so many things thought lost to antiquity showing up on our collective doorsteps, I suppose I'm inclined to see them everywhere."
Folly nods her agreement to that last. "And unfortunately, with the recent speculations about what the Klybesians have been up to, I'm inclined to think of all the possible ways one could give the seeming of coming back. It's interesting that Cneve seemed to expect that, though." She frowns. "Was life-after-death part of any of the religious teachings of that time? Church of the Unicorn, or the Rebman equivalent?"
"Life after death was never a part of the Unicorn's teachings," Corwin says, shaking his head in the negative. "Not that I've ever heard of."
Florimel is also shaking her head. "Nor to my knowledge."
(Garrett is still sitting quietly, absorbing the knowledge of his elders like a sponge.)
Folly taps her bottom lip, thinking. "We had a... doomsday cult sort of thing, the Paresh, in Amber while the rest of you were off fighting the war in Chaos. But they were predicting the end of the world, not its rebirth -- although their predicted doomsday ended up being pretty close to when the Xanadu pattern was drawn, if I've counted things correctly." She frowns. "It was some kind of Chaosian beastie they were fighting as part of that Triton war he got killed in? Maybe he expected to be eaten and re-spawned, somehow...? Except that seems less likely if he'd taken the Pattern." She's obviously very unsure about that particular bit of Rebman history, and looks to Conner and her elders for clarification or additional insights.
"If he'd taken the Pattern that makes no sense. And while I can't speak to what his blade did to Chaos beasties, mine burns them to ashes with the power of the Pattern. I wouldn't expect to die at all in a fight with a lord of Chaos. I didn't when it was Borel--but I wasn't interested in a fair fight at the time, and maybe Cneve was." Corwin's tone makes it clear what he thinks of people who follow Queensbury rules in war with Chaos: not much.
"Well then, I may be just about out of guesses as to what Cneve was thinking." Folly looks to Conner. "You bear his blade now -- do you have it with you?" Although she does not immediately add 'and may I see it?', Conner can probably hear that in her undertones.
Conner rises and turns so that there is no mistaking the sword on his hip. He draws the blade slowly and presents to Folly holding it on his palms. "Her name is Halosydne now." Conner introduces. "May I ask why you wish to see her?"
"Actually, what I really want to do is listen to her," Folly says with a lopsided sort of grin. "I'm trying to build a sort of... mental model of the relationships among Pattern realms. And since resonance is the model that makes the most sense to me, I'm looking for clues in the way things sound. I have no idea whether there will be any new useful information detectable in the sound, but the opportunity to at least try it seems too good to pass up."
If Conner is amenable to letting her try it, she will repeat the experiment she did with Grayswandir; she'll be listening for similarities and differences in the swords' inherent tones, as well as any differences in how they interact with the Paris surroundings: for example, does Halosydne seem at all less consonant with Paris than did the sword that scribed the Paris pattern?
"By all means, Folly. I am curious what are you are able to discern with your musician's ear." Conner ascents. If Folly wishes to take the sword herself, Conner will let her.
She does so, gently and with obvious respect -- and a bit of awe -- toward the sword. She suspends it lightly from the hilt, point down, and taps the blade lightly with her fingernail, ringing it like a chime.
She closes her eyes to listen.
Where Xanadu was a rock song, and Paris was chamber music with an impressionistic flair, Rebma is fugues and canons of the fugues and canons with a consort of strings: viols and lutes. There's something missing, though, and Folly can't quite put her finger on what it is. She can tell that it's missing, though. It's an ache in the song where something used to be. Or perhaps a sense that some instrument in the ensemble is missing and the absence renders the song lesser, though not wrong.
Conner can feel the rhythm of the song as Folly strikes it, but this is not his gift and he cannot hear the entire tune. (Neither, he suspects, can Corwin, though he’s clearly interested in the procedure.)
Conner cocks his head to one side and leans in a little. His right hand swings side to side and up and down like a conductor keeping the beat. "What do you hear, Folly?"
Folly's eyes are now tightly closed, and the rest of her face is scrunched in concentration. The fingers of her free hand move, too, but not in a conducting motion; it's like she's looking for the shape of a melodic line to add to some invisible score in the air before her.
"There's... something.... I can't quite tell if it's foundational, or some countermelody in the middle range, or what, but it's like there's a line missing. Or an instrument."
She opens her eyes again and offers the blade back to Conner with a murmur of thanks. She then looks at each of the assembled in turn to see if they heard it too. She cocks an eyebrow when her eyes meet Garrett's: he may not have her depth of musical training, but he is his father's son and has some of his traits. It's possible he's intuited something about the missing bit even if he doesn't have the vocabulary to define it precisely.
Garrett looks at her mournfully and shakes his head.
Corwin's just waiting for her and Conner to report back their findings, so his attention is on Conner now that Folly has spoken.
Conner also shakes his head in the negative. "I could feel the rhythm of whatever you were doing." Conner swings his right head in more passage of the beat. "But I could only catch snatches of the tune. Just enough to hear that is it beautiful and somehow sad."
Folly nods. "It's like it's mourning for something that's lost. My first guess would be Moins, or maybe Lir -- whoever made Rebma's Pattern, or called for the sword to be made. But it could be something else, I suppose. I wonder if the sword Bleys bears has a similar hole in its tune? Corwin's didn't." Mostly to the elders, she asks, "As far as we know, has Tir always had the same monarch?"
This question is a bit over Florimel's head and she shrugs, also looking at Corwin for his answer. Which is: "So far as I know, yes, but I wouldn't take it as a hundred percent proven. That may be time whereof memory runneth not for Benedict, never mind me.
"Now you have me wondering what would happen if we gave duelling a go on the lawn. Are you up to that, Conner?" Corwin raises his eyebrows. "In love and lightness, of course, in accordance with family rules. And then Folly could listen to the blades again afterwards."
"...Because maybe what Conner's blade misses is a little blood on it?" Folly asks with raised brows, though her eyes are twinkling. Despite the faint glimmer of misgivings that this will all end horribly wrong, she is visibly delighted at the prospect of this plan. She herself had considered asking Corwin if maybe pretty-please he would challenge Bleys to a duel just so she could listen, but concluded that would be overstepping her bounds. Plus, 'because I want to hear the beat frequencies of your swords banging together' sounds a little dirty even for on-purpose flirting. (With Corwin, anyway.)
"I accept." Conner smiles. "One only improves by practice with those more skilled after all and I have had little opportunity to spar in the open air of late. Besides, how could a redhead turn down a metaphysical experiment?"
"That was the answer I'd hoped for." Corwin rises and gestures them all outside. Florimel follows, though she drops back with instructions for the servants, and Garrett keeps close on Corwin's heels.
"For science!" Folly says with a gleeful grin at Conner. "But maybe let's try to avoid any dissections." She moves to follow the others, but pauses to give Conner's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Luck," she says.
"Thank you." Conner replies. "I'll need it."
There's a nearby open lawn that may have been used for croquet or other genteel so-called sports in the past. A small crowd is starting to gather as Corwin and Conner prepare for the duel: mostly senior people and those known to the royals like Aunt Felicity, Sir Lancelot, Sir Firumbras, and the Roths. One fellow shows up with a valise. Conner and Folly think he might be a doctor.
Corwin has stripped off his jacket and is limbering up. "To first blood, or would you rather simply do an exercise in parries?"
Conner also takes off his jacket, folds it carefully and places it to the side. "To first blood," Conner agrees with the likelihood that it will be his own blood an unspoken and assumed fact. Conner knows that any advantage Halosydne would grant him will be countered by Grayswandir. That brings it down to skill. Conner merely hopes to acquit himself well before his defeat.
Conner does a little light stretching of his own before crossing over to stand across the lawn from Corwin. When His Majesty is ready, Conner draws his sword slowly to allow the assembled guests to get a good look before the action begins. Conner salutes Corwin with his blade and sinks down into a fencing crouch.
Conner intends to fight very defensively until he has a measure of Corwin's speed and style. Then, if given the chance, he will try probing attacks here and there in an attempt to feint Corwin out of position and score a hit.
"Folly, you'll be our referee," Corwin says, "since you're obliged to pay close attention anyway. Garrett, you should assist if Folly is otherwise occupied."
Garrett nods. "Yes, Uncle Corwin." After a moment, as Corwin is moving into his own guard position, Garrett adds, "I don't expect either of you need me to say this, but sorcery should be out of bounds for this exercise." Maybe he doesn't need to say it but it clearly seems like a reasonable precaution for a duel between the Sorcerer King and a redhead.
Conner stands in a Pattern realm holding a Pattern blade facing one holding a Pattern blade. Attempting sorcery is about the last thing on Conner's mind. Still, one never knows what a King is capable of in His realm especially one with a penchant for pulling out surprises.
Corwin, meanwhile, has raised his blade. "En garde!" And he presses the attack. It's quickly obvious to Conner that Corwin is his superior with the blade and he could go on like this for a while. There's a legend that went around the castle during the interregnum about Corwin having dueled one of his brothers for twenty-four hours. Conner doesn't think that was necessarily a lie.
It's not that Corwin is pushing too hard here, either. He's good, but so is Conner, and while Corwin could finish this pretty quickly, there's clearly no intention to do so. Instead the blades ring as Conner parries Corwin's blows. With the strength of Paris behind them, or at least it seems that way, Conner can feel the rattle all the way up his arm when Corwin strikes and Conner blocks. They move up and down the lawn, Corwin driving Conner backwards and then letting up on the press so Conner can push him back down the grass and they can stay on the field.
Folly watches closely and listens even more closely, sometimes moving a few steps up or down the lawn to hear from a different angle, or squatting down to lay her palm against the ground as if she expects the earth itself to serve as some sort of amplifier. She is paying particular attention to how the sounds -- the songs -- of the two blades play off one another and the space around them. Just as two tones at very near frequencies produce audible beats as they alternately reinforce and cancel one another, so the sounds of these two blades together may make some underlying tones more prominent -- their inherent Patterniness, for example -- and also combine to produce new sounds that weren't in either blade alone. She's also curious whether Paris itself seems to amplify one blade more than the other, or otherwise modify or interact with what she's hearing; and how the fighting rhythm of each combatant compares with the songs she hears from their blades.
In addition to the sounds themselves, she's paying attention to what they evoke, be that a place or a mood or an attitude. Is there something inherently discordant or inherently harmonious about two Pattern blades coming together (or at least, about these two coming together)? Given the natures and owners of the blades, she's half-expecting it to sound like Celina, or perhaps Avalon which now lies between Rebma and Tir.
Folly is probably wishing about now that Bleys were here, because while there are definitely some harmonics and discordancies, it's hard to tell what might be the Paris effects and what's just the two blades. Also, while Folly's no swordswoman, or at least not one on the order of a Prince of Amber raised to it the way Conner and Corwin were, it's apparent to her that Corwin is the superior duelist.
The blades don't seem to be horribly discordant, but Folly has a sense that they're not really meant to do what they're doing right now. The music's not wrong, exactly, just ... not right.
There's nothing that particularly reminds her of Avalon in this music.
And although it may be rather a long-shot, she's trying to gain more insight into what's missing from the song of the Rebman blade.
She has no immediate insights on that point.
Conner is content to keep fencing back and forth until Folly gives some indication she has heard what she needs to or until Corwin chooses to end this fight. He will try an occasional move to disarm his uncle mainly to see how Corwin counters or avoids it.
Conner is a good fighter. A really good fighter. Even among his cousins, he's not a weak duelist, and certainly among mundanes, he's superior. It takes something on the order of a Triton to really beat him. (Well, except for the whole Triton oath thing.)
Conner's pretty sure Corwin could tangle with a Triton and make the Triton sorry. He's fast, he's strong, he's got orders of magnitude of endurance on Conner and he's incredibly difficult to read. He's not being rude about it, by any means, but Conner is aware Corwin could end this pretty much any time. The disarm attempts Conner makes are good and solid, but the strength Corwin brings to bear in return keep his blade in hand when he doesn't just outright dodge them, which he mostly doesn't because that's not the point of the exercise.
Like Conner, Corwin is waiting for Folly to decide she’s done before he ends things.
The crowd is just enjoying the duel. Conner and Folly can hear the murmurs of discussion from the knot of onlookers.
Folly has a long and thorough listen, followed by a long and thorough look; after all, a pair of lovely and skilled duelists is its own sort of entertainment even without the accompanying sounds.
Once she has the sounds (and some of the visuals) firmly etched in her memory, she moves to where she thinks she should be visible at least peripherally to both men and raises her hand above her head in a thumbs-up. Beneath her gown, she toes at the hem of her linen underdress, ready to sacrifice the bottom several inches for a bandage, if needed.
Corwin was waiting for the signal; when Folly issues it, he stops playing around. He's not going for a kill, but he stops letting Conner beat him aside so easily on parries and he's advancing aggressively instead of giving ground. Soon enough Conner finds himself backed to the edge of the lawn, and Corwin touches him on the arm, enough for crimson to blossom on his sleeve, but not enough to be a serious injury. Corwin retreats at once.
It is a testament to Corwin's skill and the keenness of Grayswandir that Conner's doesn't realize he's injured until Corwin retreats. Conner drives Halosydne into the ground and claps his free hand over the wound.
"Hold," Folly calls, and continues in a clear voice that carries to the onlookers: "Both combatants acquitted themselves well, but the victory is Corwin's."
The presumed doctor rushes up to check on Conner's injury, if permitted.
Folly also moves toward them; given their positions on the field, she reaches Corwin first, but makes sure Conner can also see her well enough to follow what she says, softly: "Given recent events, perhaps we should keep control of any shed blood."
Corwin nods to Folly. He gestures Alice to him and says, "See that the doctor's bandages are properly disposed of." She nods and moves to assist the doctor as he tends to Conner's wounds.
Conner allows the doctor to minister to his wound and gives direction if at any point the work is not up to Conner's standard. "Most instructive, Majesty." Conner smiles at his Uncle. "My thanks for the lesson."
"My thanks for the exercise. I enjoy a spar with a skilled opponent." Corwin bows. One of the onlookers--Lance--has brought Corwin a cloth to clean his blade with before he sheathes it. Corwin salutes Conner and begins to work on the sword so he can put it away.
The doctor's work is fine by Conner's standard; the touch was with the point and not a slicing strike, so no stitches will be needed, merely a bandage, which will require the removal of his shirt but nothing more serious.
The crowd begins to disperse, but Lance, Alice, and her husband Bill remain as long as the doctor is working on Conner. Garrett also remains, but he's family, and there may be more family discussion afoot.
Once the wound is seen to and his shirt is replaced, Conner retrieves his own sword and brings out a cloth to remove any stray bits of dirt before sheathing her. Conner approaches Folly and asks, "So did you enjoy the concert?"
"It was very interesting," she replies, "but I'm not quite sure what to make of what I heard. It's like the blades were not quite meant to be doing what they were doing. But I don't know whether that speaks to some underlying relationship between the places those blades represent -- that Tir and Rebma, or Paris and Rebma, were not meant to be fighting -- or that they were meant for a different, more intentional sort of fighting."
She frowns thoughtfully. "I suppose, as blades of Pattern, they're really meant to defend against Chaos. But I don't know if it's more than that."
Alice has sent for a fresh shirt for Conner and, under Corwin's direction, the group moves toward the study. Garrett is listening eagerly but he has nothing to offer.
Corwin says, "I didn't notice anything particular about the exchange of blows. I wouldn't want to do more than spar in lightness against Conner with these blades, or with Bleys. You know what happens to them when you strike a Chaosian with them, don't you?" he asks Conner.
Garrett waits for the answer, hungry for knowledge.
"As I understand it the Chaosian in question catches fire." Conner replies. "I am unaware if such use affects the sword or its wielder in any way though."
"Does it feel, or sound, any different than hitting a non-Chaosian opponent?" Folly adds to Conner's implicit question.
"It depends on the being. I've had some that Greyswandir cut through like butter as it set their blood aflame. Others, not so much," Corwin says. "I haven't done any methodical examination, though. I'm not sure Bleys has either. If Brand had had Werewindle, he would have tried it, though I think his attention span would have run out too quickly with that kind of project. Not creative enough," he adds by way of explanation. "I was wondering whether you'd had a chance to try it yet, or to fight with a triton."
"I am happy to report that I have yet to draw my sword in anger." Conner replies. "So I do not have any information to share on that score. Halosydne here is know to the Tritons as the PaxBlade and is one of the tokens of the peace treaty between the Dragon of Nedra and Rebma. While I have no doubt that she is potent against the Tritons, I shudder to think at what bonds might be broken if I were to slay a Triton with it."
"Depends on whether it tried to kill you first, I should think," Corwin says, sounding momentarily flippant. But Conner and Folly, if they look closely at him, can see that he's not entirely joking.
Garrett, who has been listening to this conversation with interest, asks, "What are you going to do if you go get attacked by a Triton, Conner?"
"Most likely kill it," Conner admits, "and hope that any fallout is diplomatic rather than metaphysical in nature. After all, I can make a pretty good argument that any Triton that attacked me was not keeping the peace." Conner smiles thinly. "The equation would change a little if I knew the Triton personally of course. There are some I respect enough to attempt to subdue rather than kill if only to get some answers as to why they would turn on me."
Once Ambrose and Signy break the connection and drop out of the conversation, Brennan looks to Fiona through the Trump connection and says simply, "Robin?"
It could be interpreted as anticipating Fiona's question for him, or as asking about her directly.
"Robin has visited me, along with her little friends. She is not in immediate danger and I have sent her on to other duties following our discussion," Fiona says, by way of easing Brennan's mind. "Do you have particular speculations you'd like me to address?"
"My chief concern," Brennan says, "was Robin's health, and now is whether there is anything more I can do, or should do. We have our differences at the moment, but this is entirely outside that." Conspicuously missing from that sentence is the coda that any of his uncles might have put there.
"Beyond that, I'm very disturbed by the nature of the wound, to her astral body. My best educated guess is that something living, dead or somewhere on that spectrum was placed inside her. The only reason I can think to do so is to survive the end of the universe and live through into this one without being... replaced, for a better word. I kept thinking about this after we spoke. I keep coming back to the same set of constraints: Someone needed fore-knowledge of what was to come; had something important enough-- almost but not quite real-- to preserve; couldn't do it themselves but had the skill to hijack Robin. I keep cycling back to the same candidates: Moire might have had the knowledge, but probably not the mobility. The Klybesians, the opposite. Possibly the Dragon of Arden, but it could probably had the main strength and reality to do something directly. That leaves the Moonriders, as I suggested before, and..." He shrugs, but not apologetically. "Oberon. If he had something worth preserving that he didn't want close to the Center of things."
"Or Grandfather, or your father." Fiona lays out those additional candidates. "But foreknowledge of what was to come suggests a limited set of suspects, most of whom are family members. Presuming your speculations are correct," which is a point Fiona is at least willing to cede for the sake of argument, "what do you think could have been secreted inside of Robin, as it were, to survive the eschaton?"
Brennan has the sense that Fiona has ideas of her own, or perhaps that's the feeling coming through the connection, but clearly she wants to hear Brennan's speculations without influencing them herself.
He frowns to himself in response. "Brand and Dworkin..." he shrugs. "Yeah, possible, but it just doesn't feel right."
He gathers his thoughts. "I'd feel on firmer footing if I really understood the metaphysics of the eschaton," he admits at last. "My first order understanding is that everything got erased and rewritten with an exact duplicate of itself. Which," he says wryly, "would be fodder for stand-up comedians in some of the Shadows I've visited. To that, my emerging second-order understanding adds: Not quite everything. Not you and I, by virtue of our mastery over the Pattern. Not, I think, the assembled armies of Amber by virtue of whatever Random did with the Jewel of Judgment. What I'm uncertain of is beings like Rebmans of their royal blood, whatever the ultimate source, and beings like the Moonriders. Assuming the Queen of Air and Darkness is actually the scribe of the Tir-na Nog'th, I would say not her. But the rest? Probably.
"Leaving aside creatures of Chaos, so much for beings. That leaves objects. Ordinarily, I would leave out things like Second Order Patterns, but Oberon was at the time repairing the First Order Pattern. In the process, one of the Second Order Patterns was broken. And if Brand's notes are to be believed, this all started as an attempt to repair the Second Order Pattern of Tir-na Nog'th, so counter-intuitively, I don't think they were exempt from the re-creation... not automatically."
He pauses, and editorializes: "Bear with me-- I know I'm making logical leaps in circles, trying to support one with another, so I know how tenuous this is. Oberon may not have shared Brand's goal of fixing Tir-na, may not even have tried. But, could the Queen have known that at the time? Could the Moonriders through whom she worked have known that? Probably not. I'm under the assumption that whatever was-- is-- wrong with that Pattern is reflected in the Queen's mind and vice-versa, and that she wants it that way. So my conjecture is that they would want a sort of an insurance policy, something that by its existence would preserve the ordered flaw in Tir's Pattern against the eschaton or something that could recreate the flaw afterward. That would be a terrible burden even for one of us. Or perhaps something more mundane, like a way to let her out of whatever binding she was under.
"So," he says after all that. "What do we know about objects of power from Tir that would need that sort of preservation, or that would serve that purpose? What do we know about how it was scribed? Is there a Jewel associated with it in legend, as the sapphire is with Rebma?"
Fiona cuts through the speculation to the key point. "You're suggesting it's the Tir analogue to the Rebman jewel, then. If that's the case, I would think Random is your next target, or perhaps Corwin, because they're going to have more knowledge about jewels than I do. Unless you want to try Grandfather, but there's still no telling with him. Just because the flaw in his mind is supposedly cured doesn't make him straightforward. He never has been, and that doesn't seem to have changed of late."
"Flirting with the idea," Brennan says. "Because if there's any object I would expect could survive the sort of rewriting we're talking about it would be the actual Jewel of Judgment. Most of us are still getting over the idea that Amber's Pattern isn't THE Pattern, though, and I'm trying very hard not to make any unwarranted assumptions, like: that there even is a Tir analogue, or what its ontological status is if it exists. It doesn't really please me to think of three independent jewels-- or more-- of that status just floating around out there. It also doesn't please me to think of the one casting Shadows."
He shrugs. "No matter, for the moment-- they are what they are, no matter my sense of aesthetics. You're missing a source of information, though, closer to me than any of yours: Benedict." Also the possibility of prying Rebma's jewel from Moire's sticky little fingers, beating some information out of any unfortunate Moonrider passerby, or perhaps forging one of these temporal windows and asking Oberon directly. "Avalon's Pattern didn't draw itself."
Brennan waits to see if Fiona has any questions about Avalon, while she has him on a Trump right there, and both have some leisure to talk.
"Benedict seems an unlikely source of information, even if he has it, but I'd send you to get it out of him before either Bleys or myself. He respects you as a martial man, or at least a martial youth, and doesn't think of you as a sorcerer first." Fiona leaves the corrollary unspoken.
Brennan is large. He contains multitudes.
"Here's another speculation, or at least a speculative question for you: Corwin's Paris and Random's Xanadu don't seem to depend on anything, including each other, and seem to be fully real and metaphysically complete, where Rebma and Tir are, if not unreal or incomplete, somewhat different to what Amber was and the other two are. If Avalon is one kind of thing, it has implications for what Benedict--or someone--has done. If it's another kind of thing, the implications are different. How does that figure into your calculations?"
"Of whether or not Benedict has knowledge of the Jewel or Jewels? Or of whether there is a third Jewel or Jewel-shadow associated with Tir-na Nog'th?" he asks.
It is obviously a rhetorical question. "Well. Having been to all six realms, even if only briefly for some of them, I can understand the belief that Rebma is in some way dependent on Amber and that Tir is in some way incomplete. Avalon has nothing of that sense to it, so far. It has a history that predates its existence, but so does Paris. It's more porous at the edges, but that is by intent, I'm sure. The stories I've heard about the Silver Towers give me pause, but so far I'll assume Avalon is of a kind with Amber, Paris, and Xanadu. Which unfortunately tells me nothing directly. We know the important parts of the lineage of all four scribes, and we know they were all made with the Ruby." He pauses, considers, then amends that: "Call it very strong supposition for Amber and Avalon. It's the other two that are different, that we don't understand the origins of their scribes, and don't know what tools were used to make them.
"That implies to me that Benedict will have a similar amount of knowledge to Corwin and Random, modulo whatever extracurricular studies they've all been up to. And it doesn't tell me a damn thing about Rebma and Tir or their scribes or their jewels. It suggests some difference, somewhere, but there's a baffle in each case, an historical contigency that could be the cause: Moins' alleged death, and... whatever it was that happened to Tir and its Queen. I've asked Benedict about both and he had little to say about them."
"This is why I don't think of Benedict as a useful source of information. He's like a black hole: things go in but they don't come back out." Fiona purses her lips slightly and Brennan feels what might be annoyance from her in the connection. "Here's another question: what about the blades? We know there are blades for Amber, Rebma, and Tir. Do we know about Paris or Avalon? They've got the inscription, and we know who made at least some of them. Maybe that's a backwards route to finding out more about the Patterns."
"To be fair, I don't think he knew much," Brennan says. "Those events were before the inscription of Avalon, as I understand it.
"As for the swords, as far as I know, no, just the three. Benedict told me he'd kill Weyland outright before he allowed one to be made. Corwin is biding his time, I think. And why not-- there is nothing to hurry him except meddlesome nephews and nieces, very few of who are interested. Random too, probably.
"Weyland will know who scribed Rebma, though, because he'll know who paid the price of Belagamon. But Weyland said a curious thing when I spoke to him: 'Three swords I made that were better than this, of which one was lost and another is no more, if the news I have heard is correct. A fourth I failed at and the fifth I will never try.' Due to an untimely interruption," Brennan forces himself to smile around a grimace, "our conversation was cut short, but he added that the failure of the fourth implied his skill was insufficient for the fifth. Now, at the time, I'd not heard of Avalon. I thought for a while that Avalon and the Primal might be the fourth and fifth but considering what Benedict said... it doesn't sound like it. So where does that leave us? With a missing Pattern? Or another that's been destroyed before all our times?"
"I would assume the fifth is the Primal. But the fourth, I have no idea about. Perhaps more one of our Patterns really is missing." Fiona clearly mislikes all this uninformed speculation. "I want to know which one was lost and which one was no more. Because if those are all blades of that power, we're talking about a lot of Patterns." After a beat she says, "I don't believe that's so. One missing Pattern I could believe, but three or four seems excessive, and I don't mean that with a light Bleysian wit. I mean that three or four such wars as we've seen would have undone the universe.”
"At the time, Belagamon was still lost," Brennan says, "and I interpret the other as Weyland wrongly assuming that Werewindle had perished with Amber's Pattern. He didn't say it outright but it was a tense conversation-- Weyland and Signy were still at something resembling war, and no one was giving away anything for free if they could avoid it." He frowns. It's an all too easy zero-sum game to fall into, and Brennan fell into it, too. "He didn't have news of Amber's Pattern from us, as I recall, nor did anyone volunteer that Werewindle survived, although he must surely know by now, so all those Patterns seem accounted for.
"For what it's worth," he adds, "Benedict implied that he and his brothers may not have been the first princes, that Amber's history and Oberon's offspring stretched back far enough to include some that were legendary even to him-- Lir, Orolando, Weyland. I don't think much of the idea of a functioning Pattern being lost without an explanation of why it's not on the Great Road, but I could conceive of one having been destroyed in an era before Benedict, and the lore simply being... lost. Oberon was quite effective at suppressing the discussion of Ysabeau and Huon; if a Pattern ceased to exist thirty centuries ago as Amber measured time," he shrugs. "I could believe it.
"This takes us far afield from Robin's problems, though. I'm at your service if you want to know more about Avalon," he says, "but I'm curious to know what you think caused that damage. And then one or two other things."
Fiona listens to Brennan's speculations without betraying much of her own opinion besides a nod here and there, which seems to be as much her way of conveying that she's attending to his comments than agreement.
The question, though, she has an answer to: "Something Chaotic," Fiona says decisively. "By which I don't mean hostile--it doesn't seem to have been trying to kill her--but something of sorcerous power without the ability to use the Pattern alongside it. If our hypothetical egg-layer could use the Pattern, they would have, I think. So someone with enough sorcery or other Chaotic power to force the egg on Robin, and on the Black Road, that likely means something, someone, Chaotic."
Brennan is skeptical that it's as clear and obvious as Fiona says. It is certainly possible that whatever it was was Chaotic, but Brennan would be willing to be something value that no trace of Chaos was left within Robin, which is not at all what he would have expected. He doesn't press it. "Whatever it was," he says, "she should track it down for any number of reasons." But none of the Family like to be lectured or harassed, and Brennan gives no indication that he's ready to do that-- or to track it down himself.
"Speaking of use of the Pattern, though, one of those 'other things,' involves just that. This business of sending messengers by Pattern, whether made of blood or not-- is it a skill that can be taught?"
Fiona's answer to that is equally decisive. "Yes. I can teach you, but you'd need to be present. Teaching sorcery through a Trump connection is inadvisable."
"That's Sorcery, and not Pattern?" Brennan is somewhat surprised at that... and the issue of who has been teaching Sorcerous techniques to Huon is kicked just a little higher in the pile.
He stares through Fiona, into the campfire while he mulls that over. His answer, when he focuses back on Fiona, is somewhat reluctant: "Not if there is a risk of losing time here. I have promises to keep. Knowing that trick would make one of them easier-- much easier-- but inadvertantly losing a month or a year would take all of them off the table here in Avalon. Will the offer stay open?" And by all means, if Fiona has a way to guarantee time synchrony, that might change his answer.
"You need to have both, or at least the foundations, to make the trick work," Fiona explains. "And yes, to you, the offer remains open. Come to me when you can, by Trump or other means, and I'll teach you. Is there anything I can give you to aid you in your tasks in the meantime?"
"Thank you, Fiona. It is appreciated. As for anything else... A question you might not even like hearing." But then, that's why he saved the question for a more private venue.
"What do we know about Vialle's lineage, and what does that say about our theory that the Queen of Air and Darkness is looking for Pattern-capable hosts? I wasn't there, but one way of interpreting what I heard about was... a possession. Although apparently one that gave her temporary sight."
"Vialle is from the Rebman court. That is, of course, not my area of expertise." Fiona smiles, a bit sharply, or at least it seems so through the connection. "And Vialle hasn't really talked about her family to me. I know her family wasn't prominent and that her blindness meant she had few prospects, even though it's less of a handicap than it is in Amber or Xanadu. If her illness really is related to the Queen of Air and Darkness, though, I think it started earlier than we knew. She's had trouble all through the Return."
"I was thinking more the night Cambina died, and the aftermath. Ordinarily I would scoff at possessions and ghost stories, but with Benedict, and especially now you taking it seriously..." Brennan shrugs eloquently, as if to say even willfull redheads can take a hint. "It got me thinking of the descriptions of Vialle's rescue shortly afterward. Could have been typical Tir spookiness, or looked at another way, a possession. You know, apparently there were grackleflints there, too? Corpses, anyway, the way I heard it, which is just weird. I've heard a bit here and there about Vialle's illness, but never had the time or motive to pursue it, so I don't know much-- you think it's relevant?"
"If we're talking about a possession, as opposed to something strange that happened in Tir, then a series of difficult dreams would be indicative. I'm bound to keep secret most of what she said by promise to Random and Vialle. But if you're speculating, or investigating, in that direction, you should be aware of at least that much." Fiona sighs. "And be aware of how it looks. Should you have to strike at a Queen, you must destroy her."
"I do not-- and will not-- ask you to betray a confidence," Brennan says. "I thought it might be a sensitive topic, though, all things considered, as much as Robin's issues." He shrugs-- that's why he waited to ask in private.
"Strike at the Queen of Air and Darkness?" He says. "I should, shouldn't I? Aside from trivialities like proof of guilt, if she took Cambina from me, then I don't care if her power is on the order of Oberon, I should find a way and I should end her," he says coldly, almost daring Fiona to bet against him. "But I find myself caught between passion and principle, conscience and consequence. The principle in which I believe, the principle larger than myself is Order, and we've already lost a Pattern. I would not precipitate the loss of another, but nor would I let us-- myself-- have that principle abused... and there ought to be consequence for murder." Brennan is profoundly angry in multiple directions, none of which are Fiona, but that is probably only obvious through a Trump or to people who know him well. He's had centuries to get used to hiding anger in his perpetual mask of faint irritation and habitual scowl.
"For the moment, I channel my passion and principle both into more constructive efforts-- The defense and consolidation of Rebma for the moment. The defense of the Family," he says. "So... I am not pursuing it, not investigating it, as such. Not beyond the level of sharing a few idle speculations as they arise with the people best able to use them." Which, by obvious inference, would mean Fiona. "But life is very long, so while I resolve that question of principle, I am still paying attention."
"All of that is true, but that is not the only Queen I was thinking of," Fiona says, with absolutely no emotional inflection through the trump. "If there is nothing else, I will bid you adieu and listen for you to call me again, Brennan. It has been an interesting conversation."
The connection attenuates, and will close if Brennan doesn't make some gesture to prevent it.
"Stay well, Fiona," Brennan says.
Ambrose leads Signy into another chamber where the code wheels are. They're stored on stands not unlike the rotating bases for maps. There are perhaps a half dozen of them, all made of metal and covered in strange symbols that Ambrose explains are Uxmali glyphs. He takes one and shows Signy how they work, physically, in the sense of how the rotations link the Uxmali glyphs.
Then he shows her a fairly simple glyph structure and unwinds it for her, which takes some time. Then he shows her a complicated page, where it's not immediately clear to Signy how one glyph ends and another starts, and says, "This is one of my father's simpler pages, or, rather, a copy of it. You can see how we need the code wheels to decipher his writings even though Brennan and I are native speakers."
Signy watches Ambrose work, watching and asking a couple of questions but mostly just letting him speak. Once done, she looks more at one of the wheels, examining it with a jeweler's loop though not yet touching it, studying the mechanism up close.
[Any thoughts on the material that it's made out of? Can she see the innards of it?]
The mechanisms are hidden. To see how the inner mechanisms work, Signy is going to have to disassemble one of them. Materials appear to be some kind of bronze-type metal, but without the sort of corrosion she might expect, possibly due to sorcerous influence.
[What about the glyphs? Inlaid, stamped, etched, or other?]
[I had to think about how to describe this but I have a very specific visual in mind and they’re actually sort of like the type balls in an IBM Selectric.
The rotations are all horizontal—not that Signy can tell that natively but Ambrose shows her and the way he’s holding it makes the rotations horizontal.]
After studying the wheel for a couple of minutes, she glances up at Ambrose.
"Where does the sorcery fit in on these? Clearly they're not all mechanical...."
"Part of the magic is in the preservation, which wasn't initially clear to me. It's one of the things that's failing. You can't keep sorcerously preserved things near a Pattern for too long, and in any case the preservation enchantments were designed specifically for Uxmal, which no longer exists."
Ambrose probably ought to sound more upset about it than he does.
"The other major sorcery on the globes is complicated and possibly not repeatable, though I suspect it's transferable from one globe to another. I think they're--not sentient, exactly, but--they seem to have some way of limiting the number of glyphs based on the set of interlocking patterns. They're still complicated, and difficult to use for a non-native speaker if not outright impossible, and there are multiple meanings that work with some of the glyphs, possibly because my father wrote things with two meanings. Or more. He was like that. But in any case, there's some sort of intentionality there, if that makes sense."
Signy frowns at this.
"How 'close' are we to a Pattern right now, though? Could we move them closer to Ygg, and make them last longer? And are they sensitive to Sorcery? I may need to take one apart, but before considering that I'd like to probe it a bit that way if you think it would be OK?"
"I don't understand the theory exactly, but we're obviously within the broad influence of Patterns or we'd be on the far side of Ygg. There's definitely a nearer field of influence for each of the Patterns, though, in which there's much less flexibility of, well, sorcery, or at least in Amber there was. And that's the circumstance that seems to be so degrading to the code wheels," Ambrose explains. "We could try moving them closer to Ygg, but for storage, Fiona's lab seemed the best place to put them.
"And," he adds, "while it doesn't technically require sorcery to use them, I think they might be, as you say, 'sensitive', to it."
Signy shakes her head distractedly. "No, here's probably best for now," she says in a quieter tone of voice. "What happens when they start to break down? Do they give the wrong answers, or just stop working altogether?"
She pays partial attention to Ambrose, as she easily brings up her Third Eye, simply looking at the device for a moment.
"There's a certain grinding in the gears, is I suppose the best way to surprise it. None of them have failed to the extent that they don't work physically, and the translations make sense, which if they were failing on a sorcerous level, they certainly shouldn't--" here, Ambrose trails off, as if he's considering some unspoken question. "At least they shouldn't as far as I know."
What Signy sees in terms of magical patterns with her Third Eye can best be described as fractal geometry of the non-Euclidean variety. No Lovecraftian beasties in them, though: if the code wheel is an affine, and it might be, it's not hostile.
Signy's look alternates between appraising and impressed. "These are incredible. And Brand came up with these all by himself?"
She gazes at them with her Third Eye for a moment longer, noting the details and allowing herself to be caught up in the sheer wonder.
She slowly extends her sight down into the device, looking at the structure internally [is there anything there, cogs or gears, or is it all done with Sorcery?], before cradling the wheel with her fingertips and raising it up just past her eyes. Her fingertips lightly brush the surface of the wheel without disturbing the hold of the device, as she sings softly to the device of metals and forges and castings, and listening for its song in return.
The sight, so often unclear or misleading, shows a mixture of gears and cogs and magical bindings and tensions. The device is remarkably well composed and internally elegant.
"Careful!", Ambrose warns. "These are delicately balanced. Adding either additional entropy or stasis will likely cause them to become unstable!" He pauses. "My father was trying to keep these things secret from both his family in Amber and his allies in Chaos."
Signy nods slowly. "Has anyone been able to figure out anything about how they're put together?"
Ambrose shakes his head in the negative. "I'm the one who's worked with them the most. Brennan has also used them, but I don't think he's tried to do more. They were my father's creation and so far as I know, we're the only two of the blood besides him to try to use them." After a moment he reconsiders. "Bleys and Fiona may have used them as well, and Fiona has had access to them, but I don't know how thoroughly they've delved into them. My father's relationship with them was complicated; we'll have to ask our aunt ourselves."
Signy winces slightly, thinking about having to talk with her aunt so soon after annoying her in their last conversation.
She spins one of the wheels, watching the interplay of the forces through her Third Eye as she forms various glyphs at random and without direction, then again while thinking of different words, images and concepts.
"I do wonder what my father would make of these, though."
[Anything standing out to her from her crafting skill?]
Signy is able to spin it at random in ways that make no sense and observe the mechanism, but without a basic knowledge of the language, it's hard for her to tell what she's getting when she tries to form glyphs with the wheel.
What is immediately obvious to her through watching the code wheel is that it would take a crafter of her caliber, one familiar with sorcery and craftsmanship, and possible Pattern as well, to build something like this. If her father could make the physical object--and he could, easily--it's not clear to her that he had the sorcerous knowledge to make an object work this way. Unless he's been lying to her about that for all these years, he doesn't have the sorcery for it.
Signy slowly releases her Third Eye as she puts the device back down, before looking at Ambrose.
"How long would it take to learn a little of this language? I could make the device, I think, but without that I don't know that I'd ever be able to make it work, at least not correctly."
"I don't know, exactly. I've never taught it to anyone, spoken or written, and the written language was something I learned as a child. It will take some time, but this is why I'm here: to teach you," Ambrose says. "Uxmali is not a dead language, exactly, but the number of competent speakers and readers is very small. Mostly my father's immediate family, and not in the half-blood either. You'll be the first one of our cousins to learn it.
"I assume you’re a quick learner," he adds with a bit of a smile. "It runs in the family."
Signy smiles distractedly, starting to go through the project in a little more detail. "Will the time here be sufficient, or would we want to find another Shadow where time moves faster for that?"
She gives Ambrose a quizzical look. "And does our Aunt have a forge that I could use to start experimenting with making the physical structures?"
"Your Aunt has a forge but it's not usually present in this location, although I can arrange for that to happen." How Fiona joined them in the room without being noticed or overheard is a bit of a question, but perhaps Fiona is just like that in her own place. "And it will take some time for you to learn Uxmali, but I can give you a head start, if you like. You'll be risking a bit of a headache, but it beats the old-fashioned way that involves years of speech and writing practice. Don't you think, Ambrose?"
Ambrose says, "I've had some--direct lessons--from Grandmother. The knowledge is useful. The headache will last, however."
If Signy is surprised at Fiona's sudden entrance, she hides it extremely well.
She notes Ambrose's endorsement, before looking back at her Aunt. "I think in this case the ability to bypass a few years of language lessons is probably worth risking it," she says simply. "If you are willing to help me...us with this, I am more than grateful."
She pauses, and looks back and forth at the two of them for a moment. "What's the best way to begin?"
"Oh, nothing in particular, other than that we should sit down. Ambrose, you've done this before with Mother, haven't you? You can assist with the spheres. Are all of them here?"
Ambrose nods, and says, "All seventeen. Though only the one is presently in need of repairs."
Fiona opens a lab drawer and produces some paper and brushes and pens of a sort that Signy might expect to see used for painting or perhaps calligraphy, to the extent that she's familiar with the art from Tomat's teaching.
"Now let me show you the basic glyphs," and thus Fiona begins.
After what seems like a couple of hours of discussion, with Ambrose's assistance, Signy feels as though she has mastered the first and simplest of the code wheels, the one she has been speaking with Ambrose about.
Without windows, though, there's no way to discern how much time has actually passed.
Signy sits back, rubbing the back of her neck absently.
"That...didn't seem too bad?" she offers the two of them. "I think I've got this first one straight. Mostly."
She brushes a lock of hair back behind her ear, exposing a healthy smudge of ink from previous attempts at coralling the wayward lock during their session.
"Does the next wheel in the sequence build off the first? How do they all hang together?"
"The vocabulary and the structure of the glyphs becomes more complex, but they're not in a specific interlocking sequence, if that's what you mean." Ambrose is clearly the expert here; Fiona has let him do a surprising amount of the talking. He looks a bit droopy about the edges, as if he's done more of it than Signy recalls. Possibly he has; it takes her a moment to realize that Ambrose is speaking to her in a language that isn't Thari.
He's speaking in Uxmali.
Signy's eyes narrow slightly as she takes in his condition, though she doesn't say anything just yet. "So the complexities add wheels?" she responds back, making a conscious effort to stay in the language.
She shakes her head, and works her way through the response again. "So the wheels. Add complexity. Depth?"
Better, but it's going to take a lot of practice to get it right.
"What otherness could Uxmali be used for, besides reading Brandpapers."
She winces slightly. Maybe better was a bit hasty.
"Your vocabulary is improving," Ambrose says, in what passes for liquidity in the harsh language of Uxmal. "But you don't have the trick of structuring your sentences yet." There's a way of phrasing that he has that Signy knows she can't duplicate just yet. It occurs to her after a moment that he's centering certain words in the sentences, just as certain sigils are centered in glyphs.
You could build up complicated sentences that way. Very complicated paragraph sentences. Expressed in very complicated glyphs.
It's Fiona who answers the actual question. "Directly, not so much. It's a good language for certain sorcerous applications and you might find it broadly useful for creating spell structures. It'll give you some new insights into your creative skills. How is your head? We should eat and drink, if you're up to it, and then you should rest for a while."
Signy can't quite control the brief look of disappointment at an end being called to the session. The low growl from her stomach was probably just a subconscious response to Fiona's words, as is the nagging feeling of pressure somewhere behind her eyes.
"Do you have any of Brand's papers here, or anything that I could use to practice on?"
She sneaks an involuntary glance around, on the off chance that there's a table of food nearby.
But just a brief snack. Not that she's hungry.
"I have some simple things you can use to test your ability to translate," Ambrose says. "After we eat, though. Or at least have some chocolate." There's what looks like a coffee set on the table nearby. Signy doesn't remember it being there before she started her lesson. It smells delicious.
Ambrose is already moving to pour some chocolate for them from the pot.
Fiona holds up a hand. "I'll fetch us something to eat. Both of you should sit down, though. This is hard work. Do you have any specific preferences, Signy, or will anything hearty do?"
Signy pulls over chairs for all three of them before dropping into it a bit quicker than she may have liked. "Anything hearty."
Gratefully she accepts the cup that Ambrose pours for her, but manages to wait until the other two have a chance to seat themselves with cups before drinking a huge mouthful of the melted chocolate, not noticing the heat.
"This wasn't really all that different than working with my Father -- how much time actually passed," she asks. "After the first year apprenticed to him it took a couple of days to notice that we hadn't really had a break, though."
Of course, the Dvarts would have had a table full of food for when she or Weyland did notice that they could use food. Maybe she just missed the servants that brought the drink here.
"Proper study is taxing, and I find it harder now that I am initiated into the mysteries of the Pattern. Energy is expended both suppressing the self and re-writing it. True knowledge is like a fever, one is resistant to it in small doses and succumbs to larger onslaughts."
Ambrose looks solemnly over the top of his steaming chocolate. "It is always worthwhile, and the skill of learning is a precious and hard-won thing. Few in Chaos value it."
Fiona walks back into the room, carrying a try with a small feast on it. She couldn't possibly have prepared it in the moments she was gone, so perhaps she does have servants somewhere after all.
Signy nods. "I imagine that it's much like how the iron feels after it's been hammered out and tempered."
She pauses for a moment, while Fiona puts the tray down. She manages to restrain herself while Ambrose and Fiona serve themselves, before quickly balancing an improbable amount of food on the small plate herself.
"Though learning is much like creation. True creation changes the craftswoman as much as the object being created."
Ambrose waits until Signy has taken a share to fill his own plate.
"There will be more if you're still hungry," Fiona advises, "so eat your fill." From the looks of her plate, she plans to. How a little woman can pack that much food away is a bit of a mystery.
She continues, having heard Signy's last question: "How do you account for the changes in yourself when you create, given that you're of the blood of Amber and initiated into the mystery of the Pattern? Do you think the solidification of your reality makes any difference?" She holds a finger up to silence Ambrose; this is Signy's question to answer.
After Ambrose fills a plate with whatever he chooses, Signy deftly leans over and refills her plate, though neither of them remember seeing her eat as much as she clearly did.
She doesn't eat right away, however, putting the plate next to her on a small table before unsheathing a small, functional dagger.
"The act of creating is often an act of discovery. I wanted to create a dagger, so I made this. But I did not picture this when I made it. I wanted to create something functional, something that would simply serve a simple purpose, and this is what I got. I didn't picture it, but when I was done it was there."
She leans back, focusing on the dagger. "Nothing really changed with me, that I know of. Yet, when I tried to make something Real for the Queen, and failed, I changed. I grew, I learned. I changed. And even if I had succeeded, the end result would have been the same, I think. When creating, the creation often speaks as much of the one that creates it as the one that views it."
"Reality," Fiona says, "is decidedly more difficult to tamper with than most anything else." She, too, is consuming far more food than her birdlike size would seem to require, or even allow. "A tool you make will travel with you easily, Signy. But something real, something with the Pattern invested in it, has a particular essence. Just as it's difficult to impossible for someone else to change you, it's difficult to make something Real, to invest some of our own Reality in it, as it were. When you think of it that way, it's not surprising that making something Real changes the maker."
Signy considers Fiona's statement while she finishes a mouthful of food.
"Yeees," she says slowly. "But even if you're not trying to make something Real, making things reveals things about the creator. A sword I made when I was mad at my father looked much different than one I made for a client, or because I was trying to learn a new technique. It was...uglier. Meaner. Even if it was as well-crafted as any I had made, there was something of me in it."
She idly pushes some of the food around on the plate, playing with it a little bit while she considers her next words.
"Every act of creation still requires you to invest something of yourself in it, whether you will it or no."
"There's a difference between that kind of investment, and the growth that comes with it, and change as we discuss it in sorcery," Fiona replies, not at all fussed by Signy's disagreement. (Perhaps to Ambrose's surprise.) "Your essence remains the same, particularly now that you've taken the Pattern. We do evolve, but slowly, and from deep roots. But change comes from us, and isn't imposed from the outside, the way we change objects and beings, particularly from Shadow.
"Changing beings of Chaos is different, of course, but that's what becoming a Lord and taking affines means: you control what they are."
Edan returns to the castle. He gathers his things for another trip, summons Kyauta to him from exploring the city and environs, and goes down to the stables to prepare his horse, Aramsham. It's not a normal preparation, there; along with the grooming and checking equipment, he saddles his horse with the best and most durable tack and harness that he owns or can find, things that he can charm against the damage that extreme heat would do.
That done, he points his horse out along the coast, in preparation for a hellride that most of the Family would not consider taking.
Kyauta complains that this is a dull place and he has trouble eating birds and taking their forms. Everything tastes the way lightning smells.
This doesn't surprise Edan too much. "Not to worry, it's about about to get more exciting."
The stablehands help with the tack and the stablemaster helps Edan choose the best gear. He tells Edan that he has seen Benedict or Caine return a horse with shoes on it that no mortal smith could have forged, and that if Edan knows those spells, he may want to cast them as well.
He then makes a strange sign involving his finger and his forehead.
Edan is nodding almost before the stablemaster finishes. "I know something similar, but likely not as long a duration. Tell me, what is this?" He repeats the same finger-forehead sign.
"Sir? Nothing sir, just wipin' me brow, Sir."
He's quite nervous. "I'm a family man, sir, I need to get back to them, if your Lordship will excuse me, I will retire."
Edan smiles. "Of course. Thank you for your help. Have a good night." Once the stablemaster leaves, and once Edan is sure that he has everything he wants for the trip he is to take, a pick, bags, a rake, heavy gloves, he rides Aramsham out of the stables and out away from the city. When he's ridden out a respectable distance, he dismounts and starts a fire; he uses it for his Sorcery.
It's all about what gets used up in the spell, this time. Edan rubs down his horse with a series of rare plants and powders, using what he has because he knows this is a unique trip to make. He finishes with red hot coals plucked from the fire itself, knowing Aramsham won't feel them by that time. The entire ritual is accompanied with chanting and a dance, which is more than just for artistic show.
It may be that Edan himself will need additional Sorcery for heat protection this trip, but he is confident a more tame effort will be needed for his part.
"Hah!" Aramsham gets a kick in the ribs, and the trio is off on an easy gallop. The fire sputters and dies behind them as if it had never been.
The cadence is rhythmic, almost hypnotic; they follow the line of the coast, with a line of clouds slowly combining above them into a grey wall. It takes a very long time, but the clouds eventually darken, get lower, take on the smell of smoke. The sand coarsens, gets darker as well, until they are racing along great bands of black and yellow pea gravel.
Another burst of speed, a turn; the water begins to steam, to bubble. Vents of smoke and steam issue forth from cracks in the now flat, dry ground. The smoke gets thicker, and heat builds upon heat. Another turn, another kick. Aramsham's eyes are rolling now, but Edan stops it with a sharp command. The horse feels nothing. Ground, rocks, a tunnel of black rock. They emerge on a plain of rock and fire and black smoke. Another kick, and they are into a full gallop. Aramsham is magnificent, as they break through a shower of sparks and fire...they race along a trail, lava on both sides of them...it widens, becomes a path between mountains...the smoke is choking now, would overcome them if not for Sorcery...the world is a hellish red-lit place, and fountains of molten rock are all around...faster, faster...each strike of the hooves brings sparks and flame...they glow now, all of them, yellow and red in a hazy shimmering aura...volcanoes now in the distance, the cone he's looking for...a place where metal and precious stones pushed upward in a funnel up to the surface...racing still, slowing, finding the details he wants, the place and the temperature and the stones he's looking for...
Edan has brought bags and picks and a rake. The ground glitters with precious stones the ground has thrown upward to pry and collect. But in this world there is no one to take them, no one but Edan himself. He dismounts, takes a long drink from a waterskin; it's going to be a long day.
It is indeed a long day, but by the end of it Edan has a sackful of precious stones, ranging from tiny to a size that most human cultures would give specific names to.
He could crash the economy of a number of places without even cutting the stones.
Aramsham is, at best, bored. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the heat.
Edan makes sure that he has everything packed up and ready to go. He isn't looking directly at his affine when he asks, "Kyauta. Tell me of your existence before you were given to me at the Race to Madness."
Kyauta shifts, rearranging his bones to better sit on Aramsham's saddle horn.
Great Lord, I was a bird in the skies of Xanadu. I was a part of the Blue World. I was a drake. I was many, many fish.
I rode the moon. I was the father of the rains of Uxmal. Before that, I do not recall.
"That sounds like things that you experienced with me," Edan says. "I still don't understand why Chases-in-Madness would offer you to me as a token. According to Merlin, such a thing is not normally done. Perhaps she merely marks me as her enemy, giving you to me. Perhaps she marks me as something else. Perhaps she and her people could track me through you. I do not know. I can personally attest to your loyalty, I know that. I would...I would use Sorcery to see your life before your recollection, if you would be willing."
I serve at my Great Lord’s pleasure. Kyauta seems unperturbed by the idea.
Edan's hand catches aflame as he reaches out to Kyauta. He places the heel of his other hand, also on fire, against his Third Eye.
"Remember," he says. "Think back to where you were dancing on the palm of Chases-in-Madness. You were in the form of a horse. That is the starting point."
"I know more, Great Lord." Kyauta is neither surprised nor alarmed by his newfound ability to recall. "I was the Great Lord Chases-In-Madness’ most malleable servant, Great Lord. She protected me and I served her. When she needed a saddle blanket, I was a saddle blanket. When she needed an airborne scout, I was a scout. Of her small set of real objects, I was firstmost, as I have been for you. Before that, I was a part of her lessons. I became sentient then, as we learned how to be Lord and Affine together. Before that, I was a part of someone else, taken from a Great Lord in battle. That is beyond my ability to remember, for the parts of that being who remembered did not come with me."
Edan nods, and lets the spell lapse. "This was the answer I was looking for. You were not created as a trap. Whatever ties to Chases-in-Madness the other Riders recognize, they are symbolic. Thank you, my affine. This answer pleases me." He looks around. "Are you ready to depart? I shall fill you in on recent events and my plans as we get up to speed for the hellride back."
Kyauta takes a few steps and his legs grow longer and thicker. "I am ready at your pleasure. I would assume her other affines would report that you had given her a knife, Great Lord, to match the one she gave to you."
Edan grins. "Well, it's interesting you should mention yourself as a weapon. Let me tell you about what happened in Xanadu..." and he fills Kyauta in on the creation of the Order and his own short-term plans for recruiting as they pack up and head back in the direction of home.
Kyauta listens intently. Since it was was not asked for input into the Great Lord's plans, it offers none.
The Plan has been communicated, and that's the important thing. Edan continues back; unless they run into something, he'll set Michelle up with the starting funds when they return to Xanadu. It will be her task to convert and disburse them appropriately. After a final review of building plans and last-minute problem-solving, he'll be off towards the Land of Peace.
Michelle shows him a lovely site on the edge of town and is ready to hire men to clear it and then to build the barracks and the chapter-house. Everything looks good, but expensive. Luckily, shiny things pay for a great deal.
Random wants Edan to provide horses for the royal stables, as rent-in-kind to set a precedent. Michelle thinks it will not only be feasible, but will possibly give them a way to make the order more self-sufficient.
Edan can accept Random's idea, and is happy with the concept; after all, he has an interest in raising horses. They'll probably need more room for the stables and pastures, but that's easily arranged. With this all handled, he bids his seneschal adieu and turns Aramsham around towards the Land of Peace. By land. And in this case, he aims for a fast trip, but not a hellride; just having done one, that had to be hard on the psyche.
Edan heads out, riding perhaps for a day towards the dense jungles to the south of Xanadu. When he was last here, he thought he was nearing Amber and Kyril thought he was on an island. If the climate was warmer, this would be a forest, but apparently, the King likes the warm places.
By sticking to the beach, Edan has the opportunity to play with the dunes, and the sea birds, and the smell of the sea. Soon enough the dunes of the beach become the dunes of the desert, and the cries of the terns become the cry of desert hawks. The sea-smells fade and the sun grows even harsher than in Random's Xanadu. Edan rides on, gaining the colors and smell, and sounds of the Deep Desert.
He lets the sun set, and arrives by moonlight. It is neither cold enough nor dark enough to prevent travel, but few are abroad at this hour. Edan is home, in the heartland of the Seven Tribes.
Edan sees no signs of people.
That doesn't mean a whole lot at this hour, in this place. If Edan recognizes the location already, he turns Aramsham towards the nearest nomadic trail or settlement. If he doesn't, he'll attempt to fix his position and/or pick a direction to travel until he starts to recognize the landmarks.
Edan finds where he expects a settlement to be. The landmarks mark a place the seven tribes often camp. The stars tell him it is late spring, and thus the wadi should have people and animals a-plenty.
It is deserted. Edan doesn't see signs that anyone has been here since the last storm, and no evidence that such a cleansing happened recently.
It is a long way to the West to the port towns of the coast, and a longer ride to the east, but the east was always the more civilized place. He could also head north to the coast or south into the deep desert and towards the cities of his grandfather's people.
Edan sniffs. The air doesn't smell right for the Land of Peace. Something is missing. And yet, he is sure he is home.
Edan frowns. Of all the trouble he was expecting, this wasn't it. There is time pressure, too, in that Edan eventually has to return to Xanadu. Wasting that time travelling won't do.
Solving one mystery will likely solve another. He turns his horse south, towards the deep desert, to see if the strangeness persists; if it does, or gets worse, it will be time for some Sorcery.
The deep desert is vast, but Edan is canny, and knows the way of it, and the way to go. It is not quick, but as quickly as he can, he find an outcropping from which he should be able to see the most remote outposts of the Efrit.
He finds barren desert, pristine and empty. There is no sign that people or spirits have been here at all.
Edan also knows he's about to bleed over into a natural shadow path to an adjoining shadow, so this is where he stops. It's a mystery, all right. The worst part is that he knows he's come to the right place.
The natural shadow path may be the thing that's missing.
Well. The next step is a little drastic, but necessary. Edan Parts the Veil, a smoking tear through the fabric of Space, so that he can ride through to a spot he knows. When Aramsham steps through, they should be on a long strip of rocky terrain near the ocean and within sight of the port city of his birth.
Edan rides a through the Veil and up to a promontory above the city, looking down on it laid out below him. The harbor is busy with steamships and fishing vessels, the docks are awash in cargo and people, the temple quarter is a hive of activity, and the city looks prosperous and vital.
Some enterprising people seem to have miniaturized the steam engines from the ships and installed them in carriages, and apparently also on bicycles.
Edan rubs at his jaw. "I don't know what to make of this, Kyauta. Either I'm in the wrong place, or significant time has passed, or things have progressed naturally from the defeat of the hamaaj." He ponders for another moment. "Or someone has come and altered the nature of this Shadow. Let us find out. Conceal yourself, like you did in Paris. We shall pretend to be a holy man, coming out of the desert. We shall observe this new world."
Kyauta conceals itself and Edan comes down from the hill. The town is bustling, but horses are not unheard of. People hardly give Edan a second glance. Edan does not see anyone dressed in the robes of the desert people, though.
The first stop will be the city center, where Edan can consult a calendar. Maybe a perpetual one at one of the great libraries, or at a temple. Finding out the year will be the first order of business, and he will go as far as to ask the date and year from someone, if he has to.
The Way of Peace Library is a place of grace and beauty and is very new, although apparently it houses the collections of three previous private libraries.
Edan has been gone for about a decade, perhaps a decade and a half.
[OOC: Things seem to have advanced from Late Victorian to Edwardian during his absence...]
The library seems to have a number of books on the war, and apparently the books are common enough that Edan could pick one up without going through the scholars. He recognizes the name of the author. He was a fierce desert fighter.
Well, this would definitively tell whether he's in a shadow of a shadow. Edan sits with the book and starts to skim, paying close attention to the material near the end. If at all possible, he wants to know what's happened since he left. And if, inexplicably, there's some kind of a language problem, he'll be using some quick Sorcery to help resolve it.
The book is straightforward and tells the war story about how Edan remembers it, although Haytham seems more prominent than Edan recalls.
The end is... odd. "Sarwar Al Edan Al Damurah (P.B.U.H.) was with us until victory was assured and he ascended bodily to Paradise, ending the age of the gnostic prophets. The fire spirits of the Deep Desert followed him, and sealed the ways to their fiery lands behind them.
"The Literalists expect Al Edan to return, bodily, but the Council of the People have declared that he is to be taken as a symbol and message from The Merciful One and the Merciful One cannot be expected to honor his people to such a degree twice and claim that he is in every candle flame and hearth-fire and that all should learn from his example."
"The people of the cities accepted the Way of Peace and the tyrants of the cities who had twisted the teachings of the Merciful One were pulled down from their high places and left in the desert to survive, if the Merciful One allowed."
It goes on in that vein for some time. It seems that the seven tribes have entered into city life and are at the top of the social order, but that each city is far enough apart that the tribe that settled there has little conflict with the others...
Peace be unto him, indeed. Things have seemed to have worked out about as well as could be expected. Edan thumbs through a little more slowly, to see if he can verify where this Haytham has taken a leadership position; in other words, he tries to find out what tribe has taken over this city.
Haytham is an elder of this very city! [OOC: It's why his book is such a good seller here...]
After that, before presenting himself to the city elders, his old tribesmen, it will be time to visit his mother and siblings.
The building Julnar the Firemaiden and her children lived in is gone, and has been converted to some kind of a theater. Tonight's presentation is called "The Tale of Al Edan and the Wondrous Lamp".
Of course it is. Edan sniffs and smiles. It is not so important to track family down yet, and he was about to find someone with a better idea of Mother's migration than anyone else. Edan rides on to the city center and the city government, making an effort to meet with Haytham. Edan will identify himself as al-Alayan, the Searcher, and will say that he is an old acquaintance who seeks audience.
al-Alayan is told that Haytham is holding court in this very building in a short while. If he has business before the city or a grievance to air, that is the venue. If the matter is personal, it may be possible to send him a note to read after his work is done for the day.
The courtroom is large, and has a large bas-relief image on the back wall, showing a stylized lamp with a flame coming out of it. It is a symbol of the tribes of the deep desert, not of Dar es Salaam as he remembers it.
The courtroom is starting to get full.
That's a big question. Should Edan reveal himself to the city and become the center of the whirlwind that would follow? So little would be accomplished afterward. No, the best approach would be to stay subtle.
"It is personal," Edan says, "but he would want to read this note as soon as possible. Tell him it is a matter of the desert. I will leave the decision to you."
The note is simple.
::Haytham al-derin col, lieutenant of the al-Ghanii,
::I am returned for a short while, as I promised so long ago. I am both pleased and concerned by what I have seen in my absence. Attend me as soon as you may, for I have need of you and my time here is short.::
::Edan ibn Bleys ibn Oberon al-Kehribar al-Salaam al-Djinn-al-Ghanii::
In a few moments, a bearded man comes and sits cross-legged at the front, facing those waiting for their chance at justice. There is a murmur in the crowd and they, like Edan, are surprised it is not Haytham sitting in front of them.
A man comes up to Edan and bows. He says "The jurist asks that you follow this one to his office, Lord."
[Assuming Edan does follow...]
Haytham looks to be middle aged, and likely to age into a wiry and old man, if nothing stops him from doing so. "Lord Edan, it is you!" He rushes over, and then stops. "I would touch you and see that you are solid, and not a vision or a dream. Is such a thing permitted, or is it blasphemy to even question you? I do not know if I am honored that you came to me or cursed for needing to prove to myself that such an honor could fall upon myself."
He used to be less... philosophical.
Edan crosses over to clasp hands with Haytham, keeping the disappointment from his own face. He should have known they would make him into a Mahdi, it was one possible outcome, but it hurt to see friends and acquaintances turn into...worshippers. That was the word for it.
"I am pleased to see you, old friend," he says. "It is good to see how things worked out so well for the tribes, as good as we could have hoped for. I would stay and see how the hand of the Merciful One has worked in our favor, but I am afraid my time is short."
Haytham seems unsteady, not with age or infirmity or drink, but on the verge of being overwhelmed with emotion. "Your time was already short, but each moment is precious. Some said you would only return if the need was dire, or the Ulema had departed from the Way of Peace, to harrow us from the desert as we once harrowed those who lived here before us."
He takes a deep breath. "Lord, there are those who say you are a myth, that you never walked among us as a man, but are a symbolic representation of the power and correctness of the Way. It is hard, even for those of us who were there, to counter them, for so much of that time seems like a dream..."
Haytham trails off, not really knowing what else to say.
"I am the man you knew when I left," Edan says. "No more, no less. You knew I had a mother, and brothers and a sister. I have traveled to the land of my father and returned, with news and a need of my own. But I cannot stay."
Haytham looks troubled. "That is unfortunate. There are many here and now who could use your guidance, including myself. I am a Mahdi, but I struggle with the issues the people bring. And the ulema is not as undivided as one would wish it were.
"If what you need is a loyal man, who once fought at your side, to accompany you and fight once again for the crystal clarity of right versus wrong, you need only give me the slightest hint that one would be welcome and I will follow you once more.
"Or anything else you require, Lord Edan, but perhaps slightly less joyfully."
"I told you before I left that I would find my father. I traveled far, to other lands, other worlds, and I found him." Edan hesitates; how simple should he make this? "The king in his land is his brother, my uncle. Old enemies of the Family are rising up. I have sworn fealty to my uncle in that distant land, which is known as Xanadu. I will fight for my family, and I seek those who would fight with me." He folds his hands. "I will not lie. It will be very dangerous. Worse than the hamaaj."
Haytham looks relieved. This may be the best news he has had in a number of years. He seems younger and tougher just thinking about it. He's still middle aged, but he's not as soft as he might have seemed to be a few minutes ago.
"I am sworn to follow you to the Nine Icy Hells if need be, and I will never renounce my vow. How many of the band do you need? Or do you form a larger army?"
"I'm looking for at least two thousand, horsed," Edan admits, "to be camped outside the city of Xanadu. "Mobile, light armor, firearms and archery. The core of the force will be a newly-established order of knights, who will train and be housed at the edge of the city. They will be the leaders. They will learn how to fight the tougher foes."
Haytham looks confused. "We have no knights. It is a foreign tradition and one that places obligation to a lord above obligation to The Merciful One. The vestiges of the old knight and feudal lords who invaded the coast of the Land of Peace were swept aside by the Armies of the Faithful. You might need to recruit outside the Land of Peace if you want knights.
"However, I can happily show you much better technologies for war. The aeroplane and the steamcar are far superior to the old horses. Few these days even ride, and the streets are full of wondrous cars, trains, and bicycles. I can have the local garrison show you their deadliest forces."
Edan nods at what he's told of knights here; he knew what the answer would be. He shakes his head at the mention of the rest. "Friend Haytham, it has come time to shock you with the first revelation. The army camp will be in forest or beach or open areas. We will need horses to navigate them all. And there will be many places that I will take you that those wondrous cars and trains and guns won't function. And sometimes, the bicycles."
Haytham smiles. "I am still your man, for I am resolute in all my vows, but I know of few who will follow you who are not your faithful guard."
He looks at Edan. "What other revelations do you wish to shock me with?"
Edan smiles and leans forward. "One thing is that some of our countrymen are already in Xanadu. They were at sea when the black storm came. If we ever find a way to establish a permanent trade route, the King of Xanadu is open to trade."
Edan's smile becomes brittle. "Now, our enemies. The first is a monastic order with centuries of experience and arcane use behind them. The other is a race of warriors who can manipulate time itself."
Haytham's smile matches Edan's. Edan feels as if the man is getting younger just being in his presence, or if not younger, bolder and with a larger scope of vision. "Trade is good, Hadi, for no country that is starving can send warriors to fight. At most they can send mobs. But that is for the rear-guard to organize.
"As to your enemies, they seem particularly dangerous, especially if they join forces against us. There are philosophers of war, in the lands to the east, my Lord, who would counsel that they should be manipulated to fight each other, and then our forces could fall upon the weakened victors. Can this be done?"
"I'm not going to say it's impossible. However, I would say that the motives and the thinking of the Moonriders of Ghenesh - they're the time-altering ones - may not be what anyone else would consider 'normal'. The Klybesian Order - they're the other ones - they're not our friends, and neither side would be easy to manipulate. It would be...difficult." He waves his hand, gesturing around them. "I meant to ask this earlier. What will happen here, if you and others of the tribe leave? Will the government stay in place?"
"All of the seven tribes are scattered, and I do not know if the peace and promises of mutual support we made some years ago would hold if we took the entire tribe away from any one city. We have a good accord with the city people now, and my assistant, who is administering justice tonight, is not of the tribe.
"So, possibly, it is unclear how long peace would hold if we stay. Lessons of Peace are amongst the hardest, especially when one is confronted by the clear advantage of war."
"The entire tribe would not leave, anyway," Edan says. "As you said, technology has leaped ahead, and many riders...are not, any more. We shall have to take the risk that the uproar will be at a minimum. Well. You know this new land far better than I. Send the word, and draw those that would ride with me to this place. And when this is done, and I could not say when for sure, I will lead back those who would return here. I am confident, however, that most would want to stay in this new land of my father's kin."
He sits back. "Now is the time to ask the other question. Where have my mother and my siblings gone?"
"None know, War Leader. One day, all the fireborn were gone. Some say they took the magic of the world and left. Others, that they could not stay when something else took away the magic. Only a small few of us remember the fireborn and most believe that they did not exist, except as a vast metaphor to make a point about the nature of man and his desires and skills."
He looks glum. “Not far from here stands a house that no man has entered in a good decade. Once it housed a noble Marid, a trader and scholar of this city. He was always somewhat of a recluse. Now he is gone, and the fountains and gardens of the Dey of Longtides are no more."
Edan looks upset. "She would not have wanted to go from this place. Despite her reputation, she rejected the afriti and embraced the Merciful One. My mother would not have left, unless there were no other choice." He shakes his head. "I will find out what happened. But I cannot do it now." Looking up, he says, "One of my cousins mentioned meeting the Dey. I did not know he had taken residence here. I would see this house. Perhaps a message was left."
"I did not know he was elsewhere. Perhaps your cousin came to this very city. However, if there is the possibility that a message was left, we should by all means retrieve it. Let me fetch guards, in case we need to force the door."
[Assuming Edan goes with Haytham]
The compound is shockingly exotic and completely ruined. Plants that could only grow in swamps fill the garden, and all are dead and being turned to dust and then nothing. The ground, once rich and brown, is cracked and parched. The house is octagonal, and several stories high. It is locked.
Edan looks glum. The house is a lot like what he felt last in Amber; a place that was slowly dying and turning to dust. He does stop the guards, though, before they force the door, so he can give the place the once-over with his Third Eye beforehand.
Edan looks over the house. It appears relentlessly bereft of any taint of Order, Chaos or Magic. On close examination, it looks as if it once had contact with magic, but that the magic no longer exists.
If the channels of magic indicate where water ran and magic kept it in place, the dwelling is a shell of what it once was.
"I don't see any traps," Edan says to Haytham. "It seems to me that what magic was once here, was to move water throughout the building and to the plants. That magic is gone." He steps aside to let the guards open the door.
The senior guard gestures to the junior one, who takes a few steps back and then throws himself into the door. It breaks open and sprays the entry hall in splinters. The building is octagonal inside, with no dividers other than the floor and ceiling. Perhaps there used to be, by magic.
The very sparse furniture is covered in drop cloths, and all of the easily movable pieces are gone. There is a stairs going up around the edge, but the room is dominated by an empty pool in the center, and a large gilt mirror on the far wall.
If Edan were to leave a message to someone, it would be through the mirror; so, he moves to that wall and checks the mirror out with mundane and arcane vision.
The mirror has words written on the surface, visible only to arcane investigation. It says "Break Me".
Edan's face breaks into a slow smile, white teeth flashing in a cinnamon face. "I can't imagine a more obvious trap. So likely it's not. Get your men back," he says to Haytham, "while I create some wards for myself."
And he does, creating flames that dance across his body as he creates a simple but powerful physical ward for himself, followed by an arcane one. Then, he reaches out to break the mirror with the hilt of his sword.
The glass breaks and flies out, much more of it than was held in the frame. The stream of it hits Eden's ward and spreads against it, encircling Edan in reflective material.
"This is my strongest spell, and the one I hope will last for some time," says a voice, deep and smooth as Edan imagines a Marid's would be. "I trust this message will reach a son or daughter of Amber, for only those should be able to hear my message. I am the Dey of Longtides, and a friend to Prince Bleys and the Arcane College of Gateway. I do not know what magical catastrophe has befallen this place, but I know that the power that sustained us here is fading, and more of my people and the djinn are retreating. My people to the deeps where they can go to the undersea kingdoms, the Djinn to the City of Brass.
"I know not where I will end up, but tell the King and Prince Bleys that I have found that the Asir are a sect of the Klybesians, and that they have plans in motion that I have not been able to discover, but that they involve Amber.
"I will try for Atalantis, and if I make it there, then Prince Bleys will be able to find me.
"May the Merciful One speed your feet to the King, and beware the Klybesians."
The message ends and the sphere of glass drops to the ground. Edan is surrounded by a circle of glass shards.
Edan has a rueful smile when it's all over. "Maybe I caused the lack of magic during the War of the Black Road, and maybe not," he says. He looks up to Haytham. "Did you hear any of that? Time is shorter than I anticipated, but the plan is the same. Word must go out to those who would ride with me, and we will leave with those who manage to make it in time."
"I heard nothing, war leader. For a split second you were surrounded by a sphere of light, then a ring of glass on the ground. Was there... something else?" He seems more curious than frightened.
"I will summon the band, and those who come, will come. How long do we have? Do we leave via ship or some other way?"
"We have a ten-day," Edan says. "Send the word out via telegraph, if those are the lines I see strung up. We will ride. I can ride to pick up a large group on the way out, if need be. And once we are on our way, we will find what we need as we go. Once I see how many we have, training will begin immediately."
"At once," says Haytham. He looks around. "If the Dey is not returning, we can use this place as a staging grounds. You may need to magically produce horses for some of the men, Master."
He turns to the guards. "Tidy the place, and lock it behind us."
Horses should be next on the agenda, as mentioned, but first Edan needs to find out what happened in the Dar-es Salaam. If he was indeed the cause for the loss of magic, then the drain would be traceable to the Gate he unknowingly created years ago. If it were another cause, then something else might manifest.
He sends Haytham onward with a promise to meet later in his offices. Edan bides at the House of the Dey, specifically close to the pool. He lights, then blows out, the end of a wooden stick he knows he's been carrying, and uses the burnt end to draw a rough map of the Land of Peace. A pinch of mud from a place that has lost its arcane power (scraped from inside the pool), a pinch of sand Edan carried in from the desert, a shard of the mirror that still carried magic within it. He places these things together, and begins to cast.
The items lift into the air as Edan casts, and spin in a tight circle. As he finishes, they arrange themselves in a straight line. It either points to the Northlands and the savages there, or it points to the deep desert. Edan thinks the latter is more logical.
That's about the best answer Edan can expect on limited time, so he leaves it there. A later visit, perhaps, will confirm the evidence and help him track his family, as well.
Leaving the remnants of his spell for cleanup, Edan heads outside. He may need some movement when he finds all the horse-buying probabilities in his favor, which is what he's doing next.
Horses are not for sale in the city, although they are on the outskirts. Edan can easily find animals for sale, but they are not war horses. Some are suitable for farms, some are suitable for carriages, and some are suitable for glue. It's as if the shadow forgot how to care for the things.
Edan can look farther afield, perhaps in other shadows, or he could buy and improve the horses that are here.
This...is abysmal. It was not a good thing to beat reality with a Sorcery hammer at every turn, but at least he had something to work with here. Going far out into Shadow might bring him horses, but likely more problems to go with them. On the other hand, using Sorcery to improve a horse won't help much when much of the training deals with how to fight in varying degrees of that same Sorcery. Maddening.
Edan pays for the horses, obviously disgruntled, and brings them back to be stabled with Aramsham. He checks to make sure there's nothing immediate he needs to deal with, then will go down to the stables to make his adjustments.
The news from Haytham is all that is good so far. A dozen man, riders from the deep desert, are answering his call so far. They will be arriving on various trains and ships tomorrow.
Haytham is also reminded that the brothers Brahim and Khalid are in jail in the Tadla in Beni-Mellal (about a hundred miles from you). He does not know the charges, but expects that they are true.
One could only hope the riders, men of the Deep Desert, were not as... lacking.
Aramsham can tell that the other horses are not up to snuff. He ignores them, for now. None of them will go near him.
Edan feeds and brushes down the horses, all of them, taking care to clip a few hairs from Aramsham's mane while doing so. After he's finished, he makes sure each horse is separated well from the others. He's not about to start a fire inside a stable with a dozen horses there, so he uses his learned technique of heat transfer to cast a spell. And if the horses get a little bit of Aramsham's bad attitude, so much for the better.
Edan sees results as expected. The horses seem more assured, but badly in need of training and competent riders. Edan no longer classifies them as 'hopeless.'
Edan nods, then, satisfied, and proceeds to head back to Haytham. A hundred miles is too far to travel quickly by horse; if there's not a flight to Beni-Mallal, he'll have to use sorcery.
[OOC: It's just over an hour by train, or no time at all if you part the veil and rip apart the shadow in a tiny way...]
Haytham suggests that Edan stay in his guest quarters tonight, and that those who will respond will start to do so in the morning.
Edan gestures his thanks for the room, but he has to decline. "I did not give your new trains enough credit, my friend. My work is not nearly done today. I must see this Brahim and Khalid myself, and return with them if I can." He frowns a little. "I do not remember them."
Haytham nods. He did not expect Edan to sleep, as much as he might wish otherwise. "You will need to hurry to catch the 8:12 train, My Lord. We gained many recruits as we marched on the cities. They were someone's cousins. They joined the bands not long after you left. By the end, entire towns were joining, and the war was in some ways not much more than a victory march."
Edan dons his cloak, and suddenly Shadows Are Lying for him again. "Either I will get them, or not, but in either case I will return tomorrow," he says. "I will see you then." Unless Haytham has anything else, he's off to catch a train.
"May the Merciful One be with you," Haytham replies.
The train is a mechanical wonder, a symphony of controlled fire, steel, and coal, lined inside with cushioned seats and a dining area (which is closed for this short trip).
The travelers at the station and in the train are a mix of prosperous businesspeople in the luxury cars and the poor in the front. The front is noisier and smokier, so it's understandable.
[OOC: Does Edan ride 1st class or 2nd? Does he try to talk to anyone?]
The station is not completely deserted, but few people got off at the stop with Edan, and the train did not stay in this station for long. Apparently the brothers are being held in a small mountain town, of the sort that has little custom after dark.
Edan will ride 2nd class, and keep to himself if possible. If it helps the persona of some deep-desert holy man, so much the better. But he will keep his ears open, if something is said by the other passengers he would have interest in.
There is little Edan would be interested in. The business of the day, the sights seen by sight-see-ers, a few who traveled to attend Haytham's court on personal or family business, a man who has successfully arranged a marriage for his niece with a family in Dakarai, tired children. Edan is given wide clearance, and occasional odd looks.
Once he's off the train and at the station, there should be a stationmaster...almost deserted, or not. Edan will look for this person and ask directions to the jail.
Edan is told that the easiest way to get into the jail is to be out after curfew, but barring that, he may head to the main street and it is across the street from the temple of the merciful one. It's empty now, except for the fanatics.
"May the Merciful One be with you," Edan says, and is amazed by how...empty that statement has become. It is not a pleasant feeling.
He walks to the described place, divesting himself of his hood; the Shadows no longer lie for him here, and his eyes are the molten gold of the afrit.
He marches up and confronts the guard or guards he knows will be at the entrance. "I am Edan ibn Bleys ibn Oberon al-Kehribar al-Salaam al-Djinn-al-Ghanii. I come to speak with ones you hold named Brahim and Khalid, who have ridden with the tribes of the desert."
The guard looks up from his post. "An I'm the favorite lover of the Amirah of the City of Brass! Begone afore I arrest you for being drunk and out after curfew!"
There is a commotion within.
Edan smiles. Sometimes everything comes together, and the years of study under what sometimes was the cruelest of tutors -- his father -- becomes worth all the trouble.
He takes a deep breath, and reaches out to grab the jamb of the doorway to the guard post. The stone bricks warp and melt under his fingers, leaving a burning puddle on the ground. The shout that issues from his mouth is increasingly deep and loud and overwhelming. Edan knows he's breaking windows and doors and walls and perhaps even cracking the foundation to the jail, but not eardrums; everyone in the building can hear every word with ease.
"THEN DO SO, SON OF TADLA-AZILAL, BUT ERE THE SUN RISES YOU WILL KNOW THAT THE DJINN-AL-GHANII HAS WALKED AMONG YOU," he bellows. "I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS. BRING BRAHIM AND KHALID BEFORE ME, THAT I MAY JUDGE THEM."
Then he adds, "Please."
The guard's eyes open wider and wider as Edan bellows at him. It's all too much for him. He faints.
The pounding on the bars from inside the jail gets louder.
Edan sighs. Typical, really. He searches the guard for keys, and uses them to get into the jail if he finds any. If he doesn't, it will be time for something more...explosive.
Kyauta, warn me if someone looks like they're going to attack me, especially from behind.
The keys are on the guard's belt, the door to the jail is open, and inside is a single cell, with two men in it.
They see Edan, and both kneel, heads bowed. The man on the left. "We submit to your judgement, al-'adl." The seem afraid, but are not wavering.
Edan doesn't recognize them.
"You're it?" Edan looks past them, finds no one, looks a little disappointed, and adds, "Justice, then, is what has come to you. I have heard of two men who rode with the Seven Tribes, once, after the Black War. Two men that would wish to ride with me again. Perhaps. Give me your full names, and tell me the true tale of how you have offended Beni-Mallal. If you try to lie to me, I will know."
The first man looks up at Edan, meeting his gaze and appraising him. It is not humble nor fearful, and seems to be driven by curiosity. "I am Abdelmalik ibn-al-As ibn-Cid. My brother is Kulthum.
"Our crime was to accuse the brother of the wali of simony. Because our father was a foreigner from the northern frontiers, we were not believed, despite our righteousness."
Kulthum looks up as well. "We demanded trial by combat or trial by ordeal, but the scoundrels of this place would not do the honorable thing. They have the forms of true religion but are not mindful of the meaning of it.
"If you ride to spread the ways of the Merciful One, as you did in the legends we heard when we joined with the tribes, then the first cleansing that is needed is in our homeland."
Edan leans forward. "I have not heard everything. Your concerns would have brought you before a Qadi, perhaps even a Mufti. They would not have brought you to a cell. What happened, that you were detained?"
Khulum shakes his head. "All relatives of the Wali. Also, we resisted arrest."
Abd al-Malik looks grim. "We took this town, my brother and I were the first over the wall. They welcomed us with open arms and we were merciful. But we moved on and they let true religion lapse.
"Too many escaped the mercy of the knife, is my thinking."
"They fear us, but the war is long past and ended far from here. We almost lost hope that our brothers would raise a hand in our defense."
Edan represses the urge to sigh. He was so much like them, once. "I do not know what I can say to you that will not disappoint you," he says. "I have it under my power to free you from this place. I am your Sultan, and I never released any of the tribes from my service. You would answer to me. But..." and he pauses for effect, "I have no intention of staying here. I have a duty to my father and his brothers, and I have come to ask those I have fought with- bled with- to fight with me again. I ride into the lands of the infidel, mayhap hell itself, and I need men like you."
He straightens up. "But I cannot force your path. Come with me, and I will take you to strange and far places to fight against a great evil. Someday, you might return to seek justice here, but it will not be soon. Or, I will leave you here to seek what you want, in whatever manner you see fit. I give you the choice."
Abd al-Malik nods. "It is a quite a thing, to be given a choice. You honor us and test our virtue at once."
Khulum does not look away either. "We will be bold, then and accompany you, if you have need of us, Master."
Abd al-Malik replies. "If our names are remembered, let them say 'they followed the Sultan, to fight evil in the name of the Merciful One.'"
Khulum finishes the thought. "We will need arms, which we can take from the armory here, and a car as well."
Edan half-smiles. "We'll get what you need on the way, not to worry. Stand back," and he draws a smoking, burning line through reality at the level of the bars. Thus, in one motion, he Parts the Veil back to Haytham's offices in the city, removes the jail bars as an obstacle, and tells the laws of physics to shut up and sit down.
The two look around the judges offices, which are in disarray.
Khulum grins, grimly. “You said we would be going to fight in hell, Master. I did not think you meant directly.”
Abd al-Malik cannot quite stifle his laughter.
"Ohhhh-h," Edan says. "You should have seen it that time I got stuck at the top of a pyramid." He frowns then, wondering if somehow he was the cause of that, and looks around to see if there is another problem afoot.
"The people of al-Sharq say that their ancestors made the pyramids in reverence to the Merciful One, but they fell into iconoclasm and heresy and were eventually destroyed by the djinn and their Yikaria allies. The men of the west think the great monuments were built by the corrupted societies. No one will tear them down, because they fear the risen dead."
"When you fought at the top a the pyramid, was it also in a Doctor of Law's office, Master? I cannot imagine anything more terrifying than a Doctor of Law who has raised himself from the dead."
Edan laughs at this one. "Or a Risen yak-fiend. Or a Risen yak-fiend with a doctorate."
"My imagination is now enhanced. I can see this is going to be a long exercise in the containment of terror, Master. I hope we are up to the task," replies Abd al-Malik.
The office looks - lightly disheveled. As if someone were searching it for their own lost property. The chair cushions, for instance, have all been lifted, but no one has sliced them open.
Haytham comes in, wrapping himself in a robe. "Master! I thought you took the night-train to Beni-Mallal!"
Edan bows in response. "I am sorry, Haytham. I did take the train. I took a more direct way back." He waves, airily. "There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of doorways here. Everywhere. Doors that lead to... many other places. It is how this world was created, you see. The Wise can see the doors and open them. Rarer still is the man who can create a door where there was not one before." He pauses. "Even if you cannot use Sorcery yourselves, I will teach you the ways of it. For that, my askeri, is what you will learn to fight." He decides to broach the next subject, then, and purposefully glances around the room. "Did something happen?"
Haytham blushes. "I have misplaced my djannbiya. I thought it might be in here. It is all I have that I wish to take with me."
Khulum looks at Haytham appraisingly. "You should probably also take padding for your horse's back, Young Pigeon."
"Not a bad idea, Elephant Face. I'm pleased you did not get yourself hanged."
"I have exercised my rights as Sultan and have taken these two into my custody," Edan says. "It is good that you two remember each other, for I have taken the responsibility. I would be most displeased if they violated that trust." He's smiling as he says it. Sort of. But the smile fades. "I have not seen your side-knife, I am afraid. Being that you all need to be armed, and are the beginning of this little band, I would present you all with knives myself. But I would not so lightly dismiss yours, if it is an ancestral blade."
"It acts as a reminder to me, Master, that I, too am an instrument of the Merciful One as the Djannbiya is my instrument. That there is mercy in the blade and that is mercy in me. I have killed no man, save with it.
"But it is a new campaign, and a new dedication of myself. I like the idea of becoming a new man, and learning again the mercy that comes from the instrument."
Abd-al Malik smiles. "Well said, if long winded. Are we all staying as your guests, Haytham?"
Haytham smiles back, "There is room here for few, and we might be mobbed, if people were to realize who visits me. The tribes have been told to gather at the estate of the Bey of Longtides, in his abandoned house and garden."
Khulum nods. "I recall the place. It is no longer haunted by the marid?"
"He is gone," Edan says. "As are most, if not all, of those who carry the power of the elements. Then again, the hamaaj are gone as well, so one should take the good with the bad." He removes his own dagger and adds, "If we had a little fire in the hearth over there, I could create these blades now, before the others meet us tomorrow."
Haytham looks worried. "Do you need natural fire, Master? That one has been converted to gas."
Khulum looks around. "There's plenty of fuel on the shelves. We could just burn the office down."
"There is an old hearth in the great room. People seem to like burning wood for warmth better than gas."
Abd-al Malik shivers. "Can't imagine why..."
"A gas fire will be fine." Once it's going, he heats his own knife in the fire over many passes, and when he's finished he's suddenly holding four knives, all glowing cherry red with the heat. He leaves them, hissing and smoking, on the hearth. "This is the beginning," he says. "Where I direct, in the name of King and country, may these knives follow."
Abd-al Malik's eyes shine in the reflected firelight. "Truly, we are your knives, Master, and will follow where you direct."
Khulum and Haytham nod in unison. The moment seems to be notable.
Before anyone can respond, someone starts pounding on the door downstairs. Perhaps more of the band has arrived.
Edan looks to Haytham for that one. "It is your tent," he says. "I would prefer our location remain a secret until tomorrow, unless this is someone you can trust to be silent."
Haytham nods, once. "I will deny them entry, Master." He heads down the stairs.
Khulum looks after him. "In fairness, were I summoned to this rat's nest of a town to follow our beloved Sultan, who had been missing for a decade, I would also expect to see the Sultan."
Abd-al Malik looks amused. "If they break curfew, you may need to break more of the band out of gaol."
Edan ponders this for a moment. "The fire is still on," he says, and waves a hand towards it. "Let's see who's down there."
Two men are arguing with the housekeeper for admittance. Behind them, Edan sees two motorized bicycles.
"Skander and Slim," says Haytham. "Master, you may remember them. They were the closest brothers."
Edan stops himself from scratching his head, and nods instead. He wonders if Benedict has these moments and just fakes it so well no one notices. He hands out the knives, for he's not doing this again, and nods again to Haytham. "It's all right, go ahead and let them in."
Haytham goes downstairs and lets them in. The housekeeper retires and the two turn to Edan.
Khulum stares into the flame, "This is amazing, Master. We have recorded images, but do not yet have the knack of making them live. What did he mean 'the closest brothers?' Closest to who?"
"To whom," replies Abd al-Malik, "and he probably meant closest to here. Those bikes didn't look up to the desert, so they're probably in a nearby costal town."
Khulum nods. "Is he going to bring them up here?"
Abd al-Malik says "The Master did not say to do so, so I wager he does not."
"Gambling is a sin. Five talents he does," Khulum replies, not taking his eyes off the flame
"Done," says al-Malik. "Done."
Edan opens his mouth, and then closes it again. "Now I feel obligated not to interfere," he says. "What you see here, this is Sorcery that affects the principle of Space. It is not a recording. The sound waves from their mouths and the reflected light off their bodies travel through the fire as if there were no Space in between."
Khulum stares into the fire and says, "I imagine no one in all of the Land of Peace can understand, Master, but it seems you do not wish to call it a sign or a miracle, so I shall not." Khulum grins, seeing Haytham walks up the stairs with the two sword brothers in tow. "You owe me five talents," he adds.
Abd-al Malik hands over the coins. "When I lose, I also win. More brothers will be needed still."
Edan smiles, and speaks long enough for the newcomers to hear, too. "It is the essence of why I have come," he says to Khulum. "Look around you. See how things have changed, even in the last decade. Things that you might once have called miracles, unexplainable, now you understand. Steam trains. Your recordings. I used to say the Merciful One had always had left these things to be learned. If you are to fight with me, you must learn more, much more. You will see that these things," he waves at the fire, "they are merely tools. You must learn how to use them, how to fight them. For all too often, they are the tools of the enemy."
They nod, as if mesmerized. Including the two brothers in the doorway. Three, counting Haytham.
"That is not to say I do not need your skills," Edan continues. "You might ask, 'why not pick someone with more advanced technology?' but there are many situations where these new tools will not work. I am counting on it, in fact. I still need men skilled with the knife, the sword, the long gun, the horse. I can think of no better place than here, to find such men."
Skander nods. "Master, in all those, I am skilled, although I have used my skills but little recently. It has been a decade or more since I sat a horse, much less fired a long-barreled gun from one.”
Slim nods. “So much of ... what we did, who we were. Slipped away, like a dream. Do you know there are those amongst the younger generation who openly laugh when you tell them of meeting the Ifrit in the deep desert?"
Edan nods at that. "Things have changed more than I would have wished them," he admits, "and those who will come will not be as young as they once were. At least the young men will have heard the tales of the recent past and will believe once they see with their own eyes. I haven't been gone too long for that, I hope. I find it probable that others will see us travel and wish to join; for them, you will be the teachers." He smiles, a little. "As for the rest...I know, I know. Your skills will come back to you. It needs training, much training, and that will start tomorrow. Starting with your riding skills, no doubt. The horses are ready in the stables."
Haytham nods. "The morrow comes soon, but not a one of us would willingly leave your side, Master. It is as if we are only awake now, for the first time since you lef-- since the end of the war."
Edan nods, and if his skin looks a little darker in that moment, perhaps it is a trick of shadow rather than embarrassment. "Let us sleep, then, and head to the Dey's residence early on the morrow. If you didn't bring anything for travel, worry not - we'll find what we need as we set out from there."
Skander looks at his brothers. "We will keep watch, as we did in the past, over your room as you sleep, Master. All who arrive before you awaken will be sent to the Temple of the Merciful One to pray and meditate and return at sunrise."
Haytham says "I will show you to your bedchamber, Master."
Edan does relent on one decision he's made: before he retires, he makes two more knives for the newcomers and makes the same vow with them. If they are successful in getting more troops, he's going to need all the captains he can get...
Edan dreams fitfully of the hamaaj, endlessly pursuing him through a wildly changing landscape of fire and water and sand. He knows, and does not know how he knows, that if it catches him, he will be forced to marry it.
He wakes in a cold sweat, minutes before dawn.
Edan can see in the pre-dawn light through his open window, that Skander is sitting outside, and there are a number of saddlebags on the ground beside him. It's possible that the household is awake and keeping silent on his behalf.
It's got to be the spices, Edan thinks groggily as he pushes himself to a sitting position. I haven't eaten that mix in a while. Yes, that must be it. He groans and stands, checks to make sure Kyauta and his kit are with him, and moves to the window.
"What time is it?" he calls down to Skander. "Has anyone gone ahead?"
Skander waves as he sees Edan. "It is the hour of the eagles, Master. And it is well that your enemies are not here already, for your forces are strung out between towns and temples and the street in front of this place." He looks back at the street. "Haytham has gone to the temple to keep them from all converging back here. He did not know if you wished to meet them in the house of the Merciful One or someplace more martial."
"So many?" A little of the color drains from Edan's face. "So soon? I assume he thought there were too many for the Dey's residence." He sighs. "I will be ready in a moment. We will ride to the temple, and then lead them to the Dey-evi." He looks back down to Skander. "If we wait too long, word will spread and the throng will be too numerous to leave. When we meet the others, go and see how many horses we will have. Look to see how more you can find if we are short. I know horses are scarce, but do what you can. I only found a dozen, I hope more were brought with the others. It is the horses that will determine how many go with us."
Skander squints up at Edan. "Any who ride will not be here for a week or more. Assuming they can find feed and stablage along the way. The impoverished lands in the cold north, some of them still ride. It's not a skill the youth of today even desire to learn."
The desert fighter pauses. "Some claim that the Merciful One showed us how to make our own conveyance so that we did not overburden his creations. I am not so sure. He did not teach us to make mechanical khlea.
"There are a dozen brothers now, but Haytham has sent the call out to three score and ten. The ones across the continent are not expected."
Edan relaxes a bit. "That's not unreasonable. We may not need extra horses after all," he says. "Give me just a moment." He gathers his things together, not expecting to come back, makes himself presentable enough to address a crowd, and then goes downstairs.
"Let us see who has answered the call," he says to Skander, and leads them both towards the temple.
A score and half again of the brethren are at the temple of the merciful one. All are men Edan rode with, although they are by no means all the men from those days.
Just being in the presence of the Sultan makes them stand taller.
They’re not as fit for fighting as when Edan left them, but they are as awe-struck as the people he left behind. It may be too many for Edan to charm, as he did the six in his room. Some would as leif be released from their vow.
It is good enough. "I know you. All of you. And you remember me. When I left to seek my father's homeland, you all stood on the brink of a new world, a new age. Freedom. Peace. You have made your dream a reality, and I rejoice with you."
He pauses. "I have been to the lands of my father and returned. There are worlds out there, worlds that none of you have seen. My father's father has passed on, and old enemies of his kingdom have risen to take advantage of it. I am my father's son, and I would take up my sword to defend the lands of my father and his brothers.
"I need men who would ride with me. Many of you, perhaps most of you, are content with this world you have made. But there are some of you I know who would see more. I need men who would ride with me again. Fight with me. Bleed with me. Rally to my cause, and I will show you worlds beyond your imagining. Help me defend my family's lands against those who would see them destroyed."
Six identical knives thrust up into the air in unison, along with a ragged yell, "the Sultan, the Sultan, the Sultan!". Following Edan's lieutenants, others are also waving weapons. Of the nearly two-score men who have answered the call, none seem to be unwilling to join with Edan and go wherever he will.
There may be other people in the temple, who were there to pray or study or meditate this morning. To them, this is a throwback to a less peaceful time in The Land of Peace. To Edan, this is what the temple of The Merciful One has often been.
"Let us move on to the House of the Dey of Longtides," Edan says to the group. "You can all decide for yourselves whether you want to leave from there. It will be a long time before you could return, so think carefully before you decide."
Edan leads a parade, or a march at least, through the city. People watch with interest, and in some cases with fear. Children and dogs follow after, interested in the excitement.
The House of Longtides is, remarkably, clean and open. Some of Haytham's household are there, and gardeners are ripping out the long-dead plants from the garden. It's not functional, but it's no longer abandoned-looking. The staff may not have slept.
Haytham nods as he sees this. As he is a magistrate of the town, it may be of his doing.
"We need to get the horses from the stables," Edan tells Haytham, "and get them ready." He turns to the crowd, then, and says, "I thank you for coming to this place for nothing more than the mention of my name. I have only so many horses, and we will find more as we travel. But here is the time and place to choose; if you would ride with me, come forward. If you would remain here, go, and know that I will love you none the less. We are all brothers."
Haytham relays the message to one of his servants, and the woman leaves the room.
The six captains walk directly across the room and stand with Edan. The rest of the group starts to move when a a voice calls out from the back. Deep and rusty, it sounds as if it has no desire to speak.
"My Sultan, if you take us all, then what will become of the holy places and right thinking of the great territory of the Merciful One, this land which we made into a Land of Peace? I have taken no responsibilities, but some of our brothers have families they will not want to have fall back to the old ways, and some are responsible for entire towns.
"I am free to follow you to any heaven or hell, but what becomes of this town without Haytham?"
Haytham looks uncomfortable, but not less determined.
"Each man has free choice," Edan says. "I would not deny that to any of you, including Haytham. It is the message that endures, not the man that utters it." He turns to Haytham. "You have someone, I hope, who works under you? Who would carry on if you were gone?"
Haytham is thin-lipped. "I do, Lord. My brother-in-law is an excellent scholar of Law and held court for me yesterday when you arrived. I once hoped he would not succeed me for a long time, but the call of the Merciful One comes when it will and not when a man will have it. I am content."
Skander speaks up. "We are not all assembled. Some have far to travel, even across the continent. Some fight the heathen peoples to the north of the sea of wine. You could leave word, my Sultan, for them, to keep and preserve the lands for your return, howe'er long it shall be."
"Leave them a sign or a token and a message and they will do their duty."
Edan nods. "I shall prepare such a message, and leave it here." He grins at his group of six. "And then there were thirty. Get everything organized, while I perform a bit of sorcery for the message. Also, if there are supplies to get us on our way that will not cause disruption, bring them. There will be no lack of this as we travel, but we have to be already traveling before I find them."
Haytham goes off to speak to someone, perhaps his brother-in-law. Edan's Amber heritage allows him to listen in. "Ibix, the Sultan leaves his last words to the faithful here, in this place. Make it a shrine to the Mighty One, and tell all how he chose this place to leave them with their final instructions. When he returns, no matter how long it may be, he will expect them to have been followed, to the letter."
"It shall be done, Haytham. And you will be missed." The two men embrace and Haytham returns to his fellow captains as they make preparations. They divide up the men into squadrons of six men. It seems to be going smoothly.
Once everyone is together, Edan helps to get them mounted or at least mobile; if there aren't thirty horses available, several of the riders will have to ride double until they get moving.
The first order of business is getting supplies and/or more horses; Edan will almost immediately begin shifting Shadow as they head out. A cache of supplies and weapons near an oasis sounds like the perfect solution, and that is what he will be aiming for before the ride starts in earnest. The overall plan is to test the abilities of these men and gather more on the way to Xanadu, but there's no point in stressing them until everyone is outfitted.
The shadows shift, the sands grow darker and coarser, the moon becomes reddish and shrinks in size, and the horses learn the rhythm of a long day's ride. The desert is still with you, but the nights are not as cold nor are the days as hot.
The scorpions, however have gotten larger. The men have taken to hunting them for practice.
Recruiting men on the way is on the order of support corps; there isn't need for many, considering the small number of initial troops, but it will serve as the beginning of the support corps and ortas: medical, logistics, food, hostlers, sappers, etc. As mercenaries, and this offer is for the other troops as well, an initial bonus followed by regular pay. Edan decides he carries enough funds to pay everyone, but does go through the symbolic gesture of receiving his own pay with the troops.
This initial group is company-sized, so that's what we'll call it. Ten companies would be an orta, or battalion. Each company would break down into five-man groups plus one support person, so tents would be organized that way. For the moment, the original six followers will be the sergeants for the rest. Edan is aiming to outfit each soldier with a quality horse, a single-shot long rifle (preferably bolt-action rather than a musket), and he will introduce them to the bayonet, which should be new to most of them. A short bow for backup, a short yatagan sword or axe, their own jambiyah. Ottoman Janissaries had something called an Abus gun, which was like a short howitzer; Edan will replace that with a horse-drawn mortar for the company. Whether he manages all that at the start, that's what he's aiming for.
Each rider will be fully responsible for everything in his kit, and that goes especially for the horse and rifle. Edan knows his skill with the horse, and he's looking to impart that on the company. That means the training will be brutal. He expects the first few days to be something of a shock, but Edan will train alongside them the entire way. They will eventually learn (or remember) how to shoot and fight from horseback, how to handle nearly any terrain a horse can navigate, and how to properly care for their mount. This is the most vital skill they can learn, so it gets the most work.
At rest, he tells them of Amber, of Xanadu, of many of the worlds he's seen. He tells them some about Family. He tells them of the Gheneshi and the Klybesians, whom they will face. He tells them of the Order of the Lamp, and the organization he wants to build. He tells them of the larger Chaosi war that took place during their own war with the hamaaj.
All in all, it's less men than he wanted to start, but it is a beginning. Quality over quantity, after all, and it's not bad for a tenday's work.
The crew trains and organizes and learns as Edan lays out the regimen. They do not spend much time talking about the past, either before or after his Sultanate and departure. They seem happier with guns than with bows.
The new recruits do not worship The Merciful One. How does Edan want to deal with that? Also, how does he want to deal with religious life for his core corps?
Edan's take on this is that the Order of the Lamp was created as a secular organization, and it will remain so. Each man is responsible for the state of his own soul, and he makes it clear from the start that he will not officially censure anyone's practicing religion.
Privately, he will observe that the majority of the force follows the Merciful One and the Way of Peace, and that the close-knit day-to-day exposure of the infidels will bring about new converts with time and patience. He will privately share this observation with those who aren't farsighted enough to see the same. He also makes it clear that they are going to Xanadu, where the Faithful are certainly not a majority, but those who have settled there are tolerated.
While those who pray with him take the message back, there does seem to be at least something of a division. It is not actively affecting training or morale, but there are clearly two kinds of brothers.
Xanadu is easily reachable via the coast, or Edan could prolong the ride. What is his intention?
Brita settles into the small cabin Captain Raven directed her to on the Vale. The small desk and chair are bolted down and too rigid for her liking. Instead, she settles in the corner of the small bunk against the wall with the open porthole to her side so she can gaze at the water. A sketch of herself requires water nearby.
She arrays her selected paints - a collection of reds, emerald green, deep blue, walnut brown, sunny yellow, black, and white - by her side on the oiled cloth that wrapped her notebook. She adds a thin tile slab and a few brushes of varying sizes. She lets Weyland settle as he wishes and quickly sketches the outline of herself and surroundings on the small card of paper. Then she focuses inward - losing touch with the outside world beyond the sound of the water lapping against the boat. She picks up a thin brush, dips it into the white, the yellow, the red - mixing the three on a corner of the slab to create a light peach colored tone - and begins to paint.
Weyland asks questions of Brita as he watches her paint. How much is her ritual to get ready to paint, what is required, what makes the trump become different from a portrait, and such. He wants to know about her connection to the water, as well.
"The Process for me is More Dependent on Who I Paint," Brita notes. Pointing to herself with the tail end of the brush she is weilding, she adds, "Goddess of Pure Water in Shadow Asgard - it Helps to Have Water Near to Remember Where I Came From." She looks up at Weyland, "I Cannot Explain How a Trump Becomes - it just Does when the Image Is Who it Is."
He nods. "That's basically what I told my daughter about how I know when I'm done making a sword."
He asks if he can observe the trump making process with sorcery, or if that will interfere (OOC: it will, but not horribly. It will double the effort or halve the effectiveness of the trump...).
"Trump is Order - the Reality of the Person. Sorcery is the Illusion, What We Wish Reality to Be. They do Not Blend Well. I will Make a Place Sketch after This and you can Observe Then."
"Thank you, most kind of you," he replies.
After a few minutes, Weyland asks "How important are the tools? Could a drawing or an etching be imbued with this trait? Or a statue? What are the boundaries of it, do you know?"
Brita nods although her focus is on her work. "I have Created a Successful Trump on Shell and Slate and have Painted Underwater. A Cousin Painted a Large Trump on a cave wall. I have Not Tried Other art forms -- My Skills do Not extend that far... Yet."
Weyland nods. "Hmm. It's very interesting. When I make art, I don't always like what I get the first time through. It might not always be wrong, but I thought of something I like better. Does the process work if you make mistakes, or intentionally diverge from strict representation?" He peers at her trump of herself, a work in progress. "Do your self-portraits change over time, as you change?"
"Well, they Change in the Sense of Dress, Composition, Perhaps even Looks," Brita flicks at the braid hanging over one shoulder. "But the Essence of the Person Does Not Change, per se. The Potential for All that they Could Be is Always There. The Artist Taps into That Possibility. At one Time, that might mean I have Blond Hair and am Clueless as to Sorcery; but at Another Time, I May be a Redhead with Mad Sorcerous Skills. The Potential is There." She grins.
"With your Art," Brita looks pointedly at the blade by Weyland's side, "do you Feel that Those Pieces you Do Not Like are What they Should Be? Maybe your Dislike is because you Wish Some Different Control over the ... Art. I can Wish that a Subject were More Unbending, More Caring, More Present, but the Trump will Only Be what it Must Be to Represent That Person, Otherwise it is Not a Trump. Have you Ever Made a blade that was Not a Blade?"
She cocks her head to the side, "Or a Blade that was not a blade?"
His hand falls to the pommel of his sword. Not threateningly, just reflexively. "I have failed to make a Pattern Sword, but only once. But when it was not the Blade I needed it to be, I destroyed it in the fire. There are blades I will not attempt, because I do not know the places they belong to, or their masters, well enough to make them, or I am concerned that I will be unable to separate myself from the sword at the end. There can never be a sword for the Pattern of Dworkin made by a creature of his creation, because the smith would necessarily be part of the blade."
"That makes Sense. Grandda is Hard to Know. I Cannot make a Trump of Someone I Have Not Studied Well," Brita notes. "Which Pattern were you Unable to Capture in a Pattern Sword, Master Weyland?" She has stopped painting and is looking directly at him.
He smiles and shakes his head. "Unless you are making a trump of me and need to know me well, I prefer not to dwell on my failings."
Weyland shifts where he sits. "Tell me more of your art. Are there people or places that you can't make a trump of?"
Brita's deadpan look still manages to clearly expresses her displeasure with recalcitrant elders. "Yes," she responds and goes back to her painting.
Weyland comes around behind Brita, watching her work. "Your brushstrokes are shorter now, is it because I have annoyed you?” He looks at her self-portrait. "And you're drawing yourself more harshly, as well. Is it who you are or who you, at this moment, wish to be?"
Brita does not roll her eyes. Honest. "It can Only Be if it Is Me. Perhaps My Berserker is Near the Fore, Un... Elder-Kin Weyland."
Weyland nods, absently. "Is she? How very interesting. Tell me, Brita, does it mean anything if two different trump portraits look different from each other, if both are true? If you paint yourself while cross, will you be subconsciously cross when contacted by someone over that trump?"
He returns to his perch on the corner of the desk. "I've always wondered if there is feedback to the subject from the image. It's one of the reasons I've avoided being a subject in the past."
Brita cocks her head to the side, "It is Always Just Me. A Trump of someone in Certain Attire does not Magically Force Them to be wearing That attire when you Use the Trump. It is the Same with the Differences of Facial Expression or Stance or Background or even Age. It Reaches You as you Are, Not as you Were or Could Be although All of That Makes the Person Real." She begins painting again as she notes, "The painting becomes a Trump when it Is the Subject - All that they Were, Are, and Could Be swirled Together. When Used, it Opens the Line to the Reality of the Subject but does Not Change them."
"Are you so static, then? Like an ancient insect, encased in Amber.
"Or," he drawls, holding it out as if he's thinking, "is it actually a part of the subject? We've all met primitive peoples who believe that part of the soul is taken when an image of them is created. Maybe they're more right than we think? What if it's not a conduit, but a contact?"
"Wow. You Listen as well as any Uncle," Brita shakes her head. "We are Not Static, but Real as others are Not. We have Potential to Be and That Is Captured in the Trump. It does Not Take from the Subject, though. I Do wonder if those tribes you speak of Think as they do Because, in Some History, they Saw a Trump In Use."
He sighs. "If you're not static than either something you are now was once not or something you once were is no more. How much change can happen before the subject is no longer the subject?"
Weyland shakes his head. "Let me put it another way. Can you reach Saeth using a trump of Aisling? Or Cleph with Borel’s?"
Brita gives Weyland a half smile and a shake of her head. "A River is Not Static, but it is Still the Same River. I can Not Reach Cousin Saeth through Cousin Aisling's Trump or cleph through Lord Borel's, just as I cannot Reach My Brother through My Mother's Trump. They are Separate Children no matter How they were Conceived. Can a Daughter Wield the Sword you Made for her Parent?"
Weyland looks surprised. "Well, yes, but I take your point." He sighs. "I'd ask you about Corwin, and when he was and wasn't reachable by Trump, but I think I understand your position clearly, so let's change the subject.
"If you made a trump of a person or a place that wasn't real, or that might be real but that you hadn't met or that you hadn't been to, what would happen?"
"Ask about Uncle Corwin Later; Perhaps my Answer will Change," Brita notes. "I Cannot make a Trump of One Unreal. Even for Partially Real it is Difficult... and Painful. For a Person I had Not Met or a Place I had Not Been, it would be Very Difficult to Make a Successful Trump. A Sketch Might be Possible, if the Description was Expansive."
Weyland leans back in his corner, out of sight of Brita, but reflected in her painting mirror. "You know the story of Brand and Martin, I presume? He painted a nephew he’d never seen, based on years of research."
Brita nods in agreement.
"Without getting into sophomoric 'is reality created or discovered?' I do wonder about place trumps. Assuming people are real, and can be connected to, what about places? One image could be identical to a thousand thousand shadows, could it not?"
"Shadow Places Could be Similar, but they are Not Identical. There Are Difficulties in Painting Shadow Because of Those Differences. Again, I must Know the Place to be able to Connect to It. I Believe One More Skilled than I could Paint a Place or Person with Less. Grandda, for Example, could Create Trumps with Much Less."
"Well, what I was thinking was that the part you see might be identical. There's only so much uniqueness on a 3 inch by 5 inch placard, if you take my meaning. You paint the back of a cave, for instance. Is there a bear in the front part or an onrushing tsunami, or is it dancing girls and a cake? All the things that control over the pattern actually controls. Even if none of them were there when you painted it, if there's no one there now, how does it know which possible version of the place you mean?" He waves at her painting. "Forgive me if these seem like obvious questions, but I'd like to understand the pattern realms better, and this does clarify things."
Brita actually stops painting for a minutes as she considers. She dips her brush in the paint and continues painting as she says, "Interesting Thought, Master Weyland. I Wonder if One Knows one Shadow and Another Knows a Variation of that Shadow would they Arrive in Different Places Using the Same Trump. We will Have to Experiment. Have You Used a Trump, Kin Weyland?"
Weyland nods. “I have; it was a bit disturbing. When you suggest the trumps know something, in what way do you think they are capable of knowledge? Like us? Or, at least like me?”
Brita looks startled for a second and then actually giggles. "Ah, No - You Misunderstood. If one Using the Trump Thinks of It as One Place but Another Person Sees a Different Place in the Same Trump will they Go to Different Places?"
"Ah, I see," he nods. "Good, some things need to be things. I've never understood how anyone in Chaos can get anything done, when their toothbrush will argue with them about if they've done a good job.
"Can blind people use trumps?"
"Another Good Question. I would Think that The Blind would Need something More Tactile or Evocative of Other Senses. Uncle Random's Queen would Perhaps be a Better Source of Answers. Working Trumps are Chill; I Wonder if She would Feel Different Sensations from Different Trumps - Different Echoes."
"I see. Yes, interesting. Do you know the queen well?" He leans back into his corner, watching Brita work.
"No. I Have Spoken to Her some, but Not in any Depth. Do You Know Her?", Brita appears distracted by something in the painting.
"No," he shakes his head. "No, I avoid royalty. I let them seek me out if they want something. Seeking them out is a way to have them ask you for things."
He shifts, scratching his back on the wall a bit. "No, if they really need me, they find me. How about you? You seemed happy enough as the long-distance agent, pretending to be a sellsword. Is that closer to your self-image than a creature of the court?"
"It is Not that I do not See Myself as a Creature of Court - it is that Certain Courts do not Fit My Image of Court. Uncle Random's Court is Closest to what I Know from my Home Shadow Asgard. Court There is Family and Fighting and Chaos," Brita cocks her head to the side in thought for a moment. "Ah, I Guess That Describes All of the Current Amber-Descended Courts as well - except Maybe the Chaos part."
"It's the Chaosian courts that are most ordered," Weyland agrees. "If only because everything in them is a part of the holder, whoever or whatever the holder is. It's always a relief to find someone else visiting because then you know you're not just talking to your host.
"What Deirdre said to me about Amber was that there was a lot of infighting but not so much visible sparring. Her father didn't think much of internecine bloodshed. As long as they kept it to words, he seemed to think it kept them sharp."
"Shadow Asgard was The Opposite - Less Verbal Sparring and More Physical Interplay. Swords were Kept Sharp. Only Uncle Loki maintained a Sharp Tongue," Brita notes. "The Chaos of Nanna Clarissa's Domain was Disconcerting at First, but More Understandable once you Know Her."
Weyland grins. "It has been a long time since I have seen your Nan. She was a young bride in Amber the last time I visited your Grandfather. Mind you, this was after she had become a great power in Chaos."
"She was Not Always?" Brita asks as she rubs absently at her left arm, getting a little smear of red paint on her blouse. "Who do You Hail From, Master Weyland?"
Weyland snorts. “Hah! The best question I have been asked in a generation. There were the two, the four, and the eight. I am the eighth. Our time was a golden age, but now gone beyond memory. Even beyond mine." His smile is wistful. "Some days I can tell you what my father had for lunch, 400 generations ago. Some days I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday. Memory is tricky; try not to depend on it."
Brita nods and says, "Muninn was Often Known to Steal the Seeds of Truth from Huginn in Grandda Odin's Realm. I was also not Always Sure he Spoke the Reality of what he Saw on his daily flights." She continues to paint in silence for a while, then says "Do You think We will Have to Destroy Shadow Gateway, Kin Weyland? If they are as Forthcoming as My Elders," and she gives him a look, "we may Never Know the Truth Behind Master Reid's Death."
“Hmmm. I am not as cavalier about it as some of the Blood are, but let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. What if you do? There’s another shadow nearly l ike it a half-breath away from you. There are too many to count, and no real wa y to tell if you cross paths with one a second time. If you leave a shadow, if you all leave that shadow, even for a moment, a million million things might hap pen. When you return, some did. If you hadn’t returned, would they have?
"If you just settle for the first place that you can't distinguish from the place you knew, is it the same or not?" He gets up to look at the trump in progress. "The paint is a bit thicker here, because you decided on a different placement for your arm. If you had two paintings, both identical, but on one you had put the arm just so in the first place, if you had two paintings that looked identical, but had an invisible difference, could they each be a true representation of you? They are different, but not in any way that matters."
"The Trumps may be Different, but Not in a Way that Matters," Brita echoes. "If Cousin Folly Makes a Trump of Me, it will Look Different, but it Is still Me." Brita doesn't have much more at this point. The esoteric discussions of Elders reminds her of celtic knots - circles in circles in circles.
Weyland agrees. "Yes, so now a question. You make choices when you paint a trump. You do certain things to try to make the trump like the person you're painting. So far, pretty standard painting technique. But you don't do everything you could, you don't use trompe l'oeil techniques to make it photorealistic. So, how close do you have to be? Can you make a trump that I would not recognize at you, but, since you do, is a working trump for you?
"I'm trying to see if you, or Dworkin or Brand, for that matter, could hide a trump in plain sight."
"Grandda - definitely. I Did not Know That Uncle, but Possibly. Me - Not Likely. Cousin Folly Could Paint a Trump You might Not Recognize, but I Paint Reality - what I Clearly See. I have Never been Able to See the Abstract Easily.”
"Hmmm. I may, one day, wish to engrave one on a blade. I have some ideas." He sits back, thinking for a moment.
"Come, come now gentlemen, it's time for business. Mustn't keep the Steward waiting." Master Cambric said, prepared to proffer the letter of introduction, cajoled from the Port Captain, to the officer sifting through the various visitors and applicants awaiting entry to the castle.
Any doubt as to his intentions towards business would be difficult to maintain upon even a cursory glance. Expensive silk finery was carefully supplemented with jewelry and other adornments as would befit someone with the trappings of wealth. A gold ring on each hand, a cloak of pristine ermine and clasped with silver and an exquisite orange gem, a thick belt pouch that jingled only slightly due to the number of coins it carried. Even the sword and dagger, ill-fitting they appeared, were well adorned and jewelled.
As he waited, seemingly impatiently patient, as the line was whittled slowly until he could offer the introduction properly, Jerod sifted his thoughts in the background carefully, letting none of it come to the fore of his thoughts, to be revealed on his face or in his demeanour. The placement of some of the Weir around the city to attack as needed on a sign from above, others to infiltrate the castle and await a similar call. The subtle shifts of reality planted previously, still there, still waiting for the nudge that Jerod can give them, if he needs to...to bring down the world, or merely to shake it. Weyland and Brita about their business, Raven as go-between, and all of it lynch-pinned on Master Cambric.
A stressful moment perhaps...
Master Cambric smiled. Stress creates tension, tension demands action, and action seeks opportunity. And this castle has much opportunity about it he thinks as he offers the document properly now.
Jerod is admitted, and led to a side office. "Greetings, Master Cambric, greetings! I am Zerbino, under steward to Lord Aymonde. He would greet you himself, were he not tied up with matters of state." Zerbino looks sad, in that way professional diplomats have of looking sad when they are supposed to look sad.
"We have heard of your arrival and, of course, your magnificent ship in our harbor. How may the garrison assist you?"
"Greetings Master Zerbino, you honour with your gracious introduction." Jerod says with a smile that one would only expect from a merchant. "I've come a long way to a land of opportunity and I find here in fact that it is I who may assist you, or more precisely, the powers that be for Gateway. On that note, I've come to request an audience."
Zerbino's smile matches Cambric's in every detail. "Of course, of course. His Lordship is eager for you to succeed, and has even expressed interest in meeting you. Naturally, the castle encourages trade, but we are, primarily, a defensive bulwark for the citizens who live here. I am given to understand that you are meeting with the port's traders already.
"How can we help you? What sort of audience do you desire?"
"I prefer to deal with those who are actually in charge. The Triumvirate." Jerod says simply.
His smile is a work of art--perfectly and precisely crafted to be the thing that it is. "I would be happy to send a letter of recommendation to the officers of the Chief Ministers. When do you think you will be going to the Gate?"
"Why would I go to the Gate when Dexamene is here?" Jerod asks, with a knowing smile, leaning in slightly. "Gold is not the only thing that opens doors. Knowledge, used wisely, buys far more than gold or trinkets ever can.
"That mage guide of mine was expensive, but provided good information. The Three are the ones who make the decisions here, and their influence is what I need to achieve my goals. I'm sure that influence is costly...but I can afford it...as can those whose interests I represent. I shall henceforth refer to them as my....Associates.
"Dexamene is the one who leads the Three. Klaya and Kranto are of no value without her. So I would speak with her, and make my proposal." he says, as he pulls out the ore chunk from the Port Captain, turning it idly in his palm.
He sticks out his lower lip. “Out of my control, my friend, even if your information wasn’t outdated.” It’s a smooth lie, but something about it isn’t right.
“But in any case, I am interested in that ore. Are you buying or selling that commodity? That’s a thing that might buy you an audience with the Governor."
Jerod looks at Zerbino a moment, a gaze that digs at one's expression, a flat effortless behaviour for Jerod that tells he knows a lie when he hears one, especially a bad lie. There is no deliberate threat, no sign of visible aggression, but there is a change in body mechanics, simple, subtle...the kind that one would see when a tiger decides that the prey it is looking at should no longer be ignored.
"Really...that's most...unfortunate. My Associates will not be...pleased." he says after a moment, then the mechanics shift again. The tiger still remembers the prey...but may have decided to wait...until later.
"My interest is in a the purchase of ore. As much as can be obtained."
He is somewhat distressed at the thought of your unpleased associates, but that doesn't stop him from replying.
"It sells for a good price in Gateway, Master Cambic. Quite a good price. Still, I suppose miners here might prefer to sell to you, if you set the price advantageously.
"You might not be the only one wanting it, though. How high a price are you willing to pay?”
"The issue is not price...the issue is how much do you have. My Associates are uninterested in...competition. It does not fit their desires. They prefer exclusivity. To acquire what they wish, and not something else...to deal with those who make the real decisions, and who hold real power." Jerod says. "I'm sure that anyone else who does not fit this description can be persuaded to...go away.
"As for those who decide to stand in the way of exclusivity....well, I'm sure they can be dealt with. One way...or another.
"What do you say to this, Master Zerbino? Do you believe in exclusivity?" Jerod asks, smiling the tiger's grin.
Zerbino recognizes that grin, but doesn't back down. "Yes, and on the other hand, no, Master Cambric. Yes and no. There are places where bat guano is used to make explosives. It is all well and good to control the guano market, but when the world goes to war, the man with exclusive rights to the guano may find himself suddenly dealing with the armed forces and their consideration of their own needs and his rights.
"If I am not making myself clear, there is a government interest in mountain copper. I hope they do not agree with your theories, or else we may not have any remaining for traders." He pauses. "You see why I wished to know if you were selling. I would that you were."
"Really? Now that is very interesting." Jerod says. "Just exactly what is their interest I wonder. Why the great need? Perhaps there might be a way of reaching an...accommodation?"
Zerbino doesn't look optimistic. "Well, as they say in Bellum, 'Nothing is impossible, to a man with infinite wealth.' What sort of accommodation do you have in mind, and why should it be considered?"
"They have a need for the copper you say. My Associates have a desire for it." Jerod says. "Logically, if the government's need could be met through some other means, then they would have no need for the copper.
"So the question becomes...why do they need it? What problem does its possession solve? Once that is known, another solution could be determined."
He seems cool to the question. “Other than your desire to know and to use that knowledge for your personal gain, why should we discuss it? Perhaps it is a matter of state, perhaps it is a matter of security..."
"Because if a problem of state or security can be solved, that is of great value." Jerod says. "It is an opportunity that cannot be bought with gold. And yes, of course there is personal gain. I gain and the state gains, or selected representatives of the state gain, it matters not in the end who gains so long as it is mutual...I'm curious as to what other outcome you think would be acceptable? One does not negotiate expecting to lose. Those who think that only one-sided trades are all that are desirable are fools."
He eyes Zerbino for a moment. "What could be a matter of state you'd be worried about I wonder? I'm wondering if those dockside rumors are true then, though I originally discounted them as being...well, unbelievable. One wouldn't expect Gateway to actively seek conflict with Amber after all. It's not usually conducive to survival. Though thankfully I'm blessed with Associates who are very good at ensuring survival...even under trying circumstances."
He focuses directly now on Zerbino. "Let's be reasonable shall we. I want access to the copper, and you've got a big problem I think...one that I can help with. We both gain, and in a relationship that requires each side to work with the other, instead of just being owned. Or...I suppose I could always wait. If the rumors are true, then it might just be easier to do that...until an army marches through here and turns it into a smoking hole in the ground on their way to the Gate. I suspect I wouldn't have to worry about competition for mining rights then."
Zerbino still isn't convinced, and it shows on his face. He doesn't think Master Cambric can deliver what he says. "You might, and you might not. Tell us more about these 'associates' of yours. Most people who think they can lightly deal with a threat from Amber are, at best, mistaken."
"My Associates were the ones who were really backing Huon." Jerod says simply. "Not the ones he actually bargained with however. Those were the front that Huon saw. They know the best way of avoiding the monster's wrath is to let someone else wake it up. Huon did that...and he'll pay the price.
"That's your first nugget. You want more? Want to avoid the wrath of the monster? Then we negotiate. Where's Dexamene?"
He nods. “I do want more. Here’s something for you. Dexamene is here, on official business, and it would be worth my skin to admit you to her without something more than stories.” He pauses. “I like my skin."
"Most people do." Jerod replies. "I've heard that the Triumvirate are...well, unconventional in comparison to Gateway standards was I believe my contact said.
"Next nugget. Amber is seriously pissed. A business contact of mine deals with a lawyer who is well connected with the merchant houses warned me to keep a low profile in some dealings there. Enough rumors have gone around that say that Gateway, meaning the Triumvirate and Huon, did something to a young lord that was sufficient to have every Prince be ready to march on Gateway and smash it to rubble. There was apparently even talk of joining together to do it. I can only imagine what must have been done to this youngling to get them to work together. They're practically like the mages of this place...like herding cats I believe the phrase was."
He nods. "Assume we know all that." Jerod thinks he may not have, but he's trained not to tell more than he has to.
"What do your contacts think they have to offer in such a case? And what do they want for whatever aid they think they can offer us?"
Jerod smiles, the smile that tells others that he is glad to have confirmed their lack of knowledge.
"My Associates have a way to rid yourself of an unfortunate irritant...one that, if Gateway does not divest itself of...will likely result in...now, what was the phrase I heard used?" Jerod muses. "Ah yes, something about salting the barren ground upon which Gateway once stood.
"Amber isn't interested in Gateway...they're interested in the Triumvirate. So are my Associates, for different reasons. An arrangement can be made I think...for the mutual benefit of all. Well, maybe not for a certain trio, but that majority will most certainly benefit."
He nods, not unsympathetically. "That’s enough for today, then, Master Cambric. Please return tomorrow at the same time and I will either introduce you to my master, or have you arrested for treason, whichever he prefers."
"My Associates look forward to your master's answer." Jerod replies. "Let us hope he makes the right one."
Zerbino smiles. "He will. He always does."
[OOC: End of this one. Do you have other things to do (with Brita, Weyland, or Raven, or just in the city? Or are you back here immediately, tomorrow?)]
He'll be back tomorrow, but in the interim, he goes about his business in the city, being Master Cambric. That gives Raven a chance to catch up and learn what's going on, which means that others can then be brought up to speed through the power of Amber osmotic gossip.
He'll also keep a deliberate eye out for the surveillance. Before it was possible that surveillance might occur, now it's a foregone conclusion.
As for what anyone monitoring Master Cambric will find is that he's still digging into the ore situation, only now he looking to see who is doing the work, how much are they digging up, what price are they paying, who is delivering it, who is working it. And for those with knowledge, he's not shy with his gold. Jerod takes care not to pull too much out of his pouches as to make people wondering whether he's got a bottomless bag of gold, but beyond that, he digs.
Raven leaves her ship in the capable hands of her crew, after a quiet word to her officers to be ready to defend or get away on short notice. Possibly very short notice. Possibly even "the docks are on fire and we have to get the hell out of here right now" notice. (Again.)
Then she starts wandering. She has a very long list of random goods that could possibly be needed by a fussy merchant and enough money in her pocket to cover a few of them. She stops to consult the list every now and then, ducking into the appropriate shops and browsing the goods.
What she's actually doing, though, is looking for barracks and soldiers. And if she can't find either of those, the places that the less reputable characters she can see stay far, far away from.
And gossip. Gossip is always good.
Raven finds goods, information, and gossip in town.
Soldiers drink. The barracks are in the castle, or so Raven is told. But the soldiers don't stay there all the time. The taverns nearest the castle specialize in the custom of soldiers-- and recruiting sergeants.
The biggest piece of gossip is the expectation of war with Amber. Most people here hope they just come in, burn the capitol, and leave. They don't seem to care much if the capitol burns.
Raven definitely takes note of the recruiting sergeants. She's got a whole ship full of potential 'new recruits'. She will keep an ear out for where else the soldiers go than the usual places that bored soldiers go, although she won't ask after it quite yet.
While she has some pretty good ideas why they might be expecting war with Amber... Raven will definitely ask why. After all, Captain Beam would be interested in such a thing; it could affect the good captain's employer. Also, why they don't care if the capitol burns - although if all that can be picked up there is, "At least it wouldn't be us burning," she's not going to look into it farther.
The answer to the question of why they're willing to let the capitol burn is two-fold. First, there is a fair amount of "better them than us". But second, and equally importantly, there's a sense among the local military that they're to be used as cannon fodder by the Triumvirate in a war that they didn't choose and have no interest in. Nobody quite voices the idea that they'd rather have the older government back or anything quite that rebellious, but why does the Triumvirate have to pick a fight with Amber? It's not like the Collegium ever went to war against Amber.
Huh. Well, that's at least worth passing on to the rest of the group, and Raven mentally files it away as such.
To find out where else the soldiers go, Raven is going to have to ask, discreetly.
Looking specifically at soldiers who would be of roughly the same level of officer/minor officer/grunt that Raven has been in Amber's navy - are there specific taverns they're frequenting? How much associating with outsiders are they doing?
The officers seem to prefer a relatively upscale pub called the Seven of Wands. They keep themselves to themselves, for the most part. Not in a back room or anything, but they seem to sit in several groups, not mixing with either outsiders or persons outside the guard (exception: servers, who don't sit with them, but seem to be familiar, and flirt with them).
When they leave for the night, do they do it en masse, or piecemeal to where she might be able to chat up a small group of two or three?
They leave in small groups, mostly. It would be easy to pick up a pair or trio that is heading out.
What's the general disposition of the servers towards them - the same level of familiar, or do they seem to be kind of... tolerating it?
It's a mix, and it depends on the officer in question more than anything else. The staff ranges from professionally flirtatious to barely tolerant to actively participating. There's not a lot of tension between the groups, even if there is tension between a few individuals.
When Raven spots a pair that seemed fairly friendly with the servers leaving, she'll settle up her own bill - with a generous but not remarkably generous extra coin for the server - and follow.
A little distance from the bar, she hurries to catch up. "Begging your pardon," she calls out. "I think you dropped this when you were settling up."
She holds out a few coins - not so much that a soldier wouldn't be carrying it at the end of a night out, but just enough that most people won't turn down having it returned.
The wider of the two soldiers snorts and holds out his hand. "Thank you, my man." He's softer than a soldier would be, if he were actually a fighter. This one looks like he doesn't fight by preference. He makes to turn away.
"Of course." Raven starts to turn, pauses, and turns back. "Actually, could I bother you with a question, sir? I hate to be a bother, but I'm stuck in town waiting on my bloody boss to finish up, and I ain't familiar with these parts. You don't happen to know where I might find some lads that'll be friendly enough to an ex-Navy man like myself?" She snorts. "Friendly, and that ain't going to roll me in a gutter for my purse before the dawn?"
The soldier laughs. "I can tell you some places to stay out of, like the Mercury Room or the Vapor House." His partner nods.
The other one agrees. "Bunch of angry hedge wizards there. We stick to our part of town, here. Close to the fort. Sailors generally stay dockside. If we didn't have to get back, we'd take you back into Lir's Head here, and let Charlie slowly drain your purse by having you buy us drinks, as a Navy man should do for the Army."
His partner laughs. "But duty calls. We've a watch to stand oursels', so we're off. Get a room from Charlie, he's as honest as a tavern keep can be."
"Yes," says the first one. "So count your change."
They make to leave. They don't seem to be on any kind of a war footing, but more like construction foremen or something. They're not very intimidating.
Raven snorts. "Find me another night, then, and we'll see if Army men still lose their money to Navy men as fast as they used to. Then I can pay for my drinks with your money. Catch your names before you head on your way?"
He looks skeptical, and his friend is smiling. "Ask for Captain Flange or Lt. Dogson when you're ready to lose some money. And whose money would we be taking?"
"Captain Beam," Raven supplies, with a grin. "Have a quiet watch, lads."
She'll let them go then. That's a trail to follow up another night, to see if that's an in with the officers or not.
For now - angry hedge wizards? Not that sticking her head into a hive of them sounds like fun, but it bears looking into. So she'll head for the nearest of the two places her new 'friends' mentioned to see what there is to see there.
The vapor house is something more than just a tavern. The front part looks like a respectable bar, but there's a back part that they don't allow anyone into. At least not strangers. Customers appear to be wizards, and they seem to be a rough crowd.
"You pick very interesting establishments to frequent, Captain Beam." Jerod says as he approaches, his voice slowly dropping as he gets closer. "I trust all is well."
Raven snorts. "Aye, well enough. Found a few of the things we were looking for, but some of my soon-to-be friends said this place might be interesting. Figured I'd come look. How's the business part going?"
"It's going quite well. I've made some inroads with the local lord in fact." Jerod says normally, his voice then dropping much lower once he gets within quiet-mode range. "Either I'll meet him tomorrow concerning an offer I made or they'll have me arrested for treason."
His next words are quiet, his lips barely moving to defeat observers who can lip read. "Pass the word to the rest of the crew. Have them on their guard. Assume the ship is being watched. Have the Weir depart surreptitiously so they can be infiltrated before my potential arrest occurs. Make sure our favorite nordic cousin is also made aware of the situation, along with our ally. If things go to hell quick I'll be pulling the plug and going after Dexamene. Which means a lot of damage is going to happen real fast. If they accept my offer, then we won't need it. I'm portraying myself as an advanced agent for a group that was behind whomever was fronting Huon. They're my Associates, in case you need to mention it in passing for cover work. Don't embellish too much - they're secretive, lots of resources and want a foothold in Gateway and the mountain copper is all Captain Beam would probably know."
He motions to the vapor house. "What's up here?"
"Interesting people," Raven says dryly. "Or so I was told."
She lowers her voice further, making a similar effort to keep her voice low and her words difficult to read. "Found the recruiters, so that should be easy enough. Barracks are in the castle. The locals ain't happy with these three. They figure they're in for a war with Amber, and they're mostly hoping Amber is nice about it. Local military figures they're cannon fodder for that, and nobody likes that. Figured I'd see if I can't make some friends and see how deep that goes." She snorts. "And this place, the soldiers say, is full of 'angry hedge wizards.' Ain't sure what that means yet, which is why I'm here."
Jerod frowns. "Angry hedge wizards are usually to be avoided unless you have an introduction." he says. "And a very big stick. What are you looking to obtain from them?"
Raven gives him a flat look. "Well, I thought the best thing to do would be to run in, grab one, shake 'em, and shout, 'Why are you angry and would you like to commit treason?'" she says dryly. "But a big stick might make it easier to get away after." She snorts. "I'm looking to see what they're about and if there's even half a chance they might be useful for us. Looking. Not poking the beehive with a stick. I ain't stupid. Or crazy."
"I've always found poking the beehive to be a favored behaviour of our Uncles." Jerod replies drily. "Remind me to tell you some time about my dad and a diplomatic envoy from Begma. It was quite amusing...at least until the envoy's daughter got brought into the picture and then it went to hell real fast... Dad's fault on that part.
"Assuming you can get something, it certainly wouldn't hurt to see how much they like or dislike Dexamene. Wizards being like cats, they don't tend to get along, and the whole 'lording it over each other' can get on their nerves I'd guess. I'd guess most of them probably don't have much connection to the Triumvirate, but you never know."
Raven snorts. "Ma made sure I knew every girl was somebody's daughter, and that I'd best be sure I knew whose so things didn't get as far as hell. Pretty sure that don't apply just to sailors.
"Anyway, that's about the size of it. I figured, either they know something or they might work with us." She shrugs. "Or get pointed so they'll be a help, if we can get ahold of whatever they like as much as cats like fish. Or make enough of a mess to hide us leaving."
Jerod nods. "Chaos has its uses." he says. "Do you require backup or shall I leave you to it?"
"Should I have backup just for looking?" Raven asks warily. "Seeing as how I think you know pretty much everything I know about magical sorts of thing."
"Backup is offered if it is wanted." Jerod replies. "If you don't think you need it, that's fine. As for what I know about magic or sorcery, it's not whether I can cast a spell...it's whether I can make their magic not work that I look at."
"Problem is, not sure I know enough to know if I need backup." Raven shrugs. "I mean, I can go by 'if it gets weird, leave,' but seems like I ought to have a better plan than that by now."
"If your objective is simply to figure out whether those inside are amenable to supporting us, or perhaps hate the government enough to want to dump it for the *good ole days*, then backup is generally unneeded." Jerod says. "You're not looking for a fight and if you displease someone, since they are not the local authorities, you simply beat a hasty retreat. It's different with me...I made a deliberate pitch. If the local lord decides he doesn't like me, I'm prepared to jump straight to the whole 'lay waste to everything' part. Mine to own, as it were.
"If you find out more stuff to pursue, then you work it out on the fly. Opportunism and all that. You are Family after all." and he smiles.
"And that's why I was figuring that any backup wouldn't be you, yet." Raven snorts. "The local lord thing. Ain't really got a problem with the guy willing to lay waste to everything being my backup unless he's insane or not actually on my side. Speaking of - the other gent in our group. Is he 'don't let him wander off by himself' untrustworthy, or just 'don't let him get in the way of anything important'?"
"Weyland?" Jerod asks. "He's way beyond either of those. I doubt you've heard of him, though our uncles know quite a bit about him. He's Weyland the Smith, and he is true to his name. He can make you anything you want. As an example he forged Grayswandir and Werewindle.
"We're not in his league, at least from that perspective and we should remember that. Corwin offered to make a deal for me to get a blade from Weyland, and he said he'd make sure it didn't come with too many strings attached. The feeling I got was that he'd approach him as something of an equal...a request, not a command."
Jerod does a brief casual look around before continuing. "Every shadow of importance has a story about Weyland in some form or another. His weapons are unique, magnificent to behold, and they all come with a price.
"Is he here for Marius and vengeance? Wouldn't be surprised if he was...but he's from the other end of the spectrum as it were...Chaos vs Order and all that. I would also not be surprised if he had other elements to his agenda for being here. Whether we need to be concerned is another matter. We all have agendas after all - doesn't mean they're bad....unless they are of course.
"If he decides to wander off, you can always ask after him...out of concern of course...whether he might want some help or to ask what he's up to. As for not letting him get in the way, I'm not sure you'd want to get in his way. I'm good in a fight...and I'm not sure I'd want to get in his way."
Raven blinks a couple of times. "Do not poke with stick - got it. I was thinking more 'how little should he know about things we're up to' than 'do you think it's a good idea to punch him.' Which it sounds like it ain't going to matter, because if he wants to know, he's probably going to find out. Right?"
"I think he is a useful ally to have around." Jerod says. "Treat him like you would any Family..." and he frowns. "...which I'm sure will require some more explanation on my part in the near future since you're probably not used to the ins and outs of Family gossip and the rules of etiquette.
"Think of it this way. So far he's useful and he's protected us. He knows who we are, hasn't ratted us out and he's got an agenda that generally fits with ours. I'd say keep him up to date on what we're doing, but don't tell him anything specific about Amber or Xanadu. You already know not to do anything like reveal state secrets so I won't bother going there.
"And if he does actually ask you a question that you think might be wise to answer, you can always answer...just be sure to ask a question in return. Family trade information...it's our coin. You can always decline to ask for the moment, though you may never be sure to be able to ask again in the future."
"...Right." Raven makes a face. "Aye. You should tell me more about that later. Because that ain't exactly how I learned to deal with..." There's a half-second of pause before she finishes with, "us. And by the sounds of it, I probably shouldn't've just told him that I helped Marius get away."
After they have left Celina Ossian asks Silhouette "Have you walked up the Faiella-Bionin? Because if you haven't, I suggest we start with that."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "No, I have not. Most of my travel here has been through Trump." She extends her hand, "I put myself in your hands."
Ossian takes her hand, and they leave the city. On the way up Ossian tells Silhouette about all the strange things that have happened along the stairway. Although he is an excellent storyteller she might get the feeling that he exaggerates a bit.
GMs? I guess they need to stay the night in that creepy cave. Does anything happen on the way up?
Both Silhouette and Ossian have creepy dreams but nobody gets a manifestation. The night passes otherwise without incident. Ossian and Silhouette have the option of a brief summary check-in with Corwin or possibly threading with Folly and/or Conner (given OOC time constraints). What would Ossian and Sil like to do?
I'm fine with summary... Olof, anything you'd like to do? Summary and then off to the Green?
Summary sounds great. Does Corwin have anything to say? Any advice on raising armies in Shadow?
Yeah, Corwin has quite a bit of technical advice about how to do it. Both in terms of using the Pattern to actually raise an army and in using the Shadows to lie for you to get a better presentation. Ossian has more experience with the Pattern, which is still not a lot, but Sil could also make a creditable military leader. Neither of them is going to be great with it, not yet, and Corwin can only tell, not show, in Paris.
But you've got to start somewhere.
When Ossian and Silhouette are done with Corwin, Ossian asks "I guess we are still going with a smaller number of warriors? I wonder if we could find people keen on getting revenge on the monks?"
"They've undoubtedly harmed people in their time," Silhouette nods. "Hatred is a wonderful motivator."
She considers this for a moment, "Can your use of Pattern find people of such inclinations?"
"I don't know. We could walk to areas where they are likely to be found, I guess. Of course, that is also areas close to the monks..."
"Then I suggest we be wary," Silhouette says, smiling. She seems to be enjoying this - although, it's difficult to tell when/if she enjoys much of anything.
"Can I lend you my Power with this Walk... or is it a solitary endeavor?"
"We can take turns. In the beginning you can help by doing some of the less subtle work." Ossian says.
"That will be good practice for you. And I will be less exhausted. When it gets more subtle, I guess I will have to take a bigger part of the shifting. Besides, you are better at taking care of any sorcery we encounter."
"I'll let you choose where we stop for the evening," Silhouette says with a wry grin. "I suspect my choices will be too spartan for your liking."
She pauses, thinking. "Shall we locate some transportation? Be it animal or mechanical?"
"Ah. I always preferred the animals. But mechanical is good, considering where we're going. " He holds out an arm. "Not yellow," he adds.
Silhouette takes his hand, lacing their fingers together. "Yes. If the mechanical fails us, we can always find something decidedly more... equine."
She glances ahead of them, letting her newly acquired instincts to guide them forward.
Ossian squeezes her hand and smiles. "Don't forget smells. And sounds"
What vehicle does she find?
Silhouette leads them away from the bustle of the city into a more rural environment. The seasons shift slightly from late summer to autumn - the world turning from greens to dull orange and reds over time. The buildings thin out until they are more sporadic and distant. Wheat and corn fields become more prevalent, eventually hidden behind thin lines of wind-break trees. The road itself remains the solitary constant, paved and smooth, allowing for a leisurely walk.
As they round a corner, they find an old open-back, six wheeler - some kind of military truck converted to more domestic means. It's the kind of vehicle that could be driven into the ground a hundred times and still have life left in it. Ugly as sin, but reliable. Crates of various goods line the tarp-covered back.
Silhouette breathes out slowly. "If I'm correct, the keys should be somewhere under the front seat."
Ossian nods. "Practical." He brushes away the worst dirt from both the driver and the passenger seat with his hand, and locates the keys. "Shall I drive, while you bring us closer to the monks?"
"That'd probably be for the best," she says, climbing up into the passenger's side. "Are we headed somewhere specific, or simply seeking them out?"
"We want to miss them with only a little bit, remember. To find their enemies. Our to-be allies." Ossian says, before he starts the car he kneels down and feels the ground.
"See if you can change the road first. Concrete. Softer than here, with a tinge of cobalt."
Silhouette nods, "Of course." She concentrates on the upcoming road, changing the consistency of the tarmac. The painted lines also change, shifting from deep yellow to an umber. A slight smile curls her lips, "This is a profound experience."
Ossian grins. "Just for the exercise, I will make some changes too. See if you can see what I do? We do not want to work in different directions in a tight spot."
Then the road signs start to change, from very stylized to more detailed symbols.
It takes Silhouette a moment to readjust her conceptualizations, but soon enough the signs begin to incorporate Latin symbols and words into their descriptions.
"Do all changes need to be this subtle, or can then be far more profound? Or does that cause disruptions?"
"You can make larger changes. But as Bleys would say: Then you probably change more than one variable at a time. Which is dangerous."
"It is of course a matter of style too. I go for precision. " Ossian says.
Precision is Silhouette's bread and butter, so this suits her quite well. She keeps adjusting Shadow slowly, surely, guiding them toward their goal - to find a realm close to the Enemies of their Enemy.
Finally, up ahead, the shape of a vehicle comes into view. The first they've encountered on the road since they began.
Silhouette relaxes her thoughts, letting the world become one with them.
For Silhouette, the following would drive her Shadow-walk:
(1) The Klybesians at large and as a whole. People who have been harmed in someway by their operations. However, she'd want somewhere close to Greenwood, if at all possible - since that's the ultimate goal.
Ossian will try to guide them close to Greenwood, but not quite there.
(2) Silhouette hopes for a regimented organization/culture who are looking for a 'savior' from the oppressive Klybesians... the Second Coming to lift them out of darkness.
Ossian and Silhouette take a while to work out how to do the travel and shadow-walk thing. It's easier for one of them to drive (mostly Ossian, apparently) and the other to shadow navigate. Several days of transit along roads leads them to an increasingly dry and windy set of Shadows where they can see handsome train tracks and elegant automobiles driven by olive-skinned men and women. Silhouette thinks they might have some form of internal combustion, but it may also be a magitech hybrid.
There are Klybesian symbols on the buildings, and Ossian thinks they may have arrived.
"So now we have to find the rebels. First some risk assessment, I guess. I see no guns, but they should be here. Sorcery?"
"It is definitely a possibility," Silhouette says. "I would require a closer look at their machinery to determine that, however. I believe that would be worth the time."
Silhouette executes a simple experiment, and then another. It takes longer than she expected, but eventually she comes to an inescapable conclusion. Something has affected the magic of this shadow. It is drained or diverted or tied up somehow. Or else it was artificially high before and that prop has been removed.
For a people who look as if they are handy in a war, they don't seem to actually have an army, and the civic authorities seem to be related to the local centers of worship.
Silhouette pinches the bridge of her nose, feeling drained from the experience. "The shadow has been altered in a fashion I cannot determine, but the normal flow of magic is... disrupted. A most unpleasant sensation."
She turns to her companion, "That may be our key to this realm. Perhaps as liberators. Offering them access to their old ways."
Ossian nods "We can provide them with ways of getting to their oppressors. What could disrupt the flow of magic? Is it concentrated somewhere?
"That sounds dangerous." he adds with a grin, as if it was something positive.
Silhouette shakes her head, "As the effect is so diffused and wide-reaching, it would be next to impossible for me to determine a centralized locus. I do know of methods of suppressing or channeling mana, but in a more limited area. Obviously, our Adversary has acquired some method to do so on a grand scale."
She glances out the window, observing the world and its people. "If we could unshackle them from this, I suspect they would be exceedingly grateful. I suggest we find a leader or religious authority. They may be able to assist us to that end."
Her eyes scan the buildings for any architecture that would suggest a civic or religious center.
"Maybe the non-official religion." Ossian says. "The Klybesians are likely running the main churches. But let's have a look."
Ossian leads them around a corner. There is a big church. How Klybesian does it look?
Not at all like the churches either Silhouette or Ossian has seen in Paris or in Abford. The design of those has generally been cruciform with tall roofs, a single tower, and in the case of older, larger Parisian churches, reinforcing buttresses. This building is shorter, appears to be more of a square or rectangle than a cross, and instead of a single tower, has two domed towers at corners on the front.
However, there are symbols in front of the temple and some of them remind Ossian of the Klybesians. The building is busy and seems to be the seat of government, the town square, and a schoolyard all wrapped into one.
There is a young priest or functionary of some sort near the door. He doesn't look like a monk.
"He looks like a candidate for conversation... and conversion, perhaps," Silhouette says. "I defer to you, though. Your personality is generally less...off-putting... than mine."
"I am not sure all our cousins would agree." Ossian says with a grin. "But I will try. This church might be a bit too tied to the government, so I will try to be careful. Also, look at those two symbols. Very close to ones I saw in their monastery."
Ossian, with experience of architecture and stone work, tries to see if the temple has been added to, or if all the design is original. (For instance - were those symbols there from the beginning?)
Silhouette follows his gaze, examining and memorizing the symbols. She is also learned in architectural language and symbology, However, her specialization is more in military application, so her observations lean more toward recent improvements and alterations, rather than social aspects.
It looks to Ossian and Silhouette as though the building went through an upgrade of some kind a while ago: long enough that the new work and decorations has had time to age in, to lose the fresh newness and need a bit of a touchup. Perhaps a decade or more. Some of the carvings date from that recent upgrade, but many are original to the building. Others may have been smoothed over or removed from the building.
Silhouette might guess that in the aftermath of a war, someone redecorated the building in the style of the victors, which was close enough to the style of the defeated that they didn't need to tear the whole building down to make the point, just alter things to suit the taste of the victors.
"The Laws of Progress have been employed here," she says, trying to hide the respect in her voice. She may have matured her philosophies regarding the Grand Design, but cannot help but appreciate observing their principles practiced. "I suspect that these people will have hidden old relics or items from prior to their defeat somewhere inside. If we see signs of the silent rebellion, we'll have found our allies."
Ossian nods. "This is a good place. Shall we be 'honest' and tell them we are travellers from afar, curious about their customs and traditions?"
"I believe that would be the best opinion," Silhouette says, ascending the steps. "I am sure they will be interested in sharing their history with us. And from there, we can determine if there is more to be had from them."
After the Trump contact fades, Brennan takes some time to enjoy the river trout he caught and cooked while talking to Fiona and to let the vestiges of Order and Trump contacts fade from his mind. By the time he's finished his meal it should easily be full dark, and he will be ready for the first of two small workings he wants to perform.
The first is simple-- using principles of Space, he makes a brute force approximation to clairvoyance, giving his vision the benefit of elevation and mobility. He will add a twist of Entropy if necessary to boost the light levels, since it is full dark. What he's looking for is entirely prosaic: Brennan suspects that Cledwin, his mission accomplished as far as he knows, will be making good time back to Methrynsport. At the very least, he probably started out that way. It's possible, although not likely without magical support, that he knows how things ultimately turned out. But he doesn't have that much of a lead. Brennan is willing to spend some time on this, up to a watch, scouting ahead along likely routes, looking for Cledwin.
Not for the first time, he laments the loss of Skiaza. This would be much simpler if he still had his affine and could tell it to "fetch."
Not only is it easy to tell where Cledwin is going, it's easy to tell where he's been. The small country holdings, each a clan's worth of Methrynites of one family or another, are uniformly preparing for some sort of an attack from up the hill. It’s unclear with the tools he has if they’re expecting Corsairs or Parnassians.
Stirring up all the forts has the added advantage of delaying pursuit. Getting through those folks will take some time.
Cledwin is more than halfway back to the port, and probably no more than two days hard ride.
How unfortunate for Cledwin, then, that Brennan learned the Principle of Time from no less than Clarissa herself. But as long as they are planning defense rather than offense, there's no immediate cause for concern.
With these weapons, it's not that different.
But before Brennan moves decisively in any direction, there's one more thing he wants to do, something he's wanted to do for months to satisfy his curiosity and never had the right opportunity. He opens his third eye fully to Astral sight through the clairvoyance, and adds altitude. He wants to see if he can detect those ley lines that the Annais on the Isle of Apples mentioned, and Astral vision seems as good a way as any to go about it. If he does manage to see any, then on a hunch he'll look back toward Montparnasse to see if any converge there. What else he might plan to do with what he learns, even Brennan isn't sure. Maybe nothing-- it's purely curiosity.
It's shadow magic, so it's faint. It doesn't burn like something real, but Brennan has recently spent time detecting the faint traces of the Faiella Bionin in Rebma, so he's in practice.
As expected several lines do converge there. One runs through Methrynsport. Brennan suspects that another runs to Avalon and the third to somewhere in in the far north.
Interesting. Brennan further suspects that several lines will intersect at Avalon proper-- the castle, not just the island-- and, depending on whether they run over the sea or under it, somewhere in the vicinity of the sunken Silver Towers. He idly wonders if, aside from those locations of obvious metaphysical significance, settlements tend to grow up on or near them, or if settlements tend to avoid them. But this is, alas, not the time to pursue those notions. He more than idly wonders if they could be used for communication or conveyance, by someone sufficiently knowledgeable.... especially since the corsairs are coming out of the North.
How well do they follow the terrain? Do they seem to meander with the land in whatever fashion, or are they arrow straight?
It’s hard to say how precisely straight they are, although they ignore terrain completely...
And there may be no good way to tell, but if there is a Line from Montparnasse to Methrynsport, and Cledwin is travelling between those two points... how well does his progress track the Line?
His progress tracks to the road, which tracks to the settlements, which track to available resources. Sometimes the resource is minerals, or farmland. In some cases it might be magic energy.
Okay, Brennan has indulged his curiosity enough for now. Time to return to practical matters. He tends to his horse and his campsite, then lets himself sleep to rest and refresh himself. He doesn't sleep the whole night, but hopefully at least half of it-- he is still up well before dawn. When he wakes, he continues his clairvoyant scrutiny, but now he has a goal-- he knows where Cledwin started out, he knows where he's going, and he has a good indication of what his path has been and what roads he's been using. What he is looking for is some likely position along Cledwin's route that Brennan can put himself to intercept the man.
To err on the side of safety, Brennan is looking for somewhere: Generally in no-man's land, or at least far enough away from a hold or a keep that he's not going to trigger some armed response; at least a watch, preferably several, ahead of where Brennan thinks Cledwin is roughly right now; ideally somewhere Cledwin would be encouraged to hew close to the road in order to keep his pace-- if the road cuts through rough terrain, hills, or woods that would otherwise slow Cledwin down, that would be the sort of thing Brennan is thinking of. Those conditions are in order of decreasing importance. Brennan is familiar with the land from having passed through (with Cledwin!) on the way in, and he makes use of that knowledge and his overhead view while looking for a good spot.
Assuming he finds such a spot, he performs a working of Space. He doesn't need or want to leave Methyrn's Isle, physically or Shadow-wise, so hopefully there is no need to Part the Veil in all that technique's metaphysical violence. Instead, he works a paradox that is local to the particular Shadow of Methryn's Isle, forcing a continuity of location between two collections of points that are entirely discontinuous in real space... just long enough for he and his horse to walk through.
Brennan manages it. He finds that he has to concentrate on it extensively and that he can just manage it without it collapsing. Perhaps he is too close to the pattern.
Brennan arrives at a spot overlooking the pass that leads into the valley of Methrynsport. It's a day or more's ride into the port town, and the valley is used for sheep and other grazing beasts. The pass is basically the only way in or out of the valley, and he can use it to set up an admirable ambush.
It seems odd to Brennan that the spot is not already used as a sentry point.
There are many possible explanations for that-- Brennan ticks them off mentally, as he considers: There could be an even better spot somewhere nearby. Or this could be such a good ambush point, that's what other people are using it for. Or they're using magic and don't need the terrain advantage. Or this is a sentry point and the sentries are, for whatever reason, gone. Some of those are more troubling than others, but it's the last one that seems most likely and most troubling.
If Brennan's understanding of the geography is accurate, he should have about a day before Cledwin comes through here. He doesn't take anywhere near that length of time doing it, but Brennan was going to have to scout and survey the area anyway in preparation. Now he just has something else to be on the lookout for-- signs of sentries, either that have been removed, or withdrawn, or that are active in the area and pursuing their own goals. That includes scanning the horizon, Methrynsportward, looking for columns of smoke.
Brennan surveys the area. In the valley near to the great port, there are farmers working the fields, and there don't seem to be any sentries or watchers. Brennan would tentatively consider the valley "peaceful", with all that that implied. Closer to the pass than the farmland are trees, and it looks like they may be reserved for shipbuilding, which is a major industry for Methrynsport.
It's a good way through the pass before the lands to the northwest become useful for anything. This high up, it's mostly sheep, and it's hard to tell if they're wild or someone's livelihood.
Brennan's got the distinct impression that he's missing something, somewhere, because this level of peace and laxity is utterly at odds with what he's come to expect from Avalon. But if there's no sign of the expected sentries having been removed by, or in response to, some other nearby violence, then there's not much to do about it. He gets back to his original purpose of ruining Cledwin's day.
He returns to the pass and if possible sets up an ambush. Ideally, if there is a spot where the pass takes a blind curve, Brennan will try to put an obstruction there-- felled tree, fallen rocks, something in that venue depending on the exact nature of the terrain. Then, a very nearby place of concealment. The general idea is simple-- when Cledwin comes through the pass, he'll round the corner and confront the obstruction, and Brennan will step out behind him. The obstruction need not be total, nor insurmountable. Just enough that Brennan can force a confrontation without chasing him all over creation, because he's just not in the mood for that. Enough of an obstruction that Cledwin will either have to go through Brennan, or through the obstruction before Brennan clobbers him.
Not for the first time, Brennan wishes he had Sir Dignity with him. This would require a lot less manual labor and/or sorcery.
The ambush is set. Brennan will be at one end, and downed trees will be at the other.
Brennan waits for Cledwin's arrival and arrive he does. He's later than Brennan would've thought and less alone.
Cledwin has a companion, both of them are on horseback. The other man seems young. He's armed and alert.
Cledwin's hands are tied, and the other man is leading his horse.
Brennan lets them step into the ambush before stepping out behind them. His weapons aren't drawn, but he makes no attempt to appear harmless. Merely not-overtly-threatening-yet.
"What'd he do to p1ss you off?" he asks, once they've stopped to assess their situation. His tone indicates that he is not altogether surprised that Cledwin has irritated someone else.
"Why, he makes me most happy, my man. He's my captive, and I know where to ransom him dearly." He pauses. "If you are his kin, I could be persuaded to drop my claim, for the right price."
Does the young man have any identifying marks? Distinctive dress, insignias of local forces, anything that Brennan might recognize?
"Uniforms" are a part of warfare that Benedict has not brought to this island, as yet. He is either a bounty hunter, or a young blade of the gentry or the minor nobility, who is hunting bounties as a hobby.
The young man makes sure that Brennan can see that he is armed.
Brennan does the courtesy of noticing the other man's weapons, although not commenting on them, to spare them both the burden of excessive posturing. He also takes a closer look at Cledwin-- How is he taking this most recent development in his roller-coaster career? And how does the Avalonian treatment of captives apply here? How well is Cledwin bound, and did the man take his weapons away? Does it look like he put up a fight prior to his captivity?
"We might come to an agreement," he says. "Depends how much you're asking, for a start. And who I'm dealing with."
Cledwin has lost a fight, and been treated. The rope seems almost nominal and Cledwin is armed. He doesn't seem to be making any preparations to flee, though.
"I am Sessile," say the young man. "Of Avalon. My prisoner, Cledwin, is wanted by a merchant captain that he tricked most unnobly out of a sum of gold in the northlands. However the reward is not large, and I would turn him over to you for fifty Protectors."
Brennan could easily make a bag with that much money, either with sorcery or Pattern conjuration. It's not a tiny sum, but it's not princely.
Cledwin leans in towards Sessile and whispers to him. "Oh, and I'll want your word that you won't kill the prisoner, if he keeps his parole."
"Walker," he gives as his name. "So I guess that makes you his bodyguard, too, doesn't it?" he muses. That could be a threatening statement, but Brennan doesn't go out of his way to make it so.
He nods, unexcitedly. "If needs be. 'Captor' and 'Protector' sound very alike, in the Northron's language. He is surety for my reward, so I will guard him as I would fifty Prots."
[Brennan] wonders idly, if Cledwin had asked for an armed bodyguard back to the northern islands, how much Sessile would have charged him for it, and whether he's coming out ahead or behind on that transaction. He fingers a coin purse, hefting it, to signal to Sessile that he's thinking it over. "Mind telling me what's the news inland while I think that over?" And while Sessile thinks over his new job as Cledwin's protector, although Brennan suspects that the social mores of Avalon will compel him to make good on that new position.
"I didn't get too far inland, before I came across Cledwin. Talk of battles and alliances, mostly. 'Will the Maghees take arms against the Port, or stay neutral, or fight the hill-folks?' All rubbish, but it makes for exciting bar-room talk."
Brennan wonders if Sessile is intentionally missing the point or if the cultural blindspot is just that strong-- the only reason he has to play bodyguard is because he won't take Brennan's money in the first place. But it's mostly a moot point, and Brennan has more options available than simply killing the man, so he doesn't bother to press it.
"All right," he says, "Let's talk parole terms. Deference, as though I'd captured him myself." His eyes flick to Cledwin. "That means answering questions full and honest, and keeping out of whatever fight I say keep out of."
Sessile looks over to Cledwin. "That would seem only fair, given that he will treat you as if he'd captured you himself."
Cledwin looks back at Sessile. He lowers his voice, but not below Brennan's capacity to hear. "He'd pay a lot more for me, if you held out."
Sessile looks back at him, "If he pays what I ask, then I don't have to drag you to the north. I can take my chances on making more in the next four months."
Cledwin shrugs. "You're being kindly robbed, kid. Try not to let him take you too badly. There's a lot more to him than this act he's putting on."
Brennan interrupts their dickering by tossing a purse at Sessile's feet. He does not approach until after Sessile picks it up and satisfies himself that the contents are sufficient. The coins are all coins of Avalon, in the currency that Cledwin had paid him and that he's seen in use. Whatever extra he needs is conjured into the purse. He smiles broadly at Cledwin, saying, "A lot of that's from you." Irony is a fine and savory spice.
Cledwin bows towards him. "I had hoped you were spending your rewards from Trippel, but no matter."
Assuming the deal is sealed, he says to Sessile: "You might want to stick around a bit."
To Cledwin again: "Go ahead. Tell him why you're worth so much more, since you haven't already."
Cledwin rubs his wrists together. "Trippel, now-Lord of Montparnasse, would pay a greater reward, for I was instrumental in his father's death at corsair hands, in service to the Admiral of the Northling's War Fleet.
"And the Protector might also pay a handsome reward for me, as I had attempted to damage his alliances with the Mountain, for the benefit of my Admiral.
"Walker here can bargain with either of them to sell my parole for more than the Northern Alliance will pay, and they are closer.
"I do not know my value to them, but it is high."
Brennan gives Sessile a wry glance, as much to include him in the conversation and make him understand that his participation in this discussion is permitted, as to remind him just when Cledwin chose to give up that information.
"Poison," he says. "Thing he left out is, Prince Maibock was poisoned. And that this happened with him an honored guest at Maibock's daughter's wedding. Was it your hand actually shot the arrow, or'd you get someone else to do it for you?" And by extension: Who?
Brennan lets him answer, and monitors Sessile for a reaction. His recitation is calm, not outraged, but he is trying to gauge the reaction from someone not a family member or otherwise personally involved: Is poison, and that level of deception and treachery, considered acceptable in Avalon?
Sessile turns to Cledwin. "Is this true?"
"I knew nothing of that until Walker insinuated I was responsible, just now." The onetime captain of guards turns to his captor. "You overstate my involvement, Walker. I took out some sentries and allowed the corsairs in. I was on the road before they were indoors."
He pauses. "I'm only sorry I didn't win."
"Pretty thin rope to hang from," Brennan observes. "Instrumental, but ignorant. Whatever. Let's cut to the chase, you just tell us the whole plan-- how it was supposed to go, how it actually went. You can talk about your Admiral, too, while you're at it."
Brennan's choice of us-- including Sessile-- is casual but deliberate.
Cledwin swallows and begins. "The Admiral wanted Maibock replaced so that he could arrange for the hill people to bottle up the port, so that they could not threaten his flank, thus making the Protector's forces need to spread out further, improving his chances to put an invasion force onto Avalon Proper. On our first trip here, I used magics to make the Prince's daughter fall in love with Crisp, and vice versa, not that they needed it. We returned, making sure to agitate the port and arm every trumped-up hill-fort to the teeth. Oh, and Crisp's bodyguard was intentionally chosen to fail, so that they would not interfere. Walker here was the only one who was any good, and Crisp insisted on him.
"So it went. I was supposed to let the invaders in and then leave, so that I could be blamed and Crisp would be able to be outraged at my betrayal. I fled as quickly as possible to the first of the hill-forts, and when news reached there that Prince Maibock was dead, but Prince Trippel was returned and holding fast, I headed back towards Port Methryn to get word to my Admiral."
Sessile looks annoyed. "Is there anything else I didn't know to ask you about?"
Cledwin shakes his head. "Just speculation. A number of the Montparnassians were agents of the Protector. Possibly Walker as well."
Brennan barks a short laugh of genuine amusement. "One of the Protector's agents thought that, too! Hated to disappoint her." He shakes his head, still amused. "You think maybe you did your job a little too well? Damn near lost all four of those clowns back in port." Brennan gives him enough time to respond to that, if he chooses, before returning to the questioning.
Cledwin’s look indicates that he may agree with Walker, but doesn’t wish to say more.
He expresses curiosity about all the operational details of the plan-- did he have known contacts among the fleet? Was he in communication with them, and if so how? If not, how did the timing work?
There was a flag flown when the wedding party arrived. The corsairs moved then. That’s why it took a few days for the attack to happen.
Brennan's curiosity about those aspects is genuine-- you never know what you might turn up if you tugs at the threads of a plan-- but it is equally a smokescreen for his true interest: These magics to cause Crisp and Mayness to fall in love. Is Cledwin a magician? Did he get this magic from his Admiral or some intermediary? Is this a common stratagem for the Admiral? It's not the first, or even the second time that he's come across subtle geasa and mind-control tactics: Moire against Camelopardis, the Admiral against Jellicoe. Brennan finds the whole idea deeply distasteful, to the point of physical revulsion, but he keeps it in check as best he can until he sees how Sessile reacts to it.
The Admiral got the love draught from his Maghee sorcerer. Cledwin isn't sure it was even necessary. Both parties seemed to be getting something they wanted, anyway. It's probably worn off by now.
The Admiral finds you. Cledwin was to return to the North on completion of his tasks. If he was needed again, he'd be called upon again.
Along the way, Brennan's trying to gauge without asking directly (at least not yet) whether Cledwin's mind has been fuzzed, too.
Either he's been fuzzed or he doesn't know much about the Admiral.
Oh, he gets his love draught from his Maghee hedge-wizard, does he? Brennan lingers over that, digging for more details-- name, description, whereabouts, etc. He wants to confirm or deny that this is Cameleopardis. Either way it's useful information.
Cledwin only knows it secondhand, but he assumes it's Camelopardis. Maghees aren't that common outside of Methryn's. Somewhat of an insular tribe, apparently.
After that, he returns to pressing the issue on the Admiral, asking directly whether he's met Stratum or Syke in person, and if so, he wants descriptions as warranted. He asks in that order because if Cledwin is a victim of Sykological warfare, he wants to know. After he gets the verbal evidence, he shows Cledwin the non-Trump images of Moire and Dara and asks if he recognizes them. He does not hide them from Sessile.
Cledwyn last saw them when he transferred to Jellicoe's ship, to take this mission. His orders were clear, but he doesn't seem to recall much detail around them, such as where he was or who was there. He knew he was getting orders from Stratum, though. They were definitely the Admiral's orders and not anyone else's.
He has never seen Dara. He recognizes Moire, but doesn't know from where. Perhaps a painting.
That he's seen Moire but can't remember exactly where is telling. No help in deciding the particular, but all three major possibilities are strengthened, here: Moire is Skye directly (by replacement, apparently), or she's attached herself to her court and is manipulating her, or is taking advantage of Syke's unique command structure to spoof it to her own purposes. That his mind is filling in details is not surprising, although it is a disturbing echo of what Benedict had to say about the sketch of Maeve.
He'll return to that-- Cledwin's memories and Moire-- later, but for now, a redirection:
"So what's your angle in all this? You're the Admiral's agent, but is it for money? For your people? Is it personal?"
"Well, all of those, yes. It is the duty of each man to serve his lord faithfully, and the duty of the lord to give them reason to do so, and the duty of each man to find his own reasons for having faith." Sessile nods. Cledwyn may be reciting a local aphorism or quasi-religious slogan.
While he's listening to the answer, he's also giving Cledwyn a very careful examination with the Third Eye. He is not entirely concerned, any more, with Cledwyn or Sessile learning that he's a Sorcerer. Neither one of them are leaving this conversation on the same trajectory they entered it. So while he is not so obvious as to stand there making arcane gestures, he does not hesitate to move from the more passive Third Eye to the more active Astral examination.
Brennan's Third Eye examination is inconclusive. All of the basics are solid. He's a living person, he's not a Prince of Amber, he's not under immediate Sorcerous influence. What can't be told is more subtle. Brennan can’t see if he's under the influence of much weaker shadow-magics, or if he's from a Shadow of Avalon instead of this Avalon, or if he's been subject to intense probability manipulation.
Brennan scowls to himself, and puffs air out through his mouth, collecting his thoughts-- clearly the true Sorcery that stood out so brightly to his sight on Cameleopardis was the binding of Time, and nothing else. The mental manipulation wasn't some lesser, subtler Sorcery masked by the greater, it was just pure shadow hedge wizardry. Nice place you've got, here, Benedict, he thinks to himself. Again. This does somewhat limit his options:
He can try to break the influence without knowing much about it or even being able to detect it directly, which seems like an option of last resort. He can haul him back to Balen at Montparnasse. He can sail him back to Avalon proper. None of those appeal. Well, there's more than one way to skin a cat.
"Not good enough," he says. "I need to know what the Admiral looks like. I need to know where you've seen this woman, and the fact that you don't know yourself should be very worrisome to you. How long ago was your last meeting with Stratum, did you say? Shortly before you signed me on, I take it?" [OOC: A few months ago, that would be, right?]
He gently corrects Walker. As one does when one is a prisoner. "A few months before that. I did take one voyage here with Crisp."
He pauses, and his forehead starts sweating. "I never forget a face," he says, in a puzzled tone. "I..."
[Brennan] waits for the answer, then turns to Sessile: "How much would you ask to guide and escort us to the Maghee, in some large numbers? How long a journey?"
"Two weeks, thirty prots," Sessile responds, promptly.
Court is done. It has been a day of many emotions and evaluations. Celina waits until after the dinner hour to journey to see her Aunt Llewella.
The route to Llewella's chambers is meditative this time. Celina walks the Gallery of Heroes within the palace. She spends time with the art there examining the faces and absorbing the cultural memory of the pieces.
She spends no time with work that she knows was done decades after the individuals were dead. She wants the immediate art of the living. Celina feels the comfort of connecting with the faces of the past.
When she arrives at Llewella's chambers, she scratches at the entry.
Llewella's maid answers the door and leads her in to her mistress' parlor. "You know, as Queen, you need not knock. How may I serve your majesty?"
Celina puts a hand across her mouth to help smother a laugh at the idea of sashaying into any room in the palace without a care. The laugh slips through anyhow. She shakes her head at Llewella. "I'll consider your suggestion."
Celina makes herself comfortable and moves closer to Llewella. "So I want to make a proposal to you. In addition to everything else you already help with, I'd like tutoring in as many Pattern skills as I might get if I was free to wander the universe. Even given that we stand within the Pattern here and so Pattern cannot be manipulated in the travel sense of it, there must be a lot you can share of how such things are best done."
Celina goes on, "And in addition, I want to see Moins and hear her voice. I have an idea how to do that and it requires your assistance, probably against all tradition. So I'm here to talk you into it." Celina flutters her eyelashes at her aunt in a faux-seductive style.
Llewella pushes her hair back, behind her shoulders. "That's quite a proposal. I notice that all the benefit from it flows from me to you. I will, at no charge at all, offer the advice that your majesty should work on her saleswomanship."
She stands. "I can make no promises about the second part, but as a teacher of pattern tricks, you should understand that I am self-taught. As the saying goes, I am from a large family of only children. My nearest peers disliked me because my mother came between their mother and the King, Eric's lot disliked me because my existence complicated his wife's Rebman ambitions, and there were other factors at play as well.
"I can show you what I know, but I have no store of family lore."
Celina nods, "Your lore then is a hundred times more dear to me because it is not family lore... and because you are willing and because Rebma will be stronger for it." Celina faux-sighs, "Oh, pearls, there I go again with the weak saleswomanship. You are so right, I shall have to devise a stern program for myself."
Celina looks up directly into Llewella's eyes, "It shall go forward then as you wish, in times of your choosing, and we shall become as Sisters of Pattern. While it appears to others that I am an only child and so are you, we shall have a calling on each other that only sisters know. The Grace of the Throne will reward you as I can when I can, and as secretly as you may wish and I can manage.
"The future, Llewella, is all or nothing with me," Celina opens this wound for her aunt to see. Her breath and words ripple with the love for the City she shall defend forever. "I choose all in your case. Which actually explains the second part of what I shall ask of you. I promise I shall not think less of you if you refuse me this."
Celina pauses, not with trepidation, but in order to let Llewella give her a sign to go on in a matter most serious.
"You shall not think less of me if I refuse the first, I hope. I am old, and complex, and contrary, and I do things or do not do things for my own reasons, which I do not explain."
She lowers her head, "Ask the second part."
Celina came with the words arranged in her head, but still she nibbles her lip now. "Yes."
Celina does a small summary of the hours she has dedicated to the history, the archives, and the galleries of art from the Moins period. Then she goes on, "I have failed repeatedly to gather any mirror images of Moins. It is to gain a sense of Moins that I come to you. Pattern is the Binding of our place and our blood here and it is Her Pattern. There are some very moving works of Art; some excellent songs of tribute to her rule and beauty, but I desire a personal touch with Moins and you have that. It is my thought that you could make a sending of those memories. Either conjure them in a mirror, and let me see her alive from your memory, or more directly I could open my mind and let you in to mirror those memories in me. I do realize the potential for harm to me, but I accept the risk."
Llewella looks at Celina for a long moment, and then does something Celina has never seen her do before. She pulls a cigarette from a box on a table and lights it.
Celina watches each detail as if her aunt had just pulled a cobra from the tiny box.
"Never open your mind to her." She takes a long, slow draw on the cigarette, letting the mechanical tasks of smoking occupy a few seconds. "I suppose you have to know, so I'll have to come up with a way to show you. I don't trust mirrors where she’s involved, so I'm going to have to think of something.
"You're not going to be happy with what you see, but I suppose since you asked me, you surmised as much."
Celina sets aside the idea she needs to tell her aunt that the Queen does not yet deserve to be happy. She cannot help but cock her head with honest curiosity and nod. "I put this off a long time. Partly my respect for you. Partly a young, complex, contrary idea I needed to try and Order myself the lonely way. I regret neither of those decisions but I am dogged by a surfeit of surmise on this journey."
Celina takes a step into the dark, "Moins is not dead then? I have to admit I'm shocked. I had been convinced by my failures she was."
"Dead and Alive impose a binary on a situation that may be more like a spectrum, or even a three dimensional space.
"If you're asking if Moins can ever come back, I think she can't, not in any meaningful way. If you're asking if she's alive, that's more complicated." Llewella hesitates.
"What do you know about why Mirrors work for us?"
Celina finds the idea of Life, Death, and Chaos an intriguing base to a pyramid that includes Necessity as Will and Order as Time. "I believed Moins had made a sacrifice of some sort. I did not think she was coming back." Celina adds, "Mother told me that mirrors are not as they appear. They include volume and Order in compression. Time inside a mirror is slower? And we rework the Order and Volume by Will."
"Mother did something. Something beyond us, something beyond any of us, to try to damp down the lunacy of her sister in Tir-na N'ogth. It was like the creation of the Queen's High Way—a benison on us all. It ended and sealed the war of Genesh, but she never returned. And after that, mirrors spoke to us, and we could teach our children.
"What we do with Mirrors is a trick, or a side-effect. They're for fighting the Moonriders."
Celina says nothing for a long time. Her thoughts fly through many previous conversations. Sometimes, she has to stop, evaluate a lie or an assumption, and then begin another path through everything she's learned. "I only know the Moonriders from conversations others have shared."
Celina sets aside some questions for later, but asks, "You believe Moins put all of herself into a Blessing that sealed off Tir? So there are many side effects from that event, including the Power of Mirrors. I've heard stories about haunted mirrors and time slips. But with Cambina's death and the return of the Moonriders to oppose us, are we looking at a complete reversal of the Moins event? Perhaps Moins did not intend to return from her sacrifice. Then again, the Queen of Air and Darkness is not quite bound now either. So are mirrors traps for those who step through time?"
Llewella turns to her, her hair following a second later in the water. The look on her face is not a happy one. "I wish to Lir I knew. Right now, it's kind of a bluff, or maybe we're hoping Benedict figure it out and tell us just in time."
The princess pauses. "If Mother returns, there will be war, if I have to start it myself."
Celina swallows hard on the bloodless cut of those words. There are some pains just as powerful as the Pattern. "Tell me about this war, for I would be your ally if I can."
Llewella bites her lower lip, as if holding something back. "The most likely cause of the war will be if she possesses you and takes over your body. Mother ... had more Chaos in her than father and she was pitiless. Your mother was ... more willing to negotiate, and keep peace. There was a reason there was a binding to end the first war. Mother was not blameless. Nor was she easy to live with."
Well. So Moins was a bigger threat than the Dame of Tritons as far as Llewella was concerned. The Dame and Moire had kept their oaths. Moins lived by a more rapacious code.
Celina clears her throat. "Well. I'd not be much of an ally if that came to pass. So I object to it." Celina moves to Llewella and takes her hands as carefully as she would any wild creature. "I'm so sorry you have had to carry this so long by yourself. My scars do not compare to yours."
She looks directly at her while she rubs her thumbs along Llewella's beautiful fingers. "However, consider that this is a very practical Pattern we stand upon. Pitiless and Practical. If the Pattern is so like Moins, indeed it has no love of her. And as Moins sacrificed to bind Air and Darkness, she may have also tried to Eat that Pattern and it was too much Other for her. Or the two are still locked in combat. It all makes me think of Saeth and that this manifestation of Air and Darkness coming upon us now is not the Maker of Tir, but a severed Childe that has escaped a prison that holds her mother still. In which case Moins is bound as well. That fits things so much better."
Llewella doesn’t look convinced.
Celina chews her lips and than adds, "There is hope in this. Strange Hope, but more than I had before this conversation. Knowing Moins better explains some of the peculiar Order of the City. I feel Brennan should know that any Air and Darkness may be a Childe." But even as she says that she realizes Llewella has reasons the redheads are not confidants. Clarissa?
The Queen peers at Llewella, leaning closer, "I still think it is better for me to know Moins than not. If taking my body would be a key move of Her aggression. Having some first hand memories of Her from you would set my careful pickets against Her. Better I show the Pattern how much more Ordered I am as I woo it to our side." She adds with dark humor, "Also, it would help you better know your Queen, so that you could account just when to start the Llewella War."
"Don't you dare name it after me. I'm no Lir." Llewella's cigarette seems, improbably, to not be any shorter, for all that she's been smoking. Or perhaps it's a new one, replaced too smoothly to notice. "I need time to think. You've been warned, so I'm fine with going ahead. But I need to figure out how to make this work and be safe."
The princess looks up. "You should ask the archivists to tell you all they know about the interregnum between Moins and Moire. While it's true that Moire had control over the archives, she might not have purged that period too badly."
Celina looks away from the familiar watery swirls in the cigarette gases and nods at her Aunt. "I should. I shall. What parts of Rebma went 'grabby hands' while you and Moire worked out The Throne Compromise?"
She shakes her head. "I was too young. I was kept out, by Father. Moire did most of that work herself, convincing others that she was the Princess IN the castle and therefore the Queen OF the castle.
"Few people were saints, and many tried to better themselves. Moire punished the egregious, except where she promoted them."
"Of course," Celina nods, thinking it is only what Llewella has said of Moins. Pitiless. Practical. "Please come see me when you have resolved how you wish to proceed. I shall have another history breakfast with the senior archivists. Soon. Thank you again for your essential point of view." Celina knows Llewella will find a way to make this work because that is what she does so well.
With a tiny bow and a gentle smile, Celina works a graceful exit. She really thinks she likes Llewella. So darn flexible. She hopes to Lir she never sees that much tragedy.
And before she settles to other business, she finds a page on her way through the palace and sends notice to the Archives. The five senior archivists will join her for breakfast on the morrow. Songs and stories are the agenda.
Another page is sent to start the cascade of messages that will bring Lady Clarifee ap Ruadan, Lady of the Jeweled Kilts, to talk to her late tonight in secret. Time to check on whether Clarifee did insert an agent. Past time to fill her in on Klybesian Monks and put a target on them.
The pages depart, and the parties will meet her as expected.
Celina gathers three pages as she moves quickly from Court to her own rooms. She is late for her own lunch and requested Tomat join her. She wanted to change and hopes he is cautiously tardy so she can shed the formal gown.
She sorts messages from Court business and trade factions to Seaward. Makes a mental note to Trump the Regent of Amber tomorrow. Then handing off five messages to Page Cere, she adds, "These are all yes. Take them to Lord Angh."
She nods to the guards at her chamber doors and stops---- sorts the chits into two groups, she hands one off to Page Frillis. "These are nos. Take them to Lady Clarifee."
Celina smiles at the last page, Her current Favorite, "Page Gwedd, come and help me change. I have company for lunch." She pushes the heavy metal door aside, ordering the guards to close it again as she bulls the chamber water aside. Pulling Gwedd in her wake, she makes straight into her sleeping chamber and strips. "Please, the heptabeaded blue from Clency. And the Silhouette shroud. Thank you."
Celina gestures at the wall and forces a mirror to form from the water. She scowls at her hair. "I look as frigid as glass with this hair. I don't have time to change it." She grabs an oilstick from her dressing table and limns her arms and thighs with a nice pearly scented cedar.
Shortly then Gwedd holds and helps with the squibs on the short metal gown. Celina decides once she tries the shroud that it is too casual and will spoil the first half of the meeting with Tomat. She thanks Gwedd after handing it back to her.
"Now, Gwedd. Take your ease on the couch in here." Celina smiles at the sudden frozen expression on the girl's face. She adds, "When you see the little mirror on the wall vanish? Come into the parlor apologizing for falling asleep. I'll want the interruption, so I'll be ending the magic holding the water flat, so that is your cue."
She squeezes Gwedd's shoulder. "You should look flustered or stiffly poker faced, your choice. Are we good?"
The calculations whizzing behind Gwedd's eyes are wonderful to see. Celina waits.
"Of course, your majesty." Gwedd nods once, in flattering imitation of Celina's habit.
Celina slide steps away, closes the bedroom door, and awaits Tomat. She starts to fill a plate as the food has been sitting a while and she's really hungry. Pearls, some days she is nothing but hungry and sad.
Tomat appears exactly at the appointed hour, escorted by guards (human, not Triton, for he does not rank that honor). He has not quite become accustomed to the dress of Rebma. The surface men are more modest where their bodies are concerned than Rebmans, and, Celina may suppose, the Klybesians more modest than many surface-dwellers. The tight trousers that would give him freedom of movement are there, but he is still wearing a robe that covers all of his chest and arms, and inhibits his movements as he enters the room.
"Your Majesty," he says, and bows as deeply and quickly as the water permits. "Thank you for your kind invitation. How may I assist you?”
"I wanted to thank you for all you shared with Ossian and Silhouette," Celina says as she turns to him from the food. "I needed them to feel better about their tasks, to settle into the roles, and you were the best way to do that. I know it was awkward. You did very well in trying circumstances. Your counsel is excellent.
"Please, eat something and keep me company," She gestures to the copious food. She runs a look over his long robe. "I can put a robe on if you prefer that." She gestures off-hand at her glittering vest-gown that hangs to mid-thighs but hints everything beneath it.
It's not that Tomat isn't aware of Celina's state of (un)dress but he's not, er, overly aware of it, either. (And not just in the way easily detectable by too-tight Rebman trousers, either.) It's more that he's easily capable of paying attention to her eyes and mouth and not her body. His own nudity is uncomfortable, but hers apparently is not so much.
"Thank you," he says, and it's not clear which of the several things Celina has said that he's thanking her for. "It was my pleasure to assist Your Majesty." Tomat comes over to join her where the food is set up and takes some small amount of things that Celina considers "easy" food for surfacers. He's been in Rebma long enough to learn how to eat but not long enough to adapt much more than that.
Tomat waits for Celina to settle with her own plate before seating himself wherever he's supposed to be.
Celina lets him pick out which of the three places there are for him to sit. None of them are bad choices. And she's bet herself that he isn't going to pick the lounging three-seater. "So now it is my turn to do something for you. It seems to me that you would like a job and station to keep the brain sharp while Signy is away making the Universe a more interesting place."
She licks her fingers and swoops some colorful foods onto her plate before walking back to stand near to Tomat. "There are a number of positions that a foreigner might enjoy in our city. Some of them would be boring for you though." Celina enjoys his discipline and how he focuses on her eyes and mouth. He is such a brainy character.
"You might like something more challenging. Varying degrees of difficulty and perhaps some degree of social friction from our residents?" Celina puts a relatively clean finger to the edge of her plate. "One. I would apprentice you to the Archive where you could memorize as much of the history of Rebma as you can carry away."
She gently touches the plate with a second finger. "Two. I would apprentice you to the most wily and canny sorcerer of the city. Anything he taught you while you were here would be golden. To be fair, he might not like it, but I think someone who has given the Thumb bite to the Klybesian Monks deserves to learn as much as possible in order to defend that decision, long term." Celina nods at Tomat with a raised eyebrow and lets her eyes speak of her respect for her guest.
She touches the useful plate a third time. "Three. I need an heir sooner rather than later. I would tuck you into my bedchambers and we could have an exploration adventure."
Tomat's eyes bulge a little with shock at that last option. "Your majesty may not know that I was a celibate. I doubt I should satisfy your majesty's requirements in that area. You honor me greatly," and here he swallows, "but I would hate to return your hospitality by disappointing you.
"But if your majesty commands, I cannot but serve."
Celina listens closely and nods.
There's a long beat while he pauses. "In an ideal world I should love to learn more of sorcery, to exchange what I know with another of my brethren--and sistren--but in my heart I would learn of Rebma. Either in the archives or by serving your majesty as scribe or some other office. Such knowledge is precious and rare, and even though I will not sell or give it to the Klybesians, I would rather the risk of its loss be diminished by learning it myself."
"That is a worthy ambition. I think it can be arranged. I am meeting soon with the Archive. It will ripple tradition to have a man study with them, but they also serve. I shall invite you to the meeting."
"Thank you, your majesty," Tomat replies. He's still a little unnerved by that last question, Celina suspects.
Celina moves and sits facing him. "The other options could be for the future." Celina speaks more slowly, "It could be months or years before Signy returns, the shadows lend strange meaning to time. Do you love her, Tomat? I would think you know your heart and would not want her to leave without telling her, but I'm not privy to what has passed between you. She will look the same when she comes back."
Tomat nods slowly to some of what Celina is saying, but it's hard to be clear which part he's agreeing with. "I understand that she's like her mother, and perhaps her father, and holds what the Order thinks of as the secrets of perfection. That she's immortal unless killed, and unlikely to be killed." He pauses for a moment to find the next few words. "I am her loyal servant and would not try to bind her. I understand now that I can never be trusted by some in the royal family. I would not see her under suspicion more than she already is."
"Yet she is not under suspicion of the Queen of Rebma, and neither are you. And here you are for the time being. Some of the family may be wary of you elsewhere, but you could make a new start here," Celina says. "Perhaps 'bind' is not the right word, while 'loyal' is a good start. I'm pleased to see you have thought about it some. You are a thoughtful man."
Celina sets her plate down. "If you are putting aside those parts of the past that hold you back now, I can aid you again if I assist to remove your doubts about what you may satisfy. You are not afraid of learning new things. You've been celibate. You do not wish to offend me, of course. I appreciate your humility. On the other hand, the Archivists are teachers of many things. We know a cure for celibacy in Rebma." Celina has a twinkle in her eye.
Tomat is outright flushing now. "I am at your majesty's command in this matter, and if you advise me to improve my skills, I can but obey." He neck-bows to Celina, perhaps because he's having a hard time not being awkward. "Then I will go among the archivists, and learn what will serve your majesty well and, should you ask it of me, perform any research for the Crown or your person."
(He realises that he made the unintentional pun after it's out of his mouth; Celina can tell this because the flush darkens.)
"Tomat, I've made you uncomfortable. Please excuse me." Celina keeps her body language gender neutral. "Let me explain that I want Signy to be happy and have a better life than the strife with her father. If as I suspect, you might be part of that happiness, consideration for all your cooperation compels me to offer you knowledge that also benefits Signy, especially if it meets your goals. Perhaps the shorter version of my ideas is this, in making Rebma stronger, allowing for more joy in the Family is part of my goals." Celina adds, "Unless you are telling me you do not feel that way about Signy."
"I'm not--with all due respect, your majesty, I'm not denying that I care very deeply for Signy, but I understand that I am not an acceptable suitor for her. Nor do I have any reason to believe she sees me as more than one of her counsellors. I wouldn't presume--I was her father's hired man from the Order, you see. And Signy doesn't trust her father, even though I think she trusts me for the most part, and your family doesn't trust an ex-Order man--so I don't see any hope for any more than the friendship she and I already have. So your offer of teaching is gracious," Tomat says, his smile wavering a bit, "but I don't expect to put it to use. Not with her in any case."
Celina studies Tomat for several seconds. She approves he did not fall into the offer of bedroom privileges, for as she suspects, Signy is his obvious star. She finds his attitude about his suitability for recreation--- unimaginative. Men really should learn to think in three dimensions. "Well, then I'm interfering with your intentions and plans. I will leave things to your discretion, and if you decide differently at some point, you may seek me out. There's no reason this conversation ever goes further than our ears. My offer regards the Archives, is of course, still valid. I think you would enjoy the experience. Tomorrow then? I'll send a page for you when the Archivists are summoned. We are going to talk about the historic period in Rebma right after Moins perished."
It is with some gratitude that Tomat retreats from the subject of gratifying his hostess. He, too, smiles, though with far more nerves than Celina is wearing. "Your majesty is very gracious and kind. And generous. I will be pleased to research any matter that would suit your agenda, and will make myself available for this meeting." He does not say that he has nothing better to do, even though that is true in both the diplomatic and practical senses.
And after a while, when lunch is properly enjoyed and Celina has made enough small talk for Tomat to regain himself. She reminds him as she walks him to the door. "You can also make a point of becoming friends with Red Claws. I'd like your perspective on him. He seems to have a more practical view of his time in Rebma, but I don't want to trust only my local observers. I appreciate your time."
"I am your majesty's servant," Tomat replies. He bows, difficult but not impossible in the waters of Rebma. "Thank you." And, having been dismissed, he is on his way.
Celina wishes she had the luxury of Conner at her side. He'd certainly be just as interested in this as she is. And in thinking also of Jerod, she changes the venue from the Crystal Garden she usually sees the Archivist in to the Throne Room itself. Where better to speak of Moins and not-Moins?
The summons goes out to the Archive. All staff required to attend the Queen, first watch after mid day meal. She sends a page for Tomat and asks that he be early.
In the throne room waiting is herself on the Sapphire Throne and Orseas drifting large behind and above her. She has the Scepter in her lap. She is wearing nothing else but the Scepter. Her hair is braided around and around the crown of her head like a kraken tentacle and there are sapphires pinned there like dewy suckers.
The guards have instructions to pass thru her guests with shell trumpet blasts as if this were a full court session.
When Tomat arrives, she gives him moments to adjust to the drama, then assigns him to sit the lowest step below the throne on her right side. (If he has contrived some sort of oiled paper or note taking medium like wax tablets, she tells him to put them away.)
He does so.
When the Archivists arrive, she gestures to the mid and closer steps where only the Queen's favorites may sit.
The senior archivists come and arrange themselves according to station on the dais first, then the juniors lower, and the apprentices, lowest yet. There are many of the apprentices, and they surround Tomat, looking on him as something of an interloper, though not with extreme hostility. There's clearly a bit of wonder that a silly man has been allowed into what is obviously about an important meeting. Some, Celina guesses, think he is here because he is a gentleman of the chamber, as it were. The senior archivists are a bit more suspicious but a bit less concerned; it's not like a man could be doing anything important or relevant to their work, after all. (He's not an Amberite.)
Once they have settled themselves, Celina launches into her personal recollection of the Battle of the Foreign Prince. Telling of how Khela and allies arrived and relieved the City of Rebma from assault by a Outlander Army with Magics.
There is lots of Death and Destruction and plenty of foreshadowing. Perhaps a sliver of Destiny. No Dream. She never names Huon, that is for other stories. But Caine, Robin, Jerod, Conner, Brennan, Khela, herself, and of course, the absent Moire do figure in the recounting. She stops once the Foreign Prince is locked up. There is nothing of Pattern in her story.
Celina is well-observed by the archivists, and it's quite likely that they are incorporating her words into the tapestry of Rebman history.
Celina looks to the Archivists once she's done. "And now I'd like to hear all the accounts and histories from the last official acts of Queen Moins to the Crowning of Moire. I understand those stories are better than the one I just told. No one leaves until I have them all."
The oldest woman in the room bows. "Much of what we know is allegorical, or comes from secondary sources. Much of it contradicts itself and some of it only I am old enough to remember. Those songs have not been sung since I heard my mistress Archivist Calypso recite them to Prince Martin. It is possible that Senior Archivist Carina knew more, but the Lady of the Sandy Seafloor is not present." She pauses. "Your majesty may wish to allow us to send for food and drink, for we may not be able to finish your task if we do not have sustenance."
"I agree, food and drink will be arriving shortly, let us be comfortable and hale," Celina responds.
The language of the archives from this period is archaic, and there are often several versions of the same stories. The historians start with the great tales of the war against the Tritons, and how they broke the old peace and how Rebma's allies were slow to to answer the call, and how Rebma fought the minions of the Dragon by herself, despite the road and the promise of her allies. Each of her Sister Cities is detailed: Paris is lost, Tir-na n'Goth is mad, Amber fights the Ganeshi, and Rebma stands alone. Moins is amazing, a power of the Universe unto herself, and where she is, the foe fall. The song details traitors: families and lords who have made their own peace with the Dragon, living yoked lives subject to the whim of Chaos-spawn. Those names are unfamiliar to Celina, and the song suggests that that is the Queen's doing.
The Death of Moins is the next topic. It is a grim tale that focuses on her uncanny ability to win wars and the great loss her people suffer in her fall. The song suggests that her enemies rejoice at the news, and gather to attack, like sharks sensing blood. But her daughter is ready for the task and the enemies suffer a humiliating defeat on the seafloor plains, putting paid to their assaults for the campaign season.
The Princess is to be crowned, and the city is hopeful, in a way it had not been before the Stand of Princess Mera. Mera was making magical and spiritual preparations to become the Queen when something went awry and she was killed mysteriously.
Celina pays close attention when this unfamiliar name arrives. Mera.
The city returned to dread. The campaign season would start again in a few months, and they had no war leader. Princess Moire sent her sister Llewella to her father's castle for safety and began working to arrange a marriage of her daughter to King Oberon of Amber.
The city rallied behind her, and she was made Queen by a grateful people.
The main songs include battle songs which name which families sent troops to which battle and who fell where. It is detailed. What the archivist says after they finish is that there are fragments of other songs, which suggest a more complex history. Most of them are lost. The archivists share what they have, which are personal, and often need to have the characters pointed out. Moins is the Narwhale, Moire is a hammerhead. Lir is a flying fish.
Celina asks, "Mera is the...?" If there is no song with symbols of Mera, Celina just nods. Celina wonders aloud if there are ways to repair the fragments of the oral history.
Mera was a daughter of Moins, and elder to Moire, so the songs tell. Her songs are little remembered outside the archive because she died before achieving the mystery of the Queendom. The best way to repair those fragments is to ask those who were present. Which is not very many still living.
If Celina is watching Tomat, he has been listening and clearly retaining a lot, but not reacting much. Here, he frowns visibly.
Apparently there were a number of simultaneous deaths in the archivist corps not long after Moire came to power, so it's suspected that some archives are lost forever.
The songs are good and the Queen seems pleased. Celina again calls for food and drink. If it is obvious that the elders are tired, she may suggest a nap, in an adjoining chamber of the court. Celina will commend the staff for their scholarly duty.
Once everyone is rested, Celina reconvenes and asks if Avalon was an ally of Rebma during this time. She wishes to hear the fragments for the legends of Lir and anything further on Mera.
And Celina will also ask if there have been any messages to the Archives from the long absent Lady of the Sandy Seafloor.
There are no messages presently. Were Prince Jerod here, messages to him might be expected, the archivists explain gently. It is suggested that Prince Jerod may have had a hand in her removal lest there be any more unforeseen forgetting in the archives.
Everybody looks very serious about that.
There is some elaboration about the songs and stories of Mera from the archivists. The lack of detail about her death is deliberate, Celina intuits. A lack of detail that matches the lack of detail in Khela's death.
Celina looks into the faces of her Archivists, young and old. "Well, it seems to me, that sharing out the history of the Archive through all staff is a great way to discourage assassinations of the Archivists. If former rulers mandated that only certain tales could be shared, I rescind that mandate. I don't want to good reason to eliminate my elder or younger library staff. In fact, I'm going to assign a Triton to the Archive. You will not be able to command him, but he will be there specifically to protect my history staff. If anyone does not feel safe, or feels they are being followed or harassed, I want to hear about it. Any other suggestions about the integrity of our history?"
She does not look at Tomat.
Last modified: 17 Noveber 2015
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.