Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Vere briefly considers the idea of taking the quick route to Amber through the Deep Green, then rejects that as needlessly foolhardy when no extreme need for speed has been suggested for the dispatches he carries.
Instead he commandeers one of the the small boats of the Rangers and sets off down the river. Once he is out of site of the camp he begins shifting shadow, turning the deep forest around him to something closer to the trees close to Amber.
He also tries something new, experimenting with actually shifting the nature of the boat he is in as he travels, so that the closer he comes to the mouth of the river and the sea the more it resembles his sloop Psyche.
The boat becomes, gradually, the sloop. Vere cannot tell any difference between this sloop and Psyche. Vere arrives at the mouth of the river, and can sail from here up to Amber. The weather is clear and he can see Cabra in the distance. If he were to stop, he might find the cairn of stones that once marked the path to Rebma.
Vere sails out into the ocean, and for a short time simply delights in the feel of once more being upon the sea. He gives the sloop her head, feeling the way she moves, and shaking his head in bemusement when he finally determines that her every little trick and idiosyncrasy perfectly matches the Psyche of his memory.
Then he turns her towards Amber.
A sloop is better at sailing into the wind than any square-rigged ship, so the Psyche is an excellent choice for Vere’s sail back up the coast to Amber. He arrives to a gorgeous sunset, the sky a wash of reds and oranges tinging into blue. He comes up to his regular berth and does not see the Psyche. In fact he doesn’t even see slip 12, where he last left her. The dock ends with slip 10, which is empty.
The Psyche glides smoothly into slip 10. Vere ties her off and steps onto the dock, pausing for a moment to regard the harbor ands the city, comparing it to his memories, judging how the city and its feel have changed.
The city seems as he left it, although a few weeks closer to autumn that it was when he left.
He will wait a few minutes to see if anyone approaches him, officially or otherwise.
A young man comes striding down the dockside. "Good Evening, my Lord. Admiral's Complements and may I summon a remise for your use?" He looks to be one of Caine’s young officers, or a man who wishes to be one of that lot.
Vere nods a greeting to the young man. "Aye," he answers. "Where is the Admiral right now?"
Rather than guess which Admiral, the young man just rattles off the top two. "The Marquis is at the Naval Club." He looks up at the castle and spots the pennants flying there. "The Regent is in residence. I have not heard he is in the city, so the castle is the most likely place to find him. I can send runners, if you wish."
"Do so," Vere replies. "And another to the Marquis, to inform him that I would like to call upon him if the Regent permits. I will go ahead and begin to travel to the castle. Have someone intercept me if it is determined that the Regent is somewhere else."
The young man nods. "As you wish, My Lord. I will accompany you to the carriage house."
He glances at the end of the dock then back to the young man. "Is my memory at fault or was the dock not longer in the past?"
"The... recent past, My Lord?" The young man looks back at the dock. "It has not been longer than that that I recall. Perhaps before the sundering, but I was a child then."
Vere drops the subject and allows the young man to escort him to the carriage house. He silently looks about him as they walk, and once in the carriage will keep the curtains open and observe the city as it makes its way to the castle, looking for any other changes that have occurred since he was last here.
Amber seems greener that he remembered it being when he recently left. There is more green space, as if some buildings have been demolished. There's nothing Vere can point to and say that a particular building was gone, but there's a lot of growth, and in places overgrowth.
As Vere looks ahead, the path up the mountain seems more overgrown than it used to, as if no one was clearing the spring growth off of it regularly.
Vere frowns, then closes his eyes and opens his third eye to regard the greenery. Is it more than natural overgrowth caused by neglect?
Vere sees no signs of the incursion of the Deep Green, but it's possible activity from that front caused more growth in Amber. Plus, there are more vacant lots.
It's also warmer and wetter than this time of year usually is.
Vere briefly considers experimenting with making slight alterations to buildings as they drive through the city. Then he considers Caine's possible reaction and chooses to refrain.
He regards the castle carefully as the carriage approaches it.
They've done more work repairing the defensive fortifications that were damaged when the family tower collapsed in the Sundering.
The staff seems diminished, although the guard seems to be at full complement.
Vere's carriage is met at the inner bailey by a footman, who may or may not be a sailor on other occasions. "Welcome to Amber, Prince Vere," he says. "The Admiral is in the Library. Shall we open your room?"
Vere gives him a nod in greeting and replies, "Not yet. I may or may not be staying dependent upon the desire of the Admiral. I shall see him immediately." He will pause a moment, giving the footman the opportunity to lead him to the Admiral if that is his order. If not, then Vere will head to the library on his own.
The footman doesn't seem to have any such orders, and Vere take the well-worn steps to the library. It's diminished, of course, since Random moved the family library to Xanadu, but there are still books, both on shelves and in crates. There are many sea-charts as well. Caine sits at a table, reading some sort of report in a folder. He's shaved and had a recent haircut.
"Welcome back," he says. "How was your voyage?"
He seems distracted.
"The voyage was quiet, sir," Vere answers. "And it was quite pleasant to be on the sea again, even if I never did get out of sight of land." He lays the dispatches on the table.
Caine looks at them, as if they're not what he expected. He slowly picks the fist dispatch up, opens it, and looks at it. His eyes don't look like they're tracking the writing on it.
Caine picks up the rest of the dispatches. "Interesting. Where did you get these?"
"I have been working with the Rangers," Vere replies. "The Warden needed someone to bring these to you."
He tilts his head slightly to one side, regarding the Regent.
Caine's head tilts slightly, as if he were a mirror of Vere. "Oh, yes. My brother. How is he?"
Something is not right with the Regent. He leans his hand on the table beside him, puttling his weight fully on it. He is either about to spring up to the chandelier or collapse to the ground.
"Quite well, as always," Vere answers, giving no sign that he has noticed anything unusual about the Regent. He glances off to one side, opening his Third Eye, then slowly returns his glance to Caine. He doesn't want to blind himself by gazing full on at a member of the Royal Family if this really is Caine.
It's not Caine, or if it is Caine, he's lost whatever light and energy differentiated him from a non-royal person.
Disturbingly, the floor, walls, and ceiling of the library are also glowing, in a way that buildings almost never do. To Vere's Third Eye, the library looks like an extension of Caine.
Not-Caine lurches forward towards Vere.
Vere falls back, avoiding Not-Caine. "Is this necessary?" he asks, while reaching through the Principal of Space to recover the dispatches from the desk without approaching Not-Caine. "Can we not discuss matters?" His eyes flit over the room, gauging potential exits.
The room is well lit, with large windows letting in as much light as possible. Nestor's office is also close by, and the door Vere entered by is behind him.
Caine stumbles forward. "I don't... feel well."
The attachment of the room to Caine looks far too much like the way a Lord of Chaos is part and parcel of his domain to Vere for comfort, so he is going to avoid touching things as much as possible. He will endeavour to avoid the Cainish figure, dodging around to head for Nestor's office. If the door to the Head Librarian's office is closed Vere will use Space to blow it open before dashing inside.
Using the sorcerous equivalent of a hard kick, the door flies open. There is a room behind it, but it’s not Nestor's office. It's unfinished, like a stage set meant only to be seen from one angle.
Looking over his shoulder, Vere sees Not-Caine stumbling after him. He seems to be shrinking as he comes, as if he's peeling off a slice of his leg with every step. The net effect is that it looks like he's going down very narrow stairs into the floor.
The view through the door looks wrong, somehow, as if it's not as solid as it seemed when he was led in.
Vere slashes a hand through the air, ripping a hole in Space between here and the deck of the Psyche. He glances through the hole before leaping through it, just in case there are any unpleasant surprises waiting.
The ship is floating peacefully in the slip in the harbor. It has started to rain, gently, and some is actually falling into the hole that Vere has opened.
Behind Vere, Not-Caine has fallen to the ground, and is crawling towards the door. Each movement pulls off another thin layer from his arms and knees, as if he were composed of slices of roast beef. He's nearly at the door to the office. Or part of him is. Behind him is a trail of the rest of him.
The Psyche is firmly beneath Vere's feet, and the whole dock seems to be shaking.
Through the portal, Not-Caine looks at the Prince of the Isles. "Vere, help me!", he says.
Vere glances at the city, and the castle on the mountain, with his Third Eye, looking for other traces of Not-Caine, before turning his attention back to the portal. "What help would you have, then?" he asks in a cold voice.
"Pull me through! This shadow is collapsing! It couldn’t handle both of us." Not-Caine reaches for the rip in space between his office and the Psyche.
Vere lifts a hand, preparing to close the rift. "Be honest, and I help you," he says. "Lie, and fall." He is prepared to either reach through and pull the other to safety, or to close the opening, depending on the words and actions of the one claiming his aid.
"This is why I sent everyone away, you fool! Pull me though your sorcerous gate!" He's crawling, leaving more bits behind him on the floor. In another moment, he'll have reached the opening. Parts of him will have reached it, anyway.
"And that you are Caine is what I do not believe," Vere says, a faint trace of sadness in his voice, as he closes the Portal before any of notCaine can come through it.
He casts off from the dock, and observes Amber, or perhaps merely a shadow trap made to resemble Amber, as he sails away from it.
As Vere goes to cast off, he notices that the Psyche is in slip 12. He doesn't really know what he’d change to make this shadow more like Amber.
Vere sails a little ways out into Amber Harbor, makes certain that he is not in the path of any other vessels, then quietly observes the city and the castle for a while, using both his mortal vision and his third eye. "I certainly hope that was not you, Saeth," he murmurs quietly. He draws his father's trump, but pauses thoughtfully, and does not look at it.
Amber is itself, the partially abandoned city that is a shadow of its former self. There are still plenty of people, but not the thriving trade and rough life it once held. Many have left and even a diminished city does not lack for people to fill the abandoned spaces.
The castle and city look as they did when Vere left, but the city seems smaller. Not in size, and not in the buildings, but in life. On the fringes, parts of it seem abandoned completely. This is a continuation of trends Vere saw when he was last here.
It seems hard to believe that it once rivaled Paris or Xanadu.
Vere watches silently for a short while, then shakes his head. More investigation is clearly called for, but he will not be so reckless as to go in without informing someone, in case he vanishes.
He looks at the card in his hand. "Father," he says. "It is Vere."
"Hello Vere," his father replies. "Sorry, I was taking a nap. Have you returned from your mission for the King?"
"Not yet, Father," Vere answers. "I am still working with Uncle Julian and the Rangers, as we discussed when we last talked. I wanted to know if you have heard any news of Amber recently? I am here, and there is a most curious situation."
Gerard shakes his head. "No news that I've heard. A lot of people are still coming from there to Xanadu, of course, so I'd've expected we would've, were there any.” Gerard, at least, understands his antecedents.
Vere nods. "That is what I expected. Very well, then, this needs to be brought to the King's attention. Uncle Caine is not in residence. Instead, there was either an impostor or a construct of some kind pretending to be him. It might have tried to attack me when I discovered it was not Caine, although I am not certain if it was actually an attack, or an attempt to save itself when the constructed shadow of Caine's office collapsed." Vere shrugs. "I do not know enough about these things to be certain what happened, but I do think it is important to report that either Caine has left Amber, and left a decoy in his place, or else someone was able to kidnap and replace him." Vere's voice does not indicate which of these he thinks is more likely.
"I am about to go to the Naval Club to question M about this matter. I wished to report what had occurred so far in case of any..." Vere pauses delicately, before concluding, "...possible difficulties."
"If aught like that had happened to Caine, I'd hope we'd have heard." Gerard's face scrunches into an agitated frown. "Someone would have come through the gate."
There's a ponderous slow pause while Gerard considers the options, settling on one he clearly doesn't like. "You know that when too many of us spend time in a shadow, things become strange around it. Is there a chance the shadows around Amber have led ye astray?"
Vere nods. "That is always possible, Father. I have not been using the Pattern for long, and walking through shadows is still new to me. When I first arrived I noticed a few oddities - a dock that was not as long as it should have been, more overgrowth than should have occurred in this short time, and so on. I thought they were due to the fact that Amber is now only a shadow, not Reality."
Vere tilts his head thoughtfully. "I escaped from the false Caine through a Sorcerous portal. It is possible that I might have stepped from a shadow of Amber to the true Amber when I did that. I do not know how to test this, other than perhaps going back to the Castle and seeing if Caine is there."
"I'd leave and come back into harbor, meself, but I'm a stick in the mud that way. Are you sure you don't want to come here and have me hand you through to Caine instead? If there's no certainty of where you've landed with your sorcery, it might still not be safe." Gerard's native mistrust of sorcery leaks through the connection, along with his concern for Vere.
Vere considers that possibility, then shakes his head. "At this point I am rather interested in finding out what has happened. I shifted through shadows on my way here to turn the boat I was using into the Psyche, which I had left in Amber. When I used Sorcery to escape the false Caine I stepped through Space onto the Psyche. Perhaps Reality had created a false Amber to prevent the paradox of the two Psyches, and I am now back in the true Amber? Does that sound possible?"
Gerard ponders the question for a long moment before saying, "Could be. I've never tried to find a thing I knew was mine in Shadow to take back to Amber knowing it was there. Or to make one, if you will. If I have a thing, it's with me; if it's in Amber, it's in Amber." He shrugs, a bit of bafflement coming through the connection. It's not clear to Vere whether his father is questioning the possibility that Shadow is working the way Vere's trying to make it work or why Vere chose to plate his metaphorical and metaphysical beans in that manner.
"But you have found something in Shadow that was somewhere else in Shadow, have you not?" Vere asks.
Gerard starts to say something and then decides whatever it is isn't relevant as Vere continues.
"And Amber, alas, is but Shadow now." He smiles. "Well, since that may well have been what happened, and not some nefarious business regarding Uncle Caine, I think my next step is to return to the castle and see if he is there."
Vere pauses then, then adds, "I have not seen Robin yet, but I have been told that she has returned from her visit to Aunt Fiona."
"Aye." Gerard sounds relieved at the change of subject. "She's gone back to Arden to help Julian. The last I heard, she was sniffing around for some trouble on the border with Broceliande, such as it is. Not," he hastens to add, "into the Deep Green. Just the forest border that shades off into shadow toward Xanadu."
Vere nods. "I would dearly like to be with her," he says, "But I believe that Uncle Julian thinks it best for the Family to see that she can operate on her own and does not need to rely upon me for stability. This is logical although I do not like it."
Gerard frowns. "I wouldn't presume to say what Julian thinks or not about the needs of his daughter. But have ye considered that Robin may want to show such herself? She had a rough time coming back from the wars, but she's no child. If her knees wobble now and again, she may want to stand straight on her own, without need of her sire or any man to tell her what to do."
Vere's face reveals nothing of what he thinks of this suggestion. "Once I am through with this matter in Amber I shall return to Arden," he says. "Robin and I shall discuss the matter then.
"Thank you, Father, for your advice. I shall return to the castle now." Vere's hand hovers over the card waiting to sever the connection unless Gerard has some final words.
"Good luck, and call again if ye need me. I’ll be waiting to hear from you or Caine." And on that note Gerard is ready to relinquish the contact.
Vere sails back to the dock, ties up, and takes a leisurely walk up to the castle. He is closely observing the city, to see how it compares to the last version.
The city here is more like the one Vere remembers, though it seems to be depopulating more rapidly than Vere has any reason to expect, even given the hardships of the Regency and the exoduses to Xanadu and Paris. More buildings are boarded up and abandoned, though many shops are still open, if with fewer goods, and many homes and tenements are still at least partially inhabited. If Vere passes by the Naval, it's open, or at least guarded rather than abandoned.
The stair up to the castle appears unchanged, at least, and there are guards on duty at the gate as there should be.
Vere enters the castle and considers the servants and members of the staff that are apparent. Are they new, or are they old members of the staff who chose not to relocate to Xanadu?
Some of the members of staff are familiar to Vere from the five years of his father's Regency. Others, perhaps more, are young Naval types, presumably in Caine's service. Fewer, if any, of these are personally known to Vere. As far as Vere can tell, the people Vere knows are, in their brief encounters, behaving exactly as they ought to do. There's nothing strange or wrong about any of them.
He will request an audience with the Regent at his uncle's convenience.
The midshipman on duty passes that message to Caine.
Not long thereafter, Vere is ushered into the office from which Caine does his Regenting. It looks just like it did the last time he was in this office with Unstable Caine. "Welcome to Amber, Vere."
"I hope so, Uncle," Vere replies with a small smile. "Earlier today I arrived at someplace that wasn't quite Amber, and someone or something that wasn't quite you."
"Then you'll need to sharpen your use of the family gifts as you come here. I'm not surprised based on what I've heard of the metaphysics. To the extent that Amber is losing its reality, it's going to be harder and harder to come here directly through Shadow, especially for those of you with less experience." Which Caine doesn't say unkindly so much as observationally.
"Would you like a drink while you tell me your news?" Caine reaches around behind him to the credenza, where several decanters--flat, ship-style--of liquir are sitting.
"Yes, thank you," Vere answers. He puts the dispatches on the table in front of Caine. "From the Warden."
Caine finishes preparing two drinks and puts one down in front of Vere. He then opens the dispatches and glances through them. "Hmm. Nothing urgent. Tell me about what you encountered in Arden, and then how you think you went wrong on your return."
He stirs his drink idly with his finger, in a way that Flora would almost certainly disapprove of.
Vere pulls a chair up to the desk and sits down, then takes a sip of his drink before answering. "I am working with the Rangers currently, learning how they do things and what is going on in Arden. Uncle Julian sent me on a reconnaissance mission into the Deep Green, which contacted me to give a vague, poetical warning of some sort. I had heard some of the stories of the Deep Green and the Dragon of Arden. My brief and glancing encounter with it definitely reminds me of a Lord of Chaos."
Caine looks surprised. "I would recommend against... entanglements with the Dragon. It has bested more than one Prince of Amber."
Vere nods. "I did not seek it out," he clarifies,"And I have no plans of doing so in the future, unless under the direction of someone who understands it far better than I."
Vere tilts his head to one side. "As to how I went wrong in coming here..." he smiles slightly. "I think that was the result of an experiment that I attempted. I sailed to Amber from Arden on one of the boats of the Rangers and as I sailed I shifted shadow to change the boat into my sloop Psyche which I had left in dock here in Amber. I suspect the resulting paradox is the cause of my failure to arrive here on the first attempt. When I fled from the collapsing shadow I used Sorcery to open Space back to the deck of the Psyche and Reality appears to have used that as a loophole to return me back to Amber and the collapse the two versions of the Psyche back into one."
This time Caine doesn't look surprised at all. "I assumed it might be something like that. You can't force a paradox with the pattern, you can only make the illusion of a paradox. You got exactly what you expected, which was Amber, but without the Psyche.
"So, instead of landing in the same Amber that I'm in, you ended up in some near-Amber, but not a very stable one, from what you say.
"You can discuss the philosophy of it with your more philosophical cousins, but practically, it can be dangerous. It's one of the reasons Dad didn't let youngsters walk the pattern too soon, and why he made sure we all had Trump decks."
Vere nods once again.
Caine looks down at the dispatches from Arden. "Do you want to return immediately, or will you accompany the supplies that I'm to send to the Rangers?"
Vere takes another sip of his drink, then asks, "How long will it be before the supplies are ready?"
Caine gives the list a quick glance. "Two days. Most of it is basic supplies: blankets, food, bandages and such. It's the weapons that will take a bit longer."
He hands the dispatches to Vere. "Nothing unusual here, we're just going to have to gather it together."
In summary - Vere wants to check out the Amber library, just to see if it is still as he remembers it or if it seems to have fewer volumes. More as a point of information than anything else.
The library does have fewer volumes,and fewer librarians. Apparently much of it has been moved to Xanadu. The fragile stuff is waiting on the return of Nestor, who is in the new capital organizing the new library.
Then he wanted to go by the Naval Club to see M. Whether we play out the meeting with M or not depends on what sort of shape the old man is in.
M will see Vere. He's too old for a command at sea, but he's good on land. He seems more careworn than he did when Vere last saw him. Even the Naval seems less busy than it was. The center of Amber Naval power is split between Xanadu and Caine's office, so M is not in the middle of the web as he once was.
He's still got his wits though, and his voice is still stern. Once appropriate formalities are dispensed with (and M is a stickler for appropriate formalities), he gets right to the point. "I understand you're riding with the Rangers now."
"I am, milord," Vere answers. "My upbringing in the Isles included a great deal of forest craft, and I fought beasts of Chaos in the woods during what were called the Black Forest Incursions. It seemed a natural fit."
"I've never understood the appeal of the land, when the sea beckons." He shakes his head. "Nonetheless the Admiralty always stands ready to help the princes of the blood. What can I do for you?"
"You are in the habit of knowing things," Vere says. "That is not an easy habit to break. What is being said that is not making its way to the King or the Regent, now that you are not in the loop?"
M looks at Vere, considering how or perhaps what to answer. "There are multiple loops, and the King and the Regent are not completely without my guidance.
"What the King and the Regent choose not to deal with is another matter. And a difficult one, for how does one slowly kill a city that has lived for over two millennia? The city has not social structures to deal with wholesale abandonment.
"And yet it happens."
Vere nods slightly, without expression. "I confess to being somewhat disappointed," he says. "I had hoped that the appointment of the Regent meant a plan to save Amber, a revitalization. But what I see is a city in decline. It is ... sad." Neither his voice nor his expression show the sadness he speaks of, nor give any clue to his real thoughts on this matter.
The old man snorts. "Try not to be sentimental, Lord Vere. It's a fortification whose walls cannot be rebuilt. The city hasn't been the same since the sundering. It's foundering.
"No, we save the people and move the flag. If that works, the city will rebuild. But we do this so fast that elements that we should not allow in to the new world are amongst the first."
Vere nods. "Lady Robin and I had a similar conversation regarding the destruction of my homeland," he says. "In the end, the people matter more than the place."
He tilts his head to one side. "I believe I see your point," he adds. "If we are forced to move, then that move could have been a chance to..." he pauses, as though considering his words carefully, before continuing, "...to filter the populace."
M snorts. "Cull the bad seeds is what I mean. There's many who've already gone from Amber to this Xanadoo who should've been chained to a metaphorical oar, where they could've done some service to their King. Now those elements are parasites in his new city."
"A healthy organism can survive a certain number of parasites," Vere says mildly. "Especially if the cost of removing them is cutting out healthy flesh."
He to tilts his head slightly to one side, considering. "Unless you think it possible they are symptomatic of something deeper. Conspiring with enemies of the throne, for instance?"
"Bah! It's just opportunists. Most people will sink to unspeakable behavior, if not governed." M looks. "There's something to the King's plan, of course. Do it quick and don't look back."
"Indeed," Vere says. "Especially when there are real and dangerous enemies that have to be dealt with?" It has the form of a statement, but the tone is interrogative, and Vere waits to see what M's response would be.
"The admiralty needs to become more involved, there and here, to help maintain order and stability. There were riots on the docks of Xanadu. Riots! Sir Archer would've hanged the ringleaders, back when Oberon was King. They're probably going to give him a title and a country estate to die on."
He turns to Vere and looks at him with only the slightest tone in his voice. One might imagine that it isn't even accusatory at all. "There's no point in securing the woods against monsters if you don't also secure the city against people."
"Indeed," Vere answers. "I appreciate the point, milord." He takes another sip of his drink, then asks, "But other than warnings against the general sort of people who have been allowed to immigrate, you have no specific individuals or groups in mind at this precise time?"
"Oh we've got lists. We've passed them along to Lord Ash. The woman who smuggled a basilisk to Xanadu is on it, but she's got protection of some sort. Octave, the lawyer for another. Some of Lord Lucas' spies, who also have royal sanction. Every single printer that hasn't had his shop burned down in the past five years.
"And so on. The new Lord Mayor of Xanadu is more interested in politics than the King's Peace, if you ask me. He needs to set some examples."
Vere nods. "I see," he says. "This is then a difference of opinion between the old order and the new, complicated by the difficulties caused by King Random having brought people in from outside who have different ideas of how to proceed." He finishes his drink and sets the glass down. "That being the case, you can understand why I might prefer the more definite enemies of the woods for the time being."
"Hmm? Oh, yes. Quite. Perhaps the forest or indeed the palace are better suited for your talents and ambitions, my Lord." He pauses, just long enough for it be described as uncomfortable. "Is there anything else I can assist you with?"
The old man seems sharper, somehow, then he did a few moments ago.
Vere rises. "I would not wish to take up any more of your time," he says. "It was very good of you to see me."
"My best to your father," he replies.
Robin is a silent part of the forest as she glides toward the lake following Lady Laudine's directions. The greenery around her is still glistening from last night's torrential rain and the air is filled with scent of wet living things. At least the three firelizards that zip around her in the open air are far less pungent than they used to be. They seem as happy as Robin is to be free of stone walls and formal manners.
A sardonic snort ripples through the young woman. Her last two stabs at diplomacy seemed to have turned out all right. Maybe she can keep up the pattern. Though she suspects Lady Laudine would wish otherwise.
There are times, like the ones just behind her and the one approaching, when Robin very much misses her spontaneity. It would be soooo much easier to just jump in swinging, secure in her strength and position. But a lost war, two dreadful arguments with Family members, a nearly avoided duel and a dance with madness have... lessened her enthusiasm for leaping without looking.
Besides it's well past time that she turned her strength and her position toward healing, repairing and preventing the trouble that seems to follow her as naturally as a tail-wind. Instead of reveling in it. Dung.
Ahead of the young woman, the old growth forest reluctantly parts to reveal a rocky lake shore.
Robin notes that the level of the lake seems to rise and fall, perhaps seasonally. The signs are clear along the banks.
Where the undergrowth of the forest stops and the rocks start, there is a cairn of stones, several feet tall. It may be a match to the one marking the path to Rebma. From it, by the most direct path to the water, there seems to be a path, and one that does not terminate at the water’s edge.
Errrrr.... Confronted by the actuality, Robin finds her steps slowing and her stomach dropping. She tends to avoid thinking of Rebma and all things Rebman as they seemed to combine two of her most very favorite things: wetness and being underground. (Well, kind of underground-like.)
A shiver runs through the girl as she remembers her near-drowning in the Temple on Danu. And Vere isn't with her this time. For a moment, she misses him with a fierce fiery longing. But -- even though they said they'd do things together from now on -- her Family needs to see her standing on her own. So she swallows her misgivings and prepares to get on with it.
Robin sets down her pack beside the cairn and carefully rearranges things to make the most secure (and comfortable) lizard perches and snuggly places she can. Then she picks up her little friends and cuddles them closely.
Where they are going is dangerous! They must not fly. They must stay on her or crawl into her packback. No flying! Or they can stay here and wait for her return.
They're confused, but biddable, since they still remember the recent drenching rain. However, they are also clearly in their own little minds expert swimmers and fisher-lizards all.
Robin smiles warmly as she nuzzles them. Of course they are! And one day they're all going to go back and get that big thing in the dark lake.
The fire-lizards do not want to be left behind, and each wraps itself by the tail on their favorite perch on Robin. She can hear her little queen breathe next to her ear.
Okay, then. Breathing deeply and slowly herself, Robin regains her pack, checks to make sure all her weapons are handy and strides down the path toward the edge of the lake. Merde!
Despite her misgivings, the girl does not falter or hesitate but continues to stride right into the rippling waves.
The path continues down into water and Robin finds that she has no problem breathing it, or staying on the path. She's convinced she could swim here, but she doesn't seem to need to. Peep peeps.
Robin's adjustment to breathable water is not pretty or graceful. There is much nose-scrunching, wincing, and head-shaking as well as cursing intermixed with coughing. Bleah! Robin definitely doesn't like water, breathable or not, up her nose.
But once her own breathing is under control, she concentrates on making sure that the firelizards are adjusting as well. (OOC: "Secure your own mask first, then assist the child.") Peep’s peeping reassures her greatly with regards to that. But she reminds them (and herself), no swimming – stay on the path.
As Robin's ears adjust she pays attention to the sounds. The sound of the path into the lake is the sound of the deep green when the rains are due, but haven't started falling yet. High tones are muted and low tones are elongated, giving most sounds a deep, bell-like quality. There are no land-animals in sight, and fish have no vocal chords, so the entire waterscape is eerily silent.
The path leads down into the water over a series of switchbacks. When Robin reaches the bottom of the lake, she sees two things: a castle on a small rise and a fountain, filled with a bubble of air that does not rise. She sees no signs of people, and behind the castle is what can only be described as an undersea forest.
"Okay, sooooo... the minute I touch the Font, I attack myself." Robin is just thinking aloud for the benefit of both herself and the firelizards. "But while my wet faerie self will be able to hit me, my dry ordered self won't be able to hit me. Buuutttt I'd rather not use this Font as a weapon this time 'round 'cause Laudine will probably do something regrettable, the moment it's 'emptied'.... Therefore, we're going to have to use other terrain features to defeat myself." Robin nods as she comes to this conclusion.
And with that she turns to scouting the ground around the rise, being very careful not to touch the fountain itself. She's particularly looking for good throwing rocks, places she can trip up a horse, etc. etc.
There are trees, and a rocky ledge similar to the one Robin rode out the storm in, and the path has large and small stones adjacent to it.
The ground is soft enough that Robin could, with enough time, dig some sort of defensive trenches. If she has the time to do so.
Robin tsks but gathers some stones of both sizes, just in case.
"Okay, loves." She croons to the firelizards, "Flying okay, but only to harry our opponent. And remember, Chirrup, they can hit us at the same time we can't hit them. On the up side, I'll bet flying through the horse's head is bound to disturb him." Robin chuckles evilly at that thought.
Checking with her crew to make sure they're ready, Robin steps up to the fountain. As she touches it, she declares "I come in peace."
Then she waits for the thunder.
The bubble of air resists momentarily when Robin pokes it, deforming, but then her finger goes through into it. There's a small popping sound, and the bubble starts to oscillate. The Firelizards all fly up from their perches on Robin, circling her and trying to warn her of something. They're close enough to make it hard for her to see.
What her friends are worried about becomes apparent a moment or so later, when the ground begins shaking beneath Robin's feet. She's knocked around, but not over and it takes a moment for her to regain her bearings.
Robin notices two things. One is a vent on the floor of the lakebed, near the fountain. It's spewing forth air bubbles.
Robin chuckles; look, reverse rain. But her chuckle masks her concern that she can plug the vent before 'the lake empties.' She has no more desire to desiccate this place than she has to drown others.
The other is a bright orange and gold seahorse, floating just above the path to the keep. It has a saddle and a bridle and a rider. The rider is a slim man wearing some sort of chain mail armor. He has a lance, but no helmet. He salutes Robin with his lance.
Ooooo, seahorse! For a moment, it's hard for Robin to focus on the human because she's so interested in the critter.
His voice carries across the distance with ease. It is smooth and sounds educated. "Greetings, Interloper! Whom do I have the pleasure of fighting this day?"
"Hail, Defender." She returns the salute with her sword. "I am Robin of Xanadu - come in peace, but understanding of necessities. Are you oath-bound to attempt to kill me or can we do this friendly-like?"
"Not to kill, Robin of Xanadu, but to defend Merlin's Fount, whose tranqulity you have disturbed. Do you have a mount and a lance, or shall we meet with blades? I am Sir Ophiuchus, yclept The Serpent-Bearer."
He seems more sure of himself than Ywain was. Even in the watery half-light, something seems odd about the way he moves, as if Robin isn't seeing what is really there.
"I have neither mount nor lance, so blades would be preferred. But is it possible for me to undisturb the Fount and thus avoid the fight -- fun as it sounds -- altogether?"
The man slides off the Seahorse, frowning. His legs move in ways that suggest danger to Robin. "The Dweomer reacts to the Champion. Were I to attempt to avoid the challenge, I would be unable to control myself, and then I would find myself riding down an unmounted knight with my lance, while the basin drained the lake.
He shakes his head. "I prefer to avoid that burden on my spirit, and instead challenge you, as I am bound to, and to specify that I expect to fight you to first touch.
Sir Ophiuchus slide-steps towards Robin. "Do you have a blade, or do you need one?"
Robin tilts her head. What do her ears, the currents, the surroundings and her friends tell her is really there? Because if her sight's unreliable, best not to depend too strongly on it.
Robin's other senses tell her that he's not always where he seems to be.
Robin remembers where she's heard stories about people who move like he does. When the oldest Rangers told of the relief of the Siege of Amber, they say things about how oddly the enemy moved. The Moonriders move like that.
OoooOOO! A piquant mixture of fear, curiousity & thrill surges through Robin's veins.
"I have a blade. And first touch it is. I have no desire to burden your spirit any more than it already is." She smiles bemusedly, her head still titled as she Listens for her opponent more than looks for him.
Drawing herself upright, Robin salutes Ophiuchus with her blade and takes a standard 'en garde' position.
Ophiuchus sends his seahorse off to the side and comes closer to Robin. He stops perhaps twenty paces from her, draws himself up, and returns her salute.
From this distance, it's clear that he is human-shaped, but not quite human. He is also not quite a moonrider, lacking certain specific moon-rider talents. Robin does find the combat challenging because the water, while not perfectly water-like, does slow some movements more than others. The almost-human knight tries his best, but is not able to defeat a Robin who is determined not to be defeated.
Eventually Ophiuchus breaks his silence. "Lady Robin, you toy with me."
Robin steps backs and brings her sword to an off-guard position (though she is alert for any sneakiness or sudden attacks.)
"No," she says, "No I do not. I am very serious and considering in this. I honor you, your position and your oath and would do no harm to any of that. But I also think the whole situation is... in need of a shake-up. And that's why I here. To prove that there are ways that are neither losses nor victories. Just... you know, life." She smiles at the knight.
"Soooo, is your mind as keen and is flexible as your blade? Can you think of a way out of this? After all, my attempts lead to naught."
He stands off guard as well. He isn't winded at all, and his hair is strangely perfectly coiffed. "This fight or the larger impasse? I must fight until blood is drawn, by our terms. I do not mind losing, but I cannot make myself do so. Were you a mortal, I would just keep fighting on the grounds that you would eventually need to sleep, but that is not a weakness I can depend on in you.
"In the latter case, were the lake or the shore to 'win', it would disrupt a balance that has served all sides well. Your side has forgot it was ever at war, or has not yet remembered it, and ours has moved on.
"We are two pawns left facing each other when all the others have been put on new boards in different games. Neither of us have legal moves.
"Unless you can come up with a way to permanently separate us, then we are the frontier."
"Hmmmm, maybe I can." Robin says, "First, the impasse."
Trying not to worry that she might be following in Daeon's footsteps, Robin quickly brings her sword up to her free hand. She gently pricks the pad of her forefinger bringing a single drop of blood to the surface. (At the same time, Robin is very, very careful about where that single drop goes in this watery environ. If there is any sign that she will lose contact with it, she will immediately sop the drop up on her sleeve.)
"See?" she shows the drop to Ophiuchus. "First blood drawn by me, first blood drawn from me." Having said so, she wipes the blood off on her sleeve and makes sure that no more leaks out. "Does that work for our terms?"
He brings his own sword to the guard position and pricks his thumb on it. The blood flows smoothly from it. There's not much, but it heads towards the crack where the air is bubbling out and somehow staunches the leak completely.
Robin grins as Ophiuchus follows her example and finds an awesome solution to the leaking air.
Ophiuchus sheathes his sword and motions towards his horse, which swims towards the two of you. "It solves the small issue, but not the greater issue. If the air breathers attack their own tower, we might be inclined to press our advantage, or contrawise, they ours were the circumstances reversed.
"Many people on both sides benefit from a forgotten stalemate, at the cost of a handful of lives.
"Will you join me in the castle? We can discuss the matter further with the banphrionsa."
"I'd be honored, thank you," Robin says sheathing her sword.
"On the way, perhaps, can we introduce one another to our various companions? I must admit, sir, that your steed fascinates me. And you may have questions regarding my own little lovelies." She gestures the firelizards back to herself with reassurance that all is well now.
Ophiuchus looks at the fire lizards. "Dragonnes, in some cultures, Dragonettes in others. Not large enough to be drakes, or even hendrakes. They are a variety new to me. They seem to be well-adapted to the water, perhaps suggesting an island origin."
Robin is slightly taken aback by Ophiuchus' bland attitude, but mentally reassures herself and her companions that not everyone can perceive the innate awesomeness that is them. She shakes her head briefly, "No island origin. They're just getting used to being really wet around me." A rueful chuckle escapes Robin.
"They are, respectively, Peep, Chirrup and Ooot." Pride and fondness ring through Robin's voice as she introduces them.
The man bows to the queen and nods to each of the lads.
Robin perks up immediately at the show of manners. After all, she’s casual and a savage, but the firelizards? They're worth it.
"This fine lad is Eckford." Eckford nuzzles Ophiuchus. From close examination, he seems more decorative than strong, with a large number of frilly leaves attached. They move constantly. It's hard to believe that the creature can stay afloat, at his size. "His non-magical relatives are much smaller than he is."
"Oh, aren't you a pretty one?" Robin croons to the sea-stallion. She glances at Ophiuchus to make sure it's okay and then reaches a slow hand toward Eckford's nose. If both knight and mount allow, Robin will spend a little time admiring, petting and getting to know Eckford. Yes, the fate of this world is waiting but... critter!
Once she is done, she relunctantly pulls away and follows Ophiuchus towards the castle and more politics. Bleah.
The knight leads the was towards the castle, only loosely taking Eckford's bridle in hand. He propels himself with a smooth grace as if he doesn't need to touch the ground.
While Robin isn't overly blessed with grace (or familiarity with this kind of environment), her natural athleticism and coordination allow her to get by without too much flailing. On the way, she takes time to emotionally assure her little lovelies that they are doing very, very well and herself that she is not going to drown, it is not so bad and that she will see the sky again soon. Hopefully, really soon.
As they enter the castle, Eckherd is released to swim on his own, and he departs. The castle is large and airy (or perhaps watery) and full of light. Ophiuchus leads her down a long, empty passageway, lined with portraits.
A happy smile dances across Robin's lips at the architecture. An underwater dungeon would be just too horrible to contemplate.
"My Lady paints. These are some of her ancestors and friends. No one she has seen in some time, of course."
Robin glances at the portraits curiously to see if there are any she recognizes. She also checks for what little she can figure out about style, composition, technique and really, really wishes Ossian was here.
Not all of them are fully human.
Well, neither are most of Robin's friends and relations. So it doesn't bother her.
As they enter a courtyard, a woman rises from a bench, putting down a book. She is wearing a long gown that hides her shape and movement, and she seems almost to glide towards Robin.
"Knight Robin of Amber, may I introduce you to the Lady Morgne, Lady of the Lake."
Though briefly startled by the appellation, Robin bows. "Milady." (Castor would be proud.)
"Knight Robin, my family knew of Amber of old, but it has been many years since we have entertained her knights. You are welcome to our demesne."
Ophiuchus nods. "We are sorely lacking in tales of the world beyond the lake. We would be pleased to hear any news you have."
"I thank you for your welcome. And will abide by guest law." Robin smiles to them both.
"News from beyond the lake may prove quite... extensive. Case in point, while I do hail from Amber, my Knighthood (such as it is) is of Xanadu -- Amber's progeny kingdom." Robin does her best to clarify, not correct. "Amber... is not in such a way to create knights these days." There's no disguising the sadness in her voice.
"That is grave news. I grew up in my Grandmother's court with the tales of Amber's knights. It was a distant and fantastic kingdom and only the bravest of our people could travel the wild lands to reach it.
"I am not surprised that the Sons of Auberon are making their own cities. They were his chief Knights and legends in their own right. I saw them ride by, on a visit, when I was very young."
She looks up. "I do not wish to fall into wistful 'membrance, Knight Robin. Is this purely a social call?"
"Not purely." Robin agrees. "I come hoping to broker a peace between yourselves and those who guard the Water Font."
"Merlin's Fountain?" She seems somewhat confused. "We have had peace, for years beyond counting. We are sentry-posts, as are they. Each maintaining the peace maintaining a watch post. What do you propose in the place of this arrangement?"
"I'm not sure." Robin says, "As I don't fully understand the arrangement. I mean, I understand duty. And oaths and protecting one's territory. What I don't understand is... compulsions. How did those get involved?"
Morgne stands and moves to a window. She looks out across the lake bed and finally turns back to Robin. "It is a hard thing for me to remember, it was so long ago. Memory becomes, after centuries, like opening a box in a long-forgotten storeroom. I know what the label for it is, but the contents are often a surprise, and not always a welcome one.
"Yes, It was King Mark and my grandmother, the Queen. They were at war for many years, and had made peace numerous times. It never lasted. Sometimes as long as a generation, but it always returned.
"Laudine and I chose to bind ourselves here to create a barrier between our peoples, to make the peace last. Our sister, Basina, negotiated the peace between her parents and the binding.
"The years have been hard on her. My people are... somewhat more used to time that seems timeless. Her sacrifice is equal to mine, but is harder on her."
"And what of King Mark and the Queen? Is there reason to believe that the wars would return if the compulsions were lifted?" Robin's voice is sympathetic. In Morgne and Laudine's situation, she hears the Shadows of her father and the Dragon.
Morgne sighs. "Our parents are gone to dust, and their kingdoms, in Calamity. We stopped getting word or visitors, and when we sent messengers, they could not reach the Summerlands. Perhaps we could leave, all of us. But we are blood-bound, and the binding and my visions tell me that some successors would war were we to abandon our posts.
"The dragon-blooded forest children perhaps, although it was not always them. Or the riders of the moon."
Ophiuchus shudders. "Order would suffer at the hands of the Chaotic, or worse, war with itself. If the Queen of Air and Darkness were to find us, she would surely destroy us all. That is my fear."
Robin sighs as well. "Well, yes. All of those folks are currently active and feisty. And indeed," she nods to Ophiuchus, "the Queen of Air and Darkness has been seen. The Riders search for her, I believe. And if she has not already been found, she soon will be. But several of my more ferocious kin are on the trail of that particular concern.
"I myself am searching for some... solution to the dragon-blooded. Though I'll admit I am very young and not so given to civilized ways. It is why I wander here in the Deeper Quieter ways, meddling." Robin finishes with a rueful smile and a shrug.
"Soooo, Laudine mentioned that this place could only be a frontier. And someone else," Robin is not even going to hint that it was Ophiuchus, "mentioned that separating the Kingdoms might result in a permanent stand-down. This may be within my abilities, but I'd need to be deeply in touch with the Land. And, of course, it could destabilize the whole thing, but... would that work to release your bindings?"
For once, Morgne has no answer. "I would have to research our binding. It was more of our sister's doing than our own. Were she here, she would know, but she died very long ago.
"My concern is that if we sever the connection, we would sever the points of Order and leave a weakness for those of Chaos to exploit, a sort of blot on the ledger.
"I must think on it, and retire to my study. Ophiuchus will see you to quarters and offer you what limited entertainment the castle affords."
She bows slightly. "Knight Robin, I do not wish to downplay your offer— it gives me hope I have not had for many years that things may change. Change can be frightening, even when desired."
"I understand." Robin says, "And I would rather you not rush into a decision of such magnitude without thought, anyway." 'That’s my job,' she carefully does not say.
Ophiuchus offers her his arm. "Shall we leave the Princess, Knight Robin?"
"Of course. MiLady." Robin bows to Morgne and places her hand on Ophiuchus' arm. "Are there any more fine fellows like Eckford here?" She asks him, gently clueing him in that Robin is not so much into the gallery/garden style of entertainment.
Vere spends the next couple of days haunting the dying city of Amber, visiting old haunts and noting how they now seem little more than... well, shadows of his memories. By the time Caine has Julian's supplies ready to depart Vere is more than ready to be gone.
Before the date of departure he goes over how much material is going to be transported, and how many people are going to be in the party, to determine how best to proceed back to Arden.
The supplies will fill more than a dozen pack-horses in addition to any riding horses he brings. He has a few sailors to act as porters. Vere suspects that this is some sort of punishment duty, but no one says.
There's a pack-train prepared, but Caine suggests barges up the Oisen, if Vere can calm the seas enough to tow them safely to Oisenmouth. Otherwise, the ships can only travel a little way up Oisen before Vere will have to lead his teams on foot.
Caine does not recommend a direct path into the forest from Kolvir.
Vere considers the question carefully and weighs the pros and cons. He is loath to take sailors into potentially hostile forests. Barges could prove difficult to defend if they are attacked on the river, but they are by far the most efficient way to transport the supplies. Eventually her decides to follow Caine's advice: ships to tow the barges to the mouth of the Oisen, while Vere shifts them through calm water. Then the barges to transport the goods up the river.
The horses will come along as well, in case they need to abandon the barges in the face of unforeseen events. Vere will make certain that the horses chosen are all of calm temperament, and have traveled on barges and ships before.
Vere pays his respects to his uncle before departing, in case Caine has any last-minute instruction or (unlikely though it is) avuncular advice to offer.
When they depart the Psyche is brought along, as captain's gig.
And it's off towards the Oisen!
Vere moves his ships and his barges out from the bay, and the tow down to Oisenmouth begins. Vere finds that there is a knack to keeping the seas calm but the ships moving. Several times the ships find themselves becalmed, which seems odd so close to shore. Eventually Vere finds the right balance and the trip becomes more constant, if not as fast as Vere could take the Psyche.
When they reach the Oisen Vere goes onto the deck of the Psyche. He goes to her bow and draws his dagger, then pricks his finger, drawing blood. He leans over the prow and draws an eye with his blood, then does the same on the other side. He whispers "Sail forth to where I need you to be," then leaves the Psyche. He unties her line from the ship and tosses it back on board, then watches as the current from the Oisen carries her out to sea.
The Psyche drifts out to sea, unmanned.
The sailors seem happy when they've sailed as far as they can navigate into Oisenmouth (which is not far -- not with the draft that Amber's ships have). Vere and his crew are now reliant on Man or Animal power to move them against the current of the Oisen.
It's early afternoon when the arrive, and the men who are going on with Vere think they should stop and start fresh at sunrise.
Vere examines the banks, getting a feel for the forest here, looking for signs of human, animal, or other activity.
The forest is green, and untouched by men, but neither particularly ancient nor magically green.
He consults his internal compass. How far are they from the ranger encampment?
Having come this way before, Vere believes they are a day's walk for unencumbered men or a 2 day raft-ride for men with the supplies they have on the rafts.
Vere orders the barges to be made fast, and watches to be set once night falls. He spends the afternoon speaking with the men, getting to know them better and judging which of them know anything at all about forests or the concerns of landsmen.
It's a mix. Some of the men were impressed in the Navy within the last decade and have reasonable experience on land. The ones who went with Marius to Chaos have... odd ticks. The ones who didn't go lived on land for 5 of the past 6 years.
Forests are different, of course. The Rangers kept most people out. One of the men knows a thing or two, but mostly about which trees make good masts or keels.
Since Vere is a Ranger, they look to him for guidance.
Vere's instructions are that no one goes into the forest alone and that they avoid it altogether as much as possible.
They'll set the night watches and assuming nothing untoward happens that night be off at dawn the next day. Caution is more important than speed and Vere will be keeping an eye out for hazards as they travel.
The night passes uneventfully, and the men begin poling the raft upstream. The current is not difficult to overcome, although some of the men think it's stronger than it was the last time they were on this river.
Near sunset on the first day, having made good progress upriver, the forest grows quieter. The dusk-time life of the forest is more wary and more likely to either be predator or prey. The mood falls on the rafters as well.
The river temporarily becomes too shallow to cross, and Vere will need to portage the supplies. It's growing dark, and they might not be back in the water before it becomes too dark to work.
Vere, with his innate sense of direction, recalls that if they only carry the supplies an extra half-mile to the south, they will cut about 20 miles of polling off their travels.
Better slow than risky, Vere decides. They will spend the night on the river here, and portage in the morning. That way they can take the shortcut with no chance of ending up in the forest after dark.
Corwin has summoned the members of the family in Paris, who appear to be Florimel and Solace, though Solace is excused for reasons that Ossian and Folly suspect boil down to "not a Pattern initiate". Florimel arrives looking as if she's just come from a soiree, and doesn't appear to be entirely pleased to have been summoned from it (or perhaps the summons suggests news she won't like).
Ossian and Folly have time to change into appropriate Parisian clothes, particularly Ossian, whose wardrobe is intact from the last time he visited. (Also there was time for a brief trump exchange, and one for Folly if she wants to check in with Martin in summary.) The meeting is held in Corwin's study, and some food has been set out--finger foods--and there's wine and whiskey, since those things may be needed. Florimel has her Trump deck with her, which suggests that Corwin requested it.
Folly does change clothes -- into something soft and Art Nouveau-inspired rather than one of the more heavily corseted styles, if she can manage it -- and checks in briefly with Martin. She fills him in on the news about Reid, and particularly on Dr. Chu and the shadowpath between the monastery and Greenwood Hospital. She offers to bring him through if he wants to join the family meeting (although since it would require bringing Lark, too, she is not expecting him to take her up on it), or to keep a trump line open if he'd like to join that way. If not, she'll check in again once they're done.
Martin is Not Pleased. He's not willing to bring Lark through to Paris, but he'll take a check-in when Folly is done. (Clearly, he thinks, he should have done a more thorough job of murder and mayhem in Shadow Tyrell.)
When she arrives at Corwin's study she exchanges pleasantries with those who have arrived before her; her tone and manner are rather more subdued than usual, though, and she is not inclined toward idle chitchat unless she senses it would help ease the tension.
Ossian dresses in slightly more color than current fashion dictates. He takes a small glass of white wine. A gentleman as usual, he will kiss Flora's hand, but like Folly he stays quiet for the moment.
Florimel is dressed in a softer gown than one might expect given the current fashions, but they are en famille here. Like Folly's, her dress is also influenced by the curves and designs of Art Nouveau.
The King has also changed into a black and silver smoking jacket. (Black velvet; silver trim.)
Once they have gathered and greetings have been made, Corwin explains what they're here to discuss. He summarizes for Florimel the stories that Ossian and Folly have told them, with particular emphasis on the Greenwood Hospital part of the news. All of this appears to be news, and a bit of a shock, to Florimel, who disclaims any knowledge that Greenwood was affiliated with the Klybesians.
Brand might have known. He'd been the one who suggested that Corwin be put into the hospital there.
"I suppose Brand could have seen that as a fair trade," Folly muses. "Give the Klybesians an Amberite to experiment on, and in exchange they keep a meddlesome older brother out of the way of his schemes. But I'm not sure I buy that, unless his connection to them ran so deep he trusted that they would never try to use whatever they learned against him."
She hesitates, frowning, and looks at Corwin. "Or perhaps you were the price of something he learned from them. But I imagine it would have to be something awfully big." She makes a gesture inviting the rest of them to speculate further or poke holes in that idea; after all, they all knew Brand, and she didn't.
"Oh, I bet they had things to tell him. My grandfather was curious to a fault. I do wonder about Chew's position in the order. What was his role when you met him, Folly?"
"He presented himself as a doctor," Folly says. "He didn't run any of the actual procedures, but he's the one who came to talk to us when we went back the next day to get the test results. Told us some of my results were abnormal and that he recommended I be hospitalized until they could run some follow-up tests. In The Machine." She shudders visibly; these memories are clearly upsetting to her, but she pushes ahead:
"We started asking questions that he was not very forthcoming about answering, and that's when it started feeling very, very wrong. Wrong-er. He left us alone for a few minutes and I was in the process of calling Random to trump us the hell out of there when someone or someones came in the room and scuffled with Martin. He told me to go on, so I did, while he stayed behind to, you know, punch people in the head and blow up labs and stuff...."
Folly hesitates, and then says. "Terranova. I think that was the name of the hospital. 'New Earth' and 'Green Wood' -- possibly just a coincidence, but it's an interesting one."
Corwin is increasingly disgruntled as Folly's story continues, and by the time she's finished, he's openly frowning. "Is there anything else about the Klybesians or Greenwood or Terranova or this Hannibal person that anyone wants to contribute? Because we're past the point here where Random and I need to discuss measures, and if there's no more to add, then I'll take any suggestions you have on how we should deal with them."
Ossian shakes his head.
Folly says, "I will just add this, which you may well already have thought of: As much as I would love to see the Klybesians unmade, there is a very real possibility that they could have a Pattern initiate among their ranks -- possibly a long-forgotten and disgruntled one, if they are as ancient an order as they want to seem. That would explain how that shadowpath might have come into being even without Brand's help; all the other alternative explanations I can think of seem rather less likely. If that's the case, dealing with them as if they are a mere shadow problem could be not only ineffectual, but dangerous."
She makes a small gesture, palms up, to Corwin and Florimel: she's ready for them to call in the other players, if that's what comes next.
The room falls silent after Folly's words, quiet enough that the slightest movement sounds obscenely loud. Florimel blinks, slowly, and turns to Corwin. The Prince in Silver and Black raises his hand.
"I hadn't considered that, but if he's fallen in with them again, we have to act immediately. I certainly hope you’re wrong."
Flora's eyes are wide and she is sitting very, very still.
Folly's brow creases with concern. "Who?" she asks warily.
"Caine," Corwin says to Folly and Ossian.
Flora's expression suggests that she has had a very ugly suspicion confirmed.
"Oh come on." Corwin turns back to Flora. "Dad never told you why he pulled Caine from the succession? Why he threw all the religious out of Amber?"
"That kind of talk wasn't considered suitable for the dinner table when ladies were present, and you know it, Corwin," she ripostes sweetly.
Corwin has the good grace to look mildly abashed.
A smile flashes over Ossian's face. Then he turns somber "How old could that path be?" he asks.
Folly drops her gaze to her hands folded tightly in her lap to hide a momentary glint of amusement in her own eyes. She looks up again at Ossian's question and adds, "And for the benefit of those of us who weren't even around to hear that particular story from Oberon, what happened, if you don't mind filling us in?"
"Caine was deeply involved in one of the old martial orders attached to the Church of the Unicorn. They were involved in the old troubles between Cymnea and my mother--and Caine's--Faiella. Even I don't know all the details of how he annoyed Dad so much; as you say," Corwin nods to Flora, "it wasn't dinner table talk. And I was much out of Amber at the time. It was after my mother had died, but before Dad married Clarissa, I think. The net result was that Dad ordered all the religious out of the city, stripped them of their citizenship and goods, and Caine was out of the succession.
"He didn't get rid of the Unicorn, and now we all know why, but there were no more priests, and the Knights were purely secular."
It takes Corwin a moment to remember that he hasn't answered Ossian's question. "It could be old, depending on how much spying they were doing on Flora, or me, during my exile there. But the real question is how it survived the Black Rain."
"It was underground, if that helps." Ossian says, frowning. "Is there any way to find out who layed a certain path?"
"Or could there be anything else about the place -- inherently or by design -- that could have ensured it would stay somewhere on the natural paths between Pattern realms?" Folly says. "It didn't feel... pre-Patterny or anything, did it?"
Ossian shakes his head. "I don't think so. Jerod said nothing about that either, and he's way ahead of me."
Folly frowns thoughtfully. "I suppose it's possible that Caine -- or maybe Brand -- worked out some other way to ensure that spot stayed on the natural paths. We do seem to exert some sort of metaphysical gravity on the shadows around us; perhaps---" she nods at Corwin "---keeping you in that place, your psychic energy, somehow reinforced that effect. But that's just speculation.
"It does occur to me, though, that if Caine really is working with the Klybesians -- and if he also was somehow in on the scheme to keep you in that hospital -- it casts his actions in the recent war in an interesting light. Perhaps the true purpose of his fratricide was not so much to save the universe from Mad Brother Brand as to take out the one person who knew enough about his comings and goings to out him to the rest of the family."
Flora ponders this question. "Caine was apparently friendly with Brennan at that time." She glances at Ossian, but holds the question for now.
"Oh." Ossian says.
Folly's frown deepens. "In your experience, does Caine have the kind of skill with Pattern, and the curiosity to experiment with it, that might let him make an especially enduring shadowpath, or create some kind of anchor in shadow?" She hesitates, thinking, and then adds, "And does he have any other interesting metaphysical skills he might be sharing with the Klybesians that we should be on guard against?"
"Caine's the most skilled user of Trumps I've ever seen. He can spy on people with them, and that's a skill most of us can't match," Corwin explains. "He's almost as old as I am, and he's one of our Admirals. I don't know that he has any special skills in forging paths, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did. He wasn't one of the original pathmakers, but he learned from them, and he's been doing it for a long time.
"But it doesn't have to be him for all of it. He could have made the path for them centuries ago, before Dad forbade him any further involvement with the religious. Or he could have taught some royal bastard, his or someone else's."
"Probably not his," Flora says and gives Corwin a knowing look. Corwin shrugs.
Ossian frowns "I'd like to ask Ambrose if he has met the monks. Not that he could have laid the path.
"Silhouette has agreed to help me investigate at Greenwood. Unless you kings decide something else, of course."
"If Random approves it, I see no reason why you two shouldn't investigate together. Emphasis on together, since we don't want any more of you disappearing and it sounds as though the Klybesians can take one of you if they want." Corwin rises and moves to his secretary desk to rifle through it, presumably for his Trumps. "What about Ambrose? Brennan's brother, Brand's son?"
"Given that the monks have been involved with Caine, my father, me and Brand, I wouldn't be surprised if they contacted Ambrose, or that mad sister of his. It's just a hunch."
"Well, and if they've managed to piss him off the way they have the rest of us, he might be easy to recruit to your mission, if you think he could help," Folly says. "But -- how were they involved with you, Ossian? I'm afraid I missed that part."
"I found my mother." Ossian says with a sigh. "The Valkyrie Regenlief. Strange that. But Brennan confirms it. They fought alongside with the monks.
"He didn't learn she became pregnant. But the monks did. Stole me and placed me in that orphanage."
Florimel scowls at this report but doesn't add anything. Corwin meets her gaze and shakes his head in the negative.
"A Valkyrie would tie her back to the shadows near Brita's family. Have you brought this to Brita's attention, or Fiona's? Because it's looking more and more like the Klybesians have spread further through Shadow than we previously imagined." The question is directed to Ossian but Corwin seems interested in Folly's opinion.
"Not to mention that we suddenly have a potential motive for getting rid of Reid."
Folly's jaw has set in a hard line. "Ossian," she asks, with a coolness that he feels is not directed at him, "did you come to that orphanage before or after Meg?"
"She's older than me, so I guess after. I was only an infant... But yes, that is a problem too. What's their deal with Dara?"
Ossian looks at Flora: "Why would they want to kill Reid?"
Corwin steps in to field this one. "Reid was in the Asgardian shadow realms for a long time. When we settle in a single place in Shadow, we attract Reality, and clearly the Klybesians are interested in that. Who knows what information he might have picked up about them and their history in Asgard, given that we know they were recruiting agents like your mother there?"
"They might have needed to shut his mouth, or, depending on how things went, dispose of the evidence," Flora adds. "Exile from Amber--or Paris, now--is a cold and lonely thing." She glances at Corwin; their eyes meet briefly. "Who knows what he might have done, all unknowingly, to get back home?"
"Or not so unknowingly," Folly offers. "If I understand his timeline correctly, his youth or young adulthood in Amber could have been during the time they were still active there, yes? Which I suppose could also have led to them thinking he knew rather too much about them." She looks at Ossian, who may know more about that part of Reid's history than she does.
"That is very possible, even probable." Ossian says. "Reid did not say much about his past. Do we have any proof of their precence in Asgard? I was not aware that my mother was recruited by them at all?"
"How did she get out of Asgard to run into Brennan?" Corwin asks Ossian. "I'm not saying she was, but we know they recruit and a presence in Asgard doesn't indicate an abbey. The gods of Asgard are jealous and wouldn't allow foreign religious in without a fight. So they came as warriors--and that means military recruitment."
As the King is speaking, the door opens to allow Signy and Ambrose to slip in. They're clearly dressed for travel, with Signy bearing a plain sword on her hip.
Signy hangs back from the main group for the moment, hoping in vain that they somehow will have managed to avoid becoming the center of attention upon their arrival.
Ambrose is also mildly hesitant, but the group is small enough that there's nothing for it, so he comes all the way in as well.
Corwin is holding court with Florimel, Ossian, and Folly in attendance. It's late at night--possibly even pushing toward dawn by now--and there is food and drink, the latter of which Corwin offers to the newcomers if they want any.
Given that the King is holding family court, everyone is dressed informally, but Ambrose and Signy have come fresh from the Rebma road and are damp (but at least not dusty).
"Welcome to Paris," Corwin says. "Let me get you something to drink and settle in. We're in the middle of a family council."
Ossian smiles. "Uncle." It still sounds strange. "Cousin. You arrive timely. How much of the latest news have you heard?"
Ambrose bows slightly to the King and Florimel and acknowledges Ossian, then Folly with a smile. "There is always news in this family. You'll have to tell us which we're meant to know."
"We're glad you're here. Perhaps you'll have news for us as well," Florimel says with a smile as Corwin prepares the drinks.
Folly returns Ambrose's smile warmly, then rises and extends a hand to Signy. "I take it you know everyone else here, but I've been traveling so much lately I'm not sure we were ever properly introduced," she says. "I'm Folly. We were just talking about the Klybesians, of whom I'm afraid I know very little."
Signy makes a passable attempt at a bow towards Corwin, before giving Folly a small but genuine smile in return as she takes her hand in a firm clasp. "I'm Signy, Dierdre's daughter." She gives a quick glance around the room, before turning her gaze back on Folly.
"I know the Klybesians. My tutor was of their Order, and when Marius came to them seeking knowledge of me he took that opportunity to flee their service and return to me."
She sighs quietly, before taking in the rest of the room.
"Edan and I questioned him after the news of Reid reached Rebma. He had some information, but had fallen out of favor with them some time ago, so wasn't high in their councils when he left. I have him working on writing up any details about his time in the Order in my absence in case something in there means something to someone in the Family."
"That's great news. " Ossian says. "I would be very interested to read that, indeed.
"I, Jerod and Raven went back to get Reid's body. In short: Jerod wrecked the place when we found out who Brother Hannibal is. Folly has encountered the man before, in an unpleasant manner. When we searched the place we found a Shadow Path to the hospital where Uncle Corwin" Ossian nods towards the King "was for a while.
"Too many ties to too many of us. And they like tissue samples of Amberites." he makes a wry face. "And they got away.
"Do you have any idea of who might have laid that Shadow Path?"
Ambrose looks around, in case this question is directed at him, which from the looks being sent in his direction, it is. "I cannot say whether my father laid it, if that's what you're implying. He didn't tell me he had done any such thing, but there are many things I've since learned about him. I can't say he didn't do it, and it was well within his capabilities to lay a path, especially if he had reason to be familiar with one or both places." This is not an answer Ambrose likes, but it's clearly all he has.
"He knew the endpoint," Corwin says. "He was the one who tried to kill me and have my brains fried."
Florimel suddenly seems very preoccupied with her drink.
Signy thinks for a moment, before looking at Corwin. "Does this mean the Order might be looking to continue what he started when he attempted to destroy the Pattern? Is that why they want the samples? Or do they think that they can somehow use our essence to gain our powers?"
"Chew seemed power hungry enough to try to get our powers." Ossian says "But we should not rule out that they want to trade the samples with someone. Or simply blackmail us."
"Or they could be trying to grow their very own little Amberites," Folly says with a tight, forced smile; to Ossian's eyes she looks as though she would like to go be quietly sick in a corner. "My home shadow doesn't quite have that kind of technology, and I gather Greenwood wouldn't've either, but the place I met Chew almost certainly does."
"The shadow Greenwood was in didn't have that kind of technology at that time. But it might have developed it afterwards," Florimel corrects Folly gently. She seems less horrified at the idea than grimly dissatisfied about its very existence. "If you have enough power and you dwell in a Shadow long enough, it molds itself to your desires, if you're Real."
"If you're a Pattern initiate," Corwin says, and it's not obvious whether that's disagreement or clarification. "And we don't think they have a huge number of those."
"They have at least one," Florimel counters. "One who made that shadow path."
Ossian nods. "I agree that Greenwood probably isn't advanced enough from my more recent observation. But Chew can travel between more Shadows. I wonder if there are more paths."
"Do we know of any other locations in Shadow where the Order is particularly associated with?" Signy looks at Corwin. "Or would it be worth looking for any places that Brand was known to frequent?"
"I can make a list of some of the places I know were important to my father," Ambrose offers.
Corwin nods. "That would be useful." He gestures Ambrose to the secretary, which he opens to produce pen, ink, and paper. He turns back to Signy. "Your man, did he describe the places he knew to belong to the Order? Have you got names of places, and possibly routes to get there? Cross-referencing would be useful, and possibly give us a list of places to check."
Signy shakes her head in the negative. "We didn't really discuss the locations of other Chapterhouses. He knew of the Shadow paths, and that the Order had some collection of Trumps that they had collected over the centuries."
Ossian's eyes narrow, but he stays quiet.
She shrugs slightly. "I got the impression that he was either in his Chapterhouse, or with Weyland to tutor me, and hadn't really moved around much within the Order itself."
Folly has been lost in thought during the discussion of shadows and shadowpaths, trying to puzzle something out. Then, "Corwin?" she says, "You mentioned that the path to Greenwood, if it were laid while you were there, shouldn't have survived the giant shadow storm. But the paths between Patterns do, at least in some form. What do you know about those -- and in particular, why were they named for your mother?"
Signy listens to Folly's question before turning to look at Corwin and Florimel for their response.
Ossian too is quiet.
"I wasn't in Amber when the Faiella-Bionin was made. I left after my mother died and came back--later." Corwin chooses not to elaborate on that point, but Florimel rises and comes to him to pat his hand comfortingly, as a good sister should. "Legends have it that some people can leave benisons on their deaths instead of curses, like Eric's or--" he smiles thinly "--mine. The Faiella-Bionin is, I am told, my mother's."
Folly's eyes widen in surprise. "But then... she must have been a woman of considerable power in her own right, to create such a boon."
She regards Corwin with an artist's gaze, scrutinizing his features as if seeing them for the first time, mentally comparing them to every portrait and sketch she studied when she first arrived in Amber and worked to learn the history and legends of her new-found family and its allies and foes. It is only by an effort of will, evident in the way she has wrapped her fingers tightly around the edge of her seat-cushion, that she stays in her seat rather than egregiously invading his personal space for a closer look. She turns to study Signy's features, too, for a long moment, looking for the markers of Faiellan heritage, before turning back to Corwin.
"Was she... of Tir?" she ventures, with a tone that suggests more than just idle curiosity. "Or one of the other realms of power?"
Signy's eyes light up with a question, but for the moment she bides her time to let Corwin answer Folly.
Ossian's eyes shine. He is way out of his depth here. So he is quiet.
Corwin shakes his head in the negative. "My mother was the daughter of a noble merchant family of Amber. I don't know for certain where her family was originally from. But, given what we know from the growth of Paris in recent years, and the growth of Xanadu, it's likely enough that she came from somewhere else. But most of Dad's queens and consorts were powers in their own right. Look at Moins and Clarissa. He didn't seem to care for weak women."
Ossian and Folly suspect he has something else he might have added to that comment but decided not to say for whatever reason.
"Well, one can hardly fault him for wanting a partner with half a chance of keeping up with him," Folly observes with a little half-smile. It's not clear whether the gently wry humor in her tone is directed at Corwin or herself. Possibly both. "But he could have had other reasons, too."
Signy glances around the room before speaking up. "My father had some sort of relationship with the Order, though I'm not sure what it was other than to have Tomat provide me with training." Signy locks her eyes on Corwin's.
"What is my father's ancestry?"
Folly has slipped a small sketchpad from among the folds of her dress and is scribbling on it, angled so Ossian can see. It looks like she's working on a family tree, but twisted around on itself. After a few moments it becomes apparent to him that she's laying out family members and connecting lines along the Faiella-Bionin.
Ossian smiles at that, restraining himself from pulling out a pen to help Folly. Then he looks at Corwin.
Florimel is interested in Corwin's answer as well.
Corwin frowns, more thoughtfully than annoyed. "It's a good question, and one I'd like a solid answer to. What I do know is this: Weyland is Real, as real as any of us, and he's taken some form of the Pattern at some point in his life, or he wouldn't have been able to make something like Grayswandir." Corwin pats the pommel of the blade, which he is in fact wearing to the meeting. "So that makes him family of some sort. At what remove, I can only guess--but it can't be too distant because he's got to be ancient. Unless there's some question of time with him from being on the wrong side of Ygg."
Folly looks up from her scribbling and eyes Corwin's sword with curiosity. "How long ago did he forge Grayswandir?" she asks -- then amends, since absolute times are unlikely to make sense in this context, "When in your timeline, I mean."
Signy frowns thoughtfully. "And in making it, it seems like he would not be the type to ally with the Order, unless something changed...."
She leaves the obvious answer unspoken for the moment.
"The legend about your father makes him no one's ally, Signy. The question is what price Dad paid to have Werewindle made. And what price someone else paid to have Grayswandir made." Corwin shifts his focus from Signy to Folly. "And that's another question I don't know the answer to. It's an open secret that Caine had Dad's sword before Bleys, and the same portfolio."
Florimel nods her agreement to Corwin's statement.
Folly's eyes widen in surprise; clearly his answer has gone in directions she did not expect.
Corwin continunes, "But I don't think Caine was the first prince with that position. Maybe it was Osric or Finndo. I don't think it was Ben, though."
"Do you know whether my father ever held such a blade?" Ambrose asks.
Corwin shakes his head. "Not to my knowledge. He was desperately jealous of Bleys for having it."
"We speculated," Florimel adds, without specifying who the we was, "that it was part of what drove him into deeper studies with Dworkin."
Ossian frowns and asks "Do you think he tried to make one for himself?"
Folly looks like she might have something to say about that, but she lets Corwin and Florimel answer first.
It's Ambrose, perhaps unsurprisingly, who speaks up to answer that. "My father's primary interest for centuries was the Tir problem. I know he resented Bleys, but if he wanted a specific blade, I would have thought it was Grayswandir and not Werewindle. And his--" Ambrose searches for a word and settles on "--creative impulses, such as they were, were channeled in a different direction."
Ambrose is pointedly not looking at Folly. Just Ossian.
Folly's eyes narrow fractionally; she looks as though she might be biting back a comment or two about Brand's 'creative impulses'. Instead, she says to Corwin, "Yes, that's part of what made me think your mother might have been of Tir: not just your bond to Tir's blade, but the fact that Brand seemed so interested in keeping you out of the way and closely supervised. Well, and because Avalon guards the back way to Tir" -- she taps her pencil over Benedict's name on her sketch -- "but... was that always so?"
Signy looks slightly confused at Ambrose's words. "Tir problem?" she says quietly, hoping someone will elaborate further.
Ambrose hesitates, but Corwin gestures to him to speak. "My father thought that Dworkin--his mentor, our great-grandfather--was damaged by something that had happened to Tir, to render it out of sync. That it was a source of pain and mental instability. His plan to remake the universe sprang from a desire to help Dworkin. Though it went into darker places as he elaborated on it." Which is all Ambrose really seems to want to say about it.
With that sidebar complete, and explained to everyone who hadn't heard Ambrose's theory before, Corwin turns back to Folly. "I can't answer any questions about Avalon with certainty. I'm not sure Benedict's Avalon is the Avalon I knew. Very similar, but different. There were silver towers in Avalon as I knew it, but they were part of the city rather than in the sky."
Ossian stays quiet.
Signy frowns thoughtfully. "So, Tir and Amber are both damaged. Are there other places that once had Patterns but are now damaged or inoperable?"
She pauses before the words just spill out of her. "Was Rebma's Pattern created in response to the damage to Tir's?"
Florimel looks to Corwin as if she thinks he has some special insight into the answer to this question.
He sighs. "Signy, a decade or three ago we didn't even know about the Primal Pattern, never mind Avalon. All we knew was Amber and Rebma and Tir. We didn't even know Dworkin was Dad's father. We're all feeling our way through this, too, figuring out which of the legends and myths have some basis in fact. There are no quick and easy answers. Unless Brand had them from Dworkin."
"Not in the papers I've deciphered so far," Ambrose answers. "Though I haven't finished them by a long shot."
"Uncle," Folly says to Corwin as the War Council breaks up, "I still have a few questions for you -- but perhaps more grilling by an eager niece is not how you would prefer to conclude what has already been rather a long evening for you--" where by 'long' she undoubtedly means something about halfway between 'trying' and 'disappointing', given that they interrupted his post-opera plans. "Would you rather wait 'til tomorrow?"
Corwin, who is watching his sister and the rest of the group make their goodnights and departures, shakes his head in the negative. "Kingship means long nights sometimes. I have the luxury of setting the pace of the palace in the morning. Sit back down and I'll answer the questions I can for you." He smiles at Folly, a bit indulgently, and gestures to her to sit down. "And if there's anything I can have brought around for you, let me do that too."
Folly thinks on that for a moment, then replies with a little smile, "Well, depending on how irritating my questions turn out to be, later we may want a lute or a guitar or something -- but for now perhaps just a wee dram of something will suffice." She squashes her natural instinct to go serve herself from the remains of the War Council spread, letting Corwin play host instead. She takes a seat; her posture is noticeably less rigid than it was during the War Council.
Once Corwin has made himself comfortable, Folly begins: "Perhaps it is my songwriting instincts that make me latch onto recurring motifs and symbols to see where they go; but since hearing the story Cameleopardis told of his experiences in the sunken city, I can't shake the feeling that there is something important hiding in the details. I was hoping you might be willing to tell me a bit more about the Avalon you knew, and your life there."
Corwin had apparently been paying enough attention to what Folly had chosen to bring her a plate full of things she would generally have chosen for herself, along with the aforementioned wee dram.
Folly accepts the plate and glass with a warm smile of thanks. She makes a mental note to try not to flirt back, and then promptly loses that note behind the metaphorical couch.
He gathers up another plate of his own, and a dram for himself, and joins her. "I can see how that might be useful to you. Do you want to tell me what themes you see in common and let me search through my memories for them, or ask me a leading question or two and see what I turn up for you?"
Folly chews her bottom lip thoughtfully. "Perhaps let's start with the recurring themes, but then I might have some follow-up questions.
"The first is the silver towers, which seemed awfully important to the legend of his ancestors that the Maghee wizard spoke of. Some version of them has now appeared on land in Avalon, beneath the waves once they were sunk by the Maghees, and in the sky in Tir.
"The second is the relationship between you and Benedict, or perhaps the 'Sorceror-King' and the 'Protector', to use Cameleopardis's words." Folly's tone has softened, and she pauses to take a sip of her drink, perhaps to give herself time to choose her next words carefully; she is aware this could be a delicate area. "That image he related of the two of you striving against one another over the Pattern -- I don't know whether that is an echo of a real incident in the past or the future, or if perhaps it is symbolic of something else. Some clash between realms, perhaps. I'm curious to hear your thoughts."
"The Silver Towers were part of the legend of Avalon when I found the place." Corwin answers that first, because it's clearly the easy part. "I remember them, but I didn't create them.
"As for the other--" and here his expression turns a little puzzled, as best as Folly can tell, not that he seems to be trying to hide anything from her "--I don't entirely know. There are things Benedict and I don't agree on, but not to the point of fatal violence, and certainly not since the war. And in any case, everybody knows he's a greater warrior, and a better swordsman, than I am. He'd make mincemeat out of me unless I had some protection and some luck.”
He frowns. "Though maybe it's the scene from Tir, with the arm. It was me, and him, but not at the same time."
Folly blinks. "The arm was silver, too, was it not?" she asks, then adds, "By legend, who raised the silver towers in the Avalon you knew?"
Corwin frowns thoughtfully at the series of questions. "I think the silver arm was Dad's fault. He took it out of Tir and sent it back somehow. He was a greater master of reality than any of us knew."
Folly nods; she has heard similar ideas about the silver arm, and Oberon's abilities, from Martin.
"Now Avalon, there were old gods there, and Fair Folk, who slaughtered each other long before my time. And then the people after them, the great heroes of ancient times, whose magic was stolen from the Fair Folk. They were the ones who raised the Towers."
Folly considers that for a moment. "Did you know of this Maghee clan, and Maghdeburgh, during the time you dwelt in Avalon?" she asks. "And... is the story of their 'sorcerer king' to do with you, or is it part of that earlier history?"
Corwin shakes his head in the negative. "If my present understanding of the relationship between Ben's Avalon and mine is right, I was never there. But," he clarifies, "I did know a people like the Maghees, and I warred against them, and they were the ones who pulled down the Silver Towers in my Avalon. That's the best answer I can give you." His tone suggests he doesn't expect Folly to find that very helpful.
"So, clan Maghee might not have been part of your Avalon, but if not, they sound like a close shadow of something that was there," Folly says. "What were you warring over with your near-Maghees, if you don't mind my asking? And," she adds after a moment's thought, "did they claim any notable descent?"
"They never claimed any specific descent I recognized," Corwin says,
"but there were sorcerers among them, which indicates they were
somehow of Chaosian ancestry, directly or indirectly. As for what they
were warring with me over--well." He pauses there and considers how
best to say what he's thinking to Folly. "The last part of the time I
spent in my Avalon was after my mother died giving birth to my sister
Deirdre. I was not a kind man in those days, nor a good ruler, and
it's no surprise that anyone would have wanted to overthrow me."
Brennan lets the Trump contact fade without protest, then lets out a deep breath and scrubs his face with his hands. Why is it, he muses, that speaking in a voice barely above a whisper is more stressful than shouting across a battlefield at the top of his lungs? There is probably some deep psychological insight there-- maybe he'll ask Bleys. That should good for a chuckle. He stands up, stretches, and manages to crack at least half the joints in his upper body, and begins the process of freshening up as though he'd actually taken a nap. And unconsciously, reflexively, he starts updating his to-do list:
Call Fiona. Call Bleys. If he catches a break, they'll be together and he can get both of them together. Call Folly? Yes... but lower priority, since Benedict is more or less up to date. Send Cameleopardis' words to his people. Track down Cledwin, see what he knows. Go to Cameleopardis' people, and make an army out of them. Question this Jellicoe character. And, come to think of it, Crisp and Mayness, although they're probably harmless dupes. And then this banquet with Benedict, Balen and Trippel-- technically it is a victory celebration, but Brennan would prefer that it be thought of as a survival banquet. Brennan craves strategic ambiguity, here.
All of those go under the sub-heading of, "Find and stop Moire."
Then there are the longer term, extra-curricular activities: Poke around the basement of Montparnasse, for one. As spooked by the place as Balen and Trippel seem to be, Brennan bets that he finds it even creepier. Check into the Silver Towers... although Conner will probably do that, and Brennan envies him the opportunity. A nice long conversation with Weyland that will probably cost Brennan his right hand... and that, only because Weyland doesn't believe in souls. Investigating these Fair Folk, and their (their?) ley lines all over Avalon. And as a last recourse, if necessary, Project Yg.
He stops and considers. Maybe those ley lines should go on the active curriculum. If this battle is fought here, it will be fought on Avalonian geography, of which those lines are a part. It may behoove him to learn something of them, especially if Moire has not. Perhaps Cameleopardis' people know something about them. Or Benedict. Or Balen. Or it wouldn't be the first time Brennan had to master something with no training, and it won't be the last.
He realizes that he's grinning to him in anticipation of... all of that... so he scrubs the smirk off his face, screws himself into the Walker persona again, fakes having taken a nap, and exits his quarters in search of Jellicoe.
Jellicoe is in the guest wing, where Walker and his men have been quartered. His room is nearer the main hall and larger than Walker's. If Brennan knocks, Jellicoe answers his own door.
Well, kicking down the door seems like an abuse of hospitality, and as much as Walker... and to some degree, Brennan... take Cledwin's betrayal personally, Jellicoe had seemed like a man that could be reasoned with. Or bought. So Brennan knocks. Is Jellicoe under any sort of guard or watch, or is he left to his own recognizance?
There’s no guard.
[OOC: Apparently a cultural difference here is that they really mean it about paroling captives. He could walk out the gate and no one would stop him, but if he took arms against his former captors, his own men would cut him down. Not that Walker knows this...]
"Nice quarters," he mutters, giving himself the excuse to scan briefly for mirrors as he looks around. And by way of inviting himself in. "Perks of rank, I reckon."
"I suppose. You’re the captain of the mercenaries, am I correct? You have my admiration for your skill and determination in defeating us."
"We had some good luck," Walker allows. He moves in such a way that Jellicoe can see that he's brought something with him-- a bottle that might have come from the royal family's private stash. Conjured, if need be, but something in exactly the style and quality that would be fit for such a stash.
"My compliments for whoever kept your groups on their timing. Ain't easy keeping two groups coordinated," he says. Then he reconsiders. "Three, I reckon, if you look at it right."
The man shrugs. "Sometimes. You can do more if you can split your troops, but there are risks as the communications get more difficult. Two commanders can't react to a change in circumstances as quickly as one, and so on. However, you can't have a pincer movement without coordinated separation of troops. And it's even more difficult at sea, where the wind also has to cooperate." While Jellicoe seems very interested in small unit tactics, and what's more seems reasonably good at the theory as well as the practice, he's also being careful not to refer to any specifics of the recent battles.
"You obviously had some sort of way out of the castle. Our magician assured us that you didn't conjure yourself outside of the walls."
"Obviously?" Walker says. "We feinted break-outs to get riders to these folks' allies. You sure I ain't just tag along with them and circle back?"
Walker, like Brennan's uncles, has cultivated the skill of casting reasonable doubt on prior certainties.
Jellicoe shrugs. "Not all watching eyes are human eyes, Captain Walker, nor do they all see in the same spectrum. But have it your way. It could be as you say."
Walker shrugs in return. Brennan notices that rather educated turn of phrase, but keeps it to himself.
He shifts in his chair. "May we have the bodies of those who died inside the castle walls, to return to their kinfolk for burial?"
Walker pours two drinks: They're negotiating, now.
"You mean those boys that came and killed Prince Maibock? They ain't mine to give, but I might could put in a good word with the new Prince." Walker does not conceal his impression that this would go a considerable distance, all things considered and all favors owed. "A good faith gesture couldn't hurt."
Walker has some ideas on that subject, but he'd rather see what Jellicoe offers. He offers Jellicoe a drink to lubricate the negotiations.
Jellicoe takes the drink and considers. "War's coming, no doubt about that. I can't commit to anything that would get us hanged back home. Them was good boys, but if we'd wanted to die for 'em, we'd've already done it." He swallows the first half of his drink. "There's a few things I can offer, one for the Mountain folk. They are isolated up here, and not well liked by their neighbors. War's coming, but it's also going to end. A trade agreement would be a good faith gesture, would it not?"
He drinks the rest of his drink. "And here's another thing I can offer. Position. You're a hell of a fighter, and you're wasted in this backwater. You're free of your contract, I hear, and we're bound not to attack Montparnasse, so there's no conflict.
"You're good, and I'd like to see what you can do for us."
Walker sips his drink while asking a few questions about this proposed trade deal: What for what, how often, starting when, that sort of thing. It is clear from the outset that Walker is not negotiating, simply getting the details of Jellicoe's offer-- such as they can be at this point-- to relay them back to Trippel. It seems from the initial offer that Jellicoe is speaking of something to begin after the war, not during it; this is something Walker wants to clarify, even if he doesn't ask in term quite that stark. After all, no Avalonian trade fleet is ever going to be anything other than armed to the teeth, and having an armed fleet of the northern coast after the war is a bit different than having one off the coast during the war.
The details are mostly of interest to the parties involved, but the offer seems to be a step further than most paroles go, even in Avalon. That it's even offered suggests that alliances here are both fluid and complex. Jellicoe is very clear that he means to honor his commitment to sit out the war. Given that this is Avalon, that probably means "sit out the rest of this campaign season".
That satisfies both Walker's duty to take a reasonable offer to Trippel, and Brennan's duty to make sure that the strategic balance is retained, at least in this small regard.
When he gets the information he needs (or gets all he's going to get) he agrees to take the offer to Trippel.
That concluded, he can investigate this job offer more fully. "Tell me more about this job," he says. "I reckon you ain't wanna tell me where I'd be fighting, but you can at least tell me who I'd be fighting for, and with."
"A mercenary should know who is punching his ticket. There is an alliance of four cities in the northlands, whose commission I hold. I cannot tell you where they would need us most, because we have been on this assignment for some weeks. Perhaps in the shield lands, perhaps with our allies to the east. The Admiral is a naval genius, and is excellent at finding how to best use whatever resources he has."
He pauses. "He'll be keen to meet you, and hear of your exploits."
"You don't mind my sayin', that ain't sayin' much: Northern cities, and a guy with a fleet," Walker drawls, waiting for Jellicoe to put even enough structure on the table to hang a hat on. What Walker thinks of a naval genius who uses sailors to assault a mountain fastness goes unsaid... although to be fair, Brennan's opinion is somewhat higher, all things considered.
"But that ain't all I meant. What about Cledwin?" he asks.
"Crisp's man? He kept to himself when we brought him to Avalon. Barely came out of his cabin. I don't know who he worked for."
"Aye. Crisp's man," Walker says. "Humor me. Call it part of my payment for your boys. Tell me what you know about him... and how it is you brung him to Avalon where I met him. Who else was with him, where'd he come from, like that."
Walker pours them another drink while Jellicoe answers.
Jellicoe drinks, again. "Half a year back, or maybe a year. Anyway, not long after the breaking of the black tides. We were afloat again and damn glad of it; we'd all been beached too long. We met the Admiral at sea, at a rendezvous he'd arranged. Us, The Dancer, and his flagship. He sent us Cledwin and someone else to Captain Stoat. We took him to the coast of Avalon and dropped him on the shore under cover of darkness.
"It's funny, we met the Admiral again after that, but I don't recall getting orders to do so. That's when we got our orders to take the Maghee to the Cannibal Coast and raid this castle. We didn't know why, but the Admiral is a tactical genius, so we did as he said."
Walker wets his lips with his drink, to maintain appearances. And to keep from scowling too noticeably-- something just seems... off. The repetition of "the Admiral is a tactical genius," the confusion over when he met the Admiral, or why they met a second time... It just feels off.
"I'm startin' to like the sound of that, workin' for a tactical genius," Walker says. "So, sell me on him. How'd you fall in with him? What's he done to earn his rep?"
Walker will try to keep Jellicoe amiably chatting about the Admiral, asking questions to draw him out looking for non-specific specifics, so to speak. It doesn't matter what the specifics are-- he doesn't care if it's a description of his face, or a name, or a particular thing he does or has done, or a location they've met, but he does gently probe for some specific. He's certainly not going to bother for anything like actionable intelligence, because Jellicoe is not a fool.
As he does, he's watching Jellicoe in two ways-- when the talk turns to a specific, does Jellicoe seem to go a little fuzzy minded and veer away? And secondly, he'll carefully, briefly, and passively look him over with the third eye for signs of manipulation.
Or Brennan might just be chasing shadows, and Jellicoe is just cagey, but at least he'll get a feel for this Admiral player in the process.
The five clans of the Blessed Isle elect a war-leader annually. He or she appoints the top officers of the fleet and the army. War-Leader Syke appointed her son Stratum as Admiral and he won several unexpected victories, using unorthodox tactics. Most people in Avalon are tactically competent, but Stratum wins unwinnable battles. Jellicoe has served under him for most of the last five years, which is a long time for both a War-Leader and an Admiral. They were devastatingly effective against the black tides.
He is absolutely fuzzy on the last meeting between himself and the Admiral. He does not know where or when it was, exactly, but he's aware of the orders he was given from it.
Brennan's Third Eye investigation doesn't show any signs of current glamours on the man, but it might not detect if he was interfered with in the past.
Fascinating. Positively fascinating. Brennan doesn't know exactly where this puzzle piece fits, but it sure looks like it's Moire's colors... or perhaps Dara's, which would be deeply unfortunate. Contrary to form, Brennan does not push the sorcerous examination any further, or augment it with Astral vision or anything active-- if there is something there, no sense disturbing it or setting off any landmind, and if there isn't it will just be time wasted. The fuzziness is enough.
Given that, though, and being unwilling at this time to press any farther on Cledwin-- since he was also hand picked by the Tactical Genius, Jellicoe is probably unwilling to give him up-- Walker and Brennan are running out of agenda. Walker will happily let Jellicoe continue to sell him on the Admiral or tell him about the Black Tides, but unless Jellicoe has some additional particular agenda to push, he will eventually excuse himself.
"I'll think on it," Walker says. "I reckon you'll be leaving before sundown tomorrow? Gives me time to talk to the Prince about you gettin' your boys back. I'll let you know what he says."
Unless Jellicoe stops him, he'll be off looking for any of Balen, Trippel, or Benedict.... probably in that order, although they're probably all together in council.
Balen has a tight smile for Walker. Trippel is lying on a couch. "Forgive me if I don't stand. I'm pretty sure this wound isn't going to kill me, but it's not for lack of trying."
Benedict looks between the two men, and Brennan thinks the Protector may have conclusions that he is keeping to himself. "I trust your discussion was enlightening?"
Walker gives Trippel a shrug, as if to say, It's Your Castle. If Trippel is fishing for an apology, he should take up farming. Being unsure of the protocol here, but being at least cognizant that the Protector's face is on coins and that Balen assumed he was an agent of the Protector, he sketches a Reman-style salute of sufficient roughness that it probably cost him a commission back home in Reme. He begins addressing the Protector, but since he knows Trippel and Balen better, his address slides back to them by the end.
"Summat," he says. "New questions for old, at least." For the first and not the last time, his address slides back to Trippel. "Jellicoe wants his boys' bodies back, the ones as killed your pa. He offers you trade pacts after the war. It ain't my call to make, I told him, but I'd pass it on."
Looking at Balen, he adds, "Cameleopardis ain't on the table for that deal. But you remember how someone messed with Cameleopardis's head? Jellicoe and I fell to talkin' about our contracts and our bosses. My price for bringing you the offer. Turns out, Jellicoe delivered Cledwin to Avalon hisself, but he didn't know why. It was on the orders of an Admiral Stratum, same fellow as later told him to bring the Maghee here and take this fort particular. He's a Tactical Genius." Walker pronounces the capital letters quite clearly. "Kept sayin' that-- Tactical Genius. It was... weird. I poked for some details-- nothing useful, because the man ain't a fool-- just details past. He ain't have too many, and I ain't even sure he realizes it. Maybe he's just playin' me, and I might not have gave it a second thought, but it made me think of what was done to Cameleopardis." Another look at Balen. "Not much more I could do, so I stopped.
"So," he says. "Who's this Stratum fellow and his mama, Syke?"
Benedict nods. "Northern warlords. They control some of the mines and more of the trade routes for metals from that part of the world, so they're not inconsequential."
Balen looks puzzled. "I'm thinking it isn't Syke’s doing, because I haven't been able to figure out how attacking us is in her strategic interests. She's not going to be a great friend of the Mountain ever, but she won't break a deal Jellicoe brings her, not if Stratum agrees. I'm not sure about the bodies, though."
Trippel replies to her. "I am. He can have 'em. I've got no use for nor room to store northern corpses. We'll hold off somewhat to get this deal solidified, but it costs us nothing to help him with his sailor's families.
"Now, what did you find out about Cledwyn, Crisp, and our sister?"
Walker is surprised that the possibility that Stratum's identity is being usurped by Moire gathers no immediate reaction-- surprised enough that he lets it show briefly in a pair of raised eye-brows, but doesn't try to redirect the conversation, at least not yet.
"Ain't spoke to either one, yet," he says. "There's a lot of sense, me questioning them-- unfamiliar face, they don't know what I know, I got no stake other than hunting down Cledwyn, all that. But going in blind, don't make sense, either. Remember we said, if we lived through to morning we'd swap life stories? Seems like this is the time for it-- be a help if I knew Crisp's story, goin' in, or at least what you have of it."
Walker is even willing to go first if Trippel really cares, which is questionable at best.
Trippel shifts from where he's reclining. "I didn't agree with my father, mostly about who we should ally with. Crisp is a Northerman, but we never held that against him. 'Everyone is friends with the arms-dealers,' as the proverb says. Mayness chose him, I hear, not the other way around."
Balen snorts. "Sort of. I'd say he made himself into the kind of mind she'd choose, and flattered her into it. She's not stupid, even if she is good-looking. She didn't have a great future to look forward to, when Trippel took over from Maibock."
Trip agrees. "That is true. Father and I didn't agree on most things, but he wasn't going to disown me for it. She wanted to commit him so that I'd be constrained. They have nothing to gain by Father's death, unless I were to die as well, and probably Balen. I don't think they were that murderous, but it's worth knowing what they were doing."
Benedict looks up. "So, if the plot were to have succeed, Prince Maibock and Lady Balen would be dead, Prince Trippel would be excluded, Crisp would be holding the castle for Mayness with the help of Jellicoe's Corsairs, and Cledwyn would be pushing the folks of the high plains south into the coastal plain to tie up Methuenport City, which was happening already, but will be accelerated if there's no threat from the Holy Mountain. Do I have it aright?"
Walker very politely refrains from pointing out that his initial thoughts to Balen were along the lines of Mayness marrying the Mountain to the Corsairs. He runs his fingers through the stubble on his chin. "Enh," he says. "Crisp and Mayness ruling the castle sounds a nice-to-have, but those elephants and that worm... they'd've torn this place down if if they had to."
Benedict is stone-faced. "It is difficult to imagine elephants as part of a subtle campaign. Unless they were summoned." He frowns. "And they are difficult to transport over seas without a fleet."
The supply train alone is enough to boggle the mind-- hundreds of pounds of fodder per elephant per day. Not impossible to move by fleet, but dragging even so much as a week's supply up the mountain would have been a back-breaking effort. But Brennan knows this; knows that Benedict knows this; knows that Benedict knows that Walker has no reason to keep that sort of esoteric trivia in his head.
So he just nods sharply when Benedict mentions summoning.
[Walker] turns to Trippel and says, almost as an aside, "If you want to set up for a sucker punch, let 'em think they almost did, and you're out of the game-- send Jellicoe a list of goods of everything you'd need after a huge disaster."
Trip nods. "We'd have to be careful to split the message if we decide on that course. We still need to be a threatening power to the north to keep the port open. We might not actually like the results of such a feint."
This, Walker readily agrees to with another nod.
"Could be that's what they promised Crisp or Mayness for their help. How's this line up with Stratum's rise, though? Is that about the time the romance began?" Walker asks.
Trip shrugs. "Could be. They met In Methryn's Port. She was sent to find arms and allies..." Balen does not hide her displeasure at the memory.
"All right," Walker says. "One more question: What's the worst threat they'll take serious? I assume you ain't want to execute your sister without proof, and maybe not even then," he pauses pointedly for Trippel to correct him if he's wrong, although he suspects Balen wouldn't shed a tear to see her dead. "Exile? Disinheritance? Life in the tower? Same for Crisp. What's his status, now he's wed?" Some of those have their own problems to contend with-- exile is a dire threat for a pampered princess, but it leaves open the possibility of the northerners to prop her up as a rallying figure for another attempt next season... although by next season it is highly unlikely that Moire will be at large in theater, and thus highly unlikely that Montparnasse will have the same strategic relevance.
The assembled royalty of Avalon and Mountparnasse seem to agree with Walker's analysis.
Trip is willing to have them stay, under arrest or on parole if they will give it, but expects them to choose banishment.
"Protector, the man is your citizen, married to my sister, who seems to have been involved in the princepicide of my father. If you wish to take them to Avalon for trial, I am amenable."
Benedict stirs. "No, we'll take him if you expel him, but make it known to him that he will need to explain things very clearly to me if he does wish to return, and that I will judge him as I see fit if he does."
Balen nods. "That ought to send them north and out of our hair."
Trippel nods. "She'll have to renounce all claims to Montparnasse if she leaves, of course."
Assuming there are no surprising revelations, and that Benedict or lesser NPCs have no further questions or distractions, Walker will move to question Crisp-- just him, separate from Mayness.
Trip will have guards bring him to whatever chamber you wish to use to interrogate him. He asks you not to kill him without discussing it with himself or Balen.
The last thing Brennan hears as he leaves to deal with his interrogation is Balen telling Trippel that he needs to marry to move the succession past their generation. He doesn't disagree.
Walker tactfully ignores the details of the impending royal succession program.
He asks to have Crisp transferred to a room with a table and two chairs and not much else, certainly not a window. Then he lets Crisp sweat there for maybe half a watch or so, to worry and wait and wonder what's going to happen next. He inquires of Crisp's guards, out of earshot of course, how they have treated him-- was he allowed visitors, what was his state of comfort, did they feed him, what did they feed him, etc. Ideally (although of course Brennan can't influence past events with Pattern) they will have been ungentle, but not brutal.
It's hard to find a prisoner who has been mistreated in Montparnasse and Crisp is no exception. It might be worth asking Benedict about, or even Balen. He's been fed, decently if not luxuriously, and doesn't show any signs of rough treatment.
When Walker finally enters, he looks around and frowns at everything although not specifically at Crisp.
"How you holding up?" he asks. "They feed you? You want I should get you something to eat?" If Crisp answers in the affirmative (or if he looks hungry but to proud to say it, or if Brennan knows perfectly well that he should be hungry but is too proud to say it) he will call for two meals to be sent up, one for Crisp and the other for himself. They can eat before they get down to business.
Crisp accepts the meal as a sort of peace offering, or something. It's hard to tell. He definitely eats, but he's not been deprived in prison.
"Reckon we got some problems, Crisp." Walker leaves it at that, for openers. He wants to see where Crisp goes with it.
Crisp smiles, but doesn't seem happy. "I more than you. I'm pleased that you've landed on your feet. When I heard of Cledwyn's treachery, I feared for you and your men. Please understand that I had no idea that Cleddy was a villain and a traitor."
Walker doesn't smile. "And that's a problem," Walker says, "Because what else'd you say? Now Cledwin, what he done is an act of war. Dishonorable, maybe, but an act of war, straight up simple. You, though... when all this went down, you was Maibock's son by marriage, we'd say back in Reme. And Cledwin was your man."
He pauses to let that sink in like rat's teeth.
"So I figure your best bet's to be convincing. If you can't be convincing, be real helpful. Start with Cledwin. Everything you know about him but maybe start at the beginning-- how'd you meet him?"
He looks despondent. "He's the son of an old friend. He knew how to fight and offered to run a guard for me in exchange for lessons in how to be a weapons-merchant. He didn't have the knack, but I did need a guard, so I took him on. We did two trips to Methryn's before you joined up.
"I thought for a while she might've sent him to me because he was my son, but I gave up on that one pretty early on. I knew he was doing some spying, it's not uncommon for mercenaries and travelers, but I had no idea he'd try to kill my father-in-law."
Brennan, if not Walker, has the grace not to chuckle at that. But only just barely.
The bit about Cledwin's mother gets placed in working memory-- there will be questions about that later, but not so soon as to make Walker seem over-eager about it.
"I see," he nods.
Walker is only mildly curious at best about where Crisp went when he wasn't on Methryn's Isle-- even a vague notion of "the North," or equivalent is more than sufficient. What he is really interested in is how much time Crisp spent travelling in pursuit of his trade, and how tightly Cledwin was part of those travels. Walker expects that someone like Crisp needs to be travelling almost constantly, but were there brief seasons off? Was Cledwin part of all Crisp's travels? If there was downtime for Crisp, did Cledwin share that, or did he go off on his own?
Walker starts with, "How long ago was that, you reckon?" and "Those the only trips you took together?" and then moves the conversation from there if need be.
Crisp nods at the latter suggestion. "Yup. Mind you, that's over three years. We'd bring the iron down to Blackpool, pick up a cargo of finished goods, and head for the southern archipelagoes. Last time, I let him do the run up to the mines, but you can do very well just making the run to Methryn's. Everyone loves a weaponmonger. You don't even have to go as far as the Tethys to make a nice profit.
"Mae says you're working for her sister now, or something. Mind telling me how that happened?"
Walker is so astonished by the presumption of the question that he actually answers it.
"Wrong place at the wrong time and no other option. I figured on swingin' from a gibbet just for comin' in with you and Cledwin, and even if I ain't, even if I walk out, I got to get through that force of corsairs showed up half an hour later with the rest of the boys. And they-- the corsairs-- 'll be thinkin' we're just a runner band makin' a break for allies when we're just five boys running down a strange mountain at night. We'd be five dead clowns before the sun came up. You thinkin' I had some better option?"
He actually pauses to see if Crisp answers that, before taking the momentum of the conversation back.
"It's hard to argue with success, Captain Walker."
When Crisp calls him Captain, Walker closes his eyes for a moment and just shakes his head slightly in resignation. But he does not otherwise comment.
"Speaking of corsairs, how do you figure things'd stand if they won and keep changed hands?"
"If I'd been left standing alone in the throne room, having heroically defeated the assassins sent by my father-in-law's enemies? I'd have asked the Trinovantes for protection, which they were prepared to offer. The keep is still too much trouble to take, but it's no longer a threat, so the Admiral wins.
"Or if the corsairs took it out cleanly, I'd've bought it back from them for my bride, then we'd be back on script."
And it is in that one brief statement that Brennan understands, should he ever have serious enough cause, how to cause Benedict serious grief in his own realm. But that is not germane to the topic at hand.
What is germane is that all of Crisp's ending scenarios end up with him or Mayness in charge. Which is perfectly reasonable and follows the logic of Avalon quite nicely. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense for Crisp to get himself involved in such a thing if he found his desire for power to be greater than his desire for land, or if this mysterious Admiral were offering him even greater monetary rewards in the future. On the other hand, it makes him a near perfect dupe because his natural inclinations lead him to perform actions in support of the corsairs anyway.
On the third hand, Brennan really doesn't care about Crisp as Crisp.
What he cares about are this Admiral's connections to Moire and finding Cledwin so he can acquire that information efficiently.
Walker nods sharply. "Makes sense," he allows. "Back to Cledwin for a few questions. You make it sound like he was off the leash at least part time. Is that right? Whereabouts was he supposed to be when that happened?" Walker will firmly but civilly press for at least some measure of detail, here. He knows he won't get a day by day, or even a month by month, accounting of Cledwin's activities, but he's trying to get a sense of how much Cledwin's time was spent off on his own and roughly where and how far he ranged.
The time right around the time Walker knows that Jellicoe was bringing him to Avalon is of particular interest, though.
Crisp is perfectly willing to provide details, but it's mostly of cities and mountains neither Walker nor Brennan have heard of. "He went to the mines to get the raw materials to make the weapons we sold. Normally I would do that, but having him available meant I could concentrate on getting the ship ready earlier. I received instructions from the Admiral, since he knew that war was coming, and he told me to meet Cledwin on Avalon, before sailing to Methryn.
"Other than those two times, he's been with me for years." He pauses, and shakes his head, as if he's bothered by a fly. "Given how badly it's gone, this doesn't seem like it was actually the Admiral's plan."
Walker shrugs, pleased with confirmation of the fact that Crisp knew-- or at least was in contact with-- this mysterious Admiral without having to fish directly after it. "Fella's pretty inscrutable, is what I hear. You never know." But, no, the grand hope was for Mayness or Crisp to rule here, Walker doesn't say, or failing that for the neutralization of Montparnasse, which can still be faked.
"How'd you get your instructions from the Admiral?" This is a matter of particular interest-- it could be as simple as written letters by ship or as telling as a mirror connection... or as telling as a fuzzed or missing piece of Crisp's memory. Walker probes gently around the area of whether Crisp and the Admiral had ever met and whether or not any memories are fuzzed, as he had done with Jellicoe.
Crisp describes the normal system: letters sent to ports they'd been scheduled to arrive at, Notes for "the next captain in our service to arrive in [place]", and so on. Orders about Methryn came via a merchant factor on the Isle of Dogs, when they put in for water. He left Cledwin there, to wait for more orders and waited in Avalon for him to catch up. It was a dull month.
When he thinks he's got all he can on that account, he changes direction without warning: "What'd you and Jellicoe talk about when he delivered Cledwin?" It's a bit of a bluff. But if Crisp should suddenly understand that Walker knows more than he lets on and that lying is perilous, so much the better. Walker watches him closely.
Cledwin arrived by road from the northern part of Avalon. Crisp knows the name of Jellicoe, but hasn't sailed or served with him.
Walker has one more question, before they get down to the meat of the situation: "How'd you and Mayness meet? Was this before or after you threw in with the Admiral?" Walker will press for details, of course, on who knew how much and when, but his real goal here is a bit subtler-- how much does Crisp care about her?
Granted, it might be hard to tell since in Avalon the penalty for being caught is a time-out, rather than a swift death-by-example.
He shakes his head. "You make it sound as if one has a choice to 'throw in' with the Admiral. We are of the same land, and when he takes us to war, we go to war. The differences are in how much or little of our duty he calls into his service."
Walker is not impressed. "You always got a choice."
Cledwin continues, ignoring Walker’s comment. "Mayness and I met in Methryn's Port. I was there by accident: Our shop, the Shield, had damaged her mast and Methryn's was closer than Avalon, so the Captain changed course. She was buying weapons, for her father and for her brother, as I recall. This was before they fought. We couldn't get my cargo through the excise men for several days, so we ended up drowning our sorrows together and one thing led to another, and soon all my trips came here and we started planning a future together."
He smiles, smugly. "Now that I think of it, it was quite a coincidence that we ended up here. If her witch of a sister damaged the Shield of Lir to get arms there for Mayness, she got more than she bargained for."
Walker just stares coldly at that-- the man has an awfully high opinion of himself if he thinks he was Balen's special target even before he and Mayness became involved.
"All right. Time for my business now: What was your orders, with or without Cledwin, after you got here. If they ain't concern Cledwin, where d'you figure he's run to now? He runs back to your ship without you, you reckon they'll take him and just leave you here if he says you're dead?"
"They might. More likely, he'll send word to the Admiral and hire on a ship going anywhere else. Too many witches on both sides to lie very much, 'the truth will out', as they say." He leans forward. "Gotta figure he's heading to Methryn's, given the start that he has. Unless he thinks you've got a way there that's faster, and then he'd cut for the hills. He and I made lots of friends on the way up here.
"Anychance, if they send an army down after him, it ends up roiling the situation in Methryn's and the Admiral gets what he wants. He's a tactical genius, you see. Most plans get him what he wants no matter which way the wind blows."
Walker gives that a very humorless smile "Yeah, I heard he's pretty clever."
In the back of his mind, Brennan has to bite back a comment about back-rationalizing brilliance to the point that getting thrown off a mountain is seen as yet more evidence of a master plan. Perhaps he'll throw Cledwin off Mountparnasse to underscore that point in whatever karmic ledger these things are recorded in. Or maybe he'll just use it to his advantage.
Once he's absorbed what Crisp just said, he nods. "All right. Here's my recommend to the Prince: I know your friends in the lowlands already. You give up a list of friends in the hills I ain't already know. You oath off any future ventures against the mountain, and you enjoy the Prince's generous hospitality til I send word back I found Cledwin... or maybe the Protector's hospitality. I understand you're his citizen, reckon he's got a say in what happens to Maibock's murderers, too. We'll see."
He gives it another moment's thought, then adds, "And your money. We ain't need Mayness buying trouble on your behalf-- how's that work, her access to your money?"
Walker lets Crisp work out that Trippel's hospitality isn't going to extend to a happily married life, and that Mayness is looking at a life of walking the earth in exile. At least until Cledwin is dealt with. A little extra incentive for Crisp to be truthful and helpful in locating him.
As Raven and Jerod approach the keep, a large wooden motte-and-bailey castle, they see a group of men approaching the keep from the direction of the forest. It is likely the returning hunting party, with the Count and his retainers. The ship at the dock is visible from their approach, so they know that Jerod has returned. They seem excited but not agitated.
[OOC: You can meet them on the road or meet them at the gates. Up to you. Wherever it is...]
Jerod prefers gates...not sure why...
The Count is dark and hairy and looks the part of a marcher lord -- a wartime leader of violent men. "Prince Jerod! I see you've kept your promise! I have the troops as we agreed. Shall I gather them for your inspection?"
Raven lets Jerod take the lead again.
"Not yet, Count." Jerod replies. "There are a few things to go over first, planning to be sure everyone's on the same page, as it were."
"Of course," he replies, looking positively predatory. "I shall call a Council of War." He looks at Raven, then snorts and looks more closely. "Forgive me, Prince Jerod, I have not been introduced to your companion."
"Lord Raven, a member of the Family." Jerod says, motioning to Raven. "Responsible for handling the ship and our voyage to Gateway, as well as any impromptu departures should they be necessary."
Raven nods, and greets the Count with whatever politenesses are appropriate.
"I am Count Valis, and this fine knight is Seeker of Men's Hearts, who came to me from Amber." He grins. "He may become 'Seeker of Mages' Hearts' if all goes well."
The knight bows. "Captain, I was pleased to see a ship flying the Unicorn Banner in port again. Some of my fellows had friends in the city. I hope all is well with our allies?"
"As far as I know," Raven answers politely. "I haven't been in ports as long as I might like recently."
He seems vaguely disappointed, but hides it well.
The gates open, and some men come out to take the game from the hunting party. "Do we have an idea of the tactical situation at our objective? Maps, reports, scryings, that kind of thing?"
Inside the gates, the keep is bustling with warriors. It is much fuller than when Jerod inspected it on his last visit. People, both normal and Weir, seem quite excited. Jerod draws a certain amount of attention from everyone.
"Come, your highness, we shall await the coming Council in my quarters."
He leads Jerod (and presumably Raven) into the keep.
"We have no tactical reports as yet Count." Jerod says, speaking quietly but conversationally. "I'd recommend holding off on the Council of War until we've had a chance to explain the King's intentions concerning Gateway."
"I was there recently," Raven offers. "Happy to discuss what I saw when we get there, but it ain't a tactical report."
"No matter, we would need to gather information anew in any case. And our patron's objectives would be helpful to know.
"If you would all join me in my chambers, you can tell me more."
The Count and Seeker lead the way to a small private chamber inside the keep. There are a number of weapons and a sand table nearby and a large pitcher of fresh water for anyone who is thirsty.
He looks at Raven and Jerod expectantly.
"His majesty's preference for Gateway is for a political solution, one which brings them back to a stance that is more suitable to our tastes." Jerod says. "Gateway engaged in behaviours that are not allowed to go unanswered, specifically with regards to an assault on one of the Family as well as aiding an enemy of the realm.
"That enemy has since been neutralized and our Family member recovered. But the ruling cabal that took over Gateway from the previous rulers need to be shown to be in error. The primary objective is to restore the original rulers and remove the new ones, in a manner that make them more agreeable to our desires. Should the ruling cabal either not be removed, or the old government chooses to follow the current path that Gateway is on, then the objective in that case is, as my uncle Prince Bleys would say, would be to salt the ground. I would take care of that.
"Conquest and occupation is not an option we are considering.
"Lord Raven was on the ground during the incident with our Family and may wish to provide additional details." and Jerod looks over at Raven.
Raven nods. "They were mighty quick to arrest me and mine when they realized we came from Amber, so saying that too loud ain't going to be the best idea. Most of what I saw was dockside, but we did leave the port with both the Family and a mage of Gateway that wanted nothing more to do with those who were in charge. She was pretty clear that she was not the only one that didn't agree with what they'd done; seems like we might have allies, if we can figure out who they are."
The Count nods. "Of course, that's exactly what we need to ascertain." He turns to Jerod. "Highness, we are not looking for new lands to conquer even further from our home. We are looking to help our allies to strengthen them in order to later to assault our common foe in The Land of Eternal Youth. When we take back what is ours and break the curse, then the people can settle down.
"So, the forces need to seem to be a credible threat to conquer and occupy, or else the opposition will know we don't intend to stay and know they merely need to wait us out. That should be possible, especially if we keep good discipline in what we allow the troops to say and to whom.
"Do we know what strongpoints we need to take to hold the symbolic and actual apparatus of government? Officers, Nobles, Officials, Symbolic Buildings, things like that? Are there religious officials who can call our attack a restoration and thus either gain us support or confuse the issue adequately?
"How long do we intend to stay?"
For all that the Count seems to be a rural marcher lord, he's got a keen grasp of the detail and practice of conquest. An army of men like him, led by Benedict, would be unstoppable.
Unstoppable perhaps, but Jerod thinks that this Count isn't getting the picture that he's painting, so he'll need to try again he thinks.
"The forces I intend to take do not need to credible, they need to work for the task at hand." Jerod says. "We are not invading or occupying, nor are we appearing to do so. Marching an army in there will not give me what I need from Gateway, which is information.
"I need a small contingent, suitable for commando operations within the city itself. They need to be able to attack in sufficient strength to destroy a small force and vanish before a counter occurs. They need to be able to infiltrate, to spy, to monitor and report back. Their function, if they are used, will to be support actions to keep any opposition off our backs." motioning to himself and Raven.
"There is one individual who still remains to be...collected, who will provide more details concerning individuals in question who are suitable to approach for support, or to either avoid as enemies or to neutralize as needed. The mage that Lord Raven brought on during their original departure. She is related to previous Chancellor and will be able to provide information that should be useful. Plus, she is a mage and that will have certain uses in my plans.
"We are remaining only as long as is needed to get the original rulers back in place, and then to find out what I want to know.
"Which means we are not going to be needing siege engines." Jerod finishes, collecting a glass of water. "If we do, then we're already too late."
The Count doesn't look crestfallen, probably through effort and discipline. It is clear that he has had diplomatic training. He takes a moment to switch gears and nods. "As you wish, Prince Jerod. We will have plenty of volunteers to choose from. A number of fine Weir will be turned away because there are not enough places for them. How do you wish to pick your team?
"Also, may I suggest we also bring a reserve team for both ship defense and in case something unexpected occurs?"
"Can't say I would turn down a few extra for ship defense," Raven says, "but not many or it's going to be clear that we've got marines on board."
Jerod nods an agreement. "Count, I would ask that you personally select the reserve contingent. I will trust your judgement on this. You may work with Lord Raven concerning how to best accommodate the personnel to ensure they fit seamlessly."
The Count nods toward Raven, and makes a mental note to discuss the marine reserves.
Raven nods in return, making a similar mental note.
"As for selecting the main commando force, I'd recommend a contest." and he smiles. "I have no doubt of their fighting skills. But they need to be able to blend in, infiltrate and get out, without being detected. Since we are going to be here a couple of days with preparations, I'd suggest that you have your best try to sneak onto our ship, find something and withdraw. We'll set a prize daily, a different object to be found, in a different location on the ship. We can track progress and see who gets furthest."
"And I think I'll be aboard as well. It should be...fun."
The Count grins, more in excitement than pleasure. "An excellent plan, Your Grace! Perhaps by tomorrow we can also have at least some of the reserves protecting the boat to increase the challenge."
He turns to Raven. "As long as your guards do not have silvered weapons, my infiltrators should be safe. They will have instructions not to kill, on pain of disqualification."
He stands. "I will announce our plans at the feast!"
"Don't think anyone brought any, but it never hurts to check," Raven says. "If you can ask your men to take the lads down without too much harm, I'd rather that to just 'no killing.' Not that we can't stitch them up if someone gets hurt, but less damage is better."
He nods absentmindedly. "We will score it based on how few people detect them. And instruct them to do no permanent harm. A Sailor can't climb aloft if his leg's been ripped off." The Count smiles again. He is not a subtle man. He may not be a man, of course.
"Are we in agreement?", he asks.
"Agreed." Jerod says.
"Aye," Raven says.
“Excellent!,” says the count. He leads the two of them into a feasting-room, where they are met with raucous cheers. The table is spread with a feast of rich game and exotic foodstuffs, although they mostly consist of meats.
The count announces the contest to the Weir, and sets the rules as agreed. Starting at Midnight, the prospective raiders must retrieve one of a score of tokens to be hidden individually about the ship. Anyone spotted will be required to leave the ship and start over. No one is to be hurt, and the sailors are likely to defend themselves. There are a few questions, easily resolved. Teamwork is encouraged, but only one person will be taken per token found.
The warriors of the Weir gather in small groups to plan their various assaults.
"That should keep them busy, Prince Jerod." He turns to Raven. "Do you wish to warn your crew?" "It would be highly recommended." Jerod says drily, in between bites of food, making note of the behaviours of the various Weir around them.
Raven snorts and shoots Jerod an amused look. "What, you mean it ain't a good idea to skip giving both sides the rules of the game when we need them to be on the same side?" she asks dryly. "Aye, Count, I'll need to warn them - and I'm guessing sooner than later, in case anyone gets any bright ideas. Didn't want to seem rude by running off to do that before your feast, though."
He smiles. "Yes, we shouldn't give your sailors cause to resent the Weir. By all means, do what is needful. Would you like to take the tokens to your ship and have your team hide them? They must be on the ship, but otherwise, I have no specific suggestions to offer you."
"You know the ship so I'd suggest you do the hiding. Some might be easy to find but we should get one or two in places that would not be considered 'hiding spots' and see just how much our infiltrators can think on their feet." Jerod says to Raven. "We can do it now or later. I'll be staying here just to get acquainted."
"I'll go now," Raven answers. "If you already have the tokens, I can take them with me and start hiding them."
The Count orders a functionary to rip up a tapestry on the wall into a score of fist-sized pieces. It must not be a very durable tapestry, because he shreds it with his hands, and turns over the strips of cloth. The Count holds them up and tells his men that these are the tokens.
The Count's idea of post-prandial entertainment involves a fencing tournament. The main rules are "don't hurt anyone else, stay in the circle, and don't become inhuman."
This is something that Jerod would appreciate. He uses the opportunity to study in more detail, asking questions at appropriate intervals and continuing to consume large quantities of food and drink without adverse effect as befits a Prince of Amber. If the opportunity to take part presents itself, then he'll also use that though since he's mostly observing he won't force the issue to obtain it.
The Count organizes a miniature elimination tournament, for the right to spar with the noble Prince Jerod. The winners are neither strictly the strongest not the most knowledgable, but those who are not weak at anything. They post no challenge for Jerod, since his skill and experience overcome the disadvantages of reach, size, and force. In the end, Jerod has been pleasantly exercised, and is reminded that even he can get out of top fighting shape when traveling by ship.
A situation which will be rectified by sparring practice, especially with individuals who are tougher than average...
We skip past the toothbrushing wherein Caine promises to hand [Thalia] over just as soon as Random signs off on it, and Random says "Sure, just don’t tell Marius until you've got something bigger to distract him with, like his captors heads on pikes or something. Her parole is whatever you say it is, and if she becomes a danger to Xanadu, well, then we’ll burn that bridge when we reach it."
Jerod promises to keep her on parole and to return her in as close to her original operating condition as when he received her as he can, subject to tactical considerations and strategic objectives of course.
Agreed. You can pull her in here, in a private room in the castle, or on the ship...
Jerod will pull her through in a private room. There is a benefit to appearing to have powers that others don't recognize or understand...keeps your allies on their toes...
She'd like to know about your plans. [OOC: She's happier with the 'threaten heavily' part compared with the 'salt the earth' plan, but expects you'll need to 'restore the old order' to get what you want. She is, of course, part of the old order, and intends to help with that plan...]
He will bring her up to speed with regards to his general intentions which are to make contact secretively with the "old order", determine who the current leaders are of the "new order" and figure out how to remove enough to have a convenient palace coup. He does not provide details on his plan concerning total nuclear "salt the earth" obliteration should it come to that.
The Weir are to be his commando force...suitable for off-balancing the enemy. If he needs to take on Gateway entirely, then the cause is lost and he'll cut his losses.
She'd recommend her aunt and the University as the best bet. She's suitably impressed with the Weir, but is concerned that they may not be ready for underwater action. Gateway is both a land and water empire.
Jerod makes a nod at her comment concerning the underwater action that maybe possible, but it would seem he has already considered this. He mentions off-handedly that he has that portion of the action covered, should it come to that. He does not articulate specifically what that might be, though his expression might lead one to believe that it his preferred course of action might include significant enemy casualties, along a "boil the sea" type scenario (as opposed to scorching the earth).
Raven heads back to her ship and rounds up her officers. When she has them pulled off to the side where the rest of the crew is unlikely to overhear, she explains about the contest; she's very clear that the set rules include that the Weir should try not to hurt the sailors, and that she expects the same of her crew. And about the making sure no one has anything silvered they could try to stab or hit any of the invaders with.
When she's done, she looks around. "Questions that ain't, 'what were you thinking?' Suggestions on where to hide these that isn't crew quarters, or how to put this to the lads that ain't going to be a headache?"
The second mate looks puzzled. "Even if they was normal lubbers and not giant werewolves, sailors can hide things a thousand places that no one would think of. It's our home. Captain, you once hid a working still from me for six weeks, between Bellum and Antioch. Working, sir. With fire and alcohol, and bottles with labels on them."
The first mate leans in. "That's enough, Heron. Captain, you tell us how hard to make it, and we'll make it that hard. Heron's not wrong, but who knows what the Weir will do. As for the crew? Tell 'em to get used to Weir. To my mind, this isn't about them, it's a test to see if we can outsmart 'em and if we can put up with 'em all in our kit."
Raven shakes her head and laughs. "Thought we weren't talking about that again, Heron, on account of me knowing exactly what happened to what got made? Besides, if I hide 'em all myself, I still have to show or tell you lot where they are." She doesn't say that that means she'd have to give up any of her own ideas for hiding spots. Even if she's smirking slightly. "The way it was put to the Count was that it's a test to see who the best Weir are for backing us up, so let's test them. And let's make it interesting for us, aye? You lot each take one to hide, spread the rest out to the crew to do the same. I'll see if I can't come up with something for whoever has the least stolen."
The officers agree, and further decide to number them, giving the odd numbers to the port watch and the even to the starboard. "No eating or destroying them, right? They have to be findable without gutting a sailor."
Raven snorts. "If someone's damn fool enough to swallow it," she answers dryly, "I ain't going to stop him, but I also ain't going to promise I won't laugh when he ends up sick from it. So aye - no eating, no destroying, don't feed it to anyone or anything else, and keep it in or on the ship. Other than that? Have fun."
The crew gets to work. Heron offers to set a standard watch, but allows that none of the crew will actually sleep tonight, what with the excitement of an invasion of giant werewolves planned for the dog watch. The first mate, Blasting, suggests that the watch be set anyway, just for formalities sake.
Standard watch is fine.
He also tells you that Snake, the cook, doesn't like werewolves much and is likely to fight. Should he be given leave or left aboard?
Left aboard, but even more thoroughly frisked for silver than anyone else and someone should be down there with him at all times to make sure nothing gets out of hand. Given a choice between "on board with invading werewolves" or "at leisure in a port full of werewolves"... the controlled environment is the lesser evil.
Raven can see a few obvious spots that have been disturbed, but can't actually see any of the ribbons. She's satisfied that it will be an effort.
Having decided to travel out through the Seawards, the Rebman equivalent of the old Amber Golden Circle, Brita makes her way out from Rebma through the underwater shadows. After a week or two, she is well away from the city and into the rural areas where the Black Trench War was fought. There are still scars in the ocean floor and in the sea craters and mountains from those days, though, as in Amber, they have started to heal.
With money provided by the palace, Brita is able to stay in inns if she likes, or she can camp along the ways outside of the Shells that make up the Seawards.
Brita will only use the monies for absolute necessities and she does not consider a roof over her head necessary at this point, so she will camp lightly - finding natural features to ensure safety (coral overhangs, small kelp beds, etc) and leaving as little trace of herself as she can on the environs.
After a week or two of determined travel, Brita has reached the outermost Seaward Shells, one of the places where there are fewer landward style humans like Brita and more of other, more sealike forms of people (merfolk who aren't tritons, selkies, and the like, never mind the kraken and other forms of intelligences that roam the ocean depths). Out here, the Shells are less cities and towns and more fortress-style outposts of Rebman civilization.
(Things will ease again as she gets close to the Landwards, which is where she'll go ashore and take to the water with Skilbladnir, or so she has been told.)
But before she can make that transition, she is met on the road one morning after camping in the kelps by two guards, accoutered and armed in the Rebman style with Tridents, who ask her to accompany them to the nearby Shell. The Lady of the Shell would like to speak with her.
Brita agrees to follow them. 'I Have Been Traveling a While and am Unfamiliar With the Lady Rulers of These regions," she notes to the guards. "Whom will I be Addressing?"
"A very great lady, who will make herself known to you when you are presented to her." The guards are kind but firm on that point. They do not seem to be inherently hostile to Brita, but they really don't want to take no for an answer.
Brita had already agreed to go and bristles at being talked to as if she were a recalcitrant child. "This Very Great Lady had Best Train her Guard to have Better Manners with Guests," Brita notes in chilled tones as she gives the speaker an icy glare. She gestures for them to lead the way.
The Shell complex, which Brita can see at a distance in the shallow waters, is like a fortress. But the Rebman waters are breathable and it's not necessarily like she couldn't swim out if she really wanted to. After all, Brita is a goddess of the waters.
Brita will take note of the apparent exits and guards around the complex as they enter.
Brita is escorted deep into the fortress, into a central area that is well-guarded and in which there are few ways of entrance and exit. A fight in here would be an ugly, brutal mess. "Her Grace will join you in a moment," says one of the guards, before leaving her alone in the room and exiting the way they came.
Perhaps a minute later, the other door opens, the two halves of the pochette sliding apart to reveal an elegant older woman, not familiar to Brita at all. She is dressed in the Rebman style, and moves as a native of the waters. "I apologize for the necessity of all this subterfuge," she says, "but my location must remain a secret at this time for reasons you will no doubt understand. I am Rilsa."
"Lady Rilsa. You Requested an Audience." Brita's face is impassive.
"Yes," Rilsa agrees. "I am taking a position of neutrality in the war between my mother and my half-sister. My mother's choices are her own, but even when I disagree with them, you'll understand that I don't want to see her killed." She smiles tightly at Brita. "You are, I believe, oath-sworn to Amber, or at least to Random. Will you bear a message to him, and to my son Jerod?"
Brita's demeanor changes, softening. "Of Course, Lady of the Shells. What is Your Message?"
"I would have you tell Random what I have told you: that I am not joining in this war. That I have retreated to the Seawards for the duration, and have no intention of raising an army for either side. That I have no contact with my daughters--I believe Valeria is still in Xanadu, but I don't know Loreena's whereabouts--and no knowledge of their plans.
"And I would ask you to tell Jerod these things as well, and bear him my love, and tell him that if he must involve himself in this war--be careful."
Brita actually smiles at that. "If Cousin Jerod Joins a War, it is Others that must Be Careful. I Will Relay the Messages at My Earliest Ability. Would You Need Anything Else from the King or Prince? Would you Have Them Know Your Whereabouts?"
Brita cocks her head to one side as she thinks of something else to ask, "Also, Lady, have You Heard of the klybesian monks? They .... Killed My Cousin Reid. ....Harvested Blood from Him." Brita visibly has to fight down a fiery rage as she says this.
"I am sorry for your loss." Rilsa bows her head a little, a few loose tendrils of hair waving in the waters as she does so.
"Of the Klybesians, I know little. They were never inclined to work closely with Rebma, perhaps because we were perceived as being too close to Amber to suit their purposes. Also, they did not seem to have a high opinion of women in many cases." She smiles in a way that doesn't make it to her eyes. "I know there are magics and technologies that can be performed with the blood, but I cannot say how many of them the Klybesians have access to. I would assume many, since their tentacles are spread through many shadows. Even in the Seawards, they may have agents."
"If You Know Names of such Agents or Any Way to Distinguish their Tentacles, It would Be Considered a Boon," Brita notes. She is not totally distracted from the original questions however as she adds, "Your Part in Providing such Knowledge would be Kept Confidential until You Wish the Boon Rewarded.”
"If I knew any such agents for certain, I would gladly hand them over to you. Eric considered them a threat to himself and to Amber, and possibly to Jerod as well. When Oberon disappeared, Eric included them on the list of parties with reason and possibly enough power to have somehow incapacitated him. They are dangerous. But unfortunately I haven't successfully identified their agents here. They don't always wear their priestly tonsures and vestments." Rilsa's expression, on a lesser woman, might have been called a scowl, but in her it only reflects her disdain.
"If I find any, and it is safe, I will send word through Llewella, if it is safe to reach you that way."
Brita nods, "That is Acceptable. Do you Have Any Further Requests or Information you Wish to Impart, Lady Rilsa? I Must Travel Onward so I can Return Quickly."
Rilsa shakes her head in the negative, a gesture that works slightly differently underwater than above. "Not at this time. But I am in your debt, though I can little repay it at this time. I will not always be so constricted in my actions, however, and I have a very long memory, Lady Brita."
Brita gives a slight bow to Lady Rilsa, "No Debt for a Message Delivery, Lady Rilsa. Hopefully, the Next We Meet, Our Respective Concerns will have Dissolved and We can be More Free to Float as we Will. I will Take my Leave." Another small bow and Brita is ready to resume her trek to her mother.
Rilsa gives Brita a graceful bow in return.
When Brita leaves the chamber, two guards--different ones--appear and escort her out of the citadel through what is clearly intended to be a postern gate. Bidding her fair seas and good travels, she is released to make her way further out to the Seawards and ultimately to the surface.
The commonest way to reach the surface from the road Brita is on is through the shadow known as Gateway.
Brita continues on along the known path. She will attempt to utilize the Pattern as she goes to glean a slight greenish tint to her skin from the seaweed she passes by and darkening her hair from the red to a more muddy brown.
This sort of teaching about the Pattern is something Brita has gleaned from watching her relatives to the extent that she hasn't outright learned it from her mother and uncles. The shadows lie for Brita; her skin takes on the green of Rebma and her hair darkens to auburn, or so it seems as she moves on in the Seawards and toward the natural gate on the old shadow path that leads to Gateway.
Around the arch that is the gate to Gateway, there is a town and trading post built up. Most of it is inward facing, in the sense that it is to service the travellers coming through from landside rather than to assist travellers from the Seawards to Gateway. (Brita suspects it will be the other way on the other side.) There are people, more or less recognizable as human to Brita, and all sorts of semi-exotics of the Seawards, including some mermish types who might have Triton blood but are clearly not the same giant sort as the servants of the Queen.
There is a line of people waiting to go through the gate. It moves quickly. The right side of the gate seems to move from the Seawards to Gateway; the left side is for Gatwegians travelling to the Seawards. Many of them cough and sputter as the water hits their lungs. Beggars rush to their aid, asking for coin for their assistance.
Brita gets in the line going air-ward. She watches the water-ward line with an occasional small smirk as her line advances. She'll take note of the type of people coming from Gateway and those in the line going to Gateway as well - rich/poor? Merchant? Families? Races?
Everyone, or almost everyone, coming into the Seawards from Gateway is a landlubber by dress and the way that they're responding to the water tells Brita that the far side of the gate will be air-breathing. If there are merchants, they are carrying light cargo: no caravans are coming through. The people are of all sorts ethnically, though Brita doesn't necessarily know enough about the peoples of Gateway to be sure of shadows of origin. There are a lot of families, and those seem to be carrying luggage.
The line going to Gateway seems to consist mostly of merchant-types with security and armed types, as best as Brita can tell. She advances to the head of the line relatively quickly; there are fewer going to Gateway than coming from it.
Brita will remain stoic enough to maybe pass as one of the security types, confident in her waiting as if this is all part of a contracted plan.
In due time, Brita passes through the gate and finds herself sputtering on the far side as her lungs readjust to air-breathing. There are people that Brita realizes rapidly are some sort of reception team present in the sunny outdoor courtyard that the gate empties into.
The line going the other way is long and moving slowly.
Once Brita has coughed out all the water and had a chance to dry off briefly, she's hustled into another line, which she can tell is some sort of travel registry. When she reaches the hed of the line, she's asked the same questions as everyone in front of her: Name, place of origin, purpose in entering Gateway, plans for departure (if any at present). Many of her comrades in line seem to be mercenaries here for hiring.
The merchants seem to have some arrangement to avoid this line.
Brita waits in the line with the rest and gives her name as Briena of Tellin (a small Seaward Shell that was third out on the Gateway side of Rebma). She had heard land travelers to the underwater realms might be looking for guides or security. She will remain here for a week or two at most to see if there are any viable jobs and then will likely move on.
This story sounds credible enough to Brita's questioners. They ask her where she plans to go when she moves on, but it's a fairly nominal question and the answer seems to be more of a requirement for bureaucratic completeness than because anyone really cares.
She says that her next destination will depend on rumors of work that she can pick up in the city if necessary. 'Landward' is the best she can do for now.
On her way out, one of the clerks calls her over and recommends an inn and a hiring hall, and tells her to use his name, Kyros, to get the best rate.
Brita suspects Kyros is going to get a referral fee out of her custom if she goes where he suggests.
Briena accepts the input with gratitude, but will make him work for his fee. "I would ask about the rumors I heard that there would be solid work in Gateway. The lines seem to indicate it," she gestures gracefully that way as if still in water, "but what are your thoughts?" her smile is bright with interest. "I am looking for a 'better class' of work, we'll say. Merchants or dignitaries or even Religious tend to pay better than families - especially ones with children." Briena gives a delicate shudder at the last word.
"Ahh, I know what you mean. Merchants and religious pay well, magi pay best, if you can get their custom." Kyros smirks. "Play your cards right at hiring hall, and you might be able to find the sort of work you're looking for, that will take you as far as Port Thule."
Which, Brita knows, is the capital of Gateway, where the Collegium and the centers of knowledge are. And probably where any evidence of anything that the Gatwegians were up to in the late war with Rebma would be.
Brita nods in acceptance of the advice, "I had not considered Magi - a good suggestion, but do you think they would be hard to deal with? I've heard they can be... flighty?" She is obviously searching for a better word.
Kyros thinks about Briena's word and sort of half-nods, slowly. "Ahhh--they have strange demands sometimes, and get ideas in their heads about how things must be. Flighty's not quite the word for it, but I can see why they might have that reputation." But then his grin grows crafty. "The other side of that coin is how much they pay for putting up with their strangenesses." He rubs his fingers together with his thumb to indicate the richness of the reward Briena could expect if she took contract with a magician.
Briena smiles wide, "Useful to know. I will definitely mention your assistance." She has palmed a coin of a size suitable to a guide looking for work who has just received some useful information and transfers it to him in a handshake before she moves to follow his direction and search for the hall.
The coin isn't particularly familiar to Brita, but of course Briena has chosen the right compensation: enough to light Kyros' greed to assist her but not enough to make her a potential target if he's also allied with thieves. He grins appreciatively at her as he takes the coin, and then she's on her way.
His directions to the hiring hall and the inn are both good; she has no trouble finding either. The hiring hall is full of mercenaries like Briena: men, women, and other beings of all sorts. Looking at the wares, as it were, are a variety of merchants, what look like guard leaders, and the occasional cloaked figure who might be a mage.
To obtain a position, Brita (or Briena) will need to register; there will be no fee to her. Whoever she contracts with will pay the hiring hall.
Briena registers as appropriate, noting her skills in weapons, scouting, and provisioning. She notes a preference for travel towards Port Thule. After registering, she will watch the interaction of those looking for services and those providing them - are the other mercenaries showing off any or just loitering?
There is some supervised sparring, but not all of the mercenaries are participating in that activity. Some of them may be waiting in line for a chance to show off to the potential clients; others are already engaged in active negotiations. The procedure seems to be that the clients will look over the records, perhaps observe a fight or two, and approach one or two likely-looking prospects to discuss terms. Sometimes these discussions are short, and one party or another moves on. But if Brita watches for a little while, she sees some negotiations come to terms and the hiring hall paid by the employers.
Briena can sign up to spar if she likes. One or two prospects seem to be eyeing her. No mages yet.
Briena does sign up. She watches some matches but also wanders around a bit. When her turn comes, she ops for hand to hand sparring, using the evasive techniques taught her by Master Ngyuen to wear her opponent down for a bit before switching to more aggressive moves. She puts a hint of pattern into her movements - arcing into the flow of the katas to make it seem like a seamless dance. She feels the probability is high that some of her motions look like spell gestures.
Briena's sparring is graceful, like a dance, like a matrix of power worked through her body. Though there are superior fighters in this hall, gathered from many shadows, Brita could defeat any of them she's seen easily, and her current opponent is no exception. With the power she has in her hands and body, the mercenary she's sparring with can't even come close.
Several cloaked, hooded figures seem to be watching, and they move to the registry during the spar, as if perhaps seeking to find out who she is.
A tall figure with a red cloak eventually turns out to be the victor in whatever contest there is for Briena's services. He puts a sack of coin on the registry table and comes to meet Brita as she steps out of the combat ring. "Well met," he says, pushing his cloak back to reveal swarthy skin and a bearded grin. "I am called Walder, and I'm travelling to Port Thule. I would like to offer for your services for protection along the road," he hesitates before finishing with, "Briena."
A slow wide grin forms at the hesitation and Brita's eyes sparkle with anticipatory delight. "Well met," she responds although what is 'meet' or fitting is not as clear. "I am unclear of the custom here - is it acceptable to Jump at the first offer or does that seem too Desperate for work?" She cocks her head to the side and smiles broadly.
"A warrior such as you are can make her own custom, I think," Walder replies, sounding, perhaps surprisingly, more friendly than portentous. "I won't consider you desperate. I'll settle your fee with the hall, with a bonus direct to you of a quarter again on completion, for your time and effort in guarding my person and goods to Port Thule. If you're agreeable, we'll leave in the morning after breaking our fast, early--and I advise spending the rest of the day in obtaining some warm clothes, as I believe a winter storm may be coming on."
The Family council breaks up, and Signy and Ambrose retire to their rooms for the night. After rising early and grabbing a quick breakfast, she heads over to meet Ambrose outside of his rooms.
"I assume since we attended the meeting last night, we're clear to depart?" she says by way of greeting.
"I believe we ought to formally announce our planned departure, just to be safe, but we were dismissed. It may be that King Corwin wants some way to get in touch with us, or perhaps he'll have some final instructions. I tend to be cautious in my dealings with our uncles. My father was--mercurial about his expectations, let us say--and I learned that it was easier to ask for permission rather than pray for forgiveness." Ambrose smiles at Signy, but it doesn't quite reach his eyes. "Shall we send a note, or go in person?"
Signy gives a resigned sigh.
"If we leave a note and just leave that's probably not really any better than just leaving if he wants to talk to us. I'd rather not wait around to see if he replies to the note, so maybe visiting him would be quickest?"
Assuming Ambrose doesn't object, she requests a nearby page to escort them to the King.
The page escorts them to the King, who at breakfast with a lady of a certain age unknown to either Signy or Ambrose. She's introduced as Mme. Hardwind and is clearly an ornament of Corwin's court. They are invited to remain for breakfast and casual conversation, which is light and mostly news of Paris and a bit about some of their cousins, who seem to be known to Mme. Hardwind.
Afterwards, they receive the King's blessing to depart and an offer of any supplies or assistance necessary.
After they leave the court, Signy gives a quiet, relieved sigh. "That wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared," she murmurs quietly.
As they make their way out of the city, she takes the lead and brings the two of them on a clearly predetermined path out of the city. As they head out through the high street area, she stops at a small jewelers shop. After a brief period of negotiation, she hands over a small but heavy purse of coins, and receives a tightly rolled leather bundle filled with jeweler's equipment. Once out of the tiny shop, she glances inside, and Ambrose can see numerous tools for working on small and fine tasks in the bundle -- hammers, picks, screwdrivers, miniature and needle-nosed pliers, and a series of jewelers' loups.
"I talked with a few of the ladies at court, and this is one of the hidden secrets of some of the ladies there. The only way they told me of his location was if I promised to keep it secret from the others that didn't already know. He's one of the best at small and fine work."
They continue on, and as they start to pass through the more industrial sections, she stops off at a small, out of the way shop. As they enter, the sounds of hammering and grinding can be heard from the back. Another quiet round of negotiations, and another exchange of a slightly larger and heavier purse of coins for a slightly larger leather roll that a quick inspection outside shows additional tools -- tap and die sets, gauges and calipers. She pulls out a smaller leather pouch that offers the briefest of glimpses at a well-stocked lockpick set before it's slipped into a pocket somewhere inside her clothes.
She gives a quick smile at Ambrose, stowing the second set of tools alongside the first bundle before leading them back to the gates and out of the city.
Ambrose accompanies Signy without comment or question until she offers an explanation, which doesn't seem to surprise him. "What my father said about Amber, and I would expect it to hold here as well, is that the tools might not be endowed with special reality, but you would be able to find the best tools in the city because of the quality of person the city attracts."
On the way out of the city, Ambrose obtains horses for them from the guard by the King's warrant. They're good quality and Signy would have been happy to have them on the plains: distance riding horses, not sprinters.
"My father would have hellridden back to our destination," Ambrose explains, "but I haven't the strength or skill with Pattern yet. Nor, I imagine, will you. But since you don't know the way this time, I'll have to do all the shifting. You can take the lead when we return, and ask any questions about what I'm doing along the way. I've had some teaching and some explanations. I'm just missing the practical experience that some of our cousins have."
His shifts after they leave Paris and get into the countryside are at first large and not particularly subtle. Things like changing colors of grass and sky as they pass over hills or around groves of trees on the road, or changing a body of water. They are obvious to Signy, and she can feel the alterations as Ambrose makes them.
Signy nods at what he says, but stays mostly quiet at first, observing and on occasion commenting on the changes she observes to make sure that she is following Ambrose's shifting.
"This seems a lot like a puzzle I saw my father make once," she notes. "Move this piece, so that you can move that piece, so that you can come back and move this piece again." She pauses, before getting a slightly far-away look in her eye. "I wonder if this was his inspiration for making it...."
She blinks, before giving Ambrose a quizzical look. "What happens if I try to shift as well? Can I make it go twice as fast, or would we cancel each other out?"
"For this trip, I don't think you can, because you don't know the puzzle you're solving. I don't know how it would work if we both knew, though." Ambrose looks thoughtful. "It's an experiment we might try on the way back to Paris or Rebma, though, if you're willing. Either it would work well, if we coordinated, or we'd be fighting each other and never get anywhere. I'm not sure how well we could coordinate at any speed, though.
"Has anyone talked to you about hellriding? I'm not strong enough to do it yet, but I'm certain you absolutely couldn't hellride in tandem. I know our uncles, and aunts, hellride together, but it seems to be one in the wake of another."
Signy shakes her head in the negative. "I think I'm like most of the rest of us, and I just walked the Pattern and...that's it. A chance discussion here, a bit of an insight there."
She pauses, before continuing. "I did have Uncle Bleys recommend I travel out to Ygg, though I'm not entirely sure what I would have gotten from that experience, since I got sidetracked right after I got there."
"With our Uncle Bleys, sometimes it's difficult to tell. He's the sort of teacher who believes it's all about the journey, sometimes to the exclusion of the endpoint." Which Ambrose says with a sort of exasperation that's touched with fondness and speaks of some acquaintance with Bleys' teaching methods. "The journey itself would be a difficult task for a novice, especially one with limited sorcery. He hasn't assigned that kind of a lesson to me, but I'm an experienced sorcerer. On the other hand, I haven't asked him for Pattern lessons, either. Have you had any tutoring from Aunt Fiona?"
Signy shrugs. "I got there, and I thought I...saw a face in the tree, but it was very quick and I didn't really have time to dig into it further to see if I could get its attention."
"Aunt Fiona was mentioned as well, but I haven't really talked with her. Maybe if she's in her lab...."
She looks at Ambrose. "Who's taught you? Or are you like most of the rest of us, and more self taught than anything else?"
Ambrose glances at Signy, surprise coloring his expression, and to a certain extent his fair cheeks. "You don't know?" he asks, which question is clearly rhetorical, because he continues, "My father, Brand, was my first teacher. Full brother to Fiona and Bleys, and supposedly their better in matters of Sorcery and Pattern both. One of Dworkin's students of Trump, attempted destroyer of the realm, and--your mother's murderer.
"I serve the family by trying to unravel his schemes. That's why I need a new code wheel: because his papers are in Uxmali glyphs and can't be deciphered without one."
It's Signy's turn to look at him in surprise. "I didn't think that he would have done that." She considers everything he said, before turning slightly serious. "Do you think he had additional plans that are still going on after his death? I hadn't thought that there could be some sort of trap in the code wheels."
"I'm sure he had additional plans that haven't come to fruition. I hadn't considered the possibility that he'd done anything to the code wheels, since he did have to use them himself." Ambrose looks appalled at the idea, and sounds somewhat resigned to whatever security precautions that will entail. "If there's some kind of kin-line protection against any curse laid on them, you might be close enough, or you and I might need to work together to learn how to protect you using me. Because I'm fairly certain my father wouldn't have trapped his legacy against me or my brother."
Signy looks thoughtful at this. "Why wouldn't he have done that, though? Was he planning on bringing the two of you in on his schemes, or was his end goal something different than just destroying everything?"
She pauses for a moment, watching idly at some of the scenery shifting by as they continue to move through Shadow, before continuing. "Code wheels and ciphers seems a lot of work, unless he felt the need to communicate to someone? He didn't seem particularly absent-minded from the histories I've read."
"The code wheels aren't for him to decipher his own notes. I'm sure he knew what he meant and only used the glyphs as a reminder. It's so that those of us who did know him, and who can speak Uxmali, which is a difficult language, can decipher what he meant. He might have meant to bring me or Brennan in on his plans, but he never did in life, or not entirely.
"As for what he meant to do," Ambrose pauses there and chews on his lip a moment, before concluding, "as best we can tell based on what we know, he meant ultimately to heal Dworkin by solving the problem of Tir."
The return of Captain Raven and her re-introduction to Thalia is the signal to allow the Weir to start hunting for the tokens. Of those who are not competing, several have been sparring with Jerod, who seems to have enjoyed the exercise.
The evening passes uneventfully. Anyone who wishes may watch from the battlements of the castle, although at this distance, not much can be seen clearly. The ship does not sink, nor does it burn.
Weir begin returning in small groups over the course of the night, with the last returning shortly before sunrise. While there were twenty tokens stashed aboard the Vale, there are 21 Weir in the grand hall when Jerod, Thalia and Raven enter in the morning.
Some of the Weir look as if they want to kill each other on the spot. The Count is not present.
Jerod sniffs at the air, looking to see who amongst the group is looking to contest a result. That there are more Weir than tokens tends to make him think there is an issue of "arbitration" at hand.
He will wait long enough to see if the Count is going to attend, or if the Weir are waiting on him. Since he is expecting the latter, he will collect an empty bowl from a side table and walk over to a larger table more to the center area of the hall. He places the bowl on the table before focusing his gaze on the Weir. He motions with a single movement of his hand towards the bowl, his expression straight and to the point.
"For those with tokens, step forward."
If Raven is taking the fact that some of the Weir want to kill each other as a good sign that there aren't nearly as many tokens as it looks like there might be, she doesn't say so. She does, however, take a good look at them to see if she can guess how much of a fight her sailors put up.
Fifteen Weir step forward. Most seem unharmed, although one seems to have a burn of some sort on his right arm. [OOC: They regenerate wounds from non-silvered weapons...]
Three more are blocked by another trio. "They stole our ribbons!", says the biggest of the blocking three, who looks like he's about to scream and leap on the nearest of the other set.
"It was not prohibited. You didn't get here with a ribbon!"
Jerod glances at Raven for just a second, enough to make it clear he'll take it but watch his back.
Raven nods slightly in response.
He then turns back, raising his fist and driving it in the table before him with a single sharp, hard crack that echoes through the room as the wood splinters.
The word will thunder through out the room, as Jerod knows it will, as he forces it to happen, as people seem to feel it echo in their bones.
For her part, Raven straightens a little, but otherwise simply remains watchful. If it weren't a room full of warriors, she might try to look intimidating; here, she figures, that might just make things worse. So, watchful it is.
OOC: if this doesn't stop them, then Jerod intervenes physically and we're in combat. If it does, then the remainder is how he will proceed.
His gaze is focused on the six that are at odds, but his words are for all when he speaks.
"The rules were clear. Bring the tokens, kill no one. How you obtained them was not relevant. And in case any of you missed it, obtaining them was a test. It was to reveal things. To show me whether you understood what we are going to do in Gateway.
"And to show whether I was right to choose the Weir, in the war to come against the Queen who will not be named here."
He pauses for just a moment. "Do you understood what you are going to do in Gateway? Do you see beyond this test of chasing a prize and capturing glory, to the needs of the mission? Because if you cannot do so, if you are interested only in the chase, then I chose wrong."
He waits to see if there is any response to his words before he would proceed further.
The leader of the thieves bows. He's a redhead and more vocal than many of the Weir. "My Prince, I put forward that we showed our flexibility and dedication to achieving the task without needing additional supervision, and without even alerting the crew to our presence by not boarding the ship at all.
"Our way, I assert, takes unorthodox paths to achieve victory, while the Weir who we robbed turned their victory into a defeat, which is perhaps a lesson for us all."
The Weir with no token turns very red at the laughter all around him.
"I will kill you, Rey--"
"You will not!" bellows the Count, from an inner doorway. "Ysengrimus, you and your brothers are dismissed. If you have no token you did not pass the test. It is up to the Prince to determine if Raynart meets his criteria."
Raynart smiles, and clears the way for Ysengrimus to leave. The large Weir turns swiftly and exits. He doesn't look the type to let it go.
Jerod watches as Ysengrimus leaves, noting to himself the mood of the group. He motions to Raynart, holding his hand out for the token.
"Those who obtained tokens by...unorthodox means...are accepted." he says simply. "Let me be clear. This was a test to see how you operate. There will be more."
He tosses the token into the bowl, motions Raynart back.
"Let me also be clear. Raynart was victorious...but he burned a bridge. How he resolves that is up to him....so long as it doesn't affect the mission. That is also a lesson to be learned, to consider the consequences of your actions. If you win your battle but lose your war, then you have still failed. If you can fix an issue after the fact without losses, that is acceptable...but do not ignore it."
Reynart nods, but does not interrupt.
He lets that sink in for a second, then motions all of them a little closer, bringing them into his "sphere", an implied acceptance that they are now part of the group, that it is no longer the chase or the game, now it's real.
"Our mission is to bring Gateway back to the side of his majesty King Random, and to deal with the insult they have perpetrated upon our Family. If we succeed at avenging the insult, but cause harm to his majesty's kingdom, then we have failed. And if that happens, pursuing your goals with regards to She who will not be named, will fail. It is important now that every element here be able to work together, both the unorthodox and those for whom conventional battle are their strengths. There is a place for deception and for honour, for strength of arms and for sorcery on this path. For those who recognize this, you are welcome.
"Your own goals require allies...and those goals remain distant on a long path. Travelling that path will require friends in many places, it will require planning and patience, open minds and strong hearts. It will not be won today or tomorrow, and it may take many more years. It may finished by force of arms the like you have never seen...or it could be won with a single word. But it will be won."
He looks at each of the Weir, mindful of Raven and Thalia standing close but unconcerned whether there is any apprehension from that quarter. Jerod's war for the future is not their war.
"Count. It's time we begin."
There's no apprehension from Raven's quarter, for sure. She's watching for reactions.
Other than Reynart, Jerod's new commando squad has been stationary while Jerod was speaking. Raven has only seen people like that at religious ceremonies. It's somewhat uncanny.
The count turns to the Weir and howls, his voice echoing through the room, the castle and the port. Before the first echo returns, the near-score of heavily armed dangerous shapeshifters join him.
There is little that one could imagine this army not accomplishing, even before King Eric of Amber's son takes his role leading them.
Second Mate Heron arrives as the echoes die, and indicates to the Captain that the crew is all well and the ship is ready to take on cargo and crew.
The trip outward from Weirmonken is both welcome and solemn for the crew of the Vale of Garnath. The crew knows that this is the leg of the journey that lands them in a place with real enemies and danger, and they have taken the toughest of Amber's allies with them, but not in overwhelming force.
The Weir seem to divide into two groups of around nine each. They aren't hostile, but it's clear that each group looks to a different leader. A group of the more traditional minor nobility of the Weir rally behind Sir Marrok, of an ancient noble line, and a cousin to the Count. The rest, including all the Weir from Amber, rally behind Reynart.
A light snow is falling intermittently from the dull grey sky when the lookouts call out that they've sighted land. The day looks as if it is going to stay cold, even though the sun is barely up. The seas don't freeze the far south, but the Weir are the only ones comfortable in the weather.
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."
Celina moves slowly downward and settles into a TaKhi meditation sit. She controls her breathing and flushes out anxiety. Breath is the key to shock. She takes her time, working for a few minutes.
Conner floats over and sits beside her, waiting.
Finally she looks up at Conner. "I cannot but agree. The Master of War, a living legend, envies our challenge." She shakes her shoulders as if shrugging away a curse, or a noose about her neck. "You know more about war than I am likely to learn in the next five years. I suggest you work directly with Llewella, Jerod, the wizards of Rebma, the elite units, and of course the Tritons in planning our defense. Jerod may not be available for weeks or months. Don't wait for him.
"Oh my heart," she looks down at her laced hands. "Rebma help me."
Conner reaches out and folds his hands around hers. "Brave heart, Celina. Rebma will help you as will Xanadu and Paris if we but ask. The shark has yet to smell blood in the water and we have time to prepare. I will coordinate the defense of Rebma as best as I can. I may even seek advice from Huon as he is the most recent person to consider Rebma's defenses from an invader's point of view." Conner squeezes Celina's hands. "You do not stand alone, Majesty."
Celina nods. "We do not stand alone. True. And I shall stand with my Pattern, whatever comes.
"Conner, there are oral histories regarding the Eye of Rebma. Do you know them? I did not last year before we returned to Rebma."
Conner shakes his head no. "I have wanted to seek answers of the Archivists but did not want to tip my hand about why I wanted to know. What have you heard?"
Celina nods again, "Wise." She leans far forward and does something that arches her spine as she slides her palms down her legs to grip her toes, then she sighs and releases into a casual sit. "Well, the oral histories conflict. The Archivists keep all versions, even the ones they are told not to repeat by a queen, but now that I am queen, I can at least lay them all out for consideration.
"The mirror is magical, though the History does not confirm what sort of magic made it. Personal observation tells me it is not Chaos sorcery." She looks straight at Conner. "Has anyone ever detected your use of it? Because the story is that the sight of the Eye is imperceptible, which is not true of normal mirror craft."
"Yes, but I'll tell my tales after yours." Conner smiles.
She goes on, "It is said the Eye has cast lightning down on enemies, destroying them completely at a distance. The Eye does not answer or speak, but understands oral direction. It would be worth confirming this bit: the Eye can look on sleepers and move into their dreams, possibly to steer a dream at the request of the user. The Eye can be stubborn, and moral. Use it for evil and evil will return upon you----like a reflection geometry that slips from warpage, or exhaustion. The Eye may show you something that is Needful rather than Desired. And isn't that a kettle of fish?
"Further, there are hints of the power affecting the user over time. Strangeness may cling to the user, or changes, or even disabilities. The Eye was wielded by Moins, and an oral legend says it showed her the place to found Rebma. However, the more popular versions of the founding of Rebma do not mention the Eye at all. Do you see anything in all that you would dispute or support?"
"Quite a bit of both as it happens." Conner nods. "To start with I have had my scrying detected twice to my knowledge. Once Valeria trapped the Eye using a circle of mirrors and I was unable to close the connection until she chose to release it. Another time, I used the Eye to look in on Paige and the twins and Bleys detected the scrying and then disrupted it. So it is clear that those of skill and those prepared can interfere with the workings of the Eye. Of course, we also have the example of Dara and Chantico detecting your scrying attempt and not mine. I think it is safe to say that sensing the use of the Eye may be harder but clearly not impossible.
"As for the powers of the Eye, I have never attempted to command it by voice." Conner admits. "I have transmitted my voice to the location of the scrying. As such, I do not see why I could not use it as a conduit for other sorcery such as lightning or mental magics. I have also tried to use the Eye as a focus for temporal scrying and the images generated were not those expected. I do not recall seeing false images during a simple scrying attempt however. Of course, how would I ever know for sure."
Conner raises his arms above his head and stretches. "Now, let us add some empirical evidence. According to Brennan's Astral sight, which he shared with me on the battlefield so I have seen this as well, the Eye is Real and it appears to be a frozen affine of Chaos. It is in essence a portable Parting of the Veil but for sight only." Conner pauses to allow Celina to comment.
"Parting of the Veil for Sight, Ordered Mirror, Dreams, and probably Sorcery," Celina offers the slight correction. "Brennan's input is interesting, but as I don't know Astral Sight, I cannot ask how he knew it was a Affine of Chaos in stasis. However, that might tie back to the notion I had that the Eye was present at the creation of Rebma. If the Dame Nedra sent warrior affines, or a spy, to find out what Moins was doing, and it became trapped in the creation of Pattern, then we'd have something like what Brennan saw." She looks at Conner. "Our Loreena put much research into these tales of the Eye before her access to the Archive ended. And I still don't know more about where she is."
"Her interest in the Eye is curious." Conner agrees. "I seem to recall being told that Moire sent her to search for it. Apparently it has been hidden either in plain sight or practically her nose all this time. Aunt Llewella gave it to me during my time as First Secretary. When I asked her recently where she got it, she said that hung on the wall in her mother's rooms. I find myself curious when she found it there and took it." Conner waves away that idle thought. "Here is another interesting observation. If you view the Eye when it is in use, you will see a tendril of energy coming from the Eye going off in a direction that has nothing to do with the source of what you are scrying. Merlin attempted to track that back to its source but I wasn't able to keep the device for long enough. I blacked out in fact. Merlin's hypothesis was that the Eye was linked to another artifact."
"Moire spent considerable time on Pattern related things, and at a guess, many of her agents died due to that. Moire does not fully inform her disciples. Loreena would have known to be cautious and gather what information she could." Celina offers her opinions without shades of emotion clogging her appraisal. "The bit about hanging on the wall in Moins room is rather exciting. And tells us that Moire has missed many important clues about Pattern events."
She turns her gaze on Conner, excitement simmers in her tonal shift, "So.... what if that artifact linkage is to the other item that was likely present at the creation of Pattern? Could we get a glimpse of the Sapphire's location from the Eye?"
"I don't know." Conner replies simply. "I have scryed for people and for places but never for an item no matter how Real." Conner replies. "Accuracy of the scrying is also dependent on a clear mental image of the object of the scrying. I am also leery of using the Eye in the vicinity of Moire. Still, it may be worth the attempt." Conner reaches into an inner pocket of his vest and pulls out the Eye. He passes it to Celina glass side down. "Before that though, why don't you give me your assessment of this from a mirror user's perspective."
Celina starts to say something as Conner slips the mirror towards her, but his words stop her. She nods once.
Celina does not take the mirror immediately. Conner sees her staring at it first. She senses for the Llaya coiled within. Then she passes her hand about the Eye still in his grip, defining the Eye or tracing its edges within inches of the actual item. Her movements are extremely slow and very even, not ritualistic, but almost a caress.
It has, she can sense, the kind of Realness that a person or a real object has.
She takes it then, sliding it across the top of her bare thigh, face down. She examines it for its Mirror geometry, seeking any flaws, and all its edges without engaging the surface of it. Legend notes that mirrors may be tricked out with a minor surface compliment connected to the major obvious surface. She checks for this deception.
It is smooth like the facet of an expertly-cut gemstone. Celina does not think the hand of a craftsperson ever touched this face.
Nothing surprising to this point, Celina leans down and kisses the back of the Eye. She tests if there is some sentient reaction to her touch. Is it cool like a Trump?
It isn't cool like a trump, nor is it sentient. She is convinced that there is more to the mirror than she can see and hold, but she doesn't know why she thinks that.
Finally, she moves the mirror into a user position, but turned away from Conner, to guard him. She examines the lines and power of the Eye from an acute angle with her mirror skill. Attacks from Mirrors usually must respect the geometry at right angle to the surface. She does not believe the Eye is hostile, but she must be cautious.
She does not try to scry.
Celina’s first observation is that the mirror has a bluish tinge to it. It’s subtle, and very hard to notice in the water, but as a skilled mirror user, she sees that she is not seeing a perfect image. The second is the sorcerous connection to the Mirror is exactly that. Her ordered mirror magic conflicts directly with the sorcerous power of the mirror and each is lessened.
Celina thinks that using it as a practitioner of the reflecting arts would be counterproductive. It would be worse to fight this than to use any other glass for mirror magic, and the results would be poorer.
Conner will notice intrigue slowly replacing caution in Celina's features.
"This is not what I expected from your descriptions," Celina begins. "Brennan may be right that this was once alive, but the mind it may have had is asleep or locked down." She turns it flat again and passes it back to Conner.
Conner accepts the Eye and returns it to its carrying case.
"It is a device of Sorcery, not mirror. It seems to be formed from a pure ideal. I cannot say that it was ever crafted by hand. The shape is too perfect---particularly the back side. It might be interesting to do some precision measurements to see if there is any asymmetry to it. There is also some sort of expanded dimension to it, as if the Eye here is part of a great Beast elsewhere. The connection might lead to the affine? This could explain the mathematical rear surface, as we see something that only exists as a magical connection."
Celina looks at Conner, "In point of fact, the Eye is not a good medium for mirror work. The chaos within it is strong enough to nullify much of what I might try. I withdraw the suggestion that this could be connected to the Sapphire. You understand?"
"Curious, isn't it?" Conner nods. "The greatest mirror of Rebman legend has nothing to do with mirrors as you know it. Celina, who is considered the founder of Mirror work? Is it attributed to Moins or another?"
"I have been curious regards the same," Celina answers promptly, "and it seems to trace back through Llewella and Moire to Moins and those she taught. Also note that mirror craft can be enhanced and abetted by those who do not understand the work, as we saw with the Paris mirror Moire instructed be built. Mirror compliments Pattern."
"Intriguing isn't it?" Conner muses. "The Eye and the tradition of trial by magic indicate a Chaosian even sorcerous tradition in the founding of Rebma yet out of it comes a new Ordered power unknown elsewhere." Conner grins. "So knowing what you now know about the Eye, how would you go about protecting yourself from it with Mirror work?"
Celina weaves the water a bit with her fingers. Her hands describe a dance in three dimensions. "I'm not sure I'd do it that way. Sorcery would be likely more efficient. However, you have reasons for asking, so.... I think I would be most wary of the undetectable aspect of the Eye's sorcery. So I would build a mirror beacon where the geometries worked against concentration, draining the will of the scrying person. Usually this would not be portable, because you'd craft the geometry to provide a safe zone for your own mirror work in a room, while anyone trying to observe the room would have to deal with the harsh beacon."
Celina looks at Conner. "Basically, I'm describing a 'murk the water' scenario. Mirror would not directly try to oppose the stealthy observation, but the observation might be ....painful. Then you could conduct business with some surety."
"Valeria once used a circle of mirrors to trap the Eye." Conner replies. "I was unable to to break the connection until she let it be broken. As we now know that mirror and sorcery do not mix, I find myself curious if this was a Ordered trap against my Chaosian mirror, or if the mirrors were merely props for a sorcerous trap. I will admit that while I asked about how a mirror worker would guard against the Eye, I am really more interested in how I would undo their precautions."
"Ah, Conner, if only we had time to make a roster of test cases. We could further the art of scrying quite a lot." Celina laces her hands and sets her chin balanced upon them. "With the Eye, I think you would have trouble with Mirror precautions. The device itself does not have the concepts and you do not yet have the mirror geometries. My practical advice would be scry locations with the Eye, get into position to look at the people you wish to observe. This may put you outside of protective geometries. You were stuck because you went right to the defended place. If you knew Valeria was in a certain area or building, it seems the Eye might be able to walk you close enough to view things without centering on the defended target."
Celina shrugs. "Use the flexibility of sorcery in the moment. Mirror requires advanced fortification." She looks to see if that advice is more helpful.
Conner nods. "Improvising is what we do best." Conner sighs out a spray of bubbles. "So then to the future. Do you think it wise for me to trek into Nedra once more in search of the other end of Brennan's tale?"
Celina thinks on that quite a while, then offers, "Well, as your cousin, I'd advise a follow up on the twin Heirophants and make sure they are dealing with their internal business. If we could heal the rift even a little, it would centralize authority and put another obstacle in for anyone trying that attack route. Diplomacy is more your forte than mine."
Conner nods. "I can but try. This hunt for the agents of the Dark Mother does require our attention."
Celina looks at him. "And as queen, you are too valuable to me to put you right into the gap in our defense. Rather let us mirror the problem: how would we make the use of Nedra a trap where we could tear the attackers to bits? Assume they are sending a force that way, provide for long distance oversight of it, build some hidden deterrents that would make the cost too high. For it seems to me a battle in the area of the Dame of Tritons might suddenly remind her of why Rebma agreed to a truce. I'd rather the battle was started by someone else."
"That actually gets at the heart of why another journey may be necessary. Nedra is a big black box with very little detail. I can't plan traps, countermeasures or observation without knowing the lay of the land. That means either exploratory missions on our end, or depending on enlightened self-interest on the part of the Tritons and the Dragon to guard our flank." Conner runs a hand through his hair. "The best we could do on our end would be constant observation of the kelp forest to monitor what enters and exits."
Conner pauses for a moment. "Based on the Heirophant of Nedra's description, traveling deeper into the kelp forest takes you into zones more and more Chaotic until you meet the Dragon herself at the heart of things. Inferring from Brennan's intelligence would indicate that the same would be true passing out of Nedra on the other side until you were elsewhere. If traveling through Nedra requires traveling through the Dragon's domain, that might be enough deterrent right here. But if it can be skirted or if the Dragon could be enticed into a bargain?" Conner shrugs. "I think is says much that whether it was Moire or Dara that raised this force it got sent at Benedict and not at us. It could mean it was a path of least resistance as much as a higher priority target."
Celina shifts to face Conner. "Yes. Nedra is a mystery. Let us examine and understand what it can teach us. However, most of what you have said is that Nedra belongs to the Dragon more than us. I agree that it is a deterrent, perhaps a large one."
"To be willing to face Benedict, instead of a young queen of Rebma, by sneaking through the Kelp? Well, that seems good for us. We are thinking alike in this. As long as we control the route from Nedra to Rebma, and understand how to make it a painful route to hurt us, I think that is good enough. However, I like the idea of a monitor that is refreshed so it is not a thankless task. We could also speak to our Tritons about patrols. For certainly, I'd like to know more about the Dark Mother cult. It would seem that if the cult was going to attack us in force, it would also come from Nedra.
"We could discuss recommendations from you for a special troop, or entitlement, to keep quality people involved in the monitoring tasks."
"If the deserted outpost we found is any indication, whoever was formerly posted there took the posting as a punishment or a waste of time to be taken seriously." Conner nods. "My main concern about using Tritons is the whole worry about a fraction of them being subverted by this Dark Mother cult." Conner frowns slightly. "I need to speak with Teukros. He was there when Khela summoned these Tritons to her banner. I think we need to know more about that."
Celina nods, "That's good. I'd like to be part of that conversation. I know many of the city Tritons but I haven't spent the time with the Tritons who rallied to Khela, or served her since her childhood. That's wrong. I feel I should speak to as many of them as possible, even if it is just to have them know my voice and understand my care for the old oath. Where the honor of the paxblade is concerned, you are First Speaker. So tell me if you'd rather do this without me."
"They are bound by oath to sword and scepter. Let's talk with him together." Conner replies and goes to find a swimmer to send out a request for Teukros to attend them.
Teukros arrives, and swims into the presence of Celina and Conner.
He is still not very talkative, but perhaps moreso than many tritons. "Your Majesty. General."
Celina nods, "Well met, Teukros." She smiles and lets Conner take the lead.
"Thank you for coming Teukros." Conner nods. "We need some information about the Sons of the Dragon from the Kelplands that rallied to Queen Khela's call. What can you tell me about how and where you met them?"
Even for a Triton he seems stoic. "They moved freely in and out of the city, because no one noticed the difference between any of us. I met them in the Temple, when I was a mere porwigle."
Celina nods, noting to herself that a recitation of the life cycle of a Triton would be a good thing to memorize. "Were these Tritons carrying news from the Kelp, or acting as messengers? Or was it just common for the Kelp Tritons to mingle because they would not be noticed?"
"I do not know, Majesty. I was young." He seems inclined to leave it at then, but then adds. "It has never been common."
Celina gives Conner a look that clearly says 'not common = good'.
"So how did Khela meet these Sons of the Dragon?" Conner asks.
"I passed her request to the temple and they arranged it." He seems to be really making an effort to remember to speak. "It was suggested by me when she had recovered the token."
Conner furrows his brow. "Did she or you ever visit the Kelp Beds of Nedra?" Conner asks.
He makes the slow undulating movement that is the nearest a 17 foot long fish-man has to a nod. "I have. Not on her behalf, directly. I was invited. To witness of my life with her."
Conner perks up a bit at that. "Who invited you?" Conner asks.
Celina watches and learns the body language and social adaptation of the Triton. She enfolds calm and is attentive to nuance. She keys her sense of connections to the give and take between Conner and Teukros.
Teukros once again turns his neck. "I do not know. The request was relayed through the Temple. I testified to an audience of priests. A single monk was my interlocutor. No others spoke, nor did that seem unusual. We are not talkative even amongst ourselves."
Celina nods once and holds her questions. Conner certainly will see the temple normally has had a good communication system in place. What has changed to upset the Nedra Heirophant, could it be Huon's attack prompted additional changes in Nedra?
"What was your testimony to the priests?" Conner asks. There was no place for fancy rhetoric here after all.
Teukros takes a moment to gather his thoughts. "I answered the monk's questions. I told him of Khela and the Lady of the Neapward Banks. I told him of Cassia and Livinia, who were pushed from the stair for daring to favor our liberty. I told him of Martin and Jerod. I told him that Khela had the paxblade, and could be persuaded to break with the past.
"As the Hierophant instructed me, I told him that the temple would support a reconciliation."
Conner nods at that. "What message were you given to return with?" He asks.
Celina leans forward just a bit. This is more interesting than she expected.
"I was told that the Dragon did not disapprove," Teukros replies. "but that each son must chose as he felt the Mother wished him to choose."
He pauses, and adds. "The temple, of course, followed the Mother-Dragon's will."
Conner says nothing for a long moment and then asks, "What do you know of the Cult of the Dark Mother?"
Teukros slashes the tip of his tail, but soon calms it. "It was a perversion, and does not reflect the true will of the Dragon or her sons." He pauses, as is his wont. "Some say it comes from above the waves. None who belong to it are ever taken alive."
Celina eyes Conner with a Significant (tm) Look.
Few would pay the woman heed, dressed in plain clothing weaving her way through the markets - a merchant, undoubtedly. Maybe a messenger or noble's servant. Someone with purpose and haste in their step. One of a hundred faces noticed and immediately forgotten.
It's a guise Silhouette has worn many times before in Shadow, one she is comfortable with.
Nor does she travel unprepared, having spoken with Lamell, confirming the possible dangerous of this venture. One person already missing for asking the right questions in the wrong way. The stilettos at her hip were an obvious deterrent, yet certainly expected of someone carrying coin or valuables on their person.
But it was the Unseen that comfort her the most. The spring-blade nestling against her wrist, cool metal on flesh. Her dark corset that appeared knit from normal fabric, yet tempered by magic to resist any 'misfortunes.' The collection of tools - mundane and arcane - concealed in the weave of her cloak, in case she encountered non-human obstacles.
Her only regret is leaving her new 'pets' behind. They could have been most... useful. But, as Celina stated, her Purpose was not Blood. At least, not yet.
She crosses the street toward a large building - where a gathering of men in servant's uniforms milled around in front of an open gate. Ignoring them, as they ignored her, she strides through the gate and into the garage beyond. Several covered sedans and larger litters rest there, waiting to be used.
Silhouette enters the building through the side entrance, searching out the largest office. Again, her confidence marks her as someone who belongs there, even if her face is unfamiliar. When she finds the manager's office, she slips inside and closes the door behind her.
The manager is a lanky, tall woman, cursed with a mannish face. She glances up from her desk, mouth working soundlessly.
"Greetings," Silhouette says, sitting down across from her. "I believe you might assist me in a question I have. And I am certain that said assistance will benefit you as well. Illumination will cost you nothing. Ignorance will cost you much. Please nod, if you understand."
The woman nods, still scowling. "I am jealous of my reputation for discretion, ma'am. A good reputation is worth far more than a single profitable transaction, and a far-seeing woman might reject what others would leap upon." She pauses, and looks down at her desk.
"You may ask, but assume that if it is about my clientele, I value them more than you."
"Answer truthfully, and you shall have more clientele than you know what to do with," Silhouette says softly.
She steeples her fingers, silently summoning her heightened perceptions - studying the woman's pulse and visual accessing cues for falsehoods. "Recently, Lady Lorenna left Rebma in quite a hurry. Someone arranged her transport. Who contacted you? And what was the final destination of that transport?"
The woman laughs harshly and looks at Silhouette more closely. “Is this an official inquiry from the palace then? Speak more plainly and I will give you what little help I can offer.”
Silhouette cocks her head, "It is an 'unofficial' inquiry, as it allows me far more... latitude during the investigation." She leans forward, resisting the growing urge to open the smug woman's throat and let the light in. Barely.
Instead, she smiles softly. "Lady Lorenna fled from her estate. I wish to know how it was arranged and by whom. And to where she was taken, be it inside or outside the city. I doubt such an arrangement would be easily forgotten."
The woman nods. "Almost certainly not. It was arranged by her sénéchal, and my lads only dropped it off. It's normal for someone renting a carriage for an extended trip to use their own staff. I don't really have boys to spare. This business needs carriages, but it succeeds or fails on having good porters. You can ask my lads, but it's unlikely they know anything."
She pauses, and her lower lip slowly slides out as she thinks.
"You'd be best to ask why it was allowed out the gate at all, if the Palace did not wish that to happen."
Silhouette relaxes slightly. "Indeed. Has the carriage been returned, by chance." It's doubtful, but she'd be remiss in not asking.
She doesn't quite shake her head. "It has not. Should I send word to the palace when it is returned?"
The woman smiles, thinking Silhouette may be about to leave.
"No. On the unlikely chance it does, send one of your trusted men to me directly," Silhouette says, providing the woman with her shop's address. "And, if you hear anything else that might be of interest, there is coin in it - monetary and political."
She rises from her chair, "I will direct my clientele your way, in compensation for your generous nature today." She places a tidy sum of coin before her. "We shall speak again, I'm sure."
"Thank you, Lady," the woman replies. "We are loyal servants of the crown." It's unclear who the 'we' is. Perhaps she has a daughter.
When Ossian is done with the war council, he goes back to his rom, washes his face, and then pulls out the Silhouette sketch. He looks at it for a few seconds, smiling, before attempting the contact.
Dressed in a dark corset and cloak, Silhouette appears to him - a shadowed alley way behind her. Beyond the liquid gloom, a rather unsavory section of Rebma.
She pulls back the hood enough to reveal her exotic features. "How may I serve you, Ossian."
Ossian smiles "By spying on the Klybesians, I guess. How long will you be in Rebma?"
"Until you require me, cousin," she replies with a sly smile. "I can come to you whenever you wish it. My current mission is secondary to the Klybesian threat."
Ossian looks genuinely moved by this. "We might want to talk to Tomat, the monk, before leaving. Otherwise I'm set, I think."
Silhouette nods lightly, "He accompanied Cousin Signy when she arrived here. I believe she left him in the Queen's care when she departed. Do you wish to join me, so we might approach Celina together?"
Ossian smiles. "I will dress for getting wet, then. Back in a minute."
When Ossian calls again he is dressed after slightly outdated Rebman fashion, bare-chested. Sil might note that he is not very muscular for an Amberite.
When he steps through he says "I will try not to tear the fabric of the multiverse this time."
Silhouette's fingers linger in his hand, a wry smirk on her hooded face. "Why stop now, my dear? Creation could use a good tearing, I think."
Ossian grins, lighty stroking Silhouettes fingers with his thumb.
She stares at him for a moment, "I found your absence... unpleasant."
"I will take that as a compliment. I think we will enjoy this.
"What time is it here?"
"Midday," she says. "The Queen should still be available."
She pulls back her hood, dispelling the illusion of her being a lowly merchant. "And forgive the garb and armament. I'm hunting. But my quarry can wait, for now."
Extending her arm, "Do you know the city, or shall I lead?"
"I have been here, but I don't know it well, so please" he says as he takes her arm.
"Would it be rude to ask what you are hunting?"
"The most dangerous prey," she says plainly. "Family."
She turns them away from the darkened coral passages and back into the streets filled with people and bio-luminescence. "One of our cousins slipped away during Rebma's Interregnum. She like has information vital to the Queen. Though, I suspect she is beyond our reach now, if not already consumed."
Silhouette smiles, "How was your trip?"
Ossian grins again "It was grand. I got to see Jerod smash a monastery with his powers. He really is much more of an artist than he would confess to." he frowns "The added grief of Reid's death does give it sophistication.
"Although I would have liked to catch more monks."
"You need to use better bait next time," Silhouette says plainly. They walk for a moment before the hint of a smirk curls the corners of her lips.
"Jerod and I do not see eye-to-eye, but I respect his skills. And that is enough."
She brushes her fingers over Ossian's hand, smiling nervously. "I promised your father that I would protect you. I doubt he believes I can do so, but it is a promise I shall keep."
Ossian frowns for a second. "That's ... thoughtful of him. Maybe I should be grateful that he cares. I am grateful that he asked you, though.
"We should probably identify our strengths and weaknesses, so we know what will be dangerous to us.
"Have you any weapon against sorcery?"
Silhouette considers this as they turn onto the main road toward the palace. "I am a Preceptor, Ossian, and thus skilled in forms of sorcery. I know defensive arcane arts, as well as offensive. However, I prefer to counter sorcery through technology. Better to kill a witch at a distance."
"Good that we have several options." Ossian nods. "The reason I ask is that the monks had at least one fairly competent sorceror. I was able to slow him down, using Pattern, but not satisfactory.
"Of course, Trumps are my forte, but they are hard to use in a fight."
"Ah, but they allow for easier movement. And freedom of movement is key to military success," Silhouette says.
"How, may I ask, did you utilize your Pattern talents against him?"
"I changed reality to make it less susceptible to sorcery." Ossian grins. "We actually have to control that I do not crash your technology if I use Pattern."
He frowns. "Do you have any items you could show me?"
Silhouette nods, "Of course. We can go to my shop, if you like. I have several items there, including some improved rifles. Although, I would prefer that remain between you and I."
Ossian's eyes shine. "But of course."
She alters their course, heading toward the upper markets. "Can Pattern be used to strengthen certain facets of Reality? Ever since I walked the Pattern, I've wondered if I could incorporate its influence into my designs."
Ossian smiles. "It can, but it might also make the design more susceptible to changes in Reality.
"There are ways to really incorporate the Pattern in things, I guess, as with the Pattern blades. But the cost of that is very high.
"Did you have anything specific in mind?"
"My various Mechanika," Silhouette says. "At the moment, they're limited in scope and range. If they were imbued with higher functions - reasoning, thought - as well as the ability to traverse Shadow without tedious paradigm adjustments, well... the possibilities are absolutely delicious."
Ossian frowns. "That sounds well beyond my capabilities, at least. But I imagine there are parts that can be manufactured only in special environments."
They turn a corner into a peaceful square, featuring expensive shops and restaurants. She leads them toward one with a green door and a large glass window. Just beyond the window, dresses of exquisite design are displayed - scintillating spectacles that are more flesh than fabric. There's an airlock beyond the green door, allowing them to return to the world of Air; The shop itself is a wide, open space populated with further wonders. "My shop," she explains.
Silhouette leads them to the desert-warm second floor, "And this is my home. Please makes yourself comfortable. I have a man's robe, if you'd prefer to remove your wet clothing."
"I'd love to." Ossian says. "How are your machines powered? I think that is the most critical part."
Silhouette briefly leaves the room, returning with a long robe. "Here you are," she says, smiling. She's changed into a flowing gown of gold and green - her hair tied back to dry.
"The heart, if you will, of my Mechanika are their accumulators. A chamber that produces either a thermodynamic or electrochemical effect to power the creature's clockwork innards," Silhouette explains, walking over to her workbench. Sitting there is a bronze aquatic creature out of some primordial nightmare - all teeth and violence. Its glass eyes flick toward her, as if weighing whether she is predator or prey.
"For Rebma, I've had to create a methane-powered accumulator. The creature utilizes the gasses from rotting matter to power itself, as well as provide buoyancy. Far too many kinks to work out yet."
Ossian takes the robe, goes behind a chair with a solid back, turns his back to Silhouette and undresses. Then he puts on the robe.
He turns around again, smiling "Ah. I imagine the accumulators are the critical part when shadow shifting. Unless protected by some kind of strange sorcery, they could easily stop working. It is so easy to slip into a Shadow where chemistry works differently.
"I know from mixing paint."
"There are arcane aspects to them," Silhouette says. "Although, with my new perceptions, I may be able to attune them correctly to compensate for more subtle Shadow-shifts. However, this is not always intuitive. I've noticed there are hidden rules in some Shadows. Rebma for example. Forms of combustion that should work, do not. My rifles operate perfectly, yet high explosives seem... suppressed. Vexing, to say the least."
She goes to the kitchen to make them some tea. "Might that be the influence of the Family?"
Ossian laughs. "Of the little I have heard from the kings, they seem to design their kingdoms exactly so that rifles do not work."
Ossian examines the machines some more. He obviously is good with his hands, but not very experienced with mechanics. After a while he is satisfied. "Now I at least have an idea what not to do when shadow shifting."
The Machine clicks and whirs softly as it is examined. In truth, it does not appear as if it should move at all - let alone be tracking him with its unsettling eyes.
Silhouette returns with two cups of green tea - offering one to Ossian. "If required, I can develop weapons to fit most paradigms. From Antiquity to modern day arms. I expect we'll be requiring both personal and siege level weaponry?"
Ossian gladly accepts a cup of tea. He seems more interested in how the light is reflected in the tea surface than the taste of the tea. "Personal weapons for sure. But you never know. It's probably wise to have heavy weapons available also.
"First we investigate that hospital, and look for Dr. Chew."
"I'll craft a body pistol for you. Best for close quarters and concealment," Silhouette says, studying him. The edges of her forest-shadow eyes crinkle, a hint of anxiety.
"Will you be staying at the castle?" she asks, another question behind the words.
Ossian looks at her with a slightly sly smile. "If I got an invitation to stay somewhere else, I might take it."
Silhouette smiles, relieved. "Well then, please consider yourself invited to remain with me. I promise I do not snore."
Ossian smiles back. "I'll be delighted to."
Silhouette touches his hand, returning the smile. "Then it is settled. Consider this your home." Her hand lingers for a moment, then drifts away.
"Please feel free to utilize my spare draft table, as well as the art supplies, should you require them."
She walks over to the kitchen area, calling back. "When would you like to travel to the castle, if at all? I can simply send a messenger to Celina."
Last modified: 11 April 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.