Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Robin is quickly in her element: Deep woods that aren’t exactly the Deep Green, but that may not have seen a human in generations. The harts and hinds have no special fear of Robin, nor do the predators. Everything grows larger here, and the light filters down with a special quality.
Robin follows the directions Iron Eyes provided. She finds the landmarks he saw easily: a mountain in the distance, a ravine with a double waterfall, the remains of a forest fire from a decade ago.
It’s pretty shocking when she comes across what looks like some sort of animal trap: a spring loaded set of steel jaws that would pin anything smaller than a grizzly bear, and attached to a chain.
There are tracks where someone checked the trap. They’re probably 2 days old.
Robin frowns as she looks over the trap. Carefully, she leans forward to get a good scent trace. Then, taking a large stick, she first purposefully springs the trap. Then, equally purposefully, wrecks it in such a way as it cannot be repaired. A smile dances across her lips as she thinks of Silhouette. Her cousin would probably be more... graceful about the examination and disablement of a mechanic device, but Robin's methods work too.
As a child of Amber, Robin’s strength is more than a match for the trap. Not only will it never be used as a trap again, it’s also a clear message to whoever finds it.
Then she's off on the hunt. Robin is careful not to walk directly on the trail but to shadow it from nearby, where she has a clear view.
Robin continues along, the tracks go higher into the hills, and she finds the snow-line. The trapper isn’t bothering to conceal his trail. Robin comes across what might’ve been another trap site. It’s hard to tell, because scavengers have picked the carcass of the dead bear clean.
Robin’s frown deepens. It’s one thing to set a trap, it’s another to be wasteful of a kill.
The trail continues to a river, which has a trot line across it. There are no fish caught by it, but it should catch some soon.
Across the river, Robin sees a plume of smoke from the next valley over. It doesn’t look like a wildfire, so it’s probably people.
When Robin finds the trotline an angry buzz starts up in the back of her throat. In short order the trotline gets the same treatment as the previous trap: complete and definitive.
Robin is cautious as she crosses the river, using the firelizards as forward observers.
Once across the river, the Ranger-once-more climbs a likely looking tree to get a better view of the smoke plume. One campfire, many chimneys, burning wood or something else?
Robin sees a cottage in the center of the clearing. It’s not very large, but it may have two or three rooms. It’s a permanent structure, and the smoke rises in a single plume from a chimney or smoke-hole in the small building. The wood smells like it's dry, seasoned and slow-burning. There’s also the smell of smoking food in the plume. Part of the building may be a smoke-house.
The sun sets as Robin looks at the place. The fire is probably also for warmth. It’s getting colder as Robin watches.
Hmmm... Robin rubs her chin as she thinks. Deciding on her tried and true full-frontal reconnoiter style, she climbs down from the tree.
The Ranger takes a few moments to make sure both she and the firelizards are calmer before setting off toward the cottage. The firelizards get sent aloft with fond crooning to watch her flanks. And Robin tweaks the wind slightly to make it more difficult for missile weapons to successfully find their targets.
Then she sets out for the cottage fairly directly.
As Robin approaches the cabin, the door opens and a large, muscled man looks out. He may not have shaved since the spring. "Bonjour! Je n'ai pas vu deja ici. Entrez!"
Behind him is a woman wearing buckskin clothing.
"Merci Beaucoup," Robin says as she enters. She briefly sends her hope that the firelizards will stay outside unless there's an emergency. At which point they would be welcome to join her.
"I've been away and am just now returning to these parts," she continues as she looks around the interior of the home. She's especially looking for any little Ponca touches in the décor or the woman's clothing.
She could be a Ponca or a related tribe. It's hard to say. It is easy to see that she's pregnant.
The man closes the door against the cold and offer her a seat. There are two candles lit in the main room and a fire in the cooking corner, which can't be called a kitchen as such. "Are you? I don't know of any women trappers, in these parts or any parts, not white women, anyway. But you’re here, and that speaks volumes. Unless I'm wrong, and you're a castrati or something." He holds out his hand, "I'm Carles, and I'm the best fur-trapper on this riverway. Lorraine, please get our guest a warm drink. Something strong, I'd say."
Robin shakes the offered hand firmly. “Strong would be nice.
"I'm Robin. And I'm not a trapper. I'm a nature spirit." Close enough, she thinks.
"Nature Spirit, huh? Shouldn't you be getting ready to sleep through the winter? Šišóka šni kiŋ waná lowáŋpi."
Lorraine smiles as Carles' comment. She passes a mug of a very different kind of spirit to Robin. It is eye-wateringly strong. Carles takes one himself. "You are welcome in this house, šišóka," says the young woman. "Can we assist you? Why have you made the voyage from the blue world to ours?"
[OOC: http://mahpiyalutatimes.blogspot.com/2013/03/lakota-phrase-of-day-sisoka-ki-wana.html ]
"Merci." Robin takes a hospitable sip from the mug, before addressing the two seriously. "I come not-so-much from the blue world as from the Green one. There is a great deal of unrest in that world. Wars are brewing and being fought between family members. It is bad." She shakes her head sadly.
"Worse, the edges between that world and this world are blurring and shifting. Your traps, Carles," she nods to him, "have caught the spirits' notice. They are not acting as yet, but..." she shakes her head, "this is not a good time to come to the spirits' attention.
"I see that this is your home. And that you are planning a future here." She gestures to Lorraine's midriff. "And I am not fool enough to tell an edgeman to leave his place." She smiles at them both before getting serious again.
"But there is grave danger nearby and if you plan to remain, for the babe’s sake -- live as quietly and as unnoticeably as possible. Return to the old ways if you can. And be very, very careful of strangers." Robin smiles as she says this last and takes a heartier swig from the mug.
He laughs. "I’m not very good at living quietly, but I am very good at living. I take your point, stranger. I do indeed."
Lorraine smiles. "Forgive my husband. He, like you, is a nature spirit dreaming that he is a man, and sometimes he forgets how to be himself."
Carles rolls his eyes, but doesn't contradict her.
Robin chuckles into her mug. Momentarily she wonders if Carles is another of Daeon's progeny.
"That's good. It means you'll have some defense. But bad in that it means you'll attract more attention." Robin kicks back the rest of her mug.
"That being said, I should take my leave." She puts the mug down and stands. "I do not live quietly either." She smiles at Carles, "And I do not wish to bring unwanted visitors down on you with my trail."
Carles stands, but gestures to Lorraine not to get up, probably in deference to her pregnancy.
Carles looks at Lorraine. "We'll be here through the winter, and then move on come spring. If I need to dig in here to protect my wife and child, I will."
Lorraine looks grave. "What spirit or beings should we expect, Spirit of the Green World? We will pray and make offerings as the Spirits need. Grandfather Bear will protect me, but I cannot call upon him if I do not know what the danger is."
"The Dragon stirs." Robin says seriously, "And her daughters fight for or against her emergence. Beware of that which has more life than it should. And beware of the unseasonal." She smile ironically.
"The spirits I have fought have come in many forms but most of them are confusers of the mind. And liars of shape." Robin shrugs. That's the best she can do.
The woman nods. "Thank you for the warning, Spirit of the Green World."
The man looks grim. "Dragons are creatures of the Old World. These people don't even have those myths. I think I know what I need to do, Robin." He stops, briefly. "Robin is such an English word, and doesn't come easily to me," he says. "The French word would be Le Merle, which I think suits you better. I thank you for your warning as well, Merle. If you come here to look for us again, we will be gone before the thaws."
Robin bows. "Thank you for the name. Both of them." She smiles to Lorraine as well.
"I’ll take my leave then. Be safe." With that, Robin sees herself to the door and out into the cold night.
The night is cold, in a high-altitude, first-frost kind of way. If Robin were inclined to dabble with the probabilities, she could probably bring on an early snowfall. It might happen even without Robin’s nudging.
The forest is vast, but it's not Arden, and it's not Brocéliande. Robin could shift to either of those, if she chose to do so. Or she could explore here. There's a mountain range she can see in the distance, which would give her a good view of the forest and of what lies beyond. There's also just plain wandering, a Ranger on patrol, looking for interesting and dangerous situations.
Robin fluffs herself in the cold and greets the firelizards as she strides into the forest. Slowly, she begins to shift her way back toward Arden. But she keeps herself open to possibility. If there’s one new marked place, there might be others. And those are definitely something the Warden needs to know about.
Robin enters a clearing, sometime after she's shifted the snow back towards the Arden spring, and sees two things. One is a stone plinth with a basin on it, full of rainwater. The other, nestled in a crag on the side of a cliff, is a small castle.
A curious chirp escapes Robin as she cocks her head. Approaching the plinth, Robin looks it over respectfully and more importantly Listens to it. She's curious to know whom the plinth and the water is dedicated to and who dedicated them. She's also looking if there are any traces of Family or Enemies, which these days Robin has to grant are different.
To Robin's (non-sorcerous) glance, it's clearly something, but it's not clearly a thing of chaos or order. What it mostly seems to be is connected to this place. The surface of the water is still and reflective.
Peep lands on Robin's shoulder. She leans towards the water, and makes a curious noise, as if she wishes to get closer to the water.
Robin glances at Peep with a fond smile. "Okay," she says, "Let’s poke it and ask nicely."
Hoping that it's a ward and not a scrying pool, Robin touches the water with one gentle finger. "Hello, my name is Robin. I come with no ill intentions and for no purpose of harm."
The water bubbles a bit where Robin's finger touches it. Rather than damping down the water keeps rising and falling, like a tides. In the distance Robin hears thunder.
Peep wraps her tail around Robin's neck.
"Yep." Robin nods, "That's got someone's attention." [OOC - What direction did the thunder come from? And is it an ongoing sound or just one boom?]
[OOC: It came from the far side of the mountain that the castle is on. Or the castle itself.]
"Well, let's see what the guardians of this place have to say." Robin loosens her sword and nocks her bow, just in case. She's wary, but not looking for trouble.
A mounted knight, fully caparisoned and his visor closed rides into the clearing at the far end. His shield is green with a lion on it. He lowers his lance and points it at Robin.
"Really?" Robin says. "Not even a hail?"
Quick as a wink, there’s an arrow in her bow. If that horse or knight moves toward her, she intends to shoot the horse in such a way that it will fall, trapping the knight beneath it. (And she's not above tweaking local conditions to do so.)
If she gets time, she will tweak in such a way as do minimal damage to Shadow, horse and man. In that order.
The arrow flies straight and true and hits his horse’s breast slightly to the left of center, as if it were tracking on his heart. It makes no noise as it penetrates the steed, and Robin sees the arrow continue along its trajectory from his back and lodge itself in the trunk of a black tinted tree behind the horse and rider.
Robin curses under her breath as she scrambles out of the direct charge path. This reminds her so much of 'Uncle Ugly.' Now, in that situation, she could be seen and touched by her opponent. But she could not affect Dearest Uncle. That seems the best set of assumptions to operate under now.
So with that in mind, Robin is going to try and lure, distract or spook the horse (if necessary) into the stone plinth. That’s probably real and solid in everyone’s universe.
Robin stands so that the plinth is blocked from the view of the horse and rider. The rider charges, and directs his horse to the right of the plinth. Peep flies straight at and through the horse's face, scolding it as if it were a naughty trainee. The others join in and the rider and his mount seem distracted. He swings his shield up and knocks Chirrup out of the air with it. The little dragon seems more angry than hurt, as if it isn't fair that he can't rip the horse's eyeballs out, but he can get hit by the shield.
At the last possible moment, Robin leaps up and backwards, landing on a crag in the rocks behind her. Perched like an eagle, she watches as the horse tries to avoid the plinth and fails, knocking it and the basin over, spilling water over the rocks beside it.
[Card Draw: The Fish, glub, glub, glub…]
As soon as the water hits the ground the rains begin. It is the greatest storm Robin has ever seen, or it seems it. It's all she can do to stay on her rock, and her friends all teleport to her. They can't fly in this.
Visibility almost doesn't permit her to see what is happening, and it's again a testament to her family's abilities that she can tell at all, but the knight seems to be struggling to right the plinth. The water is starting to rise around the base. He might be calling out, but it's hard to hear over the rain and the thunder and the lightning.
Robin gasps in surprise and indignation as she is suddenly and thoroughly wet. Again! For a moment, she just scrambles to maintain her perch and protect her amazing and so clever friends (especially making sure that Chirrup is no worse for the hit.)
But as she starts to peer and listen through the pounding water, Robin curses softly under her breath. A friendly territorial scuffle is one thing, knocking the bung out of the canoe is another.
Quickly arranging her pack to make as decent a firelizard shelter as she can, Robin instructs her friends to stay there and stay safe. Then she splashes down from her perch, as unhappy and bedraggled as any wet raptor ever was. Slogging over to where she remembers the plinth being, Robin will lend her family assets to whatever the knight seems to be doing.
The knight, his helmet lost in the downpour, is trying to right the plinth, but he is only succeeding at slipping in the mud. With Robin's help, he gets the stone vertical again and replaces the basin. It rapidly fills with rainwater, but the storm does not abate. The knight points to himself and then to the castle halfway up the hillside behind them, then at Robin and the same castle.
He seems to know that he can't be heard over this type of storm.
Robin's soggy eyebrows rise. Really? Ah well, following phasic folk worked out so well for her last time, she might as well try again. Doing her own pantomime over the roar of the storm, Robin indicates that she will follow but she has to get something first.
The girl curses as the flooded ground sucks at her boots, but she makes it back to her perch and gently gathers her pack and firelizards to herself. Once everyone is a bedraggled but secure mess, Robin turns back to the knight.
He starts to lead his horse back around the hill, towards the stone edifice he pointed out earlier.
Ticking her tongue at herself, she follows.
Robin's friends are quite happy to see her again and do not like this weather. Wet dragon skin is pungent.
Robin completely agrees about the weather and wet ranger may not be as pungent - but it carries its own bouquet.
Robin catches up to the knight as he's waiting for the castle gate to open. It does and he leads her into the stable, where he starts taking care of his horse. The knight looks young to Robin, no more than his early twenties.
"Thanks for the help, Lady Knight. I am Ywain, husband to the lady of this castle. I offer you hospitality and shelter from the storm.
"I apologize for attacking you, much less without letting you arm or armor yourself. It is my curse."
"I am Robin, a Traveler, and I accept your offer of hospitality and will abide by guestlaw." Robin says formally. The apology she waves away. "I know a thing or two about living under curses. Consider it forgotten."
For all that the stable is large enough for a score of horses, there are only two, and there are no servants in sight. There's no way one knight could maintain it, but the castle doesn't show any signs of having additional occupants.
A smile lines Robin's lips as she looks around; ghostly knight, abandoned castle, storm of the ages. Ah, the classics. "Is that the Lady's blazon you wear?" She asks pointing to the lion.
He nods. "The Lady Laudine will greet us when we go inside. I have been her husband since I disturbed the Fountain of Barenton and fought her prior champion. I am the champion on the Fountain."
He sighs, blowing water out of his mustache. "At least I was. I had never been defeated."
"You haven't been defeated yet." Robin says, "The game was called on account of weather." Robin's smile says that being irreverant doesn't mean that her statement isn't true.
Then concern lines her face. "Is there anything we should be doing about the storm? Or will it blow over of its own accord?" Because, you know, sometimes they don't....
"Now that we've repaired Merlin's Fountain, it will stop, eventually. My Lady will tell you more of it." Ywain reaches for a towel and gestures for her to take one as well, if she wants. Apparently the stable needs those frequently.
"She will also know if I am relieved of my duties as champion." He frowns. "The magic, Lady Knight, it does not listen to reason. One cannot bargain with it, defy it, or escape it. I know. I tried."
"Ah." Robin says as she shrugs out of her backpack. Various legends swirl around in her head as names and situations begin to align.
Taking a couple of towels, Robin sets herself down on a convenient bale of hay and begins to pat down and dry off her brave and oh-so-pungent little friends. "Then I take it your service is not entirely voluntary. And that this place," she gestures around to the whole of the castle area, "is a knight-trap?"
He sighs. "One's duty is seldom completely voluntary or involuntary, Lady Knight. I killed My Lady's husband, and took up his role. I have left in the past, but I would not do so again.
"The Fountain will have a champion, but must it be My Lady's husband? That I do not know. As long as I have been the champion, I have been summoned when the waters are disturbed to fight the summoner."
Robin nods with understanding, duty is something she's familiar with. And just perhaps, Venesch, Castor and Vere are starting to rub off on her because she decides to let the honorable knight be.
Once she's dried the firelizards to a more pleasant odor and herself to a state where she won't leave muddy footprints & puddles all over the faerie castle, she stands and gestures to Ywain to lead on. "Well, let’s see what the Lady Laudine can tell us." She says with a smile.
Ywain leads the way to a door at the back of the stable. Apparently the castle is designed with most spaces covered to keep off the rain.
The castle is large, open, and for the most part empty. The walls are hung with rich tapestries showing forests in the rain, seascapes in the rain, cities in the rain, battles in the rain, and hunting scenes in the rain. There's a single motif, as if whoever decorated thought about rain quite a bit.
Ywain leads her to a sitting room. A woman is waiting there, in a long blue dress that seems old-fashioned, even by Amber standards. On the table is a complete tea service, with a pot of tea steaming on it and a plate of cakes and sandwiches.
The woman rises. "My husband?," she says, her voice full of questions.
"The Lady-Knight Robin, who I faced at Fountain this very night."
The woman makes an effort to put on a welcoming face, but it's clear to Robin that she is worried.
"I am Laudine of Lothian, Countess of Landuc. Welcome to Trécesson."
Robin gives a nod of respect. "Thank you for your welcome, Lady. Your husband is an honorable man whom it was my pleasure to face. And your home is quite lovely."
Robin and the firelizards are in what she and Castor have designated as 'formal presentation mode': Chirrup rides on her right shoulder, Ooot on her left with Peep curled into the crook of Robin's left arm, leaving her right arm and hand free for formal... thingies.
"May I present my familiars, Peep, Chirrup & Ooot?" She notes each with a nod of her head.
Robin finds the worry on Laudine's face comforting. She's not arrogant about it, it's just a good sign that the Lady might have a clue regarding the stakes involved when Robin's around.
She looks confused, then perhaps a bit frightened. "A knight... with familiar creatures? Is it permitted to ask if you are Fae, Lady Knight? This very castle is the seat of the treaty of Lake Barenton and I wish no mischief or disrespect on Lady Viviane’s kith, kin, vassals or peers."
"It is permitted and I am not Fae, Lady." Robin nods again in understanding. "I am a Traveller and as such, have picked up a variety of... differing skill sets. I do not know Lady Viviane so I am no kith, vassal or peer to her. Kin?" Robin shrugs, "My Family is vast, widespread and fertile. It's possible but I am not aware of any relation."
She nods, her concern fading. "Then with your permission, Lady Traveling Knight, I shall tell you of our circumstance here. This castle has not always been the isolated forest realm you see today. At one time it was the front line, with the Lady Viviane's Crystal Castle across the Lake being the furthest outpost of the Fae realm. It was, in more peaceful times, where she gave birth to her son Merlin.
"But later war occurred, and the lake was black with evil between us. Eventually my first husband Esclados the Red drove out the invaders when their black tides failed them. The Fae created the magic fountain as an alarm and as a symbol of the peace between us. If it is disturbed the magic rains assault the land. If it is ever destroyed, the Fae will come at us caprisoned for war.
"After Sir Ywain slew Sir Esclodos, he married me so that the defense of Broceliande would not fail. My husbands, both of them, have been magically compelled to protect the fountain and thus our peace, for many years."
She sighs. "We do not know what happens next. The Champion of the Fountain of Barenton has never been defeated, except in death. That has us both nervous." She straightens her shoulders. "But we will not let our worries about the future prevent us from providing hospitality as befits a knight of the Rangers of Broceliande, who we knew of old. You are gladly welcomed to this castle and may freely stay and freely go, if the magics so allow. This rain will not let up until morning, so at least stay the night. You can tell us news of the outside world.
"Please, sit,and have some refreshments."
"Thank you, Lady." Robin bows. "For both the invitation and the news."
Robin sets aside her pack, settles the firelizards along the back of her chair and seats herself. Watching carefully as Castor has taught her, she follows the cues of her hostess for appropriate manners in this setting.
"Let me repay you with what I can say of the outside world. Though, as a Traveller, my news may be outdated or irrelevant.
"I know of the war that turned your waters black with evil. It was fought between the denizens of the Eternal City and the Forces Primeval. That great war spanned across many, many realms. In the end, the Primeval were defeated, but not without great cost to the Eternal City. The One King gave his life to protect the City and his descendants. Yet despite that, the Heart of the Realm was sundered and she has lost much of her former greatness." Robin still finds that hard to accept and the sadness in her eyes is unmistakable. But she carries on.
"From the King's sons, two new Realms have arisen: Xanadu, a city of excitement, growth and music - direct heir of the Eternal City. And Paris, a city of artistry, civilization and... those kind of things." Robin smiles at her own lack of understanding regarding the benefits of civilization.
"It is the King of Xanadu whom I serve and I am an... unconfirmed Knight in the first Order formed after the Fall of the Eternal City, the Order of the Ruby." A wry smile dances across Robin's lips as she thinks of what Brennan might have to say about that.
"In the wake of the Great War and the diminishing of the Eternal City, many old enemies with old grudges have come to light. They circle around both new Kingdoms like jackals, probing for weakness, striking when they can. The new Kings, Random and Corwin, are not without power and craftiness, but they are not the One King and their Realms are young. Many see this as a sign of weakness and times are perilous across the land as opportunists strike where they can.
"The Kings have responded by dispatching their brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces" Robin gestures to herself, "where and when they can, to keep the lands safe from those that would see the Fall of the Eternal City as a chance to create whatever mayhem they wish.
"My own feet are well-suited to the Green and so I find myself travelling the wooded paths. When I came across the Font, I announced myself as peacefully as I could. Please know that I hold no rancor whatsoever with your husband or his actions and I have no desire whatsoever to kill a defender of peace and order.
"But also please know, that while I do not wish to disturb your ways or bring the wrath of the magic or Fae down upon you, as a descendant of the One King I cannot be compelled by anything of this land without grave peril following." Robin shrugs sadly, she's a walking time-bomb and she knows it.
Ywain nods. "If we fail here, then Magic will be released into Broceliande and It will affect the great realms of Avalon and Paris. Please make sure Arthur is told of this." The man frowns. "Unless I mistake, he will think me long dead, and perhaps in a way I am." He pauses and forces a smile onto his face. "And tell him to get around to knighting you, on my say-so Lady Knight. You are clearly deserving of it, both martially and in honor."
Ywain receives a smile laced with both gratitude and humor from Robin.
Laudine reaches out and puts her hand on Ywain's knee. "My husband speaks the truth. Our bastion of order here may well be about to fall." She looks quite upset.
"Hmmmm... " Robin leans back in her seat. "Well, given that I am just one being, though not without differing skill sets, and that I cannot reside within your Realm for long, how can I help?"
Laudine sits still for a moment, and then leans forward to speak.
As she is about to, Ywain interrupts. "You can't. You should leave this place and go very far from here, and not return." Laudine looks defeated. "We won't drag you into our curse."
Robin nods to both Laudine and Ywain. She sits back in her chair as she thinks about it. When she's come to a conclusion, it's Ywain she addressed. "Can you explain this curse without tangling me in it?"
Laudine considers. "I think so, Lady Knight. It is the bond of a vassal to her liege. We cannot abandon our duty to hold this place for the defense of the realm, and yet we cannot hold it.
"Like Hruodland at the Roncevaux Pass," adds Ywain. "And like him, I mean to take many of the Fae knights with me.
Lauding continues. "As do I. The sorcerer-knights of the fae-lands will threaten Avalon and Amber again, Lady Knight, if we fall here..." She looks at her husband. He is silent.
Robin rubs her chin and thiiiiiinnnks about it. "Well, I think there is something I may be able to do. Though it is not without risk to this land and yourselves. And though we barely know one another, it would work better if I were at the Heart of this land."
She sits forward. "I may be able to strengthen the order within the land. I don't know what effect that may have on the Fae and I suspect it'd piss them right off. Buuuutttt, if you are facing a losing battle anyway....” She shrugs.
Ywain frowns. "This is why you should leave. If you are here when they attack, you will be overwhelmed by our curse."
Laudine smiles, "But not tonight. No one will ever be put out at night into this. And we will all feel better after the rain stops and the sun rises."
"And the moon sets", adds Ywain.
Robin raises a Julianic eyebrow at the moon comment, but nods her head in agreement.
Leaving more weighty subjects behind, Robin spends the rest of the evening eating heartily, chatting with her hosts about hunting and rain, and getting the firelizards fed and oiled.
Once within her chamber, Robin wanders over to the window (if any) and casts her gaze out of the sodden land. She lets her gaze wander aimlessly and gently begins to Listen. She' not doing anything active, just trying to get a sense of and a feel for this Shadow.
The forest here is old, ancient like the great primeval depths of Arden, the places where no one patrols because it is too old, unchanging, and eldritch to enter. The places where, even if a person enters, they are like an insect on the surface of a lake.
Robin hums in delight, happy to be an insect on the surface of a lake. In the cities, in the castles, it's too easy for people to think that they are all that's important in the world. That the world exists to serve their purposes. Here, and in places like it, the world just exists. And it is balm to Robin’s soul.
Such a forest sings its own song, primal and rhythmic and free of melody or tone, but likewise undisturbed by anything so ephemeral as a castle or a human. This is a forest that knows only forest, and has not yet learned the modern things that may soon afflict it.
As Robin hums along, she hopes that the maybe-coming affliction will be as ephemeral as possible.
It is quite a lullaby and Robin returns to her bed and lays down, her eyes heavy and the tuneless tune in her head. Her fire lizards all lie around her, their breathing soft and regular and just faintly echoing the refrain of the valley and the lake.
It was the sound that woke her. It was always the sound. She looked around her chamber, in the crystal castle, and put on her armor. She knew she had no choice. The water all around made her arms and legs heavy, but she knew the trick of making through it. Her joints moved fluidly and she slid around the difficult places. The moon shone in, through the lake above and through the castle, bathing her in the familiar silver and making her feel more whole. More like herself.
Armed and armored, she quickly made her way to the sable, and was mounted and out of the castle and headed for the bottom of the lake.
A human knight stood before the fountain of air, further disturbing the bubbles. The knight, a woman, turned, She picked up her shield and mounted her horse and charged. Her coat of arms was a Unicorn over a great tree. She sat her horse like an expert and they crashed their lances into each other, and both were unseated. The interloper's helmet flew off and she lay unmoving on the ground.
Robin saw that they shared the same face, but she didn't remember if she was the attacker or the defender. One of her was dead.
"Peep", says Peep, in Robin's ear, before proceeding to lick it clean. Robin awakes in a cold sweat and short of breath, in the castle of the Countess Laudine once again.
"Oooooggg." Robin says as she rolls over to nuzzle her little ear-cleaning marvel. Followed by "Bleah."
Still loggy from her dream, Robin slumps up into a sitting position. "Yay, prophetic dreams..." her voice is heavy with sarcasm. The whole thing probably means something -- maybe a warning. A fond smile dances across Robin's lips as she thinks how much Vere would enjoy discussing it.
The water though... that makes her think of Rebma. And reflections. And mirrors. And maybe the issue isn't the Fae but the curse and its Liege. Maybe she should ask her hosts a little more about that....
From where she sits, Robin can see out the window. There is a large lake outside. The surface is smooth and reflective, and the color is a perfect blue.
"Hunh." Robin grunts looking out at the lake; maybe previously invisible in the storm, maybe there for the first time, maybe only visible to herself. Bleah – she's doing it again.
She perks up though as she pulls herself out of bed, far happier to be up and at things rather than be lounging about... thinking. Yuck.
By the time Robin's finished with her own and the firelizards' morning abulations, she's almost cheerful. Bouncing down the corridor, the Traveller-Knight-Ranger-Lord-of-Order lets her nose lead her to wherever breakfast might be set-up.
The Countess Laudine is in the same sitting room that Robin and Ywain met her in last night, although now she is in a sea-green dress. "Good day, Lady Knight. My husband has departed to hunt. You may break your fast here, if you wish."
She seems pleased to have met Robin alone.
"Good day, milady." Robin bows as Castor has taught her. "Thank you for the fare."
Helping herself to a good portion of meat (mmmm, primal meat), Robin seats herself across from the Countess. After a thoughtful bit and some even more thoughtful chewing, Robin states, "I have questions, milady. But I would not challenge your husband's desires in his absence. Can you endeavor to do the same?"
She smiles, and it is neither friendly nor unfriendly. "My husband is my partner, and not my Lord. Our Marriage is Morganatic, and the title vests in me.
"Sir Ywain believes that if you knew our local legends, that you would undertake a task that he cannot, due to his binding. He feels that if you know of it, your knightly virtues would not permit you to refrain.
"I believe that you will, from these same virtues, act, but that knowing less, it will be more dangerous. I have no requirement to honor his wishes, but I am willing to honor yours, if you tell me that you will do as he says, and leave us to die, and never look behind you."
Robin chews and thinks a little more, then nods with decision.
"Okay then. Both you and your husband are correct, my... virtues," Robin's lips cock wryly, "will not permit me to refrain from action. But to your husband's worries, I couldn't refrain from action the moment I knew he was bound to attack without recourse. I hate that kind of dung.
"And I would rather know what I'm getting into. Especially in light of last night's dream.
"Oh, by the way, I didn't assume that Sir Ywain had sway over you -- that'd be dumb. I just meant that I kind of like the guy and don't want him to feel betrayed or maneuvered around. Though... that's exactly what I'm doing. Bleah." Robin wrinkles her nose in self-directed grumpiness.
"Soooo," Robin continues, "who is you Lord and how is this binding done?"
She nods. "My late father, the Duke, holds title from Arthur, the King. The last word we had from my father was when Arthur fell in battle with Modred and was taken to Afallon.
"The binding was Morgana's done as part of the peace treaty.
"There is another castle and another fountain, the counterparts of our own. The lake rises and falls as the fountains are emptied. They are to stay at equilibrium while there is peace between Fae and Man."
"Hmmmm...." Robin leans back in her chair and scratches Peep on the eyeridge.
"And how amenable would you say Morgana is to discussion regarding the treaty?"
Laudine clearly doesn't know, exactly. "Less now than before you came, if she and hers are at the Castle at all. More if you defeat her champion and empty her fountain."
This is probably what Ywain did not want Robin to know about.
"Weeeellll, Lady," Robin chuckles, "there was a time when I was all for pre-emptive balancing. And it might still come to that. But I'd rather see if there was some way I could improve upon your and Ywain's situation without starting a war.
She nods. "Many. But foremost, there is no divergence between our plans that does not come after you scout the sunken castle."
"True." Robin nods. "Soooo, how do we go about arranging that?" She's not sure she trusts Laudine not to pull a fast one while she's down there. But mentally she shrugs; her strength is reacting to betrayal, not planning for it. Robin leaves that to the plannerly types like Jerod or Brennan. Bleah.
The noblewoman gestures towards the window casement. "There is a cairn of stones on the shore of the lake. From it you can see a path to, in, and under the lake. Follow it and you will reach the castle. On the path, the water is breathable, like air."
"Don't step off the path until you reach the castle."
"Right." Robin nods in understanding. "Glub, squish. Not fun."
She scratches Peep's eyeridge again, wondering about the firelizards on such a journey, but decides she needs to 'talk' it over with them first.
"Well, then. Soonest begun, soonest up in fire and smoke and screaming." Robin smiles crookedly as she pushes back her chair. "By your leave, Lady." Castor would be proud.
She nods. "May Lir look kindly on your deeds, Ser Robin."
Raven awakens. She’s in her bed on her ship. She's sore all over, like she’s done a turn aloft in a typhoon. The ship is quiet, resting at high-tide in the harbor. Out the porthole she sees dappled sunlight on the calm harbor waters.
She recalls what she did last night.
Raven groans and levers herself out of bed reluctantly. She reaches for clean clothes then, changing quickly until she strips off her shirt and comes to a dead stop at the sight of a very fresh, very unexpected tattoo. On her arm. Where there weren't any before.
She considers poking it to see if it's really there, but she recalls other sailors with fresh tattoos and decides not to instead. The design is a compass rose; as she studies the shape, the direction indicator ticks to a few degrees off northwest, and then moves again to point south. Well, that's... new.
She finishes dressing after a minute or two of staring and heads for the door. Food and something to drink sounds good. And she should probably track down Jerod and her coat.
Raven emerges from her cabin into a hot, sweaty night, as if the weather is considering storming, but was still recruiting heavy clouds. The ship smells of a ship at harbor: all pitch and cargo and what the city dwellers throw in the bay. It would be a good time to get out of port. The city beyond the docks is lit up, in pools of gaslight, and the castle above looks to be electrified. The boatswain is an old hand named Herald but some of the other crew left on deck look like replacements.
"Captain," Herald says. He's clearly being loud so that the rest of the crew can react to the officer. Typical boatswain. She'd've done the same, two years ago.
Raven smiles faintly at that. "Mr. Herald," she answers. "Anything I ought to know about?"
Men are climbing aloft, finding duties elsewhere, or become highly absorbed in their very important scrubbing.
"No Captain. A Lord was down from Castle looking to know if you were aboard. Featherstone told him you were, and asleep. He ordered us not to wake you. After he left, the Mate decided that you really shouldn't be disturbed, so we did not. Do you need a meal, Captain? Cookie is below, even if half the crew is ashore."
Raven nods. "Aye, I can guess which Lord that was. How long ago was that?"
"He didn't give his name, and I am not familiar with the local lords, Captain. I was born at sea and never lived in Amber. As to the visit, it was around midwatch," he replies.
Raven nods. "Right." She considers for a moment. "Send some of the lads out looking for Lord Jerod, tell him we're leaving. Castle, I guess, and," she rattles off an additional list of suggestions. "And call up the rest. Let's see if we can't catch this tide."
With that, she heads off to eat something. There are a thousand things that need doing before the ship can actually leave, but food comes first for its captain today.
The crew moves and the captain eats. All is going according to plan...
By the time one of the messages reaches Jerod and he arrives back at the ship, she's back on deck and supervising the activity.
Jerod arrives a short while later with a pack over one shoulder and one of Raven's lad in tow. He is wearing clothing suitable to a merchant accustomed to being on the seas and smells of stale beer, no doubt from the hours spent at the local dive where Raven's messenger found him acclimatizing to the speech and ways of the locals.
Once at the top of the gangway, having spotted Raven long ago, he stops. "Permission to board."
"Come aboard," Raven answers immediately. She's dressed appropriately for the kind of captain that might be accompanying Jerod's merchant to sea - even if most of it comes from her actual wardrobe over the last few years. It's all a little scuffed and worn, some of it looking more well-used than well-loved. "Told you I'd come back here."
"You did." Jerod says, moving onto the deck. "Not everyone follows up on what they say though. Freedom can be...tempting."
"How long before you're ready to sail?" he asks, checking the tides and wind even as he asks.
"Not long. Better not be long, anyway." Raven doesn't add that loudly, but she does glance pointedly at one of her officers.
He looks at the deck, the sky, and holds up two fingers.
"Any more detour orders while I was out?"
"No, nothing like that." Jerod replies. "Beyond his Majesty mentioning that he seemed rather amused with your walk, he didn't say anything else of importance. We're to proceed with Gateway and make sure that gets resolved. If it means doing nasty stuff to the individuals who messed with Marius, then we proceed. I'm rather looking to see if we can confirm if the old guard was involved for sure or just displaced by those helping Huon. If the latter, and they're still around, a palace coup might be in order. Re-install the old government or a suitable fascimile and they give us the new guard as prisoners in exchange. Plus suitable penalties to be decided upon.
"If however, the old Chancellor was involved, then we need to do some pruning. Can't burn down the entire Shadow." then he pauses and frowns. "Okay, that's not true, we can but it's a lot of work. And they're still potentially valuable."
Raven snorts. "Glad someone was amused." She jerks her head in the direction of the cabins and then heads that way; it's not like the crew really needs to hear plans to hold a coup... yet. "Ain't got a problem with any of that," she adds dryly, "though I'd rather you didn't manage to set fire to the ship, if you don't mind. I still got a word or two to say to the Harbormaster; he might be a place to start. He was too slick on making things look normal until we was in his office to not be on the side of whoever's in charge. Man that's not in favor of what's going on - thugs and guns or not - I think I'd've seen something."
"If the new guard are any good at their jobs, they'd have subordinated the people in key positions of physical power or information." Jerod says as he walks with Raven. "The Harbourmaster would be key to knowing the ins and outs at the port. They'd have been smart to co-opt others as well who are in similar positions. You can bypass anyone with just a fancy title or a bit of influence - those with serious influence or just brute force strength are the ones you want when you're tossing out the old government.
"This Harbourmaster is likely to be on the lookout for us, or others like us. Enough time will have passed since you were gone that they'll know Amber will be looking to respond. They know we can't let this slide."
"And he'll know my face." Raven snorts. "Or he'd better, anyway, since he was pointing a weapon at me for a while. That ain't going to help." She pauses, clearly thinking, and then adds, "Side point - if it would help anything, I can probably find where we were being held once we hit dock."
"It might." Jerod says. "We'll want to play it by ear, see what comes up. The first thing is to get a lay of the place, see who's doing what, how things are running. If the old Chancellor is still around, or associates, then we would want to feel them out. Finding out who is still in if we can't find them, means we might want to talk to your Harbourmaster and get him to...cooperate. But that would be a risk we'd want to be sure we can take. If we have to go the salt and burn approach, then we can also talk to him as well, get any info we can.
"We will have the Weir with us, so they will provide some additional resources."
"How much of a problem is the magic thing going to be?" Raven shakes her head and adds dryly, "Can't say as how I've ever put this much thought into how to sneak into Gateway. I'm sure I'm asking things you've already got handled, one way or another."
"Sneaking into Gateway? First time." Jerod says with a slight smile.
"Magic is problematic. It's a power like any. If they're aware of us or paranoid, they might be looking for us. There are ways to scry for individuals but they have to know about us. On the way out I intend to do some adjustment to Shadow to shield us, make us blend in so if there are divining magics they'll be harder to locate us. Our biggest problem is that we're Real. We stand out. Individuals with power tend to notice us if we're close by.
"We need to act like we don't and stay away from those with power until we've got an idea what's up. Then we decide who we're going to approach and how. I also need to build some contingency plans in the background in case things go south and we need to flatten the place.
"We also need to give you some exposure to how to shift probability and use the Pattern, find your way with it."
"Right." Raven shifts her weight, her expression a little uncomfortable, and shoves her hands in her coat pockets. "You brought that up, I guess you get the question. How much of what was going on while I was walking on that thing was from somewhere other than the inside of my head? Or was it all in there and I just ain't figured it out yet?"
Jerod smiles. "You mean was the Pattern messing with you? Secretly adjusting you for it's own use?
"No, it's all us. There's a lot of different interpretations to the Pattern...I had a discussion on one those in fact with the King while you were doing your walk. He brought chairs and booze...never had that before."
He pauses for a moment before continuing. "Think of the Pattern, like a crucible. We think it burns away impurities in whatever you put into it. But it doesn't get rid of it. It...hardens...defines what and who we are. Not in stone though. More like a defining edge, less blurry. Sharper, clearer. It's what helps to define us as real in comparison to the rest of reality. It gives us the ability to recognize that difference, and to use it.
"What you brought in is still there, floating around inside your head. How you approach it, how you deal with it...whether you deal with it...that's all up to you. Walk the Pattern again, you'll get a different set of images, different things to consider.
"Something you're worried about?"
Raven snorts and gives him a look. "I just had my head turned inside out," she says dryly. "Aye. There's more than a few things that got aired that I ain't too sure what to do with. Some of it - well, there'd be a long explanation to go with talking about it. So here's an easy one: Max showed up. And he shot me. With a gun. Pretty sure I deserved it for daring him to, since he ain't me, but I can't say as how I'm okay with it."
Jerod lets an eyebrow go up briefly. "Max shot you? I'm presuming this illusory version of him had a reason? Given that he was Lucas' I could think of a few but I'd prefer not to speculate."
"Pretty sure it was because of me refusing to agree to avenge his father's death," Raven answers. "Which ain't happening in my head or outside of it. He's too young to know what he's asking for."
"That's not surprising." Jerod says. "Vengeance seems to be an essential element of our nature.
"Now, you know it's not real, so what about it bothers you?"
Raven scowls. "Some of it is the same questions from before, with the bullets," she admits. "Whys and the like. Some of it - he tried to hide the gun from me at first. And he had decent enough aim. Like he'd put some thought into it, and he'd had some training in it. Ain't entirely sure where that idea's coming from, but I don't like it."
Jerod is silent for a long moment.
"You think maybe there's manipulation involved?"
Raven hesitates. "I don't know. I guess... I can't say as how I'd leave bits of a weapon waiting for someone if I hadn't made sure that someone knew how to use it. Or unless I meant to teach 'em."
He nods. "Possible. Have you considered the possibility that it was left as a cache by Lucas for his own use and not for another?"
"Why'd it have Max's name on it, then?" Raven asks. "Can't expect a person to not open something with his name on it if he finds it, most of the time. Thought of another reason, but I like it even less than these other ones."
"And that reason is?" Jerod asks, leaning against a table.
"Somebody else left it." Raven scowls. "Which is gonna mean that someone else knows about Max that I don't know about."
"Assume there is someone." Jerod says simply. "We don't know who, but for the moment, I'd keep that in the back of your mind and bring it out periodically to look it over as time passes."
"Max is still young. You have opportunities to be involved and make sure stuff doesn't happen. So long as he's under Family protection, and observation, then it should be okay for now."
Raven just plain makes a face at that. "I ain't used to thinking that long-term. Not about family stuff, anyway. And I ain't quite yet where I am with some of those lads out there, where I know who to trust with what. So that he'll be watched is good and all, but... it ain't quite comfortable yet." She pauses, and then shakes her head and gives him a small smile. "Argued with an image of my ma about whether to trust you."
"My mentor told me once that we are the greatest opportunists in existence." Jerod says. "Opportunism usually means being flexible because you know you can't always control everything around you. You'll get used to the long term...though like most of us, I doubt you'll like it. And we're never comfortable with it where Family is concerned."
"And I'm curious as to what argument you would have had with yourself in the guise of your mother. Rebman in background and...attractive enough to gain the attention of Family is quite the combination." he says, his use of the word attractiveness not seeming to imply a conventional meaning.
"What do you think is important enough to require trusting me? Not that you can't of course. I am completely trustworthy in all things." and the last comment comes with a slight smile, hinting at sarcasm.
Raven smiles a little at that. "Heh. I ain't that new to the way things work. You find somebody that believes that line, tell me; I got some 'talking fish' to sell 'em."
"All of that, that's what I was talking about that needs explaining. Ain't going to make a lot of sense if I don't, I think." She hesitates, the smile gone. "Some of it, I don't talk about much. Might take a while. You need anything else before we leave dock?"
"Not at the moment. You can let your crew know about the Weir." Jerod says.
"As for talking about stuff...we do that in our own time. Pick your time and your person. Oh, and if you want some talking fish, I know where you can find some." Jerod says, apparently quite serious even as he smiles a little.
"I'm sure you do," Raven answers dryly. She hesitates again, then shakes her head. "Tide ain't going to wait. Make yourself comfortable, aye?"
And with that, she heads off to take care of getting them out of dock.
Jerod finds accommodations as would be suitable for his disguise and then heads back up to watch as things are done, settling into the role of "merchant of questionable background with considerable goods of value at his disposal."
The crew brings the Vale smartly about and sets her into the tide and the pilot takes her clear of the harbor bars cleanly. He departs in his boat and the Vale is true and cleanly pulling away at the tides. The helmsman and the boatswain are discussing the course: The Vale is headed towards a leeward rock, that is the first landmark for any ship departing Xanadu for the trade-routes.
The ship is functioning well, and the men seem happy to be back at sea.
The rhythm of the ship and crew are familiar ones and Raven and Jerod soon fall into their own cadences. Jerod teaches Raven about using pattern while sailing. He describes creating shadow-paths, even though she won't have the skill to do those for some time.
Jerod also explains in detail about how to search through Shadow, the importance of memory in focusing the desires of the Family in searching for what they want and for being able to differentiate between Shadow and Reality. In that vein, as they begin travelling, but before they are too far into Shadow where it might become noticeable, he will pull up the Pattern to see if Raven can detect it and use it for comparison to what is around them.
He also shows off some conjuration options, how to trick reality into giving up stuff when it's needed, though he warns that such also takes practice too.
Raven pays very careful attention, sometimes coming back with questions later; she's clearly learned on the go before and is comfortable with it.
The sailors seem slightly aloof towards Raven. It's nothing that she can put her finger on, but something has changed.
Raven keeps an eye on that, trying to see if she can figure out if it's something more than clearly being the captain and hanging out with a Royal now.
She does make sure that the crew knows where they're going and why - and whatever she can get out of Jerod that might keep them out of trouble.
On a lovely morning under light cloud-cover, the lookout aloft cries out "land ho!" Jerod recognizes the coast of Weirmonken, and the port he visited with the Count.
Jerod nods once to himself when he hears this as he scans the coastline, remembering his visit. After a moment, he turns to look at the crew, looking to see if they recognize where they are and its implications.
Regardless of what he sees, he calls out to the crew, using his shipboard voice drilled into him by Caine and Gerard while learning seamanship.
"Listen up. For those of you who are not familiar with our destination, that's Weirmonken. We'll be collecting some passengers who are coming along for the ride to Gateway. They have a unique set of skills for helping to deal with wizards if things go dicey.
"While aboard, they will be fitted in to appear as either crew or passengers so when we arrive at Gateway we're not going to be having any problems. Beyond that, they will be staying out of your way. If there are issues of how things are working out, they go to the captain first to be settled. If issues of discipline need to arise, then the captain and I will work out what needs to be done to keep things running smoothly.
"With regards to who the Weir answer to directly....that would be me.
"Questions? Comments? Cries of anguish? Speak 'em now."
Raven takes her own look around the crew as Jerod talks, looking first to the men she brought from the Vale to see their reactions and then to the others. Anybody glancing to the captain that she catches will get a quiet nod - agreement or encouragement, whichever is appropriate.
Amongst the crew, it's clear that nobody loves the Weir, but it's also clear that nobody wants to press the matter while the Vale is in Weirish waters.
The boatswain approaches and bows. He speaks loudly, in the manner of boatswains who are speaking more to their sailors than the officers. "My Lord, I speak for the crew in saying that we are the King's men, and if the King's pleasure is to have us transport monsters to fight wizards far from Amber, I am keen to take them far away from A -- Xanadu. Better to have this fight on their soil than ours, and between them and not us."
The men seem to approve of this sentiment.
Raven smiles slightly at this. It wasn't that long ago that she would have been the one making that speech; she approves too.
The man comes closer and his voice drops to more conversational tones. "My Lord, do we have adequate provisions for your marines? I don't want the men thinking they've got to worry about the Weir." The man touches a unicorn pendant at his neck. Raven didn't know he was religious.
"Provisions will be obtained here." Jerod says, matching the conversational tones sufficiently to allow for more conversation to flow, and for real speech to occur if that is to be the case. "The Weir on this mission will be serving as infiltrators mostly. We need to determine what is happening at Gateway and see about rectifying it. If our intelligence changes, then a stronger force will be in order, but for now, I'm preferring to keep the armies at bay. A few well placed jabs, done properly, will give us what we want and keep the bloodshed to a minimum. If that does not prove possible, then it will be my job to burn Gateway...enough for them to remember why it is unwise to operate against us.
"You may also assure the men concerning the tales of the Weir and their....dietary requirements." he says with a smile. "The crew are not even remotely close to acceptable, though I think you can understand that from the perspective of rumor-mongering, if one wanted to frighten an enemy, you might just let them keep thinking that."
Raven snorts softly. "And you would have known if that was going to be a problem as soon as I did," she points out. "Ain't so far gone from your job that I've forgotten what that could be like, bosun."
The man nods, in the way bosuns have nodded to Captains since Captains first had bosuns. "Aye, Cap'n. Crew's had time to get used to the idea. But seeing the forests of the Weir isn't the same as hearing about 'em. I’ll keep 'em in line, but best if the two groups are separate as possible on such a small ship. We don't want accidental tensions to cause problems.
"Shall we run up the Prince's colors? The harbormaster's already spotted us, I reckon."
Jerod shakes his head. "No. From this point forward, we go dark on our past. No connection to Xanadu, no princes, nothing. Everyone is now a merchant, leaning towards piracy and looking for their next bag of gold and easy score." he says, looking to the harbor. "Just the kind of people desperate enough to go to Gateway."
Raven nods her agreement. Normally, she might suggest relaxing discipline a little, but - well, there are other concerns this time. "Don't figure it'll be much of a problem, but keep to ourselves in dock," she adds instead. "Ain't the time or place for being so friendly that things get said."
"Aye, Captain. We are a merchant and his highness is a merchant prince." He looks at the captain, who may be able to guess his opinion of pretending to be what the crew was currently pretending not to be.
Raven certainly can. And if there wasn't someone who wasn't involved in all of that taking part in the conversation, she might do something more than just nod. Her expression is carefully neither as cautious nor as wryly amused as she is.
The Count's banner flies from the town walls and the harbormaster seems to be expecting you. There are bales and crates of provisions and other supplies and what look like lumber for making siege engines and scaling ladders.
The harbormaster is on the docks before the Vale is tied off. If there are two types of people in Weirmonken, she is a member of the ruling type. She is brusque and businesslike. "His Grace's greetings, and he wishes to know if we can take live animals for provisions or if we should rely on cured meats. I have sent word to his Grace, as he ordered."
"Combination." Jerod says simply. "We wish to keep our presence to a minimum so live animals may be kept for a short period, sufficient to get us close to our destination, after which they will switch over. All live animals would be consumed by that time."
He is also looking over the siege equipment with a smile, adding and subtracting elements in his mind as he considers possibilities for an actual assault and the difficulties involved. He does not yet make a decision as to whether to tell the Count that smashing their way through Gateway is not yet Jerod's preferred means of dealing with the wizards.
"Where is the Count now?"
Raven keeps her mouth shut for the moment. She eyes the goods on the dock, mentally arraying it in the hold with an eye for how heavily laden they're going to be, but she's listening to the conversation.
It's an easy load, as long as the anvils are placed along the keel and centered. Raven thinks that the crew isn't going to love cleaning up the poop deck, especially if there's no mutton for them, but they won't complain too much. Nor will they really want the Weir to act as butchers for them.
The harbormaster looks back at the keep, and cocks her head at an angle. "If he is not at the keep, and I don't believe he is, then he will be hunting. I sent word up as soon as I sighted you, and they'll have sent word to him. He should be back soon. Would you like us to start loading?"
Jerod shakes his head. "No. There are some details to be worked out with the Count first."
She is apparently used to dealing with nobles. "As you wish, my Lord. The best place to meet him would be the keep."
She turns to Raven. "Will the crew need berths in the barracks or will they be bunking aboard your ship? I'm afraid we don't have many of the amenities of a large port. This is generally a military dock."
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.
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.
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?"
Silhouette's investigations of supporters of Moire--various nobles and their underlings--lead her to many different characters as time passes. One of the most prominent, and elusive, is a gentleman named Lamell, a close confidant of the now-vanished Princess Rilsa. If anyone has any insight into where Moire is likely to be, Lamell would be it.
Rilsa, Moire's daughter (and mother to Jerod) has retired from Rebma to a shell in the Seawards, Rebma's equivalent of the Golden Circle, and Lamell is one of the agents left in charge of her extensive dealings (financial and presumably otherwise) in the city. Reputation makes Lamell one of the few mere males who dared to speak to Rilsa as anything like an equal. He was one of Jerod's tutors, a sorcerer, and a Knight of the Coral, one of the knightly orders that paralleled those in Amber.
During her investigations and her time in Rebma, Silhouette has made a number of connections who could offer introductions. As a Patternwalker and a Lady of Amber (or Xanadu, or however she claims to introduce herself), Silhouette could bypass the formalities and simply summon Lamell, or invite him to the palace herself--he is intimately familiar with the place.
How does Silhouette go about meeting with him?
After making some preparations to receive guests, Silhouette sends Lamell an 'invitation' to her home within the Lower Market, delivered by her current triton assistant - Leal. The intimidating creature is ordered to remain until an answer is provided.
Written in wax:
Ser Lamell. I am Lady Silhouette ap Cadmilus. It has come to my attention that your scholarly skills are without equal in Rebma. A statement confirmed by members of my Royal Family. As such, I would employ your services as mentor, so that I might learn more of Rebma's greatness. Enlightenment is the greatest currency, and I reward its gift generously.
Please accept this invitation to my home, so we might speak further of this possible arrangement. If you would prefer another arrangement, my assistant will convey your request.
The triton returns with the same piece of wax, now cleared and written upon with a spidery hand.
I am currently in the employ of your cousin Conner, attempting to protect him from the many charlatans in my profession. If I may be of assistance to you, you may call upon my skills at your pleasure.
At the moment, I must tend to a particular potion that cannot be brewed without constant attention. I beg your indulgence, and I will attend to you at 4 bells tomorrow, if that is convenient for you.
Silhouette waits for his arrival, respecting the need to complete one's Work.
At the appointed hour, Lamell arrives, and is shown to a sitting room in Silhouette’s home in Lower Market. He fits the typical wizardly description of a spry old man, save for that he wears the traditional braces and scaled short pants garb of a Rebman. His eyes are bright and alert, and he seems to be doing a good job of inspecting Silhouette’s furniture without doing anything so gauche as standing up and looking at it.
Silhouette is informed of his arrival.
Silhouette enters the room, taking full advantage of the airy environment by wearing an exquisite blending of Parisian and Rebman fashion. She smiles at him in welcome, patiently waiting while her assistant sets out green tea and a selection of amuse-bouches.
When they are alone, she sits and offers him some tea. "Ser Lamell. Welcome to my home. And my thanks for accepting my invitation. I do hope your alchemic Work met with success."
"Thank you, Lady Silhouette." Lamell bows to a degree that Silhouette can tell is calculated perfectly to her rank in royalty, which she might gather he already knows, either from his association with Conner or from other sources. "My efforts were a success. I hope I can be equally successful in whatever work I perform for the royal family."
Silhouette smiles, "Of this, I am certain, Ser."
After they've served themselves, she sits back and regards him with her unwavering stare. "Like you, I wish to serve the Royal Family to the best of my abilities. At this time, however, I find myself wanting in certain Aspects of Enlightenment with regard to Rebman history and politics. And this is why I seek your aid, in particular.
"I am keenly aware of the gender differences in Rebma. Being male, you've earned your reputation, rather than having it simply provided you. As such, your perceptions and observations are more valuable to me. And, I suspect, they are unfettered by prejudices attributable to the body politic." She blinks mechanically. "Am I correct in this?"
"I have several reputations, My Lady, as do all who make a ripple in the sea around them. Amongst the magicians and wizards attempting to climb to power in the pearl of cities, I am thought to be a problem. Amongst the courtiers and ladies of high position, I am a rude man who does not know my place. Amongst the royal family, I am a tolerated and useful servant, both for my skills and for the rudeness aforementioned."
Lamell opens a small, silver case, and takes out a cigarette. He offers her one as well.
The sometime court wizard taps the end of the cigarette and it lights as if he'd touched a match to it. The smoke heads out the window and the cigarette does not have a noticeable odor.
Silhouette takes the cigarette, nodding in thanks. She mimics his display - although, more than likely, through means different than Lamell's. She breathes in the heat and smoke, sighing happily.
"No one is without prejudices, My Lady. One who is completely without such is without a frame of reference will never make connections or see patterns. The ideal is to be able to know your prejudices and know when to use them to your advantage and when to set them aside."
Silhouette smiles at this, "Indeed. It is a refined skill, to say the least. And, I suspect we fall under the same trappings when it comes to societal perceptions. Yet, is it rudeness or simply unwanted truths mistaken for vulgarity?"
She taps some ash away, "So, speaking of prejudices then, how do you perceive the current changes in Rebma? With historical comparison, if possible. Also, allow me to preface, you may speak freely and without concern that your words shall reach others. I honor my confidences above all else, including Family."
Lamell chuckles. "I am not so much of an archivist as an inventor. I know little of history, except where it suits me or provides me information I can use. As to my demeanor, I make up for rudeness by being absolutely useful to those who need someone like me and are thus willing to protect me.
"I take risks, My Lady, but they are calculated risks. For instance, I am, despite evidence that his family is not in favor, in the service of the Prince Jerod. This has not kept me from helping the Duke Connor with his projects, nor would Jerod have discouraged me from doing so.
"This is, My Lady, an old court, built on intrigue and rumor and desperate deeds done in the darkest of tides. The late Queen's security agents were ruthless, and amazingly independent, and not even the royal family could protect themselves at all times."
The magician takes a long drag on his cigarette. "Not that I am going to completely rebuff your offer, but please don't treat an old man who has thrived through all the changes in Rebma as if he were dry-behind-the-ears.
"So perhaps you wish to make me an offer and see what my terms are rather than ask me to speak freely. Speaking freely so seldom is, you see."
Silhouette nods, "Good. Everything has a Cost." She drags on her cigarette, the ruddy light reflecting in her dark eyes.
"I question your characterization of Moire as being 'the late Queen,' or her agents being in the past-tense. Her memory and influence drift on the currents like blood, and I wish to find the source before other sharks do.
"You can help me in this." It is not a question, but a statement.
"This shared discovery would benefit us both. So, name your terms."
Lamell nods. "Her being dead would be too convenient. For free, I'll tell you this. Those agents of hers are going to be your key. Find Bend and you either have the Queen or you have a path to her.
"Here's my price. Spare Bend, and I'll help you."
"A fair price," Silhouette says. "And I shall not inquire as to your reasons for this request."
She taps the final ashes from the cigarette, "Tell of the Bend and how they may be of assistance to me."
He blows a particularly elaborate smoke ring, inside a toroidal bubble, and then snuffs out his cigarette. "It's a matter of public record. She’s my daughter.
"She and her brother, who is dead, spent years being the Queen's most trusted troubleshooters. They were connected, powerful, and ruthless. If she is protecting the Queen, then the Queen is well-protected. If you wish to contact the Queen, Bend would be your best option for doing so."
"I see," Silhouette says, nodding. "You know her manner, I hope. What is the best way to approach her in this? Will she place the Greater Good over Loyalty? Otherwise, it may be difficult to fulfill your request."
Lamell blinks, slowly, and replies in measured tones. "Please don’t misconstrue my price as a request. I am not looking for a 'best effort' here, but a success. We don't have a deal unless my terms are met. If it were easy, I wouldn't consider the offer. If it's too hard for you, then you may need to offer to act as go-between with someone who can meet my terms."
He moves his hands with a smoker's reflex, as if he expected to have a cigarette in his fingers.
"Your biggest obstacles will likely be Prince Martin, Queen Moire, and Bend herself. Possibly the current Queen if she won't grant Moire her life.
"I hope you didn't think you came to me with a small problem."
Silhouette offers a thin smile, "Not at all. If it were small, it would have been solved by now."
She stubs out her cigarette. "Do not mistake my Intent. Your daughter will be spared, whether she wishes it or not. I'll make certain of that." The edge in her voice could etch glass.
"The Queen's heart remains untempered, so she'll be easier to deal with. However, my cousin Martin remains a mystery. What obstacle do you believe he will pose?"
He sighs. "They didn't tell you much, did they? Martin killed Bend's brother, Montage. I believe it was a bad combination of the Prince holding a grudge and the little sh*te deserving it."
"The breadth of my Family's abridgement possesses an epic scope," Silhouette nods. "Do Martin or Bend still hold a grudge against one another? I'll need to know, as Bend will be my responsibility from this day forth."
"You'll have to ask them. I know of no reason they would forgive each other's assorted trespasses. And they're both as stubborn as sea-turtles."
Lamell looks at her, slightly impatiently. "As you're one of them, you have magical communications and transport that I'll never be able to duplicate. You'll do well to use it."
Silhouette nods. "Indeed. I'll require some idea of where Bend is located at the moment. Or have word sent to her that I am extending my protection to her. The sooner we meet, the sooner I can fulfill my promise to you."
"I have no idea where she is, but mirrors are going to be your best tool here. I have a way to signal her to call me. You'll be able to see and talk to her, but not reach her. It's the best I can do. I can't guarantee she'll answer, just as I can't guarantee she's alive, but I believe both of those statements.
"Are you ready?"
Silhouette nods lightly, "I understand. What must I do?" Secretly, she prepares to defend herself. She has little intention of becoming the next victim of Mirror Magics. But the opportunity to witness its use cannot be overlooked.
"Wait, for the moment." Lamell fetches a case and sets a mirror on a table. He uses magics to light two candles and places them in front of the mirror.
After several minutes and a definite shortening of the candles, Lamell waves Silhouette over to the table.
A face appears, lit by candlelight. "Father? Who is that with you?"
"A friend," Silhouette says, leaning closer. "But you may call me Silhouette. Your Father believes we might assist one another, if you're willing."
Her smile is that of a diplomat -— warm and intentional. "Ah, but whose friend, Lady? I am always willing to talk, but I reserve the right to choose my own friends. My father and I may not see eye to eye, for all that he's smarter than almost any man in Rebma, and most women."
"Your friend, if you choose it. If you know who I am, you'll know this is not an idle offer, Lady Bend." Silhouette says, mechanical eyes shining in the candlelight. "I Need an agent of Moire. Someone who might lead me to her. Your father informs me you can fulfill this Need. Is he correct in this?"
The woman in the mirror looks skeptical. "We would have to be great friends indeed. You know my Queen is not looking to be taken into the custody of your patron's friends.
"So, at this point, were I to suspect that someone was trying to find her, I would, in my official capacity, try to prevent such a thing."
Silhouette remains unmoved. "Understood. But I am no warden. The Queen's incarceration is not my concern nor Purpose. My reasons for finding her are independent of my patron's wishes or knowledge."
She raises her brow, "Knowing this, are you willing to discuss this further outside your 'official' capacity?"
She smiles. "I have wide latitude in my official capacity, Lady. It is often unwelcome to be sought by a scion of Amber. They so seldom wish to deal fairly in mutual profit.
"I can take a message to the Queen, if you so desire. Now, or if you wish to compose something, you can hand it to my father later."
"Profit before Blood," Silhouette says, as if reciting an ancient mantra. She returns the smile, "You may relay this to your Queen. I wish to speak with her regarding the future. She above most knows what I can offer her.
"As much as I love my cousin, her heart is too gentle for what lies ahead."
The smile fades, "No matter the answer or the future, you - Lady Bend - shall have my protection should you choose to return home. It is a Price I pay willingly."
Bend looks non-plussed, but nods. "Thank you, Lady. I shall pass your message along. I warn you that she is both cautious and used to playing the long game. She may choose to delay her response, perhaps for years. I will contact you again via Lamell, if needed."
The image fades and Silhouette finds herself looking at her own reflection in the glass.
Lamell cackles. "She doesn't think you can protect her, but she's too polite to say so. She did learn something from me."
Silhouette shrugs, her expression one of contained disappointment. "Then I shall note the potential limitations of her education. Propriety aside."
She leans back, folding her hands in her lap. "Thank you for this communication, Lamell. I hope it bears fruit. I can ask not further of you at this point."
He nods. “That is true, but that seldom stops people with power. In any case, I will send word if I receive a reply.” Lamell puts a cloth over the mirror. Silhouette is observant enough to note that it has a pinhole in it.
Silhouette adds this to her list, "Of course." She waits a heartbeat before adding, "Can any mirror be utilized in such a manner?"
Lamell shakes his head slowly. "Making a mirror any can use is a gift. Using a mirror is an art. The better the quality of the mirror, the more versatile it is. Most cannot pass words, only reflections. Prices range from amazingly expensive to unthinkably high. Adepts with recondite skills in the art are rumored to be able to use mirrors that have not been made by the reflection-wrights."
He looks up. "Most think this is mere legend. It is not."
Silhouette muses for a moment, "And what of darker uses for the mirrors? How skilled must one be to use a mirror as a weapon? Such as was employed to murder my brother." She watches his expression carefully, although her own remains impassive.
Lamell looks thoughtful, chewing on the problem. "If that is what happened to him, then no more than a handful of people have that level of control. Moving a physical object through a mirror is not easy.
"Unless one of the lesser users discovered a trick, or combined it with some other magics. You've heard there are places where they can make solid light, yes?"
If he suspects that the desire to find Moire is linked to Silhouette's brother, he does a good job suppressing it.
"Yes," she nods. "Although the techniques for doing so range from arcane to technological."
She sips from her long-cooled tea, "So, Mirror Magick can be combined with other Forms. Interesting. If one practiced in earthen magicks, could they employ their powers through a Connection? And might they even benefit from that knowledge considering the arcane link between mirrors and Earth?"
Lamell shrugs. "Mirrors reflect. They reverse. They can (if made to do so) distort. It is not my field, so I do not know the details of the limits of it. I cannot tell you what someone cannot do with them."
Silhouette nods with a frown. "Very well. Thank you for your Enlightenment, Lamell. And thank you for your assistance in this." She raises her tea cup, "To the future."
He nods, and lifts his cup, “May it be an improvement on the past, yes."
Dolphin I would like you to act outside the normal palace channels to see how much you can learn of Loreena's movements after my coronation. I'd like to know if she ever left Rebma. How did she leave? If you find indications she is still here, I'd like you to puzzle out where she is and with who she is working.
Conner has ultimate coordination of these efforts.
If you agree to these responsibilities, come to the palace and discuss with Conner and I. This is not a capture mission. This is a puzzle to be solved for the health of the city.
Silhouette arrives at the palace in short order, dressed in the attire of a Rebman noblewoman. She is accompanied by an unpleasant-looking triton - its face a piggish mass of scars and malice. With a nod, she silently dismisses the creature.
"My Queen, you desired me?" she says, curtseying.
Celina restrains a laugh and manages a smile. She wags a finger at Silhouette to acknowledge her wordplay. Celina walks around Silhouette once checking her couture. "Is this your own work ....I hope. I like it. Very conservative and at the same time, harkens back to an older regime." She nods once. "Walk with me. I'm going to see Conner and Brita. A Trump to family is in order. It certainly shall be educational."
And as they walk, Celina will put back on the mask of court formality.
Silhouette falls in beside her, "Thank you, my Queen. And yes. My current work draws upon classic styles; a touch of glamorous remembrance. Thus far, this vintage styling appears suitably popular amongst the nobility."
Celina speaks to Silhouette, but she does not turn her head, there would be no seeing her lips from long views in any gallery above or behind. "You should understand clearly that the treasure I'm asking you to find and tally is precious and not to be damaged. I would treat harshly with you if this went badly despite your best efforts. I would have to."
Silhouette offers a thin smile, "You wound me, my Queen. I am no mere assassin."
Celina arrives at the airy chamber in response to the message that Brita is done with the Trump. At her shoulder is Silhouette dressed like a head of house in Moin's court.
Before meeting Silhouette, Celina did send a message to Llewella, saying such Trump contact would be possible if he Aunt wanted news from Avalon and Brennan. Celina more than half expects Brita, Conner, and Llewella to be here ahead of her.
Brita is lying on the floor with her legs propped up on a wall. She glances back at the duo as they enter and, sighing, gets up off the floor. "I Finished the Sketch, but it is Not what I Wanted. It Will Work, just not As Long. I Need to Find a Fast Shadow to get the Trumps Completed."
Silhouette curtsies to Brita, "Cousin."
A page girl scratches at the door, then enters with a message for Celina. “My gracious Queen, the Princess Llewella has taken a brief visit out of the city to see an old friend. I must send her regrets for your invitation. She will be informed of your invitation upon her return. Regards, Cloisonné, personal secretary to Princess Llewella."
Celina nods and sends the page off with no return message. She crosses to Brita and mirrors her stand. "But Brennan is an elusive subject, isn't he? We'll do just fine. We'll just tell him right off that our conversation may be shorter than expected. He'll be glad to hear from us at all." Celina smiles at Brita and then turns back to Silhouette.
Celina gestures to include Silhouette, "Brennan went out to Avalon to scout for trouble. Ossian told us by Trump that Brennan needs to speak to Rebma, which implies that he found trouble. We'll wait for Conner before making the attempt."
Silhouette raises a brow, "Are you certain that he desires my presence during this discussion, brief or no? We are not... close."
Conner enters at this point in the conversation. "My apologies for being fashionably late, cousins. I was trying to find Edan to invite him in on this conversation but I could not locate him. Perhaps he is still adjusting to the new environment." Conner grins. "It is a big change after all."
Silhouette smiled warmly as Conner approaches. "Edan briefly mentioned traveling to Xanadu when last we met."
Celina directs a huge smile at Conner just for lighting up the room. "Edan may have already left, he told me he needed to continue his tasks and could not linger. And Llewella cannot join us today." Celina looks to Silhouette and addresses her question. "I cannot answer for Brennan and whether he wants you in a Trump connection. However, look at it this way: Brennan requested Rebma make contact. Rebma invited you to the conversation. There is no conflict unless you craft one." She quirks an eyebrow humorously, as if to say, 'want to start something?'
This draws a soft chuckle from Silhouette. "As always, I defer to Rebma's wisdom."
Celina looks around at her cabinet, "Shall we allow Brita to start?"
Brita relaxes slightly when Conner enters and moves to his side. "We Need to Not Build Dams Like Our Uncles that Impede Each Other," she notes to Sillouette before she lifts the slate in her hand and begins to concentrate on it. Her free hand moves to hover near Conner's sleeve - allowing him to make contact as he will.
"Cousin Brennan, it is Brita in Airy Rebma with Others," she says as the image begins to shift. "Are you Free?"
Conner takes Brita's hand and lends his mental strength to the task of reaching Brennan.
Brennan's image forms to show him walking through the interior hallway of some cramped, fortress-like structure carrying.... something... over his shoulder. Too crooked to make a good spear, too jagged to be a tusk. He does not appear to be in a brilliant mood, but when the contact firms up he mouths, "Bide," and continues walking-- probably past his original destination, turning once or twice and finally entering a room and closing the door behind him, locking it if it has a lock.
The room is private quarters in somewhere comparable to Amber's level of technology and style-- rough stone walls, flicker light from a fire, a narrow uncomfortable looking bed and a positively cramped writing desk. As he enters, Brennan glances around quickly-- and, Conner and Brita may be able to discern-- with the third eye, to make sure nothing is amiss.
(Like someone on the other side of the wall listening in, but hopefully Brennan and Jellicoe don't share a wall.)
"Cousins," he says, in a very low voice, almost a whisper. "You're two of the three people I need to speak with, but while I have some time, I have little latitude. I trust my son reached you?" He gauges Brita's reaction, in particular.
Brennan, for his part, is about as non-descript as he can make himself-- a three day scruff of growth that one would be hard pressed to categorize as a beard or not, hair cut short enough that the shock of red isn't quite so apparent, serviceable but non-descript armor which he starts to remove. And all of that layered with trail dust and the grime of recent battle. It's clear, though, that as a scion of Oberon, if he looks this way, it's because it suits his purpose to look this way.
Celina remains poised until it is obvious Brita invites her.
As Brennan walked the halls, Brita had glanced up at Celina and Sillouette, a nod and crooked brow inviting them in. When Brennan finally focuses on Brita, he will likely note her standard braid is a mess and she looks tired, her brief smile of greeting a pale shadow of Conner's. "Yes, Your Son Reached Us," Brita is whispering in response. "Two Other Cousins are Here and would Hear Your News."
Celina moves and touches Brita on her other side from Conner, thereby opening to the Trump.
Silhouette lightly touches Conner's wrist, opening herself to the contact.
"And now we have all three," Brennan says, still in that voice barely above a whisper. "Brita, you have my condolences. Let's make sure everyone starts on the same page: What news did Ossian convey?"
Celina summarizes, "Ossian told us Reid was dead, his body held by Klybesian monks, led by a monk called Chew. Reid's cause of death was unknown, but the monks performed analysis and subtractive tests. Family returned the body to Xanadu. Edan said several Family tasked the monks in retribution and Ossian confirmed this. They did not give specifics. However, Ossian asked for a sorcerous Cousin, if available to aid tracking down the monks." She pauses then, "Edan has left here. Ambrose prepares to leave on timely business. I think Brita will be going with Ambrose. Llewella is not in Rebma at the moment." She stops, leaving space for others to comment or correct.
"Glad I asked, then," Brennan says. "There's more. He must have been in a hurry. This Chew is definitely a person of interest, as he ran afoul of Martin and Folly some time back. At least some of the Klybesian facilities are connected by shadow paths. At least one of those is a facility called Greenwood, which had a part in holding the King of Paris. By Ossian's account, they have at least one Sorceror. And by 'subtractive tests,' I take your meaning to be the tissue samples that were removed from Reid's body."
Those come one after another, followed by a pause for digestion. Into that silence, Brennan adds, "Just so we understand the gravity of the situation. If anyone knows anything more, no matter how trivial it seems, now would be a good time to share."
"Cousin Signy Knows one of them," Brita notes. "Others Spoke with him. I... I have Hope that it is Cousin Jerod that Goes to Deal with Them. Our Best Sorcerors Should Go." She is not pleading for assistance, but the question is in her eyes.
"And what of the rebel from their Order?" Silhouette inquires. "Unless this 'Chew,' is the rebel in question. Uncle Corwin and I discussed utilizing this rebel as bait. After extracting as much information as possible from him."
Conner frowns slightly. "It occurs to me that while we left the questioning of Signy's pet monk to Signy and Edan I have heard nothing of the results of that meeting. Has anyone here?"
"I have not," Celina answers looking peripherally at the other's faces. "The lapse may be mine. There was a lack of time for Ambrose and Signy to prepare for their trip, certain elements are time critical. I did not follow up with Signy---expecting to speak to Ambrose and she before they left." Celina pauses, "Tomat is the man's name. I believe he has sworn as Signy's man. We can follow up on this later. Tomat's situation is for Signy to determine."
"Ah, yes. Tomat. I had almost forgotten about him," Brennan says. It doesn't sound as though Tomat will be forgotten again. "I might have liked to speak to him, perhaps to evaluate him as a Sorceror. It would be interesting to know, for instance, how the Order even knew of her existence, that they attached a retainer to her. Whether or not tissue samples were taken from her as well."
Brennan's hushed voice grows steadily tighter and more controlled as he speaks.
"And I would know how my son came to be found in a Klybesian orphanage. So perhaps," Brennan says, "it is for the best that someone else handled that interrogation."
"Perhaps, though I suspect we would all actually know the results of the questioning had you performed it." Conner grumbles. His slight frown remains unmoving as he send his thoughts into the contact. "I shall make a point to track one or both down to ask a few questions."
"Do not forget Meg," Silhouette adds. "She and Ossian were in the same orphanage. Even considering our gravitational 'attraction' to one another, it is highly suspect. It would not be outside the realm of possibility that their blood is now in Klybesian possession." She pauses, weight the political correctness of her next statement. "May I ask, considering the potential threat posed by these agents, should we not define the limits of our questioning now, rather than later?"
"Yes," Brennan says. "Yes, we should." His tone is still calm and controlled, but the words are clipped.
"Ossian raised the point more generally, that they appear too often for simple chance. It seems very likely to me that there is a connection to Family for at least some of them. Where and how that connection began..." he shrugs. "Two thousand years ago, a hundred years ago, unknown. But it explains much. It does not explain how my son ended up in one of their orphanages." Anyone who cares to observe it can see Brennan's jaw muscles twitching as he pauses.
"We-- all of us-- don't yet know exactly what we're dealing with. Most of us are ill-equipped to do so. This needs to be coordinated with Xanadu and Paris," Brennan says.
"Rebma makes effort to keep Paris and Xanadu involved. I do not object to coordinating a response." Celina offers quietly. "We move through shadow in groups as possible." Celina does not speak ironically to Brennan who left Rebma alone. She's just letting him know she stays wary of ambush of resources. "Let us assume that the matter of limits is a joint answer from the Family thrones. Something we will resolve as soon as possible. What else is on the table for us right now? Do you need more from Rebma where you are?"
Brennan breathes deeply, and makes a visible effort to make his paper-thin veneer of calm sink to at least the full depth of his skin. He achieves at least some level of success. Tense, but some measure of something that might be called calm. Celina's question he answers directly: "Materially? I would request a Trump of you, or permission to have one made if possible. I understand the gravity of this request."
While Celina formulates a response, he turns to another cousin and says, "Brita... do you understand why I will not take up arms at this time?" Very tense, with some measure of something that might be called very calm.
"Perhaps the Same Reason I Must Not?" Brita asks and her eyes are a blazing green fire. "Now, I Would Rage Across their World and Lose the Trail to their Heart and Hearth. And I Want That - their Heart - More than I Want the Immediate Revenge. I Will Be a Tsunami - Pull Back from the Immediate Fight to Completely Overwhelm them When they Least Expect."
Conner smiles briefly at his sister's watery imagery and he gives her hand a squeeze. "I presume your current situation also precludes a swift change in course." Conner thinks to Brennan. It is not quite a question but is definitely an invitation.
Silhouette raises a brow, speaking in an indifferent tone. "Might I ask why butchery is not in our best interest? Diplomacy and exile have done nothing to dissuade the Adversary. After fifteen hundred years, perhaps it is time to send them a definitive message. Crush them utterly and prevent them going to ground by removing any ground with which to retreat to. Blood for Blood. Continued acquiescence will only embolden them further."
Celina watches Brennan to see if he will react further. However, Brita can feel from the physical contact with Celina that emotions within stir and curl like a complex current working at a set of foundations. Sadness, anger, and somehow the feeling that Rebma's queen is trapped.
"Whose blood will you shed, Silhouette Florasdottir?" Brennan asks, coldly.
"Any and all Klybesians involved in these blood rituals - if they can be called that," Silhouette states. "How deeply ingrained this 'interest' they have in our Family goes, I cannot say. That would need to be determined before any decisive action. Locate their leadership, determine their communication and logistic structure, and uncover their true Purpose. However, the longer we hesitate, the greater risk those of our generation and the next will become lab rats."
She shrugs, "That said, discussion of military action may be moot, at this point. Cousin Jerod has already destroyed one of their monasteries. If history serves, the Klybesians will flee and obfuscate their current activities. For decades, if need be."
"But you've said it yourself, Silhouette," Brennan says. "It's not outside the realm of possibility that our blood is in their possession. Think this through to its logical conclusion. They have and use Shadow paths. They have and use Sorcerers. They show up 'too often.' They prey on isolated and unknown Family members. This facility that Ossian found was in your mother's Shadow, the one where your brother was raised."
Brennan lets that hang in the air like a horse thief, before putting it out of its misery.
This catches Silhouette's attention, but she allowed him to continue.
"Should we go rampaging through Shadow, can you be assured that no unknown niece or nephew of yours will be killed?"
Silhouette says. "You do not strike me as the rampaging type, Brennan. And I, for all my capacity for violence, do not kill indiscriminately. If we - and our cousins - combine our efforts, I believe we would reduce the chance of unfortunate casualties." She glances at the others for confirmation.
Conner nods. "Brita has a gift for sniffing out family after all." Conner smiles at his sister. "Given the chance we can separate the wheat from the chaff."
Celina shakes her head once in negation, her expression is neutral. However, again Brita can easily read (through the trump connection) that she holds no hope that Conner and Silhouette are right about casualties being controlled once they start.
"It is a Risk to Rely on My Senses - a Threat may Not be Discernible by Blood Alone," Brita notes.
"It's a risk to rely on any gift that is not understood," Brennan agrees. "But should you choose to lend your gift, it may prove decisive."
His attention snaps back to Silhouette and, peripherally, Conner. "Make no mistake-- I want this group to be unmade, perhaps to be made into something else entirely, or perhaps into nothing at all. But, 'butchery,'" he repeats her word back to her. "Perhaps this word carries a different connotation for you. And 'reduce' is not 'eliminate.' What is your plan? And what is your plan for failure?"
Silhouette glances over at Celina, a glint of something in her forest-shadow eyes. Regret, perhaps. Hesitation for stripping away the veneer to reveal the true creature lurking beneath? Whatever it may be, it is snuffed out as quickly as it appears. "At the moment, Ossian and I intend to investigate one of their former bastions. Hopefully, we can learn where they've retreated to, as well as their capabilities and what their intentions truly are. They remain a mystery to us. This fact is far more dangerous than their more overt activities. I wish to identify any and all allies to their organization. As you've mentioned, they have the ability to move through Shadow. That speaks of someone of Power. We do not wish to wake a sleeping giant. At least, not until we are ready for it.
"Once Enlightenment is acquired, their infrastructure can dismantled accordingly. Leaders must be killed or reformed, as well as those who spring up to replace them. Any safe harbor or partnership will be deprived of them, as the fox cannot hide in a burning forest. Finally, if they cannot be reformed, the Fifteen Law must be employed. Crush them utterly, in body and spirit. Not only to prevent their return, but any future versions of them as well." She smiles at Brita, "Rage across their world, as it were."
Silhouette straightens, "Enlightenment before Action will reduce the chances of failure. That said, if we do fail, any possibility of their return must be dissuaded. Propaganda and prejudice are excellent tools for accomplishing this. And such dark seeds are easily sown and tended.
"Even so, any plan I formulate at this point is hollow. We do not know what we're dealing with."
"Not knowing what we are dealing with seems to be the crux of so many matters." Conner points out. "I find myself wondering if one group of information brokers might be a gateway to another or even if they are one and the same. In the Land of Peace, there was a Marid I bargained with for information about the Tritons. He too was interested in information about the Family either for its own sake or knowing the trade value of it. That might be another avenue of approach."
"You're right," Brennan says. "For perhaps the first time in this conversation, we are agreed: We Do Not Know Enough." He chews each word off carefully. "That is the first and most important reason that butchery does not serve us, convolved around the possibility of Family involvement. And that convolution is what makes coordination with Xanadu imperative. When considering your plans for failure, consider the result of accidentally killing someone's son or daughter or brother or sister. You can not say you were unaware of the possibility." Brennan holds her eyes long enough to make clear that he is perfectly, humorlessly serious about that. "And second, as we all know, because they will simply go to ground. If your mission is investigation, not butchery, so be it."
Silhouette meets his gaze, but says nothing further.
Brennan looks over at Conner, "These Marids may be useful. Or they may be a resource on which the Klybesians are already drawing. Maybe both. In the same spirit, I'll offer that-- historically, these monks were introduced by Reid's mother Pastoral, who had family ties to some other Shadow. Knowing that Shadow, and its current state may prove useful."
Silhouette cocks her head, "Clervaux, perhaps? According to my sources, it was in flames the last time Reid 'fled' there. I'd intended to travel there, but other matters took precedence."
"Beyond that, let me do my best to turn this from a list of aspirational goals into a plan with this thought: No war was ever won without understanding its geography. Finding or creating a map of their shadow path network would be very helpful. I would consult with Xanadu on this matter. Gerard, in particular, after the King."
"A good start to a worsening situation shall be to advise Xanadu we are taking action. I have spoken to my father in Paris. It is well we do not talk to the Marid until all the realms are in accord." Celina nods at Brennan. "Edan came from Xanadu recently and has returned there with Rebma news, so Random has a recent view of things. Are you able to Brief, Benedict there from our comments or would that ruin your working disguise? You may tell Benedict that Rebma's posture on the Klybesians is defensive. And yes, you may have a Trump of me made. There is one in progress here, but it is not ready yet."
"We Need to Move Faster in All of This - Discerning Their Agenda and Locations, Making Trumps, Solving the Issues of Dara and cleph," Brita is frustrated by it all. "I Could Go to a Faster Timed Shadow to Create the Necessary Trumps, but How do We Learn All that we Must for these Monks to be Unmade?"
Silhouette shares her cousin's desire for expediency. "Thanks to Jerod's attack, we cannot wait for permissions or counsel. The Adversary likely retreats, as we speak. I will travel with Ossian and any cousins he has employed on his fact-finding mission. Hopefully, we can uncover the beginnings of their network and proceed from there."
She nods to Brita, "If Trumps could be provided, they'd ease our communication difficulties. We can coordinate with you, while cousin Brennan consults with Xanadu and other Elders.
"And a means of expedient return would be most advantageous. I have an assassination to plan, dresses for two weddings and three graduations, and an entire fall line to get out. Time is money, yes?"
"No," Brennan says. "I have no means of contacting Xanadu or Paris, and I am needed where I am. This conversation, vital as it is, already runs too long." And despite his considerable anger at the Klybesians and the entire situation, Brennan has never raised his voice higher than a slightly vocalized whisper. A very intense vocalized whisper, perhaps.
"I may," he answers Celina's question, "be able to get word to our Eldest uncle, but not instantly, and not freely." He turns to look back at Silhouette, "Nor am I interested in playing a game of Whispers Over Trump-- that is a recipe for failure. I would consult with Gerard about Shadow paths _if I were going_. You will get the same information, and you will get it faster and more directly, including perhaps some understanding of Jerod's situation by speaking directly to Xanadu. You will have the liberty of asking questions pertinent to your idea of the mission, instead of being stuck with mine. And of course, you still need to join my son."
"I'll speak with Ossian on how he wishes to proceed," Silhouette says. "But I shall make certain to inform him that Uncle Gerard may be able to contribute. We both have Trumps of one another, so I shall contact him promptly."
He turns to Brita and Celina, "I may have another source for a Trump of the Queen, but we needed permission to do more than consider the possibility. So that removes a small burden, at least. As to speed... we should move as quickly as we can, but not rashly. The time spent in coordinating pays dividends in the long run."
Celina's expression tightens a bit. She looks much less sad and not young at all. "You have not mentioned my mother. Expect complications. She has vanished so well and so easily that it may be these Monks had a hand in helping her. Do not incur onerous debts in chasing other Trump solutions. Please give us news when you can." She seems to expect nothing more.
"Stay safe, Brennan," Silhouette says... possibly even meaning it.
"Silhouette," Brennan says, "Take this for what it's worth. I have been in a situation similar to yours where the solution to a problem seemed obvious-- swift, merciless, final. More than once." He glances once at Brita and Conner-- they can probably guess one of the times. "And I said as much. More than once. I was wrong. For better or worse, this is a Family. Our concerns overlap whether we want them to or not. This matter you investigate with my son may end up a concern for very many of us. As a consequence-- and at the risk of putting words in the Queen's mouth-- it is a position of considerable trust."
He sighs. "You should speak with Gerard for advice on the matter of Shadow paths, if that is how you pursue this. I think understanding their pathways is a good idea or I wouldn't have brought it up. But you go to Xanadu to understand the rest of those overlapping concerns. I would absolutely do no less in your position, out of simple respect to the rest of the Family. This is a situation where it very easy to find yourself crosswise with much of the Family, and that gesture has meaning, both formal and informal, some of which are of benefit to you. I don't know if Ossian was in Paris or Xanadu when we spoke, but he mentioned wanting to go 'back' to Greenwood, so he was probably in one of them. Paris is no more than day a from you, and can help you get to Xanadu as well."
Silhouette bows her head, "Thank you, Brennan. I do appreciate your advice, as I respect your insight. You are my Elder in all things. I'm also aware of the trust being placed upon me, particularly with regard to your son. I feel the rock we turn over shall reveal something far more dangerous than we suspect. I will make certain we do not act rashly." She meets his gaze, as if offering a silent - and deeper - pledge.
"I'm not sure where Ossian was when he contacted me, but Xanadu or Paris seem likely. Hopefully, it was the latter. I should speak with Corwin again, if only to inform him of our intentions. He alluded to utilizing my skills for the Klybesian situation, so I should inquire further."
She quirks a brow, "If you can assist with transport to Xanadu, I shall accept it. The trip is several days, is it not?" She glances around for confirmation.
"If you travel through Shadow, probably." Conner agrees. "The shorter path is to walk to Paris and ask the King very politely to send you to Xanadu via Trumping family already there." Conner turns his attention to Brennan. "When next we have the opportunity to talk, remind me to tell you what we found in the Kelp Forest of Nedra."
Silhouette's flattery is brazen, but mild and overlookable, so Brennan recognizes it with a thin smile and then overlooks it.
He nods in agreement with Conner, though. "That was my meaning, yes." Then addressing Conner directly, he adds, "I would that we could stay in closer contact. I don't suppose you have a Trump of yourself?"
"Alas no." Conner replies. "But as you know I have the ability to keep an eye on you," Conner gestures towards the inner pocket of jacket, "and the ability to make myself heard. The only thing I lack is a way to know if it is safe to contact you. Perhaps you could take to wearing something that would be a sign to me that conversation is welcome."
Sensing the approaching close of the discussion, Silhouette remains silent during the exchange. Occasionally, she glances over at Brita and Celina, curious of their reactions.
Celina watches Brennan fully to keep the contact strong and easy for all parties. Her attention does not deflect to Conner or Silhouette as various items are discussed. She waits for all agenda items to be disclosed.
"Ah yes. That." Brennan says, with mild distaste. "At the moment, it is emphatically unsafe. And I am not fond of the device for various reasons, but exceptions might be made for the moment. There is no need to delay the others with minutiae, though."
Celina nods and clearly she agrees with Brennan putting the matter off for later.
Conner lets his curiosity about why using the Eye would be considered unsafe be felt in the connection but says nothing.
Brita says to Brennan, "I will Work on Trumps of You and The Queen with Haste." She turns to Conner, "To Speed Up my Work, I will Go to Mother's Tower."
Conner nods in agreement with that plan.
Brennan nods in appreciation. "You have my gratitude," he says. "Tell my favorite aunt I hope to speak with her soon... relative to current constraints. It may be some days before there is enough respite to make the call I owe her. I hope you and I will have more time to talk as well."
Celina adds for Brennan's benefit in closing, "We see that Huon takes serious effort with his pledges here. For the moment, Rebma is calm and tending its wounds. I look forward to speaking to you again when my Trump is prepared to pass you a copy. If no one has other agenda, we will let you go." Brita feels through the connection that Celina worries more than she appears to, but not about Brennan.
"Farewell, Brennan." Conner thinks. "I hope our time to converse comes sooner rather than later."
"Conner, I had hoped you would stay a moment, so we could coordinate the use of your device. And perhaps the queen, as she has some expertise, here, that I, at least, lack. But I see no need to delay everyone with minutiae," Brennan says.
"Very well." Conner nods. Conner reaches out and takes hold of the Trump sketch to maintain the contact.
Celina nods to Brita and Silhouette and smiles. "Thank you both for you efforts and counsel." And when Conner's body language tells her he has settled the business of keeping the connection live, she'll step away from Brita and lightly place her hand on Conner's.
Silhouette bows her head, "My Queen. You may find me in my home, if you wish to discuss your previous request further." Her eyes drift to Brennan. "Safe hunting."
With quick nods to the other cousins, she exits the Trump contact. She departs the chamber.
Brita waits until the sense of her brother has shifted from an internal knowledge to an external one within the contact. "Cousin Brennan, Until I Contact You - Safe Travels." She notes to Conner and Celina, "By Your Leave, I will Head to Princess Fiona's Tower to Discharge My Task."
Brita releases the trump sketch and departs.
"Safe hunting," Brennan says, to both Silhouette and Brita.
Once Silhouette and Brita depart, Brennan takes a dagger from his belt, and holds it up. It's a perfectly serviceable blade, although certainly worn and and well-used. It may be something he took as a trophy from a field of battle. Its one adornment is a fairly large tiger-eye set into one side of the hilt-- it was perhaps once polished, but it has been sufficiently worn and used that any remaining sheen has long departed.
With the gem facing outward he says, "Unsafe," then he reverses it and says, "Safe." He puts it back in his belt with the gem out, and stands so Conner and Celina can see it. "Will this be visible?" he asks.
Celina nods once. "That's excellent." She eyes Conner.
"Agreed." Conner nods. "That should do well. Why do you feel it to be a particularly unsafe communication option here though? Is it the mirror angle?
"Yes," Brennan says simply. "That, and your device is as much an affine in itself as it is a device... I would be leery of taking it to the other side of the Tree, and I would wonder how much memory and agency it has even here. Even aside from that particular device, our uncle," he gestures to make it clear he means a local uncle, "considers them unsafe and insecure-- vulnerable to both manipulation and interception."
He looks to Celina-- she is the expert.
Celina keeps her focus on Brennan but lets her feelings also flow to Conner. "True. I judge that Moire is many times more practiced than I in the craft. If she trained someone else here in Rebma, which I would assume, then it is certainly insecure used near that unknown practitioner. All mirrors lead to Rebma." Celina offers, "Unless the device itself can be set to detail the number of connections active while it is being used. Something that requires a judgement most mirrors do not have." Celina has not studied Conner's artifact, but from what Brennan is saying, the Device may be self-diagnostic.
"Point taken." Conner nods. "Yet there must be ways to guard against or detect such eavesdropping. Are there countermeasures I can take?
"I have absolutely no idea," Brennan says. "I'm already connected to events that concern her-- part of her scheme has just suffered a major setback." He smiles, but without the wolfish confidence of a sure success. "Hopefully, it looks like just a run of bad luck, but I'm taking all the countermeasures I can: Travelling under an assumed name, avoiding mirrors, avoiding showy displays of power, letting the Shadows lie for me... Hell, I don't even know if she'd recognize me if she looked right at me."
He shrugs. "Yeah, I'm being paranoid. But not without reason."
Celina nods to Brennan's last as if it is just the price of doing business. "Countermeasures include anything that over or under saturates the media. So darkness kills the signal, extreme or confusing lighting corrupts the geometry, and it is possible to add a sorcerous spell to a mirror that would make detection easier. I assume that in such powerful Device (she does not even look at Conner as she says this) there may be hidden features such as that. I'm willing to look at it for you today." She squeezes Conner's wrist gently in apology that she has not offered before this.
"Thank you, cousin." Conner nods. "I have been wanting to ask but there never seemed to be a good time."
Celina adds then, "Despite the evidence that my mother murdered Lucas, when there were alternatives for her, I do not sanction her death."
Conner nods in understanding. "Brennan, would there be any advantage to one being obvious while you are being subtle?" Conner smiles. "Or do you fear that our quarry would simply retreat if the hunters appear?"
Brennan responds to Celina without missing a beat, almost stepping over Conner's words in the process: "Good, because otherwise you could get yourself another redhead. I am not an assassin." Then, to Conner, "Well, let me fill you both in, so we're all working off the same knowledge base. Settle in-- I'll be as brief as possible, but a lot has happened.
"You should both know that I arrived safely at our Uncle's home, with Fletcher. As is the nature of this place, he is at war. We spoke and he agreed that it made sense for Moire to be here, and that her presence might," he emphasizes the word, "explain some past events. I agreed to act as a scout for his purposes and for this purpose. I assumed a name and signed up with a very small company of mercenaries guarding a weapons merchant who was making his way to pay a bride price and get married.
"There are several islands in this story," he editorializes. "One is where the Road comes out. One is our Uncle's home. A third is this one, with the bride. So we skip forward several months of travel, some over sea, mostly over land, selling weapons and moving toward Montparnasse for a wedding. We got there, and several things happened in rapid order. First, I got made by the local prince's daughter. She doesn't know who I am, but she knows I'm someone. It's hard to hide your power here. She assumed I work for our Uncle, and I played... very dumb." He frowns. "Second, the mercenary captain betrayed us, allowing a team of assassins in who succeeded in killing that local prince. His son and that daughter are in charge; the second daughter was the one to be married, she and the groom are in custody. Third, an army showed up to besiege during the chaos of the assassination. I find myself promoted to captain of the mercenaries, helping to defend the place.
"Let's skip the boring parts and say that some time into the siege, I captured and questioned a wizard of the opposing forces. Here's where the going gets weird, and like any good storyteller, I'm going to build suspense by asking a few questions. I promise they're relevant, and may even make this story shorter," Brennan says.
To Celina: "What exactly do we know about Lir?"
To Conner: "What did you find out about the Kelp?"
Celina gestures as she speaks, her posture having become more relaxed in this three way conversation. "Lir is a historical person that is illuminated by his charisma and some myth-making. In Rebman lore, he ranks as a peer of Moins and a legendary champion who appeared and fought the Sons of the Dragon. He is credited as a nephew of Moins, and in a few incendiary stories, was her lover. He was well-liked by many. News of his death unhinged the minds of a few noblewomen and many oaths were made to avenge his passing. It has become a tradition because the stories are that success follows swearing a pledge in his name." Celina pauses a moment and then adds, "In my own dreams, he is dark with gleaming skin. He is beautiful with a slight beard and a strange earring that moves. And none of this is 'exact' at all."
Conner listens with interest and then answers the question asked of him. "First off, I found that navigation through kelp is disorienting to say the least. Travel there without a guide would be difficult in the extreme. There are former Rebman and Shadow people living in the fringes of Nedra under the grudging acceptance of the local Tritons. Further in, we were escorted to a Temple. A very large, very old, very Real temple covered in more sorcerous and Chaotic language than I could understand but much of it seemed to be spells phrased as invocations of the Dragon's power. I met their Heirophant, a Triton old enough that I suspect he knew Lir or at least Cneve personally. He spoke of areas of Nedra where the environment was more Chaotic than Ordered and that the Triton realm is a thick buffer zone between the two. I also discovered that among the Tritons is a cult that believes the whole peace between Rebma and the Dragon is a horrible mistake and that it is likely elements of that cult are active in Rebma. Oh and apparently Haolsydne came with the title of PaxWarden which the Heirophant often referred to me as. I really must engage Signy or Silhouette to make that suit of white armor that works underwater." Conner smirks.
Brennan doesn't interrupt, although his listening becomes more intent at certain points-- mention of Lir as Moins' nephew, mention of the Temple, especially.
"Interesting," he understates. "We questioned this hedge-wizard. His name was Cameleopardis Findanus, of a tribe called the Maghee, who claim descent from Lir's Castellan. Lir himself, it is written, originally raised the Silver Towers. When he departed to fight with his kin against an army of fish demons, he was slain, and the Maghee people succeeded him. Later, they claim to have been instrumental in the defeat of the Witch-King, sinking their own island and destroying the Silver Towers. Despite this, they are not well loved."
He pauses just long enough to make an it's-going-to-get-better gesture with his hands.
"The Hedge-wizard claimed to have been with a small band looking into that now sunken city, providing magical support. They were captured by another group from the other side of a kelp forest who were able to breathe underwater without magical support-- he was kept as a guide by virtue of his heritage. They made their way to a throne room containing a sapphire throne, whereupon he saw visions.
"The floor of the throne room lit up with a tracery of sparks, and a man struggling to walk the tracery. The Witch-King fighting the man, who was the Protector, apparently in the midst of the tracery. The hedge-wizard lost consciousness at that point, and when he woke, a woman was on the throne, matching this description." He holds up the non-Trump image of Dara with one hand, and no-it-gets-even-better with the other. "The Protector was still there, but of the Witch-King, only his blade remained. It cut off the Protector's arm, and all but the woman sank beneath the floor. She styled herself Dara of the house and lineage of Lir, and stated that they would make common cause against the Witch-King in his new kingdom... that he should sleep, and when he woke he would be met by a priestess of Lir who would give him instructions. He slept. He woke. He saw a woman, asked if she was the priestess of Lir." Brennan almost rolls his eyes. "She said yes, and bade him lead a fleet to attack this very keep."
"Now, of course I asked for a description of the priestess, but curiously, he could not give one. Literally. By his own training and the force of my questions, he recognized that he was under a geas, and was willing to risk his life to see it broken. We asked the Prince's daughter if she could break it. She could. She did. The Maghee began to age rapidly-- centuries over the next watch-- but he was able to identify this priestess. Would you care to guess, before I show you?"
Celina or Conner can guess or not, as they wish, but Brennan shows them the Moire non-Trump.
"I've had some time to think about this, and I have my interpretation, which I'll share soon, but those are the facts. I invite your observations," Brennan says. He folds his arms across his chest and he might-- possibly-- be sustaining a smile. Just a small one.
"Go ahead, please Conner,' Celina says.
Conner shakes his head. "I don't know what to make of most of that story to be honest, Cousin. Too many puzzle pieces fitting together that shouldn't. However, the part of your story that triggered something in my memory was the fight between the Protector and Witch King over the tracery of sparks. Merlin told a very similar story of Corwin and Benedict fighting over the Pattern during his Walk."
"Fair enough," Brennan says. "I've had a few days to ponder this, so my guess is this: In the distant past, Lir ruled here, or a place very near to here, raising the famed Silver Towers. He departed to join his kin, fighting in Rebma, and died in that war. Some time later, the Witch-King arrives and takes possession. He is ousted, and the Silver Towers cast down. Shortly after that, but hundreds of years ago, Cameleopardis departs for the sunken Silver Towers. I believe he had several disjointed visions: The duel during a Pattern Walk, which I do not understand at all. The duel of ghosts with Dara present, apparently seen in several other locations as well. That is a thing that happened, historically, just a few years ago, but it involved Pattern throne rooms... I believe somehow, for some reason, images of it were reflected into the past, similar to what happened to Brita. And then possibly a third where he conversed with Dara as she was in that sunken area poking into the Witch-King's history. Any reference she made to Paris without naming it, he would interpret as a reference to a new kingdom here. Then she put him to sleep intending to use him in our present and for some reason it was Moire who woke him up and launched him against this keep.
"Why this keep? It's not obvious unless you have maps available and leisure to study them and you understand the Faiella-Bionin and you understand your mother's goals. This keep is an ally of our uncle, and supports the lower coastal regions of this island. Those coastal regions, in turn, project allied sea power to help protect both out uncle's personal holdings and the coast where the Road emerges onto land. If this keep falls, a chain reaction alters the naval balance of power, leaving our uncle with a choice: defend his holdings, or defend one route from here to yours. The complicating factors are Dara, and this apparent route from the sunken towers, through the Kelp, and into Rebma. My gut says... Dara is involved incidentally, even accidentally." It's clear from his tone that Brennan believes what he says, but still worries that he could be wrong. "My gut is ambivalent about any potential danger through the Kelp, though.
"Finishing the story, we broke the siege, complicated mostly by the requirement to dispose of the Maghee's pet Bobbit Worm," he gestures to the spear-length mandible propped up against the wall, behind him, "without flashy displays of power. I ended up making it look like bad luck and am blaming it on a last act of vengeance by Cameleopardis-- he was genuinely wroth when he regained his full memories and faculties, and I mourn his passing. He was badly used. This keep stands, but with significant damage. The opposing force is effectively broken but will be allowed to retreat back to the coast. If I'm lucky, my presence may still not be known... although a loose end is the mercenary assassin, still at large with several days lead. And my professional opinion is that the assassination and later assault were so tightly coordinated, they may have had magic, even mirror, support. Our uncle is aware of the situation, but I have not broken cover and may not have a chance to speak to him again." Brennan sighs and winds down.
"That brings us up to now, in broad strokes. Now all we need to do is figure out what to do," he says. How hard can that be?
Celina responds, "So please correct me if I am seeing shadows of shadows, but you are saying this Cameleopardis Findanus was a distant kin of ours, perhaps through Lir or Finndo. He was powerful, and may have gotten stuck in a vision of the actual Pattern nearby, but that vision, or Dara, sent him unconscious. On waking, or being ensnared by a powerful sorceress who woke him, he was sent against Uncle to threaten local balances. And now you have derailed most of this by being drawn to it as we so often are when Pattern is involved. But you have seen no real sign of Moire, or a shadow of her.
"It sounds as if your time has been fruitful for Avalon and Rebma. Thank you. I could contact Benedict from here and let him know these things if you were unable to brief him in full. Since Moire cannot walk through shadow, I should ask if there are paths out of Avalon, or is she still there somewhere?" Celina pauses.
"It would be most interesting to track back Cameaeopardis's journey and see where meetings with Dara and Moire occured." Conner muses. "The notion that there is a link through Nedra intrigues and disturbs me."
To Celina, Brennan does clarify: "That priestess sorceress was Moire. Once the geas was lifted, he was able to confirm that. And while I think it's remotely possible he may have been a direct descendant, I think it's more a mythic association-- descendant of servants, which became its own claim to glory." Brennan shrugs-- at this remove of thousands of years, he's not going to concern himself too much with the Family connection angle, unless more evidence comes to light. "But those local balances would have shifted in a way that exposes the entrance to the Faiella-Bionin. There are no guards on it, here, it's simply hidden in obscurity. Is she still here? I'd bank on it. Where, precisely, I don't know; this realm is... porous, in a way the others seem not to be. I would have to study it in greater detail, but I would expect some mobility close to Avalon, but eventually reaching a point where Shadow is simply Shadow and only Family can master it. But she must be somewhere close."
He turns back to Conner: "So, we have at least two invasion routes-- the Kelp and the Road. Intentionally or not, she presents ambiguity. We can't ignore either possibility, because it could be both. But I've tried to give her ambiguity in return. It's not obvious to her, I hope, whether this situation--" he gestures around him-- "is bad luck or enemy action. It's not obvious whether this keep can support the coast or not. This is by design. In an ideal world, we'll learn her plans without her learning ours, and trap her invading force between your defense and my relief.
"But there is a lot to do, here. Nedra, capture this mercenary assassin, raise an army here, shore up Rebma, figure out how the Tritons will take this..." Brennan lists just for a start. "How do we divide these labors? What am I missing? If we need help, who do we trust to bring in? I would that Brita were here. I trust her personally and professionally... but I understand her need to take on other tasks."
Brennan conjures a charcoal pencil and a slate, and begins making a crude sketch of something or someone while he waits to hear Celina's and Conner's opinions.
Celina goes down the list, speculating out loud, "Brita needs to do Trumps and hopefully will find time to do multiple copies of each of us so we can hand them around. I'd trust her with my life, since that is what Trump creation leads to. Maybe she can join you later.
"However.... Signy and Ambrose are off to duplicate and/or repair the code wheels, which cannot be done near the center. I have good feelings about both of them. Certainly either would be helpful in bolstering you position if they accomplish their own tasks quickly, but I doubt that will be a fast turnaround as they did not talk about access to fast time places.
"Huon might assist you, as I included in his parole that he might go to serve Rebma's needs elsewhere. I think he would enjoy being heroic on Rebma's behalf. I'm not sure the timing is good for that. I could be convinced otherwise.
"Ossian is in Paris. Jerod and Raven should be in Gateway for King Random. Any of them would be helpful, but again, they are busy.
"Merlin, Martin, and Folly are off in the shadows on other business."
"Hannah, Paige, and Edan are in Xanadu with missions for Random," She says that with traces of doubt, as if Hannah and Paige are too long absent to be sure.
"I do not know where Garrett, Robin, or Vere are, though I think they would be good allies to have. I'm not sure where Marius, Fletcher, and Lily are. Again, good choices, but Fletcher and Lily might be near to Avalon. I could ask Benedict.
"Meg left here angry, I think you'd get little from her.
"If my assessment is largely correct, we have few options right now for getting you help. However, I need to talk to Random again soon. I could ask for a favor throne to throne, such as an assist from Bleys. I cannot ask Llewella to assist if you are likely to cross swords with Moire." She considers what other debts she might be willing to incur and her face is thoughtful.
"Let's leave aunts, uncles and other thrones off the table. And Lilly and Fletcher have other tasks for their father," Brennan says. "You left Silhouette off your list," he observes.
Celina's face does not change. Conner can clearly feel the mental burst of surprise from Celina through his arm.
Celina scrunches up her face for a moment, nose wrinkled, cheeks compressing eyes. She sticks her tongue out at Brennan. "Meh."
Then she laughs. "Well, yes, Silhouette. That's difficult." She takes a breath and moves closer to Conner, leaning a bit towards Brennan as if he were present. "She's not ready. She's learning fast but ..." Celina thinks, "Let me be more honest. Silhouette is a project all by herself. She is a threat to Order. She needs to be treated differently. She has no mother. Perhaps she even likes it that way. She is at heart a mercenary because that's what she needed to be to survive on her own. She fancies herself a Dragon. I have given her other choices and she has walked the Pattern, not because she is worthy but because I do not want her to die so quickly, so broken. I would entertain your comments on this matter." Obviously she includes them both.
"A threat to Order?" Conner thinks incredulously. "I would not credit her with power enough to deserve such a title. To use her metaphors, Silhouette is white hot metal newly forged and it remains to be seen if she is a useful tool or something that will shatter under stress. Her main problem is that she is not taking the time to learn the Family rules before breaking them with style. Having said that, I could see bringing her in in a pinch."
Celina listens to Conner closely.
"This stays between us," Brennan says. "She's a threat to herself. In a just universe, I would mentor her as partial penance for my sins. It was not so very long ago I counselled retaliation or even pre-emptive violence against Dara. And Cleph. And Huon. I went centuries without even speaking my own name, to stay hidden. I have more empathy than she might believe, but it's the wrong kind of empathy... she reminds me too much of who I was, too recently. It's not productive. It doesn't help that I don't trust her, yet... and she's cross-wise with a lot of Family.
"I respect your instinct," he says to Celina, "this is not a rehabilitation mission. Dealing with the Klybesians might be. That doesn't thrill me either," he grumbles, "but... tell me I'm not the only one who thinks a quasi-religious cross-shadow conspiracy cult that preys on young, unknown, or lone wolf Family members might possibly have something to do with her own history."
"I shall tell you one better," Celina responds, "What if Silhouette was the first design prototype of a quasi-religious cross-shadow conspiracy?" She quickly holds up her palm, more as an indication that this is just a throwaway idea. "I like her and agree with your idea that she needs our guidance. I accept responsibility for her Patternwalk. I'm just saying she's a threat because however badly or cruelly most of us were raised, that raising always seemed to be on the Family terms. I do not see that with Silhouette. She's gained nothing from Family until Rebma. She doesn't think like Family at all. We don't know what she can become."
"And that is precisely why leaving her isolated on her own projects is probably more risky than bringing her in on one of these Family projects." Conner comments. "Still, I can hardly see bringing her along if I choose to venture into Nedra again. My title of PaxWarden only provides be so much cover and protection."
Celina nods in more than agreement. It seems that Conner's idea is one she has already thought about.
Brennan nods, in philosophical agreement, at least. "That's one of the reasons I pointed her at the Klybesians. I could be wrong about any connection to her past, and I didn't want to plant a false seed, even unintentionally, so I didn't say anything. But given Reid, and now the revelations about Abford... Well. I'm not thrilled. They had my son. But I can't say they had my only son, because I. Just. Don't. Know." It's obvious that his physical instinct is to clamp his jaw, raise his chin and refuse to say another word, but he overrides it and continues. "Ossian is probably p!ssed at me-- I should be there with him, I should be the muscle, there. But I will not take up arms until I know I'm not killing my own sons or daughters. I Will Not. They could have anyone's child, though, and I'm sure Paris and Xanadu are thinking those thoughts. And she'll be with Ossian, so she's not a lone wolf agent, there."
Celina looks long at Brennan, then says, "Silhouette is a well-trained killer. Setting her on the Klybesians could be bloody. If you have concerns about consequences, you'll want to talk to Ossian and give him a bit of what you know or suspect. Otherwise, I think it a fair plan. The cult seems to be always ready to move elsewhere. Oberon did not eradicate them." She looks aside at Conner. "I gave her some missions for me, scouting about Rebma for Loreena and making use of her analytic interests. Nothing so far."
Conner nods. "Silhouette also speaks of turning enemies to allies as a part of her philosophy. I suspect like most of us, she will do what seems best at the time. As for her pairing up with Ossian, he would not have been my first choice to try and teach her the value of conforming to Family norms," Conner smirks, "but he's been around long enough to know the big lines that should not be crossed. It will serve."
Brennan gives Conner a rather flat look: That's my son you're talking about. "It was a judgement call. I made it," he says.
"Returning to an earlier topic," Conner goes on, "we can add finding Rebma's Jewel to our list of priorities. In some ways, that is higher than Moire though I doubt we'd manage to get one without the other. As to division of labor, Nedra would logically fall to me though that leads me to the twin problems of navigation through the Kelp and not starting a war between Rebma and Dragon should I venture in. I am torn between attempting stealth or once again asking for an audience with the Hierophant and asking for aid."
"Find Moire, find the Jewel," Brennan says. "If she doesn't have it with her, she has to have it somewhere nearby for a lot of obvious reasons. But two that bear mentioning are: I'm sure she has some control over the Tritons without it, but I'm also she'll have much more with it... and may need something concrete to counter your authorities. And of course, if it mirrors what we know of the other Jewel, and she has any control over it, it will be a campaign asset. I am not looking forward to trying to move men and material around Avalon if she can conjure up a storm any time she likes, any more than you're looking forward to fin-to-fin combat in the streets."
Brennan looks to Celina, especially, for confirmation or denial of any of that.
"I guess that leaves the Avalon side to me. Of the list we went down before: Brita, Robin, Vere, would be my choices. They're all undoubtedly busy, and I'm not sure we're at the point where we need to ask for more bodies, but should any of them turn up at loose ends, I think all three of us can work with any of them. Although inasmuch as this operation intersects with my... personal project... I'd prefer to be the one to break that idea, at least." He gives a faint smile, "Until which time you can both still plausibly deny you had any idea what I'm about.
"Pending new information, I expect my first task here is tracking down the assassin, as he might have more actionable intelligence, and then with our Uncle's approval, the raising of an army. On that note, tell Dignity to be packed and ready. Hopefully the next time we speak, I'll be in a position to bring him through. Unless someone has a clever idea to get him here sooner." He thinks for a moment, then adds, "I may contact Bleys, if he's in Xanadu, and see if he can send me more of the Knights. They all have experience with Family-run armies."
The campfire is cheery, especially to Edan. After so long underwater, he had almost forgotten how good the warmth of a fire could feel. It's been a while since he's made a camp on a beach, the waves crashing nearby and a treeline perhaps a hundred yards away. With the sun setting, it wasn't worth juggling shadows to find a horse, but there was fire and smoke...he waves his hands, forming a horse-shape out of the campfire, giving himself lots of time to form a solid steed that he can ride onwards to Xanadu. He snorts as he realizes he's painted Aramsham with his spell, and promises himself that he'll take his horse along next trip.
The horse forms, and snorts smoke out of its nose. While it seems nebulous at the extremities, it seems solid enough to ride on. It's warm to the touch.
Edan is very pleased with the results. In the morning, he breaks his camp, gathers his few things, then sits astride his magical construct and guides it onward. He keeps it at a gallop, and doesn't bother following terrain as he periodically wrenches at the surroundings to match it with what he remembers of Xanadu.
Edan rides on his smoky destrier, making the land more and more like Xanadu. It's not quite hell-riding, no matter what observers of the fiery prince on the smoky horse might think. Eventually, Edan and his horse arrive at one of the many rivers along the coast near Xanadu, looking at the burgeoning young city and the impressive castle by the waterfall above.
No point scaring the populace. Edan will ride the smoke-horse closer to the city, then dismiss his sorcery and walk in. If he doesn't encounter someone beforehand, he'll check in on Aramsham at the stables and then walk up towards the castle.
Aramsham seems quite pleased to see him, and would like an apple or sugar cube or some similar treat. He has been well cared-for and looks eager to ride. He doesn’t seem to like the smell of smoke that lingers on Edan.
[OOC: whenever he heads to the house.]
Edan is greeted at the door to the house, and asked if he needs refreshment or if the staff can open up his room for him.
Edan provides the treat for his horse, if he has one. Once reaching the castle, he does ask for his room to be prepared, and also asks for word be sent to Random that he has returned and craves an audience.
Edan is led to his room. His instructions to always have a fire when he is in residence have been followed and while it is not roaring yet, it is at least welcoming. Water and fresh clothes are also available.
A page arrives and informs Edan that the King is in the library and that he should join him there, at his convenience.
Despite having been completely immersed in water for quite some time, Edan takes the opportunity to bathe himself, trim his beard, and change clothes. He dresses in his colors of white and crimson, a sashed robe and turban and soft slippers. He leaves his weapons in his room and commands Kyauta to stay there as well; then he heads off to the library.
Random is sitting at a drafting table, covered with lined paper. The messy half of the table is full of what look like completed musical scores. Random smiles when Edan comes in.
Random looks up. "'Welcome back', he said, hoping he hasn't forgotten that the Prince had previously returned." Random replaces his quill in its inkstand and pushes back from the drafting table. "How'd you enjoy the water?"
Edan hesitates. "It was good to see Family," he says. "I may visit again. Someday. Rarely. I do not especially enjoy being surrounded, inundated by water. But I did track down Signy's man Tomat, and interviewed them regarding the Klybesians."
Random gets up and leans back on his drafting table, which doesn't break, somehow. "I tend to think of it as defeating the water, at least temporarily. But I tend to think of breathing as defeating the air, so nobody listens to me.
"What did you learn from this 'Brother Tomato' person?"
Edan smiles, but only briefly. "Tomat claimed that he was not high in their counsels, so he did not offer much that was not coaxed out of him. The location of his chapterhouse, for instance, or the specific members over him. But there were several...interesting...items. They use the place Trumps, of course, if they did not barter them away. He claimed the Order was originally sponsored by Oberon. That a number of Princes had been martial members. That one in particular was to become 'a religious' and was removed from the succession for it. The Order might have been banned from Amber for it."
Random looks at Edan for a moment. "There might be something to that story. It was long before my time, but one hears stories.
"Anyway, I think Fletcher was one of those martial members. We should talk to him.
"Aside from what Tomato said, what did you learn of him? What's his game?"
Edan glances away, then back to Random. "What I know or have guessed comes from several sources. Tomat was Signy's mentor, ostensibly in Sorcery, as a payment or gift from the Order to Weyland, mediated by their Turcopier. Or a spy for them. Or both. Then he returned to the Order for a time. Then he left the Order with Marius. He is Signy's man, in her retinue. He is in love with her, according to Ambrose. I am no expert in these things, so I do not know the extent of their relationship; however, they did not sit together and answer me at interview. Indeed, Signy participated in asking questions of Tomat."
"If he can teach her Sorcery, he's either Chaosian or us, right? We are historically bad at doing the romance thing, so it's not out of the question. Do you know why Ambrose thinks that?
"Also, tell me more about the Turnipcopter. Why does he have such a dumb name?"
Edan nods. "Our blood. It's spread, however thinly, through a large part of the Order. Probably as far back as Osric, since Tomat mentioned Pastoral as a member. Tomat said those who had the blood strong enough to do Sorcery advance in rank; he intimated there were many. They use Sorcery and the rare Trump to communicate across Shadow, and having the blood helps with the cards."
Random grins. “I wonder if Brita can smell ‘em out."
Edan nods his agreement. Then he looks pensive, wondering if that was something that could be copied with Sorcery.
"Ambrose might have seen something I haven't- Tomat didn't make anything obvious in my presence. It does make more sense for him to leave the Order with Marius than simply having been disgruntled with his lot."
Edan glances away again. "As far as the Turcopolier, it's a term I've heard before. Turcopoles mean 'Sons of Turks' and I've been confused with the Turks when I traveled through that squalid little Shadow where I heard Corwin and Paige stayed so long. The Turcopoles were auxiliary mercenary forces. Good archers. A Turcopolier was a high officer in their ranks. If the Klybesians follow the same model, the Turcopolier would hold rank both as a knight-militant in the Order as well as the commander of the mercenaries. If I were to wager where your deck of Trumps have gone, I'd say he'd be the most likely person to be holding them. At least, until they decide what to do with them."
"Interesting. Sounds like a man and/or woman I'd like to have a chat with. Maybe a long chat, maybe a very, very short chat."
Random plucks a cigarette from behind his ear. Edan is sure it wasn't there before. He doesn't light it, or do anything with it. "I sound like a Roman emperor moaning and bitching about missing eagles, but really, I do want those cards secured.
"What's your next step?"
Edan looks startled; he knows the story about the missing eagle, and that story didn't end well at all. Then, there is the slightest flash of disappointment as Edan realizes he won't be taking a break to hang around Family or perhaps even see a child being born.
"There was a thing Tomat said, regarding Marius," he says. "'They meant to use him, and he didn't bring much other than himself to offer. If he'd brought an army, or a blade of power, or some special skill or power like your father's, it might have been different. They might have been afraid of him. But he came as a suppliant, alone, and he’s not one of the princes of legend.' The Order must be negotiated with from a position of strength. I use the term 'negotiated' loosely. On a similar note, I am still mindful the Gheneshi; now that they have reached theosis with their Queen, it would take an army just to turn them or slow them down. In either case, I'll be needing to muster an army. One that has at least the capability to oppose the Order and its sorcery."
He relaxes his stance. "Fortunately, I have some experience in this."
Random laughs. "You know, one of my first plans when I became King, back when I wasn't sure if I was going to make it home was 'if this works, I'll have to convince them all not to raise private armies anymore.' Now I'm glad you're going to do that. Back to your birth-shadow for that?"
Edan nods assent. "Or a Shadow of a Shadow. Rulers are generally either loved or feared, neh? In the deserts of the Dar-es Salaam, I was the latter. Despite what I did for the tribes, I may find little loyalty there; but it will be my first choice.
"As for a private army, you do not have to see it that way." Edan bows his head. "I have sworn to you, Majesty. I am the Djinn-al-Ghanii, Sultan of the Seven Tribes, afrit kraliyet kani, a sword in your hand to wield at your enemies. Help me place authority and purpose upon troops that I raise. May I humbly suggest creating or resurrecting an order of knights militant for the purpose. Or induct me into one existing. Or even a Letter of Marque." He pauses. "I would alternately suggest some military rank, but you have no standing army and I would make a poor naval officer."
Random stands, and calls Winter into the Library. "Get me a sword.
"Would you like to be a Turnipcopter?"
"Something like that." Edan smiles, then his smile fades a little as he realizes Random The First might well dub him a 'Turnipcopter'. "I actually had more of a Janissary model in mind. Self-sufficient. Heavy firepower, light armor. Very mobile, lots of cavalry. Firearms where they can be used, bows where they can't. Specialized corps for engineering and support tasks. It is the best organization for what I want to do." He leans forward and his voice drops. "I have been shown the basics of juggling Pattern and Sorcery from Father. I just need practice. If I can train a force to react quickly and fight effectively in an environment where Sorcery fades in and out, they would have a formidable advantage."
Winter returns, and hands Random a sword. He stays, to witness the knighting. The King unsheathes the blade and looks at it. "One day, he's going to read me mind, and bring me the one with the squeaky toy in the hilt. His gamble will be 'is that the day I choose to knight him?' It's a long game, but fascinating."
Winter grins. "I'll also bring the plastic one when I think it's the day you've chosen to behead me."
"Pffft. I wouldn't do that personally. I might get blood on my favorite rug." The king turns to his nephew, and raises the sword. "Edan, son of Bleys, kneel," Random commands.
Edan smiles at the byplay between Random and Winter, then looks confused when he detects there's a reference to a bloody rug that he doesn't understand. But at the command, he says, "Majesty," and kneels on both knees.
Random holds the sword at rest. "The oath first, I think. Do you swear to defend the weak, to speak only the truth, to be loyal to your lord and your King, to be devoted to the Unicorn, to be charitable and kind to the poor and the helpless, to be brave, to be sneaky and clever, to be on time for battle, to always tell your lord of your adventures, and to use your powers and gifts to do what is right, and to sing on-key at all times?"
Edan looks up. "Speaking only the truth...would that include taking a false identity to gather enemy intelligence? Or using a cover story in your service?"
Random pauses. “I dunno, I heard it in a knight’s oath in a movie on TV at Flora’s once. It’s the kind of thing you want in a knight, but maybe it doesn’t suit a knight commander. You can leave it out, if you’d like, and still apply it to the Order’s Rule. Or change it. It’s hard to make an oath with exceptions in it.
"You’re going to have to work up a Rule for your new order, although Winter can help you if you need something to crib from."
"You get your oaths from movies?" The headache was coming back. But, then, Edan shakes his head. "No matter. It is a good oath. I will develop my life for the greater good. I will place character above riches or power. I will speak the truth at all times, and forever keep my word. I will defend those who cannot defend themselves. I will be loyal to my Lord and King, and devoted to the Unicorn. I will be generous to the poor and to those in need. I will be brave, sneaky, clever, in tune, and on time for battle and jousts. I shall tell my King of my adventures. I will live my life with courtesy and honor from this day forward, and use my powers and gifts to do what is right. This I so swear."
Random lowers the sword gently to Edan's right shoulder and then his left. "I dub thee Sir Edan, of the Military Brotherhood of the Lamp. May these be the last blows you take unanswered. Arise, Knight-Commander."
Edan rises. "Thank you, your Majesty. May the light of the Lamp shine upon the Truth, and be a beacon to all who seek it. I would appreciate Winter's help with the basics, if he is willing to do so. And your sword, the one I brought to the poker game, if you're willing to part with it. I can use it to help track down your Trumps."
"Done and done, Sir Edan. You won't really need a rule until you have a knight or two to live by it, but don't dawdle with that, either. Winter, please get Edan the sword he's looking for. It's in my golf bag. And find him a chapter room in the castle." Random hands the knighting blade back to Winter, who takes it and leaves on his errand.
"You can knight knights, but it's also good to have me do so, because it's showy, flashy, and oh, so public."
"I understand. I do enjoy showy and flashy and public. Oh! Speaking of...chances are, if I find this mercenary army of the Klybesians, some of them will likely be sorcerors, yes? They will have the Blood, and conflict may be inevitable. Where do I draw the line as to who would be Family, and who wouldn't?"
Random returns to his seat, and sprawls across it. His pose looks immensely uncomfortable. "In some shadows, there's a thing called 'Fuzzy Logic', which is not when Corwin reasons out why it would be a good idea for him to get into someone's pants. It's basically 'things that are sufficiently like all the things in a set are probably in that set'.
"So, there we are with 'likeness' and 'sufficient' and 'probably' in the definition. Those are the fuzz, not the Fuzz, if you see what I mean. The rules aren't hard and fast, but if no one would get upset about a relative that remote, then you're good. If you're really concerned, capture them and decide later."
Edan has a moment of confusion until he decides 'the Fuzz' is a pun, and resolves to figure it out later. "I shall do so," he says. "As far as the Rule goes for this Order, I'll have to sit down and write it out. I don't want to get bogged down in details at the start, that would take away from its purpose. I will create a framework that I can work from [OOC: and put it on Edan's website], and hire someone with brains and organizational acumen to prepare the chapter rooms here and a Chapter House outside the city while I travel out to gather and train both troops and knights. There is a lot to do."
Random grins. “Yep, and you’re just the knight-commander to do it! Don’t get bogged down. Here’s the start: Winter will find you a room that you can use temporarily, and hang up the big red lamp we currently have in the poker room, so everyone knows it’s yours. Now where were we before that came up?"
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.
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.
Last modified: 18 January 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.