Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Edan makes a polite goodbye as Garrett disengages, and watches the Prince walk away. He then turns back to Hannah.
"Well," he says, after a long moment. He hopes he's kept the stupid grin off his face. "Look at you."
Hannah smiles. "I'd pirouette, but not right now." She holds her hand out for his help in rising. "Shall we go on to get something to eat?"
Edan pulls her up and offers an arm for an escort. "Indeed...well, not for me yet. I am doomed to eat cold sandwiches afterward. I can't eat anything significant before a dance."
"I'm looking forward to seeing it," Hanah says, taking his arm. "Unless tonight is the night, in which case I may be delayed. Estimaza will be there. You've heard about what happened to him, I assume?" When Edan indicates he hasn't" "He's somehow managed to retain his youth from the Blue World. And Fiona has suggested to him that he may be descended from Corwin. I'm going to need to ask her about that." Hannah looks as if this possibility worries her.
She lets him lead her to a seat at the long table. "Since you aren't eating, I hope I can ask you to get up and make plates for me."
"Anything." Edan hasn't quite made the worried look disappear, the one he adopted when he realized that Hannah is that close to time. They make it a few more steps before he says, "Why does it worry you, if Estimaza is related to Corwin? What does it mean?"
Hannah leans in very close. "Random indicated to me that my father was unlikely to survive the family ritual. Estimaza has rarely let power go willingly. I thought it would be hard enough to keep him from it when he thought he might just be some distant relation of Dworkin's. If he thinks he has a direct line, even a... grandparent, in our parents' generation, I don't think I could stop him. And should I, even? That troubles me just as much. I think I must try, for the King's sake as much as my papa's." She relaxes back and turns to meet Edan's eyes for a second - to give him a smile. "Yes, there is more there. In my head, I mean. I think we'll have to talk about it later. Prie Dieu pour l'opportunité.
"Oh! While I have you, I plan to perform this birth as my people do. That means no men. Will your feelings be hurt? Paige has picked some room with a long hall for pacing." She tries not to smile at that last.
"I-" Edan looks about to really protest, but then thinks about it. "No. That is how things are done in the Land of Peace, as well. I can pace and fret until it is done." They get a little more distance to themselves before he adds, "Everything has progressed well, yes? I am... different than all our cousins. It has been my own private worry."
"Oh, Edan. Everything has been absolutely normal, healthy. Perhaps we have a little dancer here, because the kicking... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be away so long. The baby has finally settled, which is how I know it will be soon. There isn't room left for my organs and this child. That's really the worst of it - it can be uncomfortable right now to sleep, to stand, to sit." She squeezes his arm.
"I will need to be out in shadow again before long. We have some logistics to figure out, I'm afraid. Whatever have you been up to? Did you figure out if you're engaged to the lady of the knife?" She asks the last with a teasing tone, but her curiosity isn't hidden.
"I helped my father for a while against the Moonriders," Edan says, "but then I came back to Xanadu. Random asked me to recover some lost Trumps, and when I went out to find them I discovered that they had fallen into the hands of the Klybesian Order-- the same monks that have proved such a nuisance to the rest of the Family. Since it is such an enigmatic group, and since they apparently employ a mercenary army, I had to raise one of my own." Edan gestures at the air. "The Knights of the Lamp. They will serve a protective function here, when it is all over. One might almost think that this was the King's plan all along."
"Likely, they both were. And more beside - that's how rulers think," she claims, like she knows.
He falls silent, and they make it a few more paces before he adds, "As to the other, I've been thinking about that. Outside some comedy involving islands and volcanoes, you would expect both sides of an engagement to have clearly committed to it, and that certainly did not happen. I think more that we have an understanding not to attack one another on sight." Edan smiles. "Or it means she's marked me as target number one, whichever it is. So no, no engagement."
Hannah snorts in disbelief, but holds up her free hand. "I will let your sister be a bad influence on me and call that plausible deniability. Since you're not engaged..." she stops him a minute to lean over and whisper something in Edan's ear.
Somehow, Edan manages not to stumble. "Why...I like that idea. I like it a lot." And if his skin appears redder by the second, that might be from the lighting. "Do you think we will make it to the King's meeting tomorrow?"
Now she's grinning ear to ear. "I suppose we must. It is why everyone got called home. But we could do it now." She's quite serious, but then the grin falls a little. "Although, if you have to fast before your dance, one assumes you mustn't indulge in other hungers either, yes?"
But before Edan can answer, Solange enters the room, looking round and smiling a bit nervously at some of the relatives assembled in the room. Though she's cleaned up as much as Jerod and the rest, she's also clearly come from some sort of field situation: she's wearing trousers and her shirt has some stains on it, and her hair's a bit flyaway. When she locates Gerard, she comes to him at once, nodding apologetically at Raven. "Father," she says, "I've been told my exile is lifted. Is the King here?"
Gerard's voice takes on that loud and booming quality that got him heard over many a storm. "I'm acting as Regent, and in the King's name, I lift your exile, Solange. You are welcome to Xanadu. Be at peace--and get a plate. It's dinner."
Hannah's eyes catch and follow Solange. She sighs after Gerard speaks, with no little relief. Quietly she says, "Now she just needs find a way to make it right with Jerod, and Brennan, and..." Hannah waves her free hand to indicate the room in general. And then her free hand goes to her back, where she rubs. Again, quietly, she says, "If you've got twins on me, Sir Firedancer of the Lamp, I will make you pay." She smiles though.
There is a soft susurrus of parting between the Warden of Broceliande and Princess Flora after the Regent's declaration and Paige turns from the conversation with her aunt, appraises the room and makes a path toward one of the clusters of family. An interesting word, she considers, when one considers that she could likely count just as many family enemies as allies on certain days. The redhead's green dress flutters as she crosses the room and she admonishes herself for such flights of fancy. They weren't truly her enemies, just those of the Crown, but it was like enough the same when you served at His pleasure.
Catching the end of Hannah's comment, she chuckles warmly, a smile in her eyes for her brother as well. "Twins don't run in his side of the family. That was the other," she greets them. Paige leans in for a hug and kiss for each.
"The hard part is over, now that there is no more exile. It will work itself out." Edan definitely had had the look of, 'I do believe my dance can wait for more important things with you', but with the one-two punch of Solange's arrival and Paige's greeting, the look resolves into a wry smile at the chaos fate can bring. "Afterwards?" he asks Hannah before he turns to greet his sister.
Hannah's nose scrunches up. She doesn't like that suggestion at all.
"I told you that you would wow the room. I hope people will pay attention to me when I dance," he says to Paige.
She accepts the flattery, but obviously has no intention of stealing his spotlight.
Hannah lets go of Edan reluctantly and returns Paige's kisses, cheek to cheek. "Yes, you're lovely when you aren't covered in space-engine oil. Are the children here, or are they out in the wood?" Hannah asks. She places a hand on the top of her belly and makes an uncomfortable face. "Can we sit?"
Page's expression suggests it's a question a pregnant woman never need ask a mother. "Of course," she replies. "And perhaps the dancer will be convinced to massage your feet, away from the food of course."
"As to my twins," Paige teases, "They should be in camp, but 'out in the wood' is likely more accurate."
Ossian leaves the bar and joins Hannah, Edan and Paige. He looks slightly confused. "Greetings cousins!" Paige gets a big smile of course, and Hannah too. "...congratulations!.. " Ossian looks at Hannah, then his eyes flicker to Edan for just a short moment and then back to Hannah again.
He offers Edan his hand. "We need to talk, Cousin."
"Of...course. Well met, Cousin," Edan says as they clasp hands. He waves his other hand to include Hannah and Paige, as if to say, 'it's fine to talk here, if you wish'.
Hannah interjects. "Dear Ossian, come and catch up with all us a moment, will you?" She motions to seats. "If I have my way I'll be in labor soon and Edan will have plenty of need for the distraction of talking then," she explains, answering the unspoken question, and also asserting what she considers her privilege here, laying her hand back on Edan's arm. "I just got him back," she grins.
Paige takes no shame in steering Hannah by her other arm and, by connection, Edan to the indicated seats. "Let's allow your daughter the privilege of making her own decisions about timing, yes?" she suggests.
Edan is already smiling, having been wondering whether- and how- Hannah and he would be making announcements about themselves and the baby. It seems that things would be working out well enough.
"I am so incredibly not qualified to argue timing. Perhaps I should get us..." his voice trails off. "Daughter?"
Hannah gives Paige an unamused look. "She's guessing, Edan. She does like to play with you."
Ossian stifles a chuckle and follows the trio to the seats. Not finding a chair nearby, he simply squats in front of them. He smiles. "Insensitive of me", he says "Don't worry, Hannah. It's not that urgent, so I can speak with Edan later. I think my father has already conveyed the main points anyway.
"It's good to see we have not outgrown play," he adds.
"I missed out on decades of sibling rivalry," Paige agrees. "I will take every opportunity I can."
"I probably deserve it anyway," Edan says, "after I sent you that bird of desire that bled all over your party."
She winks at Hannah, commenting nonchalantly, "As to her gender, well, one of us speaks to spirits, the other divines the future. I know where I'd lay my money."
Edan shakes his head and adds, "I refuse to use Sorcery as a tiebreak. The methods would be most uncomfortable."
Edan gets the same look his sister got from Hannah. "No one will be anything-ing about my person at this time, at risk of bodily harm. No divining. No sorcerying. Nothing." She scowls a little, but can't hold it.
Hannah looks to Ossian. "Aside from whatever you and Brennan and Edan, what have you been up to? Any adventures?"
Ossian raises an eyebrow. " I am getting paranoid... I have learned that behind every corner and everything that happens to me, and many others, there's a Klybesian monk." He snorts "So I am starting to try to get even. I and Silhouette found them in Kyril's home shadow, and..." He stops.
Paige scans the immediate surroundings, as obviously Ossian's paranoia is contagious.
Edan, with his typical level of insight says, "...and did something to them?"
Hannah readjusts her weight in the seat and lays her hand on Edan's knee. "Wait, they were in Kyril's home? As in, had been there for some time? What led you and Silhouette there?"
Ossian takes a deep breath and shakes his head "We don’t have proof of them being there. But we reached that place through a tunnel from the Land of Peace. Where they definitely were established." his mouth twitches. "I'm so sorry."
Paige nods in understanding of her cousin's concerns even if she isn't current on the monks and their schemes.
"I...what?" Edan's eyes narrow. "I was just there. Where did you find them?" He can't help but glance in the direction of the room where his dance is being set up.
Hannah looks at Edan with a great deal of concern, surprised, and follows his eyes across the room. She looks back at Ossian. "Maybe you can give us the high points?" Hannah pulls out her medicine bag from inside her tunic and rubs her thumb along its edge.
Ossian frowns. "I could be mistaken. They spoke of a departed Sultan, I thought that was you. Was there an earthquake?"
Paige might not be the artist that Ossian is, but her fingers itch to remove her Trumps from the small gold purse on her wrist. Still she resists and listens further.
Edan sighs and slides the heels of his palms over his eyes. "No," he says after a moment. "I mean, maybe. My home has weight. If you were nearby, you would go there unless you were trying to avoid it. I would be that Sultan. An earthquake, that may well have happened while I was gone." He drops his hands. "The monks would have to be up in the mountains or out in the desert...no, not the desert. I was far away, recruiting in the cities." He looks at Ossian. "I cannot begin to tell you the irony in that."
Hannah's brow is furrowed. She asks Ossian, "So, they are deeply entrenched in the Land of Peace. Did you interact with them there?"
Ossian nods. "We talked, and did some spying. I had to earthquake them to get away.
"We were in a city, the monks were disguised as... monks for the Merciful One and scientists. Invited from the northlands by the Alcalde." Ossian pulls out his sketch book, and draws a quick sketch of the temple.
Paige turns to her brother as the artist sketches. "I'm sure I'm missing something here, Edan. Perhaps I should have been studying holy orders instead of drilling Rangers."
Edan's attention is on the sketch as it appears under Ossian's hands. "In my short experience, I have found nothing holy about the Klybesian Order," he says, almost as an aside.
Ossian nods to this.
He points to the picture. "I know this place. No wonder I didn't hear of it. It is two thousand miles and more from where I called up my knights. Even the fastest train or ship would take a week to deliver news." He drops his hand, says, "This...this goes back to the Black Road War. That temple, its town, was liberated nearly a decade ago. We cleaned it up, restored the mindfulness and worship of the Merciful One...and left. There was so much else to fix, and the hamaaj were still everywhere. I had not been back, even after we broke the hamaaj and sealed the gate."
Edan's voice is monotone, wooden, but pressed next to him Hannah can feel that his muscles are coiled and tense, and his eyes are a bright, molten gold. "So. Let me get this straight. The Klybesians came from the north, took over the temple, suborned the worship away from the Merciful One and to their own ends, and created a nest that included a pathway to Kyril's...Pacifica. They've had up to a decade to spread their influence in my home. Do I have that right?"
Hannah lets go of her pouch and takes Edan's hand instead. She is unhappy to have this confirmed.
Ossian frowns. "The theologians of that place would claim that the Merciful One is still worshipped there. They are a bit more subtle than an obvious take-over. But other than that, you are correct.
"They have brought technology there if I understood correctly, and are quite popular."
Paige notices Hannah's posture and proceeds to start massaging with strong, firm pressure the knot that's apparently forming in the small of her cousin's back.
"It's when they're still subtle that you have to deal with religions," the Warden offers. "If they're confident enough to act overtly, it's likely too late."
Edan thinks a moment or two longer, cooling off as he does, then says, "It's not going to change my timetable. The men still need more training. We still have to work on the same logistics. I thought we would be starting our journey with Abford, but it seems there is a better place to begin." He nods to Ossian. "Thank you, cousin. I can't think of a better motivator than what you have just told me."
Hannah shifts and makes a grateful sound in the back of her throat. A backrub was just what she didn't know she needed.
Seemingly aside from the topic of conversation, Hannah asks, "Is it really true that Huon will be here?"
Ossian shrugs. "I don't know, would spice this up, wouldn't it. If you're going to Abford, Edan, I'll gladly help."
Paige hesitates only a moment in her ministrations to Hannah. "Family is the spice of life," she agrees. "At least he's on the Ordered side of the family."
Edan nods agreement with Ossian. "If we follow the trail there, I will do my best to contact you. I...do not have your Trump, Lilly had it that time."
To the others, he adds, "I saw Huon, when I was in Rebma. He acted...pleasant. I wonder if he was purposefully acting on good behavior."
"I would expect he is perfectly capable to adapting his social behavior to get what he wants," Hannah says dryly. "I'll need to speak with him, if I can manage the opportunity. So, Edan, is your plan right now for all your knights to go from one shadow to another, together, hunting evil monks? What is to stop them from just slipping over to their brothers in another shadow? It seems they have evaded and could keep doing it for a long time."
Ossian grins. "I will try to make at least a sketch for you, Edan. It all depends on how much time we have.
"We should preferably strike in several places at once, I guess." Ossian says. "The trick is to find their leaders. Brother Chew always seem to slip away."
Paige shakes her head. "I've enough in preparing for more Family to visit, and someone's impending child bearing to even consider offering to help," she apologies.
"It's going to be very frustrating at first," Edan agrees. "They obviously have good boltholes, and they will use them. They must have endured periods in their history of being hunted by any number of opponents or rivals. And that does not include whatever internal schisms they have had. But there are places they would be loath to give up. With a mobile army, there have to be places they consider strongholds. Places of research, places sacred to them. Those are the targets that we will seek. We will have to do our due diligence to find them." He smiles then, slightly. "But we have Time and Mind on our side."
This makes Hannah smile too. "Yes." She reaches back to pat Paige's knee and leans on the arm of the couch to push herself up. She sighs happily, and notes, "Just have to stand a minute. So, can someone... I think I'm missing something about...." She shifts her weight from foot to foot, thinking. "You know what, it's too complicated right now, and who knows what all we'll know shortly. It all makes me wonder if I didn't know some of these monks on Makato, but it may be my mother left me as she did to keep my existence from more than family."
Ossian nods. "That is very possible. Given the monks interest in our family, I wouldn't be surprised at all.
"We can surely disrupt their organization by attacking key places, but I still think hitting the key people will do more damage."
Paige doesn't exactly frown, as much as her ever present smile falls from her eyes, if not her lips. "Cutting the head off a dr... serpent is all well and good, but it forces her brood into the shadows.
"Leave them no shadows to run to by bringing the light before taking the head," the Warden agrees with her brother.
"I was thinking of place versus person, too," Edan adds. "Much easier to find a place than hunt a person, and then worry about stopping an escape attempt. Dragging along an army, it's going to be slow and clumsy and I'd rather entice them to come to me, anyway."
"Does anyone know where they keep their lore? Attacking that place, trying to capture a substantial portion of their knowledge or records would get their attention." Hannah shifts her weight again, her hip against the arm of the couch, revealing the bright red-dyed buckskins she has hidden under her full black skirts, and her sky-blue beaded moccasins. And she glances at Edan, with, "Think about getting some medic-knights."
Then she smiles at Ossian. "You have steady hands, Ossian. You'd do well with both cutting and stitching, if you can take the blood - and the smells."
Ossian laughs. "I have no trouble with blood. And I am fairly competent with a needle. Most soliders don't like their scars artsy, though."
Paige's own laughter is light and warm. "You'd be surprised how many soldiers wouldn't mind," she observes. " As long as they live and have something gruesome to show their women."
"As it so happens, Brennan and I have set up an exchange program of sorts," Edan says. "I expect medical training is one thing the Knights of the Ruby can help provide." He leans his head against Hannah's. "But I have been remiss and kept you talking. Let me gather something for you to eat. It is almost time for the dance."
Her expression softens and she grins. "Just fruit, please. And water."
Signy crosses the room over to join her brother.
"Marius. You're looking a bit better then when I last saw you."
Marius has fetched himself a drink and raises it to his sister. "It's good to hear you say that, Signy. How have you fared? I see you've made at least one friend of late."
Signy gives a wan smile. "We both got here around the same time, so it's nice to have someone that's also new to this whole thing to talk to. Plus, she's a craftswoman as well."
She collects a drink from the nearby bar, before turning back to her brother. "I've been spending a while in Aunt Fiona's Shadow, working on a project for Ambrose. Interesting, but so far no real successes and I feel almost like I'm getting introduced to all this," she says as she waves her drink in a vague semicircle, "all over again."
She takes a sip.
"Have you been in Xanadu recuperating?"
"Yes, and dealing with the administrative end of the Order of the Ruby. There's a lot to be done and with the other Commanders absent on the King's business, I'm the one they come to when decisions have to be made. I told Brennan I wanted to be the Order's diplomat. I didn't tell him it was so I could stop dealing with the paperwork." He smiles wryly at Signy.
Signy manages to avoid looking too confused at yet another layer.
"Where would they be posting you?"
She pauses for a moment, before she throws out her follow-up to see if that answers the first question.
"Would the Order be getting involved with the Monks?"
"Probably," Marius says. "They're becoming a larger problem, or at least a many-headed one. How much of our resources will be devoted to them is the question. I understand the Knights of the Lamp, Edan's new order, will be more toward the front than we will."
He starts to say more, but a blonde woman enters the room, looking round and smiling a bit nervously at some of the relatives assembled in the room. She's tall, blonde, and hearty, and though she's cleaned up as much as Jerod and the rest, she's also clearly come from some sort of field situation: she's wearing trousers and her shirt has some stains on it, and her hair's a bit flyaway. When she locates Gerard, she comes to him at once, nodding apologetically at Raven. "Father," she says, "I've been told my exile is lifted. Is the King here?"
Gerard's voice takes on that loud and booming quality that got him heard over many a storm. "I'm acting as Regent, and in the King's name, I lift your exile, Solange. You are welcome to Xanadu. Be at peace--and get a plate. It's dinner."
Signy nods, and allows Marius to set whatever physical direction is appropriate.
"What's your take on Brother Tomat?" The formality of his title feels unfamiliar to her, but provides a little distance.
"I don't know if I can trust him completely," Marius says after a few moments' consideration, "but," and he pokes a finger in Signy's direction, "I think you can. He never deliberately steered me wrong when he was leading me to you, but there was never any question in my mind that it was you he wanted to get to." His smile turns sly. "Do I need to perform a brother's office and discourage him?"
Signy briefly wonders if this is how The Family's rather notorious sibling spats start, with something like this.
"No," she says somewhat more sharply than she had initially intended, before moderating her tone. "He's been his usual self, as much as one can be when your entire world is upended and thrown upside down the way his has."
"But while I understand how others view him with suspicion, I'm worried that I don't view him with enough, and that I'm allowing others to take advantage of him."
"Ah," Marius says, and, his tone has moderated as well; he clearly knows he's made a mistake and is choosing to step around it. "I found him reliable when he was leading me to you, in direct defiance of the Klybesians and whatever oaths he'd taken to them, so I'm willing to speak up in his defense if you feel he's being unfairly criticized. But Signy, the thing about anyone who comes close to being one of our equals--and he's not, entirely, but he comes closer than many--is that they're dangerous. Dangerous to others and dangerous to themselves. We're tougher than anything out there and people who are close to us choose that danger. We can't keep them out of it. So maybe you're letting others take advantage of him, but you can't protect him from the world we live in, any more than you and I could protect ourselves from our father and mother."
Signy inwardly winces. Maybe another drink would help her mood some, or at least numb her a bit for when people poke at that subject.
"I think that the 'criticisms' of Tomat are that he's a Klybesian, and if not actively involved in the plots against us he's part of some subtle plot that he and we don't realize yet."
She sighs, and grabs a whisky from a convenient page wandering by.
[OOC: no pages! Nobody but Pattern initiates in the room, but she can steal Marius'.]
"I'd swear that he is not a knowing agent of theirs, but I don't know how to prove that he's not an unknowing agent, even to myself."
She takes a pull from the glass, emptying half in one go.
"I never knew our mother -- did we need protecting from her as well?"
"Mother was a born schemer," Marius says seriously, but without condemnation. "She had Corwin and Eric wrapped around her fingers from the day she was born and she rarely hesitated to use it. She had a fine mind, and a good sense of the long term and whose motives were negative, or could be. She'd be right in front of the crowd pointing fingers at Tomat if she felt it served her purposes.
"Our grandfather didn't have much use for daughters, so she meant me to be her play for the throne. No offense intended, but I can see how you wouldn't fit into her schemes. I'd never say you were better off without her, but I know where I fit in her plans, and it wasn't as an independent actor. You would have been the same. And I've assumed I would have been the same for our father."
Signy looks surprised. "It seems that neither one of our parents would win any awards?" She frowns, "My sense was that Weyland was never very happy about their parting. I always thought he wasn't happy over losing her, but maybe he just didn't get the best of whatever bargain they struck?"
She pauses, before starting to count out in her head. "It seems like their generation had a habit of raising kids the way that others would raise prized livestock," she notes to him very quietly.
"Oh yes," Marius agrees, "I think that's true of all of them. All of us. Except for the ones that didn't know they had children. Some of those were better off without, even with the hard luck stories. They weren't pawns in the greater war for the throne."
Raven slips back into the room quietly - clean, freshly re-clothed, and feeling about as ready for dinner as she figures she's going to get. She really ought to talk to Marius, too, see about meeting with him later too. But she isn't so sure she wants to deal with "needed sense beaten into him as a child" and "clearly crazy, not sure why we left him unsupervised" on the same day. Or at least within an hour of each other.
Instead, she heads for Gerard, greeting him with a polite, "Sir."
"Captain," Gerard says, and the booming voice is still his even if the frame of his body, especially his lower body and legs, is diminished. "Welcome to Xanadu. Have ye had a bite to eat?" Someone has fetched him a plate already, and he's working his way through it. "Fetch yourself something and then tell me how your journey went. Successful, I hope."
Raven snorts. "I'd say it's ongoing." She grabs a plate and loads it up. "No one's dropped any meteors on anything this time, but I ain't so sure that adding Weyland to a mage fight don't count as one."
"Weyland Smith? Mage fight? Sounds as if you've had quite a time of it." Gerard's smile is encouraging and friendly; that, at least, hasn't changed. "Is your story fit for talk at table? If so, let's hear it. If not, it can wait until tomorrow, unless it can't. And if it can't, tell me so I can just stop eating at the gruesome bits."
"I can skip the gory bits," Raven says, smiling. "Pretty sure they mostly landed on Jerod, anyway. So far's I know, the plan right now is to air the whole thing tomorrow and ask for opinions about the sticky bit we hit, so do you want the whole thing twice or just the exciting parts for now?"
"Start with the highlights and I'll ask about the details as seems needful," Gerard says. "I'll wait until I need to ask Jerod about the bits that landed on him. Not that I think whatever's going on out there--" he gestures in the direction of the private conversation going on outside on the balcony "--is any less grisly from the looks on their faces and the quantity of alcohol Robin just took out there."
Raven looks that way curiously. "I know Jerod and Robin," she says, "but I'm still figuring out who's who half the time. Who are the other two, sir?"
"The redhead," Gerard points at the man he means with his fork, "is Brennan Brandson, Knight Commander of the Ruby. Not a sailing man, so no reason you'd know him. And the dark-haired lad with him is my own son, Vere." His voice picks up a trace of pride as he speaks.
At about that point, a blonde woman enters the room, looking round and smiling a bit nervously at some of the relatives assembled in the room. She's tall, blonde, and hearty, and though she's cleaned up as much as Jerod and the rest, she's also clearly come from some sort of field situation: she's wearing trousers and her shirt has some stains on it, and her hair's a bit flyaway. When she locates Gerard, she comes to him at once, nodding apologetically at Raven. "Father," she says, "I've been told my exile is lifted. Is the King here?"
Gerard's voice takes on that loud and booming quality that got him heard over many a storm. "I'm acting as Regent, and in the King's name, I lift your exile, Solange. You are welcome to Xanadu. Be at peace--and get a plate. It's dinner.
"Solange," he adds, in a more normal voice, "this is Captain Raven, your kinsman. Raven, this is your kinswoman, my daughter, Solange."
Silhouette's sleek, masculine form circles the crowd, heading toward the buffet table. She pauses at Gerard's pronouncement, cocking her head with interest.
She drifts over to the pair, offering them a warm smile. "Regent Gerard," she says, bowing her head. "Thank you for inviting me to this gathering."
Turning to Solange, she extends her hand, "And may I be the first to welcome you home, cousin."
"Guess that makes me second or so," Raven adds. She eyes Silhouette curiously, but doesn't offer further comment for the moment.
Silhouette returns the silent gaze, nodding in welcome.
“Thank you, cousins,” Solange says, and seems about to say more but a slender, hooded figure enters the room looking fresh from the ride. There is a pause at the doorway as she scans the room then promptly makes her way over to Gerard. Once beside the regent, she drops the hood, revealing her long dark hair and almond eye- Lilly. "Uncle," she says with a bow of the head. Her attention turns to those standing in his circle, "Cousins." Lilly does her best to smile politely. "Forgive my interruption. I bring word from my father for the regent. Benedict plans to be here by morning."
Silhouette smiles politely, "Cousin."
"I'd hoped he'd be here tonight, but needs must. Glad to see you, lass, and I hope you've recovered from your injuries." Gerard is too conscious of her dignity to offer her the sort of hug he gave Solange, and in any case she's not one of his nestlings from the relatively long years of the Regency. "I thank you for your news, Lilly."
Realizing he probably ought to make introductions, he adds, pointing at each of the cousins in turn: "And in case you don't know, this is Captain Raven and this is Silhouette. And with that, you and Solange are both free to get dinner."
Raven gives a nod of greeting, but otherwise keeps her mouth shut to let the newcomers get sorted out.
Silhouette’s gaze drifts toward Raven, her forest-dark eyes sparkling with interest. "A naval captain, then? You would not, by chance, have heard word from Vanderyahr? Its ships tend to cross many paths."
"Thank you, uncle," Lilly replies. She gives a slight bow and turns to take her leave of the group.
Silhouette dips her head lightly, then returns her focus to the others. Her tone is quiet, "Forgive my ignorance, but are there specific rules of decorum I must follow tonight? I'm certain one attendee will be paying particular attention to my behavior and I do not wish to risk an... incident."
Gerard shakes his head. "Best stay clear of her, but beyond that I reckon there's nothing to be done. Whatever the truth of the matter, you're proven of the blood and that earns you your place here and on the morrow. But if it'll make you feel better--" and he looks at Solange here.
Solange nods, the trappings of 'the Regent's daughter' falling over her. Any disappointment she might feel about not getting a chance to speak to Kyril immediately is squelched. "I'll come with you to the buffet, cousin. The worst that can happen is she'll talk to me and egregiously ignore you."
Silhouette chuckles, "Oh, I suspect there could be worse fates within her power. But thank you."
She nods to Gerard and heads toward the buffet.
After the balcony is no longer filled so close to capacity, Brennan fills another glass-- Jerod permitting, with whatever 'that' is, instead of Corwin's absinthe.
"It's good to see you again," Brennan says. Then he gestures inside, off the balcony, "More of than I expected, even considering the summons. Word on the street is, banishments and exiles are lifted all around, at least for the next few days. Apparently all of them, including Huey, whom I haven't seen yet."
"Good to see you too." Jerod says, making sure to fill Brennan's glass liberally. It's dark, scotch and smoky, and for the moment it suits Jerod's mood.
It suits Brennan's, too-- he lifts his glass in thanks after he samples it.
"Huon huh? I was wondering what was up when we got the call," Jerod says. "Brita picked it up when we were in pursuit of Dexamene and her Chaosi. They were making a run from Gateway, with us and Weyland in pursuit. She was heading in the direction of the Towers. We managed to bag her before she got there. It was vaguely fun actually. The assault on the castle in Gateway, not so much. Got the second one there but a lot of casualties involved. The Triumvirate weren't interested in worrying about collateral damage."
"I assume Brita gave you the reasons," Brennan says, "or you wouldn't have broken off what you were doing: The King's production of an heir. Edan's new order tonight seems mostly a matter of good timing for him. Whole thing has me wondering if he doesn't have another shoe to drop at the Family meeting tomorrow, though." He shakes his head, to shake it off. "Just a nagging feeling, no real reason for it.
"I'm not well plugged into Gatwegian politics," he continues. "But...Chaosi? That's unexpected. Anyone we know?"
"No one relateable if that's what you mean." Jerod says. "I would guess based on the appearance of them they were more run of the mill but the appearance of Weyland sparks my paranoia. His official reason for being there was vengeance for Marius. A very admirable pursuit I would admit and one that I would have no trouble engaging in. But he seemed very interested in destroying them rather than learning anything about what they were up to.
"Now, he could just be like all the stories that have rippled through Shadow...nut-bar smith whose goods you don't buy unless you're equally as crazy, with the whole Chaos Lord deal thrown in. But part of me wonders if he might not know more than he's letting on.
"And the details for the recall were short and sweet. Though I suspect given what's still in Gateway I'd have to be back at some point. Can't take on a zombie army by myself. I've got an army if I want one, but I have to go and collect it."
"Someone related is mostly what I meant-- Dara, cleph, Madoc, that whole branch of the Family. Could be someone's affines, I suppose," Brennan says.
"As for Weyland, I would assume he always knows more than he says. Always. He can be flattered into interest, but probably not enough to give away what he could make you pay for-- I asked him pretty directly what his relationship to Oberon was, which should hardly be a state secret, and got nothing useful. I don't have quite the negative reaction to him everyone else seems to, but I wouldn't get within fifty yards of trusting him. I can't think of any motive for destruction over capture unless the destruction would have left enough pieces to ask afterward, though."
Then, "Zombie army?"
"Yeah, Dexamene, the leader, got stoned by Weyland. Literally." Jerod says with the straightest face possible, no doubt helped by his drink. "She's still available for questioning with the right methods.
"Second of the Triumvirate got whacked during the battle. Not much left. I'm guessing their tag-alongs didn't worry too much about casualties among the locals cause after the battle was done a really big chunk of the castle was gone.
"The third, is underground. Raising a zombie army. Too much without support apparently. We brought a rather shifting fellow back from there, named Phillipe...who warned us not to take it on without an army. On the surface, it makes sense. He still bears checking out.
"So, it's not done yet. Need to make sure the King knows that. He might think from my appearance that things are hunky-dory. Not by a long shot."
"I would think we have enough talent in-house to get some answers out of Dexamene," Brennan says. "Stone or not. Nothing about a zombie army sounds good to me, especially not coming from the same crew that did what they did to Marius.
"And I personally wouldn't take anyone's presence to mean that anything is fine. Even before this business Vere brought up, I've had a bad feeling about this whole event." Then he changes direction, somewhat abruptly. "What would you say if I told you I've got reason to believe Montage is alive?"
"I'd says that Martin got sloppy." Jerod replies. "That's not like him. What makes you say that? And does it involve my oh-so-favorite grandmother?"
"It's not like him at all," Brennan says, "which is one of several reasons I'd hoped to talk to him. And yes, it does relate to Moire, and Avalon, and Rebma. I'm convinced she's in or meddling in Avalon as we speak. How much detail do you want?"
"All of it." Jerod says. "Or rather, as much as can be done by the time this is finished." and he points at the bottle.
"She's meddling in Avalon and Benedict hasn't handed her ass to her yet? Grandmama is getting more impressive the longer I'm away from her. What are you seeing?"
"It started with a set of suppositions: That the Faiella-Bionin is a circluar road, which I think we all suspected after the last great Family Meeting. That if so, Moire knew. That Moire, being limited in mobility, would seek to use it. Well, it is a circular road and it does run from Rebma to Avalon: Fletcher and I found the road with a bit of help from Conner, and went there. I presented my concerns to Benedict, that Moire might seek to lead an invasion from Avalon. He admitted it was possible, but had no conclusive evidence, yet. I won't recount the whole conversation, but I now know Moire definitely knew about it and could use it.
"Benedict faces a war back in Avalon, but that is absolutely unsurprising. It is the nature of the place. He did, however, ask me to undertake some scouting tasks for him in that vein, with a wide degree of latitude. I chose to follow up the one I thought had the greatest possibility of indirectly serving Moire's purpose-- leaving the Avalonian gate to Rebma undefended." Here Brennan can give military details as though he can still see the sand table in front of him, but does not unless asked.
"I got lucky. Fast forward some months to breaking a siege against one of Benedict's allies at a place called Monparnasse. It was a near thing-- betrayed from within, attacked by corsairs, who were led or assisted by a hedge wizard of some competence. It became very obvious that the wizard-- Cameleopardis-- had his mind tampered with. After his capture, he was very cooperative, but could not remember certain things she should have been able to. He consented to have the spells that bound him broken, and it turns out he had been manipulated by Moire. Unfortunately, the process also killed him." Brennan says that last a little too quickly-- it's obvious it bothers him.
"The captain of the corsairs was similar, I think. By the terms of their defeat, we had to let him go, so we left the spells intact, but he spoke with eerie devotion of an Admiral and his mother. The last piece comes with the inside betrayal I mentioned, a man named Cledwin. He fled during the siege, but afterward I tracked him down and he also had the same signs of memory tampering to hide someone's identity. I took him to Cameleopardis' people, who partly broke the enchantment. He could not remember the woman's face, but he was able to sketch this mysterious Admiral's face: That, as I'm sure you've foreseen, is Montage. Or a close but older relation."
Brennan hands Jerod the sketch of Montage that Cledwin made.
"See what I mean? It could be his father, or it could be him after years in a fast Shadow. Now, there is a lot that I left out of that story for brevity, much of it about Cameleopardis. But that covers up to the point where I'm convinced Montage or someone who looks just like him is screwing around in Avalon with the end goal of leading an invasion into Rebma."
Jerod is silent throughout, absorbing and nodding at intervals, but beyond that, he is simply processing information. He takes the proffered sketch and looks at it for a long moment.
"Anyone know where his sister is?" he asks finally.
"Held in Paris, as far as I know," Brennan says.
Jerod is quiet for a moment, sifting information. "Bend and Montage were Moire's fixers." he says. "If Montage is still around, she'd have an idea as to why. She'd also likely know if there was someone who looked like him, barring a Shadow of course. A distant relative, a close copy.
"Might be advised to speak to Corwin on that front."
"Or Flora, through Corwin," Brennan says. "If I were Bend, I'd be far more worried about Flora than Corwin. But that was my question, and you've answered it-- do you know of anyone that would bear this sort of resemblance to him. Assume I'll ask and warn Martin, too, if he attends."
Celina makes a graceful and very slow dance over to Conner where she smiles at him, motions with her own small plate of topside foods, "Hello, cavalier. Is company all right?"
Conner looks up from his dinner plate and smiles warmly. He rises and gestures at the seats around. "By all means, cousins. Please join me. How have you fared since I have seen you all?" Conner settles back down into his seat after Celina has chosen hers. Even en familie some habits die hard.
Celina takes a seat as if floating down into it. "I am in fine fettle, now that I get to see so many friendly faces. Merlin and Fletcher are just back from shadow adventures, so I suppose they should speak of their successes," Celina offers. "We were just talking about travel and working in pairs, per suggestion of the King." Celina gives an inclusive gesture to Fletcher and Merlin.
"I was about to tell Fletcher that my father told me that Random wanted us to travel in pairs since Reid's death," Merlin explains. "Or perhaps that only applies to the youngest, such as myself."
"Well," Fletcher adds. "I've been out on reconnaissance for a few months (confirming where our enemies aren't) so I might have missed that particular travel advisory. Have things gotten even more dangerous since I last headed out?" He looks around at the group.
"Well in the wake of both Marius and Reid being overwhelmed while traveling alone, I can see the prudence of that measure." Conner replies. "Stretched as thin as we are though, I suspect the directive is more of a loose guideline at this point. As far as your query about things getting more dangerous, I don't believe there has been a major shift but we haven't all shared our news yet either."
Celina only shakes her head 'no' to show that she doesn't have a more dangerous story to add.
Fletcher glances around at the room full of family members. "What happened to Reid? I don't know that we're all that short-handed but we're probably scattered and off-guard. I guess that's why we've been called here to regroup."
Conner is both older and knew Reid better, but in case he would hesitate due to Celina's position, she does give him a sad nod of permission to lay out the facts.
Following Celina's lead, Merlin waits for Conner to speak.
"I have the story third hand so I apologize for the lack of details." Conner replies. "For the full story I would ask Ossian. The part of it that I know is that Ossian visited a stronghold of the Klybesian Order and discovered they held Reid's body. After reporting this to King Random, Ossian was sent out again with others to retrieve Reid's body and make sure the Order had a clear understanding that we were off limits to them alive or dead."
Fletcher shifts, standing just a little bit straighter. He sets his empty glass down on a nearby table without turning away from his companions. "How did they account for Reid being dead?"
Celina watches Fletcher carefully now, learning and considering his control of reactions.
Merlin speaks up; this is something he actually appears to know about.
"The story I had from my father, who had it from Ossian, was that someone had murdered Reid. There's a woman still in the custody of the Klybesians named--" he hesitates "--Papillon, I think, who was a friend of Reid's and may know more of his death. My father questioned when I spoke to him whether it was Reid they'd killed, or merely a shadow of Reid, but that seems more certainly settled now."
Fletcher thinks for a moment, and then speaks, "I take it this must have been before other Klybesian activities were known. Is this Papillon being held prisoner by the Klybesians? Why didn't she accompany Ossian and... Reid?"
“I do not know," says Merlin. “But that is Ossian there--" he indicates the curly-haired fellow sitting with Edan and Paige and a very pregnant Hannah, "--and I am sure he will have much to tell us tomorrow. If you cannot wait, though, you should ask him tonight."
Celina looks relieved, "Tomorrow is probably better. I find Ossian open in conversation. What I know is that Ossian and Jerod made a strong effort. If the Klybesians still have this companion of Reid's, it's not because no one cared that she was held. I am curious to hear an answer myself."
Fletcher nods. "I suppose I can wait rather than pester him. Jerod was there too? I met him once when I was in Paris. He seemed sharp and suspicious enough for a job like that. I suppose you both know him better than I do. The family must be pretty nomadic with multiple courts. I gather I'm supposed to consider Avalon my home base, but it's been a while since I really established a residence."
"It's more difficult, I think, when your father is king. Or your mother is Queen, or both," Merlin says, looking at Celina.
Celina nods at Merlin. "I understand it is difficult from both sides of the relationship." Then she looks purposefully at Fletcher, "You may visit Rebma and find it unchanged from what you remember. That may be a comfort."
"All of the realms are welcoming of any that choose to settle there and bring their talents to bear." Conner observes. "Some have defaulted to Xanadu if they have picked a place at all. Most seem content to visit the realms as needed rather than putting down roots. Notably, Aunt Flora has chosen Paris as her home and brought Lucas's family with her. Equally notable has been Folly, Martin and their little one staying away from them all."
Fletcher smiles and nods, receptive to the spirit of Celina's invitation. "I didn't mean to imply that family members weren't welcome in each Court Conner, just sometimes it's nice to have a place to keep a spare change of clothes and a bed of one's own. It also makes coordination and just catching up more difficult, short of occasions like this." He gestures about the room. "I know many people have trumps of course but it seems like a lot of effort to arrange. I've been thinking of engaging a social secretary and possibly a valet to handle correspondence and keep things ready for me while I'm traveling all over. Is there much non-royal communication between the realms yet?"
"Alas, I would say not," Celina offers, "as things are still not steady since the battles and contests. There are indications that Avalon and Rebma are involved in tests by outside forces. Paris has not been completely quiet. Xanadu... I have not had recent news about the Forest outlying."
"I'd only heard vague allusions to problems in the forest during my short time here in Xanadu previously. Is that more dragon stuff? I didn't know Paris had had any excitement at all, other than something about an unknown airship arriving or something."
Celina discusses the Daughters of the Dragons, suggests an update from Paige would be likely tomorrow for everyone. Wonders how successful the work on the codewheels might be and explains how they could be useful for 'Brand related' studies, if Fletcher has not heard of the arcane devices. She also takes Fletcher into her confidence about the missing Jewel of Rebma, and that Moire is likely the Thief of same.
As Silhouette and Solange cross the floor heading for the buffet, a shrill raptor's cry of joy breaks across the room. Following quickly (very quickly) behind it is a flurry of Robin, firelizards and Vere.
Vere is with her, arm linked in hers and a small smile on his face.
Robin's hair is neatly tucked up under a dark green button hat. The beads and feathers of Robin's usual rats-nest styling are now arranged in artful falls at the back of her head. Her face is clean and sparkling, no make-up is required to augment her already rosy cheeks and bright smile.
A soft suede vest in complementary Kelly green cradles Robin's... errr, endowments without trapping her or cutting off her breath. A plain but well-made peasant blouse with a higher collar picked out in green embroidery keeps everything civilized. Cocoa trousers, also of soft suede, hug the girl's waist before dropping straight to the floor. The toes of serviceable but clean boots peek out from under the trousers' hem.
An ornately brocaded belt wraps Robin's waist holding a matching sheath at her hip. It's a small knife, really. Only 8" or so.
Robin's eyes are lit with happiness as she pounces upon her sister with a big hug. While the Ranger is no Brita, she's certainly enthusiastic enough. Little chirrups of happiness escape her as she clasps Solange to her.
Vere is simply dressed for a court function. He wears black trousers tucked in to knee high leather boots, a white shirt with a small bit of lace at neck and cuffs under a bluish grey vest and an open tunic of a darker blue, trimmed in Celtic knotwork. He smiles more broadly as Robin hugs Solange.
A bemused expression crosses Silhouette's features. Caught off guard by shriek and flurry of activity, she steps back - only to quickly recognize the Desultory Dame of Dragons. The confusion immediately transforms to affection, her rose petal lips curling up with uncommon warmth.
Having abandoned traditional dresses, she rather striking in her ash-grey, pinstriped suit and crisp, black trousers. The stark-white blouse makes her checkered tie stand out sharply, its silk length perfectly knotted. Despite its masculine appearance, she seems perfectly at ease with the outfit.
After quickly adjusting her lapel, turning her attention to Vere.
She extends her hand, "You are Vere, yes? I am Silhouette. A pleasure to finally meet the man who makes Robin's cheeks burn so brightly."
Vere takes Silhouette's hand with a small smile. "And it is my pleasure to meet you, as well. Robin speaks most eloquently of you."
Silhouette blinks at this, "I... truly?" She glances over at the reunited sisters. The smile quirks with mischief, "Considering the events of our girl's night out, I am most relieved to hear that."
Relinquishing Robin, Solange steps back to look at her sister at arm's length. "It's so good to see you, sister." Her grin is big enough to split her face. "And you, too, brother," she adds to Vere, opening her arms to offer him room to join them in a group hug.
Vere steps forward into the hug and murmurs quietly, "It is very good indeed to see you here, Sister."
Silhouette folds her hands in front of her, watching the embrace in courteous silence.
"Ooooo, so happy you're back. And so proud of you! For things I won't go into in public. I can't stay long. Got to do things. Hi, Silhouette. Missed you too. Worried about you rusting in Rebma. Can the Queen build you a blast furnace or somthing...?" Robin's words are a jumbled rush as her thought birds flutter around.
Silhouette bows her head, chuckling. "I believe she's located a volcanic vent where I might reside and remain suitably warm." She grins, "You must come visit me someday. I'm certain we can enjoy another night out. With fewer injuries this time, mayhaps."
Disengaging from the hug Vere lifts an eyebrow slightly. "I believe the terms 'enjoyable' and 'injuries' are not mutually exclusive where my beloved is concerned."
Solange snickers. "I need to get Silhouette situated and protect her from--" she tilts her head in the direction of Florimel, who's talking to Julian. "And then I need to find Kyril. But we'll catch up in a bit, yes? The two of us and Hannah?" she says to Robin.
Silhouette chuckles softly, "Yes, she is being most generous." She follows Solange's gaze; the smile cracking with a hint of sadness, "She is most brave to do so," she adds.
Robin wrinkles her nose at Vere as her eyes twinkle. "If one isn't risking injury than one is 'enjoying' hard enough..." she mutters to herself.
"Though I am sorry you got hurt, Silhouette." Robin cocks her head, "On the third hand, we were 'bonding through violence' as you yourself described it. Oh, anyway..." Robin shakes her head to get her thoughts all flying in one direction.
Silhouette shook her head, smiling. "The fault was mine. Although, I did find the encounter most exhilarating. If somewhat unladylike." She brushes a strand of hair back, "I would suggest we have another lady's night out, but I wonder if the city could survive it."
"Yes," Robin says firmly to Solange, "You, me and Hannah -- together." Robin grins again at that thought.
Vere's eyes follow Solange's head tilt and he nods slightly in acknowledgement. "Difficult emotion," he murmurs quietly. Then he throws that thought off with a brief shake of his head and smiles again. "Take the time to speak with Hannah tonight," he advises, "For who knows where the King shall send us on the morrow."
"As soon as I get Silhouette here safely fed, I'll go on over. Because from the look of her, she's not coming to me." A shadow crosses Solange's face for a moment, but she's really too happy to let whatever's bothering her hold her attention. She squeezes Vere's hand and Robin's. "I'll see if Kyril and I can sit with you at this thing after dinner."
"If I'm around, definitely. Must run. Love you both." Another hug for Solange and a twinkle/grin for Silhouette and Robin disengages.
Vere gives Solange a smile and says, "Let us hope we have a chance to speak before the King sends us to our scattered duties." He nods to Silhouette. "And I hope we shall have a chance to speak together, as well."
Silhouette bows her head, "As do I, cousin. Until next we meet."
When they've departed, she turns to Solange, "How long has it been since you've seen them?"
Solange shrugs. "Some months. Maybe somewhere between six and a year as I'd count time. Dad told me years ago that I'd start losing track when I wasn't spending all my time in Lauderdale and Amber. Turns out he was right about that, at least. How long has it been for you?"
Silhouette smiles faintly, lightly brushing the side of her hair. "A lifetime," she admits. "Indeed, I only recently came to this place. My mother believed me dead as a child. She still does, in fact. If not for my unglamorous association with Uncle Huon, I would not have known of the Family, at all."
Solange's expression could best be described as phlegmatic. "We all end up with family of one sort or another--Amber family, or I guess Xanadu family these days--in the end. There's a theory that says we're like metal balls on a sheet held tense in the air: when one of us lands somewhere in Shadow, the weight of one draws others to the same place. Or maybe it's a form of magnetism. Anyhow, if it hadn't been him, it would have been someone, and maybe it was and we all didn't know it at the time. I was lucky: Dad took me on early because my mother asked him to, so I was raised knowing. Same for Robin, except Julian adopted her. Hannah's our sister, but she was left with her father, and she was lost after our mother died. We didn't even know about her. But here she is anyway, just like you."
Silhouette gives a faint nod, “That explains much. I was confused as to the lineage between you three.” A pause. “I suppose it was inevitable someone encounter me in Shadow. Although, I do wish it had been on more pleasant terms. But, Enlightenment always requires Cost.”
As they reach the table, she allows Solange the benefit of going first. “May I ask what you shall do now? Serve the Family, be it Xanadu or Rebma? Or pursue your own goals?”
Taking up a plate and beginning to fill it with a variety of Amber foods--heavy on the meat and starch, but at least allowing for vegetables--Solange takes a moment to reply. "I think that depends on what we hear. It's an all-hands, which means something's either really good--maybe the baby--or something's really not good. And if it's something really not good, then all hands will be needed.
"For me, personally, Jerod and Brennan are still angry with me, and I'll probably need to resolve that, or someone will. I'm sorry what I did didn't work, and I'm really sorry I hurt them and got Kyril in trouble, but I still think I had the right idea."
Silhouette gives a faint chuckle, "Then you and I are sisters, in a fashion. They are quite angry at me, as well. I doubt my closeness with Ossian will help matters." She takes her time adding food to her plate, identifying each item as she goes along - picking out the spiciest dishes.
She cocks her head, "Forgive my ignorance, but what is it you did? One should not be punished for testing a hypothesis. Such action is at the very core of Enlightenment."
"You haven't heard the hypothesis yet," Solange says, sounding not a bit sorry. She looks around as if checking for an audience, and seems satisfied enough with whom she sees to tell the story. "When our cousin Cambina--Jerod's sister, and Brennan's consort--died, under mysterious circumstances, and Queen Vialle disappeared, I suggested my brother use his talent for speaking with the dead to find out anything we could from Cambina. It's not a joke; Vere can really do it. Sometimes. I was forbidden to try it, and Kyril--he's not family, but a friend of mine from the shadow where I was living--helped me borrow Cambina's body and get it to Vere. Nothing came of it, and I was caught, and Kyril was put in prison and I was exiled. Vere apologized for his part in it, and nobody seems to be angry with him any more." She rolls her eyes a little. "Typical. Not that I blame Vere, but it's easy in this family to see that we women have a harder row to hoe than the men."
Silhouette nods lightly throughout the admission, her face a stoic mask. At the last point, she smiles. Her voice remains low, "Indeed. We are expected to remain in the shadows, and leave this world to the wisdom of men. And our supposed sins are more difficult to atone for." Her plate loaded, she gestures toward a quiet island in the sea of activity.
"My knowledge of necromancy and spiritualism are somewhat limited. I dabbled once, as corpses could serve as potential weapons platforms," she explains. "Some of the literature suggested the body retains residual energies, including the last moments of one's death. An image imprinted on the eye, for example. The literature also suggested this information could be extracted, through various means.
"As such, I see no reason why information of this nature should be ignored, particularly if it provides Enlightenment with regard to a murder. Their rough treatment of you is quite unfair and, frankly, shortsighted."
"I should have handled it better. I just ran out of patience for explaining things five different ways to Uncle Corwin--" she gestures at him on the far end of the table from where they are at the buffet "--in order to find the one that stroked his ego the most. We had a limited window to act in, and Dad was against it, and I did it anyway." By the time she finishes speaking, Solange's plate is loaded and she's ready to move on and sit down at the table, which is slowly filling with family diners.
Silhouette follows, "Our elders are somewhat glacial when proceeding along unfamiliar lines of thought and action. I can understand your frustration and desire to move forward with your experiment." She nods, "It may not mean much, but I believe you did the right thing."
"Thanks. I appreciate it." Solange flashes a genuine smile at Silhouette. "Can I get you settled and then run over to see Hannah? I didn't realize she was so far along."
Silhouette nods, returning the smile. "Of course. If and when you need an... open-mind, do come to me and I will be of service."
Upon taking her leave from Gerard Lilly takes a moment to assess the room. The mix of familiar faces feels like home. She missed her cousins.
Spotting Corwin, she remembers the parting conversation with her father. Pass Benedict's regards to Corwin, she reminds herself. Gauge his demeanor. Then there will be time for socializing.
She fixes a plate of food and heads straight for Corwin. "Excuse me Uncle. I wanted to let you know that my father sends his regards. As I have passed on to Gerard, Benedict expects to be here by morning. He had some personal business to attend to and sent me ahead."
Corwin is holding down the end of the table furtherest from Gerard. He politely comes to his feet when Lilly joins him, and helps her into her chair, which is mostly for show. "Lilly. Welcome, and thank you. I'm glad that Benedict will be joining us. How have you been? You've completely recovered from the injuries you took on the journey from Uxmal, I hope."
Lilly nods. "Yes, the time away allowed me to concentrate on healing. It was very beneficial. Of course being away also means I am not as prepared for tomorrow as I would like." The girl shrugs as she takes a small bite of her meal. "I always assume family meetings will have quite the mixture of topics. The question is how the mix balance between good and ill."
"I think Random and Vialle are bringing the good news," Corwin replies. "That means the rest of us are meant to bring the less good. Though I think we have some positive developments, at least. Paris is well and happy, and Rebma seems to be doing well under Celina. And it looks like Jerod and Raven and Brita had a success in Gateway.
"We're still shaking out after Dad's death. It's no surprise people are testing us. We're strong enough to answer whoever challenges us, though."
Lilly takes a moment to process Corwin's words. "United we are strong," she agrees. "And our numbers continue to grow. Though my father still seems uncomfortable with the idea of new offspring. Or perhaps he is just opposed to the idea of me having a suitor. It can be hard to tell."
Corwin's face is always difficult for Lily to read but he seems more inscrutable than usual at the moment. "I imagine it's a little of both. But fathers are always protective of their little girls. No man is ever good enough for them." His glance lands on Celina, who is sitting with Merlin, Conner, and Fletcher. "Have you had a chance to speak with your brother yet, or will that wait until later?"
Lilly shakes her head. "I've only just returned." Her gaze shifts to Fletcher and she studies him for a moment. "We will speak when the time is right. He seems caught up in his current conversation."
"There'll be plenty of time. And plenty of reunions." Corwin glances at Solange and Robin and Vere, all engaging in a group hug. "Although most of them may be a little more decorous than others.
"I'm glad your father will be here to take counsel with tomorrow. I think we're going to need his wisdom and experience more than usual."
This time Lilly leads with a nod. "Agreed," she states simply her eyes taking in the spectacle of the reunion. Time for a new line of questions, she decides. "Is Prince Garrett in town? I see that he is absent from dinner."
"He was here earlier, talking to Hannah and Edan." Corwin glances around for Garrett and comes up empty. "Looks like he stepped out. I'm sure he'll be back soon. Maybe someone coming in Trumped him. His father's supposed to be coming back tonight. Martin's not here either, and I haven't seen him, so he'd probably be the first choice after Gerard. Has your father heard from Martin recently, do you know?"
"No," Lilly answers immediately. "Not that I am aware of. We had heard very little from Family." She thinks about it for another moment and then shrugs. "Though I suppose it was possible. There were times when my father kept watch as I rested. I find it hard to believe that Benedict tells me everything. I don't believe that he tells anyone everything. I am certain that secrecy is indeed a family trait." A smile appears as she finishes her statement.
"I was just wondering whether anyone knew whether Martin was arriving tonight or tomorrow. Merlin hasn't heard from him in a while; he's worried. And it would be bad for Martin to miss this one. And I think we all mislike anyone being missing since what happened to Reid." Corwin makes an effort to brighten. "But you're probably right and whoever knows where he is, whether it's your father or someone else, is just keeping it quiet for now."
"I know very little about the details regarding Reid," Lilly admits. " Are the details known or our we still investigating?" Her voice holds genuine concern as she asks.
"We know what the Klybesians said but we don't know how much of it is a lie," Corwin explains. "They claim someone else did him in and Random says his body has been returned for burial. I'm hoping that someone will have more details tomorrow. That seems to be the answer to everything this evening, I'm afraid: hope someone already knows and will tell the rest of us tomorrow."
Lilly swallows hard and gives a small nod. "I'm afraid I do not bring much information. I am curious as to what has been happening with the rest of the family. I feel a bit out of touch." She takes a bite of her meal. "How are things on your home front? Nothing tragic there, I hope?"
Talking about Paris is enough to make Corwin smile. "Everything is going well. The city's growing and there are paths developing between Le Havre--the port of Paris--and various shadows. People are coming, not just refugees from the war, but those looking for a better life and drawn by what Paris provides. Just, I think, as is happening in Xanadu. It's bigger than you probably remember it, if you haven't been down to the city to visit it recently. You may be surprised by what, or how many people, you see at Edan's proceedings tonight."
"It is good to hear some positives," Lilly returns the smile. "I am anxious to reacquaint myself with Xanadu. And I would also like to visit Paris some day, with your permission, of course."
"You're welcome in Paris, of course, at any time you wish to visit. There are rooms set aside in the Louvre for family visitors. I assume you mean to use Avalon as your home base?" Corwin asks, all courteous interest.
The girl shrugs. "Perhaps. Honestly, I have not stayed still long enough since coming into my own to really feel at home anywhere. But you are right, I should probably at least choose a home base."
"I'd say 'you'll figure it out, as we did', but it was a little different for us. Although Deidre and Flora used Rebma as home base at times, even when there wasn't a war on--but I think that was a little different," Corwin admits. "But I think you'll find a place that suits your needs and talents; I just would expect that to be Avalon over Paris."
While Brita is at the buffet preparing her plate, Ambrose joins her. "Hello, Brita." He reaches past her, not rudely, but practically, to put some fruit on her plate. "I see you've returned from the field. Shall we sit together and speak of our exploits? I'm sure yours are more exciting than mine."
He's dressed in a linen shirt and khaki-colored pants; the same sorts of things he wore in Uxmal. It suits the climate of Xanadu, and probably will moreso in high summer.
Brita's plate is full of various meats and cheeses as well as a few root vegetables, but she accepts the fruit. "It was Fun. I Started with Uncle-Kin Weyland, which Provided some Sport of Deception. Then we Added Cousin Jerod and Cousin-Captain Raven. Captain Raven is a Great Companion for Fun Adventures although a bit Regimented at Times - must come from being In the Navy. We Freed an Emuraptor - a Battle Bird - that Turned Out to be a Young Seer, the One that Returned with Us. Cousin Jerod Brought Weir to the Fun. They Helped Track and Attack an Icy Mage and then a Fiery Mage, both of Gateway. We Stoned the First and Buried the Second. There is a Third, apparently Building an Army of Dead, that we had to Leave her Behind to Join This Fun." Brita pauses for a bite of cheese. "How about You?"
"I've been working with Signy and your mother to teach Signy Uxmali and help her create new code wheels to replace the ones that are slowly dying. In the rest of my time, I've been polishing the translations I have so far so that they make more sense in Thari. Nothing nearly so exciting as you, sounds like.
"Weyland is Signy's father, isn't he? Who taught her the power of making?"
"Yes, I Believe So," Brita says although her attention is focused on the systematically devouring the meats on her plate. She does take a bite of the fruit when she notices Ambrose looking at her plate. "He seems ... like a Mix of Uncle Random and Uncle Bleys." She cocks her head to the side as she thinks for a minute, "Maybe with just a Touch of Uncle Corwin thrown in."
"No wonder nobody wants to get him to make anything. Between that and the prices he charges, Weyland sounds terrifying." But Ambrose sounds halfway amused at the idea. "You make him sound a bit like my father, only maybe he spends more time brooding and less time manic. Did he offer to make you anything?"
"No," Brita states flatly. "But My Brother would Probably Reach Through Time and Space to Stab Our Uncle-Kin if He Offered. I Never met Your Father." She thinks for a bit. "Smith Weyland seems More Lone Wolf than Rabid Dingo."
"So did my father, right up until he didn't," Ambrose replies, his expression gone wry. "But," he adds, more seriously, "Conner's probably right. The legends around him are frightening. I asked Signy to help me with the code wheels but now I wonder whether her father had a hand in making them. I think the enchantments are unique to Uxmal, though."
"Did you learn anything from them, yet?" Brita asks in between bites.
"I spent most of my time with your mother teaching Signy enough Uxmali to make it possible for her to work on the code wheel project. I've done some glyph retranslation of some of the things I've already translated but nothing significant has revealed itself. I think the answers about my father lie in Tir, and since Cambina's death, it is forbidden to us," Ambrose explains.
"Hopefully the Second Set of Eyes will Help You until Tir-na Nog'th is Reopened," Brita notes. "Is there Anything I can Do to Help?"
"I don't know, and I won't, I suppose, until tomorrow. I mean to ask to be permitted to go to Tir, with a spotter, of course. Maybe you could come with me. Or perhaps if you're sent somewhere, I'll go with you." Ambrose smiles at Brita. "Or both."
Brita's return smile is warm with affection. "Or Both," she agrees. "I Would be Interested in Seeing what Scents Linger in the Sky City. I Wonder if we could have a Valkyrie Spotter -- their Aerial Equine Acrobatics are Unparalleled."
"That would be useful, if nothing else as a backup. Do you know how to get hold of any Valkyries in the near term?" Ambrose asks, and it's clearly not a matter of academic interest.
"Well..." Brita seems a little sheepish. "I Did make a Sketch of My New Home Asgard before I Left My Da. Just In Case."
"If there are any Valkyries left after the end of things, we'll have to find them, sooner or later," Ambrose says, sounding pleased. "And we'll have to hope they still have winged horses, or find one for whoever we find to ride. Someone will know where to get those. Our uncle Julian, if half the legends are true about him. Who knows--he might even have some himself."
Raven waits until the others have departed before she says wryly, "Keep forgetting how many folks I haven't met yet. You know Jerod and I were sent to Gateway, sir?"
Gerard nods. "Aye, to make clear the Royal Displeasure that the current rulers are under because they cooperated with Huon. Jerod hasn't reported a failure so I assume it mostly went well. And you seem to have found Brita and brought her home as well."
Raven nods. "We ran into Brita and Weyland when we got there. They were traveling together, and I gather he was planning to explain to those in power in Gateway that he wasn't too happy about what they did with Marius. So we joined forces. Brita and I picked up the kid that came in with us while we were still getting things going, and he knew the mage Harper - and honestly, sir, it's turned into us helping remove the three that were in charge so the old guard can take back over at this point." She pauses, then continues wryly, "Kinda loudly, messily helping. Dexamene's a statue after we chased her and some Chaos beast around, and one of the others was standing on a building that got blown up pretty handily by Weyland, so she's out of play. Third one's got some kind of army of the dead, and that's the one we still need to deal with. Kid came to us as we were getting ready to do that. Said he could see the future and that we needed more of a real army than the Weir or the dead'd be threatening Xanadu and Rebma next. Not sure how much any one of us believes him, but it can't just be ignored, so Jerod said it was time to ask for advice, and here we are."
"It's a good thing Edan's been raising an army, then," is the first thing out of Gerard's mouth. "And there's always Bleys to summon an army or three from Shadow. I'm glad you brought him back; sounds as if we'll have to question him before or after the family meeting, or during. As for Gateway, I'd rather have Harper and her lot in charge than the ones that helped Huon attack Marius. If you don't know all that story, I can tell you, but it's a bit stomach-churning and it'll wait until after dinner."
Raven snorts. "Considering how he looked when I ran across him, can't say I'm surprised it's an ugly story," she says dryly. "I don't think I've got the whole of it, and I'd like to. Can't help but wonder if some of it might explain why the Vale ran across a tidal wave full of bodies right before we finally found Gateway and Marius." She pauses, scowling briefly. "And I wish I hadn't thought about how those may be in that army of the dead by now. Thing is, sir - I know just enough about Weyland right now that I've got to ask... I know we couldn't shift him easily if he didn't want to go, but is it safe to have left him with only the Gateway mages to keep an eye on him?"
Gerard makes a face at the mention of a tidal wave of bodies, but doesn't comment on it, and again at the mention of Marius' fate. But it's Weyland that really seems to trouble him. He takes three bites from his plate while thinking of an answer, visibly. "I don't know that it's safe to leave Weyland alone without a relative or three to keep him in line. But the truth is I'm not sure the lot of you could keep him in line anyroad. So you've done what you can, and if he wants vengeance for Marius, it's not on you and Jerod and Brita that you couldn't keep him from taking it.
Raven nods at that.
"As for Marius--do you know what happened to Martin during the war?"
Gerard’s expression shifts for a moment and he tightens and winces, as if in pain.
After a moment's hesitation for an internal battle between 'should I ask if he's ok' and 'clearly not ok, in a chair, maybe this is normal-ish', Raven takes a quick bite of her food and shakes her head. "Starting to wonder if I should take bets on what happens first, sir," she says dryly. "If I catch up on what everybody else seems to know, or if I run out of ways to say no to questions like that. Anything I can get you?"
Gerard thinks about that question slowly and looks round at the group with Edan and Paige and Hannah and Ossian. Then there's another wince and Gerard visibly grits his teeth for a brief time, but it passes and his attention turns back to Raven. "No, lad, but thank you for offering.
"Anyroad, Martin. Was one of the few of your generation whom all my brothers and sisters knew about, and because his father didn't care much for him--changed now, obviously--he was a target." Gerard lowers his voice. "My brother Brand worked out that he could erase the Pattern using family blood, and he chose Martin because he didn't think anyone would come looking for him. Huon was involved more or less with a similar kind of thing where Marius is concerned. Brand is dead; Huon is alive but under royal disfavor. And you can see why."
Raven frowns. "Aye, but - " she starts, and then pauses. "Seems like two different punishments for the same thing, sir."
"Huon took amnesty from Random. I'm told by those who were there--I wasn't a witness--that Brand didn't when he lost his battle with the rest of the family, despite Random begging him to. Maybe it's Brand's example that led Huon to take it.
"I still think he'll go after Bleys in the end, even though Bleys was just doing what Dad told him when he took Huon into exile." Gerard sounds resigned about that. Whatever was troubling Gerard before, he seems to have recovered somewhat from it.
That makes sense to Raven, so she nods again. "If you don't mind, sir - what's been going on here? Besides why we're all gathering, I mean."
"Not so much," he says. "Lots of building and expanding in the city, trade ships coming in that would have gone to Amber. Random's been busy with that. The two knightly orders, Ruby and Lamp, have been preparing for war, though. Low-key, but that's what they're doing. I don't know when Random means us to go, but it's clear we will, and probably against the Klybesians."
Lark and Swanhilde fly back down the hallway toward the dining room on the back of Uncle Garrett. Just outside the door, Garrett hoists the child down to the floor and squats in front of her.
"So. Before we go in, just lettin' you know...it's Family. There's Rules. I'll need to you stick close to me until your mum comes down, all right? You hungry?" He takes one small hand in his own and quirks an inquiring eyebrow toward the door to ask if she's ready to enter.
Lark nods. "Yes! We fought zombies all morning before Mama came and I didn't get any lunch, just a couple of sandwiches and an apple." She pulls on the door, but not very effectively. "Who's here? Mama showed me everybody's pictures, but never let me talk to them."
Garrett cringes at her description of events as Lark turns to the door. "Uncle Gerard and Uncle Corwin were here when I left," he says, rising to help her with the door. "And lots of cousins. Hannah and Edan and Paige. Vere and Robin. Jerod, Brita and a few others. More may have arrived after I left. Let's see." He swings the door open wide, ready to chase her if she bolts inside.
To Garrett she says "please identify our cousins, I don't know 'em all." Her voice is still childish, and it is striking coming from someone being so mature.
The door opens and anyone who looks that way sees Garrett following a small girl, dressed in a white, frilly dress that doesn't fit her very well.
She approaches Gerard and bows. "Your Highness, I am Prince Martin's daughter Lorelei. My father will be returning soon and my mother sent me here with my Uncle."
Gerard chuckles. "We're just family, Lorelei. You can call me Uncle Gerard. If you’re hungry, run along and make up a plate." Gerard looks at Garrett. Gerard is only unreadable when he wants to be. It's pretty clear he wants to know where Folly and Martin are.
[Across the room,] Celina continues to follow along with summaries and updates directed at Fletcher. She excuses herself when the gents pause, and goes to the food table and refreshes her bubbling ginger drink. Coming back, she takes the time to wave at Lark with a big smile. She points to herself and then Lark and then gives herself a big hug. With no voice, she mouths, 'talk later' and returns to Conner's table.
Garrett nods at Lark and adds, "Come back here when you're done."
Once Lark is off, Garrett turns back to Gerard, with a polite smile to Raven in apology for interrupting. "Folly took a few moments to look for her mother. She should be joining us shortly. As for Martin..."
Garrett's brows furrow in concern. He glances at Raven, but obviously she's family or she wouldn't be here. "That's more problematic, he continues. "When Folly trumped me, she asked me to bring a number of people through. They appeared to be household staff or other friends of the family. Including Solange." He looks up briefly to see if Solange made it in...
Gerard's expression makes it obvious she did, and he glances to where she's sitting ensconced on the sofa with Hannah.
...then Garrett returns to his explanation. "She said he was still there, covering the rear and...'taking care of things.' Some of the same names keep coming up. Folly talked about 'zombies'. And Klybesians."
Gerard looks at Raven, picking up the thread of their conversation, "Almost definitely against the Klybesians."
Raven snorts. "Aye, I'd say so."
Then, "Did he say whose Trump he meant to use when he was finished with whatever he's doing?" This question is for Garrett.
And that being the part of the conversation that Raven isn't directly involved in, she doesn't have anything to add.
"Folly didn't say," Garrett replies, shaking his head. "Though she did say that if he doesn't show up by the family meeting tomorrow morning, she'll trump him. I would hope that if things got bad, he'd call one of the big guns, but," he shrugs, looking concerned, "this is Martin."
"Aye, well, if we need to send someone to pull his fat out of the fire, we will," Gerard says with a sigh. "But I'll keep myself available to bring him in should he call for me. Raven, if he needs a hand, will you be available to go fetch him back, if you've got no other duties?"
"Aye, sir," Raven says immediately - immediately enough that it's probably Navy reflex kicking in. And then she adds, "So far's I know, the only thing on my plate is heading back to Gateway and that mess."
"We'll hope he turns up tomorrow so it's not an issue. Garrett, did you leave a plate round here somewhere? You should get something to eat, too. Sitting with me means a lot of waiting time as everyone reports in," he says ruefully, for all that he's managed to make a thorough dent in his own plate even with all the talking.
"I'm fine, Uncle. Thank you," Garrett replies. To Raven, he asks, "What's happening in Gateway? I've heard bits and pieces, but not in any particular order. Sounds like you were on the ground there?"
"Overthrowing the new folks that've been making a mess trying to run the place, putting the old ones back in charge," Raven answers, "and apparently there's a load of walking dead in the bay. First two're pretty much a ball Jerod, Brita, and I got rolling. Well, and Weyland. The last's not something we knew about until right before we came in."
Gerard is just listening at this point since he’s already had the highlights.
"That sounds like what Martin was dealing with too," Garrett says. He blows out a breath, grimacing, and rakes a hand through his hair roughly. He glances over at his niece before speaking.
"Well, there's naught to do about it tonight, I reckon," he sighs. "I'm starting to get an inkling of what the family meeting might be about though."
While Edan is gathering, a small child comes up to the sidebar. She is pushing a chair and hops up on it, where she can survey the food.
She picks up a plate and begins loading it with meat and pastries.
For a five year old, she’s very skilled with a knife.
She sees him looking at her, and says "Hello. You're Cousin Edan. I'm Lorelei." The plate is getting piled higher and is in danger of being overloaded.
The corner of Edan's mouth quirks upward. He decides to only interfere with the stack, or for that matter the chair, if it goes over the tipping point. "Hello. You are my cousin? I don't recall seeing you before. Who are your parents?"
She smiles, and spears a few more pieces of ham to keep the sausage from rolling off the tiny mountain of food. "Father is Prince Martin of Xanadu, Rebma, and Amber. Mama is Folly." She pauses. "Princess Folly," she says, more sure of herself. "You're Edan, whose father is Bleys and whose mother is... July? I'm sorry, Mama didn't have a flash card for your mother."
She looks at his plate of fruits and vegetables. "You should try the bacon. Dad says it's even better here than in San Lucien."
Flash card. Of course. "Very close. My mother was Julnar, the Firemaid, whose father claimed to be the Padishah of all the Afriti. I don't think I know this San Lucien." He catches Hannah's look from across the room, gives her a slow smile. "Would you like to meet some more cousins?" he says as an aside to Lorelei. "Hannah and I may leave soon to get ready for the dance, but Ossian and Paige and Solange are there, too."
"Oh, I know Auntie Solange. Can you carry my plate, please, Cousin Edan?" She hops down and heads straight for Solange without seeing if Edan is following.
Hannah sits, again, when Edan goes fetching. She glances from Paige to Ossian, blushing a little. "If I don't let him do something, he'll feel left out."
"How nice of him to make room for me," says Solange, who's come with her plate to speak to Hannah. "Paige, Ossian, hello! And Hannah, look at you--looks like I was called back just in time." She leans over to give her sister a hug.
"I am so glad. Paige and I were on your trail... wherever did you go after the space station? Paige, uh, may have disabled it." Hannah smirks.
"It was temporary, I'm sure," the redhead retorts.
"Sit down." Hannah happily motions to Edan's seat.
Ossian smiles "I'm so glad you're back.
"Although there is a sad beauty in the slowly dispersing family."
"And a nervous awe as said gatherings reach critical mass," Paige agrees.
Solange is clearly fresh from the field and not in a skirt, so she manages to arrange herself next to Hannah on the sofa without spilling anything from her plate. "No kidding," Solange says to Paige. "I wasn't going to come until Folly got Martin to agree. He's getting a zombie head so Aunt Fiona and your dad can take a look at it and figure out what we're dealing with.
"And I went back to Lauderdale through an indirect route. That was where we found the zombies." Solange flashes a grin at Ossian. "Your volcano idea might be useful for dealing with them--anyhow I hope they're not coming here anytime soon." Which leads her to Hannah and "--how soon is the baby coming? It looks like I arrived just in time."
"As soon as they get tired of being so cramped, I imagine. Yesterday would have been nice. We will see if this child wants to try to sneak into the family meeting. What is a zombie? " Hannah asks.
Ossian just grins back and shakes his head. "Sounds like we need all hands."
Solange gives Hannah a look that the others read as mild distress, but she stows it and answers the question, flat and practical. "In legend they're undead things that keep going by eating brains. These are--Martin thinks maybe they have some kind of highly contagious disease and we're immune to it. But they look and act like legendary zombies and if they bite someone who isn't one of us, that person becomes a zombie.
"Martin says there were stories like that in San Lucien, but I found them in Lauderdale and they spread to San Lucien from there. They may have followed us across Shadow. We're not sure. The head is so Fiona can do forensic sorcery and see what we're dealing with."
"How did I miss news about zombies?" the Warden asks. "Is this along the lines of headshots only, sever the spinal cord, sort of zombie killing? Or are we looking at something more like the voudoun of my birth?" Paige is already mentally running through what she needs to tell her Rangers.
Ossian frowns. "Sounds ugly." The he listens. Better know how to kill those things.
Hannah is half distracted watching Edan and the little swan. She nods though, also interested in how one kills dead things.
Solange does a sort of headshake and shrug to Paige's questions. "We've been burning them because that seems the most reliable way to stop whatever it is from spreading. We haven't tried sewing their mouths shut or anything; there are just too many of them. But if you torch them, they do stop coming after you and trying to eat you."
Ossian nods. "Really, this sounds ugly. Volcano would be suitable, although my idea of a volcano had quite another point."
At this point a five-year-old in a swan dress comes running up and straight into Solange's side. "Hello Auntie Solange! I've been meeting cousins."
Solange looks at the girl who she last saw reloading weapons for her father. "Hello, Lark. Where's your mother, sweetheart?"
Lark shrugs. "I dunno," she replies.
Solange forbears from rolling her eyes at the literalness of the pre-school set. "Did she say where she was going?"
"Oh, she's looking for Grandma." Lark turns to Hannah. "You're making a baby!" she says, in the kind of voice that carries to every single person in the room. She's very pleased, whether with Hannah for making the baby or with herself for figuring it out. Probably both.
Hannah grins at this, and responds in the same excited, projecting tone. "I am!" She motions for the child to come over closer, if she'd like. In her more normal tone she says, "You are a cignet, not a lark. My surname means raven. I think perhaps the papa is a phoenix." She motions to Edan. "So I am unsure what kind of bird the child is. I only know it is likely to squawk and want to be fed all the time."
Paige covers her mouth as she recognizes the dress and makes the logical leap. When she removes her hand, it reveals a warm smile if somewhat sad near the eyes. "So you plan on chewing their food for them, like a proper momma-bird?" she asks.
The redhead makes a face at Lark, suggesting that such an act seems gross to even adults, then offers her a wink.
Edan returns, two plates in hand, and does a fair job of getting things passed out. He flashes a smile a Solange and elects to stand, looking like he'd prefer to listen in on the conversation for the moment.
Lark politely thanks Edan for the plate and puts it down where she can start eating bacon. She continues to be unimpressed by Hannah's plate of fruits.
Lark manages to swallow before speaking, but it's a close-run thing. "Aunt Paige, do baby birds really eat barf? Is Aunt 'Nah gonna have a baby or a bird?"
Hannah looks at Paige to see what other delightful things she has to tell Lark.
"When most of the desert tribes in my home had been gathered, several of the more talented artists got together to make a commemorative statue," Edan says. "Pressed sand held together with an acidic foam, so only semi-permanent. It was a statue of me riding Aramsham. The sand there being glassy and sparkly, the statue became a favored roost for the local birds. The mess was beyond belief." He chews on a piece of fruit off Hannah's plate, pretending to completely ignore the reactions of the listeners.
Ossian laughs. He has been busy with a piece of paper. Now he places his creation carefully on the edge of Lark's plate. It's a paper bird that looks like some kind of predatory parrot. He pulls the tail of the bird, and it stoops forward and opens it's beak. "It's yours if you like it. It's name is Munchontoes."
Hannah giggles before she can stop herself. "Munchontoes. It is a worthy name."
Lark shoves her bacon into the bird's paper beak. "Munch on bacon!" she retorts and literally slides to the ground laughing. She pops back up quickly and joins the bird in eating more of the decidedly non-vegan, decidedly haram foodstuff. Edan is glad his troops are not nearby.
She almost waits until her mouth isn't full to say "Thank you, Cousin Ocean."
There comes a polite cough beside Lilly and Corwin. A tall woman, dressed in a man's suit - all dapper shadows and crisp lines - stands to their right.
"Excuse me, sire," Silhouette says, holding a filled plate. "Is this seat taken?"
She offers Lilly a polite, almost apologetic smile.
Lilly offers a polite nod in return. Perhaps this cousin will offer a bit of intrigue, she thinks to herself as she nibbles at her food.
"Of course," says Corwin, coming to his feet like a gentleman, even if Silhouette is hardly the girly miss he needs to help into a chair because of her oversized petticoats and full skirt. "Family is always welcome. Lilly, have you met Silhouette? It seems she might be Flora's long-thought-dead daughter. Silhouette, this is Lilly, Benedict's youngest.
"And," he adds to Silhouette, "when we're en famille, you should call me Uncle."
"That may be difficult, but I shall try...Uncle," Silhouette says, taking her seat. "Thank you for your kindness."
She smiles over to Lilly, "A pleasure to meet you, cousin."
"Mine as well," Lilly returns the smile. "Do you normally make your home in Paris, Sihouette?"
Silhouette shakes her head, "Normally, I reside in Rebma and only visited Paris on the rare occasion. More out of a courtesy to our dear Uncle than lack of willingness." She smiles softly, then adds in explanation, "Paris is not large enough for my mother and I."
Lilly nods. While she is grateful for the positive relationship with her father, she understands the shadow their parents can cast.
"Flora isn't convinced Silhouette is her daughter--she believes her daughter died," Corwin explains to Lily. "But Silhouette is a proven initiate, so she's of the blood, and so she's also welcome in Paris regardless of her ancestry. At some point we'll pry out of Flora what happened to her daughter and then we'll settle all of this. If she's been deceived about her daughter, we need to know that, and if someone has gone to the effort to falsify Silhouette's memory, we need to know that too." His expression darkens, as if the idea of memory tampering is particularly upsetting to him. "But that's no topic for table. Silhouette, what have you been up to of late?"
The arrival of Garrett pulls Lilly's attention away for a moment. A look of unease crosses her features but she quickly recovers and turns her attention back to Silhouette and Corwin. "Yes. I would love to hear your story. I have been away with my father and am trying to get caught up with family affairs."
"Dress-making and spy-work," Silhouette says in a gentle monotone. She smiles, "No. Not an attempt at humor, I assure you. Queen Celina has requested I take up less... militaristic engineering projects." She nods to Lily, "Generally, I forge and sell weapons. But the Queen believes this is a suitable penance for my involvement with the attack on Rebma. So, I weave and fashion dresses for Rebman socialites."
A conspiratorial wink, "That said dresses could stop small-arms fire is contrary to the point."
She leans back, "As for the spy-work, well, I suppose Ossian and I should speak to you after dinner, sire... Uncle, I mean."
"I'll be around through the night and I expect I'll be awake through most of it. Perhaps after Edan's event, if you and Ossian are both available, I can take whatever report you two have to offer?" Corwin suggests.
Lilly thinks this is how her father would handle a sensitive report that he didn't want everyone in the room to hear.
Silhouette dips her head, "I look forward to it. I would also ask your advice on certain matters."
She smiles at Lilly, "Are you and Garrett close? He was one of the first people to greet me into the Family."
Corwin waits for Lilly's response.
Lilly bites her bottom lip, pausing a moment to look at Garrett again. "We were," she answers quietly then turns back to Silhouette "Perhaps we will be again. It has been a little while and we have been out of contact." Again a pause as she tries to decide how to broach her true concern on the subject. "Is that his child?" she asks slowly choosing the direct approach.
Silhouette leans back in her chair, bemused. "The child? I do not believe so. Nor did he mention one when I encountered him, initially. He did not strike me as the fatherly sort." She smiles softly, "Not yet, anyway."
Corwin, as is often the case, appears blind to the nuances. "I don't think so. I'm fairly certain Random would have mentioned it if Garrett had a child, even one he was acknowledging now." He's still working his way through the problem. "I suppose it could be part of the family news he means to tell all of us."
Lilly nods. "I suppose we will find out. Still, Garrett was well aware of my father's warnings against procreation." She smiles and adds, "And those were not the warnings of an over protective father. Benedict truly believes that it is dangerous for the family to continue to proliferate."
Silhouette raises a brow, "Truly? An intriguing viewpoint to take. Is it because of the peculiarities of our bloodline?"
"We're heavy on the universe; we tend to drag toward each other in Shadow," Corwin says, though he knows they both know that. "But we also need to be careful because it's clear someone knows how to use our blood against us. Children are vulnerable and they can be used as leverage against us. In that way, I can understand why Benedict thinks we shouldn't."
"There have been moments when I thought he might be implying something more than that. But he did not care to elaborate. My father is not the most talkative of the brothers," Lilly says with just the hint of humor.
"He wasn't that talkative with me and I am one of the brothers," Corwin says, a smile gathering at the corners of his mouth. "He's been around a long time and knows a lot of things even I don't know, so maybe he does have some idea. Or maybe he's exaggerating because he thinks none of us can take care of ourselves." He pauses for a moment and looks around the room at all of his siblings' children. "With Ben, it could be either,” he adds.
Silhouette nods faintly, "Perhaps his views are somewhat justified considering the number of Cuckoos - as it were - we leave behind. There is no guarantee who might discover and care for our offspring. Thus, the troubles we are currently having with the monks. We are, in essence, providing the enemy with hostages - even if we are ignorant of their existence." She offers a faint smile, " I worry for Ossian and what may await him, yet unseen."
The smile grows, "That said, amass Enlightenment without having someone to pass it down to is rather foolish, yes?"
Corwin takes a look around the room. "Perhaps, but I don't think that's an immediate concern. There's only one child in this room and one on the way, but I can think of at least a half-dozen children of the blood who aren't here off the top of my head. I suspect there are more we don't know of. Even if they can't all take the Pattern, we're not without a legacy. And we don't die of old age as far as we can tell, so the old won't make way for the new unless we keep on with the habit of killing each other, which I, for one, would like to avoid."
Silhouette follows his gaze, as if looking for someone specific. She dips her head, "And Shadow is not expansive enough for all of us, I suppose. Things could be come quite crowded, as it were." She considers for a moment, "Have we considered actively searching for lost eggs, though? Our enemies seem to be. Perhaps it would be in our best interest to engage in such a venture."
"Perhaps," Lilly replies. "I imagine that might be quite a difficult undertaking as there are an infinite number of places to search. Though, Uncle, you might have a point. A family gathering such as this might be enough to draw some of the lost, if there are lost, to us. We are creating quite the flame by putting so many of us in one place. Our enemies may look to take advantage of that. I think I shall forgo fancy dress tonight in favor of something more functional."
"Fancy dress that accommodates a sword belt is always appropriate," Corwin, who is something of a fashion plate himself even if not in the Lucasian manner, opines to Lilly.
"You truly should come to my shop, where function is form," Silhouette says. "I'm certain I could dress you divinely, yet allow you to maintain the utmost combat efficiency."
He turns back to Silhouette. "I don't think it's that simple. They searched for me for years. Decades, even. Found my Shadows but not me, not until Flora ran into me by accident. She might have been drawn to the same shadow by the fact of my presence, but she wasn't explicitly looking for anyone. Finding Dad's kids by looking in Shadow is probably a fool's errand, unfortunately."
"Intriguing," Silhouette says, setting her finished plate aside. "If what you are saying is correct, we are much like the ship upon the sea. The wake it leaves is far more evident than the vessel itself."
She smiles slightly, "That may explain how Huon came upon me as well."
"Not exactly like that. You can't see the wake. Imagine you had your eyes closed and you were walking through a wheat field. If I went first and knocked down a bunch of stalks, it would be easier to follow me, and end up where I was. Once you understand how it works, you can feel our influence in Shadow. The catch is, it's just whatever and whoever is Real, so it's a place some relative is, or maybe was. Or maybe you're the one staying in one place and then the broken stalks lead to you.
"Clarissa's brood study this kind of thing. They call it higher math. I'm not sure they actually know any more than the rest of us or if they just have numbers and variables to prove what the rest of us learn through applied experience." Corwin grins at Lilly and Silhouette to draw them in on the joke.
"A good slide-ruler can conquer the Universe just as well as any sword," Silhouette quips, sharing Corwin's grin. "I think I would most enjoy the company of Clarissa's get. Numbers are far too dear to me. I fear if I hadn't become an weapons-smith, I would have been an accountant. I'm not certain which would have been worse." The smile grows.
"Your analogy makes perfect sense. Thank you," she says, pausing. With a tilt of her head, she adds, "However, to expand upon it, I wonder if our Adversary is the farmer preparing to reap the harvest. To them, we seem but bundles to be collected."
"It's not the collecting I'm worried about. It's what they want to do with the bundles. Scientific dabbling in Amberite physiology doesn't end well in a lot of cases, and raising children to send against us, if that is what they're doing, doesn't seem to end well either," Corwin says. "Nor did it work for the Courts. But I'm sure this will be on the agenda for tomorrow, and if it's not, we'll put it there."
Silhouette nods, "Excellent. I look forward to the discussion. But, as you say, that is for another time. On to other important matters." She gives him a serious look, "Will you allow me at least one dance during the celebrations?"
Corwin smiles. "If it permits that kind of dancing, of course."
Silhouette smiles warmly, an emotion most rare on her cold lips. "Then I do hope the events will allow such."
"Dancing." Lilly breaks her thoughtful silence. "I had not considered dancing. Dueling perhaps. But not dancing. These types of festivities always make me uncomfortable. It reminds me of my childhood in not the best of ways. I never really understood that you were supposed to take down the boys who said mean things while dancing. It gained me quite a reputation."
Silhouette chuckles softly, "In some cultures I've encountered, dancing and dueling are interchangeable. Perhaps you can employ both and begin a new family tradition... if not a scandal. Celebrations are incomplete without at least one scandal."
"I get the feeling that the kind of dancing Edan intends on may be more to Lilly's taste than, well, let's say Flora's." Corwin grins. "Something about a lot of drums being acquired, was what I heard. Military 'dances' are often about exhibiting martial skill. Demonstrating courtship value is secondary."
Silhouette chuckles brightly, "Then I believe this shall be a most delightful evening, indeed."
She sets her empty glass aside and begins pushing back from the table. "The matters we discussed can wait until the morning. For now, if you'd be most kind to escort us this evening? I believe the night would be easier for all, if we walked in on your arm. Perhaps not my mother, but for the remainder of the Family at least."
She pauses and then grins impishly, "Besides, it is only right and fair that the best dressed people here enter at the same time, yes?"
Lilly smiles at her companions. "I think I have a date with my fellow knights. It's been too long and we most definitely have plotting to do but I will look forward to seeing you both there." The girl rises to her feet to take her leave. "Good evening to you both."
"Thank you for your patience, My Love." Robin has a warm smile for her strength and her rock. "Now for the strafing of Soren. Since he's not in the room..." she looks around to confirm that that is still so, "we should probably leave the room with a little fuss as possible."
Robin's green eyes take in the crowd of very alert and sensitive Lords of Order. "I... have no idea how to do that." She shakes her head. "Less-civilized me would just climb off the balcony. But last time I did something like that, people really noticed. Would you have a suggestion, oh most wonderfully decorous one?" She smiles up at her Love.
Vere smiles and pulls her arm a little closer, leaning towards her he says quietly, "Allow me to demonstrate, my love. We gaze at one another lovingly, speaking quietly as is the way of lovers, as we wander aimlessly through the room." He suits his actions to his words, winding a path between the various groups of talking relatives, the very picture of oblivious young love.
"Walking so, very clearly with no definite goal nor purpose, other than to be with each other," he laughs softly, as though she had just told him a joke, "We find ourselves eventually near the door," a soft tug on her arm, and they are out the door and into the hallway, "And if anyone did notice, then, ah, the lovers, so clearly they wish to be alone for a short while."
Robin has no difficulty at all with playing the part of a young lover. Watching her Man in action lights her up from the inside and she is practically glowing as she tips her head in to catch his quiet words. Fond memories of the dance at the Masquerade lurk behind her smile.
Once in the hallway, Robin is a much less civilized young lover as she backs Vere into a wall for a fierce kiss.
When Robin can catch her breath again, "You are sooooo beautiful when you do that, my Love. And dead sexy."
"Okay, okay. Business. Soren's office is this way. Let's try there first." Somehow in Xanadu, where Robin can Hear the Rhythm of the Land, she isn't disoriented - even when in a Castle that's mostly underground.
"Business it is," Vere says agreeably, and allows Robin to take the lead.
Soren is closing up his office when Vere and Robin approach him. He’s on his way down to the studio to talk to some people, but he’d be pleased if Prince Vere and Sir Robin accompanied him, since they are anxious to talk to him.
Vere nods. "We wondered whether you know if the king will be returning tonight," he asks. He looks at Robin to see if she thinks it advisable to add anything.
Soren leads them towards one of the longer central stairways of the castle and heads down. "I wonder the same thing. The King has clear plans for breakfast tomorrow and I thought that he and the Queen would be attending tonight's gala, but I only heard secondhand that he was going to Rebma with the Queen. Gilt knows more, but I don't think much more.
"The King follows his own plans, and we normally just adapt.
"I can have Gilt send a page when his majesty awakens, but he might not be seeing visitors before breakfast, either."
The way down, unlike the steps to Amber's lowest chambers, is well lit with electrical lights. They have a slight smell of tiny burnt toast, but are otherwise cheery.
Robin's nose wrinkles at the odor, but not in a bad way - more in a 'that tickles' way.
"Soren..." Robin decides to take the bull by the horns. In a very quiet, non-carrying way, she continues, "I have good reason to believe the King to be in danger. And I'd really like to contact him. But I got the impression that he wasn't going to be answering the Family calls this evening. So I'm trying to figure out how to contact him in an emergency. Would you be good for that? Gilt? Someone else?"
Vere looks as though he is about to add something, then changes his mind and remains silent.
Soren stops. The stair they are on is in a particularly empty part of the castle.
"I can't make him answer a Trump, if that's what you're asking. I can't really make him do anything. But he listens to me. And a few others. You know why? He trusts us because we haven't led him wrong before. So I need more. I can't tell if you mean he's neglecting to use sunscreen or Garrett's mother Anna is coming back up here with a knife to cut off his balls for the good of the country.
"So, tell me what you've got and I'll consider how and when I'd bring it to Syd."
Vere looks silently at Robin, raising an interrogative eyebrow.
Robin nods while Soren speaking: yes, yes and hell yes.
"My Beloved here," she indicates Vere with a thumb, "who is way more trustworthy than myself, just recently returned from Tir-na Nog'th. While there, he spoke to the ghost of Princess Cambina. She told him that she had gone there with the Queen and that while the Queen was walking the Pattern, the Queen of Air and Darkness held Cambina still until dawn rose and she fell to her death.
"Our concern is that the Queen may not be... wholly herself right now."
Robin trusts that Soren will mostly know what she's talking about. And that if he doesn't, he'll ask whatever questions he needs to. Because if the King trusts him, she does too.
Vere nods and looks back to Soren.
Soren looks very concerned, his eyes large despite the plentiful light in the stairwell. “Well, that does sound urgent, especially as the Queen is with child. Prince Vere, could you have been fooled? Could the Queen of Air and Darkness have impersonated Cambina and said this to damage the Queen?"
Vere nods. "Oh, yes, that is most certainly a possibility, and one that is a great concern to me. It would require a great deal of information on my abilities and my relationship with Cambina, and her relationship with her brother and lover. But is not something that, for example, a Lord of Chaos who had consumed Cambina's memories would be unable to do. But if the Queen of Air and Darkness is capable of that sort of thing, she is equally capable of possessing and/or controlling our Queen. Either way, you can understand why we think it is vital that we have a private audience with Random before the family gathering tomorrow morning."
Soren bites his lip. "I'll see what I can do. Don't tell anyone else about this, please. The last thing the Kingdom needs is a rumor that the Queen is possessed by some sort of Witch-queen from Tir. It may not be until late. Very late. Make sure you can be found, and fetched, quickly."
Soren hesitates. "I am loathe to ask, but is there more I should know, or the King?"
"Edan acted as my anchor on my trip to Tir and heard my side of the conversation. I have asked him to say nothing. I have told Brennan and Jerod, who agree this information should not be made public before Random has heard it." Vere considers for a moment, then says, "There is nothing else I can think of that is vital." He looks questioningly at Robin.
Robin purses her lips in thought but shakes her head. Nope, that about covers it.
Soren doesn't seem pleased with the number of secret-keepers. "I'll do what I can. I've got to go deal with the previous unexpected surprise," he says, looking downwards, but not explaining.
Conner stands in one of several game rooms that Random had scattered around his castle. A pool table dominated the center of the room while the corners held carved wooden tables at the perfect height for cards. Flip down panels in the walls hid well stocked bars in easy reach from any gaming station. All that was missing was the neon signs on the wall and Conner was sure those were being worked on.
Conner looks over the room with an attention to detail usually warranted only by a visit from Aunt Florimel. One of the card tables was set up with a several bottles of various spirits, two glass tumblers and an ice bucket. There was really nothing left to do but wait for Raven to show up so to keep his mind busy Conner racks up the balls and selected a cue. Calculating the force vectors on the balls as he plays helps to steady his mind.
Raven is along a few minutes later, thanking the page that showed her the way before she ducks through the door. She makes sure the door shuts properly behind her, because this is going to be awkward enough without anybody that walks by wondering what's going on.
"Has anybody counted how many rooms around here look like they belong in some kind of club?" she says wryly, by way of greeting. Her hands automatically go into the pockets of her coat, her shoulders squaring slightly with the motion. "Sorry if I kept you waiting. Ain't been around here long enough to learn my way out half the time, much less anywhere else."
Conner looks up from the bank shot he was lining up. "I'm still exploring the place myself and the decor certainly matches the owner," Conner smiles and puts the cue down on the table. "I have been waiting but only because I arrived early as host. Please come and sit." Conner walks over to the table and pours two glasses of the brandy on the table before sitting. "Now, I believe you had a question for me?"
"Aye," Raven agrees. She slides one of the glasses closer, but doesn't actually pick it up yet.
"I guess..." She pauses, then shakes her head and snorts. "Look, best as I can tell, there ain't a way to ask this question without it sounding like I want to know way more about what you do in private than I actually do. But did you ever sleep with a woman named Scarlett?"
"Straight to the point I see." Conner chuckles. "Please forgive an indulgence. I was curious how you would broach the issue." Conner runs one finger around the rim of his glass and watches it.. "You see, I happened to take lunch at Scarlett's today and she also bid me walk down memory lane." Conner looks up from his glass. "Yes, I used to visit Scarlett at the Red Mill back when I was a young officer in the Navy and to answer the question that you really want to ask," Conner pauses for a second, "that likely makes me your father."
Raven scowls faintly and shakes her head. "I don't know why I'm surprised she'd tell someone else more than she told me." She sighs and sits back, finally offering up a wry smile. "She and I get on like oil and water. The most I've ever got on who might be my father is 'a sailor with dark hair,' and that was only after I got back. She come out and say it, or...?"
"Pretty much." Conner nods. "Once you were revealed to be of the Family the field of possible parentage shrunk considerably. Unless we have another unknown Royal hiding in the Navy or your mother's memory is being selectively faulty, I am the most likely candidate. There is a test my mother can perform that will confirm it one way or the other." Conner pauses to take a sip of his brandy. "However, when I mentioned this to Scarlett, she said that you needed to tell me everything before taking this to Princess Fiona. I presume you know what she was referring to?"
"...Yes," Raven says slowly. "And she's probably trying to stick her nose places she doesn't need to put it. She say anything else about that?"
"Not about that." Conner replies. "But her parting shot was," Conner pauses for a moment and when he speaks again it is an almost pitch perfect impersonation of Scarlett, " 'I hope he's not as much trouble to you and to th' King as he were when he was my charge. And that's all the suggesting there might be two sides to things I'm going to do before you introduce yourself to our child.' " Conner takes another sip from his glass but says nothing more.
"You know, all I've got to do for that voice is go visit her," Raven says dryly. She reaches for her glass, taking a healthy drink. "So the everything she's talking about - well. How do you feel about having a daughter that's been passing as a man most of her life instead of a son?"
Conner leans in a little closer and examines Raven for a moment. "Well, it doesn't really change too much on my end." Conner leans back in his seat. "The shock of an unknown child is beyond gender. Is this a deception you intend to continue?"
Raven makes a face. "Ugly word for it." She taps a finger on her glass and, after a moment, shrugs. "I'm still working that out, I guess. Always figured I'd stay in the Navy for a while, until I screwed up enough or got tired of it, and then figure out what to do next. All this..." She jerks her head in the direction of the door, mostly because the rest of the castle is out there. "Suddenly being a Royal, having all kinds of family I didn't have before... kinda messes with that and kinda doesn't. I mean, I still want to stay in the Navy, and that ain't gonna work if I suddenly announce I've got tits."
"Well that depends on what 'in the Navy' means to you," Conner replies. "If the King and Admirals say you're a Captain, then you are and any tar that has a problem with that will find themselves scraping barnacles off the Amber docks with a dull knife." Conner chuckles and then sighs. "But it won't be the same its true." Conner takes another drink. "The Kingdom will always need skilled sailors but I think it is time to think broader."
"Won't be anything like the same," Raven agrees. "Saying it's so and punishing those that disobey won't change anything. Just pushes it below the surface. Seen it a time or two." She pauses, then shakes her head and adds dryly, "Might've been part of it once, 'cept I'm not sure it counts as under wraps when you get disciplined for losing your temper and breaking someone's nose." There's a slightly rueful smile that goes with that statement. "What do you mean by thinking broader?"
"You have already moved from Navy Captain to Royal Troubleshooter if your arrival tonight was any indication, but you have the opportunity to learn and put into practice any skill you like." Conner points out. "Either by seeking a trainer among the family or heading out into Shadow to seek one there. Medicine, mastery of the blade, music, art. Whatever takes your fancy or seems useful." Conner gestures at her with his glass. "However, to address one of the elephants in the room," Conner reaches up and twirls a lock of hair around his finger, "you are a Redhead now." Conner grins at her. "That opens advanced Pattern theory and Sorcery to you, if you would be interested."
Raven blinks a couple of times. "Don't know," she says, after thinking about it for a minute. "At least, don't know yet. Only seen a little sorcery, about half of which was blowing things up, and you don't really need magic for that. And can't say as how I'd be sure what the other one involves. Either of those something you know?"
Conner nods. "I am a better Sorcerer than Pattern expert but you can't be Fiona's son without picking up a thing or two." Conner reaches over to refill his glass and offers to top off Raven's. "I would be happy to teach you if you decide to learn. While Sorcery is quite useful for blowing things up, it has a myriad of other uses. I often use it for communication and transportation when Trumps are not available. It does not work so close to a Pattern of course. Else I would demonstrate."
"Brita turned a bird back into a boy," Raven says as she pushes her glass over to be filled. "Seen that, anyway. And I guess this means she's my aunt." She snorts in amusement and shakes her head. "Great. Accidentally started a bar riot with my aunt. What other elephants you figure are in the room with us, besides what I'm supposed to call you?"
Conner fills Raven's glass. "You can call me whatever you feel comfortable calling me, Raven. I'm not going to demand a title I don't think I've earned." Conner sets the decanter down. "And I wouldn't worry about the bar brawl. Knowing Brita she'd think it good family bonding time." Conner smiles warmly. "Turning your question around, it is my intention to announce that I am 99% certain you are my child and officially claim you as such before the Family at tomorrow's meeting. Are you prepared for that and more to the point, should I be introducing you as my son, my daughter or simply my child?"
"I remember what actually feeling prepared was like," Raven says dryly, with a hint of a smile. "Pretty sure that was before my ship got lost. I'm guessing it'll happen again sometime." She takes a sip of her drink, then sets it down, fingers tapping restlessly against the glass again as she thinks. "There's precious few that know that I'm not actually a man." She blows out a breath and shakes her head. "Thinking about telling a whole group at once... it ain't anything but weird. And there's part of me that wants to say no. But it's probably better to just rip the damned bandage off and get it over with before it's even more weird. So - daughter."
Conner smiles warmly. "Good. I think that will be the best option in the long run and when you are as long lived as we are, that is important." Conner nods. "The only person I have spoken to about being your father is Mother. She has suggested that we meet before the Family conclave as we will no doubt be scattered about on missions afterward. We could do an introduction before the Clarissians and you'll walk into the Family meeting with a new crew. Sound good?"
"Aye." Raven sits back in her seat, taking another sip of her drink now that she's made that decision. "So this's turning out to be a whole lot about me. What do I need to know about you? I mean, besides that I'm pretty sure this was a surprise."
"It certainly was." Conner nods and takes another drink. "Before I talk though something to keep in mind, it is standard protocol in the Family for younger members to give their news and answer questions in conversation first. Most of my generation and younger don't hold to that too strictly but the Princes and Princesses certainly do. Think of it like reporting to the Admirals and you won't go too far wrong." Conner pauses long enough to drain his glass and refill it.
"Right," Raven says, nodding. It's very much the kind of 'right' that suggests that she's been told this before and kind of forgot or wasn't sure if it applied here.
"So the short version of my life story." Conner hums. "I spent my early years being trained in various shadows and disciplines under my Mother's tutelage. She made sure I had well rounded education: horsemanship, fencing, science and mathematics, metaphysical theories and practices." Conner smiles at some memory. "Then she brought me to Amber and hid me under the nose of the Family. In the Navy." Conner grins wider. "I served under Prince Gerard and rose to the rank of Captain. The Light of Cabra was a fine ship and I enjoyed my time on it. When I resigned from the Navy, I went into the diplomatic corps. I served in various Shadow embassies before being posted to Rebma's Embassy as First Secretary. My time there overlapped with the time Random was under house arrest. I got to know him and Vialle a bit as a result." Conner pauses there to let Raven comment if she wishes.
"I recall the Light," Raven offers. "She seemed like a good one. If you don't mind me asking, why'd you resign?"
"It wasn't really my choice." Conner admits. "I was being groomed for bigger and better things. Once it was clear I had learned the ways of the Navy and command on the battlefield, the next step was to learn the ways of the diplomat." Conner shrugs. "I don't think I would have stayed much longer had the choice been mine. I've always been a scholar more than anything else. If I'm not in a position to learn something new, I get antsy."
"Huh." Raven thinks for a moment, then nods. "That makes sense. Not a lot changes from one ship to the next, I guess. Sorry, didn't mean to stop you - just was curious."
Conner waves off the apology. "Not a problem. After all, it bears on your own upcoming decisions." Conner pauses for moment. "I remained in Rebma until after the Sundering. Being the diplomatic envoy of a country you can't reach to a monarch and people that half suspect there isn't even an Amber anymore is a dicey situation. On the other hand, I had a lot of free time as there was minimal business to discuss. There is a sizeable story around my flight from Rebma and perhaps I'll tell it another time. Suffice to say I was run out of Rebma under the threat of false charges and fled through a little known part of the Faiella-Bionin to where I now know is the land of Avalon. I found a ship in shadow and sailed us to Amber. As it was pretty obvious that only Shadow shifting could have brought me Rebma to Amber without the stair , that is when I revealed myself as Fiona's son to the Family. I did a bunch of odd jobs as part of the Regency Council. Largely I kept all the Golden Circle diplomats calm since I knew exactly what anxieties they were going through. I also led trade missions and got to know my new family better. Brita was a huge surprise. Mother did not see fit to let us know we each had a sibling in shadow."
Raven snorts in amusement. "Is there a way for meeting Brita the first time to not be a surprise?" she asks dryly. "I mean, I met her and she sniffed me, then said I was family."
Conner chuckles. "It does tend to be bear hugs and loud pronouncements." Conner agrees. "Her senses come in very handy though. Somehow, she can sniff out who is Family, who is from Chaos or the deep Green. With so many creatures of power able to take on basically the same forms as us, it is good to have one of us that can discover them instinctually."
"I can see how it'd be useful," Raven says, nodding. "It was still... well, not what I was thinking would happen, for sure."
"I can imagine." Conner smiles. "Did you never suspect you were more than your peers?" He asks. "One of the tricky balances I had in the Navy was making sure I didn't show off my strength or knowledge to the point that people would suspect my true heritage."
Raven shrugs. "Maybe? Can't say I thought much about it. I mean, once I got old enough to know I was different, I was always doing something to blend in. I got pretty good at ending fights fast, but if I wanted to keep hands off where I didn't want them to be, I had to. That kind of thing. Nobody else was quite like I was. How was I supposed to know what was just my being a girl being a boy and what wasn't normal?"
Conner nods. "Fair enough. It was merely something I was curious about. Now I believe I was talking about myself." Conner chuckles. "On the topic of things you should know about me. One of the biggest and most recent is my dual vassalage." Conner flutters the fingers of his right hand for moment as if gathering his thoughts with them. "I don't know how much you've heard about events in Rebma but there has been quite a bit of upheaval there recently. Here is the short version. An army under the control of Llewella's daughter Khela marched on Rebma to overthrow Moire and free the Tritons from her service. An army under the control of Huon of the Horn marched on the city in search of the Pattern Blade of Rebma. Queen Moire fled in the face of both forces and her whereabouts is still unknown. I allied myself with Khela's faction and with a combination of strength, power and luck Huon's forces were routed. Khela became Queen of Rebma, briefly." Conner takes up his glass again and drains it. "But that is another story." Conner says with a thin lipped smile.
"I pledged myself to Rebma's crown and her Queen, first Khela, then to Celina." Conner stands so Raven can see the sword on his hip. "And this was my reward and my obligation." Slowly, Conner draws forth the emerald blade and places it flat on the table. "This is Halosydne, the Pattern Blade of Rebma thus making me Rebma's Knight and Warden of the Kelp Forest of Nedra."
"Why - no, never mind." Raven leans back in her seat and looks up at Conner. "What's a Pattern Blade? And why's it - and I'm guessing those titles - an obligation? Kinda looks like... well, a sword."
Clearly, this was not the reaction Conner was looking for. His proud smile slips to half wattage then brightens again as he begins to explain. "Look closer at the blade." Conner encourages as he slides it towards her. "You will see echoes of a familiar design there. Through mystic arts that only he understands, a being named Weyland Smith crafted the Pattern Blades, one for each Pattern Realm. Somehow, the same power and design that resides in the Pattern was forged into the blade itself. Though you may not have heard the term Pattern blade before, I'll bet you've heard stories of two of them. Bleys's sword Werewindle is the Pattern Blade of Amber and Corwin's sword Grayswandir is the Pattern blade of Tir. Traditionally, the one that accepts a Pattern Blade is sworn to the protection of the Pattern it is tied too. Partly this is enlightened self-interest as I am bound to the sword and its Pattern."
"Ah-ha." Raven sits up and looks the blade over with more interest. "Sorry, didn't mean to seem like it ain't a great honor for you and something pretty damned interesting. Just trying to understand, I guess?" She smiles wryly. "'What it means to carry around a special named sword' ain't exactly something I've needed to keep up on."
"No need to apologize." Conner replies. "I forget how new most of this is for you. So the important point is I have pledged a oath of loyalty and service to both King Random and Queen Celina. Both know this of course and so long as this era of Family cooperation exists, it is no more than a footnote. Similarly, you will see that the Redheads tend to stick together as well. It is a web that could get sticky if people start drifting apart. So far so good though. The various outside threats seem to have kept the infighting at bay."
Raven snorts in amusement. "Not so different from a ship, aye? As long as there's something to do, nobody's thinking too hard about who owes who a bit of coin and who insulted who." She reaches for her drink again. "Is Huon still after it? Since you said he was before."
"If he is, he's playing a long game." Conner replies. "After his failed attack on Rebma and the failed attempt to capture and hold him," Conner pauses for a moment to take a drink himself, "Huon retreated into Shadow and then sent Silhouette to Random as his envoy to negotiate a peace with the Family. His stated reason to want the Paxblade," Conner gestures towards his sword, "was to pursue a long standing vendetta against Uncle Bleys. He needed a Pattern Blade to best a Pattern Blade. As part of the agreement Huon swore, he and Bleys are to officially end this Vendetta. Huon has also been sentenced to 22 years of service to Rebma starting with rebuilding what his war damaged. His desire to return to the Family appears genuine and so he plays nice. I was inclined to be harsher but if Aunt Llewella can accept this state of affairs, then who am I to lay down heavier burdens?" Conner's smile grows wide at some remembrance.
"Uh-huh." Raven, on the other hand, frowns slightly. "She tell you I've got a brother? Well, half-brother. Max. Last time I talked to him, kid was dead set on getting revenge for his father's death. Pretty sure if someone explained what a vendetta is to him, he's going to swear one, too young for it or not."
"He will need to get in line behind Princess Florimel," Conner observes. "Yes, Scarlett did mention Max to me. Largely to gauge my reaction I think. I, in turn, warned her that Aunt Flora would be likely be here for the Mandatory Fun. In matters of Lucas's children, I would not expect her to be a hands off grandparent."
Raven makes a face, shaking her head. "Don't know that I really understand what that means, about not being a hands off grandparent. Not that I can't make some guesses, but... pretty much until I got lost, it was just me and Ma - well, and whatever girls were around wherever she was working. Really, so long's Max comes out of it safe, not murdering anybody until he's old enough to get what he's about, and with a better clue at what the hell he's been born into than I had at that age, I'm all right with letting Ma and whoever else have it out about how to raise him without me."
Conner nods. "One thing you will learn about Princess Flora is that she is very particular about the way things should be. It would not surprise me if she made an offer to foster Max in Paris." Conner chuckles. "Still, Scarlett will match her in stubbornness. I am content to stay out of the middle of those two unless drawn in."
Raven snorts in amusement. "I bet Ma'll try to pull you in, if she thinks you're even a little game for it. She'll leave me out of it unless I make a point of jumping in, and I don't want to do that unless Max is having a problem with what's going on." She pauses, then offers up a wry smile. "And so's you know, I got plenty of stubbornness from her."
"Good." Conner matches her smile. "You'll need it in this family. Though it is well you have the Naval training to respect the chain of command, so long as they are around anyway." Conner chuckles. "Well we should go get ready for the mandatory fun of Edan's event, I suppose. Wouldn't do to miss it. I'll spread the word to the Redhead clan and see about an after party or Family breakfast for introductions. Knowing Uncle Bleys, after party seems more likely."
Raven nods. "And the test thing before that, aye? Just track me down and let me know when and where."
Folly finds directions to Brij's rooms are in the Family Wing, but not the Royal Wing. They're... not bad. There's a small outer salon and a door further into the suite. There's a maid or secretary in the salon when Folly arrives. It's hard to tell. She's not a castle page, so it's unclear. She may just be a friend of Brij's.
She tells Folly that Brij is in the game room, to meet Dr. Suon's new relative. She will likely return before the Celebration tonight, if the Princess wishes to leave a message.
Folly knows where the game room is. Next to the studio, down stairs.
If there's a piece of paper and a pen available, Folly scrawls a quick note in her unmistakable angular hand: "Home again. On my way to dinner in a few minutes. Maybe I'll see you there before this evening's shindig? -F"
She thanks the secretary... maid... person and asks a few friendly questions -- her name, how she knows Brij (and her role in the castle if it's not obvious from the previous question.)
The best you can come up with is "social secretary/personal assistant/posse/and maybe confidante". Her name is Victorie and she came with Brij from Paris, because she wanted to see Xanadu. She's pleased to meet Folly and inquires after the Prince and her daughter.
She'll make sure Brij gets the note, but she's probably dining in the card room with the boys. Monsieur Winter was very clear that family events were not to be interrupted, even by close friends.
Folly thanks her, then heads down to the game room -- not just to find her mother, but to find out what this "new relative of Dr. Suon" thing is all about.
Folly takes the stairs to the basement and then down the hall to the studio. Just outside, where it only acts as a diversion if it's allowed to be, is the game room. There's a large pool table, a couple of pinball machines (in a soundproof booth), and at the back are a pair of saloon doors leading to the poker room. The doors swing open and Folly gets a good look around: Brij, Kyril, a new woman wearing a uniform, Soren, and Haven.
Everyone stops talking but Soren, who slowly notices that everyone's attention has turned to the door.
"So, I have no fscking idea what to d--"
He turns around, and sees Folly and drops his drink, which he rushes to clean up. Haven laughs at him, but helps him clean up. "Sorry, but it solves your problem, doesn’t it?"
"Hi, honey, I'm home!" Folly says, and although it's not entirely clear which 'honey' she means, she's looking in the general direction of Soren and Haven. "Er, dare I ask what problem just got solved?"
"Hello, I've missed you, we're going to have a quick chat in the control booth." Soren is up and drags Folly by the hand off towards the control room.
Brij waves as she leaves. Folly's mother is wearing one of Folly's tops. She looks nice.
Folly gives a little wave back and holds up a finger in a 'sorry, just one minute' sort of way.
From the apologetic look on her face, she's expecting it to be more than just one minute.
Soren says "Wow, I am so glad you're back. Two of your cousins tell me that Vialle is possessed by the Queen of Bad Shit and they want me to arrange a meeting for them with Syd."
Folly is perhaps not the only one glad that the booth is soundproofed, given the loud and creatively colorful expletive that is her immediate response. Then, "That's exactly what I--- And that's probably why the Royal Wing---"
She spits out another expletive and then takes a deep breath, trying to force her thoughts to line up and march out in some semblence of a reasonable order.
"Do you know when he'll be back?" she asks. "He... ah... doesn't seem to be answering my calls at the moment. But I'll do whatever I can to help -- did you have a plan in mind?"
"He's been acting weird. Weirder than normal, around her. My new plan is 'talk to Folly'." His smile is tight-lipped, but Folly knows he's glad she's here to share the problem with.
"And... did my cousins give areason for their suspicions?"
"Yeah, Vere went to the spooky floating city and Cambina told him about it. Apparently Vialle convinced Cambina to take her up there, and the Queen of Tir paralyzed Cambina until the sun rose and she fell to her death."
He looks at the darkened tracking room, as if making sure no one is there watching them.
"Vere said something else I was pretty sure was important but that I didn't really understand. What does it mean to 'walk the pattern'? Because Vialle did that."
Folly blinks, momentarily stunned. "That's bad," she says.
Then the words start tumbling out: "Remember I told you, before you came to Xanadu I think, that members of this family have a ritual we go through to come into our power? That's it. And only family should be able to do it. And moreover, Syd in his capacity as master of this realm should be able to sense whether someone can. And I've never heard the slightest hint from anyone that that might be the case for Vialle."
She leans in close and takes one of Soren's hands in both of hers. She hadn't been speaking loudly before, but now her voice is a low murmur barely louder than a whisper. "Rumor has it that the Sky Queen who paralyzed Cambina has been looking for a way to... recorporealize. So, yeah -- not unreasonable that she's somehow possessing Vialle, and that's why she could do the walk."
She hesitates, winces, then adds, "The fact that Vialle disappeared to Tir and then became unexpectedly pregnant already had me worried that the pregnancy was... not normal, somehow. Martin said Syd seemed surprised by it, and that's not what I would expect based on my understanding of how this place and his powers work together. It makes me think maybe it's not his child at all -- maybe it's how the other Queen is growing herself a new body."
She looks like she has more to add, but pauses to give Soren a chance to react to all that.
Soren, normally not much of a drinker, pulls a bottle from the ice chest. He hands it to Folly and opens another one for himself. "So, we're what? 'Screwed as screwed can be?' Do you have a plan yet?"
"Yeah, I'm... working on it." Folly frowns, chews her bottom lip, takes a long pull from the bottle. "How hard would it be to get into his room?"
"Not at all. I'm the only guy in the castle who outranks his personal secretary, and we're pals.
"What will be hard is getting into it when he's both in it and alone in it."
Folly taps the lip of the bottle against her chin, thinking. "We wouldn't even have to catch him alone, necessarily, if we could just find a way of leaving him a message that he would notice but no one else would. Normally we could count on the other resident of that room not being able to see, but under the circumstances I don't want to make that assump---AAH!"
She casts around the booth until she finds a notebook and a writing implement. She flips to a blank page at the back, scribbles something, and then rips it out and hands it to Soren.
It's the little riff Syd used to play to alert them to impending trouble in the venue. The rhythms are spot-on, but she's added unexpected dynamics: a long decrescendo with a sforzando at the end.
Or maybe that's a long arrow pointing to which members of the band he should talk to: sf.
"And if we're not sure where he's likely to go first when he gets in, we can leave copies in more than one place," she opines, with a little nod out toward the studio, and his drum kit. "Then he can find a way to come find us. Hopefully. And anyone else who sees it might just assume it was a little something he was working on and wanted to jot down for later." She looks at Soren for his opinion.
"Well, we're the only ones here who are likely to leave this exact message, but it's not very proactive, and he really ought to hear the story firsthand at some point from Robin and Vere.
"But if it gets him to come to us, that's at least a start."
Folly nods, frowning in thought. "Well, the most proactive approaches I can think of are calling him, except he didn't answer last time I tried -- but maybe we can try again, or you can try -- and making an educated guess where he's likely to show up first when he gets back, and try to wait for him there. Do you know if he's had a chance to get trumps of Xanadu yet? I painted some while I was away, but haven't had a chance to give them to him yet."
"Those are your fold-spacetime Fantasy Magic gates, like the one your cousin made to the old city? Yeah, I think he must. He has a disturbing habit of just appearing places from around a corner.
"But if you want to know where I expect to see him next, it's at Edan's dance thing, replacing a drummer on the sly."
Folly can't help but crack a smile at that. "Yes, that would be exactly like him," she agrees. "Which I guess means I should head down there eventually. I just... might want to check on a thing or two up here, first. Besides you, me, Robin, and Vere, who else knows about what they told you?"
"Edan, Brennan, and Jerod. So, as secrets go, it's totally set up to leak, and soon. I don't know if they reported it to Caine, who sent him up there. Oh, and while I'm not actually freaking out, you were only middlin' pregnant when you left, and Syd told me you'd been somewhere where time went fast, whatever that means, but you are going to be a shock to Tjaden and Haven if you show up looking like you might've miscarried."
"Oh... yeah, about that...." Folly gives a sheepish smile. "It was a REALLY fast-time place." She finishes off her beer.
"So you lived for five years without any of your bandmates and we just went on our way with five weeks of rehearsals?" He hands her the rest of his beer to finish. "Hope you still remember the words."
She grins and taps her temple. Some things are etched pretty deep.
"Soon as we can, soon as we possibly can, we've gotta play together again. The band has a hole without you." He looks... agitated.
"Hell, if we don't get to Syd before his big pow-wow, we just call a rehersal of the no-refusal type and we throw you into the drum booth to tell him..."
"I am highly in favor of this plan," Folly agrees, nodding vigorously. From what she felt in her stroll through the castle with Lark, the band isn't the only thing with a hole in it -- but they can talk about that later.
"Which reminds me, I should probably go ahead and send my mum on down to the shindig with Lark, while I borrow back some of my good clothes and we maybe leave a couple of these notes around---" she gestures toward the scribbled music notation "---in case Syd makes it back up here before one of us catches him."
"You should tell your mom to find Ash and introduce your kid to his wives."
"Yeah, something tells me that will happen whether I tell her to or not."
She hesitates, thinking, then digs out her trump case and hands him a card, face-down. "Do you know how to use these?"
He looks at them. "You tried to show me before, but I don't think we actually got around to trying it. I've been a passenger, but I haven't flown solo, as it were."
"It's not too hard. You just concentrate on the picture and sort of... will it to make the connection. Kind of like that old pay phone at the dive bar on Elm that only worked half the time." She grins, then gestures toward the card. "Go ahead, try it. If it works, you can use it to get hold of me if you find Syd before I do."
"Do you get charged long-distance if we use them, or can I give it a try?"
"Free to use," Folly says, carefully neglecting to mention the price some people have paid at the hands of trumps. "And anyone can make a call, but only one of our family should be able to receive one -- so if you ever feel a tickle in your head like this when you don't have a card in your hand, either something has gone very weird and possibly dangerous, or there's something Syd neglected to mention to you about your family background." She gives him a thumbs-up to give it a try.
He connects first thing, and speaks out loud instead of just in her mind.
"Yeah, that works," she says, with a bit of relief in her voice. "Presumably Vere and Robin will be at this shindig thing, so if Syd shows up there I'll try to get him connected with them -- and if he shows up here, you can send him to me and I'll get him to them. If he gets in after the party is over, we'll have to play it by ear -- but my guess is I'll end up back here" -- she gestures to the studio -- "which is maybe not a bad place to catch him, either. Sound like a plan?"
Following Dinner family members and friends in the castle disperse to dress and take one of the many carriages or other conveyances to the main town square of Xanadu, just outside the Mayor’s Office/House.
By the time Brennan emerges from the balcony, done with the various impromptu conferences of the day, he sees that the pre-gathering gathering is in the early stages of winding down. Since he may have more to take care of than most, he fixes himself a quick plate of food that can be eaten on the run and departs early. Most of his extra work includes looking through the various responses-- or lack-- from the Knights of the Ruby. The only expected response, of course, is, "Yes, Commander, I will be there." Replies otherwise, or lack of reply unless someone is not presently in Xanadu, merits another message or if feasible a personal visit from Brennan.
This is not an optional gathering. They don't all have to show up at the same time, but they do all have to show up in their finest and assemble around Brennan and the other Knights Commander.
It's probably only Monsun... and maybe Crescent, if the two have been spending time together... who might creatively misinterpret any of that. But Brennan leaves nothing to chance.
When those tasks (if necessary) are complete, Brennan quickly dresses in his own finest, although still befitting his personal taste. He will likely be on the lower end of the radiance scale in his traditional black and burgundy colors-- five hundred years of reaction against the feathered flamboyance of Uxmal is hard to break. The cut is conservative as well, and could obviously be the pattern of a uniform without actually BEING a uniform. He is armed, as befits a commander of an order militant celebrating the creation of another.
The square is brightly lit with lamps everywhere and the weather could not be nicer. The warmth of the afternoon has lost its bite and cool breezes from the harbor bring a smell of salt and the occasional hungry seabird. The square is prepared for Edan's display, but until then, it is being used by the citizens of Xanadu for dancing. The dance band is playing fast songs, and the dancers seem young and willing to exert themselves. The many benches and side areas are filled with older and less energetic folks all in their best clothes. It's clear that the business of Xanadu is not stopped for Edan's event.
Opposite the dance area is a slightly raised dais. While many of the tables have people sitting at them, or the signs that they have been claimed, the main table is empty, where the King and Queen will eventually be.
There is ample food and drink, and members of the upper and military classes of both Xanadu and Amber are abundantly present.
A tall woman stands near the Dais. She is dressed in a long black skirt that is hemmed in embroidered in red, blue and yellow flowers. Another row of flowered embroidery traces a simple apron shape on the front and extend up a similarly embroidered short vest like straps over a white peasants blouse. Her red hair is braided and coiled atop her head and woven with yellow and blue ribbons. A plate of small nibbles rests on the edge of the dais as she claps along with the beat of a jaunty tune. (Is that really Brita? In a dress?)
Among others in the crowd, she can see her mother, her Uncle Julian, and of course her cousin Ambrose, who waves in a way that suggests he'll join her in a bit.
Brita waves back at Ambrose. She nods at her Mother and does a little twirl in place to show off the dress with a raised eyebrow to see if it meets with maternal approval.
Ossian arrives on foot, watching all the people gather. He stands quiet close to a wall for several minutes before moving towards the food. This seems so awkward he thinks.
Having slipped out of dinner, Fletcher is pleased to find that the staff have been doing not just an excellent job of maintaining his room in Xanadu during his months away, but also a very good job of arranging to have its wardrobe stocked per his specifications.
Sticking with his black and green motif, Fletcher opts for a formal suit of a more martial cut. He's not sure what's on the agenda for this party, so he wants to be ready to move if occasion demands, He examines what he has been told is a more modern version of the insignia for a Knight Commander of the Order of the Unicorn, and it joins his usual lapel pin on his outfit.
With his sword slung over his shoulder, he commandeers a carriage to the grand event. He scans the ever-improving marvels of Xanadu as his carriage rolls along. Disembarking near the square, he cuts his way through the crowd, greeting a handful of people he remembers from previous visits to Xanadu. He never did get around to finding out how many Knights of the Unicorn had already made the move from Amber to Xanadu, but he imagines he'll find out soon. He pauses out in the square, looking around. He should find out if his Order has a delegation here, but spots Lilly and Brennan first. He'd been meaning to speak with them at dinner. He starts heading toward them.
When Brennan arrives, he spends the socially required amount of time mingling, hob-nobbing, renewing old acquaintances and the like. But eventually, he will gravitate to the area that he directed the Knights of the Ruby to assemble.
Lilly changes quickly upon leaving dinner, having opted to run out rather than deal with an awkward conversation with Garrett. Despite the party atmosphere, she decides on a more martial look. There is no denying her position among the Ruby Knights. She keeps her color palette to dark reds, mixed with the dark oranges and browns of her family line.
Seeing Brennan arrive, she smiles. It is always good to see a friendly face in the crowd. "Brennan, it is good to see you. I see you have the Knights well under control."
Brennan nods and smiles greeting, knowing that Lilly would gravitate to the general area of Knights on her own.
"Likewise," he says. "They've had it too easy since the war, but I think that's coming to an end." Brennan is smiling as he says it, and it's said in a tone that demonstrates comfort for his men and women, not antagonism. "Edan has asked for our help-- for a cadre of our people to help him train his. I thought it was a good idea so I made some arrangements. That was before I knew you'd be back for all of this, or I'd've coordinated it."
Lilly smiles again. "I trust you." She takes a moment to survey their surroundings. "How did all of this come about? This increase in trained troops really does speak of impending war."
"I'm glad," Brennan says, "because I slated one of yours-- Sir Cropbringer-- for Edan's cadre. The rest were raised by others of us. It's my thought that they should be thinking of themselves primarily as Knights of the Ruby, rather than Knights Raised by Brennan or Lilly or Jovian or whoever.
"As for our increased militancy," he says, "I believe it is a sign that the Klybesians have gone well past too far. You've heard about Reid's death, yes? So there's that, along with more details that Ossian dug up while trying to retrieve his remains. There's this business with Marius, too-- they had some as-yet-unavenged part in his trials. And," his affect goes dead flat, "the orphanage in which Ossian was found, we now know, had ties to the Klybesians. The monks stole him from his mother, Regenlief, at birth. I don't doubt we'll hear more at the conclave tomorrow, but none of those can go unanswered. The real question is whether we're called to arms in support, or called to a different battle, or left mostly to our own pursuits mostly in Avalon. I don't really expect the latter, except insofar as we might already be pursuing goals that the King deems important, though."
Lilly nods. "I really have been out of the loop. My father barely shared news of the family while we were traveling. I think he likes to limit distractions. One task at a time and all that. Would you say danger is imminent? Should I be prepared to draw? Or do you think I have some time to research and prepare?"
"Imminent as in, this very gathering?" Brennan asks. "No," he says slowly, "but none of us expected Dara and cleph at the coronation, either. But I've got a bad feeling, so this sword isn't ceremonial." That might be a joke-- Brennan doesn't wear ceremonial weapons. Ever. "I'd expect tomorrow's Mandatory Fun to be everyone throwing their latest information into the pot and seeing what floats to the top. That'll be the time to pick a research topic, if we aren't just handed assignments.
"And your father compartmentalizes, I think," Brennan says, switching topics. "So do I, although it's a habit I'm trying to bring under control. He caught up with me in Avalon outside of Montparnasse a few months back, and he didn't mention you or Fletcher, either. I figured if I needed to know something, he'd tell me. Which is by way of saying, it's not just you, it's all of us. He mention the new island off his coast?"
Fletcher approaches Brennan and Lilly. If he's overheard any of their conversation, it's not apparent. Addressing them as he walks up, he says, "Good evening! This is quite the celebration. It's been some time. How fares Avalon? I hear Dad has expanded its real estate. And what are the Knights of the Ruby up to this fine evening?"
"Ah, Fletcher," Brennan says, "We were just talking about that, actually. I had some advance warning of it from the Maghee, who were resolved to sail for it directly before anyone had even set eyes on it. Putting myself in your father's position, I thought that I might want to be informed of a new and unexpected fleet setting sail for my coasts-- not to mention the possibility of a new island-- so I sent him a messenger with a briefing before we set sail. I've put my own feet on the new island, so I can attest that's true. Any idea if my man Sessile was ale to deliver that message?" Brennan asks.
Lilly shakes her head. "This is all new to me, though I will say that something did pull his focus at the end of our trip. I suppose it could be that news. There is far too much going on right now. It makes me uneasy." She shakes her head again, smiling a little. Uneasy or not, Lilly did enjoy the idea of a good fight. Peace is too simple.
"I don't know. I haven't spoken to Dad in a few months. My news of the island is second hand. It seems an odd thing to suddenly acquire. I understand there's more military movement around Avalon these days. I wonder what exactly people want to fight Avalon for. It didn't seem to be much of a center or trade or industry when last I was there. And those are the most mundane motives for war typically. Do you have more recent news on that front? I didn't get a chance to ask Corwin about the island either." Fletcher looks at Lilly significantly at that topic. "Bleys seems to think Paris might have a legitimate claim on the island."
"Well, put yourself in his position," Brennan says to Lilly. "Real estate is the one thing they're not making any more of, to borrow a phrase. Now someone's gone and done just that, and it's a natural invasion platform, and it sits athwart major naval lanes. Hell, it's even got buildings on it and a legendary history. Everyone will want a piece of it. It can't not get his attention. It's almost physically painful that I have to be here even for a day rather than there, because it afford a chance at one of the greatest acts of naval misdirection in history to the one other force in theater that just doesn't give a damn about it.
"As for motives, superficially, the usual: Honor, culture, pride, past slights, future advantage, land, money, fear, and good clean fun. Fundamentally... it's the natural state of the place, I think. They fight because that's what Benedict needs them to do," Brennan says.
Fletcher needs a moment to ponder the notion that Benedict needs people to fight him and whether or not that changes his perception of his parents' marriage, so he comments on another topic. "Lilly, don't be jealous of the island for hogging Dad's attention. Bleys seems to think Corwin may have a claim on the island too. Or possibly the island might have a claim on Corwin. There's apparently a lot of math I don't understand. Brennan, how does a whole island just pop up suddenly? And why now? And why did it sink? And if it was Corwin's before, was the tomb there in Corwin's time? How far off of Avalon is it exactly? You mentioned it astride shipping lanes. Has shipping increased? I didn't recall Avalon being much of a trade center when last I was there."
"The only easy question you asked is, 'how far?'" Brennan says, "and the answer to that is, 'We haven't made the trip and measured it, but it's pretty close. Close enough that your father's new strategic imperative now includes occupying that island or seeing sure that it's occupied by a strong allied group. It hasn't been there long enough to affect shipping, but it will. It must, really.
"Why did it sink in the first place? Well, here we tread on royal egos: Tracing back through the eras of Avalon, we have the current Protectorate system, preceded by an interregnum, preceded by the rule of the Witch-King and several eras before that. The Witch-King ruled, so legend has it, from the Silver Towers and when they fell his reign ended. It turns out that by 'fell' what is meant is 'sunk beneath the sea along with the island they stood on.' I have it from someone almost first-hand that this was done by the original inhabitants of the island, the Maghee, as an act of rebellion against the Witch-King. Where the royal ego comes in is here: Do you believe that that island is the actual one we've all heard about Corwin ruling in his salad days, or do you believe it's just a Shadow?
"Anyway, if the why is bad governance, the how is basically Magic," and the way Brennan says it, he isn't talking about some one-off parlor trick, "for both the sinking and the rising. I didn't see it rise with my own eyes, but we arrived there very shortly after, shortly enough that no occupying force other than Bleys was there. It reminded me of the deluge after the battle at the Courts of Chaos. Why now? That's a great question. Ask the Maghee, and they'll say it was in fulfillment of prophecy, and happened the moment their Ard-Righ took the torc of his people back into his own hand." Brennan offers no opinion on that, as yet.
Fletcher shrugs. "Bleys seems to think that the island is genuine. I'm not sure which is the greater strategic threat to Avalon: the island itself or the level of power that must have been employed to be able to cause it to rise again in the vicinity of Dad's headquarters. This 'Ard-Righ' sounds like a current player in the area. Do we know his ambitions and loyalties?"
By his expression, Brennan obviously shares Fletcher's concern about the levels of power implied in that little stunt.
"Short term-- he's got a score to settle with Moire, who has used his people and his forebears pretty badly. I made sure he knew as much of that score as possible, and to be honest we still haven't hit bottom on it. And since I'm the one who put the torc in his hand, it's not unreasonable to say he owes me a favor," Brennan says. "Long term, probably re-occupation of the Silver Towers, and since he was first to make landfall he's got a step up on that. And probably the establishment of a safe realm for his people, who have been scattered and abused since the Silver Towers fell. I will be strongly encouraging him," he says with a smile, "to make that realm as a protected realm under your father, or to just lead his people out of Avalon all together. I have no intention of causing Benedict more problems than I solve."
"Has anyone looked under the island," Lilly asks breaking her silence. "Perhaps it is not a land mass at all but something differently entirely. And if it is something different, say an extremely large craft of sorts, we are looking at an entirely different problem all together. Islands are typically tops of mountains. Mountains don't tend to move large distances. Also, just because this is a copy of an island of legend does not mean it is an island of legend. It in itself could be a shadow of another place, another time. More than likely, based strictly on locale, it is probably either a distraction or a major strike, either of which is probably meant to keep Benedict busy. I don't like it. I don't like it at all."
Fletcher smiles at the news his sister has not taken a vow of silence. "A reasonable thought. It could have been carefully prepared well enough to fool Bleys, at least initially. Have you heard about the tomb too? Whoever recreated that had access to information that they really shouldn't have. That could be bad. Terrible even. Does Avalon allow a means to look under the island? I must confess I didn't test the physical laws too greatly during my visit. Bleys expressed a theory that the island, being associated strongly with Corwin, might ultimately move away from Avalon in the direct of Paris. The math is beyond me but if this is a feint, whoever engineered it might have a scary command of the math involved. Plus a lot of power. I should have asked Connor about that tomb at dinner. If it is not truly an island, what might it be? A sleeping dragon?" Fletcher looks to Brennan. An insightful person might conclude that Fletcher is having difficulty in deciding whether to crush his sister's theory or entertain the possibility that the other who have visited that place might have missed something so significant.
Brennan shrugs, "That island could be built on the top of the head of a five hundred foot giant made of chalk that just decided to stand up out of the muck, and it wouldn't be the weirdest thing I've seen this year. But even if it is, we got there when the rains were still falling on it, washing the coral from the towers and clearing the silt from the boulevards. It was being restored, somehow, and it wasn't Sorcery as I practice it or as I've ever seen it practiced. Frankly, I don't doubt its legitimacy. I'm not clear on every detail of the place's history from Lir to Corwin to Benedict, or exactly why it happened when it happened, but that doesn't change the basics for me.
"The important things to me are, how does it affect what I believe to be Moire's Gambit and, more academically, what exactly is its history with Lir, and why do so many of us keep settling the place?" Brennan turns to Fletcher, "So, yeah, I heard about the tomb. Saw it with my own eyes, even." He turns back to Lilly, "He means Lir's tomb, which was sitting in the throne room. Which is probably where Khela got Conner's sword from. We weren't there quite long enough to figure out why a coffin was in a throne room.
"Which brings me to my own question for curiosity's sake: What do you know about Lir?" Brennan asks.
Lilly shakes her head. "Painfully little, I suppose. And even less about sorcery. I am afraid that this mystery might be out of my depths." She offers the hint of a smile. "I'm the martial one, remember?"
Fletcher concentrates. "I've been pondering the notion of Lir since I heard Robin's story yesterday. I'm sure Celina's archivists have the most information on the topic. It had been some time since I've given that name serious thought. As you know, Rebmans swear by him as some sort of semi-divine/titanic founder or champion. There are various songs and poems about him, but who knows how much truth there is in that? Didn't they say the tomb was empty? Regardless if the sword Conner carries was Lir's, I think it must have passed through Cneve's hands at some point. What sort of information are you looking for?"
"Robin's tale is not mine to tell, but yeah, seems like that would play in. What am I looking for?" Brennan smiles broadly. "Anything I don't already know, of course. Whether it was the historical Lir or his Shadow that played a part in Avalon's deep past, knowing more about him could provide a lot of leverage with the Maghee. One of my nefarious sources puts him pretty reliably as a Knight in Rebma's court, and probably Moins' son, but I haven't been able to turn up a father or a particular order.
"I will be talking with Celina, too, but it occurred to me at some point that my knowledge is so lacking I could walk past a lead and not even recognize it. For instance: So he was a Knight of an ancient order. Great. And the great historical Orders of the past are...?" Brennan shrugs. "And their responsibilities and spheres of influence were...?" Brennan shrugs again, clearly annoyed at this gap in his historical knowledge.
"To my knowledge he was not a Knight of the Unicorn or Knight of the Compass. I think his story goes back to a time before the stair, when there was significantly less direct cultural contact between Rebma and Amber."
"Our father might know something of other ancient orders," Lilly shrugs. "I think Celina may be a good source of information as well. I don't know her very well. Is she trustworthy?"
Fletcher grins. "Of course she is. She's a queen gathering allies."
"I am a sworn member of her court, since her accession to the throne and coronation," Brennan says. He seems to consider that a sufficient statement on the issue of trustworthiness.
Lilly nods. That is all the information she needs of the matter.
Then he turns to Fletcher. "What of the Order of the Unicorn?" he asks. "Do you plan to revive it or re-conceive it?"
"There can never be too many Orders," Lilly adds with a smile. "We need to keep one another in check."
Fletcher grins again. "Lir's status was legendary even in my youth, so I doubt there's any non-Rebman records of any particular orders he might have joined, or founded. In the case of the Knights of the Unicorn, they still exist and remain Amber's most senior order of knights. I do not know if they have worked to replenish their ranks since the war. Random asked that I sort of my allegiance to father before pursuing other loyalties. I'm not sure what to make of that, and when he's available Dad seems hesitant to exactly explain whether Avalon is a separate Court to which I owe fealty. And I don't know if Random will distinguish between the Courts of Amber and Xanadu." It is clear that Fletcher takes formal distinctions and responsibility seriously. "How do you handle being a Knight of Amber (and or Xanadu) and sworn to Celina? And Lilly, I don't suppose father said anything to you about such things?"
"Gingerly," Brennan says. "I'm not privy to the details of their conversations on the matter, but the Queen considers the King to be the head of the Family. As a practical matter, there have been no conflicts to manage, and I've found transparency to be the best policy: King Random knows of my position in Rebma and Queen Celina knows of my Knighthood and my oath to Random. For the moment I consider myself to give good service to both in advising Celina as best I can.
"It's not so different to my time in Avalon," he continues. "I swore no oath to your father, nor did he ask. But I made clear what it was that I sought to do on Celina's behalf in his realm, and as much as possible I chose actions I thought would benefit both Benedict and Celina while I was in Benedict's realm. I would do no less for Corwin. My oaths are as they are, but with the exception of the Queen of Air and Darkness I try to defend and further Order itself."
Lilly nods along as Brendan speaks. "Father has never asked more of me then to be his daughter. But with the upbringing I had, that is actually quite the task. My foster family raised me to be loyal to him, and to myself, and even to Amber. Father choose them well. He speaks little of oaths and I never really believed he thought of himself as a monarch. He's always been more of a General, if you know what I mean. The Order of the Ruby was more my choice. A way to separate myself from Benedict while continuing to bring Honor to the family. I hope that the two never come into conflict because that would create a very difficult choice."
"If anyone knows the true relationship between Oberon, Moins, and the Other One, they haven't told me. But for the present, there are three brothers and a niece or a daughter depending on the brother. Since the brothers don't include both Corwin and Eric, here's hoping we're safe from all internal conflicts except the Other One." Brennan doesn't sound too hopeful about that, though. "I don't know that anyone much considers Amber to a court of consequence any longer. It's Avalon, Rebma, and Paris that can't be ignored, especially since everyone understands their status in the scheme of things. Whether they are courts in the social and political sense according to their members is less important than the facts of their separate existences."
Fletcher stiffens a bit at the mention of Amber. "The courts cannot avoid becoming political entities as they grow in population and power. Random's position as head of the family seems to stem from more than simply the fact that he... fashioned this place. He is the King of Amber, chosen by the Unicorn with the tacit approval of Oberon. Dad kept Avalon a secret for a long time, presumably for a reason, possibly to forestall the inevitable politics. While the the bastions of Order build their defenses, our enemies seem to be seeking alternate routes to our undoing. How well equipped are we to mount a serious offensive against any one of them? The Klybesians in particular have a number of hard points that will be costly to take."
"I assume that there is much more to Avalon's defenses than meets the eye," Lilly responds thoughtfully. "Our father would not leave such things to chance. Still, with multiple Kingdoms to protect, we are not only divided by belief but also by distance. We need to determine our weaknesses and move to protect them."
"All the realms are connected, whether they want to be or not, by the Faiella-Bionin: Tir-na Nog'th to Avalon to Rebma to Paris to Xanadu to Tir-na Nog'th," Brennan says. "No tower along the wall, so to speak, is more than two towers away from any other. Whether that's a point of strength or weakness may be a matter of some discussion tomorrow, though. None of us actually need it to move to or from Avalon, Paris or Xanadu, and I'm leaving out Rebma and Tir-na Nog'th only because I haven't made the effort. But it can be used by anyone who's reached it."
The pre-game festivities clearly winding down, Signy takes an opportunity to top up her stolen glass of scotch and to pour her brother another one, before tossing various hors d'oevres on a plate that can be eaten along the way.
Pausing for any stops for her brother along the way, she manages to polish off the plate quickly while nursing the drink along so that she shows up with most of it intact.
She looks around at everyone assembled, noting Brennan and the growing assembling of the Knights of the Ruby before turning back to her brother. "Are you required to be with the Knights for this?"
"I should be," Marius says reluctantly. "Showing the flag and all that. But I can keep you company for a while and make any introductions to the locals. I've met a lot of people." He starts pointing out various notables, with some attention to friends and family of the various royals: Tjaden, the mayor's consort, and Scarlett, Raven's mother, Ash, the mayor, Valeria, not quite the Rebman ambassador but sister to Jerod, and various business people, most of whom are only interesting to Signy as potential suppliers of exotic materials.
Signy nods knowingly at all the people that he points out, hoping that the fact that for all she knows he's naming exotic dishes from some restaurant in Shadow.
She notes Brita, and remembers that it might be good to talk to her again since they last had their little adventure rescuing the Queen.
"Actually, I do see Brita, and I haven't actually talked with her in a while...."
She pauses to see if Marius wants to continue evading his Knightly responsibilities or continue to stay with her.
Brita gives a little half wave from her spot near the dais.
"Go ahead. We'll catch up more later." Marius gives her hand a pleasant squeeze and goes off toward the Knights.
Robin and Vere linger on the outskirts of the square, standing arm in arm and observing the festivities quietly for a while. Vere hums quietly along with the band as he notes good sites for snipers and potential choke points in case of a panicked exodus, and amuses himself by trying to analyze what security measures are in place.
It's always good to stay in practice.
Robin's bright eyes dance over the crowd as her toe taps in time to the music. She’' still wearing what she wore to dinner as Castor has not managed to convince her to change her clothes more than once a day yet. But her outfit is as suitable for dancing as it was for climbing down the outside of a castle after a Family Gathering.
Overhead, the occasional hungry seabird has some friendly competition and Robin glances upward with a laugh for her fair.
"My Love?" she says to Vere, fondness filling her voice with gold (or perhaps bronze.) "I have been informed in no uncertain terms, that the spicy chicken barbeque is here and that some should be procured post haste if one does not wish someone to procure it themselves."
She grins and tips her head toward one of the serving tables near the dais.
Vere glances upwards at the hovering fair and smiles. "We cannot have that," he agrees. "Let us provide for the greedy children." Still arm in arm he walks with Robin into the crowd, nodding greetings to people as they pass.
Many of the city folks seem pleased to nod, especially those who know Vere from the Amber Regency. No one really seems inclined to interrupt them on their mission, though.
As Vere and Robin approach the food table, they see some familiar faces. Scarlett is in conversation with Tjaden, which probably means Ash is somewhere nearby, and Maximus and Victor are talking to one of the castle staff. Vere thinks it's the young man who was Prince Garrett's swords master. They are, to Max’s delight, discussing methods of killing demons.
Tjaden and Scarlet bow when Robin and Vere approach, but Victor and his party are too absorbed in their own discussion to notice them.
Robin's friends would like some chicken, now.
Vere nods to Tjaden and Scarlet, and silently points out Victor if Robin hasn't already seen him.
Robin nods back to Vere with her own grin. Now that is a conversation Robin can get her teeth into. But first -- chicken. Definitely spicy chicken.
Robin approaches the table, chooses a large plate and stacks it with discrete chicken parts. (I'm thinking of the stuff from the barbecue place that Silhouette and Robin went to a while ago.) If there is additional hot sauce, Robin uses that liberally too. All the while, she's got her 'wait for it, wait for it' mood on though she is working quickly and efficiently.
Once done, Robin indicates the demon-killing conversation with a jerk of her head and heads that way. Vere is totally welcome to accompany her or talk to more civilized folk if he'd like.
Robin's plan is to act like a normal person while simultaneously underhanding bits of chicken up into the air for fly-by snatches. It's not a good plan, but it's hers....
Vere follows, There is nowhere he wants to be more than with Robin.
Robin's trio react as expected to this, which is to say the female lands on Victor, and both males on Vere's shoulders. At least Robin doesn’t have far to throw.
Victor continues his story, describing a flaw in the circle left by the late Lord Rodrigo of Diaz and the sad consequences to the man known as "The Captain"...
Max is entranced by the fire lizards.
Conner arrives a little past fashionably late to the square dressed in his usual greens with the Paxblade on his hip. Conner idly surveys the crowd and finds he doesn't have a great desire to interact with anyone. The idea of tweaking Valeria's nose in public gives him a brief smile and the sight of Brita in a dress does make the grin wider. Still, the same old, same old of court fun is just stale.
Then the fire lizards swoop down and land. Conner's hand is on Halosydne's hilt before he notes the complete lack of reaction from the party goers. These are known entities and Conner has clearly missed something. Conner watches them land and sees Vere and Robin and clearly some friends of theirs. Curiosity briefly wars with anger and a desire not to discomfit and then with a shrug Conner shifts himself and approaches their group. He approaches them openly and greets people along the way in perhaps a slightly louder voice than needed. If Robin and Vere wish to avoid him or wave him off, Conner is giving them plenty of opportunity to do so.
Vere nods a greeting as Conner approaches, but leaves it to Robin to make the introductions to her friend and his family.
Robin looks up from the not-so-subtle plan that has her tossing food in Vere and Victor's general direction.
"Conner," she smiles and nods. There's a brief pause, but Robin picks up what Vere is laying down pretty quickly.
"Oh, have you met everyone?". Robin asks, mostly rhetorically.
"This is Victor - demon-hunter and my ex, Max - Scarlett's son," Robin gestures to the nearby red-handed diva, "by way of Lucas. Annnndd, feel like I should know you sir...". She finishes as she comes to "Prince Garrett's arms instructor."
He bows. "I am no one, my lady. A servant of The Merciful One and his highness, Prince Garrett. I am called Abd-Allah."
"Servus Dei," replies Victor. "I once knew a man named that."
Robin nods a greeting to Abd-Allah, and while Victor's comment seems to go by Robin without notice, her eyes are sparkling and her lips are pressed against a smile. She's obviously still fond of the great goof.
Conner offers Victor a hand clasp and as nod of his. Max is also offered a hand clasp. "Your mother and brother both mentioned you today. A pleasure to meet you finally." Abd-Allah gets his bow returned with a slight bow as befits their relative rank. "Peace be upon you, Abd-Allah."
"May the Merciful One grant you peace," he replies.
Conner then turns back to Robin. "You haven't finished the introductions, Cousin." Conner gestures towards the fire lizards. "Who are these marvelous creatures?"
Robin grins at her little darlings. "These are Peep, Chirrup and Ooot." Robin nods to the little queen on Victor and the two bronze on Vere, respectively. "They joined up with me when I took the dragonriders back to Calusa. And while they are still pretty young, they are growing up nicely." Robin's voice fills with warm pride.
"I guess, one could call them my... familiars? Affine isn't right. And Friend is too small a word." She looks back to Conner. "Would you like to meet Chirrup? He likes new people.... Especially since Silhouette got him hooked on the spicy chicken, didn't she?" She says, teasing her little gallant one.
"They are remarkable creatures," Vere adds with a small smile. "And they are quite aware of it."
Not as remarkable as the one commenting on them, Robin smiles with open joy at Vere and his two companions.
"Aren't we all?" Conner observes.
Robin can't help the little 'heh' of amusement that escapes her.
Victor holds out his wrist and a miniature bronze dragon hops onto it, to be presented to Conner. Victor says, "They're smarter than cats, or at least they're as smart as cats and more interested in pleasing people. And by people, I mean Robin."
Chirrup makes a noise very like his name.
Conner holds up his own wrist for Chirrup to perch on should he wish. "Good day, Chirrup." Conner tries to put the bird call inflections that Robin does into the name. "Aren't you a fine looking flier?" Conner pauses a moment and opens his Third Eye to have a closer look at the dragonling. "Is there anywhere he likes or doesn't like to be touched?" Conner asks.
"Don't like -- the usual: eyes, mouth, genitals. Like -- eyeridges are good for scritchings, between the wings for kneeding, down the spine for stroking. Here..." Robin holds a bit of chicken out to Conner. "Like many young things, they are mighty keen on food."
Vere catches Robin's eye and gives a subtle nod towards Max, who is watching the fire lizards with wide eyes.
Chirrup steps up onto Connor's wrist. He smells vaguely of spices, which seem to cover up a tinge of sulphur. After eating the chicken, he turns his head to get scratched behind the ear.
Victor catches Robin's eye and gives a subtle nod towards Max, who is watching the fire lizards with wide eyes.
Conner watches Chirrup eat the chicken with gusto and commences scratching behind the ear when prompted. "It is a nice change of pace to find something draconic that isn't an existential threat to the cosmos." Conner smiles. "Are they going to grow as large as Calusan dragons?"
"Nope," Robin says. While still talking to Conner, she smiles to Vere and holds out a bit of chicken toward Max. Raising her eyebrows and ticking her head toward Ooot, asking if he wants a go.
"These little darlings are only going to grow to about as long as a forearm. Though something Dad let slip; I think he used guys like this as the seeds for the Calusan dragons, as a kind of response to the existential threat..." She shrugs, "I'm not certain, but it certainly seems possible."
"Dragon seeds." Conner muses then chuckles. "What a garden that would be." Chirrup gets an extra skritch for that thought.
Vere goes down on one knee so that Ooot is at Max's level.
Max starts feeding Ooot, and petting him. "He's like a kitty!" the boy says.
Robin grins, taking delight in Max’s delight.
Victor nods. "More useful, really. These beauties can fly, hunt, and breathe tiny dragon fire." He turns to Robin. "Robin, my bird, have you considered breeding these lovelies? I know a demon-hunter or two who could use such a companion."
"A demon-hunter or two, huhn?" She's still grinning but answers the question. "I've thought about it but the darlings are a little young to talk it over with and I'm not doing anything without their full knowledge and consent."
Max looks up at Robin. "I saw him in the sky, the day I met my brother."
"Really? When was that?" Robin asks. Brother? Robin's pretty sure he doesn't mean Phillippe. But asking directly might spook the boy, so she'll trail roundabouts. But she does shoot an inquiring look to Vere and Conner to see if they know anything.
Conner catches Robin's look and decides to broach the direct question. "Do you mean Raven or another sibling?" He asks.
Vere continues quietly holding Ooot while Max pets him.
Max is perfectly happy talk as long as Ooot is still there for the petting. "Yeah, Raven. She was chasing me down and I was looking to escape, and I saw your little dragons flying over.
"I haven't met my other brothers and sisters, but I hear they've arrived from Paris. I haven't met my grandmother, either..."
"Oh, yeah... I remember...." Robin grins with fond memories, "Wasn't that a day. I'll let you in on a secret, Max. Ooot here was looking out for you. If you're ever in trouble and you see one of my little beauties in the sky, you let 'em know and either I or Raven or Victor or someone will come right quickly." She smiles again. Raven and riots - good times.
"I've only met Hope and Phillippe once," says Robin. "But I thought they were nice." Totally skipping over grandmother, yessir.
Vere continues to listen silently, while carefully watching the reactions of everyone in their vicinity.
Garrett arrives as the edge of the crowd in the square and looks around. Apparently spotting what he's looking for, he moves toward the nearest bar quickly, deftly dodging other drink-bearing patrons in his quest for a good Xanadu beer. He talks to the barkeep genially about brews and business while ordering a dark stout. Once he has beer in hand, he turns to survey the crowd, looking to catch up with people he didn't get to talk with at dinner.
A whirring in the air attracts his attention and he turns toward a large group of people in lots of shapes and sizes - tall, short, young, old. He spots the fire-lizards, the source of the sound that he heard, and grins as he realizes Robin must be in the pack there somewhere. As he makes his way over, his grin grows wider as he sees another VERY familiar face - one that he remembers fondly. Abd-allah.
"Hope and Phillippe? I know them well," he says as he approaches, smiling, with a dark beer in hand. "I was one of their riding instructors back in Amber, and saw them in Paris recently too."
"Hope you don't mind if I join you all. I saw Abd-allah here and decided this was the best place to be," Garrett says, with a clap on the back of his former weapons master.
Abd-allah bows. He doesn't smile; he never does, but he doesn't seem displeased to see Prince Garrett. "My best pupil, now a budding master. I have been assigned to train the young Lord, Highness."
"Keepin' em both out of trouble," Victor says, mostly towards Robin. Robin thinks he really means "all three of us".
From his kneeling position Vere smiles and nods his head in greeting to Garrett.
"Highness." Robin smiles to Garrett and Abd-allah as he joins the group. Anything that will get the Prince to voluntarily approach the fire-lizards after that first disastrous meeting is good.
"Soooo, you are both training Max here?" she asks Victor and Abd-allah. "That makes sense. I assume you are a specialist in man-type opponents, then Abd-allah? 'Cause I know Victor here can handle several of the alternatives." Though Robin's tone of voice teasingly implies that Vic can't handle as many of the alternatives as herself but enough.
Abd-allah nods. "It is said that a man with two tutors learns either twice or much or nothing, Lady."
Victor agrees. "Yep, all or nuthin." We can demonstrate at speed with each other." He puts his hand on his nephew"s head. "Maximus is a quick learner, not like I was."
Garrett nods to return the greetings of Robin and Vere. "Well, congratulations, Maximus," he says to Max. "You're learning from the best if you're working with Abd-allah. And I'm sure your skills are fine as well, sir," he adds to Victor, "I just haven't seen them in person."
Conner looks up from scratching behind Chirrup's ear to nod a greeting to Garrett when he joins them. "Robin, could I pick your brain about a question of animal husbandry? I have some plans for Rebma I could use advice on." Conner gestures to a quieter spot away from the bigger group.
Vere looks at Robin and raises a questioning eyebrow.
"Sure, Conner, though I don't know how much help I'll be for wet husbandry as opposed to dry..." she shrugs.
As she catches Vere's glance, Robin nods calmly. This is probably one of those "let's demonstrate that Robin is not dependent on Vere" moments. Besides she'll just be over there.
"If you gentlemen will pardon us a moment." Robin turns back to the crowd, and indicates with a wave that Ooot can stay with Max and Vere, and Beauty can stay with Victor while she, Chirrup and Conner step aside. On another level, she promises her little trio that Chirrup is not going to get extra chicken just 'cause he's with her. Everybody will keep getting the same amount -- dependent on good behavior, of course.
Jerod's arrival by carriage is low-key and well suited to the open nature of the gathering. Attired in his minimalist greys, the more astute family observers would think he is a bit more relaxed than when he first arrived though that is likely due to Carina's presence, dressed in finery suitable to Xanadu but with a hint of Rebman influence (her own appearance not withstanding). A more cynical observer might question who travels on whose arm during the gathering as the pair moves through the crowd, meeting and greeting, but as they adjust to each new introduction it becomes clear that this is a moot point.
Jerod's old friends, and Carina's friends, are pleased to see them, but there is perhaps one unexpected face in the crowd: his sister Valeria.
Friends and acquaintances, good fortune to all as Carina and Jerod make their rounds. Valeria's presence would be noticed, but as with all things Court related, Jerod rushes nothing. Instead, the rounds simply adjust, without appearing to adjust, until brother and sister are within suitable greeting range.
Valeria gives the proper bow from a Princess of one lineage to a related foreign Prince who is younger than her. Aside from instantly recognizing the courtesy, Jerod is amazed she can perform it above water.
"Hello, my brother," she says, "I see your family is all turning out for the festivities." Carina makes an appropriate bow to the Princess. Valeria smiles. "Carina, how nice to see that you are well. I had heard that your compatriots were worried for you."
"No doubt they will be able to assuage their concerns upon seeing her in attendance." Jerod replies, responding with the appropriate bow to his sister. "Come, we must catch up. There has been so much happening of late." as he finishes his drink, motioning to the food and refreshments (and oddly enough where Ossian is in close attendance).
"I will admit to some surprise to see you sister. What brings you to our little gathering, and not with the Queen I noticed?" he asks.
Valeria leans and takes his arm, walking close to him. "And I heard you were off to war, so the surprise is mutual. I've been talking to the Lord Mayor's wives. Did you know they came from a place that had no Queens at all? Like Bellum, except not even Dukes and Counts. It's an interesting prospect, being free to attain your best place on the great ladder of being based on your skills and talents alone."
"Indeed. I remember spending some time in Bellum. It was quite refreshing in some ways. To be held to greatness or failure on the basis of your efforts, and those of your allies you assemble." Jerod says, accepting the arm. He feels more than sees Carina dropping back, always aware of her presence. His head turns slightly as he notes the approach of Llewella and his progress slows deliberately. He does not stop however. Jerod has known Carina more than long enough to trust her ability to handle any situation within her skill set, and to call for help for those situations where she can't.
Not to mention the obvious negative response that is likely to happen should someone cause her serious distress (family or not).
"The Lord Mayor's background is much more...democratic. It certainly has some advantages, though also some deficiencies at times. I'm sure someone like you would have no trouble achieving greatness there. Though somehow I suspect you'd be rather bored in Shadow. Perhaps an option closer to home presents itself?"
Valeria appears to consider it. "I don't actually wish to take Holy Orders, and believe me, it's been suggested. Xanadu, despite the Lord Mayor's 'democratic' dabbling, still would require me to have a male family member as a protector. No one wishes to marry the daughter of a disgraced Queen, and those courts I could stay at are likely to be tediously attempting to use me. I find myself at a loss for options. What is a Lady of high breeding and training in statescraft to do?"
"A conundrum indeed. Someone with intelligence and skill but no available options?" Jerod asks.
"I think your options might be a bit more open than you realize. Consider that things remain in flux despite the establishment of the new kingdom and the general back and forth of trade and relations." he says, keeping an eye on the conversation with Carina. "Opportunities are available to those who can but look. And prepared to get a little dirty, as it were."
Through the crowd comes Ossian. He does not notice Jerod and Valeria until he's too close to avoid them. He will kiss Valeria's hand quite elegantly if allowed.
"Cousin. My lady." He smiles with a slight edge.
"Enchanted," says Valeria. "Your cousins here are so bold, above the waves. Did you come to ask me to dance, Prince Ossian?"
Jerod does not believe for a moment that Valeria doesn't know Ossian's actual rank.
Jerod waits patiently to see if Ossian remembers Jerod's warning about his sisters, issued many moons ago.
"And steal you from your brother? " Ossian smiles "I will have to chit-chat a few moments with him first, to make it look natural."
Jerod smiles slightly. His estimation of Ossian rises a notch as warning appears to have been remembered. Jerod likes cousins that know survival rules.
She mock-pouts. "Now you shall have to dance with me, to prove that you are only talking to my brother to make it look natural. You will find me at the bar."
Ossian smiles. "I will."
Valeria heads to the nearest drink station to obtain a beverage. If the conversation takes too long, it may be more than one beverage.
To Jerod he says, "I and Silhouette continued to investigate our ... acquaintances. They do things you will find ... disturbing. "
"Really?" he says, the smile shifting away just slightly. "Given the previous happenings I've been running into that sounds...oddly coincidental. And I don't believe in coincidences. We should take steps to discuss our mutual situations, at a later time."
"You make me curious. " Ossian says. "Anything more on their cross-shadow capacity? They seem to find their own workarounds."
"Our little problem in Gateway that involved Marius turned on three sorcerers called the Triumvirate. Turns out they had some tag-along chaosians that were literally part of them." Jerod says. "We've got the leader petrified. The second is quite dead, and the third is organizing a zombie army in Gateway in their underground. That's why we're back. We need serious reinforcements to burn them out. Your volcano idea was given some consideration you should know."
"There are enough things going on, and they have enough similarities to make me wonder if there is a common thread to everyone, or a common hand."
Ossian frowns "That is speculation. But I like speculation. What specific similarities do you see?"
"There is nothing deliberately specific." Jerod says. "Rather it is this feeling. There are numerous forces all seemingly coming out at the same time. There are some similarities with regards to the forces that are appearing. It all seems to come back to either Chaos or monks."
Ossian nods. "Yeah. They seem to be everywhere, at least the monks. I guess the monks have been gearing up for a long time. My feeling is that they are almost at the point where their plans bear fruit, whatever that means. I have not seen that many connections between the monks and Chaos, though." He pauses for a second.
"Do you think they act in concert, or just happen to act at the same time?"
"The paranoid side of me would say together, but I have seen no evidence of this to date." Jerod replies. "The universe leans towards opportunism, so I think Oberon's enemies see opportunity and are seeking to exploit it. My bigger concern is whether those who seek opportunity might consider that others who do so could be useful allies against a common enemy. Huon and Gateway are an example of that."
Ossian nods. "So we find something to agree on, Jerod." He grins. "I am still working on the monks' command structure. Noone seems to know enough of the higher echelons. By the way. Are there computers in Gateway?"
This question raises an eyebrow, more so than the incredible wonder that Jerod and Ossian agree on something and that the universe has not yet exploded.
"Not that I'm aware of." Jerod replies. "It doesn't fit with the shadow profile. Why do you ask?"
"The monks. We found what seems to be a node in a cross-shadow network.
"Sadly we had to run before we managed to investigate it fully. I guess it is possible that the network goes to non-tech shadows too. What the terminals look like in that case I don't know."
The eyebrow goes up a little more. "A cross-shadow network?" Jerod asks. "That is definitely not what I would have expected."
"So it seems. Of course they could have set it up to look like a cross-shadow network just to trick us, but that's unlikely."
"I would presume it was heavily guarded. I'd also presume if we go back it'll either be even more defended, or moved. It would be something they wouldn't want us to find out about.
"Who else knows?"
"Some cousins. My mother, since she knows things about the monks. " Ossian says "It was not guarded per se, but well hidden away. In Edan's shadow..."
"Really? Oh this is getting better by the minute." Jerod says. "The little buggers have been busy.
"Does Edan know about it? And if so, what are his thoughts on the intrusion?"
"I told him today, but he is not in the position to think today, I believe. " Ossian shrugs. "He seems intent on crushing them, though. As am I.
"I think it is not unfounded to look for monks in all Shadows of interest to family."
"On that I would agree." Jerod says. "They have taken an inordinate interest in us. Though if they are deciding to pursue godhood through imitation, it's something they might want to re-consider. I've heard godhood isn't quite what it's cracked up to be.
"I think I will need to look for influence of the monks amongst the Weir when I get back, just to be sure. Along with Gateway, burn out any influence there as well. It's going to be a busy set of travels coming up.
"Assuming his Majesty has no duties for you, what are your plans?"
Celina times her arrival so that the Rebma group will not be the first to break the rhythm of the gathering event and so that if Huon is present he doesn't break anyone's ...concentration.
The Queen immediately looks for a guide, assuming that she'll be asked to sit in some particular place. Celina also gives short but polite directions to the Archivist contingent to take good observations to include the city crowd for the historical dramas to come.
Celina's hair is up and jeweled, but her pearl colored dress of some unknown material is very opaque and ankle length.
Celina finds a woman named Michelle near the front, and Michelle is helping with all details of royal comfort. In Rebma, she'd clearly be the woman in charge. In her father's kingdom, someone else would be. Here in Xanadu, it's hard to tell. She suggests a place for Celina to sit and also offers to introduce her to any of the notable families from Amber who may be trying to re-establish commercial ties with Rebma now that the war is over...
Celina thanks Michelle for her assistance, and introduces everyone in the Rebma contingent, with Huon's introduction coming just before the Senior Archivist. Having previously spoken to the Senior Archivist, Celina also asks Michelle to point out a couple of secondary locations, so that her historians may stand smaller groups to observe the event.
Michelle efficiently takes care of Celina’s every need, or else finds people to do so.
Huon is all smiles, and few know him here. He does nod at the ambassador of Bellum, but doesn't speak to him at this point. "Oh, look, your majesty, I think Prince Jerod’s escorting that archivist who left. What is her name? Carina?"
Celina nods to Huon, "Yes, lovely young woman. I expect Jerod will make a moment to chat later in the event. You'll have a chance to meet her then."
"It's a dangerous job, archivist. So many folks who think that the history of an oral culture can be re-written with a dagger."
Or a Pattern Sword, old man. But Celina just nods once to acknowledge Huon's comment.
Michelle draws Celina and Liewella aside to avoid any necessity for the Queen to address whatever mischief Huon is trying to make. "Your majesty and your highness should also know that your kinswoman Valeria is in Xanadu and I believe I saw her arrive earlier."
"Thank you, Michelle," Celina nods once. "If Prince Jerod or Lady Valeria seek access to us, please help them find a time within the event where nothing will distract from the presentation. That would be so helpful." She lets Michelle go about her busy duties.
Celina takes up the seating suggestion and lets Llewella know the Queen shall be the flag. Celina whispers to Llewella that it would be prudent to know if Valeria has ideas to buck the trend of her Family and swear oath to the throne. Whether Valeria wants back into Rebma or not may be part of that. Since Llewella doesn't have to sit through the spectacle, might she have a chance to chat with Valeria?
Llewella nods. "I serve at the pleasure of the Queen. Do you have a particular message you wish me to deliver?"
Celina nods, "Tell her that Rebma is beautiful this time of year. And the rest is your discretion."
Huon says, "She may think her neck more beautiful, in its current unbroken state." Llewella snorts at Huon's line, and leaves.
Huon looks up. "And now they're all together. What a time to be alive...."
Celina is watching for Folly and/or Lark to arrive.
Celina watches and learns about Xanadu from the crowds and joy present. She keeps an eye out for family wandering in her direction. And if Jerod throws her a jaundiced look, she smiles radiantly.
Jerod is now leading his sister towards the food and wine and perhaps the exit.
Behind him and out of his sight, Carina sees Princess Llewella and stops, letting the Queen's Aunt approach her. She doesn't look comfortable.
Celina rachets up her interest in this possible meeting, she'd always assumed that Carina had fled due to interaction with Moire, not Llewella. She keeps an eye on the faces and body language to the two while tossing a social hook at Huon, who seems very chatty today, as if getting out of Rebma was catnip to him.
Celina says to Huon, "You are positively glowing today. How good it is to see such dash and vigor. Do you know Valeria well?"
"Did you suspect those were related topics? I knew her better than some, less well than others." Huon looks around the square. "What makes me happy is that man there." Huon points to a man of means, dancing with a younger woman. "He doesn't want to kill me. Your highness, I am, for the first time in many months, not surrounded by a million people who would happily see me dead, were it not for my charm and your sufferance. It wears on a body."
Celina smiles for the crowds around them and leans closer to her uncle, her words are carefully pitched to not carry past his ears, her mouth distorted slightly on the crowd side of the square as if she had suffered a sudden stroke, that lips readers might not understand her, "That is not my expectation of a man who endured, and toiled, and plotted for centuries to be free of durance. Who is might enough to only be brought down by ten like him. Who will return to a glory denied him for so long." Celina reaches and puts a finger on his chest, as if in whimsy.
Is that too for the crowd? Perhaps. Her eyes are quite serious. "I think more of you than you do, if you are being serious with me. And all your charm and my sufferance would not protect you if you had killed Jerod's family with your over wrought plans." Celina backs off and puts her hand in her lap again but she smiles more. "Huon, Random asked of me my sufferance and I gave it for him. Be nice to him tomorrow and I shall be well pleased. Enjoy the festival, you've earned that."
"Be nice to my brother the King. It shall be as you say, your highness, for I serve at the pleasure of the Queen." He bows.
Celina smiles and inclines her head in respect. "Oh good. So what can you tell me about this ...dance event we are to see?"
Huon looks across the square. "My best guess is that it means that the troops aren't yet as highly skilled as their commander wants, and he's still training them. The dance event is a sublimation of the traditional sergeant-major's sword twirling routine, demonstrating the timing and weapon skills of my young nephew. I would call it both a reassurance to the city that their protectors are skilled and a recruiting tactic to drum up additional troops, as it were. I don't know any details of the specific dance, but it should be martial, exciting, and if we are quite lucky, include fire."
"Passion draws passion," Celina replies. "If the men believe what they are doing is important, they will do their best and attract others who want to be the best." Celina adds, "Is that how you garner an army in shadow, Uncle? Or does it just happen because of your need?"
"Well," says Huon, by way of not answering. "It looks like someone has been importing Omaha to Xanadu." He points out Paige's arrival with her escorts. He's more subtle than they are, and it's clear to Celina that the warrior has seen Huon and is unhappy.
"They will let just about anyone into this party, it's true. Hello, Huey." Brij has come to the front of the platform, towing a small child with her. Brij is wearing a slick sheath dress of the kind of modern material that won't last long in a pattern realm, but look fantastic until they're in tatters. With her is Lark, still wearing her swan dress. She bows to Celina. "Your highness, we haven't yet met. I am Brij Mayhap, and this is my granddaughter Lorelei.
"Lark, this is Queen Celina, who is your aunt, and the other person is Huey, your grandfather."
"I know," says Lark. "Mamma showed me their pictures."
Huon looks from Brij to Celina and raises his eyebrow.
This isn't precisely what she'd hoped for, but then it was more interesting. Celina moved quickly to her feet and offered a royal hug to Brij Mayhap. "I am delighted to meet you. I am a big fan of your daughter, so I suppose we shall be friends." Celina throws in her best smile to cinch the deal.
Brij returns the hug and smiles. "I hope so! Don't believe everything she says about me, I don't really have horns or smell of brimstone."
Celina's expression is polite surprise---as if such a thing has never been said to her before. She does get the context ---mostly.
And then she is looking down at Lark, taking a big breath and holding back her wonder. "So at last, Young Lark. I've been waiting most of my life to meet you. This is very exciting. What a clever dress. I would not mind having one like it. Will you be sitting or mingling?" And she looks back at Brij for an adult answer.
"I dunno," says Lark.
Celina doesn't ignore Huon's expression, in fact, she seems to smile in his direction when he's looking at her.
Brij looks over at Huon. "Huey, be a dear and fetch us lady-drinks. Take as long as you need..."
Huon bows. "I serve at the pleasure..." he says, departing.
"We'll try to keep her on the stage, but no promises if there are other children present..."
Brij turns to Lark. "Have a seat, sweetie, Grandda has gone to get you something to drink."
To Celina she looks askance. "How do you mean you've been waiting most of your life to meet her? She's six, and if Folly had stayed in Xanadu, she wouldn't even be born yet."
Celina nods in continued agreeable fashion, she gives Brij a serious look, and speaks clearly, in a way that is not an adult trying to hide things from a child but also not include any unknown listeners, "Well, let's say that despite my apparent age, I am only recently come of age in the way of Family Gifts. Slightly less old than Lark. And then I had a conversation with Lark under trying Family Circumstances, and wondered what it would be like to talk to her under more normal circumstances. So I have been looking forward to ....seeing her from another perspective for many many months."
Brij nods. "I'm gonna chalk that up to 'freaky family magic that maybe Bleys would understand.' and move on. If I understand right, you're my grand-aunt, so my granddaughter's great-great grand-aunt, except you're also her father's aunt, so her great-aunt. And, you're her mother’s cousin, through Huey, so her (and my) first cousin, once removed.
"It's amazing that no one in this family has two heads."
Celina returns a bigger smile, "Well, I'm pretty sure that having two heads in this Family could be done with style and wit. Hardly anyone would throw up or bat an eye." Celina adds, "And yes, I am your Aunt. That's to your advantage if you ever need an ocean vacation. For the near future, I'm trying to be the voice of reason and I'm learning what I can so that the future is better than it is at present." She looks directly into Brij's eyes, "You're part of that, if ever you feel you need protection for some reason, come talk to me."
Celina blinks slowly, as cats do when they throw kisses.
"Does breathing air sound as strange to you as breathing water does to me? I was always a swimmer and a sailor, but I was never a diver." Brij turns to grab Lark just as the child starts to slide under the table. "Stay up top, hon. Swanhilde will get dirty down there." She turns back to Celina. "I know this family is supposed to be dangerous, but I've yet to find anyone who wanted to chase me down to the bottom of the ocean. I definitely appreciate the offer, though."
"You'll do just fine," Celina offers to Brij and grins a moment at Lark. "It is less about forecasting danger for you and more about giving you options you may not ever need. Plus at a certain point, Martin may have things to say you will want to learn about for yourself." Celina shows her open palms to Brij, "In any case, it is only for your consideration. Oh, and plus you know, Huon is living in Rebma for a while."
"Hun--- Can I call you hun? Is it lèse-majesté? Doesn't matter, I'm a republican by nature. Anyway, as a grandmother, I feel older than you, even if that's chronologically not true. Martin is my dearest child's chosen husband and the father of my grand baby, but he is not likely to confide in me. Before we knew who he was, before we knew who we were, we called him 'The Angel of Death'. Every time he was spotted someone close to Folly disappeared and there were often signs of a struggle. He's probably got 30 warrants for his arrest in Texorami. He scared me half to death, and that was before the time that he hit me. We get on better, now, but I don't expect him to tell me much about anything."
Celina nods along, yes Martin is a scary guy, it's what he does. "That could be. So is 'hun' as in 'hundred' referring to the Hundred Families of Rebma or as in 'hungry all the time' because I'd be fine with either?" Celina adds, "I do not mean to predict Martin, my offer is widening scope. Tomorrow King Random should offer even more, I hope you aren't saying you need protection from Martin? You're just sure of his closed nature?" She looks worried.
Brij laughs. "My fault, it's a reference to something from my home. In Texorami, it's short for 'honey', which is used as a term of affection because someone seems sweet. Like honey, I can take care of myself with Martin, or Huon, or Bleys, and even Random. If I have to have a protector, then as far as those worthy gentlemen are concerned, I'm a child and not up to a seat at the big table. They aren't letting me there yet, but I'm working on that, too."
Celina remembers something from a trade city where she had a 'honey chicken' and blushes with the comparison to something to sweet (not that a green blush might be very obvious.)
She pauses, and continues. "Martin has heard every earth-shattering flaw a single-mother can inflict on her wayward teenaged daughter who likes to fall for musicians who turn out to be 30 times older than her. She almost bled out once because she got stabbed by a stalker. Any normal person would've been dead, but she lived. Now we know why, but at the time, it was just by the grace of a God I stopped believing in before I left my grandmother's house. I had more to say about her life then, and I wasn't really good at watching her do what I thought was throw it away." She shrugs. "So, yeah, he's stuck in the lowest part of my life with the worst view of who I am. But we've managed not to kill each other the last few times we've been together, so, progress?"
"Can I go play?" says Lark.
Brij looks around. "I'm supposed to introduce you to Ash and Tjaden and Haven. If I let you go, will you come when I call you?" She looks at the 5 year old. "If you say yes, and don't, it will be bad."
"I'll come back," say Lark, sounding somewhat defeated.
"No pretending you didn't hear your Grandma, either. Go play," says Brij. Lark slips down from her chair and carefully climbs off the dais and disappears into the crowd.
Celina's eyes track Lark with some desire. She holds her hands from the idea of running fingers through her hair or trying to get her scent before she is gone again. This won't do. She chides herself and focuses again on Brij. "A stalker? Like a large cat within a forest? How did you get help in time? And your grandmother then was, someone I know?"
"We're city-people. Her stalker was a crazy man with a knife. I was at his arraignment, which became his commitment hearing. He kept saying that he was a high-priest and he needed to shock her into becoming her divine self. At the time it was just Crazy-Man Michael kind of rambling. He died in the asylum, before she finished healing. After I got here, I wondered if he'd been sent, you know, but it's not like we could dig him up and interrogate his corpse." She smiles, but not in a happy way, recalling that time.
"You didn't know my grandmother, I don't think. But we just had dinner with my Grandfather, which makes us related again. I am Prince Julian's son's only daughter."
"Aaah," Celina nods once. "From what you've said, you did not grow up knowing you were part of a 'famous family'. Have you met Uncle Random? Aunt Llewella? Can I offer the formal welcome now?"
Brij smiles. "I play poker with Grand-Uncle Random weekly. I knew him when he was just a drummer in my home 'shadow' and called himself 'Syd'. Which he now claims was short for 'Siddartha' and none of us caught on, but nobody believes him. Maybe Soren does, a little."
She pauses, briefly. "I don't know what a formal welcome looks like, but Bleys introduced me to Corwin when we were in Paris. He's your father, I think." She looks a Celina for confirmation, and continues on. "I was introduced to Random again when I got here. Random was a little weird about it, because he'd lied to everyone he knew in my shadow for years, but we got over it."
"Corwin is my father," Celina says in a way that is clearly hinting that she was not there to confirm it. "Welcome to the Family. I hope the poker is good. Has Lark shown interest in gaming? We have sports in Rebma."
"I don't know," she says with a shrug. "I've only known her for about an hour now, although we've fallen into the Grandma/Granddaughter role easily enough. She's less of a handful than Folly was at that age. Folly and I were built like athletes, in our home, so she probably will be, if she's also picked up on our competitive genes.
"I was a Gymnast, and competitor at the international level. My career was far longer than it should've been, which should have been the first sign I wasn't a normal person, but it's hard to ask yourself seriously if you're really a person instead of a magical fairy princess from beyond space and time."
They were late, but not terribly so. Down the road Edan knew that his horse was being held for him; but he was more than happy to sit next to Hannah in one of the family carriages. For the moment, at least, they had been left alone to talk as the carriage rolled ahead.
He closes his eyes and stretches. There was still a strong feeling of pleasure and euphoria, thrumming through him like a plucked guitar string. Edan wears his dancing silks with modified sleeves in his colors of white and crimson, and the fabric catches the ambient light and shimmers with every movement. His feet are bare, brown skin in stark contrast to his clothing.
He starts to say something, stops, and finally commits. "You know," he says, "it's only recently occurred to me just how much of a fool I am. I hope you can forgive me."
Hannah has abandoned her high-necked, full-skirted black gown. She has braided her hair and pinned it into a bun at the base of her neck, into which she has stuck four purple feathers. The new gown is sky blue, matching her beaded slippers, and in an empire cut that does nothing to de-emphasize her pregnancy. Because he knows they're there, Edan can see the hint of her red buckskin pants, but it isn't obvious. Her medicine pouch sits outside the dress, now, and is larger than her usual type. She has beaded it with a red bear facing her right side, a purple griffin facing her left, and behind them, a black raven, wings wide, in a dive, perhaps. The edges are blue flame, done with multi-hued, opalized beads so the fire wavers in the light.
She tilts her head and narrows her eyes at Edan, trying not to smile. "If you're attempting to apologize for something, you're going to have to be more specific. I do not forgive broadly, only specifically."
"These past months I have traveled much in Shadow," Edan says. "Thinking that I was doing important work. Reacting to events, mostly. I thought that this was how things were, that I had little choice but to roll with things as they came." He leans over so that they are very close. "That was foolish. I have a choice in my own fate. The most important things, they were right in front of me, and I did got give them the attention they deserve."
Hannah makes a little huffing sound, but smiles nonetheless. She closes the gap to kiss his cheek, and says quietly, "Yet, they were not right in front of you, they were here and there and eventually on a space station out among the stars."
She leans back to get a good look at him, and shakes her head. "I had a trump of you. Communicating would have been easy enough for me, and the burden of it... was on me. I didn't call you because I wanted to see, and feel, how this might work. We both have duties. We are both on journeys that follow different paths. I do not think we will be so lucky - and I do not think we'd be happy - turning our backs on where our choices have led us here." She pauses a minute, and her face softens back out of seriousness. Her mouth gets a little quirk. "That is all very complicated. I like most of what makes up Edan, enough that any foolishness just makes me smile. I'd like more time to know you, and I remind myself that, barring disaster, we have all the time in the world for that. Edan controls his fate, but part of who he is requires him to take his duty to protect his larger family seriously. Hannah controls her fate, but part of who she is requires her to fulfill her duty to support the connection all things have with one another, to heal.
"I desire very much to have more time with you, but no doubt there will be something the king needs of me tomorrow or next week. And if it can be avoided, I don't want the child in a war zone until they are old enough to kill. I don't know when that is, because I have only killed with consent. Fourteen, at least, but we will have to learn the child, too. So, I will enjoy your foolishness, Tehila. I will tell you if you make me angry, or if I feel you owe me your attention. I will loudly tell you if I think you are not giving your child what they need. I will need you to do those things for me too. And sometimes, many times over many years, you will need to forgive me. We can do this, yes?"
Edan is silent a moment, digesting this; he smiles, then, and shakes his head. "That was...remarkably well said," he says. "Yes. We can do that. I wish I had your way with words. I think a war is coming, and things will likely get difficult for both of us, but I am always near when you want or need me. You have my Trump." He smiles again. "And I still have your hair."
She laughs in delight. "I forgot all about the hair. Do you need more? Or perhaps we should just ask Paige if she will make a trump of me for you? It seems... less likely to get blown away. Wherever do you keep it?" She's not squirming around as she was earlier, a bit more settled in her body. She does adjust at every bump of the carriage, though.
"Well-l," Edan replies, "were I to need more, hair from the now You has more Similarity than hair from the then You. But a Trump would be safest. I would only consider using it in an emergency. The spell could be seen or tracked." He holds up his sleeves. "They're in my room at the moment. No pockets."
"A dancing, questing, magician-knight. With no pockets. Similarity. Hm. So, if I were to do something radical, something soul-touching enough that I might want to change my name, the spell would cease working because the hair would no longer be aligned with who I am. Things like walking the pattern, or deciding to take on my mother's mantle of godhood, if such a thing could even be done?" she asks.
"I think you should ask Paige this time - she gave me yours last. Also, I expect she will have had enough of me shortly, bad patient I am like to be." She does seem a touch worried she's gotten on Paige's last nerve.
"I'm not worried. Whoever you have as a support group, surely they will allow for the fact that you are an expert and may explain to them, in running commentary, everything they are doing wrong." He grins at that. "I will ask her, definitely before any deployment, and hope she has time to do so.
"Your hairs...are still your hair. I could probably still make it work, even were you to radically change. Similarity is one of my favorite Principles, but the effect of Parting the Veil to you using Similarity would be messy and noisy and generally undesirable. Normally I would be carrying a cornucopia of reagents that would assist me- most any sorcerer would have the same- but each Artist would solve the problem differently. Brennan would track you through Time. Ambrose actually did Part the Veil to Brennan, probably with Similarity or Heredity or some Uxmali blood thing."
He could see his knights now, further down. Edan's expression is a mix of excitement and dread.
Hannah takes his hand. "Tell me how the presentation is planned to go, in case I cannot stay."
"Ooohhh," Edan says. "Well, first, the Order of the Lamp will ride to the Mayor and show that we can ride in formation. I hope. Then, he will give a speech and say we are welcome here and will be relied upon to help keep the peace and don't burn anything down. Then, I will give a speech and say thank you and what we plan to do here and we won't throw wild parties or burn anything down. Then, I will tell them we have prepared some entertainment in celebration of our welcome. And then I will dance like a God of Dancing, and the Lamp will assist with their drumming. I hope.
"And this will do two things: one, it will show that instead of raw recruits stumbling around, we have a team- a family- that can already perform a difficult task like this dance on-point. Also, it has the secondary benefit of advertising my blade skills relative to the rest of the Family, all at once. I've been lucky so far to avoid the slew of sparring requests that normally would occur."
"I find you just have to be ready for the failure. Falling out of formation is for 'confusing the enemy'. If they can't drum, well, may your Merciful One be so," she teases, squeezing his hand. "Are you doing a sword dance?"
"Part of it is. Part of it is a ribbon dance." He holds up his sleeves again, and shows Hannah the extra crimson silk that has been sewn onto the ends of the cuffs. "Part of it is acrobatic exercise. And none of it is Sorcery."
"Part of it is. Part of it is a ribbon dance." He holds up his sleeves again, and shows Hannah the extra crimson silk that has been sewn onto the ends of the cuffs. "Part of it is acrobatic exercise. And none of is Sorcery."
Hannah colors, and looks away from Edan. "Hm. Everyone is sure tho be impressed. I'm hoping some of my tribesmen have made it over for the presentation. I'm certain they'd love it. How many warriors do you have?"
It becomes Edan's turn to blush and look away. "Thirty. Thirty to start, thirty left of all those I led long ago that I would trust to ride with. Things have much changed at home. We are gathering in Shadow, though, close to the border of Broceliande, and there will be three hundred soon enough."
"Random warned me about going 'home'. It isn't an easy thing." She gently draws his hand back into hers. "Three hundred is a lot. You won't really use formations, will you? When you're fighting, I mean?"
"Not really. Only in the loosest sense, when we are horsed. It is not like a marching army." Edan moves his arm around Hannah, still holding hands. "If the dance is good enough, young men and women of Xanadu might say, 'how can I be a part of this?' And if that fails, I can talk to Corwin or Father, who are the experts in raising troops in Shadow." He smiles. "But as good as I dance, you will be the one doing the real work. Are Paige and Solange the only ones who will be with you? As I fret and fume outside your door, I mean."
"I hope Robin, too. And if Corvis were to come, she'd help keep my sisters calmer - I don't feel they're very calm by nature. And then I think I may have told Brij - Folly's mother - that she can help. Or she offered... Anyway, you have better things to do than fret and fume. For example, have you gathered any of the things you need to take care of a baby, say you weren't busy and I got called down to the city to help deal with a building collapse or fire or disease outbreak or something?"
Hannah relaxes a little into his embrace, but shifts her head to the side just enough to give him 'that look' that means she thinks preparing for a baby hasn't crossed his mind at all.
Edan manages to look smug, but the look only lasts a few seconds. "Hah. My quarters are the same size and layout as those reserved for young knights starting families. They're...just not built yet. When they are, the necessary furniture will be there. As for most everything else, I assumed there would be a wet nurse, and that you would select them and vet them- I would just need to verify they could work in the compound." He smiles, a little, their faces close. "A good one would have their needs well organized in advance, neh?"
"Oh, yes, while we're on the cultural clash subject - how are you going to introduce me to your knights? Or do I just need to completely avoid the subject... somehow?"
Edan pauses a moment before answering. "Regarding a nurse, I was thinking our child would be with me and you would be gone for many hours and they would be hungry and I have no breasts," Edan says. "Even a short trip here takes hours. Maybe they have iceboxes here, I've never checked, and it is a moot point."
"They do have iceboxes here. I've been told they don't even explode. So why is that a moot point? You seem to understand how it would work."
Edan shakes his head. "I am sorry. I did not speak clearly enough. If there is refrigeration, a wet nurse is a moot point. We will not need one."
"Oh, well then. Good." This seems to relax her a great deal.
"As for you, you are cocuklarimin anasi, the mother of my children. How they see you is...really complicated. The short answer is, they won't like it, it's not illegal, they won't say anything openly, we're in the land of the infidel anyway, and it's important that I claim our child as mine. The long answer is much more complicated and has to do with how marriage works in the Land of Peace, and who and what I am." He pauses again. "Did you want to hear all of it?"
"I feel as if I'm walking a minefield. If the simple answer is they'll think I'm your concubine or... something, and I just need to punch anyone in the face who thinks they should say or do something disrespectful because of that, that's an acceptable answer for me. How will they see the child?" she asks, getting down to what she's really concerned about.
He looks away. "Remember who I am. I carry the blood of the afrit. I am like a demon in their eyes, a supernatural creature. And paternity is everything in the Land of Peace. Normally I would say that our child would be anathema to my countrymen, but I am also their savior. I was cleansed and forgiven of my birthright, at least officially, but there has always been the occasional whisper. I am more than human to them; I bring chaos and order, victory and discontent. There is a touch of magic and wonder in everything associated with me. And that includes you, and that includes our child. When I publicly claim you both, they will treat you as they treat me: with a mix of awe and reverence and more than a little apprehension."
Hannah laughs with relief and squeezes his hand. "Look at me. I'm a physician and medicine man, so... I won't even notice. I do want to know it all, but not today - we're short on time. All about the Land of Peace and their rules of propriety and all that - so I can break them correctly. How exactly does this public claiming work?" she teases.
Edan has the same slow smile he had at dinner. "I was just going to pull some people together and make an announcement," he says. "Did you have another idea in mind?"
She shakes her head at him, chuckling. She reaches to push his shoulder playfully. "The Omaha would have just known. The whites would have just gossiped. I figured we'd get something the same here. The family will just know. Everyone else will just gossip." She shrugs.
"If you're going to announce something, please do make sure to include Doctor before and Le Corbeau after Hannah. Or if you're going all out, it's Spirit Healer to The People Who Go Against The Stream, Doctor Enana Ohanze Ptecila Hannah Le Corbeau. You can leave the lineage out of it, because that gets overwhelming quickly." She grins at him. "And frankly the only people who would care - it's not their business. Also, I'm no longer sure how accurate it is."
Edan laughs. "Done. I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to recruit you to help or train- but word might have reached them already about how busy you are and who your patients are. If they haven't, I can explain it to them."
"Who is they?" she asks, "Because I did get some field doctor'n training started just before I left. Hopefully Kyril kept it up and was decently behaved while I was gone, because I took his parole... and Brij, I hope she didn't get distracted. I don't even know how long I've been gone from here," she realizes, aloud. "I really don't need anything else to deal with for two or three days. Family meeting, baby, or vice versa, and then who knows. I really need to spend some time with Gerard, let him growl at me... Oh, I should invite my father and Gerard to the first free dinner I have. They can growl at me together." She seems to think this is a brilliant plan.
"I can invite your father too, and since they're growling he'll be charming." Her voice goes a little tentative. "Have you told your father he's going to be a grandfather again?"
"'They' are my knights commander, who you will meet if and when you come to the compound," Edan says. "I was going to tell Father at dinner, but he was not there. Knowing him, he already knows and is waiting to act surprised."
Hannah nods slowly, and then shrugs. "So, is it multiple Knights who are commanders, or a Commander of knights? I don't know anything about how orders of knights function. The Omaha and Ponca have societies for that sort of thing, and you have do complete quests and achieve a certain level of wealth to gain entry. This is how Huon ingratiated himself to so many of my universal tribal cousins."
"There are five knights commander in our band," Edan says. "Brothers and sisters I have ridden with. They carry knives of fire and enchantment. They differ in age, wisdom, and motivation, but each of them have important skills to contribute." He pauses. "It sounds difficult to be part of the societies you mention. I take it that there were not a large number."
She shakes her head. "The Omaha - those are The People Who Go Against the Stream - have one. The Ponca have one - they are called Hethuska Societies. Long ago we were one people, thus the war societies. To lead or get the honored positions you have to have engaged offensively, wounded so many, broken a neck - and been recognized for it by the War Leader or the Medicine Man. That recognition was part of what I was doing at the dance you came to. Their songs and dances keep the stories of our warriors going back centuries." She shrugs. "When I came to Amber, it had been 12 years since the buffalo hunt was outlawed and Ponca lands were stolen by the government. People were despondent, hopeless. The displaced Ponca, especially... easy to see young men wanting what Huon was offering. A chance at valor; be a warrior - instead of a drunk. It was bad on the Blue Earth - a third of the Ponca died within a year of forced removal, so I imagine it was worse, elsewhere."
She sighs. This makes her unhappy and not a little angry. "Edan, I want us to do something." Hannah sits up and looks at him, smiles a little smile, and leans forward to kiss him.
When she reluctantly pulls away, she says quietly, "This is what I want. Time is rushing forward. Let us look at this beautiful city, and feel the air, and keep this moment in our minds to refresh us when times are hard or dark. There were hard days, and then there was this; the family was together speaking and not fighting. Edan was at the start of his path with The Order of the Lamp, at the start of his path of fatherhood." She smiles as she turns from him and looks out over the city.
"Hannah was impatient to meet her child, armed for delivery with purple griffin feathers in her hair, wearing the colors of the Sky Clan. Edan's warriors had come to Xanadu from the Land of Peace. Hannah's cousins had chosen Xanadu after their destructive journey - a place to heal. A centering of purpose, on a beautiful day; warmth and connection and peace. Do you feel it?" She squeezes his hand, but doesn't look back from the view, drawing a deep, happy breath.
Edan smiles at Hannah's words; that, or his lips are still tingling from the kiss. "That was some of my speech," he says. "This time, this place, it is a crossroads. A beginning. After this, each of us will move in different patterns. But for this moment, we are all together and at relative peace. And this place...it is new, and fresh, and growing. I am glad to be part of it. I am glad you are here with me."
"I like that." She turns back to him. "They need that. This messed up family too! Random is trying so hard. Who knew such a little man could contain so much patience and forgiveness. I want us to be a help to him - he's trying to make the universe better. So if he wants Huon here, I can try to make my peace with Huon." She sighs, but forces a smile. "Edan, what is your word for father? Cocuklarimin Papa?"
Edan throws back his head and laughs. "That's very good. No, the word is baba...not very fair, is it? I won't accept the explanation that it is so because men are simpler. Someday, I will take you both to the desert. You'll be speaking and living like a native in no time."
He looks out towards the place where they are to gather, not that he could see their uncle from here. "I saw Huon in Rebma, where he was acting quite well-behaved. I suppose he is aiming for good behavior." He stops there, looking like he was about to say more.
"Can you forgive him trying to kill your father? Assuming he's really done trying, of course?" she asks.
"That's a really complicated question," Edan says. "The answer would be that this is a really strange family. I'm sure you've heard of the history between Corwin and Eric and Julian. If Julian could help put Corwin's eyes out with hot irons, and then the two of them could stand there and share a drink before dinner, then maybe I should rethink the anger I might feel towards Huon. That, and the whole story certainly isn't out yet-- I don't know how much of an ass my father might have been in their encounters." Edan is silent a moment, remembering something long past, and then adds, "It might be different if my father was more concerned about the whole thing. I seem more worried about it than he is, since I am a...softer...target. Worried enough to stage, say, a demonstration to show how difficult I am to kill or maim or kidnap." He smiles and taps his forehead.
Hannah's gentle smile turns sad at that. She reaches for his pointing hand and pulls it down to her stomach. She taps his hand and says quietly, "Suis-je faible? Soft targets abound. I'm going to attempt a direct confrontation that I hope will turn into a negotiation, but my goals have nothing to do with you and your father. While I don't disagree that your skills are like to be persuasive, consider that these old men do seem to believe their word is worth something. Am I wrong?"
"You are not wrong." He strokes her stomach, wondering if the baby notices it. "They place a lot on their word and their oaths. Well, most of them do. Be careful, Hannah. I don't know Huon well enough to know how he will react."
"I am giving him a gift. We will find out if he is wise enough to take it." Her expression is full of doubt in regard to this uncle's wisdom, but humor too. She watches Edan pet her with a heart-sore smile. "I'm sorry I didn't call you before, when your vicious little child had room to kick and flip around. You would have been in awe." She shakes her head.
"Are you going to train on the outskirts of the forest? Or in shadow? Do you want me to try to wrangle a medic to go with you?" she asks.
"If you have one, I wouldn't say no," Edan says. "The army is gathering at the outer edge of the forest, where I can still work with the stuff of Shadow." He sighs as they get close to the Order's procession. "I know that you are hoping for a quick birth, but I will be hoping for it to happen late enough that I will be nearby."
"There is nothing for you to do but feel helpless, because No Magic. Therefore, you should stay down here, seeing to your duty, protecting the men you already have by finding more, making political friends and merchant friends who can make everything easier. These things don't tend to be quick, so likely you'll get your wish. But even when you are back up at the palace, find something more constructive to do than pace." She gives him a look.
"Constructive," she emphasizes. "Like, talk to your father about fatherhood. Or let Gerard take his frustrations, which mostly have nothing to do with us, out on you. Or find out more about these monks who might want to steal your child. Like that. Or write a lullaby. Or all those things." She stops to breathe, but then goes on. "And if I don't get to be at the family meeting take actual good notes for me. I missed the last one. I really wanted to be in this one. In all these ways, you can help me."
"There is nothing you have said that is unreasonable," Edan says. "I'll have to speak to my father before tomorrow, in any event. Gerard, I suppose, would be next. The rest you have mentioned, that will take time... though I'd rather wage war across the universe than face Gerard's wrath."
Hannah smiles. "I'll take Gerard then. He is just frightened because he thinks there is a curse on Rilga's female line and he is a protective bear." She pats his hand reassuringly and finally lets him go, though she turns a little more so she can play with his hair. "The colors in your hair are just unreal. I would love to know how it pigments like that."
Edan nods. "I didn't mean I wouldn't talk to Gerard, of course. Only that I know the conversation probably wouldn't be enjoyable." He leans his head back against her hand. "The hair, the eyes, my affinity for heat, they are all marks of the afrit. I am only quarter-afrit, but the blood has bred true. Besides my appearance, I am as strong as any of them. Stronger. I would almost say my father planned it that way."
For just a moment, Hannah can't keep her middling opinion of Bleys off her face. She puts it away quickly, though. "Planning for a strong child isn't the worst sin; even if he meant to have you for an heir, should he have won the throne, you have to admire his organizational skills. As for the gifts of the Afrit, that's what they are. Frightened people say it is a curse, but it isn't. I wouldn't mind at all if this child has your eyes. They just make you more interesting. As for this hair... it must be chemical, somehow..." her eyes search his head and her smile comes sneaking back. "The pheomelanin all slips to the bottom, or it is the eumelanin rising. I will theorize the heat burns the pheonelanin out of the top of your hair. Do other Afrit have different hair colors, or is it all black?"
"It's whatever they want it to be. But mostly red or black," Edan says. "Illusion is common, so it is hard to tell. Most adopt a male form and all, um," and he flexes his biceps. It would probably look more serious were he not crossing his eyes.
Noise catches her ear and she turns to see how close they are now. Her nose scrunches up in disappointment. "I'm going to have to share you again." She looks back at him and quirks a smile. "Try not to get engaged before I see you next," she teases.
His smile matches hers. "I will try," he says. "Promise. And when we meet again, you can either introduce our child or tell me more of this you-melon-something in my hair."
As Brita sees Marius heading off, she catches a whiff of something familiar in the direction he's going. But then it's gone in the riot of smells in this arena full of people.
Signy makes her way over to where her cousin is standing, somehow managing to come away with contact information for a half-dozen purveyors of fine materials for craftsmen and women alike.
She hasn't exactly been spending any time in Xanadu, nor has she put out a shingle here, but apparently word traveled fast from Rebma.
She reaches Brita's side, a bit out of breath at the number of people that greet her by name that she's never met.
"Hello, cousin. I hope you've been well." She looks around nervously, wondering if there's anyone else that's lying in ambush. "Are these events always like this?"
"I Cannot Say," Brita responds. "I have Not Been to One Quite Like This." A wave of her hand indicates the outdoor dancing. "Most of Our Events - even Family Events - seem More Formal. But it Is Early Yet." Brita pauses for a bit as the music gets a little more raucous. "I am Well. How have You Been, Cousin Signy? You Seem to Have made Many New Friends given the Time it Took to Cross the Square." She grins at Signy.
Signy shakes her head in regret. "This one's looking for patronage to get into the Rebman markets. That one's looking for some sort of deal for any work I do in Xanadu. And none of them seemed too thrilled when I asked about the costs of iron and other essentials."
She shrugs, and puts the rest of it out of her mind for now.
"I've been well. Working in Aunt Fiona's Shadow on a problem for Ambrose. Unfortunately I don't know how much progress I ultimately made, though."
She glances at the spectacle that surrounds but doesn't yet intrude on them before looking back to Brita. "How have things been with you?"
"Acceptable. I had Adventures with Cousin Raven and Cousin-Prince Jerod as well as Kin-Smith Weyland," Brita cocks her head to the side. "He is Your Father, Correct?" She shakes her head with a small frown on her face. "You Seem More Sane." She shrugs it off and then asks, "How is Cousin Marius?"
Signy blinks twice, before answering the easier question. "Marius is well, though I think he's still recovering."
She pauses, and takes a deep breath before jumping in with both feet. "Weyland is my father, though I haven't seen him in some time. We didn't part on the best of terms."
She braces herself, before continuing. "Is...is he planning on being here?"
"No. He is Torturing the Populace of Gateway with his Presence." Brita pauses for a beat then adds, "And Protecting them from an Army of the Dead crafted by one of the Gateway Sorcerers."
Signy shakes her head in disbelief. "That seems a mixed message, and a story well worth hearing."
She glances back at where she last saw Marius.
"I wonder how he heard about what happened to Marius. Did he mention anything? I have to wonder if he's in touch with one of our Aunts or Uncles."
She pauses, before belatedly adding "...or more."
"The Ways of Our Elders," Brita intones with a shake of her head. She shoots a quizzical look at Signy and indicates that she would like to move around the dance area. "Walk with me?" She is aiming to pass by where the odd scent came from (and where Marius disappeared?)
Whatever it was, the smell is now lost in the crowd of Knights, among whom she sees Marius. There's a scent of Rebman salt in the blood about one side of the stands, but that's expected since a Rebman party led by Celina has arrived. With them is Brij and a young child.
Huon is also about--she can see him heading for where the beer and whiskey are sold.
Signy nods and falls in beside Brita as she starts to move.
"So in the end, what did you uncover in Gateway? Is that the center of it all, or is there need for...followup in other Shadows?"
Brita seems to be a little distracted, but finally responds, "I do Not Think it is the Center. The Gateway Mages Do Not Appear to be Immediately Tied to the Monks and Oddities that Others Have Found, but Maybe someone will See a Tie Tomorrow." Brita glowers across the open area, not obviously at anyone. She finally adds, "I find it Odd that Chaos has gone to ground as these Other Diversions have Cropped Up."
Signy gives a tight smile. "And dear old Dad may well be one of those diversions."
She frowns, thinking. "Most of what I've read has been around the Pattern war, but I don't recall him appearing in any of the family history, except for the Blades?"
Before Brita can respond, she hears the Ranger cadence whistling across the square. "3 quarry, your arriere, water."
Somewhere, there are Rangers hunting for something in the square.
Brita is immediately on alert. "Hold." She says to Signy as she begins to scan the area. Water? Someone comes from the beach?
Signy stops, and while her expression never changes she quietly starts considering the crowd directly in front of her.
"Is everything ok?"
Brita doesn't see anything in the direction of the sea, but she hears at least three other Rangers reporting in and asking "Where is the Danger?" She recognizes the cadence signatures of Couth, Solemn, and Vista.
Brita responds to Signy, "Unclear. The Rangers are Hunting Three. Near Water? In Water?" She continues to scan the area but does not respond to the cadence calls. If the quarry hears the calls and heads away from them, she could remain in a possible path if she remains silent.
Paige is still dressed in the dress from dinner but has added a leather jacket, more practical than stylish, and her swordbelt atop it. She crosses the street to join the few Rangers that accepted the Warden's invitation to come down from Broceliande.
"Good evening, gentleman," she greets them. "Ready to see some pretty examples of my brother's arts?"
"Ma'am," says Grizzle. "We're looking forward to it."
Two Red Hawks nods. He doesn't speak as much as his partner.
Grizzle looks at the knights. "Some of 'em look like they might be worth something in a fight, if not a forest."
Across the party, Paige spots Alain LeClaire. He seems to have spotted her and is moving this way.
She tosses Alain a bright welcoming smile before turning back to Grizzle. "Remember, where they're from, they have very few trees, let alone anything we would consider a forest."
Alain smiles and waves, and dives back into the crowd.
Grizzle nods. "Yes, Ma'am."
Two Red Hawks nods towards the Rebman party. "Warden, than man there. He committed many crimes against the Ponca." He indicates Huon, who is talking to Celina. Two Red Hawks has a hand on his dagger.
Paige's tone is firm, but not harsh, "That man is Family and a guest of the King and as we serve at His will, is safe from our sense of justice, Ranger." Her eyes flick to the hand and back up to meet his eyes.
Two Red Hawks nods. "I hope the King knows he is not to be trusted."
Michelle is on the floor and Alain has stopped her. She seems to be trying to get rid of him, gently.
Paige watches the interactions and scans the closest clusters of people for clues as to either's behavior.
She excuses herself for a moment from the Rangers and crosses to extricate her lover and Quartermaster from Michelle's side.
"Have either of you worthies seen hide or hair of my twins this evening?" she asks, announcing her appeoach.
"Neither, Lady Somers," replies Michelle, "as I have been explaining to Alain."
"Well, they came here, and then they said they wanted to go see the soldiers, and then I looked around and they were gone."
Paige swats at Alain's arm playfully. "Some sitter you are," she chides.
Michelle smiles, indulgently. "They'll turn up. There are hardly ever basilisks this close to town."
"Then what can we count upon to draw their attention?" the Royal chuckles.
The Warden catches her cadre's eye and signs to indicate two juniors, ranging without senior supervision. Both Grizzle and Two Red Hawks have seen this signal passed often enough to know she likely means the twins. She follows it with the sign for eyes only, no urgency.
Ranger cadence has been a topic the new rangers have been picking up from Robin and Brita's rangers. Everyone finds it useful. Both Grizzle and Two Red Hawks acknowledge the order. Grizzle hasn.t moved, but Two Red Hawks is heading towards Hannah.
Turning back to Alain she kisses him on the cheek before asking more seriously, "Did they happen to say which soldiers?"
Alan shakes his head. "Do they talk in complete sentences for you now? Michelle's exciting new ones, I assumed."
Michelle smiles as well. "So they're either teaching soldiers how to gamble with dice or they're scaring the horses. I'm sure Edan will be pleased to find them with his troop."
Paige snakes her arm through Alain's, and scans the crowd for the her brother's knights. "He will know the joys of fatherhood soon enough," she comments. "Perhaps we should save him, at least this evening from his neice and nephew."
"You're far too good to him, you know," says Alain. "Michelle tells me they are down Left Bay Street."
"Its still a novelty to have Family that isn't invested in using me for their own ends," Paige winks.
"Careful you don't spoil him," replies Alain. "He might get used to good treatment and start expecting it."
She nods to Michelle. "We should catch up, soon," Paige suggests, her tone slightly wistful for the evenings she once shared over wine and smoke with her friend.
Michelle blows her bangs out of her eyes. Her hair shows how busy she's become. It is absolutely presentable, but she's simplified how she wears it. "I am effectively the band's manager for tonight's show, but after I get my charges on and off stage, perhaps we could have a late drink? Scarlett's? She'll have something suitably quiet."
"It's a date," the Warden answers. I'm staying in town tonight, at least."
And with that promise, she turns herself and Alain toward Left Bay Street and her twins, hopefully.
As they stroll, she leans in on Alain's arm, content. "They will be the death of me," Paige states with some humor. "I know it as if I had read it, no... as if Cambina had seen it."
Alain nods. "I know you miss her. I have to admit, I don't know if I miss her abilities. It's a lot easier to accept a psychic in the family if they're safely passed on and can't turn the world upside down."
The redhead chuckles, "My dearest, you're sleeping with a member of a family that travels between worlds. If she only turns one upside down, well... it's likely why she's returned. Didn't fill her quota before dying." The humor is dark, but that edge is common for Paige, a defense or coping mechanism for someone that has lost too many people close to her. She holds Alain's arm just a bit tighter.
Alain is, frustratingly, not quite up to Paige's speed intellectually, but he's known that for a long time, and he's got a good feel for when to chuckle, which he considers to be now. Still, she thinks he's somewhat disturbed by speaking thusly of the dead, when she's also a revered werewolf princess.
Just as Paige and Alain reach the end of Left Bay Street (or, as Random calls it, "Stage Right Bay Street") Grizzle gives a piercing whistle. In ranger code, it's shorthand for "3 quarry, your arriere, water." Sure enough, the children are playing in the fountain on the far side of the square, through the entire crowd of visitors, dancers, and general party attendees.
The children are climbing all over the statue and the third one Grizle mentioned is Lark, who is about as naked as Paige's children. Lark is just out of sight of the dais, which has probably kept her out of trouble so far.
"And this is likely why Troublemaker left me to Shadow for my formative years," the mother comments wryly.
She expects that the twins' ears should have picked up the cant and are aware that they're being hunted, so she begins to thread her way through the crowd while holding tight to her lover's hand.
From three different spots on the square, other Rangers or retired Rangers chime in. "Ranger here, Where is the Danger?" seems to be the single most common whistle in the cadence language. Paige sees Julian standing on the edge of the dais, away from Celina, surveying the scene. He has not yet replied to the Rangers.
Paige is deep in the crowd when she feels the pressing intrusion of someone attempting to reach her by Trump. She cannot tell who it is, although it would be like her father to arrive via Trump if he was running late...
Raven arrives late and quietly, staying at the back of the crowd for a few minutes while she gets the lay of the land. She spots at least one person she'd like to talk to immediately, but - well, her mother's right in the area too, and now is really not the time to get in a fight. Which there probably would be, seeing as how Raven is maybe faintly annoyed with her again.
On the other hand, there's someone else's mother she should probably speak to at some point. The captain grins to herself and then picks her way through the crowd until she finds Flora. "Ma'am?" she asks politely, when there's a chance to do so without interrupting. "Could I have a word or two?"
Flora is dressed in a long seafoam dress in some sort of cotton-related fabric with an elegant leather blazer over it. The dress shows a lot of cleavage in that wide-necklined way that only women with perfect model figures can wear. Her hair is up in a chignon with loose blonde tendrils escaping from it. On her feet she's wearing chunky heels that somehow don't seem to be causing her any walking difficulties.
There is, as always, a crowd of admirers around her, but she dismisses them politely, so sweetly that they don't seem to know they've been sent away, and turns to Raven. "Of course, Captain. And what can I do for you?" She gives Raven a secret smile, as if there's something she and Raven both know and the rest of the crowd has stupidly missed.
(Maybe there is.)
Raven returns the smile, although hers isn't all that secretive, really. Definitely polite, though, and maybe not unappreciative of talking to a pretty woman. "I'm trying to understand what a young noble is supposed to know," she explains. "Since my brother's a page now and all. I heard you're helping with Lucas's children, so I'm thinking you might be the expert in that kind of thing...?"
"Oh yes, there's a long list of subjects," Flora explains. "I can send you a few books, if you want to start looking at the list--both for him and for yourself, since you're going to be treated as one yourself and you'd do well to know what they expect of you." She smiles sweetly at Raven. "It's a long topic for a single evening's conversation, but if there's something in particular you'd like me to elaborate on, we can discuss it."
Raven does not snort in amusement. It's a near thing. "Pretty sure I've only got half an idea where to start," she says wryly. "But I guess most of my first questions come down to who's in charge of what he's learning and who gets a say in it?"
"I'd say your first stop in Xanadu would be Gilt Winters. Ultimately it's Random's responsibility but... Random's examples with his own children have not been as hands-on as one might hope." Flora's lush smile thins a little. "Gilt is probably the best person for handling those day-to-day matters. Also the Queen, for a boy young enough to be assigned as a page. If he's of royal blood, he might be given directly to her charge as an honor."
Hannah starts in the direction of the her uncle-pseudo-tribesman, unwilling to put her good mood away. Even the slower waddle-walk of late pregnancy can't remove her smile. She raises her chin in acknowledgement of cousins both tribal and maternal, and smiles at the townspeople she's met already. Expecting her tribesmen will want to get their blessings in before she goes into battle, she signals they are welcome to join her, while she conducts business.
The thought crosses Hannah's mind when she doesn't spot her father that he may consider this the opportune time to go destroy himself on the pattern, but she shrugs it off. There is nothing she could do about it in this condition, or in fact, any other.
She attempts to catch Huon's eye, some distance out. She grins, and uses trade signals to tell him, "Let's talk."
Huon makes the universal gesture hand gesture for "I'm going to the bar for a pint", but looks amenable to her joining him.
There is a tribesman, one of the ones working for Paige, who has spotted Hannah and is coming her way.
Hannah throws a welcoming smile at her tribal cousin, and stays on course to intercept Huon at the bar. She keeps her hand on her stomach. Anyone who dares to touch her without permission will get a quick slap on the hand.
Two Red Hawks greets his cousin. "I see you are approaching our enemy. Do you need a blade at your side? I have told the Warden I will not kill him, but not that I would not assist you in... whatever you decided."
Hannah smiles at this rationalization. "I'm going to ask you a medicine man's question now." She takes hold of Two Red Hawks' arm and resumes her approach. "Why do you call him our enemy?"
Two Red Hawks suspects that this is a medicine man's trap, but he feels that he is on solid ground. "He tricked us into fighting his war and many of us died or suffered."
"Hm." She takes a moment to try to formulate the best way to get her meaning across before his manly defenses are up. "I was told one tribe after another agreed to go to war, and that Huon was made an honored brother. Did the council mislead me?" She glances sideways at him, and then back at her prey, over gathering up poison and setting a bad example.
He doesn't exactly answer her question, but it's clear he considers what he says an answer. "We agreed to go to war, not knowing he planned to kill so many people dishonorably. We were dishonored by association. We warred not for land or justice, but for his greed, and we have not yet restored our honor."
"Did you, let me ask just you because you are a Hethuska Brother, yes? Did you, Two Red Hawks, ask him how he planned to kill people?" Hannah asks.
Two Red Hawks is at least willing to answer her. "No," he admits. However, returns to his original subject, because his honor is, he feels, being discussed. "But we were misled. He offered us honorable battle and did not deliver it. Instead our honor was tainted."
"Your honor is yours. No other man's actions can touch it. You didn't give over your mind, you were not compelled. You are not children, to not know a bucket of lies when you see it. If Huon acted less than honorably, that is not yours to carry; only your own actions - what you did or failed to do. Did you gather and attempt to Council when he showed his ways? Did you kill dishonorably?" she asks.
He seems somewhat soothed by her words. "We did not know of his ways until after the battle. We were prisoners by then. But we, and those he attempted to kill dishonorably, deserve the right to avenge ourselves for being ill-used."
"This is not the plains. The king wishes his brother go unmolested, and we serve the king. You won't like it, but since you can't have your revenge, I plan to offer Huon a chance at redemption. If you mean to hinder me, you best remove yourself from my presence, because I won't have it." She gives him a warning glance, then adds, "And the lot of you warriors need to contemplate the desires that led you to follow someone who would use you so. I find it hard to believe none of your leaders or women warned you against him."
Silhouette follows Corwin's lead, allowing him to guide her through the estate. She knows being fashionably late would irk her mother most grandly, so wasn't eager to hurry their journey. Her hand remains lightly upon his arm as they walk, fingers fluttering against his wrist like butterfly wings. Conscious or no, she wears the mask of ignorance to this intimate touch.
The voices reach them soon enough, directing them the remaining way to the gathering. Upon seeing the tightly-woven groups of family -- known and unknown -- she turns her head to Corwin.
"Do you have any idea of what to expect this evening?" she asks. "I'd be most grateful for any advice on social protocol. And forgive me. but what exactly are we celebrating? I arrived most late to the party, as it were."
Corwin leads Silhouette through the crowd of people walking down the hill and the carriages on the switchback trail. If she's feeling adventurous and her shoes are flat enough, he'll help her cut through and they can walk straight down, getting there faster than the three-quarters of an hour or so it would take walking the trail. Some young people are taking the straight descent as well; most of the older people are walking, riding, or going in carriages.
After so much time in the liquid medium of Rebma, this airy city is a blessed relief to Silhouette. She remains near the edge, taking advantage of the vantage point to view the city proper. Her hand tightens upon his wrist from time to time, but her pace rarely slows,
To the extent that she requires assistance in the crowd or on the descent, his grip is not nominal. But he's enough of a known figure, or maybe his blade is, that people give him a clear berth a lot of the time.
"Tonight," Corwin says, "we're 'celebrating' the introduction of the Order of the Lamp, the new order of knights Random founded to honor Edan, and probably to round things out for Amber and Xanadu. Which reminds me that I need to do the same--but that's a story for another evening. But tonight is a military demonstration."
This wins Corwin a genuine smile from her, but she allows him to continue without comment.
"Tomorrow is less a celebration, though there'll be one, and more of a family meeting, of the initiates. The celebration will be drinking the health of Vialle--" Corwin decides nobody is close enough and adds, quietly, "--and the child to come--" before resuming his normal volume "--but the rest will be exchanging all the things we've learned about the monks and the Moonriders and everything else people need to know and putting it all together. And then we'll decide who goes where and does what as is best fitted to needs and talents."
Silhouette nods in understanding. "I see. Good. Despite the adherence to pomp and circumstance, I am most eager to discuss the matters at hand."
She tilts her head, dropping her voice, "Will the child have a claim upon Rebma? Vialle is of the Bloodline, is she not?"
"Of the Rebman bloodline? Distantly, maybe? I don't know who the direct heir is if we count in the female line from Moire, or even from Moins. Since Celina has been accepted as Queen, if she doesn't nominate someone, I expect it'll fall on the horn of the Unicorn again. May that day be far distant." Corwin makes a reflexive sign over his chest and looks mildly chagrined when he realizes what he's done. "Sorry; spend a few centuries in Shadow and you can pick up all kinds of bad habits," he adds by way of explanation.
"Anyhow, Martin's daughter will have a more direct claim; his mother was Moire's daughter."
Silhouette smiles playfully, nodding. "Now, I must wonder what other bad habits you've picked up in Shadow."
Her brow rises, some inner thought passing over her stony features. "And what, if any, allegiance does Martin have to his grandmother? She is likely still at large, after all. From the whispers I've heard - the benefits of being s seamstress - she still possesses enough support to do so. An apparent 'legitimate' heir is a potential rallying point." A sigh escapes her lips, "Forgive me. I'm most terribly dull with my constant tugging of strings. A habit mother could never wrest from me."
"Family gossip is a staple of these things. Martin was on the outs with his grandmother for a long time before I met him and nothing Random has said, or Martin, for what it's worth, suggests that has changed. This is the first time we've seen his and Folly's daughter in Xanadu. They chose to raise her in Shadow. And," Corwin adds, "it's no surprise she still has allies. Celina is young and untried by our standards. It's wise for her to gather her own allies."
Silhouette smiles, "Your daughter may be young, but she is formidable. And she is well liked among many noblewomen. I think her main weakness is her heart. It is too kind for a crown." SHe sighs faintly, squeezing his arm. "I worry for her sometimes. And I am not one to worry. In my previous life, I believed a weak noble endangered the Grand Design. Their inevitable fall only benefited Progress. But now... I am not so certain.
"I only wish Celina would allow me to provide her with the tools she needs to weather the coming storm. But I must trust her judgement. She is my... Queen."
Corwin looks at Silhouette, really looks at her, and says, "And she's my daughter, so of course I want her to succeed."
Silhouette meets his gaze, guileless. "Of course. As any good father should. Perhaps together we can guide her toward success and, more importantly, survival. Rebma will progress better with her than without." A slight breath, before she adds, "And I owe her much."
Her features soften, "Is it against Family etiquette to inquire about her mother?"
Corwin is hard to read, but he shakes his head in the negative at Silhouette's question. "You can always ask, though I reserve the right not to answer."
"Well, congratulations, Maximus," Garrett says to Max. "You're learning from the best if you're working with Abd-allah. And I'm sure your skills are fine as well, sir," he adds to Victor, "I just haven't seen them in person."
Victor blinks, stoically. "As I am a demon hunter by profession, your Highness, you should hope to Lir you never do."
He leans down to Max's level to address him directly. "So I don't believe we've met, but you know Hope and Phillippe. Tell me about yourself, Young Lord Maximus," he asks genially.
Max seems to have had lessons at courtly behavior as well. He's old enough to be a page, but it's not clear he's been given that honor yet. "It's my great pleasure to meet you, your Highness, we are cousins." says Max. "I only know of Hope and Phillipe, I have not met them as they live in Paris with our Grand-mére," Maximus says carefully. "They are my younger sister and brother. My father was the late Lucas St. Cyr and my brother is Captain Raven of the royal household and the royal Navy."
Vere's eyes follow Robin as she steps away, then come back to Max and the firelizard. He makes a soft, soothing noise deep in his throat.
The fire lizard croons back at Vere.
"Lucas was a fascinating man, of many contradictions," Vere remarks casually, apparently talking to the fire lizard. "We served on the Regent's Council together."
Garrett nods at Vere's description of Lucas, but his attention remains on Max. "So the Family Tree gets more and more complex," he grins. "Well, Max, it's a pleasure to meet you as well. I liked Lucas, complicated as he was. He dealt a hard bargain, but was always good for his end of it. I've been keeping an eye on Hope and Phillippe since his passing and was aware that there might be another one of you out there somewhere. I'm glad to have found you.
"Were you raised in the Docksides, then? I spent a lot of time there myself as a child," Garrett asks, looking for common ground to draw the lad out.
"I was, until we moved here. My Ma had a small inn and drinking house. Here she's got a better one." He shrugs.
"There are five of us. I am the oldest. Father told me I had to take of them, so I'm glad someone is keeping an eye on them. I don't think he planned for Grand-Mere to take over their education."
Garrett's eyes go wide with surprise at the number, but he doesn't interrupt.
Vere's attention appears to remain fixed on the fire lizard, but he is carefully analyzing Max and Victor's body language during this conversation.
Max is telling the truth, as far as he knows. Given his address to Prince Garrett, it's likely that someone taught him something about addressing nobility. It might have been Vialle.
Victor looks like he's not really used to being around kids. Or cities. Or social events. But he's managing pretty well. He's also got a weather eye out for Robin, of the "if she needs help, I'll leap in with my sword" variety.
"I don't think so either, but I reckon he knew his mother well enough to know she'd swoop in as soon as she was able," he smirks.
Vere smiles slightly at this comment.
"So...five," Garrett continues incredulously, "That's you, Hope, Phillippe and...two more? Do you know where the last two are?" he asks.
"No, they are supposed to reveal themselves to me when the time comes." He looks around, seeing who might be nearby. "I think part of my father's training plan was for me to try to identify them."
Victor laughs. "Well, he's not in charge of training you now, nor for the same ends, whatever they were. We'll train you up to be a proper young demon-prince."
Robin steps aside from the gathering fire-lizard-attracted group. Robin carefully picks a place where the crowd traffic and noise wind around herself and Conner, but where they're both still clearly visible and well within her Love's observation 'dome.'
Once there, Robin carefully doesn't steel herself as she turns toward Conner. Mostly because Chirrup is in her arms and would pick that right up. So Robin is most noticeably not-tensing-up as she faces Conner: a Rebman. With a Pattern-blade. A Rebman Pattern-blade.
Robin's smile may become a little fixed however. (She is not the smile expert that Conner is by any measure.) But she just keeps reminding herself of Celina and Llewella's warm welcome and the unlikelihood of the suave, sophisticated Conner starting anything in a crowd.
Conner's smile by contrast is easy and his posture open. "How familiar are you with the Tritons of Rebma?" Conner asks.
"Not very," Robin answers immediately. "Though one served me tea just yesterday." She can't stop the real grin that slips out at the memory of an Oo-Critter!
"I've heard Family rumor that they... are servants of the Royal Caste of Rebma, are tattooed, don't talk much, slapped you around once so strong-watch-out." She tips her head ruefully and continues. "There's a forest -- Nedra? Really? Some mention of maybe Draconic parallels... Otherwise, not much. I try to avoid... I feel like Rebma's got enough Family sticking their noses in. So I try to stay away."
She shrugs again. No offense meant, it's just... not her thing.
"Under the sea is not everyone's cup of tea even if it is served by a Triton." Conner admits. "Well all that you have heard is accurate as rumors go, There is a kelp forest of Nedra. In many ways it is an inverse of Forest Arden. It is a borderland between the Dragon of Nedra and Rebma and the free Trtions patrol it to prevent Rebmans from encroaching. In fact, there is a peace treaty where Rebma gets the services of the Tritons in return for not growing the city towards the Dragon." Conner explains. "However, there are rumors of elements of the Tritons who want to break the peace and I find myself wanting some force as a counter balance." Conner sighs. "I've been made Warden of Nedra and I am feeling the need for equivalent of Arden's hounds and hawks. But quite literally, I'm out of my depth there." Conner smiles. "Any suggestions on how to start?"
For a moment, Robin cocks her head as her thought birds swirl around chirping, "Brita. Paige. Now Conner. Wardening's a Red-head tradition in the New Order? Who'd'a thunk...." A brief stab of regret runs through the girl that she isn't Warden material. Just yet. Maybe someday. But not right now.
With an effort, Robin drags herself back to the subject at hand. "Yes," she nods rapidly. "Get a local expert."
Robin's eyes begin to brighten as she warms to her subject. "My bet is that somewhere around the edges of the forest (or nearby) there is a cranky, cantankerous crack-pot who doesn't like people at all. But knows everything there is to know about the forest and its creatures. This person could be a Rebman or a Triton. They could be a hermit or a rustic noblewoman. Whatever. What you're really looking for is someone who cares more about critters than they do about people.
"If you can charm that person to your side and listen to them, you'll have all the advice and resources you need to start a really effective life-sculpting/breeding program. I can't tell you what kind of shellfish are the best for guardians or how fish compare to cephalopods for scouting. But the crack-pot can."
"And if you can't find a good local grown crack-pot, I'll be glad to help as I can. But like I said, I'm concerned about all the Family Influence in Rebma already. And... Family Influences tend to... grind more than they... blend." Robin makes grinding gestures with her knuckles, then interweaves her fingers to show what doesn't happen. Then runs out of both words and gestures to explain and ends with a shrug.
Just after Robin runs out of words, she hears the Ranger cadence whistling across the square. "3 quarry, your arriere, water."
She's not sure who it's for, but it's weird for the direction to be anything other than "air" (up) or "earth" (down).
Robin holds up a hand for a moment as her brow furrows in distraction. There's.... just not enough urgency in that whistle for it to be another crazy-card-wielding-relative-disturbance like last time. But also... one doesn't just ignore Cadence.
More cadence, of course, as other Rangers check in. She hears at least three senior Rangers reporting in and asking "Where is the Danger?" She hears the cadence signatures of Couth, Solemn, and Vista.
Water, water... Robin looks toward the bay as she waits for reports back to the seniors. Ooo! And Vista's somewhere around here too!
Robin is not tense yet. But she's definitely alert.
After Hannah and Edan dismount from the carriage and before he takes his place at the head of the column, Edan takes a moment to look around. It was not his intention to do this any time soon, but it has to be done, and after the talk with Hannah Edan realizes that sooner is probably better than later. So he looks among the river of people heading to the spectator section, hoping to catch Gerard before the Elder gets settled.
Gerard has a couple of Amber navy men with him who are, Edan quickly realizes, there to help the chair Gerard is restricted to. They move obstacles, redirect people, and occasionally appear ready to help pick the chair up and move it over obstacles, which is why they're large fellows. They are clearly under Gerard's command and fall back when Edan approaches to give Gerard a bit of privacy.
"The star of the evening's festivities," Gerard says, eyeing Edan's costume. "Aren't you supposed to be somewhere getting ready?"
"I am, that," Edan says. If his own tone sounds hesitant, it is because he hasn't yet gauged Gerard's mood from his words or non-verbal cues. "But I needed to talk to you first, and even a crowd can be a good place for a private word. Or, maybe, an apology."
"I don't know why you think you need to apologize," Gerard says, looking phlegmatic as he always does, "unless maybe it's for not making the walk down to the city so friendly as it might have been. Which was Cambina's job in Amber, but nobody really knows how to do it in Xanadu, I think. I should have come down on someone's Trump instead. Anyroad, walk with me a little ways, and tell me what you think you should be sorry for."
Edan lets them get a little distance before he says, "Well, I was unaware that you were Hannah's... patron? Is that the word? Not until recently. Hannah and I have dwelt in different shadows, and there have been some time differences, but we met on the Blue Earth some months ago."
"Technically in her mother's absence, in Amber she'd be my ward, but she's a woman grown and a proven member of the family. I can't stand in her father's place because she's got one, so if it's her father you want, you need to speak to him. But I'm her mother's brother and I reckon I'm closer to responsible to her than Julian. But she's also my doctor now so that runs both ways." Gerard is not entirely sure where this is going, so he's watching Edan as he speaks, trying to gauge which bit Edan focuses on.
Once the festivities are well underway, Edan and his troop of city defenders arrive on their horses and hand them off to waiting grooms. The applause is plentiful and seems to be enthusiastic. Lord Mayor Ash greets the Order in the name of Xanadu and the King, and officially gives them the freedom of the city. Edan is asked to give a few words.
It is later in the afternoon, and the lengthening shadows combined with the harbor breeze have sapped much of the unpleasant heat of the day. Lamps are everywhere around the square, and the dancing area is already filled with moving bodies as a dance band plays fast and lively music.
And finally, the Order of the Lamp appears. Still but a company, around forty strong, but each rider is clad in a colorful uniform of red and white and black, and the horses are energetic and glossy and beautiful. Anyone in the know could see that Michelle did an amazing job in the preparation.
Normally, Edan would be clad in the same uniform, but today he is in dancing silks of his own colors; spotless white with a wide crimson sash as a belt. His feet and head are bare, and his hair transitions from dark roots to reddish ends. Here, there is no hiding the color of his eyes, and anyone can see the molten fiery gold of the irises. His sleeves are gathered strangely, lengths of extra crimson silk at his wrists. A pair of heavily taped and weighted Avernus hook-swords are thrust into his sash.
The riders' formation is like and yet unlike to the rangers; for as the rangers operate in groups of three, these troops ride and fight in groups of six. Their horses make patterns of stars as they make their way down to the town square.
They are relaxed as they can be, with the eyes of the city upon them and the applause around them. The mounts are well behaved, showing off, really, as the company moves down to the square. Grooms are there to take the horses as the knights dismount.
After Edan has been greeted and thanked by many to most of the dignitaries, he will prepare the crowd for his demonstration.
Last modified: 16 July 2017
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.