Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Hannah decides, since she has a confirmation and she'd rather wait a bit and see if Edan comes back rather than try to talk over trump, that work is the best cure for anxiety.
Vialle has been high up that list for some time, and it is at her door Hannah knocks. She's even brought along her kit, though she doesn't expect to need it.
Ember, Vialle's secretary, opens the door. "Yes?" It takes her a moment to recognize Hannah, "Ah, Lady Hannah. I didn't know you were coming to see the Queen." She smiles broadly. "Come in, come in." And she turns into the room, which has a balcony overlooking the sea, calling loudly to Vialle as she ushers Hannah inside. "My lady, your niece, the Lady Hannah, has come. Shall I send for salt tea?"
Vialle is out on the balcony, enjoying the sea air.
Hannah leaves the question for Vialle to answer but comes through to the threshold of the balcony. "I'm sorry to drop in, but I hoped to see you, and I owe you an apology for my past negligence in attendance, your Majesty. I am sorry."
Vialle gestures to Hannah, having located her by the sound of her voice. "It is of no moment. You're here now. How are you? Please, join me." She raises her voice so that Ember can hear her clearly. "Please send for the salt tea, and anything that Hannah wishes."
"Salt tea would be just the thing right now, thank you," Hannah adds. She moves and sits next to Vialle. "I'm well, most days. I feel like I've had adventures enough for now, but Edan has me half convinced there will be Moonriders to deal too soon for my liking. Events move in cycles, don't they? I don't really understand their time-traveling abilities at all. I mislike it all, to say the least." She sighs. "I've been worried about you."
Vialle cocks her head toward Hannah in a gesture that Hannah feels is sort of an "I'm listening" nod. "It's kind of you to be concerned, but I am well enough. My bad dreams have subsided somewhat. I know that there are many other concerns confronting us all.
"I had not heard that there were Moonriders in the offing. I should mislike that as well, if I were you," Vialle adds, in a clear invitation to continue in that vein. Behind Hannah, Ember has stepped out to fetch a page to send for the salt tea.
Paige raises the Trump of her uncle to eye level. The blue-black hair, the piercing green eyes. He has that stoic, almost iconic presence. And why shouldn't he, a scion of Amber and a master of a new Pattern. She wonders if he's continued the monochromatic color scheme in Paris, someplace that might be attractive in the old talkies, but always screamed of more life in her Shadow home.
"Your Majesty?" she probes.
There is a fairly quick response. Corwin appears to be somewhere on the grounds of the Louvre, strolling either by himself or with someone he's not touching. "Who calls?" he asks.
"Tis Paige, Uncle," she answers. She's seated indoors, a yellowing tint of light suggesting electricity filling the room. Her red hair is short, still reluctant to grow since her impulsive acts in the spirit realm. She's dressed comfortably in a hunter green riding jacket with gold accents. A cream colored blouse beneath shows its ruffles and almost matches the cream color of her split skirts.
"What news is there?" he asks.
"Of which Kingdom would you hear? Brociliande is as quiet as could be expected with the influx of refugees from Arcadia. Xanadu has her own growing pains, but as to family? I've been out of touch with my duties and my children. Save a pub crawl which uncovered only half the prey, sadly not family, we hunted, life has been almost quiet in Xanadu." Her smile is mischevious.
"What I've been hoping for is a good tobacconist, and one supposes that you've one hidden someplace in that new anchor of reality you call Paris. Something that will taste better than menthols in a dungeon, perhaps?"
"Your cousin Lucas had a man he used; he supplies the Louvre on occasion." Corwin moves to offer Paige his hand. "Do you mean to come through?"
"If it is allowable. I've yet to see your new world," she says, extending a hand, nails neatly trimmed short with a clear varnish. Her hands are beginning to build callouses that suggest more riding and more swordplay.
"One supposes that anyplace called Paris would have some of the finest boutiques," she adds. "Perhaps I'll do some shopping."
Corwin takes the hand and draws her through. "Welcome to Paris. There's quite a bit of shopping to be done, though I believe the couturier will want to take your measurements and design to measure based on the season's fashions. That's what Felicity and Flora tell me, anyhow."
"I look forward to it," she answers genuinely.
They're standing on the lawn and Corwin is in fact in company. He has two men that Paige doesn't immediately recognize walking with him. "Paige, this is Lance, my Captain of the Guard and Bill Roth, my attorney. Gentlemen, this is my niece, the Lady Paige of Amber."
Paige's smile thins ever so much as she unconsciously slips from the face she reserves for family into that of a courtier. Still holding her uncle's hand, she dips a modest curtsy, her appraising quietly. "Gentlemen, a pleasure to meet you."
Lance bows deeply to her; Bill Roth nods politely and says, "A pleasure to meet you, ma'am." He has the accent of Shadow Earth.
Corwin relinquishes Paige's hand and claps. A young lad comes sprinting out of the hedges to tend on the King. "The Lady my niece will be staying with us. Ask Lady Alice to arrange a room for her and have clothes for dinner brought for her."
"I'll do that, Corwin," Bill says. "Alice is my wife," he adds for Paige's benefit. He catches Lance's eyes and gives a quick tilt of his head that Paige has no trouble interpreting as let's get out of here to the Captain.
Requisitioning horses. Supplies. Equipment. Some time at the forge.
Signy sighs quietly, before squaring her shoulders and accepting that everything is ready, and was probably ready a while ago, and this is just delaying the inevitable conversation that needs to take place for this journey to properly begin.
She makes her way over to the Navy's offices in Xanadu, to one office in particular. She doesn't hesitate as she raises her hand and swiftly raps twice on the door.
Idly, she wonders if this office resembles the one in Amber that Caine almost killed her in.
It does, although mostly in contents. Caine was in Amber, which had offices for the Navy both in the Castle and in the Port. Random's Navy doesn't have quite the collection of ancient buildings that Amber does.
"Enter" says a voice from within. The room is pooly lit, which seems to be purposeful rather than accidental.
Signy steps in, and as her eyes attempt to adjust to the darkness she squints in the general direction of whomever seems to be closest to her in the room.
"Not unless Mother was very confused.", replies her brother. He leans forward into the light and she sees Marius, looking better than he has in recent weeks. "I'm helping the King down here these days." His smile seems tired, but genuine.
The tension that Signy had in her shoulders releases, and she offers her brother an impish grin.
"You look a lot better then the last time I saw you," she notes.
He smiles. "I am better. Tropical climates suit me."
"I was looking for Uncle Caine because I want to head out and take Brother Tomat with me, and need to clear it with him first."
His smile disappears. "Isn't he an agent of those weird monk people?"
Signy shakes her head stubbornly.
"No. He broke with them when the two of you fled."
She avoids looking at him for a moment.
"Or did he say or do something to make you think otherwise when you were coming to the Tower?"
His lips tighten. "You weren't raised around Amber people. Monks ... well they've all got divided loyalties. Oaths to non-existant higher powers and secrets, and they can always convince themselves that whatever betrayal or injustice they're committing is for the greater good, and probably good for you, too. There's some of 'em that aren't like that, probably most, really. But they get together in groups and they're nothing but trouble. I've seen shadows all over the double dozen seas and the ones that were the most miserable had religions at the top.
"And monks who seek out Amber, and specifically us?" he asks. "Bad news," he says, slowly.
Signy's shoulders tense slightly, resisting her brother's words.
"So you think he's still loyal to his order?"
"I think he's--something--with you, but that doesn't mean he's loyal. To you or to them," Marius clarifies.
Signy looks at Marius, doubt clear on her face. "So if he's not loyal to either, then who is he loyal to?"
For the moment, she doesn't pick up the gauntlet in the first sentence.
"That's easy," Marius says. "Himself." And apparently he doesn't want to have that discussion either, because he moves on to the next topic, which is, "I can lend you a trump of Uncle Caine, but I would think if you're here in Xanadu, and particularly if he is too, you could just ask Uncle Random. His writ overrunneth, as it were. And he's a bit less inclined toward suspicion than Uncle Caine." Or, apparently, Marius himself.
"You said you wanted to head out," Marius continues, changing the subject further away. "Where are you going? Have you decided?"
Signy tries to picture Brother Tomat as being such a mercenary. "To trade his position in the Order to one where he had no home, and go to a place where he knew he would be regarded with suspicion doesn't seem to be the smart move, by that reasoning."
She shrugs at the second half of his question. "I had wanted to spend more time at the Tree then I got to previously, so I was thinking to go there by way of Rebma. I met Celina briefly, and she was a friendly face when I was still trying to get my feet on solid ground. It would be nice to see her again."
"Rebma's not the best place to go to get your feet on solid ground," Marius tells her with a sharp-toothed grin and waggling eyebrows. "The women there are treacherous and lovely. I'm sure the new Queen is an exception," he adds out of deference to Signy's praise of her. "And a trip below the waters is certain to be educational, as far as the family game goes. You'll be taking your men-at-arms, then? You'll fit right in."
Signy gives him an arch glance.
"What's so significant about bringing some companions?" She pauses briefly, before adding "and are there a lot of other family members in Rebma, that has everyone playing 'the game' down there?"
"Rebma is ruled by women, so they'll like that you bring a train of men in your service." Marius ponders who is there, and comes up with, "Celina is queen there now, of course, but Aunt Llewella is a power, always." He draws out his trump deck and shuffles out a card showing Aunt Llewella with her green hair and green-tinged skin. "I don't know who else is there presently, but there are always one or two hangers-on from our generation, much as you and I are here at the moment.
"I imagine Moire is elsewhere and so is her elder daughter. I believe her younger is still here in Xanadu, and has not been offered a chance to return home."
Signy nods along with her brother's crash course in Rebman politics.
"I guess that my relationship with our Father is not so unusual for this Family," she notes.
"Not at all," Marius agrees. "Nor is your relationship with our mother, nor the lack thereof." He says this with a sharp smile. "Parenting arrangements in our mother's generation were frequently difficult." There is no further elaboration on that.
[OK to summarise the talk with Random and just assume he lets her take Tomat with her?]
[Yes. As long as she's willing to accept responsibility for what Tomat does, Random is willing to allow her to take him with. Just don't let him blow up the universe or anything. Random says "Sure, on a 'you're responsible for cleaning up his messes' basis, and if he really messes up, I won't stop Caine from dealing with him 'for the Good of Amber', so impress on him the advantages of being like Caesar's wife."]
An invitation arrives via page, summoning Robin and Vere to the terrace outside Xanadu for dessert with Random and Vialle.
The page waits for a reply, or to lead the two to the King.
"I see no cause for delay, beloved," Vere says to Robin. "Shall we go?"
"Yep." Worry makes for a laconic and brisk Robin. She rises, flashes a brief smile at Vere, flutters her hands for a moment, then heads for the hallway. Then spins on her heel for a kiss and a hug. Then off again - together.
The page leads them to the terrace outside the castle, overlooking the pool between the two waterfalls. The water is always moving in it, and there are whitecaps at both ends.
Random gestures them to join him at a table, where Vialle is sitting.
"Welcome back!," he says to Vere. "Try the chocolate dipped tangerines. The cooks are very pleased with themselves over them."
Vialle is turning her head slightly to and fro, perhaps trying to figure out who her husband has greeted.
"Thank you, Uncle," Vere replies. "It is very good to be back ... home." His head tilts a little as he says that last word, and his eyes meet Robin's.
Robin’s head bobs as she meets Vere’s gaze with a smile. Yep, Xanadu it is – for better or worse. Eeeek!
“Your Majesties.” Robin nods to the monarchs. There’s a brief pause while she figures it out and then she seats herself. She accepts Vere’s assistance if it is offered but if it’s not, she’s fully capable of wrangling a chair on her own.
"That's us," agrees Random. "I got your request for an audience. Did you mean "an audience" or "An Audience"?
Vialle appears to have been about to say something, perhaps a pleasantry, but Random overrides her with his question, and she falls silent.
"Perhaps," Vere says carefully, "It would best be described as a request for a private meeting with our dear aunt and uncle, to discuss matters that might be of concern to The King?"
He ends that as a question, and his eyes seek Robin again.
Wow! Robin’s eyebrow go up. What a good answer! Her man can certainly talk.
She squirms a little in her seat as she realizes she is delaying.
“Yes. I realize that I have screwed up the communication thing again, but Vere and I think we may have come up with a solution.”
"Screwing up is the second best way of learning something," replies the King. "I learn lots that way, all the time." His chair swivels, and he turns it so he can see both the young couple and the waterfall. "So, what's up, neice and nephew?"
Vere sits then, and tries one of the chocolate dipped tangerines. He makes an appreciative sound at the taste, but his eyes are on Robin.
"Okay." Robin takes a deep breath. "I practiced this so I should be able to get it right...
"My uncle and sovereign, I was... injured in the last war. And the results of that injury occasionally distort my sense of passing time. This makes me -- much to my regret -- somewhat unreliable for long term missions or timely communications. Like the Gateway thing. Or the Paris thing." She frowns sadly.
"So far, it hasn't interfered with either my desire to serve the Crown. Or for short-term missions.
"Since I still very much want to serve Xanadu and her monarchy, I've asked Vere if he can help me compensate. When we've worked together in the past, he's proven facile at recognizing emergent symptoms and applying effective counter-measures.
"I know that it's a lot to ask to take Vere off of rotation and assign him to accompanying me. But he's said that he's currently off-duty and willing to help..."
There's a pause. Then Robin mutters under her breath, "Closure. Closure.
"Therefore," she picks back up again, "I respectfully ask that we be allowed to work together on any future tasks the Crown may need of us."
Random listens, his face contorting through several expressions. Eventually he says "Do either of you have a musical instrument on you?"
[OOC: If the response is affirmative, the king continues...]
"Play for me."
Vere grins at that, and says, “I am an instrument, Uncle.” He throws his head back and cries out, with the scream of a hunting hawk, then launches into a wordless song, his voice ringing out in the sounds of pride and joy, primal notes of an almost animalistic delight in the here and now, but somehow incomplete. His eyes meet Robin’s and his smile grows wider.
At Vere’s opening sally, Robin’s brows rise in delight and surprise. For a few beats, she listens with glowing eyes. With a grin of her own, she nods and raises the ocarina to her lips.
The notes that follow are perhaps some of the most intricate and measured that have ever emerged from Robin. Weaving under the wildness of Vere’s voice, Robin’s music is that of beautiful and intricate connectedness; everything touches, everything interacts, everything dances together. And yet, and yet – so detailed it slips away. So majestic, it overwhelms. So... much. That’s when her eyes meet Vere’s.
Vialle smiles at the music Vere and Robin have created together, clapping her hands in pleasure.
Random listens for a moment. "Good. Now Robin alone."
Vere swirls a final few notes around Robin's ordered music, then lets it fade away. He smiles again as he watches her.
Robin’s heart thumps hard in her chest; playing for the King, playing for Random. For a moment darkness swirls behind her eyes, but the girl forces it away. She is not going to let phantom fears lose the opportunities her Father and Vere have gained for her.
Instead, Robin blends that darkness into her melody. Intricate fugues and complex fantasias grow strange and odd. Robin’s music begins to shudder and jerk. The very intricacy of the piece seems to become too much for the musician. It’s rushing either beyond her ability or to the just plain impossible. The measures quicken too; becoming frenetic, panicked. Eventually the strain becomes too much. Robin’s aire shatters with screech.
Robin breathes the next few phrases, continuing on despite the silence with a caught breath, a quiet mew of confusion and slow searching pants.
After a while, she plays a long, quiet note from the ocarina; hushed, hiding, fearful and hurt. Slowly, the music struggles to rebuild as Robin blends in anthems of Amber & Arden. (Not actual songs per se, but what she Heard when she was in those Places at their height.) But the tune is faltering and failing.
A single clarion tone emerges from Robin’s ocarina; cold and clear - Julian’s hunting horn. Robin’s melody struggles toward it. As the horn tone grows stronger, so too does Robin’s song; until it is, at least, limping along under its own power. Still tentative, still fearful, but growing.
Then another harmony drifts in; surprising and new. Robin’s melody takes on a component of the sea. In her music, waves move back and forth in blending, intricate patterns; measured, calm, sparkling with light, repeating, changing and endlessly beautiful. Robin’s aire gains more strength until her music is no longer limping. It’s still hurting, still fractured but shape is forming in her tune. And structure.
A third melody blends in; the ‘anthems’ of Xanadu (what Robin Hears when she Listens to the vibrant and developing Realm.) This tune is very new – and very different -- from the measures that the melody was reaching for before. And... soooo difficult.
Random hears this melody and immediately joins in, tapping out a rhythm on the table in front of him. It supports and reinforces the Xanadu melody, giving her a foundation to play against. It both emphasizes the Xanadu melody and gives her more freedom to improvise in the other strands.
The three new cadences – horn, sea and Xanadu – swirl around the original melody: sometimes clashing, sometimes supporting. It’s a weird, wild mix: growing toward something better. But it will take time. And effort. However, the notes of hope and growing strength beginning to appear within the melody hint that it’s worth it.
While her song is still incomplete, Robin simply stops. And lowers the ocarina.
She smiles to Vere.
He nods, eyes shining.
Then meets Random’s eyes with a one shoulder shrug. Yeah. That’s the way it is.
Random grins back, seeming genuinely pleased. "Good. So, what did we learn? First your immediate sense of timing is strong, you can't do music without time working for you. Otherwise, it'd all just be pink noise. Second, I really need to get Soren to invent a pink noise generator."
Robin’s eyes spark briefly. A pink noise generator – now that’s a project!
"Third, given that after you managed to get started you did fine, I'm wondering if you have a confidence problem more than anything else. If so, Doctor Random's advice is to find somewhere you can get laid repeatedly, and wear yourself out."
Vere blinks, then regains his control.
Robin nods to both the diagnosis and the prognosis, but shrugs one-shoulder again. Doing what she can.
Vialle starts to say something but Random continues, overriding her.
"And speaking of which, I have a question for Vere." He turns to the younger man. "Some people don't put much faith in oaths, but for people from a background where they are binding, they can be really powerful. Magic is powerful stuff and sometimes it works on the letter of the word and sometimes the spirit of it. Aren't you worried that you're going to de facto violate your oath to your father with Robin, even if you don't say the words?"
Vere nods. "An excellent question, Uncle, and one that I have thought about." He shrugs. "The fact is, I love Robin, and that is that. If the oath interprets 'lover' to mean 'one I love,' then there is nothing I can do about that. But it is not what I meant when I made the oath, and I must believe that counts for something. Robin and I are ... limited ... in expressing our love. It seems to me that is a sufficient payment and sacrifice, until I can fulfil the terms of the oath. Separation would serve no additional purpose, save to add misery to what was intended to be a noble sacrifice." He laughs, slightly. "I was so much younger then, you see."
Robin keeps quiet. Yes, she’s worried. But yes, she also trusts Vere on this issue.
"I'm an anti-misery kind of King, so you two have that in your favor. But I'm also King, which means I've got a lot of responsibility to do the right thing, even when it's not the fun thing. Take my advice, and skip the King job."
"So here's the thing. I'm not going to say 'no', but I'm not going to say 'yes', either. I can't tell you that sometime down the road, in the infinite future, I won't suddenly need someone who talks to flying lizards in one place and someone who talks to Gerard in another at the same time. My son got himself married and I won't promise him that he gets to spend all his time holed up in love nests. I reserve the right to need you both."
He takes a deep breath. "For now, it's fine. In the future, you can ask. But we're only a few months into this. Most things are ad hoc. A lot of what happens starts with 'hey we need to do something, who can do it?' The down side of that is that once we figure out what works, the window of opportunity to set your own role as broadly as you might if you could fire on all jets now. You do know what jets are? Nevermind, not important.
Random turns to Vere. "Now this is important. As your Uncle, I want you to think deeply on this. We both want Robin to recover from the trauma she described and played for us, right? So you have to make sure that your presence isn't a crutch that she leans on that keeps her from getting better. Can you do that?"
Vere takes Robin's hand as he answers Random. "I have thought about that, Uncle. I hope that I can, but I know that I might be too close to the situation to..." he glances at the Queen and changes what he was about to say, "perceive things clearly. I hope that you will tell me if you think I am impeding her recovery. Both of you. Aunt, you have always had a sensitivity to relationships that I admire."
Random looks over at Vialle as if he'd forgotten she was there. After a second, he smiles.
Vialle cannot see this gesture, of course, and smiles at Vere's kind words. But she does reach out with one hand toward Random, who takes hers and pats it absentmindedly.
Robin nods her agreement and struggles back to the word-place. “I’m watching out for that too. Have some guards in place already. Will probably figure out other stuff as we go along.”
Random nods, apparently happy with the responses. "Great! Anything else you cats need? While we're talking uncle to nephew and niece? I don't know why there isn't a word in Thari for both of you together. Do you think 'Nibling' would work? Sort of a riff on sibling, but for the nth generation."
"We did want to ask permission to build a home. Perhaps on the other side of the mountain, if that is acceptable." Vere tilts his head to one side. "Does the mountain have a name, by the way? No one has been able to tell me."
Robin finds herself giggling at ‘Nibling’ and struggles to maintain her tough but damaged Ranger face as she waits on her uncle’s thoughts.
Random shrugs. "It does. Mount Abora. It means 'Dulcimer' in Old Texoran. Back of the mountain is off-limits, but you can be on the side, as long as you can see the sea. Xanadu is a sea-port and will, as long as I am King, be focused on the sea."
Vere smiles at Robin. "I certainly have no objections to our home having a view of the sea," he says. "I am a child of ocean and forest equally."
Robin nods in agreement. "A slip for the Psyche would be nice."
Random shrugs. "A deep water wet slip requires a bunch of infrastructure we don't have, like significant docks. We're still using longboats to ferry goods to the larger deepwater ships. If you want to build the docks, I'm sure you'd get takers for slips and such. There would be royal patronage for such a project."
Vere nods. "Definitely a consideration for the future," he says. "But let us not get too far ahead of ourselves. We still have some matters to take care of in the immediate future, before we can devote ourselves to a large scale project such as this. Thank you for the permission to build, Uncle. It is greatly appreciated."
Random waves at him. "You have permission to submit plans, which I am likely to approve if they don't do anything I don't want. I mean, what if you were to put up 30 foot tall white letters that spelled out 'The King Is A Fink" and you spelled my name wrong? There are obvious things to avoid. No large-scale clearing, no farming, no setting up a combination monastery/nunnery. Think 'Charming house on the outskirts of town, rather than grim mountain redoubt from which to immanentize the eschaton."
Vere smiles. "We shall keep that in mind," he assures his uncle with a smile. He turns to Robin and says sadly, "Alas, the training camp for a legion of manticore-riding trolls wielding lightning rods is right out."
Robin fluffs 'grumpily' and wrinkles her nose. "Not a legion, just a detachment..," she mutters to herself. Then she grins to her love and to her King.
"Thank you, Majesty. I... well, just thank you." The girl bobs her head.
Randoms waves his hand. "Raise your troops in shadow, it's the traditional way. Good practice for me asking you to go raise troops in shadow. Manticore riding trolls, eh? Trolls regenerate, but manticores sting riders to death. Sounds like a perpetual motion machine."
Vere laughs. "I do like the idea of working on building the docks, eventually. It ties in well with what I did during the Regency, and I have ties with the Navy that would prove useful." He looks at Robin, then back at his Uncle. "I take it, though, that you are saying that you do not have anything pressing that you need us to handle, and that we are free to pursue our own matter for the time being?" He looks back at Robin, and raises an eyebrow.
Robin nods her agreement. She's not going to add anything else to the pile right now.
Random moves his head back and forth, as if he can rearrange the words in it that way to find the ones he wants. "We had a whole meeting on this. People volunteered and stuff. There's things to do, and it's sort of a question of are you a do-er or not?"
The king stands up. "I'm not going to give you indefinite leave from keeping us from lurching into a disaster, but if you need to absent yourselves from felicity for a short while, I require that you be reachable in case of urgent matters. You may go."
It's not completely clear if that's a dismissal from dessert or Xanadu.
Vere stands as well. "Thank you, Your Majesty," he says, with a small bow. "I understand."
Robin bounces up. "Won't disappear. Won't leave you in a lurch. Will go." She nods. "Thank you, again."
And with that, she turns and strides out.
Vere bows to the king, once more, turns to his aunt and says, "Thank you, Aunt. I look forward to having a longer conversation with you in the near future," and follows Robin.
After saying his goodbyes to Fiona, and retrieving his affine, Edan rides the stallion (did they ever name him?) through town, then onward along the docks and out along the coast as they reach the edge of town. His intention is to ride outward, then shift shadow in a land-based trip to Xanadu, assuming they did outfit him for a trip at the castle. This gives him a chance to finish the Gate he's long-planned for himself between Amber and Xanadu.
Edan finds that Arden is closer to the city than he remembers, and that the edges seem to hold a patchwork of occupied and abandoned farms. The forest is slow, but when it moves, it's decisive.
Edan is not more than a quarter mile into the forest when he notices the first observer. The man is in a tree and [if Edan does nothing] doesn't break from cover.
Edan does slow down, and gives himself a moment to review his mental map of Amber and environs. If he stays near the coast, is it possible to skirt the edge of Arden? If not, he does remember someone saying Arden was closed, perhaps in the Family Meeting. If it appears there's no happy middle ground, he'll turn and slowly ride within earshot of his observer, hands away from his weapons, giving plenty of opportunity to talk.
When he approaches the Ranger, the man steps out. He is armed but isn't pointing a weapon at Edan. "Your Lordship, " he says, recognizing Edan. "Is there a message for the Warden?"
Edan shakes his head. "No message. I am on a mission, and this was one of the fastest ways towards Xanadu." He decides not to explain Trumps and why he didn't ask to use one at the castle. "I am mindful that the Warden has set prohibitions regarding Arden. I do not mean to cross him, and will turn back if need be, but this way would be faster." A pause. "I would accept an escort, if that matters."
The ranger nods. "My Lord, unless you are leading settlers, we have orders merely to report it if you are seen. Also to avoid contact, unless you initiate it. If you wish an escort, I can arrange for one. Or I can provide you directions to avoid the fighting, if that is your need."
Edan smiles, not unkindly. "I suppose directions would be fast..." The smile slips a bit. "Er... fighting?"
"The Arcadians. They're acting like they're Bellumites. Five tribes of mostly identical barbarians and all they want to do is slaughter each other." The man shrugs. "If you stay towards the coast-side, de'gauche of here, or towards the setting sun, you will reach a within two watch's ride. Follow it upstream, but take the left fork when it splits. The right goes directly into Arcadia. Another day's ride will take you beyond Arden, into the lands that are beyond Ranger contol."
Edan almost reflexively scratches the back of his head, listening. "Maybe things would change if they all had a common enemy they could rally against," he says. "Myself, I would prefer that day never came. I will take the way out of Arden, as quick as I can ride. Thank you, Sir...?"
The man smiles. "Ranger Piecemeal, your Lordship. I am doing my duty. There is often a Ranger output at the fork in the rivers. If it is manned, please check in there. They will be expecting you."
"Just so," Edan says. He smiles and holds up a hand by way of farewell, then turns his horse westward towards the river.
Not long after Edan leaves the Ranger, he hears a sound, well disguised. It's a drumming sound, beating on a hollow stick. It's not clear what the message is, but moments later a bird echoes the same sequence. Edan will not be unexpected further down the trail.
And there is a trail, but it's not one an inexperienced outdoorsman would find. Parts of it are natural, as if it is just a series of loosely connected animal trails.
Edan runs across neither Rangers nor warriors nor any large wildlife as he rides. Eventually he comes around a bend and spots the fork in the river. between the two forks, across the river from Edan, there is a camp in the clearing. It's larger and busier than Edan might have expected.
No point trying to avoid it - Edan rides up to the river, expecting that he'll find a ford to cross to the camp. He gives the camp a once-over, too, mostly to see where the open lanes have been established into the camp and where the (obvious) sentries stand.
There's an obvious ford on Edan's side, as well a pontoon bridge across the eastern fork that leads into the woods. The camp is oriented towards the East. Under a large tree towards the South-East corner are two larger tents, one of which seems to be some sort of nexus of activity.
The sentries are in the trees. Some are on branches, others on platforms. The positions are well-thought-out and cover the approaches to camp very well. Edan is sure that sentries have seen him.
Edan is sure that is the case. He is also sure that he is well-expected, and computes a pretty high probability that there was some kind of gambling pool on the time of his arrival. Keeping his hands away from his weapons, he will cross the ford on his side and around to the entrance of the camp (and eventually one of the larger tents, if they let him pass), or stop if challenged.
Edan is definitely watched as he enters the camp, and it's clear that he is being let to enter camp.
A ranger approaches as he reaches the middle of the encampment. "Shall I take your horse, my Lord? The Warden is waiting for you in his tent, and your horse might not get along with his."
Indeed, outside the large tent is a very large stallion, all grey, with eyes the same and hooves like iron. It could be thirty hands high at the withers. It is magnificent. And dominates the area. Edan's horse doesn't seem interested in going any further.
"I bet he wouldn't," Edan says to the ranger. He dismounts and hands the reins over, then approaches the indicated tent. He scratches politely at the entrance, by way of announcement.
"Come," a voice Edan recognizes as belonging to a leader of men, if not one he recognizes, says.
When Edan opens the flap, he finds that Julian's tent is heavy with tapestries to keep the weather out, rugs to keep the ground from being too cold, and full of well-made camp furniture designed for travel. Julian himself is sitting at a camp desk, writing some document with a quill. His famous armor is on a block next to the desk, and the place is surprisingly full of arms.
(It's almost as if he got attacked in his tent at some point.)
Julian finishes whatever he's working on after a moment. "Edan," he says, coming to his feet and turning his full attention to his nephew. "Welcome to Arden."
Edan approaches and bows low. "Uncle Julian," he says. "I am most pleased to finally meet you." When he raises up, though, there is a quirkly little smile on his lips. "It was not my plan, however. It is strange...I can tell myself in my head that I can begin shifting in Amber, but still it seems I must ride out some distance before that happens. Thus, I find myself in Arden. Perhaps my heart is harder to convince than my head."
Julian acknowledges the bow with a nod. "That is true for most people in many cases. I am not sorry you have come, through, as I am interested in news of the Capital. Did you come on Aramsham?"
Julian gestures towards a small seating area; just two chairs and a table between them. It has a pitcher of water and a vase with a single flower on it. The flower is black with a flaming red center that moves as if it is really on fire.
Edan takes the offered seat, but it's obvious that he's distracted by the flower. "Alas, no," he says. "Fiona and I trumped to Amber, and I took an Arabian back out. I was in Xanadu before that, and I would be happy to... forgive me, Uncle, is it safe to talk around this thing?"
Julian's eyebrow arches as he takes a seat. "There is no reason to believe the firelilly will understand or recall the conversation, or that it is being used as a Trump outlet to transmit information. And it is less unsafe than leaving the thing, as you call it, unguarded. Continue, if you would."
He pours a glass from the pitcher of water and offers it to Edan. It is not a ceremonial act per se, as far as Edan can tell, but Edan suspects Julian is aware of the significance of the act of giving water to a desert dweller.
Edan takes the glass in his right hand, cradles it with his left, and bows his head towards Julian for a long few seconds. "The gift of the river is the gift of life," he says, obviously some mantra from the Land of Peace. "I don't know where to begin. Paris, perhaps? You know I took on the task of the Moonriders. Father and I raided one of their camps, and may have disrupted their goals for a little time. We came back to Xanadu..." and he relates all the Family he knows was there at the time.
..."I was heading back afield, but not before I talked to Fiona. She had offered to show me how to make a bird of desire, you see. I Trumped her, and she pulled me through to help with some action she had taken against the Gheneshi. She described it as a feint, but I didn't get all the details. We came back to Amber, and now I'm heading out again."
Julian frowns. "I know little enough of the current movements of the Moonriders, so your intelligence is welcome. If they gather their forces and make bargains with the forces that trouble us in Arden, things will go ill indeed."
He pours himself a glass from the pitcher, and thinks on matters for a moment, as he takes a sip. "Have you considered what your plans are for the next little while? Do you mean to strike at the Moonriders again, or does duty call you elsewhere?"
"My main goal is to act against them, but perhaps not directly," Edan says. He puts down his glass and leans forward, hands folded on the table. "The Riders are active, and moving. It's obvious they are seeking or building a path to Tir-na Nog'th. Their Queen appeared as we were leaving. I thought they were separated, but they've found one another again, it seems. I only have to glance at a Rider, see how She's changed them, to know I don't have the strength to brazenly take them on. But if I can figure out how they're searching for a way, maybe I can thwart their efforts, buy us some time. I don't really even know why they want to go there, but if they want to this badly, I know we want to oppose it."
Julian leans backs in his chair, although he still seems poised to move quickly if needed. "They consider it their ancestral home, which we have barred them from. You may consider the Queen as their Goddess and their goal is theosis. This is not accurate, but it will do.
"I have never seen their Queen and only have heard tales of her. Tell me what you saw." His words are measured, but Edan can tell he's interested in the subject.
"I must disappoint you. Twice, I think. I had my Third Eye in play, and thus saw more of a Presence than her actual physical form..." Edan describes what he saw the afrit face off against as best he can. "I didn't, ah, 'stick around'. And theosis, that was exactly the term Father used, that it appeared they were achieving this."
"My suggestion, should you ever find yourself in a position to do the same with a dragon, is that you not." Julian smiles thinly, as if the statement has everything necessary to make a joke except the humor value. "Theosis implies becoming one with one's deity. As a matter of metaphysics, you may wish to consider the question in context with affinage, or with the domination effect of dragons, which we are much concerned with here in Arden. All are related and all are extremely dangerous, even to such as we."
Edan nods once, serious. "Jovian. And Daeon, to a lesser degree. I am sorry. I had not met either of them." He absently scratches under the chin of his dragonformed affine. "The binding with my affine, it is not as strong. There is communication, yes, and some empathy, but not that kind of overpowering domination of psyche. Perhaps someday, if Kyauta becomes stronger and grows into his own, our pact and binding will break, and he will go on his own way. But I will be mindful. I appreciate the advice. I hope that in time, Jovian can recover."
He indicates the firelilly. "Speaking of Daeon, Lilly told me the story of the rock people and the flowers. Knowing that the chaos-things still had a significant amount of his blood, I searched for these flowers beyond Ygg. I knew the Moonriders were in Chaos, you see, and thought the blood might have been used to make paths for them. I am pleased to say I found no evidence of this." Edan's head tilts slightly. "Has anyone divined the purpose of these flowers, or why they have the flames?"
"Things of Chaos need not have a purpose, save that some Lord made them that way. That is part of the nature of Chaos. Utter randomness occurs and comes together and falls apart," Julian says. He might be quoting someone. "Which is not to say that someone who finds a thing without a purpose will not use it to their own. It was a wise thought." Inclining his head, perhaps as a neck-bow, Julian indicates his approval.
"Where the firelillies find paths are not in Chaos, though. They grow in Arcadia and Arden, and they are, I think, used by the natives of Arcadia, those allied with the Green, for certain purposes. So your suspicion was right, but the use that has been made of them is by others than you imagined."
Edan nods his understanding. "Thank you. Did you know that I was part-afrit? I speak the language of fire. I would offer to attempt to find the reason these flowers have flames..." he glances around, clearly indicating the battle-readiness of the tent. "Assuming a raid is not imminent, of course."
"I did not know that," Julian says with some interest, and Edan has this sudden feeling Julian has discerned something about Bleys in the great game of brother against brother that operates primarily over the head of Edan's generation. It's not a hostile interest, either; more of a point for future notice. "And yes, I would be interested. Although you should be careful of accidentally feeding it sorcery, if it is a being of Chaos, for the obvious reasons."
"I shall." And Kyauta, watch to see that I am not feeding it sorcery without my knowledge. Warn me if I am. He reaches out to touch the fire in the center of the flower, almost a caress, then sends his awareness into it.
[To start, the sorcery here should just be a variation on the Third Eye, and I can write more complex things as we progress.]
Yes, my lord, Kyauta responds. He has lost some of his prior enthusiasm, perhaps, or he's gained some reserves of calm. In either case, he's not the being he once was.
Sorcery is a delicate art, and fire is the protean soul of it. This fire, in this place is connected. It's as if the flames were poking through from elsewhere, a single fire poking out of tubes that disguised the connections between the fire.
Edan cannot tell, but the flame feels as if it is somehow directed, or at least intentional. Not as if it were alive, but as if it it were being manipulated.
"The fire is connected, the flowers like the leaves of a tree," Edan says to Julian. If he's unhappy about the signs of Kyauta's maturing and the eventual parting of ways, he doesn't show it. "Perhaps I can look at the branches." His hand makes an odd little pass near the flower.
Julian nods. "I expected as much. We have found these flowers growing on rocks in streams, and high up in trees. They must be getting their fuel and nutrients elsewhere."
[Spell: Aetheric firewall: creates a sorcerous mental construct which provides a layer of protection between the caster's mind and whatever he's working with. In this case, it looks like an oval sand-covered arena where he can generate a floating visual map as he backtracks along the connections. If he can get away with it, Edan will make a small visible 'overlay' so that Julian can see what's going on. Power + Performance + fire present = Target (mental construct) + Duration (a watch) + Effect]
Edan casts the spell. He thinks it is effective.
Edan follows up by pulling scissors, a spool of thin wire and a tiny bell out of one of his pockets. He clips a length of wire, ties the end of it to the top of the bell, then holds the other end into the flame with his left hand. The wire turns red-hot, but that doesn't seem to affect him at all. Holding the bell between thumb and index finger of his right hand, he flicks the bell with his right ring finger. As it chimes, he whispers something soft and sibilant to the flower, watching his construct with the Third Eye as a pulse of... something... travels up the wire and into the flame and beyond.
[Spell: Ma Bell: an active sorcerous pulse that travels up the fiery connections and eventually to reveal their source, creating a sort of map in his magical construct. Prowess + Performance (1 minute) + focus items + fire present = Target (fire network) + Duration (likely a watch) + Effect]
Edan bends over the flower and listens for the return, and watches the map form. It forms slowly and Edan doesn't think his pulse reached the end of the network. It may just be too big.
Julian watches the map form as if this happens every afternoon. "It may be difficult to orient the map, since the flowers don't respect the normal rules for plantlife," he says. "Still, the Oisen may be the empty part from here to here," he adds, pointing.
He takes a map from a cubby in his desk and rotates it beneath the sky-map, after several turns, he says "I think this is aligned. It points to the center of Arden. The dragon? This is far more subtle than I would expect of her."
"Perhaps She has an ally or subordinate with more imagination?" Edan says, still concentrating on the sky-map and glancing down to the other one. "I gave the Dragon of Arden a high probability, which is partly why I created this construct- more distance from her possessive abilities."
Julian nods slowly. "Hmm. Perhaps it ate someone smarter than itself. Do not let yourself be counted in that number."
He hesitates. "Similarity is a common Principle in Sorcery. I use it often, and I am seeing it here. Like produces like, neh? These flowers sprang from Adonis's blood, her descendant. And when the attack was launched at the castle, I believe those of her blood were the most affected." Another pause, this one a little longer, as Edan thinks hard. "I have occasionally heard the term 'green' associated with the dragon. Would you explain it to me?"
Julian continues to study the map. "I wonder if there is an order to where the flowers appear, or if it overlays some weakness or stress fractures in reality." He turns to look at Edan. "It's a term the Rangers use, related to the word 'verdant'. They define 'The Green' as that part of the forest that teems with life on many levels and shows no signs of human presence. Few other than Rangers are at ease there. The 'Deep Green' is wild enough that Rangers choose not to intrude upon it.
"And sometimes 'The Green' refers to those influences found within those places, which are not all benign towards humans."
"But it doesn't refer only to the dragon or her influence," Edan says. "I understand." He gives a neck bow, also acknowledging Julian's warning. "I would not be surprised if the flowers' creation followed cracks in reality, not at all. This whole business with the dragon, it is... interesting. Complex. A creature of Chaos, trapped in reality with the creation of the Pattern. Unable to leave, she changes and warps what is around her, making it hers. She hibernates, I assume, for long periods...but when she is awake, she interacts with Amber and Arden. Family. She has children, and grandchildren. And a third generation, now. She uses the warping nature of Chaos and the power of possession. She reaches out through her blood. A powerful, eternal enemy. Yes, over all the centuries, she must know where all the weak points are in reality." He looks troubled, and makes a curving gesture with his hand that creates a bubble of radiance around the firelilly. "I don't understand. She must know by now, she must have felt it. Does something else trap her here, besides Amber? Or has she lost her ability to leave? And Paige's children, why does she want them?"
Julian shrugs. "I am not as well-versed in sorcerous matters as you are, I cannot tell you the hows of it all. My analogy is that a tree can grow around an object left in place long enough and it will become a part of that tree; both difficult to remove and unlikely to leave the tree undamaged by the attempt."
He gestures towards the flower. "At one point I had hoped that my son would be a conduit that would let us get far enough within the creature's guard to slay it. Unfortunately, she killed him before he could act.
"I now wonder if that judgement might have been premature."
Edan starts to say something, then hesitates as a slightly cynical part of him, a part of him raised by Bleys, does some mental gymnastics. Was Julian saying that was Adonis's true purpose, to be a weapon against the dragon? Was that his plan all along? And if he was willing to use his son in that way, how was Edan himself being used and manipulated right this moment?
And then Edan pushes that cynical self back into the fiery darkness that is his subconscious, choosing instead a brighter thought: to believe that Julian is saying he may have underestimated the strength of the dragon, even that he regretted Adonis following that path.
"Adonis's death was... most unfortunate," he says, choosing his words carefully. "He was in a unique position, and the dragon is far from onipotent. Under kinder circumstances, he may well have had the opportunity. But that chance never came, and I fear his... closeness... became as much a weakness as it was an advantage."
"But his position was not unique, not entirely. I am not the only one of our kindred to lie with the heirs of the dragon. If none other, Brita comes of that stock as well on her father's side, though she has taken the Pattern and should be rendered immune even if the distance in blood is insufficient to limit it.
"And Adonis, Adonis sowed his seed far and wide, as was his nature." Julian's expression could best be described as bittersweet. "His sons have also been invaded by the power of the dragon, as Adonis was. It is a concern, in that I'm no longer certain I've removed them all from the Rangers. Once a man or woman is a Ranger, we no longer ask who they were. It is a policy that has served us well in the past. Now--" he says, looking at the flower "--that may no longer be true."
"Is there something that I can do to aid you, uncle?" Edan asks. It's very unlikely, in his opinion, but he decides it's good form to ask. "I would prefer to be farther out in Shadow to take readings with this sextant, but in truth the data could be extrapolated from anywhere. Anywhere except a place with a Pattern, that is." It delays the Trump search, he thinks, but that is a secondary goal of itself.
"Not unless you have it in you to detect the taint of the Green reliably. And you have another mission. I would not delay you in the King's good work." Julian smiles, a thinly affectionate sort of thing. "My brother and I have an agreement: he gives me no orders I cannot and will not enforce, and I do him the courtesy of not interfering with this rede otherwise. So it shall be with you.
"If you were going inward, I should ask you to take messages; as you are not, you are welcome to rest and resupply before you depart."
Something more than words were exchanged between Random and Julian on that issue, Edan reckons, and he wisely decides to sidestep the mention of it. Instead, he nods. "Thank you, Uncle. As for this map, I will not push it any further. It has already proved itself useful, albeit indirectly, and going further might bring a direct confrontation. I assume you would not like that to happen in here." Unless Julian stops him, Edan gestures and lets the original spell dissolve into nothingness. "I didn't feel her presence, but if she did notice, I suppose it is possible she might send minions to see who it was that disturbed her web. Or cut her off from this one."
Julian nods. "Knowledge that you can open such a channel is useful enough, and at some point it could be critical to have the ability to threaten along another axis."
Edan will say his goodbyes, avail himself of Julian's hospitality, then head onward.
Julian informs Edan that if he keeps moving southward, he will soon find that he is traveling on the natural shadow-paths that weave through the great forest, so he should be alert to unexpected changes. The rangers give him what he needs and send him on his way.
As per the plan, once he moves onward, he'll break out the sextant and start taking readings... or check it more thoroughly with Sorcery, if simply using the thing doesn't reveal any of its secrets.
Edan is not sure how to activate it, but it seems as if it is alive to his third eye. Kyauta eyes it as well.
Do you want me to eat it, Great Lord? I can then tell you what it was.
"I already think the Riders are after this thing. If you Eat it, then they'll be after You." Edan fumes a moment. "You spotted the filmy. What do you see when you see this?"
I would digest the parts that make them want it. Kyauta doesn't seem inclined to actually do more than argue.
It does not appear talkative. I do not like it. You should unmake it.
Edan frowns, and regards the creature/thing he liberated from the Moonriders. "My affine thinks you're food," he says. "And I think you're a hindrance. If you can talk, you'd better start explaining why you shouldn't be Eaten. Otherwise, I'll get what I want that way."
The inanimate object continues not to speak or move. It may be very difficult to be a Chaosian and want to talk to everything.
It also may be very difficult to be a Chaosian when a Lord of Amber and Chaos wants your attention and you ignore them.
[OOC: I am assuming that Edan is along one of the natural shadow paths to the south of the camp, and has moved to or slightly past the borders of what most consider Arden. That was my intention, to avoid Ranger alarms; I see I hadn't mentioned it, please let me know if he hasn't moved that far]
"Very well," Edan says. "You may get your chance, Kyauta. I will try one more thing."
He clears a space, so as not to send the surrounding forest on fire. Then, he reaches into a pocket of his robes, knowing that he's going to find a few pouches of multicolored dust or powdered wood. He uses this to sprinkle circles and ovals around the periphery of his clearing; an outer circle of protection/alarm, an inner oval to help command the elements he'll be using, a further inner circle to protect his mind from the battle that will be taking place. Finally, an inscribed circle, just off- center of the clearing, to bring his spell to life. He creates a fire here, then sits cross-legged in a comfortable spot near the fire. The heat, of course, does not affect him.
Reaching into another pocket, Edan produces a small handful of marble-sized glass spheres, which he lofts towards the fire; they arrange themselves around the flame, channelling and reflecting the heat. Finally, he holds up the sextant and both hands and releases it, letting it float up and over the fire, surrounded by the spheres and the matrix of his power.
He then chants, and chants, moving his hands sinuously, his voice growing rough and hoarse, occasionally lifting a hand up to bathe the sextant with fire as like a wave of water. Physically, he causes no damage to the Moonriders' token, and that is part of the spell; the damage is all on the psyche. Mentally, he bores into what passes for the thing's mind, dominating its psyche like a general would dominate a field of battle, extracting memories and thoughts of how it functions, lashing it with pain and fire and the frustrated fury he's felt for the last few hours while assembling his spell. He gives it glimpses of the power and anger of a Lord of Amber, reflected and amplified in the mirror of the glass spheres, dwarfing that of whatever hapless Rider has been using it thus far. Edan knows that some backlash of this is being felt by his own affine, and he lets it happen, as it is a reminder of what can happen when he gets Angry.
Kayuta roars in response. It's a larger roar than a creature of Kayuta's size should make.
It may be that the token will want to speak to Edan in the midst of this mental assault, and he will listen when it does so.
Still it does not speak.
It cannot. Either it is dead, or it has great will, or it is too close to the center of fixity.
Edan turns to his affine. And if you Ate this, you could retain whatever abilities it had? It makes no sense, this not working close to the Pattern. There's no longer a Pattern here, and they're looking for Tir-na Nog'th, after all. Following an impulse, Edan takes the sextant in his hands and actually tries to take a reading with it, both with and without his Third eye.
With his Third Eye, it does interesting things. There is a line to the south, glowing white and sparking in the air. It is some distance away, perhaps a day's travel time for an army, but it definitely indicates some thing.
Edan cannot see it without the Sextant, nor is there a trace of a magical signature of it at this remove.
Once they are outside of the palace of Xanadu Vere stretches, looking around at the sky. "It will be the six of us then?" he asks. "Do we know where Vic is currently, or will we have to hunt him down first?"
Robin blinks for a moment as she counts. A delighted trill erupts out of her when figures out her Love's numbers. And she pounces on him for a quick kiss.
"I suspect Vic is at or near Scarlet's this time of day." She chuckles, "Trying to be respectable."
Vere smiles, and takes her hand as they begin the walk to the city. "Does he worry about being respectable?" he asks. "Or is he making a special effort for some reason?"
"Hmmmm. Maybe 'respectable' is the wrong word. More like 'responsible'."
Robin smiles as the three frelizards spiral down out of the night sky to coil upon various shoulders.
"Discovering his sister was alive and well and had kids sobered him up a little."
Vere considers this for a few minutes, walking in companionable silence with his love. Finally, he asks, "Do you think Vic will want to settle in Xanadu for a while then? And would you like the two of us to do something to make that more likely?"
"I think I want to mess with Vic's life only as much as he wants me to. He is aware of what just being known as connected to me, Raven & Jerod is likely to be like. And I trust him to be able to determine his own path." She shrugs.
Vere nods. "I understand," he says. "Very well, then, I shall stand ready to aid him, as your friend, in whatever path he decides to follow." His eyes flick to the side of the path they are taking, and he smiles, then leans down and scoops up a pebble. He throws it, startling a mouse, and the dragonets are off in an instant.
"Thank you, Love." Her eyes crinkle in happy crescents as she watches her Man and Critters. "Though I also think that Vic is adult enough that I won't step in too hard if he's being a jerk. But I don't anticipate it."
Vere chuckles. "If men were not so exasperating, they would not be so charming," he says. It sounds like a quote.
Robin rolls that around in her mind. "From home? Where men and women are different?"
Vere nods. "It is not so much a proverb, as... something that women say. It is intended to be an affectionate reminder that one cannot expect too much from men. Specifically, that one cannot expect them to behave too rationally."
He frowns slightly. "Of course, there is a subtext to it of a reminder to men of their proper place in society."
Robin tsks her tongue and shakes her head. "But folks don't behave rationally. It's part of what makes them great. And exasperating." She smiles over to her Love. "Maybe it's just the 'men' that needs to be broadened."
Vere stops walking, and pulls Robin in for a kiss. After a while, he releases her and smiles. "Have I mentioned yet," he asks, "that I love you?"
She coos and wriggles in happiness. And while Robin’s not really sure what she just did right, she’s definitely going to enjoy the results. “Love you, too.” She says, giving Vere a fond nose-boop.
“I wonder if Scarlet will have any good entrails this time.” Robin retakes Vere’s hand and continues walking toward the ‘club.’ “A smart business woman like her... it’ll be interesting to see if she’s anticipated me and my friends continued presence.”
Vere laughs. "Then let us be off," he says. "I am most interested in meeting Scarlet and Vic."
Vere lets Robin lead the way once they reach the growing city. While he's still unfamiliar with the place he takes in everything as they wend their way through the streets, correlating data, making deductions, estimating population statistics and demographics from the sample he's seeing.
Robin is not - totally - at ease on the city streets, but she has been practicing. The firelizards are sent airward once more to prove their superiority to the local seafowl and to keep passersby from startling.
The Ranger is obviously familiar with her path and leads Vere through the markets and shops of Xanadu down toward the less... gentrified area of the harbor. It seems that Scarlet's is a mere block or two from the waterfront itself, given the growing odors of fish, tar and seaweed.
Eventually, Robin comes to a stop before a largish building that might have started it's existence as a warehouse but has definitely been partitioned in a variety of spaces since then.
The night is young and the crowd lively as Robin steps in the door of Scarlett's.
Vere steps in immediately after Robin, then takes a step to the side and looks around the place, noting the disposition of the crowd, how they are arranged, deciding who are potential trouble makers and who is probably security working for the house, and analysing exits and choke points.
The room is a big two story octagon, with a thrust stage on the far end from where Robin and Vere enter. There are definitely security types outside the club, and the second floor is well-situated with isolated nooks that allow private viewing of the stage, or of anything, really.
The center of the room is occupied by a big table that Scarlett sits at; she's to one side, where she can see the stage and the door.
There is a singer on the stage, probably one better known for her figure than her voice. Her voice is passable, as is the orchestra. There is plenty of liquor moving throughout the establishment, and the clientele seems to be in a spending mood.
Over the noise of the club and the music, it's clear that at least those nearby have noticed the arrival of the young royals. Scarlett beams at them, and a middle-aged man with his hair oiled back is weaving through the crowd towards them.
Victor is not to be seen. If he's here, he's out of sight.
Vere takes note of everything, and remains silent, waiting for Scarlett's man to reach them.
Robin does a passable job with the crowd and the noise and the attention, though she's not totally at ease. As she waits with Vere, she leans over to whisper to him, "Usually Scarlet's not so happy to see me. Must be the Royal draw. Still hope there's some decent entrails." She finishes with a chuckle.
The slick-haired man comes over to them, all easy smiles. "Good evening, your honors, welcome to Scarlett's. Madame Scarlett would be pleased if you would join her at her table, unless you prefer a private area?" He glances as the second floor curtained alcoves, clearly offering either privacy or a public meeting.
Vere remembers this man. He was a bartender at The Red Miill in Amber. His name is Vast.
"Thank you, Vast," Vere replies with a nod and a slight smile. He looks at Robin. "My love?" he asks. "What would you prefer?"
"Weellll," Robin looks over at Vere. "I was kind of hoping for something in the back area. How long do we need to be on display, dear?"
Vast appears pleased that Vere remembers his name.
"It is not necessary at all, if you do not desire it," Vere tells her. He nods to Vast, "Our regards to the mistress of the house," he tells the man, "But this time we would prefer something with our backs to the wall, that gives us a good view, without making us too obvious." He smiles, very slightly, "You know what we mean."
He offers Robin his arm and follows Vast once he decides where to put them. "Shall we just dine and watch for a while, my love, or did you wish to have a message sent to Scarlet? I am certain Vast would be happy to convey such a message."
Robin takes Vere's arm and follows him into the club swirl.
"Message? Oh, yes." It is so much easier to concentrate on Vast and Vere's faces than to try and track everything else in busy room.
"Would you convey our... warm regards to Scarlet and our best wishes for her family? Aannndd do you know if Victor is around tonight?"
Okay, probably a little briefer than Castor would have liked, but in the ballpark.
Vast nods. "Of course, your Grace. Peapod will escort you to your table and I will deliver your message and locate Sir Victor personally. I am sure that Madam Scarlett will be by to assure herself that you are being properly served, after you have had a chance to refresh yourselves."
"Thank you, Vast," Vere replies.
A fresh-faced young girl appears beside Vast, as if on cue. "Your Lordships, please follow me." If dismissed [or if Vere and Robin turn to follow the girl], Vast heads towards Scarlett's table and from there out a side door.
Peapod leads towards the broad stairs at the back, and, [assuming Vere and Robin follow] to a curtained part of the balcony that is facing the stage but private from its neighbors. The room has two tables, one at the rail for watching the show, and a sitting and dining area in the more secluded back section. The thick velvet drapes are, predictably, scarlet in color.
Vere looks at Robin and gestures first at the table in the back then at the more public one, raising an eyebrow inquisitively.
Secluded table definitely. Robin steps towards the back table delicately, allowing Vere to get there first and do the chair thing. ‘Cause that’s what... well, just ‘cause. Even if it doesn’t make any sense.
"Is there anything I can provide to you?" asks Peapod.
"Pear cider for me," Vere says. "I do not know your menu yet, so I shall leave it up to you. Bring me whatever is best prepared by the chef."
“Sloe gin, thank you.” Robin says as she sits.
“And, uhhhhh, some really spicy chopped meat in a to-go bag?” The girl flounders a little.
Peapod nods. "This room has a window, My Lady. Would you like it opened?" If Robin does, Peapod pulls back a portion of the curtains and opens a small upper window. It's large enough for the fire lizards to fly in and out of, and the sight of them causes a handful of seagulls to depart the ledge in haste.
"OooOOOO!" Robin chirps in delight. A happy laugh lifts from her as her little friends zip in.
"Okay, guys. Next level training, this room only. No flying past the curtains." Robin explains slowly - really just using the words to reinforce her gestures and feelings.
Peapod curtseys and leaves, promising cider, gin, and raw meat will be forthcoming.
Vere smiles. "They seem quite eager to make you comfortable," he says to Robin.
"Go figure." Robin shakes her head. "Probably 'cause I still have a tendency to get... unpleasant when I'm uncomfortable." She rolls her eyes wryly at herself, but keeps track of the quietly piping and exploring firelizards.
"I believe unpleasant reaction towards discomfort is a family trait," Vere observes. "I believe you said Scarlett had met Jerod? That could go a long way towards a desire to avoid making a Royal uncomfortable."
Robin breaks into a peel of laughter. "She met me and Jerod at close to the same time. And yet, no blood was spilled, nothing caught on fire and everyone is still mostly sane. She's pretty saavy. Though Vic was working his ass off too."
"Indeed?" Vere raises an eyebrow. "From what you have said it sounds to me as though Victor has been a great deal of assistance to you in navigating the tricky waters of dealing with society."
"Yep." Robin nods. "That was his first task. Getting me and Jerod to work together without killing one another. And he did great too. I don't understand - or even remember - what he said to Jerod. But Jerod got that smug 'I approve' look. So it must have been good.
"What he said to me was civilized people 'spar' with words instead of barking, snarling or attacking. Since I don't spar a lot, I was having trouble understanding that. Still do. And stil don't like it. But...." she shrugs, "want to talk to civilized people? Get over it."
Vere nods. "Display," he says. "And maneuvering for position within the social structure. What all animals do. Instead of plumage we use words and displays of wealth and position. Jewelry, badges of office, carefully dropped mention of friends and relatives of great power."
Vere shrugs. "It is always possible to simply awe people into doing what you want with displays of ferocity and threats of violence. But unless you wish the majority of your relations with people to be tinged with violence, it is best to learn more subtle ways."
Robin shakes her head a little with a sad smile. "No, my Love. It's not like that. I've had a couple of people use that metaphor on me. But it really only works on the small scale.
"See, that's what most civilized people don't seem to understand. The wild? The pack and the herd? They're small. And like families - made up of individuals, whom all within the group accept and know well.
"Civilizations are more like flocks or schools. Except that instead of being malleable and transient like they should be - they're all stuck together permanently. It's hard not to see that as icky." She wrinkles her nose.
"And before you ask, no - it's not like hives or colonies either. There's way too much social movement in a city to compare.
"But you're right. I don't want all my relations to be tinged with violence. I just don't have much practice with the place between known and accepted intimate and stranger/threat."
Vere smiles in delight. "Anyone who believes that you cannot properly convey your meaning with words should hear you when you speak like that, my love," he says. "I take your meaning. It is indeed possibly a unique facet of civilization that it results in large numbers of people dealing with each other in a place somewhere between stranger and intimate. I had never considered the situation in that light before." He nods. "Something I just took for granted, I suppose. Thank you for giving me this insight."
"You're easy to talk to, my Love. And a cherished and known intimate." She winks.
Then shakes her head. "I just can't find the words when I'm in a big group of folks. Brij also said something about how would I command them. Or at least get them to do what I wanted. And I just... don't know.
"Castor talks about persuasion. But since I never had to persuade my dinner onto my plate before...." She shrugs.
Vere touches her hand lightly. "What we do know," he says, "Is that it is not a question of your ability with words, but your unease in crowds and around strangers that causes you to have difficulties with speaking. I think that time and usage will aid you in overcoming that. And time..." he laughs quietly, "Time we have."
"Okay." Robin nods. "Time."
She smiles so very warmly at Vere. "I didn't used to care. I was going to work, serve, die doing something stupid. Being me. No regrets.
"Now... so much to live for. So much to learn. So many mistakes to make." She shakes her head. "Oh, my love. I never thought I was this... timid."
"'Hostages to Fortune,'" Vere says. It sounds like a quote. "Having something to make life worth living gives you something too valuable to risk losing."
The curtain pushes aside and Victor slips in, carrying two bottles. He's a large man, and would be easy to mistake for a bouncer, if his clothes were less flamboyant.
"If you stop living to keep yourself from losing, then you lose. Hello, Robin, I assume the gin's for you?"
Robin rolls her eyes. "Verde - surrounded by philosophers. How'd a rough and tumble girl like me end up like this?" She asks with a chuckle.
"Yep. Gin's mine," she says standing. "Vere - this is Victor. Victor - this is Vere. You've both heard several nefarious and overly dramatic things about one another from me. So you'll have to sort that out on your own." Robin smiles fondly at them both. But while her body language and tone is confident, there is a trace of worry in her eyes. As there would be in any sane being's eyes.
Vere stands and nods at Victor. He is smiling, but his eyes are taking in the man, clearly taking his measure. "A pleasure to finally meet you," he says. Since Victor's hands are full he does not yet offer his hand to the man.
Vic puts the drinks down, but doesn't offer his hand. Instead, he pours for the couple. "The pleasure is mine. your Lordship. Lady Robin has indeed told me about you. Some day soon we should return the favor and compare notes on her." He smiles broadly, as if daring Robin to complain.
Robin doesn't complain but does stick out her tongue.
"Rob, you and your kin have the thanks of the House for rescuing Max and taking care of Silken's goons. Rufa let me stop in first, she'll be by to make sure I didn't spill anything on you in a bit, so please tell her how clumsy I am with a drink shaker." He grins and puts the bottles by the two glasses. "Any word about Heap and Silken?"
Vere raises an eyebrow. "Heap and Silken are involved in this matter?" He asks. "I was not aware of that." He is still standing.
"Ummmm... I forgot to tell you." Robin blushes at Vere. "Mostly because the Heap-and-Silken bit was all full of Jerod and Martin. And I'm trying really hard not to poke my nose into things Jerod and Martin. So, I forgot about it. " she shrugs.
"I haven't heard anything new." She tells Victor with another shrug. "But then I wouldn't. Like I said, I'm good for the thumping bits. Not so much for the intriguey political bits.
"And speaking of thumping bits," Robin grins with excitement. "We're going troll-hunting tonight, Vic? Wanna come?"
Vic perks up at the idea. "Sounds like more fun than I've had since the last time we went out hunting." He pauses, then adds "Just us? Or will there be other royals involved?"
"Just us, the lizards and the troll." Robin's eyes sparkle to see Vic perk up. A waiter, really? That just didn't... look right.
[OOC: He's not dressed as a waiter, he's dressed as an owner, who happens to be waiting. It still doesn't look right.]
Vere's eyes flick to Robin and he starts to open his mouth. Then, with a slight smile, he appears to rethink what he was going to say and turns his eyes back to Vic.
"There is, of course, the possibility that one or more of Lady Paige's..." Vere glances back at Robin's and his smile grows slightly wider as he continues, "...foresters might happen upon us and seek to join in the hunt, especially if there have been depredations."
Vere shrugs. "If we do not wish companionship I am certain we can dissuade them."
Vic chuckles. "I ain't worried about them. They can't keep up with us, I'd reckon. I barely can.
"I'm interested in the Royals, because you all tend to be in each other's faces, like panthers with too small a territory. Starts with one, then you're dealing with five, each with a different agenda and no protocol for crossing each other's territories, which don't exist on any map.
"Each convinced they know how to solve everything, and butting against each other every time they moved. Raven, for one, made Lady Robin look like a diplomat."
Vere smiles and nods his head slightly, "An apt simile," he says.
Robin chuckles and nods as well. Yep, exactly like that.
The crowd on the first floor roars with laughter, and on the stage a jester of some type has his face covered in pie. Vic waves to his pretty assistant, who smiles back.
"This next trick is good," he says to the young lovers.
"Indeed?" Vere asks with a slightly raised eyebrow. He turns his attention to the stage.
Whereas Robin slides Vic a suspicious glance and makes sure she's got pie ducking room.
The two performers leave, and another pair come out, a man and a woman. They're dressed to evoke the forest rangers of Arden or Broceliande. The opening patter is not too good, but it is steady and all the while the man and woman are throwing knives, hatchets, daggers, and other weapons between themselves. They're twins from distant Bellum, land of war, trained assassins, but they've given all that up for the stage. It's almost like juggling.
The banter between the two becomes contentious, and then deadly serious. Vic looks around, "here's the good part." The pair pick up longbows, curved in a style not common to Amber, knock arrows, and point them at each other. They're no more than the length of the stage apart. Each offers the other the first shot.
The room goes silent; even the waiters stop serving drinks. The tension in the room is immense.
Vere has grown very still, and his face shows absolutely no emotion. His gaze seems fixed on some point beyond the two entertainers.
Whereas Robin seems confused, by the performance, by the tension in the room. But there are bows drawn, so she's very, very alert herself.
As they cannot agree on who gets to shoot first, they ask Scarlett to count them off, starting at three.
The club's namesake agrees.
"Three!", she says, her voice echoing in the near-silence of the club.
"Two!", she says, and they stand perfectly, arrows pointed at each other's chests, bowstrings taut.
"One!" she says, and two arrows are fired simultaneously. The pair each steps to their left as they fire, and in unison two right arms unfold, and in unison they each catch the other's arrow.
They turn and bow, and the crowd erupts in applause. The waiters all rush into motion, serving drinks and taking orders from Scarlett's customers.
Vere frowns slightly, and shakes his head, but says nothing.
Robin cheers and whistles. Now that's a trick she can understand - even if the window-dresing confuses her.
Victor applauds as well. "They're amazing shots. They'd do that trick from horseback if we had room."
"Nice!" Robin nods with a grin.
Scarlett has made her way to the private booth. "Not here, I don't want us doing animal shows," she replies to Victor's comment.
There's an snicker from Robin-ward.
Victor waves away her objection and turns towards Vere. "Prince Vere, This is my sister, Rufa." She bows, Rebman style.
Vere nods to her. "A pleasure to meet you, Domina Rufa," he says.
"Lady Robin, " says Scarlett, "I am in your debt for helping Max."
"No debt." She says with a wave of her hand. "Part of my job. Besides, it's made up for in drinks and entrails, isn't it?
"Ooo! By the way, whatever happened to Kitten?" Yep. Robin's been leaving her prey around again.
"Shipped out," says Victor.
Scarlett nods. "No idea if he'll do better work for the King than he did for me or Heap, but he's away now."
Victor looks down at the crowd. "Heap was sent to Amber on Kitten's ship. If was thinking, he'd probably be glad all he got was impressed, and not sent on a mission for Prince Jerod, but..."
"But he weren't known for thinking," finishes Scarlett. "There's lots of those types around, though."
Victor nods. "Did you all just come to see the show, to get my help in the woods, or is there anything else?" Scarlett looks at him, slightly apprehensively. Victor pretends he doesn't see it.
"I was just thinking of the woods-work, myself. Buuttt..." Robin looks over at Vere with raised eyebrows to see if he's got anything.
Vere raises a single eyebrow in response to Robin's inquisitive look. He glances from Victor to Scarlett then back again, a slight smile on his lips. "You ask that as though you might have something specific in mind?"
Victor nods. "I do at that. Robin, my bird, I'm reassuring my sister that you ain't here to steal her son son and lock him in the castle without his Mamma. There's a woman, name of Anna, who weren't real happy with what happened to her son and the Castle."
Scarlett snorted. "I ain't the type to raise that type of fuss. She was bad news. But I'd like to know if I need to prepare to abandon all this and flee."
Victor laughs. "The waiting is the hard part. I'm ready to go if you all are."
"Oh." Robin says. Then her brow furrows in thought. "No, Scarlett - I'm not here to steal your son away. Iiiiii'mmmm trying to think of something reassuring to say, but... they all come out sounding like threats in my mind. So..." she shrugs.
"This I can say - my nephews are up at the Castle. They're there because their father is dead and their former home is very not-safe for their kind right now. Otherwise, we wouldn't have dragged them in. One of them is just a little older than Max. They might be able to help him orient some and I'm pretty sure they've been in Xanadu long enough to have found all the fun boy-trouble spots and hidey places." She grins.
"Otherwise, yeah." Her grin gets toothy. "Let's go troll-hunting."
Vere meets Scarlett's eyes and nods. "As Robin said, we are not here for Max. I have heard nothing to indicate that there are any such designs upon him." He tilts his head slightly, considering, then adds, "If a time comes that you feel that you require advice or assistance in dealing with the Royal Family please feel free to call upon me."
Victor nods once. Scarlet replies. "I may at that."
Victor readies himself to go. "When you're ready for your next lesson, Robbit, tell me all the reason why you think we'd want to have a pair of trickshot archers on the stage at a place like this."
Vere nods thoughtfully at that question.
"Ummmm..." Robin thinks about it, frowns, then shakes her head. "I'm not ready for my next lesson yet. Let's stash it for now and maybe we'll find it later." She says with a rueful grin.
"Right now, I want to go hunt something, not think more."
Goodbyes are said, weapons are fetched, and the party leaves via the back door. Robin can see that they're planning some sort of expansion in this area. It's already been cleared of the cages and it looks like someone has begun framing out a new building.
"Where do we expect to find this troll?" asks Victor.
Early in the morning, the mist on the pond hides both the upper falls entering the pond and the lower falls departing for the lagoon below. The sun will come further up and reveal all, but for the moment it is possible to imagine that all is peaceful.
Hannah, alone with her thoughts, comes around a bend to the water side. Sitting crosslegged on a flat rock beside the water is Folly's mother, Brij. She hasn't been here any other morning Hannah has walked here.
She smiles at Hannah, but doesn't break her silence.
Silhouette spends her first day in Paris basking like a lizard in the sun in her hotel’s jardin sur le toit. The open air and warm sun are a blessed relief after Rebma’s intolerable cold and darkness. A soft breeze drifts over her skin, rich with perfumed scents; magnolias, hawthorns, hibiscus, and lilies. Beyond the polished stone railings, the city stretches out in an exquisite landscape of charcoal blue roofs, statuary, and glimmering glass. Streets sounds echo like distant music, lulling her to the edge of slumber. It is a paradise.
And she indulges herself guiltlessly, shamelessly – despite the pressing matters at hand.
Paris. A dangerous place to travel, considering her mother’s ever-presence. Yet, it was for her mother’s sake she’d come. As well as her own. Llewella had been correct. The embers of treachery needed to be extinguished, lest they spark to life again.
She’d written Corwin before ascending the Great Stairs, requesting a meeting with him to discuss family matters – in a place and time of his choosing. The trip itself remained under the pretense of trade – specifically to expand her burgeoning garment industry. Parisian haute couture certain did provide her with inspiration, as well as opportunity.
Silhouette. Perceptor of the Grand Design. Murderer of Worlds.
Silhouette laughs to herself. That irony remains as deliciously amusing as the first time she’d tasted it on her tongue. Mother would be so pleased. Hah.
The white French doors behind her quietly open quietly – announcing someone’s arrival on the rooftop. She does not look to see her visitor. This sanctuary is private. Their purpose – for good or ill – is fated. One must trust in the Grand Design and the Inevitable. And welcome them freely.
She raises her glass, "Kali mera."
Corwin, King of Paris, is a Power. Not like Celina, not even like Huon, who carries himself with a solidity that even Celina can aspire to. Huon should hope to be such a manner of being as this man. He's dressed in black, black as his hair, in some form of military uniform adapted for fancy dress, all chased in silver. The emblem is that of silver roses. At his side hangs a silvery blade that, to Silhouette's eyes, is also a Power.
"Bonjour, mademoiselle," he returns in the language of Paris. Then he switches to Thari. "Welcome to Paris, kinswoman. What can Paris do for you?"
Silhouette rises from her chair, curtsying. The sunlight shimmers through her sheer dress, outlining her every curve.
“Your Highness,” she says, smiling warmly. “Thank you for seeing me today. Please, share some wine with me? I can have food brought, if you’ve not eaten yet.” She gestures to the lawn chair beside her, and waits until he joins her.
Corwin settles in after a moment. His ease with the blade he wears is remarkable, even in a difficult seating situation. It's almost as if the blade conforms to his needs.
Silhouette takes note of the blade, but reserves her interest – lest she be distracted from her current Purpose.
“I have a few questions regarding the Family, which my aunt suggested you may be able to answer,” she explains. “Specifically. My mother. While she denies my identity, this belief does not alter the past. Someone – perhaps close to her – attempted to harm her by destroying her family. Whether they chose for me to be hidden as a slave remains to be determined. In either case, this hostile action required considerable influence – and likely skill with Pattern-manipulation. Such skills are... exclusive.”
She tilts her head, “Who would possess such skills, as well as the desire to turn them against my mother?”
"Any of our brothers or sisters, now living or dead, could have done it," Corwin says at once, "as, depending on the timing, could a number of your cousins. Opportunity is a function of age. Means is a function of the family gifts. Motive is trickier. Of my generation, Dee got along worst with her of the girls. She's gone now." And a brief shadow passes over his face there before he rsumes speaking. "Of my brothers, the one who had the least use for her was Random. That doesn't make either of them guilty. Finding the culprit on motive would be the hardest part."
“Indeed,” Silhouette says. “Regrettably, I lack the background information to formulate a working hypothesis on motivation. This puts me at a distinct disadvantage, in many regards.”
She pours him a glass of wine, “Would Random or Deirdre have hated my mother to the point of committing familicide? Or your Father? It had been suggested he might have tried to control my mother by eliminating a... distraction. She was called away just before the attack. I've always wondered why.”
"Hard to say. We've all done terrible things, but that seems extreme even for Random." Of Deirdre, Corwin has nothing to say. "Now Dad, Dad had reasons for doing things I still don't entirely understand. But in my experience, he's acted to preserve the younger generations: Martin and Merlin to start with.
"But he's--he was--bitterly ruthless. He might not have had you killed, but he might've had you toughened up for something he never got around to finishing. And he wouldn't have explained it to anyone else, either, if he did it that way. Does Macy's tell Gimbel's?" he asks, but it was clearly a rhetorical question, because he continues: "So motive isn't obvious. And they could have been waiting for a moment when your protector was called away."
Silhouette raises a brow at this, “Your sister mentioned Oberon may have been involved. One might temper a weapon in the fires. But a weapon must possess Purpose. To what end might he have used me? I know little of the Before.”
She frowns, “However, she also hinted that this person might remain in the Eternal Game. And remain a threat to my Mother. It is to this end I came to you.”
Corwin ponders that for a few moments. "I like to think that changed after the war. Dad's gone and Brand--whom I could have believed it of because of other things he did--is gone. But if he'd gone after you to use you, given his history, things would have worked out a little differently. I can't discount that someone in the family is still plotting against you, or against Flora--" whom Corwin seems to be willing to at least concede is whom Silhouette means, whether he's acknowledging her as a parent or not "--but supposedly when the Unicorn chose Random, that put all the quarrels to the death among the family at an end.
"There were some people who weren't present, either at the end or at Random's coronation. I can't say they were formally excluded from the family pact, particularly the ones who took oath at the coronation. But Huon, and some of my other missing siblings? But most of them are dead."
Silhouette gives a slight nod. “The first option troubles me more than a conscious enemy. Perhaps, Oberon set something into motion prior to his death. Now, untended, the Machinery continues to run – moving toward its dire conclusion. He may have placed agents of that Design in Shadow, who are unaware of his demise. They will fulfill their Purpose without ever knowing they have been discharged of their Duty. Such an enemy cannot be disposed of easily. And the only Player aware of this Design is unavailable for comment.”
A sip from her glass, then she continues. “Huon discovered me for my talents, not my ancestry. With his Pattern abilities, he could have located another Artificer. It seems unlikely he would bother himself with a Vendetta, simply to hone me into a useful tool for his plans. Had that been so, he’d more likely have turned me against Bleys than my mother. Still, he plays games within games. I will not underestimate him.
“You said ‘most of them are dead.’ May I ask which still live and might have animosity toward Mother?”
Corwin nods. "You may ask. The answer is 'unknown' on both counts. On the former, most of us thought Huon was dead. Most of us thought Ben was dead. Most of us--not your mother--thought I was dead for a long time. Assume none of us are dead unless you've not only seen the body, but watched whoever it was die." He smiles, and it's not particularly nice. "I saw Caine's body, but he still managed to turn up afterwards.
"For those of us who took oath to Random, the new dispensation should, in theory, wipe out old sins. But that wouldn't apply any of my brothers or sisters who didn't take oath to Random. Until they do, they wouldn't necessarily consider Random's wishes binding."
A thin smile forms -- like ice upon a dark pond. "If such a person is unbound, does this mean they also remain without the King's protection? Would Random simply turn a blind eye to familial... indiscretions? If they could be justified, of course." The chill deepens. "My brother was murdered with little protestation. I desire to be more proactive in my self-preservation."
"The thing about family murders," Corwin explains, "is that they're generally committed by family members. Dad was picky about that kind of thing. He exiled Huon, and we've seen what good that did him. Eric just lost an edge in the succession." He smirks. "And he didn't even kill me, as it turned out.
"I wouldn't say Lucas' death has gone unremarked or unprotested. Moire will never be allowed to regain her throne. Killing her might be a problem as my daughter might protest, since she is, after all, my daughter's mother. Random has his own reasons to hate her, but she's his son's grandmother. There has been pursuit of her meant to bring her to justice, such as it is. And exile from the center of things is its own punishment."
At this information, Silhouette blinks. Then frowns. Anger or frustration? Maybe both. This connection had never been made known to her until now. But it Illuminated certain discrepancies that had been nagging her of late.
"But yes, be proactive. Not murderously so. Random may not avenge murder with fire and sword, but he's made his position clear. If you think you're a target, though--" and Corwin smiles as he relaxes a little in his seat, crossing his legs "--you'd be a fool not to."
Silhouette nods in reply, then steeples her fingers against her angular chin – contemplating in statuelike silence. It doesn’t last long; her eyes capturing his once again. “There are two targets at this point – myself and Mother. However, only one of us recognizes this connection. Or chooses to recognize it. This threat would be more easily countered if she – at the very least – allowed for the possibility of our mutual bond in her reasoning.”
She tilts her head, "I hold no love for her. But she is my mother. Is there no chance of reconciliation? Even in the face of mutual destruction?"
Corwin shrugs. "I never say never. But the universe is a funny place. She's very convinced you're not who you think you are." He shifts to lean forward in his chair a little, and there's a slight sound of the blade moving as he does. "People tend to give my sister too little credit for her cleverness. Maybe someone has lied to you.
"The thing is, there's only one real test of who and what you are. But it proves that you're Family, or not. It couldn't prove that you're a particular person's daughter. And if you're wrong, or if you fail it, Silhouette, there's no second chance. It's fatal."
"The Pattern," Silhouette says -- a hint of reverence echoing in her voice. "Yes, I desire to traverse its pathways. For many reasons, not the least of which is to better serve your daughter. And, perhaps, I shall discover Enlightenment in the process. Answers that elude me." She tightens her grip on the chair's arm. "And remove Doubt of who or what I am."
She lifts her chin, meeting her uncle's gaze. "I am fully aware that true Enlightenment can come at the greatest Cost. I will pay it, if necessary."
Corwin draws in a breath to answer Silhouette, but then holds up a hand. "Bide," he tells her, and then, "Who calls?"
To the far end of the contact, Ossian can sense that Corwin has accepted the contact, and see some of the background. He is on a rooftop garden, sitting at a table; Ossian cannot see whom he is across the table from.
"Ossian, with companions."
"Ah, Ossian. How are you? What have you learned?"
"Could you pull us through? I am not sure we are not overheard here. There's four of us."
Silhouette leans back, sipping her drink. A faint smile warms her lips. It has been some time since she spoke with her cousin.
Corwin comes to his feet and steps away from the table. "As long as you're not bringing any horses. We're on a rooftop here. I'm hoping you've got Sir Firumbras and your friend the poet. Is Reid the fourth of your number? What about the girl who was travelling with him?" But Corwin's already reaching to bring Ossian and his companions through to join him and Silhouette.
"None of them. A woman with ties to our family, and to Asgard." Then he starts to send his friends through.
Arriving on Ossian's trump are three others. First, there's a man of some slightly demihuman background, accoutered as a knight from a technological era that is much less sophisticated than Corwin's Paris to Silhouette's eye. Corwin greets him as Firumbras. Second, there's a woman, dressed and armed somewhat similarly to Firumbras, whom he introduces as Regenlief. She is clearly unknown to Corwin. Third is a young man whom Corwin greets with a friendly demeanor as Adreano. He is armed lightly, with a fencing blade, and not armored at all. Then Ossian steps though.
When he comes through, he will bow to Corwin and smile widely at the sight of Silhouette.
"Cousin. This is a pleasant surprise."
Silhouette stands, draping a silk pareo around her. She smiles at her cousin -- her chilly disposition warming. "Ossian. It has been too long. I hope you are well. Forgive me for not contacting you earlier."
Ossian shakes his head. "It might be that we were lucky not having more competence."
She examines the others before offering each a reserved smile in kind.
Firumbras bows, Adreano bows, and Regenlief nods politely.
Corwin speaks to Firumbras. "Would you like to take Regenlief and Adreano to the Louvre, Firumbras? Alice can get them settled for the moment." He glances sidewise at Ossian to be sure this is all right with him.
Ossian nods. When Firumbras has left, he sits down. "Reid is dead. At least that is what the Klybesian monks say."
Silhouette frowns slightly at this revelation. She casts a glance in Corwin's direction. At least she didn't have to deliver the bad news.
Corwin's face falls a little. Even though he must have expected it, he seems not to have expected it. "Did we have any witnesses? Are we sure it was Reid, and not a shadow of him? What about the girl who was with him? Did you talk to her?" The rush of questions stops there, though, and Corwin bows his head, shaking it slowly, beore looking back at Ossian. "I'm sorry. I know you've done the best you can. And I know he was your friend as well. Tell me what happened, and what you know."
When Corwin bows his head, Silhouette reaches over and lightly touches her uncle's shoulder. She might be a creature of clockwork sympathies, but even she realizes it is the human thing to do. A soft smile and nod follow.
She turns to Ossian, "Might I pour you a drink, cousin?"
"Yes, please. Not something too strong. " Ossian says.
"He was already in the earth when I got there, so we do not know for sure. But the Klybesians seem rather knowledgeable. It's harder to know if they are lying. They have the woman, although I did not get to talk to her. Have you been to that place?" Ossian asks.
Silhouette remains silent, hovering at the periphery of the conversation unobtrusively. She pours Ossian a glass of dry wine -- its bouquet carrying a hint of summer.
Corwin glances at Silhouette as she offers him her consolatory caress.
"No, I haven't, and it would be unwise for me to go." His eyes narrow then, and he straightens. "But someone else may have to go. I want that girl back, as she is a citizen of Paris and the friend of my nephew. I'll need to consult with Random about this and we'll need to have a memorial at some point. And if he comes back, afterwards, it wouldn't be the first time. Reid seems like the sort who'd enjoy sitting on his own cenotaph and composing." Corwin says that last with a tight smile.
Once everything is settled in Avalon, Brennan readies himself to depart.
Mental review of what he's learned about Avalon and the environs: Check.
Some nondescript but highly functional light armor taken from Benedict's armory: Check.
Armor artificially weathered, scuffed, dinged and then artificially repaired: Check.
Scant pack of Trumps inventoried and secured on his person: Check.
Benedict's Trump of Llewella returned to Benedict: Check.
Provisions and mount appropriate to his task gathered up: Check.
Skiaza gathered up and set to posing as part of Brennan's own shadow: Check.
Cousins informed of Brennan's initial direction: Check.
There doesn't seem to be much else to do beyond that checklist, so in short order, Brennan heads out. Initially, the goal is simple-- clear the vicinity of the castle without making too much of a ruckus or interacting with the locals, and then head in a direction that Brennan and his cousins have determined to be promising for information.
Brennan heads North and West, across the island to a village he has been told can provide him with a boat to reach the other islands where the attack might come from. By evening, it's become overcast, although not cold. He doesn't know how much further the coast is from where he is, and it's getting too dark to travel without a clear sky.
There is a farmhouse off the side of the road, and there are light on inside, if Brennan wishes to stop.
Brennan keeps Skiaza close and out of sight, which should be fairly easy to do in the deepening gloom. No eating, he warms Skiaza quietly.
He approaches the farmhouse, but doesn't do so particularly quietly. He lets his mount's hooves strike the earth in way that makes enough noise to be heard. They may be sitting down to a meal, but if no one comes out to see what's going on, he'll call out from a reasonable distance, "Hello, the farmhouse!"
"Hello, the traveller, " replies a woman's voice. "Are you alone? Come forward, then."
The door opens and Brennan can see a nice fire inside and a woman holding the door open. She seems to be alone, but there's no telling who might be inside, other than her cats. She seems young and relatively open, although Brennan can tell from her posture and his experience that she's carrying some sort of weapon for defense.
Brennan affects not to notice her posture-- it's unlikely she's a threat to him, but the opposite is not obviously true. So, let her keep it for her peace of mind. He does dismount and step forward, enough that she can get a better look, but not so close she'll think he's angling to rush the house. He doesn't bother to unbuckle his sword belt. He has no insignia or marks that would tie him to Avalon, or Benedict's service, or any group in particular.
"I'm told if I keep heading in that direction, I'll come to a village," he waves in the direction he'd been travelling, "But I'm not told how far it is."
She nods. "It's a days' walk, so half that on your horse, mayhap 3 hours if he's good and rested."
"If you're looking to stay the night, the barn's around back. Come up to the house when you've settled your horse. I've some stew in the kettle."
She doesn't seem to be concerned about what errand he's on, or which side he represents.
"Much obliged, ma'am," he says. "Horse ain't rested, anymore, and I'm not keen on laming him in the dark anyways."
This all seems a bit pat, to Brennan-- unless Benedict's decided that the local culture supports itinerant warriors, which may not strictly be impossible-- so he does exercise some caution. As he's tending to Greyfoot, he takes at least a more-than-casual glace around the barn looking for anything out of place... and looking to get an idea of how many people live and work here if he can.
Once done, he hesitates, the decides that the lesser risk is to keep Skiaza with him. Greyfoot wasn't chosen to look magnificent (quite the opposite, really) but he was taken from Benedict's stables and Brennan trusts him to make some noise if a horse thief tries to remove him. It's not like he wouldn't be able to track anyone down who dared, anyway, and there's nothing that Brennan leaves there to tie him to Benedict's service.
That done, he heads back around to the house, gives a knock of warning and enters.
When he's inside and sees the girl again, he draws out a cheese, still sealed in wax, saying, "All I got that's fit for a table, unless you fancy salt pork and hard tack. They call me Walker."
She smiles at the bounty, and takes it from him. "I've bread and soup that will go with that nicely, Sir Walker, if you don't mind eating with the common folk." She assumes he does not and begins preparing the meal.
"My husband provided his full duty to The Protector, but I care not for such things. I can tell you something, Sir Walker. If you wish not to create a stir, you would do well not to ride a horse into Briarton Village." She looks up from the chopping block, over the root vegetables she has cut. "It marks you as a solder of rank--either in the service of a Lord or a Lord yourself."
That sounds uncomfortably like a euphemism for, "Died in foreign wars," or some such, to Brennan's ears.
He doesn't confirm or deny that he's a Sir, not because he's above lying, but because she's already made up her mind and denials will only settle the issue further in her mind. "This Briarton Village that excitable, then? Never seen a man on a horse before?"
The stew preparations continue, although Brennan finds a plate with his cheese before him as a first course. "Wars and rumors of wars travel faster than horses, Sir Walker. One man on a horse is a harbinger of more, whether he be a scout or a messenger. The men who live here are men of war. Their trade is the trade of warriors, their leisure is the leisure of warriors. We make ships and weapons and raise horses and sell food to march upon. Thus it ever has been."
She pauses. "For many, this is all life here is."
Not for the first time, Brennan thinks that the Klybesians... might not be entirely wrong in their outlook.
Out loud, Brennan grunts as he converts the cheese into a pile of slices. "You reckon it's different somewhere else?" he asks, evidently not picturing what or where such a place would be.
She laughs and matches the cheese slices to apple slices. "It's different here, but not all partake of the deeper levels. Avalon is not so simple as it appears."
"Ah," Brennan says around a mouthful of cheese and apples. "You reckon it's different for someone else, then." There is a trace of genial skepticism in his voice, again evidently not able to picture such people. "Never met 'em. What else is there for 'em, then?"
She laughs. "You just don't know you have. There were people on this island before there was a Protector, and there were those who lived here before that. And those auld folk have there own legends, of times and peoples before them. A farmer may claim to know the earth, to have ten generations of ancestors who turned the same plot, but he has not idea what the apple tree's roots reach, or what is under that.
"How many levels deep into Avalon do you intend to look, Sir Walker?" She puts two bowls of stew in front of them, and takes a spoonful from hers.
Walker doesn't think much of the question as phrased, and gives an answer that she won't think much of in return: "I dunno, five, is my lucky number. Seems to me, if I was lookin' into Avalon like you says, I'd have to know how many levels there are to answer. Have to know what I was lookin' for, even."
She looks at him, "Do you think it was an accident that you came here tonight? Choose not to listen if you wish. You will find what you seek, but not what you need, if you blindly follow your path. Avalon itsel' would speak to you, were you to listen. And how deep does it go, you ask? Do you think that is an answer with a number to it? Mayhap, but it's beyond my kenning, and perhaps that of any man."
She turns back to her stew, without eating any of it. "I know you are not of this world, Sir Walker, nor do you seem to be one of the Protector's mercenaries. I can promise you that whatever you were told behind the high stones, there is a land here that is more complex than you know. Mayhap it is not your concern, but it will be there, and do what it will. If you wish to influence what happens on this island, treat with those below."
Walker gives a sardonic grin. "So you do reckon there's other places," he says. Was that so hard? The grin vanishes, at least from his eyes. "So I reckon I'm listening close after all. As deep as the roots of the Silver Towers, then."
She sighs. "I am sorry. I have not spent much time recently with intelligent men and solitude does not make me good company. Yes, I do ken other places. You can only go so far in Avalon without leaving it, you know. It is a place with ragged edges. And the Fair Folk had their own ways and their own paths before the Silver Towers were raised. You only need towers if you are intent on fighting. Thus it was."
He holds the expression for a moment longer, then relaxes it and nods his head. She is not forgiven, as such, but he will overlook it. "Who'd they fight, then?"
"The men who found this land? They fought the Fair Folk, in the First Age of Heroes. The Fair Folk fought the Giants before that. The Giants fought the Gods. No one knows who the Gods fought, because the Giants killed them all 'ere a man first saw this place.
"After that, the men fought each other, through ages of history, until the present. The Silver Towers fell with the end of the Witch-King and the start of the Interregnum."
"Well I meant," Walker says, "who'd the Silver Tower fight? Who'd they raise the towers against and who finally brought 'em low? This Witch-King?"
"Nearly," she replies. "The Fair Folk raised them, the Witch-King captured them and made them his. When he was defeated by other men, the towers collapsed, lacking his magic to keep them standing."
"Huh," he says. "They had no magic, then? How'd they manage to defeat a witch without it?"
"No one knows. Perhaps he became entrapped in one of his own spells. Perhaps he died of old age before the final assault. I have always speculated that he was stabbed in the kidneys by a jealous lover or husband. I do not mean to mythologize him. He was a power for ill in these lands, at least for those who came before.
"He is not much considered these days, and is far on his way to being beyond the ken of mortal men. He is a tale of a wicked King of the distant past and few people think his time is relevant to the present. What stirs your interest in it, Sir Walker?"
"The silver towers were fallen, into a sea of blood. How many miles to Avalon? None, I say, and all. The silver towers are fallen," he recites.
"Only line I remember of a poem I heard," he says. "But it left a mark. And the conversation was walking this way, anyway. I'm just listenin'."
She sings the preceding line, slowly and in a minor key: "Beyond the River of the Blessed, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Avalon. Our swords were shattered in our hands and we hung our shields on the oak tree." Her singing voice is surprisingly low.
"It is the song of the Avalonian Captivity, during the interregnum between the Witch King and the Protector. It's a variation of an older piece." She clears her throat and sings again.
"King and Queen of Caledon,
How many miles to Avalon?
Eight and eight, and other eight.
Will I get there by candle-light?
If your horse be good and your spurs be bright.
How mony men have ye?
May not ye dare to come and see
"Caledonia was what the witch-king's people called the lands of the Fair Folk."
He nods, slowly, "Yeah, that was it," he says. Then, "Captivity. Was that better or worse than the Witch-King, I wonder? Captivity by who?"
She shrugs. "The Captivity refers to the men and women abandoned by the Witch-King, who were captive to new lords. I'm sure it was worse for them, but little or nothing changed for the people of Avalon. Just who was at the top."
Walker gives a grunt which might passably mean assent, or dissent, or disinterest in her political philosophies. "Are there ruins, then? Seems like they'd a good place to listen to Avalon, as you say, being part of it so long."
She nods. "There is a cave you can enter, and return to an older world. Would you listen to the Fair Folk, Walker? They will want to know why they should speak to you."
Brennan Brandson, nephew of Witch-Kings and Protectors, nods to himself. It was not what he expected, but it is not in itself surprising. Nor does he seriously entertain the notion that they won't speak to him. Dropping some of the affectations of the simple country lord, but not entirely the persona, he says, "So that I might carry with me memories of them when I walk to a newer world."
She pauses, considering. "That might well be a thing they would accept. They have an odd sense of time, the Fair Folk. Imagine cycles, each preceding the next, and within them, countercycles where time runs forwards. What you and I would consider the next world, they consider the prior one, and vice-versa.
"I admit it makes no sense to me, but to them it is as obvious as the ley lines that weave across all the lands of the Fair."
He makes no comment concerning the Fair Folks' understanding of time, or his own, but he nods-- he expects even more than this woman does, that they will accept this. "Ley lines?" he asks, simply.
She nods in agreement. "You are aware, i presume, that Magic tends to work more effectively in some places than in others, I assume? Imagine invisible lines of energy, connecting these places of power. Along those, there is also increased strength, although not as much as at the nodes. They are useful for marginal magics, or to boost exceptional magics to new heights."
The woman pauses. "No one knows if the Fair Folk made them, found them and used them, or if they were spontaneously generated by their cities."
"Connecting place to place?" His eyes narrow. "Or time to time?"
She shakes her head. "Time is the most difficult of magics, and those who practice it are often unaware of the dangers they pose to themselves, or others, or everything. The Fair Folk know of it, but do not consider it right to practice. Others disagree, and may hear or see or learn of snatches of things true and untrue that may have happened or may be, but it is not a study for the wise."
"But their cave leads to an elder world," he says, with a certain touch of cynicism. "So. Where's this cave, then, and when I go there, who do I say sent me?"
She ignores his cynical tone and answers as if he were merely a student needing more reinforcement. "Their cave leads to their world. They say that what we call "the future" is but a temporary anomaly, and it is merely an artifact of the process of the world becoming younger. They are an older people, but they live in this time and are the decedents of those who lived in the times of the witch king. And, if they believe what they tell me, they are the ancestors of the people in the prior cycle.
"When we speak of the magic related to time, we deal with the smaller cycles of generations and not the epicycles of Great Turnings. I have never needed to know what came before, or perhaps after." She shrugs.
"Ride north along the treeline, to a path that leads into the forest from here; it's no more than a mile. About the same distance in is a mound, enter on the long axis, and climb down. Tell them your name when they ask it, and they will ask what you seek. Once you are inside, I cannot say what it will be like for you. I have heard different descriptions of their place from others, so I do not think I can tell you anything that will help you.
"That may be true of everything I've said, of course. If that is your course tomorrow, I suggest getting a good night's sleep. You'll want to be alert in the Cave."
Brennan ignores her ducking the other question-- her name-- since he hasn't been on the level about his own. He lets it pass with the same slightly cynical expression he wore while noting that the Fair Folk cave may lead to a different time. Since it is the same expression, she may not note the change of its application.
Nevertheless, she's been a veritable fountain of interesting information, if none that will be useful immediate, so he thanks her: "I've no doubt I will, when I get there," he says. "You've my thanks, then. For the roof, for the barn, for the conversation."
"We are a hospitable people, Sir Walker, as well as a curious one. I thought I would be learning instead of explaining tonight. I'm not sorry it turned out otherwise."
With that, Walker bids his good evenings and either makes his way or allows himself to be shown back to the barn where he'll be bedding down for the night. Assuming that Skiaza and his horse are unmolested by the environment and by each other, he does not sleep immediately, but does spend some time in meditation. He does not perform active Sorcery, and though he does use the Third Eye his intent is not to search for anything unusual, but simply to meditate more effectively on the precise Time and Space of this place. He will be returning here, eventually.
In the morning, he sets out, following the woman's advice-- on foot.
Brennan leaves the farm in the morning. The woman is not to be found. Perhaps she's out in the orchards. The sun is blazing down on him, making the apples grow fat and juicy around him. When he gets to the place the woman mentioned, he sees a seldom-traveled path leading North. Had he not known to look, he would not have seen it.
When he reaches it, Brennan takes a long, lingering look at the track north, balancing.
In the one hand, he holds his native Redheaded curiosity for matters arcane, his instinct that learning more of the Fair Folk will uncover some long-hidden Family business, and his gut hunch that whatever he learns will be both useful and important for the long run. Annais' paraphrase of their view of time is too similar to what he's heard of the Paresh, and these ley lines sound entirely too similar to the Faiella-Bionin to ignore.
In the other, he holds his promises to Celina and Benedict to assist their respective realms, and his conviction that Moire is not only close, but that she might even-- just possibly-- be unaware that Brennan is even here, much less as Rebma's agent.
It is a reluctant decision, but when balanced out like that, not a difficult one. Brennan spends a long moment-- a very long moment-- extending his senses to mark this place in his memory: not just the route he took from Benedict's castle to the farmhouse to here, not just the visual impression of the place, but the feel of it, the distance and position with respect to the metaphysical landmarks, the strength of Benedict's Pattern. Does he see or sense anything that indicates he is on a ley line?
It's hard to say. Real sorcery is so much more powerful than the shadow stuff that it tends to overwhelm it. There's clearly magic here, but it's like looking for the Failella Bionin in Rebma.
Brennan expected as much. He even has a plan to deal with that... but not here and not now.
When he's satisfied himself in that way, he looks around for a suitable symbol of the place to take with him and to help him find his way back. He has in mind a lump of native rock, but when he sees one lying on the ground, he decides that an apple seed will do better.
[Assuming nothing exciting or toward happens]
With that, he resumes his trip to the coast, working for Benedict.
Several hours later, Brennan comes to the top of a ridge from which he can see the coast. At the road he is on leads directly into a port. Based on what Brennan can see from here, it's partly a fishing center, but mostly a trading port. It's surrounded by a wooden palisade.
The ships are small, and do not look oceanworthy. Between the ridge and the port, the road has orchards on either side of it.
If Brennan is far enough from Avalon's Pattern to let the shadows lie for him, he'll do so. If not, he'll make sure he looks sufficiently down on his luck to be a wandering sellsword, a fighter bereft of a warband, or something of the sort. It seems that, while Avalon might not have a trade surplus in those, there ought to be a few wandering around now and then.
If it's a trading port, then even if they aren't here now, there should be some local infrastructure to support at least a few decent ships-- a dock area, and all the fascinating nightlife opportunities (taverns, run-down taverns, and cut-throat run-down taverns) that implies. But first he has to get there, through the pallisade. Brennan tries the direct approach-- walking along the road to whatever entrance the pallisade might have.
The palisade has an entrance, with watchtowers the act as gates on either side. The entrance is actually near the docks; Brennan will have to go walk along the outside wall for distance to reach the gateway to the town. The entrance is open, but looks as if it could be closed. The guards on the platform seem to be alert, and due to the height of the towers, they have a good view all around. Brennan can see that they're watching the sea more carefully than the land.
Through the open gateway, Brennan can see the docks and warehouses he seeks. A second glance suggests that that the ships, while not ocean-worthy, may be suitable for trading within the local islands.
And that, really, is all anyone needs, if Brennan understands the geography of the place. Benedict seems to have several reasons to actively avoid the ocean-faring trade empire motif of his father. But if raiding happens island to island, there have to be navies to support it, and some small amounts of trade will surely happen. Or if not trade, then the transport of plunder.
As Brennan approaches, he's hailed from the entry and a man starts walking over. He's in armor, but he looks more like an aging sergeant than a strong fighter.
"Ho, Stranger, what brings you to Port Idun?" He looks as if he knows, but has to ask anyway.
"Passin' through, I hope. News, trade, and travel," Walker says, as if to add-- what other reasons would there be?
He waves Brennan in. "If you're needing an Inn," he says, sizing Brennan up to determine his net worth, "I'd recommend the Cloven Hoof down by the docks. Lots of sell-swords go through there. Tell 'em Wolf sent you."
Walker notices the eye, and lets it pass as though he's gotten used to it-- the armor he's got is old and even a little dinged but still very serviceable, and the clothing is travel worn but not filthy or degenerated to rags. Several days growth of stubble adds to the overall effect.
"Much obliged, friend. I'll do that," he says. And he does.
He's either made the right impression and gotten a good tip, or he hasn't and he's being set up to get rolled. The only way to find out is to go see.
Brennan passes two better-appointed inns before he reaches the Cloven Hoof. Under a large and graphic image of the namesake of the place, there is an unassuming door. The inn is clean and not well lit, and doesn't have more advanced amenities like a stables or a courtyard, but it seems to be be focused on cheap sleeping and cheap eating and drinking. Brennan finds himself under scrutiny when he walks in. Some of it from the corners, some from a man sitting in the middle at the only well-lit table. He is the only one who smiles when Brennan enters. He seems approachable. The bar is unmanned at the moment.
Walker doesn't smile. He stands in the doorway to give his eyes a chance to adjust to the gloom, surveys the room and eyeballs back some of the tables that are eyeballing him. He walks up to the man at the table and says, "Man name of Wolf sent me. Name's Walker."
His smile grows. "My Wife's Cousin's boy! A sharp eye, that one. Are you seeking work, and passage? I am looking for soldiers for hire. I am Cledwin."
The man guestures to a seat. "Sit, and we can discuss terms. I pay well."
Walker does indeed sit down, with a smile on the socially acceptable side of thin. "Good pay for high risks, I reckon," he says, quoting an aphorism from a vastly distant time and place that is probably just as applicable here. "What offer for what job?"
The man's laugh is easy. "The client is far more nervous than I am and therefore inclined to pay well. It actually should be mostly sitting and riding. If we see any bandits, having a strong visible presence will deter them.
"We sail to Methryn's Isle to act as guards for a man transporting his bride-price to his future father-in-law. Then we take her to him. Easy escort work."
He leans in. "Don't think we may not need to fight. It's more important to project that we can, and then we usually don't have to."
He leans back. "Now, you. I see the sword, and you wear it like you can use it. What else? Can you fire a bow and can you ride?"
Walker nods curtly to each separate question. "Both at the same time, if need calls. Else-- I've a good bit of woodscraft. I can move quietly, and at night." But he grimaces a bit, too. "Not much worse than an easy job gone bad, though. Your client know something he ain't telling, maybe?"
The recruiter nods. Brennan suspects that he's held command in the past, at least of small units. "Maybe. He's rich and stupid, and he may do something dumb. I'm getting paid in advance. You're getting paid by the day, so if it falls apart, at least you'll have been paid for what you did do. It's better terms than you'd get from most, but I like men to be glad to sign on with me a second time.
"Best case, we get horses, but most of the troop won't be riders. If we need to, it's good to know you can." He pauses. "This isn't a war. At best it may have some skirmishes. I don't need someone who can't not fight."
Again, the thin smile: "We all know how often easy money comes around," Walker says, excusing his mild skepticism. "I'll enjoy it while it's here. If I like your offer, when and where do we ship out?"
Negotiations continue to a mutually satisfying conclusion: the price is not so much that Walker was at risk of not getting the job and not so little that he is suspiciously underpriced.
Cledwin hands him a coin to seal the bargain. It has Benedict's face on the obverse and Castle Avalon on the reverse. "We sail as soon as they finish loading The Lynx, which will hopefully be this evening." Cledwin grins. "I'm glad you came along, I was about to have to tell Lord Lotar that I was not ready. If there's anything you need to do in town, you should take care of it now."
Walker turns the coin over in his hand with some satisfaction. "Done, then," he says.
Brennan leaves. The town is small, but lively. A half-dozen ships are in port, The Lynx being the nicest of the lot. Stevedores are loading cargo aboard. Brennan's best bet is that it's some sort of fermented apple beverage. There are other taverns, and people around them, but Brennan does not find much of interest. No one seems, for instance, to be talking about invasions, either outbound or inbound. There is a small fishing pier with children playing on it, several smithys, and oddly, a miliner's shop.
The town is remarkably unremarkable.
Walker does not see fit to create rumors of war while he is investigating the same; he listens only, and does not prompt anyone by asking directly.
Brennan goes aboard ship at the appointed hour and is introduced to the Owner, Crisp. The man is short, with wispy white hair and is by no means young. If he is seeking a wife, it's likely not his first. Crisp seems to like 'Walker', a fact that Cledwin later attributes to Walker's Amber-style name. Crisp came here as a child from Amber, with his parents, who were servants of the Protector.
Brennan has few other opportunities to talk to Crisp, but does meet his fellow guards. There are four, and they are very like Walker, without Brennan's skills to back them up. Two are brothers, Gregor and Peitr, and the other two are not from the same racial stock as the Avalonians. Kim and Chiu are their names, and they seem to have a long-term partnership that pre-dates The Lynx. Cledwin appoints Walker the Sergeant. Cledwin is, naturally, Captain of the Guard. "The savages of Methryn respond best to impressive-sounding tities, or so I was told."
Scout would have suited him more than sergeant, but Walker is not a complainer.
The others seem to need leadership.
Assuming that Walker and the rest of Cledwin's Crew are not part of the Lynx's crew, there probably isn't much else to do on the ship other than get to know the other four. Walker is not a chatty type, but he's not inherently unfriendly-- he suggests a few card and dice games he used to play in Reme: Dead Man's Dice, Red Card Shuffle, and the like. They may know them by other names. There are some elements of skill to the games, but they are largely designed to keep money and markers flowing, rather to have one player end up with everyone else's money.
Between the table talk and the play styles, hopefully he can get a sense of which ones are the risk takers, which ones are disciplined, and which ones get sore over a run of bad luck. If any of them are paying attention in that way, they will learn that Walker is on the disciplined side, and not much inclined to sweat a temporary loss.
Cledwin plays rarely, but his style is extremely conservative. He seems to regularly lose small amounts, and does so with equanimity.
The brothers seem to work naturally as partners. Gregor is Mr. Offense and Pietr is Mr. Defense. They don't seem to work against each other, even in solo games, or where it would actually help them. Kim and Chiu are more balanced and more willing to win against each other. Still, they seem to team up naturally when teams are required.
The Lynx arrives after several days at sea at Methryn's Isle, which has a small port remarkably similar to the one from which The Lynx departed. Crisp wants Cledwin near him as his negotiate with the harbormaster. Cledwin nods and tells Brennan to take the lads into town, and to keep them out of trouble.
If Cledwin knows the place well enough to suggest a meeting place, so much the better. If not, Walker will have to arrange to send word back on where to meet. Either way, Walker gathers the other four up with a by-the-by reminder that they've still got a job to do, so let's make sure we all keep getting paid by the day.
They set out, and Walker looks for a place not unlike the one he left behind-- near the water front, of a sort that won't blink too hard at a group of notionally well-behaved men carrying steel, peaceful enough that no one is being propelled out the door as part of a bar fight at that very moment.
A good place to listen while they wait.
The tavern is not very busy, and reminds Brennan of the place Cledwin recruited him. No one pays them obvious attention, but no one approaches them. Gregor notices some men towards the back playing dice games. "Pietr, let's see if they'll teach us to play," he's got a glint in his eye.
When Kim and Chiu head up to the bar to get a drink, a pretty young woman, or at least as near as passes for one in this light in this bar, comes up and asks Brennan if he wants company.
Walker considers giving the brothers a warning as they go to gamble, but decides against it. He does, however, take up a position at a table where he can keep a weather eye on the two of them, and on the doorway. His best bet is that if trouble comes-- and it might not-- it'll come because they lost too much or won too much.
When the girl approaches, he allows as to how he's been stuck on a boat for a while. He doesn't hide that he's part of the mercenary band, or that he's never been to Methryn's Isle before.
"Yeah, the ship that just came from Avalon, right? I've always wanted to go to Avalon, it sounds so exciting compared to Methryn. This place is soo boring. My name's Danbol, by the way."
A waitress wanders over. "Do you two want anything?"
Danbol waits to see if Brennan orders her a drink.
Walker does buy her a drink-- anything she wants, within reason, and everything in this bar is likely to be within reason-- and something for himself that he nurses sparingly. And while Danbol can try to turn the conversation back to Avalon, she's not going to have much luck there, since Walker was there only briefly and found the place too quiet to find any work.
The woman is talkative and interesting, but seems to always steer the conversation back to Brennan and Avalon.
Brennan's weather eye picks up that the brothers seem to have new girlfriends as well.
Although he hadn't anticipated it, per se, he is not surprised. There is no hurry, but when an opportune moment presents itself, he'll take a non-obvious glance at Kim and Chiu as well, to see if they have fascinating new companions, as well.
Chiu and Kim have also attracted a pair of new friends, with whom they are happily chatting at the bar.
Of course they do.
Mostly, though, his attention stays on Danbol since she is right in front of him, and on Gregor and Pietr since he's already positioned in a way he can keep an eye on them without making it obvious and craning his neck every few minutes. It is possible that Methryn's Isle is as boring as the girl says, and the Methryni so impressed by titles as Cledwin says, that they're all natural magnets for attention. Or they're good targets to get rolled, one way or the other. Or something else, but those are the main contenders.
Walker keeps a close eye on what he's drinking, his coins, and the brothers, and for the moment lets things develop. He's got little to say about Avalon, but he can spin an entertaining, if somewhat taciturn, line of patter based on real events that happened decades or centuries ago, adapted to the situation.
She's enthralled, especially with the stories that have 'Walker' inserted into them.
Of course she is.
Sometime into about her third drink (however many that is for Brennan), he notices two things. Pietr and Gregor seem to be arguing with their fellow gamers, and Chiu and Kim are slipping out the side door into the alley with their dates.
Of course they are. A well-timed operation.
"Kim. Chiu," Walker says sharply enough to carry. It's not a battlefield bellow-- because this is a bar, not even a bar fight-- but it's clearly a command voice. "A little help, here."
He stands, and jerks his chin over toward the gambling corner.
Kim and Chiu look up and over, and begin to push through the sparse crowd towards the brothers. Kim shouts, "Hey, Piggy, leave muh friends alone!" His slurred words and their lurching suggests that they've been drinking more than Brennan realized.
Chiu stumbles into and through a table of locals, whose upturned noses and pink complexions meant they were already inclined to take offense at Kim's slur.
If there wasn't going to be a fight before, there's gonna be one now.
Brennan is seized by a brief but powerful urge to use the distraction of the impending bar brawl as cover to just walk away. He's gotten what he wanted, after all-- closer to his destination. But he wants more. And simply winning the fight, also within his abilities, probably won't help given Cledwyn's rather sensible desire for a contingent of men who can hold their wrath when necessary.
Which leaves trying stop the fight before it begins.
The only ways Brennan knows to do that are to remove the motivation-- usually removing the primary idiot in the room-- or providing a massive distraction.
The bar room is, by its nature, a swirling vortex of unrealized possibilities, decisions, and random chances. Brennan reaches out and grabs the most useful one he can find on such short notice and strengthens it, moving it as far from random occurrence to inevitable certainty as he can, solidifying every contributing factor on the path from now to a few seconds hence. It becomes near certain that loud-mouthed, already drunken Kim slips and falls in a puddle of beer, knocking himself senseless, hopefully unconscious. It would take a room of stone-cold killers to further beat up on a man in that condition, and might just provide enough of a distraction to keep Chiu intact for a few more seconds.
At the same time, Brennan moves as quickly as he reasonably can toward Chiu with the intent of collaring him if he tries to fight-- especially if he thinks Kim went down because someone clocked him. If he can contain Chiu long enough to buy that table a round of drinks, this might not explode.
Kim goes down as expected, leaving Chiu looking to do something about his partner. Brennan's timely arrival and loud, immediate intervention makes him the focus of the local 'Piggies'. Since he's more sober and better armed than the group, they seem content to start with complaining. "He knocked over all our drinks!" Brennan's solution will, in fact, mollify them, although they do all claim to have been drinking expensive brandies when Kim stumbled through them.
Walker lets the serving staff, such as it is, sort it out. It's not likely these guys are sober enough to tell expensive brandy from mid-range swill, and he's going to put it on Cledwyn's account, anyway.
Chiu is standing over Kim, looking sheepish. "Walker, what about Pietr?"
"Get this sorry sack of doorknobs upstairs," Walker says, and then turns his attention to the other two idiots.
Chiu reaches under his friend's armpits and starts pulling him up.
Pietr is apparently not one to take a hint. He's swinging at the face of one of his fellow players. "Yer Cheating!" can be heard clearly in one of those momentary lulls that happen in all conversations.
Chairs are scraping back across the room.
Brennan knows full well the two brothers work as a team-- where's the other one and what's he doing?
Gregor isn't in sight. To be fair, he was kneeling down when the fight started, throwing dice. Maybe he's collecting his winnings.
He starts to move in that direction, but before he can make a plan he wants to know where both of them are.
Pietr's blow lands and the man he hit roars. The Methryn swings back with a mighty haymaker, which Pietr dodges. His opponent stumbles and there's a femine giggle when he does so. "Nobody hits a Maghee!", the man shouts.
Apparently there are lots of Maghees in the room. They're also headed for Pietr.
Brennan has a feeling he's going to be proving a lot of Maghees very, very wrong... but he hasn't resigned himself to that, yet.
Walker keeps moving in that direction, sparing a bit of attention for Gregor (if and when he comes into view) and the whole tableaux-- the source of the giggle, the status of the money on the floor, etc-- if he can. Walker moves fast, dodging and weaving between people just getting started so he can practically throw himself between Pietr and Mister Maghee.
Walker is not above shoving Pietr back (to satisfy himself as well as the Maghee) but handles the Maghee a bit more gently if possible. "And no one cheats one of my boys." To Pietr: "Explain yourself!" Louder: "And where's Gregor!!"
Pietr's eyes dart to the left, where Gregor is kneeling. He's just finishing scooping up the stakes and scuttling towards the rear.
The hope is that separating the two idiots by sheer force of personality, channeled through a notional authority figure, will be enough to pull things back from the brink. And while he hasn't drawn it, Walker is still wearing his sword-- the implicit threat of drastic escalation is always present.
Brennan feels the wind and sees the focus of Pietr's gaze just in time to duck a bit, softening the blow of the glass beer bottle against the back of his head. He's still standing, but his head stings and his hair and the back of his neck are covered in bad beer and broken glass. Someone, probably another Maghee, thought they'd take him out of the fight.
Pietr's person Maghee is trying to dodge under Brennan to get a swing at the Avalonian. Brennan can tell the fight has started in earnest. It's still too small to call a riot.
Unheard over the sounds of the brawl, most likely, is the dangerous sound of Brennan's patience snapping like an icicle. Fortunately for the brawlers, it is merely his patience and not-- yet-- his temper. So far his priorities have only shifted far enough to keep Pietr and Gregor from getting killed, not to causing as much mayhem as he can.
He identifies the one with the broken bottle in his hand, grabs and locks the offending arm and uses it as a level to throw him into the nearest idiots who are surely heading his way to assist their friends. This is nothing more than sound tactical thinking. Breaking the man's arms in the bargain is not; it's merely a mild penalty for striking a scion of Amber.
The Maghee goes down in a pile of Maghees. He's yelling about his arm, and someone has picked up a broken table leg and is circling towards Brennan more warily.
"Gregor!" he bellows, "Get over here!" That may not be possible given Gregor's status, but hopefully at least one of the brothers will be free enough to be mobile by the time he bellows.
Gregor pauses in his escape attempt and is immediately clobbered by a Maghee. He is too embroiled in his node of the brawl to rally to Brennan's call.
Pietr bellows as well. "Gregor!" and starts clearing a path to his brother.
Well, that's the other way to collect all three of them in the same place-- follow Pietr to Gregor. Although there will in the future be a full and frank exchange of opinions on the notion of squad tactics.
Brennan invites the almost clever one with the chair leg to take a swing, then steps aside and lets him-- helps him, if necessary-- stumble into a knot of non-Maghees who can explain to him why waving a chair leg and stumbling into people is a bad idea. Brennan is not interested in the details of that discussion and leaves them to it.
Pietr probably hasn't the sense to watch his back while lumbering toward Gregor, so Brennan will do that for him, according to a simple rule: bare hands and booted feet gets an assailant redirected to some other part of the fray and into someone else's way; weapons, even improvised ones, gets an assailant injured before the redirection. Injured, but not killed, yet: Brennan has lost his patience, but not his temper or his pride.
With Brennan at his back, Pietr gets to Gregor and Brennan and his two minions are reunited, in the center of a circle of those too cautious or too busy with other fights to bother them. Brennan hears the sound of whistles. It's likely someone has summoned whatever passes for authority, or riot control.
There exists a probability that the notional authorities will not respond, at least not in time to complicate Brennan's life, therefore they do not appear. The why's of such a situation are as unimportant as they are hypothetically varied, but the simplest is that they're already dealing with another brawl somewhere else. Given the nature of Benedict's unrelenting crucible, that's plausible enough even without Brennan's background probability manipulation.
"Stay close, boys," Walker growls. "And get to the stairs."
His goal is simple-- get the two idiots down here reunited with the two idiots upstairs. Since it's a general riot and only a fraction of the brawlers are particularly focused on Pietr and Gregor, this might not be impossible. The strategy is to make for the stairs, hold the stairs while Pietr and Gregor go up, and throw anyone who tries to follow him back down the stairs to be sucked back into the melee. Out of sight, out of mind.
Brennan moves in the direction of stairs. Knowing that the circle surrounding them will try to stop him, he does not hesitate to thin their numbers quickly as he goes.
Brennan arrives at the stairs, and soon finds himself in the relative calm of a hallway above a riot, with a complete set of his guards. Gregor is groggy and it might not be wise to move Kim, who is still out cold.
As for the riot, it seems to be getting worse. A look out the window suggests it has spilled out into the alley and people are starting to arrive to see the fight in progress.
As long as the tavern doesn't burn down and the riot doesn't come upstairs, the five of you are at least together.
Chiu points to the window. "Cledwin's coming. I think we're in trouble."
"And why's that," Walker asks, without taking his attention from the fight. "Did we start the riot?" There is enough acid in his voice to cut glass.
Chiu looks at Gregor and opens his mouth to say something.
"Does it matter?", interrupts Pietr. "The foreigners are always to blame. We are the foreigners, the piggies will say we started it and the others will just nod along."
Now Walker turns around, and just about shanks Pietr with a glance.
"It matters to me," Walker says, in a dangerously soft tone, "or I wouldn't ask. I ain't expect you boys to be professional soldiers, but I ain't expect you to be a pile of bent clowns, either," he says, using an expression from his lawyering days in Reme whose meaning should be clear enough. "I expect you'll know when to start a fight, when to finish it, when to assist, when you need assist, and when to answer my question.
Walker's voice never raises, it only becomes more controlled. If Pietr comes to believe that Cledwyn is the least of his troubles right now, he would be unambiguously correct for the first time since he's met Walker.
"Now, I'm going to pretend you didn't hear me right, give you a chance to scratch the mud out of your ears. Going to remind you that I sat there in that bar the whole time watching you all. And I'm going to ask again: Did we. Or did we not. Start. That. Riot." As he gives those reminders, Walker invades Pietr's personal space and backs him up against the nearest wall by personal presence alone.
Brennan isn't too worried about the fight below spilling up here: There is a probability that it won't happen, which Brennan amplifies into a certainty.
Pietr looks at Gregor, then back at Brennan. "We didn't start nuffin, Sir. We wasn't gonna let them cheat us, is all." For all that Pietr is a grown man, he sounds like a surly teenage boy."
Gregor glances down into the courtyard. "Son of a..! Cledwyn just went in the side door."
Walker reaches out and pats Pietr on the cheek, and says, "But I watched you start it," before sliding his hand around to grab him by the back of the neck and propel him with some force down the stairs and into a throng of angry Maghees. "So now, you can finish it." He's not cold enough to insist a man stand and watch his brother take a good measure of bar room justice, so if Gregor wants to go help he can pass unmolested.
Once it's clear that the beating is well underway-- which all things considered ought not to take very long at all-- Brennan drops the probability manipulation that was preventing the authorities from arriving. Perhaps, at some future date, once they've recovered, they will consider the merits of threat assessment and team work in a new light. But they won't do it serving under Brennan.
Brennan hears whistles and running feet over the sounds if the riot below.
Chiu sits up and blinks, blearily. "Yeah, I saw him start it, too. Wonder what he's got against the Piggies?"
"Maybe they called him names as a child," Walker says, acidly.
Kim nods, not getting the applicability of said comment to his own choices.
"And maybe you missed it-- passed out as you was after slipping in that beer," Walker does not actually roll his eyes, but even a groggy Kim ought to be able to infer it, "but you almost started it before he did, with nothing but your mouth. I don't give a brass damn what you say or think on your own time, but as long as you're in my crew, you watch yourself. Cledwin and I will tell you when to fight. Do you understand me?" he asks in the same tone of voice that presaged Pietr getting thrown to the Maghee wolves below.
"Yes," says Kim. It's not 100% clear if he does, or if he just doesn't want to follow Pietr.
"Good," Walker says.
And, it's a nice place you've got here, Ben, Brennan thinks to himself. Roving warbands, impermanent kingdoms, casual clan-hatred to keep everything from cooling down past the point of casual warfare. I suddenly have more insight into the constant siege of so-called barbarians against places like Reme.
When Cledwin makes it up the stairs, Walker says to him without preamble, "Pietr and Gregor are fired."
Cledwin takes in the room, including Kim's state. "I see. Makes it easier, then. What happened?"
For someone who walked into a riot, even on the periphery, Cledwin is astonishingly un-mussed.
"Pietr took it on himself to start a brawl, while I was looking after this one," he gestures to Kim, whose head he is inspecting for lasting damage. Not seeing any, he continues, "Took a nasty slip and hit his head. Toughest part of him, though." He swats Kim lightly on the back of the head, which will probably draw a wince, but not do any damage.
"Time I got there, brawl'd already started and Gregor was scooping the stakes off the ground. I pulled 'em out, safe. They backsassed me. I sent 'em back down." Walker doesn't bother to specify that he threw Pietr bodily down the stairs into a crowd of his assailants. "They can deal with it, then-- they ain't part of us."
After a moment, "I reckon we'll need some more boys, before we leave. This place makes my feet itch."
Cledwin nods. "You're in luck,then. The owner wants us to leave tomorrow. If those boys are still here when we get back, we can cart 'em back to Avalon. We can either hire sailors for the duration, if you have any you want, or we can make hiring noises here. Downside of that is that my best place to recruit is downstairs."
He steps to the window. "The owner owes me a favor. She won't tell the patrol that we're up here. We can wait until the riot below dies down. If we didn't have to recruit replacements for those two, I'd be tempted to let you get arrested and then just pay your fine out of the bosses' money."
There was never any chance that Walker was going to get arrested, but there's no need to push the issue. Or to openly question why they'd bother to do any favors for Pietr and Gregor.
Cledwin looks down into the courtyard. "The whole place is wound up, straining like a catapult ready to be fired. Something's in the air here."
Once he's done with Kim, Walker takes a look for himself out the window. "Reckoned maybe it was just me," he mutters, scrubbing a hand back through his hair and leaving it there to rub his own neck. "Sailors? Even less discipline." He sucks on his teeth for a bit, then says, "Maybe I can scare something up. Have to know who we're moving through where, though-- no sense taking boys from a clan that'll draw trouble."
As far as Brennan is concerned, that idea has many merits: Cledwin can babysit the Mouths, for one. Brennan has a firm notion of what sort will make a good addition to this crew, for another. And most importantly, it will give him the chance to hit the streets and gather some information, which is the point of slumming it with this crew in the first place.
Cledwin shakes his head. "Whole island is riled, from what I've been hearing. It's like everybody decided to move south at once, and that pushed the next set along. Like someone picked up a crate full of bottles and dropped it.
"I've no idea who will be where we're going through on our way to Holy Mountain."
Walker grunts at that, and says, "All right, I'll see what scrounges up."
He does take a few minutes to clean the stale beer and glass fragments from that smashed bottle off the back of his head, change his shirt, and generally look as respectable as a mercenary recruiter needs to look... which in this case is like someone who did not just get caught in a riot. Or even a bar fight.
Brennan makes his way out through side passages, through advanced skulkery, and through basic Pattern manipulation if absolutely necessary. Once he's out and got some distance between himself and the riots, he slows down and spends some time taking in the atmosphere, the feel of the settlement, and thinking about the type of mercenaries he's looking for. Not coincidentally, he's looking for people not unlike the person he's posing as-- a displaced or semi-retired soldier or member of a war-band. There's at least two types of those-- the types that got out because they liked the killing more than the discipline, and the types that understand why the discipline is enforced. Brennan-- and Walker-- is looking for the latter. Not men who will march in step and salute, because with Kim and Chiu, there will only be half a dozen of them or so. But men who can follow a lead, who will take out swords when Walker says to, kill who he says to, and put them away when he says to.
That's Walker's job. Brennan's job is to scout for Benedict, for which mercenary recruiting is a near-perfect cover.
There's probably two places to look for such men. One, where Walker is coming from, would be a bar by the docks picking up soldiers on their way in or out of town by sea. The other, where Walker is heading, is a bar near the city gates, and for Brennan's purpose that's even better. The men on their way in from the countryside will have the best and freshest news of what's happening in other places on Methryn's Isle. Likewise the barkeeps. So that is where he heads. When it comes down to which bar to pick, Brennan trusts his gut and picks the likeliest looking place-- this isn't remotely the first time Brennan has had to do this.
Brennan's gut leads him to The Shattered Axe, a tavern near the gate. Said Axe is behind the bar on the wall, and it looks like it shattered on someone's head.
The bartender may be the proprietor. He looks like he could use an axe in combat. Or two, if it came to that.
The bar has a collection of drinkers and drunkards in it, perhaps a dozen of them. Many of them look capable of violence. Walker has been observed, but no one approaches him. To Brennan's eye, this is a pretty varied group. They carry themselves like they're from different cultures or tribes, and their clothing is also pretty different. There aren't any Maghees here, or groups of similar size.
Then this is a definite step in the right direction, if the common interest of the various tribesmen is anything other than commonly killing each other.
Walker moves up to the bar and orders himself a drink, which he intends to aggressively nurse. He also orders "one for the axe-holder," making clear that it is the customary way of his people to start the evening off with a tip to the bar-- the bar, or its proxy, the barkeep, can either drink with Walker or pocket the tip under the pretext of drinking it later.
The man smiles and pockets the extra coin. He provides excellent service, perhaps in hopes of more largesse and seems inclined to chat with Brennan. None of the others seem to be as talkative.
Walker is somewhat free with his coin-- not enough to be taken as a wastrel, a lord, or a target, but enough to keep the barkeep in a good mood and, for further down the road, as a pre-demonstration that he (through Cledwin) will be able to pay what they promise.
A bit of surreptitious conjuring-away will keep him from over-indulging.
From there, Walker's more pressing interest is what's going on beyond the settlement walls, although he is not so crude as to simply ask outright. He guides the conversation with tales of other times of rough travel he's experienced, and lets the talk circle back around to the hazardous conditions closer at hand.
The barman is friendly and knowledgeable. He's a local, and lost half his foot defending the settlement a few years back. The axe, which took his foot, belonged to a border reaver. He bought the bar with the pension, and kept the axe as a souvenir.
Times are rough, but men who can fight have their pick of jobs. The hill-people are on the move, which is not normal. Children and flocks are at risk, and if there's a big push there'll be fighting in the streets. The new lord isn't as strong or confident as his father was, bless him. The hill-folks are the big concern.
Many of Walker's stories contain the phrase, "so no shite, there we was..." as a tell for when he's going to get to the good part or the funny part of a story. Walker himself has a lot of stories from places that are not these, and he shifts to tales of border forts and frontier protections precisely to encouarge others around him to add their own... which given the circumstances will probably relate to what's going on locally in the here-and-now.
There's a fine line to be trod, here: Harrowing, but not excessively heroic; close scrapes dodged with level thinking and quick teamwork, not superhuman swordsmanship. Brennan's spent long enough on the road-- longer than anyone he's talking to has been alive-- to have ample stock of stories with the ring of truth to them, especially from his younger days.
But his goal isn't to amuse himself or entertain the others, it's to get them telling their own stories about what's going on. This, Walker subtly encourages by buying a drink for someone after they give a good-- and believable-- story. Once that's going, he can occasionally interject a few of his own questions for clarification: Who's this tribe, never heard of them; why'd this happen, d'you think? He's got a keen ear for names of tribes, and he's hoping for details on these hill folks-- and why they're on the move-- without having to ask much directly.
Of course, at the same time, he's getting a feel for who's employed, and who's employable. But he'll deal with that later.
They're not as organized as the coastal people, but they are fierce fighters who normally stay put. That's why they're not part of anyone's county. Everyone thinks something happened on the far side of the island, but nobody what. The Count has just offered a reward for any hill-folks who are killed while raiding his lands.
The mercenaries are pretty sure a war is about to start, but they don't know if it's gonna hit this island.
Brennan's choices seem to be farm boys freshly come to the city, a couple of mercenaries who are headed for Avalon, a caravan guard who got separated from his caravan, and someone who looks like he might be a soldier who is off duty.
The farm boys are eliminated from consideration almost immediately.
The best outcome to Walker's mind is probably the longer shot of getting the soldier and the separated caravan guard to come along. They're closer to what he's looking for, at least in template. But while Walker isn't above luring someone away from a soldiering job, he's not entirely sure if he wants someone who can be lured, so to speak.
The pair of mercenaries might be an acceptable pick, though, depending on the stories they've been volunteering, if any.
And so Walker moves to the next phase of the plan, which is to let it be known that he is himself part of a band that is currently shorthanded, although he does not initially say why. He is interested in everyone's reaction, but the soldier's in particular.
It goes about as expected, which is to say that they want to know about the job and the pay. The guard is the most enthusiastic, and the guard the least. The guard, Lime, is worried about leaving the walls when there's obviously trouble out there. The soldiers don't seem to share his concern.
Of the mercenaries, Hunter is the talkative one and Kenner doesn't speak as much. An escort job seems right up Hunter's alley. He's been in fights, but he's a long way from home.
Her father's castle firmly behind her, Lilly moves along the shore road towards the northernmost part of his island realm, Bishop's Rock, where the fishermen are loyal but distant subjects. Here she should be able to get a boat to investigate the northerly sea lanes.
Brennan's tasks are similar, but run to the west-northwest of the island. Her path may be more likely to encounter those who do not love her father first, but his way should go through more of the unallied islands.
She is past the line her father's troops showed her on the maps--the furthest distance they regularly patrolled. Control out here is, at best, nominal. If the flag is in sight, then this is part of the Protectorate, but people here tend to rely on themselves, or so she was told.
A valley lies before her, with a few farmsteads visible and a few small herds of sheep in the meadows.
Lilly could go through the valley or around it. She's less likely to interact with the locals if she stays out of the valley, but it may be slower going.
Lilly takes a moment to survey the valley below. Any other time or place and she might be tempted to take the long way around. Not today. Today she needs to keep moving at a steady pace. Also, by not avoiding the locals, she may catch pieces of news or gossip that will aid her quest. With a deep breath and a nod of determination, she begins the decent.
She made sure to dress the part of a traveler... a male traveler. Luckily for her, her body type could easily be mistaken for a young man, especially while donning a heavy cloak. Her weapons remain covered but her hand does not stray far from the hilt of her sword. Lilly walks with a casual stride, taking care to blend into the background. She sticks to areas often tread to keep suspicions as bay. All the while, she remains alert to her surroundings. This would not be a good time to be caught off guard.
The valley looks to be a typical farming center, organized around a keep at the far end of the valley. The fertile valley is planted with crops, both for sustenance and for trading. There's a village on the slope near the castle and there are watchtowers to the south, near her position. There's no one in the watchtowers, as far as she can tell without approaching them. That may be normal in times of peace, if the threats all come from the North and the West.
The area doesn't seem to get many travelers, nor so few that her arrival is an event. She passes several shepherds and their flocks, at a distance. The flocks are being tended by younger boys, which may be unusual. It would be in The Tecys.
The path becomes a road as she descends and leads straight into the valley, beside a small river. It goes up to the village on the hillslope and the castle beyond.
As Lilly comes into the cultivated land, she sees a man with a plow in the field ahead of her; He is trying to free a stuck plow from the field he's tilling and hasn't noticed her.
Exiting from his appointment with Benedict, Fletcher asks a guard to escort him to an on-duty officer. Fletcher wastes no time introducing himself to the officer. Explaining that Benedict has asked him to assist Martin in running the fortress in Benedict's absence, Fletcher enacts a plan to shanghai the guard into an impromptu and deluxe inspection of Avalon. With a thoroughness that easily explains how he might have simply been away from Amber on a 1700-year errand he explores from dungeon to tower-top, perimeter to sanctum, asking about troop strength, equipment, and protocols.
Over the course of a long afternoon, Fletcher learns all that can be learned in a single inspection of Avalon Castle. From its perch on the edge of a dizzying cliff more than a half mile above the sea to the outer fortifications, it is a military machine, designed to provide protection and oversight to a large area beyond it. There are wells, and stores, and armories, and troops a plenty, and while it does not seem to have been built for gunpowder wars, it is very strong.
The troops are a mix of mounted and unmounted men, with class differences between the two types of soldiers. They seem well-trained and focused on their jobs. The knights are not, for the most part, resident in the castle during times of peace, although some few stay here year round. The soldiers are mostly farmers, but it is the duty of all man aged 13 and older to defend the realm at the Protector's call.
The soldier attempts to steer clear of anything Benedict might not want discussed, but cannot help but give away many details of the defense of the place by what he says and what he does not say. For instance, it is clear that Avalon does not have a Navy.
Dinner is a plain affair, as befits a monastic house. The stew is hearty and has some basic spice, but its richness is in the quality of the meat and not in the spices or exotic nature of the ingredients. There is beer, alcoholic enough to kill the bugs in the water, if there were any. The bread is crusty, but fresh, and there's even a little butter. At the table when Ossian (and Adreano, who follows in his wake) arrive are Hannibal and one other person: the Valkryie Regenlief, her few injuries bound and healed, wearing a robe of the sort the brothers wear, as if it was what they had to offer her.
She looks pleased to see Ossian. "I'd say well met again, but it's not truly well yet," she says. Hannibal eyes her and Ossian, waiting for his response.
Ossian smiles. "I hope you are not unhappy that I have bargained for your release?"
"I know what bargains here are worth, and how they are made." Regenlief looks sourly at Hannibal, whose smile is probably supposed to be benevolent but works out to be something far less in Ossian's estimation. "I hope you're happier with what you acquire than with what you've given away."
"I hope so, but I guess I will never be certain." "I do think both sides traded fairly.", he says turning half to Hannibal.
Adreano is merely observing for the moment, and Ossian suspects he's gathering material for something like an epic poem to be written after all this is over and he's safely away from the creepy monks.
Hannibal nods. "We are meticulous in abiding by our bargains, and in requiring those we bargain with to keep them as well." The monk pulls a watch from his pocket, looks at it, and frowns.
Another monk nods. "It is our duty." He introduces himself as Brother Emmanuel. "Will you be needing supplies for your journey? It is some distance to the next friendly outpost, in most directions."
"Food for the four of us for a few days would suffice."
"Would there be anything else of use?" Brother Emmanuel asks, looking at Adreano and Regenlief.
Adreano starts to say something, but Regenlief overrides him. "No. Thank you. I'd like my gear and our horses back, but if we are not being kept as prisoners, that shouldn't be a concern." She looks hard at Brother Hannibal.
There's a bit of a staring contest there that Hannibal can't be said to lose so much as to choose not to participate in any further. He looks away, and Regenlief looks at Ossian with grim satisfaction.
Brother Emmanuel seems to have taken it on himself to smooth matters. "When will you be leaving?" he asks, directing the question to the trio at large.
"As soon as I have shown you have to use the painting and visited Reid's grave." Ossian says. "He was dear to me and my family."
"I will take the lesson in using the painting," Hannibal says, as if there had been any question that he wouldn't grab it first.
Ossian simply nods.
"And I will make arrangements for your supplies," Brother Emmanuel adds agreeably. "And guide you to the grave of your friend. Will you be accompanying Lord Ossian on this visit?" he asks Adreano and Regenlief.
Adreano says, "If Ossian will have me."
"I would be disappointed if you didn't." Ossian says.
Regenlief looks to Ossian. "Someone should check on the supplies."
Ossian nods. "Do so."
Ossian suspects she is indifferent to the prospect of a grave visit, but could be persuaded easily to join him.
Once the meal is finished and Ossian and the company have eaten their fill, Regenlief and Brother Emmanuel depart to see to the matter of supplies for their departure. Adreano is torn between going with them and remaining with Ossian, and eventually settles upon the latter.
Hannibal leads Ossian, with Adreano tagging along, back to one of the study chambers like that where they first bargained for Regenlief. Once they are in the room, he produces the sketch. "Now, if you please, Lord Ossian, show me how we should use this painting to contact you, and anything else you think we should know to store and mantain it."
"Let's hope this does not give you headache. " Ossian says. "Take the card firmly in your right hand, like this, and concentrate on the image of me. Try not to get distracted, that could potentially break the card.
"I will then answer, unless I'm occupied. Don't get startled, you will see me as if I was right here."
Hannibal takes the sketch, and starts to move to the other end of the room as best he can, perhaps to provide some distance. "Should I attempt this now? Or do you think I can perform the magic involved without testing it? I assume it is safe." He thinks about that for a moment and adds, "For me."
"I am not sure it is totally safe. But I have not heard anyone dying either. I get headaches sometimes." Ossian grins "But I do believe you have a strong mind.
"But yeah, you should try it now, I guess."
Hannibal does move to the other end of the room, turning his back on Ossian, and then bends over the sketch, scowling and concentrating, trying to reach through the connection to make a proper contact. Ossian can feel the touch on his mind, tentatively, through the sketch.
Ossian answers, "See, it works."
[OOC: Some things here. You've got a potential trump connection to this guy and he's a normal and you're not, Ossian. Also we need to know now whether the sketch is good and solid or whether it's going to go poof at the end of this contact regardless.]
[Ok: In Ossian's experience, how dangerous is this to either party? The sketch is intended to be quite good and solid.]
[There is no danger in simply using the Trump as intended. However, if you wanted to do something twisty to Hannibal, it's not likely that Hannibal could defend himself. Ossian has no reason to suspect he's secretly an equal or a prince of the blood who was lost, is the point here. If there were any kind of Trump struggle, a la Corwin and Eric, Hannibal's odds would be low.
Given what you said about the sketch, it should survive.]
[No frying of minds now, no.]
Once the contact has been established, Hannibal and Ossian are able to speak briefly through the connection, before Ossian either terminates it or shows Hannibal how to do so by putting his hand over the card, depending on his preferences. Hannibal finds the card a marvel and, Ossian suspects, would wring another out of him if he could figure out a way how.
[Assuming there is no further instruction.]
Once the card is properly secured, Hannibal leads Ossian out into a terrace on the mountainside, with some relatively thick grass that Ossian suspects is magically cultivated. There are stone pathways marked with signs and markings that appear to be words. Hannibal tells Ossian that only outsiders to the Order are buried here; the members of the Order are cremated and their ashes are scattered on the sides of the mountain.
Hannibal leads Ossian to a particular patch of grass, and the pattern resolves as Hannibal shows him where the grave is. "This is where the remains of your kinsman Reid lie."
Ossian does not say anything for a long while. In the end he tears out a page of his sketch book, folds it into a small delicate flower, which he places on the grave. "We will miss you, old man." he says quietly. Then he is quiet again.
After an hour or so he turns around, and faces Adreano. "Time to go home".
Hannibal has left them to their own devices. Adreano has been writing, Ossian suspects, from the sounds of the scratch of the pen on parchment that Ossian has been hearing intermittently while he attends to the grave. When Ossian declares that it's time to leave, Adreano tears out a page and folds it to leave on Reid's grave, in tribute.
When they return to the mountain monastery, Regenlief has sent word that their supplies and steeds are ready to go, and she is waiting for them to pack their things and assemble. Given how they arrived, it's not as though there's much to pack, but they do gather their things and are ready to go.
Hannibal meets them in the courtyard to say their farewells.
[Oh. Firumbras. Ossian will certainly have him too. He's not a prisoner liek Regenlief, is he?]
[No, he didn't go into the Klybesian stronghold. He's been skulking around outside.]
Ossian will look for Firumbras. He feels Corwin might dislike if Ossian loses his knight.
Firumbras is waiting, camped some ways away from the entrance to the monastery. He greets the threesome with relief, questioning Ossian in particular but all three of them to a certain extent about how they are and what they've done, and what the monks may have done to them. Ossian can tell that while he has a certain trust in Ossian and less in Adreano and Regenlief, he's wary of what influences may have been exerted over them (magically and otherwise) while they were with the Klybesians, and what their gifts, including the supplies, may really be doing.
Ossian will tell Firumbras that he is worried too, although he did not see anyone doing anything strange to him.
He urges Ossian to return straightaway to Paris.
Although it perhaps can't properly be called a routine, Martin and Folly settle into the rhythms of parenting a newborn: the endless cycle of feedings and nappy-changes, getting to know the little one's moods and personality, marveling at her every new accomplishment (however modest), and catching sleep as they're able. Between-times, when she has the energy, Folly spends time sketching and painting. It's the one really useful thing she can do for the family right now -- and perhaps even more importantly, it gives Martin the chance to spend quality time bonding with his daughter.
One afternoon when the paints are put away and Lark is well-settled into a nap, Folly asks Martin, "Are you ready to try trumping Merle?"
Martin purses his lips; if his hair were still long enough, Folly thinks he might be pushing it out of his face, whether he needed to or not. "Not willing to put it off any longer now that you're telling me I shouldn't," He smiles tiredly--not a look Folly is used to seeing on her usually-tireless husband, but one that's become more common since he became father to an infant--and starts to pat himself down for his Trumps the way she's seen his father do a hundred times for cigarettes if she's seen it once.
Folly smiles, kisses him fondly on the cheek and taps his back pocket, where the outline of his trump case is easily visible to her, if not to him. "I think it's time to start trying, anyway," she replies. "If he really is out beyond the inflection point, it could take us a while to get through."
Almost as an afterthought, she runs her fingers through her own hair and checks to make sure the front of her shirt is not too visibly stained with anything. With the way they look, Merlin might think they'd been forced into hard servitude or something. Which, in a way, they have been.
Martin plucks his trumps out of his back pocket, in the position he fondly refers to as "butt tumor", and shuffles through them to find Merlin's card. He submits to Folly's grooming of him, and does a little of his own to Folly, though neither of them can do much about the lack of sleep.
"You know, I don't remember being this beat when I did this for Merle, but he was a decidedly independent little thing even when he was little. I'm not sure I knew him when he was as little as Lark, though. I came in early but not quite that early."
"Well," Folly muses, "for all that he came into being in the Ordered way, he is still partly of Chaos. I suspect he wasn't your typical little baby; it's possible he never properly was as little as Lark."
He has the card in hand to concentrate on it, but then he offers his hand to Folly, so she can be in the connection if she likes.
She takes it and gives it a gentle, reassuring squeeze.
Martin accepts the squeeze with a wry smile. Martin is difficult to read, but through the years, Folly has come to know him well. He's nervous. But not so nervous he won't man up and make the contact.
Merlin's face comes into view in the connection. It's all they can see for the moment. "Martin," he says, and adds after a moment, "Folly. How do you fare? Is all well?" He sounds a little worried, perhaps, or maybe that's just Folly feeling him through the connection.
"We're fine. Better than, in fact. Folly has given birth to our daughter. Her name is Lorelei, but everybody calls her Lark, not least because she can sing pretty loudly." Martin quirks up a smile.
"That she can," Folly agrees with a chuckle. More seriously, she adds, "We haven't told very many people yet -- only those who were here in Avalon when she was born. But we wanted you to be among the first to hear the news." She smiles warmly at him through the contact.
Merlin returns her smile, though through the connection, Folly suspects he's feeling mixed emotions about this whole business. "Ah, yes, I knew her time of birth must have come. Congratulations to you both." He falls silent there, as if he doesn't know what to say. Perhaps he doesn't; it's not as if Merlin has a lot of experience with the Ordered social rituals surrounding new life.
"Thanks, Merle," Martin says, and smiles back, though Folly can feel his concern, too. "How have you been?"
"I am well," Merlin says. "I have travelled with Vere, and been beyond the Tree to visit Madoc." He leaves that lying there for all that he has to know it's going to spark a lot of questions.
Folly nods. "Vere was hoping to find something to help with his father's healing, yes? How did that go?" It's a topic she is genuinely deeply interested in -- but both men may also notice she has picked a question that is not quite so personally fraught for either of them, as if to ease them into the conversation.
"I am not certain." Merlin's expression matches the sense of confusion Folly feels through the connection. "I believe he was convinced that shapeshifting was less valuable to his purpose than sorcery, but I am not convinced that he has achieved all that he desires. Still, he has had a basic grounding in the principles from myself and my teacher." Which at least is something of a relief to Merlin.
He continues with less-reassuring news. "Also we encountered Saeth. She has left Madoc and was planning to travel beyond the Tree. Like her parent, I believe she may be seeking the Pattern."
It's hard to get a sense of where Merlin is or what he's doing. He hasn't yet released the close focus on his person.
"Ah. Well." Folly's concern at that news is evident in her voice, and in the small crease that appears between her brows. "Do we know which ones she knows about?" That question is directed as much at Martin -- who has probably already thought much on it and related topics in regards to Aisling -- as at Merlin.
"Assume she knows or at least can guess about Amber, Rebma, and Tir," Martin says. "And if she's picked up the pattern there--of Patterns, that is--she'll figure out Xanadu and Paris pretty quickly too." Folly can hear the sigh there and Merlin can probably feel it, even if he can't hear it with his ears.
"I concur with Martin's analysis, although I suspect Saeth is driven as much by curiosity as by any other motive. I would not," Merlin says, "assume she comes to destroy."
"We can't assume she doesn't, though, either," Martin replies drily.
"No," Folly agrees with a wry smile, "but I would prefer to remain cautiously optimistic, with perhaps an extra dose of caution."
To Merlin she asks, "Do you know what means of travel she is using or planning to use? I know Aisling had some skill with shapeshifting, but didn't get the sense she possessed the kind of sorcery she'd need to make that journey without the benefit of Trumps or Pattern-based shadow-shifting."
Merlin shakes his head. "In the absence of the Black Road, I cannot say. And I do not know whether she could have taken advantage of the Road as she was created, much less as she is now."
"She could hit the natural paths," Martin offers, but he doesn't sound sanguine. "Maybe she's got Trumps? Do you think she could make them, Merle?"
Though the contact is tightly framed, still, Folly can see that Merlin is shaking his head in the negative. "Not to my knowledge. She might have acquired a trump from someone else. Not me; all mine are intact. But perhaps she acquired one from one of Madoc's other guests."
"Oh? Who else was a guest there?" Folly asks. For the moment she sits on her deep curiosity about where Merle is right now; perhaps the rest of his tale of what happened at Madoc will provide additional clues.
"Weyland Smith was at Madoc, and before you ask, to what purpose he was visting my old teacher, I do not know. But Vere and I both spoke with him before he departed Madoc. Nor do I know by what manner he came or departed, or maintained himself. But he is a being of power, and Real in his own right, based on those things alone, never mind the collected power that he may have obtained if the legends of him are true. You can imagine why," Merlin says, "I might think he had a Trump to give to Saeth."
Martin, ever the voice of caution, asks, "Yeah, but what would it cost her?"
"That is a very good question," Merlin replies.
"As I recall," Folly says, "her progenitor was not always as concerned with cost and consequence as she perhaps should have been." She offers a tight, sad smile, shakes her head minutely, and continues, "If he did have a trump to offer, and we assume it was of his own hand, that at least limits where she might go next to places or people Weyland knew well enough to draw. The holders of Weyland's swords I would expect to have enough power and sense to know how to deal with a call from an unexpected source." She does not add '...unless Saeth has picked up some feminine wiles somewhere and tries to use them on Corwin,' if only because that particular tactic didn't seem to have been in Aisling's wheelhouse. Well, and she doesn't want to offend Merlin by taking a jab at his father, however good-naturedly, either.
"Deirdre's children, on the other hand...." She frowns thoughtfully. "It might be worth warning them if we think Weyland could have pointed Saeth toward one of them. And Celina and Caine, in case she's wound up with a trump of Amber or Rebma or thereabouts." She peers through the trump contact at Merlin. "Merle, where are you now?"
From the impatient feel of Martin's mind in the contact, Folly can tell that he's got some ideas he's considering, but he defers to her question and leaves an expectant space for Merlin to answer.
"I am on my way to the shadow known as Abford, where Huon once reigned, to make a Trump of that place, at Random's request. I understand there are some people he would like to see returned here, and he wishes it to be done by a Trump. Otherwise our cousin Hannah might have to travel here in person, and Random prefers that she not, for some reason." Merlin seems uncertain of the whys and wherefores, but not of the task.
"That's where Meg's from," Martin reminds Folly. "And Ossian."
Folly nods. "I guess Ossian is indisposed, then? He may already have a working sketch of Abford, or could probably put one together from memory." She pauses and glances at Martin, to give him a chance to give voice to those concerns she can feel itching away in his mind.
"I had not thought of that," Merlin admits, shamefaced, like a puppy caught making a mess. "But in any case I should not like to deprive Ossian of his sketch. I will go and make a full trump, and when it is done, I can give it to him as a gift if he wishes it. I can imagine that he would like a Trump of the place where he matured."
Martin's still on the question of the need this trump. "This is for Hannah because ... is she in charge of removing all the shadow-dwellers in Huon's army?" He frowns. "Somebody needs to go out there and remake their myth cycle so Huon can't pull the same trick again in a generation or three."
"Perhaps," Merlin replies, but he doesn't sound certain.
"Maybe THAT would be a good assignment for Ossian," Folly suggests. "Re-writing myths would suit both his artistic temperament and his sense of mischief -- and he would know enough about the old myths of that place to weave something consonant.
"As to why Hannah is going...." Folly gives a little shrug. "I know some of her people joined up with Huon's army, but I'd gotten the sense they were planning to settle near Xanadu. Perhaps not all of them are staying." She doesn't sound so certain about that, though.
"I'll ask Dad if I really need to know." Martin dismisses that concern for the moment. "Anyhow, be careful. That place has had enough people go through it that it's got some heft to it now. It may draw people in on its own, and that's always worth keeping an eye on."
Merlin nods, and his agreement comes through the connection. "And where are you? Perhaps when I finish, I should come to see my newest cousin."
There's hesitation from Martin through the connection, and Folly senses that Martin would rather let her field that question. Or maybe just not answer it.
"You should come visit, but perhaps not here. We don't expect to be in our uncle's realm much longer." Folly hopes that Merlin catches the inclusive 'our', the hint that they are neither in his father's city or Random's. She's not certain what instinct keeps her from saying Benedict's name aloud; some transferred paranoia of being overheard by those who shouldn't know where they are, perhaps. At the very least, she remembers Merlin's experience of his Patternwalk and would spare him those unpleasant memories as much as she can, while giving him the clues to work out where they are. "Our plan after this is to spend a little time farther away from Family influences -- that generation's, anyway -- while we get used to being our own family."
"Yeah, if you want to come meet Lark, you should drop us a Trump, or we can Trump you again once we get settled in where we're going." Martin doesn't seem inclined to say where he means for them to go either.
"I believe I would like that," Merlin says, finally unbending a little. He doesn't seem to be prodding at Martin's mental defenses as best as Folly can tell, but maybe he's getting something from Martin she's not, or maybe he reads something from him that she doesn't through long experience. "Do you know when you will be arriving at the new location?"
Brita blinks for a second or two after the Trump call has ended, still maintaining contact with Conner. Finally, she says, "It would have been Interesting to See What our Cousin Silhouette would Do to Help or Hinder our Task, but Probably not Wise." She sighs. "What shall we Try Now?"
Conner pours himself a glass of wine and drains it before answering. "For all that I firmly believe everything I said to Ambrose, the direct approach is appealing to me right now. Unless they are truly insulated or incompetent in there, they know we're here and they must know we're coming. Let's knock on the door and see what happens. If they don't let us in, I have no doubt that the barrier will prove a minor one to remove."
Brita nods in agreement, "Then Let Us be Direct." She makes quick work of cleaning off her almost abandoned plate and does her best to straighten her appearance. She makes sure her knife is displayed outside her jacket. "We can Play This as Before - I will be Your Guard. You Play at Royal Better than I."
As they near the Embassy, Brita scans the scene. The harbormaster had said the Paresh had the Embassy under siege. She wonders how that fits with the meek, passive image that Elder Farhan projected. The question is whether they will let Conner and herself approach the Embassy guard or whether they will attempt to stop them.
"I am hurt sister." Conner smiles. "I am quite serious about being a Royal." He chuckles. Conner allows Brita to proceed him by a half step as befits a bodyguard as they walk to the Embassy. Rather than any badge of office, Conner holds his telescoping pointer in his hand with a sorcerous working half on his lips should any within the embassy decide they are target practice.
There are dozens of people in the plaza outside the embassy, watching it. Only one looks to be there on official city business. The rest may be Paresh. They aren't actually blocking the entrance, but it would be impossible to get to the embassy without going through them.
Brita will continue to lead the way through the crowds. She is alert, but appears to ignore the majority of the crowd. What does the one who looks official look like?
The official looks like the portmaster: he stands away from the proto-mob and seems to be looking in every direction at once. In a word, he seems harried. The Paresh look different; they are more focused on the embassy and don't seem to be ready to do more than loiter.
As Brita presses towards the gates to the embassy, a Pareshi steps up. "Excuse me, gentlefolk, are you going into the embassy? We have a message we would have delivered." He smiles.
Brita stops and stands at parade rest. Turning slightly towards Conner to allow him to answer first. She does not smile.
Conner pauses a half step behind Brita and smiles broadly at the Pereshi. "I am in the profession of delivering messages, sir, but not from unknown parties. So please, introduce yourself, and then I shall be happy to pass along your message."
The man cannot help but smile back. Few can. "You are the diplomats from Amber? I too am from that city. My name is Elder Martial, and I have not been to Amber in many years. If you would tell the Lord Huon of the Horn that he owes a service to Justice, and he may do his duty by stepping out from the Bellumite Embassy, I would consider it a personal favor."
"I do not think appeals to Justice will sway, Huon," Conner replies. "but I will relay your message if you tell me one thing. What manner of justice do you expect should Huon step outside the Embassy?"
Brita is listening but continues to scan the crowd as well.
He replies softly, as if repeating a lesson. "How one pays one's service to Justice is for the Gods to determine, my friend. It is not optional, and it is much better to do so in the life during which you incurred the debt."
The man leans in. "He hasn't much time."
Brita turns at this to focus on the conversation. "Has Something been Seen as to His Fate, Elder?" she asks. "The Elder that Gave Me a Meal at the Temple indicated that Some could See the Future."
The man smiles, albeit somewhat hesitantly. "I do not have the sight, but I have heard that it is so."
"I have attempted to divine the future a time or two myself and have found the endeavor to be ambiguous at best and useless at worst." Conner comments lightly. "Be that as it may, I will pass along your message, Elder, and we shall both see what comes of it. Good day." Conner nods to the Paresh and motions to Brita to continue their march towards the Embassy to demand entrance.
Brita nods as well, turns smartly, and leads the way to the entrance, monitoring the crowd as they go.
No one stops them as they approach the gate to the Embassy. There are two guards, who do not look to be ceremonial. The fence is of a different style than is true of neighboring houses and the gate is not centered on the house.
The guards watch the crowd as well as the approaching Amberites; only their eyes move. They look ready for combat. They would look ready for combat almost anywhere, and may indeed have been chosen for this trait.
A third man, also a fighter, greets them as they reach the gates. "Welcome to the Bellum Embassy to Asir, strangers. What is your business with the Great And Bountiful League of All the Bellums?" His smile is plastered on, but his tone is not hostile.
"My business is with my Uncle, Huon of the Horn, who I am told is currently within the walls of your Embassy." Conner replies. "Unless your Ambassador chooses to involve Bellum in this private family matter, I have no business with the Great and Bountiful League of All the Bellums." Years of diplomatic training manages to keep both sarcasm and amusement out of Conner's voice as he repeats the title of the currently ascendent faction of that fractured nation. His rather icy smile is intended to convey that Bellum would like to remain uninvolved.
Brita stands stoically by although she does turn her head to monitor the crowd and hide her reaction to the title.
The iron grating sweeps open. "Welcome to Bellum, my Lord. Your Uncle the Prince awaits you within. I will show you the way."
The courtyard here is also out of place in the neighborhood, more reminiscent of a dunjon keep than an embassy. The entranceway is narrow, as are the windows. Within the building, there are few long sightlines through the building.
The man leads them to a second floor parlor. In it, standing in front of a bookshelf, is Huon. He looks every inch the Prince of Amber that he was born to be. "You are my sister's children? I am pleased to meet you."
"Uncle," Brita nods at Huon. She holds her tongue on her other questions until Conner - the more diplomatic of the two of them - speaks.
Huon nods back at her.
"Highness." Conner inclines his head the shortest distance allowed by protocol. "These are certainly more pleasant circumstances than our last meeting. I am Conner, son of Fiona, and this is my sister, Brita." Conner indicates Brita with a sweep of his arm. "I apologize if we have kept you waiting, but there is a rather agitated crowd outside." Conner smiles thinly.
Huon smiles in return, equally thinly. "Please, call me 'Huon'. We're not in court and it's nice to meet you under less stressful circumstances. I'm surprised that you were bothered by them. The Asirians are most talented at disagreeing over nonexistent theological minutia.
"I am ready to depart, or if you are tired after your ... journey, we may impose on the Bellumites for tea. I would not recommend it. Their tea often tastes faintly of gunpowder."
"Departing without Addressing the Concerns of the Locals seems a bit Abrupt," Brita notes. Deciding she can be the not diplomatic one, she turns to her uncle and asks directly, "Did you Kill Anyone While you were Here, Uncle?"
Conner cannot prevent a flicker of his usual grin as Brita asks her question. Conner decides to see where this goes and awaits Huon's response.
He looks shocked. "Didn't they tell you? The Assirians are usually much more forthcoming than that." He pauses just for a moment. "I killed some cultists. Were they important to you?"
"There are certain metaphysical questions about them that his Majesty wants answered," Conner informs Huon. "and questioning the dead is a rare talent currently frowned upon in family circles." Conner shares another thin smile. "I think my sister was more curious what they could have done to have drawn your ire. They seem a quite passive and benign group from all accounts."
Brita nods in agreement, "Somewhat Too Passive from My Observation."
Huon pauses for a moment. He doesn't look at all discomfited by inconveniencing the King. "They were mine to kill, for insulting a Prince of Amber."
Conner nods at the expected response.
Brita does not growl at her uncle in frustration, but her tone carries the frigid winds of Jutenheim, "Uncle, What Insult could those So Beneath You offer that would Warrant the Effort to Kill Them and the Potential of Garnering a Real King's Disapproval?"
"The Paresh are known for saying things that people do not wish to hear." Conner points out. "I do not question your right to avenge an insult, Huon, but I am too am curious as to what occurred if for no other reason than to reassure my Queen that this was a rare aberration of a situation."
Huon shrugs. "The King my brother may ask my motives. I am his loyal subject and vassal. Had he but let me know of his interest, I might have delivered them unto him. The Queen of Rebma will soon be in a position to gather her own assurances."
Typical Uncle Speak. Brita looks to her brother to deal with this.
"Very well. Time is the one thing our Family has in abundance after all." Conner smiles. "Though there is one order of business I must discharge before I leave. Elder Martial of the Paresh had a message for you. He said that you owe a service to Justice, and you may do your duty by stepping out from the Bellumite Embassy." Conner pauses to await his Uncle's reaction.
Huon nods. "Thank you for the message. As I am in your custody to be returned to Rebma, I will defer to your judgment on the next course of action."
Brita turns to her brother. She is willing to run the gamut of Paresh if required, although she feels it will go poorly for the Paresh. "Thoughts, Brother? Could we Make it Appear His Atonement is Executed for Them?"
Huon looks around the room, which is tastefully decorated in equipment for and depictions of war. "In my generation, we were a more direct family. The Bellumites are prepared to fight there way to the docks, if necessary. I suspect they are always prepared to do so."
He brushes at a non-existent speck on his sleeve. "I have informed them not to come to my rescue no matter what happens. I can rescind that directive if you are ... nervous."
Brita bristles. "It is Not Nerves, Uncle. It is an Attempt to Find a Way to Prevent these Paresh from Hassling King Random or Queen Celina in the Future. Assuaging their Thirst for Justice in Some Manner would Ease Future Interactions."
"But that is our concern, sister." Conner smiles. "Our uncle merely wishes to be on his way. The Paresh have left this in the hands of the Asir and the Asir have come to terms with me. So I suggest we three simply leave by the front door, make our way to the docks, and see what fate has in store."
Brita calms at her brothers words and prepares to lead the group outside.
Huon nods. He seems ready to leave with no further formalities.
Conner leads the way out of the embassy with the intention that Huon will follow and Brita bringing up the rear. They might be walking into a riot but Conner seems married to the direct approach today.
Brita follows her uncle and politely does not glare daggers at his back for being such an Uncle. She is watching as Conner and Huon exit to see how the crowd outside reacts and is prepared to react appropriately.
Huon offers his arm to Brita, but will allow her to follow if she does not wish to take it.
Brita declines the arm with "Playing Guard Today, Uncle - not Lady."
Things procede without incident until they reach the gates of the embassy. Within, Brita and Conner observe what appears to be packing activities. Bellum's embassy is well-designed to move quickly, and people seem to be scurrying to make it happen.
The gates are opened for Conner as he approaches and the plaza before him, once busy with passers-by and interested Paresh, is empty. All of the streets and alleyways leading away seem to be packed, but no one seems to want to be in the plaza as Huon leaves.
As Conner steps into the empty, yellow-tiled plaza, a man, quite probably of the Asirian customs department, approaches him. "I've had word, your honor, from the harbormaster. We're to follow your lead. What, if I may ask, is your intent?"
There are hundreds of eyes on the four of them, although no one should be within earshot.
Huon seems to be enjoying himself. He may break out a wave to the crowd.
Brita waits with an eye on Huon and one on the temperament of the crowd. If Huon starts trying to play to the crowd too much, she will intervene with a softly hissed "Uncle Pinnabello's Kin should be More Circumspect at the Moment."
Huon laughs. "A Prince of Amber who fears to face his doom is no true Prince, Niece. No one would compose songs about your glorious death for the good of Amber if you slunk to the gallows.
"Besides, we both know that you or I or even your brother could make quick work of this rabble. They don't have the heart to do anything about me. If they all rushed us, do you know which one you would kill first? Benedict would know, as would Corwin or Bleys. You must learn to think as one of us, my dear.
"Would you like me to see if I can manipulate probability to get them to attack? Just as a test of your abilities? Could you get us safely to the ship then?"
Brita just raises an eyebrow at this. "Perhaps Another Day, Uncle. We've spent Enough Time in this Shadow."
Huon nods. "Perhaps another time, then."
"My intent is to walk to my ship and leave." Conner replies simply. "How difficult do you expect that will be?"
The guard, nods, and Conner thinks he's afraid. "Would you mind if it looked as if my men were escorting you? The jail is near your boat, so it should be easy, unless the mob turns ugly."
The mob doesn't seem ugly, but there are clearly some men associated with the customs service waiting near them. They seem to be waiting for orders.
Brita is willing and relays that to Conner with a slight shrug. She is monitoring to discern if there is any pattern manipulation from her Uncle.
Asir is an odd place, and things are not quite right. It's hard to explain, but there is definitely something unusual here.
In addition, Uncle Huon or someone has been engaged in some sort of pattern manipulation, and may have been doing so for a long time.
"If you wish to put your men in harm's way, feel free," Conner replies easily. "But they will have to keep up for I do not wish to linger here a moment longer." So saying, Conner walks off briskly in the direction of their ship. He eyes the crowd for any signs of courage or stupidity on the part of the populace. One hand slips into a pocket to find a sorcerous prop he has readied there, a crude battery with a coil of wire attached to one pole. He hopes not to use it but Conner did have the benefit of his mother's training and has already selected his target should it come to that. The fact that Huon would approve disturbs him deeply but this is not the time to dwell on it. He has a ship to catch.
The Customshouse man seems startled, and falls in, trying to get ahead of Conner, but failing. His assistants clear a path though the crowd ahead for Conner. Huon is right behind. Brita sees him nod to selected individuals as he passes.
The Paresh who approached before allows himself to be pulled out of Conner's way by a deputy.
The man, hurrying behind Conner, speaks up. He seems a bit winded. "Would Your Honors at least stop in the harbormaster's office before departing? It's normal to do so."
Conner slows his pace to allow the man to draw even with him. "There is little that has been normal about today." Conner observes. "Why should I stop in the harbormaster's office aside from adherence to tradition?" Conner watches the man carefully while he answers. Conner is still waiting for the other shoe to drop and watches for any sign of falsehood.
Brita is still surveying the crowd and keeping an eye on Huon.
Huon is grinning at the crowd. He tosses a flower, which he must have conjured, to a pretty young woman. It lands perfectly in her hands. She stands there, staring at it.
The idea that someone wouldn't check out with harbormaster seems alien to the functionary "I... because that is where you get clearance to leave, your Honor! It's my duty to escort you there."
The crowd closes behind Brita, at a more-than-respectful distance, and starts to follow.
As they get away from the Paresh at the embassy, it becomes more of a product of itself. People see the crowd, they join the crowd, and they attract more crowd. Some in the crowd seem actually excited to see the procession, although they may not know why.
Perhaps they are expecting a hanging on the docks. Or a speech.
Had Conner known the wishes of the crowd he might be pleased to do either with the bureaucratic mite stinging his heels. His gut tells him this is a mistake but he has been a diplomat too long to ignore the forms and functions. "Lead on then, but be quick about it. I expect to see efficiency such that future generations will hold this day up as a model."
Brita follows along, on alert for any change in the crowd vibe.
The crowd is less angry and more interested in the spectacle. Some of the Paresh have followed this far, but not all by any means.
The customs man leads Conner directly back to the same office he departed when he went to get Huon. The door opens and the bureaucrat ushers them in. "The man you wanted, Uncle!", he announces.
"Laval, you idiot! You weren't supposed to bring them here! Take them back to their ship at once.!"
The younger customs man's face falls.
He turns to you, his smile tight and forced. "You are clear of customs and authorized to leave, as long as you cast off within the hour."
He picks up a blank piece of paper from his desk and stamps it with his seal. He holds it out to Conner, and it seems he is intentionally not looking at Huon.
Huon just chuckles. "I think I'll miss this place, when I'm gone."
Brita notes - loud enough for the young customs man to hear - "At Least Someone Sees to the Proper Formalities." She waits for the exchange of paper and to be lead to the ship.
The portmaster does look up at Huon at his comment. "If you return, your honor, I will be required to fulfill my duty and arrest you. I pray you choose to do so on my successor's watch."
Huon chuckles. "Fear not, for the sun shall not set on another day when you are still alive and trying actively to arrest me."
Brita does not like Huon's comment. Heck, she doesn't like any of her Uncle's comments - Uncle Loki is obviously a 1st generation shadow of this Uncle. She looks to Conner to get them out of here before their Uncle starts a natural disaster that destroys the entire island.
Conner's plan is to sail until the crew of the vessel can get somewhere safe and then see if the Trump sketch Brita made of that spot by the stairs works for the quick way home.
The first part of Conner's plan works successfully and the ship sails out of the harbor of Asir's main port and into the bright, late spring sunlight. The looking back at the city is almost impossible due to the great glare off the snowy mountains that overshadow the narrow, fjord-like valley that cradles the city.
"Wondering when that cold spell would snap", says one sailor, as the ship turns for deeper waters. Soon Conner has the ship back along Jerod's remade golden-circle route and the ship can return to Amber safely. He takes out the trump sketch and, stares at it. The power is there, and he can take them all through at his leisure.
Conner passes Brita and Huon through the Trump and follow along behind them.
Brita checks quickly to make sure all the appropriate items are in appropriate water tight packaging before stepping through in front of Uncle Huon. She stands ready on the other side - greeting the awaiting guard with a quick, "Lord Conner, Prince Huon, and Lady Brita Returning to Realm Rebma at the Queen's Behest."
The guard, a young officer, nods. 'You have been expected. You and the Duke are welcome back, your Ladyship. My men and I will act as your escort to the palace, for the prisoner's safety. May I send a runner ahead?"
[Regardless of the answer...] He turns to Huon.
"I regret, your highness, that I must ask for your weapon. No one not sworn to her service may be armed in the presence of her majesty."
Huon smiles. "How delightfully traditional. I daresay His Grace the Duke, who has custody of me, can take it, or the Lady Brita. Will that be satisfactory?"
The guard, bows in response and looks to Conner and Brita for their response.
Brita gives her uncle a slight bow and says "I Will Hold it for You, Uncle." As she hold out her hand.
Huon nods and hands the scabbarded blade to her. "Thank you, Brita. I may not be needing it again for some time."
The guard nods and the men lead out, in a loose but deliberate circle some distance from the Royals. A runner has departed for the castle and it's clear that some troops has gone ahead to clear the streets.
"Our second parade of the day," says Huon. "I feel honored."
Brita follows along, ignoring Huon's comment.
"I suppose that depends on what you take pride in Uncle." Conner remarks. He take a moment to see which troops and Tritons have been assigned to this detail making mental notes of how this differs from the instructions he gave before he left.
Huon nods, letting Conner have the last word.
[OOC: It's the honor guard you asked for. There may be tritons nearby, for values of nearby that include, "above, swimming in the darkness." Honor guards still don't, by default, include Tritons, even in the new, Integrated Rebma. They're nearby.]
The entire group moves up the road towards the castle. There are, by the time they arrive, many people following behind them.
Early awake. Early to rise. TaKhi to iron out the internal pain of love dying.
Celina enters the corridors of the Palace and then into the Galleries, by a back route that does not connect directly to her chambers. She wanders in the plain robes of an Archivist, with long very black hair and memory rings on her fingers.
It becomes a slow stroll as the Queen drinks from the traffic of early morning. She learns more than she expected from Silhouette's suggestion. She learns that TaKhi expands her mind. She doesn't just read the ordinary motions of her people. She reads what they see of her motion. Of course, she is walking in mimic of one of her Archivists, that is only right. But to see the bodies and eyes of the people around her anew. To see them not see her. To see them relaxed and confident in their duty, without the poise of the nearby Queen.
That is poetry. That is a gift. She feels the wonder a mother watching her children at play unobserved.
She finds the right path again. The Gallery to Ambrose's suite has guards and she passes them after they ask her purpose and receive the name the Queen chose from the ones offered by the Archivists. Remembering Orseas' mandate, she taps the bag of meat and salt flavors under her robes at the hip. The favorite triton would not let her travel anonymously alone unless she left a scent trail he could mark.
Celina scratches at the door loudly and waits for the Lord Ambrose.
Ambrose opens the door momentarily. He has adopted the sort of half-Rebman, half-Amber fashion of so many of his contemporaries: clothing that conforms to the body without revealing, as many of the close-fitting Rebman garments do. His messy red curls float in the water around him, haloing his head.
"Your majesty," he says, "You do me honour. Will you come in?" He stands aside to allow her entrance into the suite she has commanded for him.
Celina enters after a slight bow. She moves inside and looks about for where to perch. "So my disguise is not really that good?"
"Your disguise would undoubtedly serve against many others, but it is my nature to know the magic of others. I am the Feathered Serpent; this is what I am." Ambrose smiles. Once Celina has come in, he closes the door behind her.
"And how may the Feathered Serpent serve Rebma, Your Majesty? I have salt tea and other things, but your suite certainly has as good, if not better. You come in disguise--which perhaps I should not have broken, and I apologize if I should have known better, but perhaps I shouldn't be sorry I've proved my worth--which probably means you want something of me. I can only ask what it is." He moves to sit, and offers a seat to Celina as well. Most men wouldn't do that, but Ambrose is not Rebman, and he's also a Feathered Serpent.
"I do want something of you." Celina nods and sits. She reframes what she was planning to ask into a very different package. "I want you to be strongly appreciated in this Family of ours. I want you to be able to demonstrate a series of accomplishments that will get you credentials here in Rebma but more importantly, in Xanadu and elsewhere. That's a very large agenda, but you may find it far out of range of anything you want or need. Of course, it also will help me."
"Of course it will." Ambrose flashes Celina a smile, one with a lot of teeth, but isn't particularly sharky. "You wouldn't have to ask me if if weren't something you wanted." Of the benefits she offers him, Ambrose says nothing just yet, or perhaps he considers the offer par for the course. It's hard to tell with him, sometimes.
"What is it that you want me to do? It sounds as though it's a task of great scope, with a benefit for the entire family, and one that you can't ask our Aunt or any of our cousins to take on. Including," he says shrewdly, "Silhouette."
Celina examines his face, taking in his easy manner and his confidence. She nods once. "Silhouette? She has offered service with me." Celina sighs. "I suppose we are all of us 'special cases' since anything done to us when we are children is a great spitting disaster of some kind." Celina leans forward and takes on an even more intimate aspect speaking slowly and softly. "Look. I was an orphan. Told my existence, my books, my education, my place in society was founded on the kindness of strangers and honor. When I found out the truth I was thrown completely off balance. I was angry with Everyone." She nods. "Silhouette didn't even have that much luck. Lost. Sold. Raped. Left to her own survival. She became a wary beast with sharp teeth. I want to do something for her. I may not be able to have children of my own. Do you understand? I know there are risks. I'm trying to save a City and providing safe haven for Family is at least as important as that."
"I understand part of it. My brother was raised to be a sacrifice, and I almost followed in his shoes. I loved my father in his own way, but I am under no illusion that he was anything but a madman." Ambrose's smile is razor sharp. "I am the Feathered Serpent, but he was Smoking Mirror." He says that as if it should mean something to Celina, perhaps.
"The second part is what I don't quite understand. Help Sihouette," Ambrose agrees, "but how?" His eyebrows climb up in an invitation to explain. "I can guess a way to do it, but it carries great risks if handled badly."
Celina shakes her head, seeing as how the discussion of Silhouette is putting them both in a different frame of mind than the one she started from. Her will grapples with the idea of Brand sacrificing sons, even trying it again when the First slipped his hand. There are orders of wrongness to the family that are ranged out before her in dark emerald light. They are not a pleasant vision but her dreams are worse. She sighs.
"Let's talk about Silhouette separately. I should not have let you put her first in my thoughts, as I expect that task to be mine alone." And she pauses only a beat to read his face.
Celina goes on, "So here we are in Rebma, center of Order and Mystery. Rebma lives and the Pattern is strong here. Moire has no linkage to the Pattern of Rebma, in case that was a question for you. It may be that she sent daughters before me to walk it. They did so in secret and they did not survive." Celina has weathered that nightmare several times over. She has tossed and wept in sleep, seeing the faces of dying girls who did not understand. Celina is glad there are no mirrors in the Pattern chamber, because she would be tempted to look back through years to determine if her horrid dreams of older sisters burned away by Pattern were valid. She cannot help those girls now. They may be guilt and not real. She has watched them die; she has cried for them. Time to move on.
"Moins is long gone, and I have not solved the mystery of that yet either. My Aunt says it matters not at this point. But whatever her fate, Moins did not get a message to Llewella regards her succession. There is no writ for how to 'pick up' the reigns of Pattern. Khela died. I didn't. I am doing everything I can to ... graft myself to Rebma's center and be that Attuned Mirror to its Order." Celina considers her words, chews her lip. She shrugs and smiles. "The example we have of Amber's Order dying when Oberon died does not fit in Rebma. Rebma has not had a Guardian Blade or an Attuned Mirror for ages. The Blade is now back. The Queen is a Novice, but what I need is every means to become more Attuned. So," she looks at Ambrose, "I look for every wise hand to nudge me the right way. That's what I'd like your help with. Please."
"I will help you if you wish it," Ambrose says, "for all that I don't know how much good I'll do. My manhood forbids immediate respect for me as either sorcerer or historian, but I believe I can earn my way around that." He smiles at Celina.
"My experience with sorcery is extensive, but my experience with the Pattern is not, no more than yours. But that fresh ignorance may work to your advantage here. Not being blinded by the assumptions of our fathers and mothers--mine strove to keep me innocent of certain matters as well--I may see what is new and different that our aunts and uncles cannot see.
"Moins was Queen before Moire, just as Smoking Mirror was the god of Uxmal before the Feathered Serpent. What do we know of that transmission of power, cousin? What Moins did may be irrelevant, but how Moire assumed the regnal mantle from her is not."
"Exactly, .....and thank you," Celina nods once. "Magic works here, in some limited and grand ways. That may give us a route to analysis that the Elders in the family have not had." She shrugs. "I know that Moire assumed the throne with three of power, that the Tritons also respected. The scepter, which I have, the Sapphire of Rebma, which I do not have. We have added back into the set the Blade that was lost."
"What made her Queen, then?" Ambrose leans forward slightly in his chair. "Was she Queen by right of conquest, of power, or by some decree of the Tritons? Or by questing for the tokens of power and then mastering them, which the Tritons later recognized? And do you think the official histories will be correct? My father frequently had the history of Uxmal edited to his taste, particularly where matters he disliked were concerned." Ambrose's smile is wry and not pleasant, as if there were some particular matter Ambrose is thinking of.
"She was daughter of Moins and she wanted the Throne with all her heart," Celina responds. "That is my opinion based on what I know today. She was determined. She had the means. She had the Jewel, the Throne, and the Scepter. The Tritons accepted the Scepter as a token of the Original Oath. I think the histories will be missing things. Our archivists are faithful but they can be told what to forget. Also none of them lived as long as the history itself."
"Moire is clever and experienced and not done with the Throne, even now. She certainly took the Jewel with her, if for no other reason than to have some possible pardon should she run afoul of Khela later."
"As to the transition, yes, I feel that is most pertinent to me, because I am in this similar situation myself. Moire may have asked questions of Moins, but Llewella remembers her mother as not sharing particulars about the Throne of Rebma, or the Order of the Realm. So I assume that Moire did a lot of spying on Moins and improvised the rest. She certainly knew she was missing parts of the Power."
"Do you know whether Moire had mastered the Pattern?" Ambrose asks. "Because Rebma is very different to what I was told of Amber and what I experienced in Xanadu, in terms of my ability to use the lesser magics. This suggests some difference in natural philosophy where the Pattern is concerned, and I wonder what Moire's role in it was."
Celina is quiet a long time. Her expression may lead Ambrose to believe she's thinking about something more personal than philosophy. She shakes her head. "I do not think Moire mastered the Pattern. No."
She tilts her head. "I could ask Llewella, but I think magic has always worked here. In that sense, very differently than Amber. But then I think some of the things I expect to see in Xanadu are ....magical. As to Moire's role?" Celina looks sad. "She was magic. She was grand and mysterious and, bless me, she still is. Perhaps she touched the heart of the magic here and that was enough to hold it all together. Mmmmmmmm." Her eyes focus at intangible things. She shakes it off. "The fact that there may be a magical heart to Rebma that is NOT Pattern is an idea I might have explored but never occurred to me. See? I need that sort of assistance."
"It's been clear to me since I arrived that this place was very different to what I knew of Amber. Amber seems to have a blade--perhaps a blade, because which is which, I cannot tell--and a Jewel, but my father never spoke much of the other regalia. And yet here, the regalia are more significant. And the matter of magic. I was always told that Rebma was a reflection of Amber, but--" Ambrose shakes his head "--that clearly isn't so.
"And the mirrors, which are an art my father knew nothing of. Tell me what you know of them, and their connection to Moire. Are they her Art, or Moins'?"
Celina will summarize mirrors, not as detailed as what she and Brennan went through, as this is all a beginning, not a process yet. She concludes, "What I know of Mirrors is that they are old as Rebma, so rightly they are of Moins. Moire has shown herself to be extremely well-versed in Mirrors and taught me what I know. I have no reason yet to believe she taught me wrongly.
"Being from the Seaward," Celina smiles, "I never heard the 'Rebma reflects Amber' advisement. Having seen Amber, I would not have believed it. But then, it was broken when I saw it." She chews her lip. "I offer to teach you of Mirrors and ease your access to Rebma's history. I offer you a place here."
Ambrose nods slowly. "It's a generous offer. I cannot commit to a life tenure here--not given the length of our lives--" and here he flashes a smile at Celina that invites her to share the jest of their immortality but is alloyed by the knowledge of their losses "--but I am willing to work from a base in Rebma for the foreseeable future and serve your interests. If you require an oath--"
But before he can finish that sentence there is a scratch at the door, and Ambrose looks briefly to Celina before rising to answer. There is a brief exchange in the hall which Celina cannot see, in part because Ambrose is blocking her view of the newcomer and vice-versa, and then he closes the door.
"Brita has returned. With Conner. And Huon," he tells Celina.
Celina's response is immediate, her face showing great relief and pleasure. She stands. "I shall leave now discreetly. You may want to be there for this business with Huon. It is a Family matter as well as the business of Rebma. I'm sure the Queen would not be the only one to appreciate your observations." She puts the hood up and arranges herself before approaching the door to leave. "There is no oath required between us for the things we just discussed."
She waits for Ambrose's spy/messenger to depart before she exits.
Ambrose bows. "I'll dress for court, Your Majesty." He bows, waits a moment, and ushers her out, making sure no one is in the hall to see her as she goes.
Signy collects Tomat and Red Fox Claws, and after making sure that gear and tr aveling supplies are set brings the small group to the path to Rebma. On her back is also a larger sack, well stuffed to prevent damage.
She spends most of this time silent, alternating between picking at the threads and bits of her last conversation with her brother and resolutely deciding to just ignore it.
At the start of the path, she glances back to make sure that Tomat is behind her, and Red Fox Claws is still bringing up the rear, before turning and striding forward.
[Pausing for NPC reactions, plus not sure how far I'll get before getting challenged]
[The path to Rebma from Xanadu runs through Paris. Is she taking a Trump there first? This is fine, just clarifying. Assuming she's leaving from Paris, either after having ridden to Paris or, more likely, taken a Trump. Corwin will let her go without complaint.]
The path to Rebma from Paris leads through a sewer grate that opens off into the Seine outside the city. It is guarded, and the guards offer Signy some assistance, but none to her men. They advise that it is two days' walk from Paris to Rebma. Most of those who travel between the two cities camp in a mysterious cavern with a throne that seems to be the halfway mark.
Tomat and Red Fox Claws listen to the advice of the guards, and Red Fox Claws queries about likely dangers. Apparently there are none, if you can handle the water as it rises--difficult for air-breathers for the first time--and don't have strange dreams at the halfway mark. Also the guards help them with securing their goods to ensure they're waterproofed properly.
The three travel for a day or so on the stairway, such as it is. The descent into the water begins immediately. Red Fox Claws has a difficult time of it, but Tomat accepts that the water will be breathable with ease. He coaxes his old comrade to join him. The stairs are uneven, stalagmites and stalactites surround the walkway. There's no way this could be used as a direct commercial path for anything but the smallest of goods, Tomat notes.
At the end of what Signy suspects is a day of travel, the path opens out into a cave with a broad and relatively flat floor. There's a stone formation that resembles a throne, if one is very broad in construing resemblances. No guards from either Paris or Rebma are stationed here; the guards told Signy that the Rebmans only guard the far end of the stairway.
Signy catches Tomat's eye, and nods towards the misshapen lump of rock.
"What do you make of that? I presume that's what they were warning us about."
She brings up her Third Eye, looking curiously at it.
"It's been about a day, and a rest might not be a bad idea."
Tomat looks around the room, takes in the odd lighting from the path trail behind, and most especially the giant stone formation that looks as if someone sat on a giant chair and melted slowly into place. "Indeed, descending through a cave when we are tired could lead to accidents. I would recommend we rest and study the room."
Red Fox Claws grunts. "We should keep going for a while. I got no hankering to sleep with unknown magics. Not sure I'd sleep safely."
When Signy looks with her third eye, the room is lit up as if a class one fresnel was pointed at it.
The statue is also well lit, but it looks different, somehow, as if it's made of a different kind of magic.
Signy nods absently at Red Fox Claws' words, the statue absorbing most of her attention.
"The worst that the guards told us about was we may have strange dreams," she murmurs, emphasising the 'may'.
She nods her head towards the statue. "Tomat, what do you make of that?"
She focuses her Third Eye, scrutinising the formation further.
"Strange magic dreams are an invitation for a tower lord to screw with your head," replies Red Fox Claws.
Tomat clears his throat. "I have never met a culture that descended into caves and did not find things that looked like thrones with demons seated on them. From some angles, it looks remarkably realistic. From others it appears as a pile of rocks. It may be an object of some power, but it may be the accretions of stone following natural channels."
Signy continues to study the formation in silence, weighing the merits of more...active probing.
"What do you think about staying next to it for any time, though?" she pushes him a little further.
Tomat frowns. "I think that there is some minor risk in staying, but we are tired, and therefore there is some minor risk in proceeding."
"What of this kingdom at the far end of the trail? Will they be hostile? Will we need to fight? Will we need to resupply?" Red Fox Claws, as always, is concentrating on the practicalities. "Where else will there be to sleep. We'll need to. Just not here."
"This place has a great power in it," Tomat adds after a moment, and Signy suspects he, too, is looking with his Third Eye. "It could be perilous, or it could be profitable."
Signy pulls her attention away from the formation. "We're headed somewhere that should be welcoming," she answers Red Fox Claws. "I don't know much about the rest of the trek, but I think that this may be the only place we can stop along the way."
She thinks for a bit, before giving in to her desires.
"We rest here for a bit, and keep watch in turns."
"I shall take the mid-watch," says Tomat, "It seems most likely to have a sorcerous attack during it."
Red Fox Claws looks as if he will argue, but he doesn't. "Fine with that. I'll take the first. I ain't tired."
Signy nods. "Wake us if something happens," she comments to Tomat. It's not an order. Quite.
Eating underwater seems to have a trick to it, and doesn't go well for Signy's associates, but at least no one is there to watch. After the meal, Red Fox Claws sits down and tells Signy and Tomat to get to sleep.
Signy makes small talk with the other two, attempting to put Red Fox Claws' mind at ease over staying here by distracting him if nothing else.
Shortly, she settles down with her head against her pack, as comfortable as she can make herself. She notes the hard, unyielding surface, and fights back the urge to observe to him that she probably won't be sleeping much if at all, and tries to still her mind to get what rest she can.
Signy falls to sleep almost as soon as she closes he eyes. She doesn't feel unusual at all sleeping in a water-filled cave. She sleeps dreamlessly for what must be hours.
Signy awakens on her own, perhaps a half glass before her watch would start. The light is different. It's as if the giant statue is being intentionally spotlighted.
Tomat and Red Fox Claws are not in this cave. Signy feels like she should find them, soon.
Signy shakes her head to clear the last of the sleep from it, and reflexively reaches out with the Pattern, her awareness drifting throughout the room on the unseen currents of reality.
She grabs a quick drink from the skin near her bed, then stands to look more closely at the physical signs in the room, to see if perhaps the two of them wandered off at some point, starting with Tomat's sleeping area.
There's no evidence that anything untoward happened to either of them. Perhaps they wandered off to the jakes together.
In the light, the rock formation looks significantly more like a person on a throne than before, if that's possible. It's also sparkling.
It definitely wasn't sparkling before.
The palace buzzes with quiet motion and the shady cool galleries have slowly filled. Word of the arrival of Brita and Conner has swept through the streets and arrived at the Center.
As the great doors to the throne room open for the diplomatic party, they can see another set of doors opening at the queen's side of the chamber. The Queen enters as Duke Conner does and A Capella music begins a beat that brings the waters more alive.
Conner and Brita can see changes in the throne room. Weeks have passed since they were last here. There are more mirrors in the room and that brings greater light. Some new quality of the light allows colors to stand more true, less washed out by the very color of the waters that give the city life. And every where behind the throne hang long thin banners with family sigils. There are easily more than two hundred of them. Conner knows them in a blink and may speculate what they mean, but apparently families of the City have been 'honored' to show their colors in the Queen's Center.
Queen Celina paces with the music and her distance to walk is shorter. Once at the throne, she stands waiting for Conner to arrive before her. Her hair is up off her shoulders in braids that shape like a crown, woven and held tight to her head, and gathered behind in a long complex nautilus at the back of her head. She is wearing a sheer elegant chimera of fabric and flesh. Even the slightest current starts shimmers and transformations of dark color moving beneath its complex arrangement. Queen Celina's stance welcomes and the Scepter of Rebma is held firmly at her side half hidden in the soft eddy of gauzy fabric.
The music stops when Conner arrives at the steps to the throne. Celina's smile broadens and she makes eye contact with Brita and Conner, "You return to Rebma. What news?"
Conner bows to Celina as befits her rank and returns her smile as he lifts his head. He wears a Court outfit in the Amber style in his usual blues and greens. The hues chosen blend into the color of the waters around him which makes the red of his hair and white of his smile stand out all the more. "We have been successful in our mission, Majesty. Huon of the Horn awaits without in fulfillment of his agreement with your Majesty."
Brita stands at parade rest. She returns Celina's smile with one of her own.
Celina's eyes meet Brita's again. The Court doors stand open with Brita and Huon the center of many spectators in the outer gallery. Brita holds guard position.
Celina nods to Conner. "Then we will speak of news from other lands later." Celina does not shift her eyes, but shifts her voice to be heard by the Commander of the Throne's security detail. "Have Prince Huon escorted in so we can begin." Celina gestures Conner to a step higher than the gathered nobles in Court. She takes her seat on the throne and rests the scepter lightly in her lap as Huon comes forward into the Throne Room proper. Her eyes, her body language convey to Brita and Conner to stay center stage.
When Huon moves to position before the steps to throne, Celina's welcome is diplomatic, "Prince Huon, you negotiated an escort and I am glad to see it was cogent. I am glad to give you in turn the pleasant hours of chat which you once gave me. The might of three thrones expects you entreat safe haven in Rebma. How say you?"
Huon nods. "Queen Celina, I thank you for the courtesies you gave me then and now and I hope your brother is well. I expected to see him here." The crowd murmurs in surprise at the seemingly casual nature of the discussion. One lady of the court, a countess, is talking to Ambrose. She is in one of the few who go near the Uxmali prince. Huon continues speaking, spoothly. "I stand before you, who I am. I freely admit making war on Rebma.
"What judgment would you impose?"
He pauses to let that sink in, and this time the gallery falls into a stillness.
Celina lets the silence stand. She uses the time to bring the emerald lines of the Pattern to her mind. Khela's voice echos there, forever in the Pattern, twined into the moments sparking and yet fading while all about is bright and terrible. And then the whole image is before her imposed on the room, the Prince, her Friends, and every reflecting surface.
The single tear that leaves her eye is unplanned, unstoppable and invisible.
"You have made War on my City and its Sons and Daughters. For this Bane upon my Kin you must surrender to Me, and accept My judgment. Your blood cannot equal Rebma's pain, and so I judge you shall live. But that mercy requires you to give over to me knowledge of your agents and allies, and their contributions to this war on Rebma. I shall have Significant Information freely given from You about them, such that I can judge when and how I may wreak judgment on those not brave enough to stand here beside you.
"You say that you have made War on Us to end a long vendetta with a Prince of Amber. I judge now you shall end that vendetta. You shall ask an ending to it as befits Princes. And when that Prince also accepts your contrition, you shall set vendetta aside to balance the harm done to us. And Rebma will therefore prosper."
Celina's voice eases down to a level that still carries, but does not seem as full of hard edges. "You shall be a Skilled Mentor in my Court in the rebuilding and restoration of our City. You shall serve at my need, creating great works for us for a period of Two and Twenty years. By this Rebma will gain the benefit of your skilled centuries and honor your achievements instead of your bloodshed.
"You shall be Beholden to the Queen's mercy in this period, wherein I shall very much like to treat with you as Family. You have asked for My Protection in coming here. So shall it be. Your movements are mine to know and you shall hold to the precincts I require. My many Hands shall in turn guard your days and nights. I shall provide a place of haven. I shall celebrate this Oath and spread the word of Peace between us through three kingdoms and you may earn other words of goodwill and other hands to guard you from your past in addition to mine.
"These promises hold even if you travel from Rebma on the Queen's need for the Two and Twenty years, for the word of a Prince of Amber knows no bounds in the Universe.
"If you accept these things on your honor as a Prince of Amber, then I have also a personal judgment that is only for your ears." Celina takes the scepter in both hands in her lap. "Consider, and say how you find my words."
Brita's opinion of Celina as Rebman Queen has swirled into a firm belief that she will Do Well. She stands tall at the side awaiting Huon's response.
Huon pauses before speaking, knowing the crowd, growing by the minute, is completely focused on him.
After a minor eternity (or so it seems), Huon nods, abruptly. A woman in the crowd excitedly says "just like Random!" Based on her embarrassed expression, it was probably supposed to be an aside to her companions.
"I accept the judgement."
Celina looks to Conner, then back to Brita and finally scans the faces of the Court. "So be it." She raps the scepter on the throne once. "Clear the court of those not involved. I have further words for Prince Huon."
Conner allows a small smile of satisfaction to be seen briefly as much for the Court as for Celina.
Brita continues to stand at attention until the room has cleared. She relaxes slightly after the last courtier leaves.
The room clears of humans, slowly. No one lingers to speak to the queen or to Huon, but it's difficult to clear the throne room when so many people are in it.
When the doors close, Huon stands where he was, Llewella comes in from behind the throne, and Conner, Brita, and Ambrose move forward towards the throne. Tritons are also present, unless Celina explicitly dismisses her giant bodyguards.
[Celina certainly does not dismiss the Tritons. :D]
Llewella turns to Celina. "Are we en famille?" she asks,
Celina nods once to Llewella. She smothers the urge to hug Conner and Brita. It is so good to see them back. Even more, it is good to see they have no signs of rough travel. Instead she stays focused on Huon. She starts things off by remembering Huon's lessons when they first met. "Welcome to my House, Uncle. I am not Llewella's daughter and King Oberon is dead."
Brita is a fly on the wall in this discussion, almost like the last time she watched Celina and Huon speak.
Conner is also content to watch for the moment and let Celina take the lead.
Llewella walks slowly over to Huon, without saying a word. He stands, as if in chains, neither moving towards or away from his sister.
She stands inches from her brother, so close that he should be able to feel her breath on his skin.
Llewella reaches out with her hands, and puts her hands on either side of his face. She quickly pulls it to her own and kisses him with a loud smack. "That's for not being dead."
A tiny glimmer of shock bounds ahead of a bigger ripple of loneliness chasing it. Celina admires the kiss.
Conner's eyes widen and his jaw drops a fraction before he catches himself. His face can't seem to decide on a grin or a frown.
Before [Huon] can catch his breath, Llewella swings her hand in a wide, fast arc, slicing through the water as if it wasn't there. Her open palm makes contact with Huon's cheek and the smack of that is even louder than the earlier one. His head snaps to the side and Brita can smell a trace of blood from his mouth mixing slowly in the water.
"And that's for trying to kill us." Lewella's hair swirls slowly behind her, recovering from the violent motion.
He stands his ground, neither defending himself not apologizing. "Happy to see you, too," is all he says.
Llewella steps back. "Thank you, Celina. That was all I needed."
Conner has finally settled on a thoughtful smile. Llewella has just given them a pure object lesson of what it means to be a member of this family. Conner remains quiet while committing the scene to deep memory.
"You are most welcome," Celina responds. "That was done well enow that I need not repeat it." She smiles. "Uncle, we will have many talks. I've given you some of the Family gossip. I have more, of course. I want to give you a full suite of rooms in the palace, where you can bestow chambers to suit your needs for a staff, if that is your taste. If you are familiar with the Shimmering Nedra Chambers, you will know they are not so far from this room. I have asked them to be prepared for you. And a season from now, if you desire an empty estate in the city, we can talk about that. Your stay here will not be boring or unpleasant." Celina goes on with only a small pause. If there were words to fill the pause, they would certainly be, "unless you wish it so."
"No others but Conner are allowed to be armed in my presence. Your blade will be returned. Silhouette is gone from Rebma but I expect her back here. She will be disappointed to miss your return. If you have Trumps, I believe I'll take them now as agreed." Celina does not move closer yet.
Brita admires her Aunt's ability to attack so effectively in the viscous environment. She turns to Huon to await his response to the Trump question.
Assuming he gives up his Trumps, she will ask "Uncle, Why Did you Attack Watery Rebma? It seems a Harder Goal to Accomplish than with the Land Based Realms."
"Your kindness is remarkable. If I had trumps, I'd've used them. Dad took mine long agon and Brand contacted me via a trump I didn't know existed, but did not give me any gifts."
Celina nods once, as this is exactly what she expected of the exiled Prince.
He turns to Brita. "It's difficult to ask us of reasons, child. We each are encyclopedias of them, all valid and none exclusive. Consider this: There are three blades for the three pattern cities. The Dayblade was in Bleys' hands, and Nightblade was Corwin's. The Seablade was my only choice if I wished to have a blade that could equal Bleys'."
Brita has cocked her head to the side to listen.
Celina studies Huon in profile as he speaks to Brita. The moment, and Family around her, are very exciting, for once in a good way. She breathes in TaKhi sequence preparing for extended calm.
Brita finally responds to her uncle with, "There May have been Other Ways To Gain the Blade that Would have been Easier." She does not look at Conner or Celina. "I Met you Once, Uncle, When you were Young... And Your Brother Lived."
Conner listens with interest to see what Huon says in reply.
"Well, as I failed to do so, your first proposition cannot be disputed. Unless you've been in slow time shadows for many years, you cannot have met Pinno or me." He smiles. "I would have remembered, I hope."
"Outer clearance markers!"
Jerod looked over from the quarterdeck as the sailor on the bow called out, noting the markers ahead indicating the entrance to Amber's port approaching. He does not extend his gaze beyond to the city proper, hesitating instead to gaze upon his old home once more. He does not want to see it now in its dilapidated state...he can feel it in his bones even as the ship approaches, a thing of Shadow now, fleeting, empty.
It feels...wrong. He does not like it.
He looks over at Raven, watching as he handles his ship and crew...always watching.
Raven is confident on the deck, moving from man to man with the certainty of someone that understands their job and what needs to be done. She pauses for a moment at the call, looking towards Amber - dockside first, and then across the city - and sighs. It may not be what it was, but she spent too long trying too hard to get here to not be glad at the sight of it still. The captain isn't the only one; it's easy to pick out the men from the Vale by who looks and who doesn't. But she's back in motion after a moment or two, barking orders and moving across the deck from position to position.
She circles up to Jerod eventually and eyes him before she speaks. "Remind me how long we're supposed to be here?"
"Few days." Jerod says, looking over the city proper now. "Need to make contact with the Weir, get them settled plus bring along a few if we can. They'll be useful in Gateway. I'll be taking care of that. You don't have to be around for that if you have things you want to take care of.
"I also need to speak to a contact that Prince Martin arranged, one of Lucas' old employees. He may be useful for information. And at last word, Thalia was still here. You'll remember her. She'll prove useful for details in Gateway, given that her aunt is the Chancellor. Just depends on what she wants in exchange for the information.
"We'll need to be sure of our cover for the ship and crew before we depart, get cargo or anything else we might need, and make sure there are no loose tongues. We're in Shadow now so things are not as secure as they should be."
Raven snorts. "You don't think I picked 'em randomly, do you? And I got a feeling anything I might try to take care of here ain't going to take a few days, seeing as how anybody I might want to talk to could be here and could not. So I guess you're stuck with me."
"Good." Jerod replies with a smile. "You'll get to be introduced to Caine. I'm sure you remember him. Only now, he's your Uncle."
"Aye, I reported in to the Admiral when we got in," Raven agrees. "And don't start with another lecture on titles and family and all that on me. I ain't been kicked out of the Navy, and he's still in charge of it. I'll be calling him Admiral like I ought to until he himself tells me not to."
"Oh, you may rest assured your initial exposure to Family customs is concluded." Jerod replies. "You're soloing now...so to speak. You might find it interesting to observe how he treats you based on your behaviour, past vs present. Since you do not know who your father is, he falls into the potential category. Certainly as an uncle, he's not bad...once you get used to him."
"Aye, I know." Raven snorts. "Too bad I probably can't get all the folks on the list and her in one room and let them figure out who done the deed. Anyway, I weren't nothing but respectful, like you ought to be with admirals, and I ain't got plans to be anything but now. How's that something to look at?"
"Respect for an admiral is good, but conditional." Jerod says. "Just remember that you now outrank every admiral in the fleet that is not Family. That you are a captain is not to mean your rank is not important or that you did not earn it. It's just something that if it's needed you should not overlook. It's...another tool...should you have need of it. I myself will use it sparingly. Cooperation, and recognizing a captain's authority, is a much nicer way to go.
"As for your father, I suspect you'll have time to put together some clues. Now that you are known, your father may approach to make himself known. Despite the stories that we are omnipotent, god-like sorcerers, we're not...and it is very possible he may simply not have known about you...especially if your mother did not say anything to him. It's not an option that I think anyone would want to admit to...but it can happen.
"There is another option you might want to consider as well. He may have thought that admitting to your existence might put you in danger. Prior to the Sundering, the lives of Princes were not the most congenial. My father took a significant risk recognizing me at my birth. I became a potential liability to him. Many of his siblings were more circumspect and hid their children in Shadow to protect them."
Raven shrugs. "If she weren't lying to me again, she didn't see him after the once," she answers. "I ain't so worried about the whys and wherefores as I am about the whos, to be honest. The whys ain't going to change much after all these years."
"Then let us hope the whos are determined in the near future." Jerod says, watching the approach to the shore. "Time to visit Uncle Caine. get you introduced...see where Thalia is being kept, and whether she's got anything worth trading on Gateway."
"I ain't planning to let the whos sit," Raven answers. "Seeing as how I got reasonable folks to ask now." She straightens, shoving hands into the pocket of her coat, and adds dryly, "Land first, though, aye? Unless you was planning to swim."
"I didn't bring trunks I'm afraid..." Jerod says with a smile.
Unless Jerod says anything else, the captain is off again to speak to another crewman.
Jerod and Raven are directed to an apartment partway up in one of Amber Castle's towers. This is not the family tower, but a servant's wing. The hallway has several of Caine's young, ambitious Naval officers in it. They address Jerod as 'Prince' and Raven as 'Captain'.
The door is not locked, but neither is it unwatched.
Jerod gives out intermittent nods to greetings as he passes, interested primarily in Family business at the moment but always looking over the faces of those who he passes. Officers under Caine's command were inevitably young and ambitious, Jerod found. The successful ones however were those who were not too curious about the Family business, as it were. Knowing Caine, the monitors here will be briefed just far enough to make them effective as guards and intelligence gatherers, but nothing more.
He raps on the door, once, twice, looking directly for the watchmen of the moment.
Raven is about as politely skeptical as any old hand of young officers with Ideas, when it comes down to it. But these aren't on her ship and giving orders. So she follows along behind Jerod like a somewhat dubious shadow, nodding politely when addressed and trying not to make an internal guessing game of how long each one they pass has actually been in the Navy based on looking them over.
The door opens almost immediately. "Your Grace, Captain. Please come in." Thalia is dressed as if for court in the Amber fashion, although she has skipped the slightly old-fashioned ruff that older courtiers still wore.
The room is well appointed, with a bookshelf and a window. Were it not for the guards discreetly positioned outside it might not seem like a cell.
The table is set with tea for three.
Jerod enters with a nod, noting the settings with a slight smile. Thalia didn't get to where she was without cultivating sources, even as a guarded prisoner. It did not hurt that he took no pains to keep his arrival in Amber secret.
"Thalia." he says. "I believe you already know Captain Raven."
Raven nods, half in agreement and half in greeting. "Hello again, miss."
She smiles, pleasantly. "Captain, a pleasure to see you again. I understand from the Admiral that what freedom and comfort I have are due to having additional objective reports of my behavior in Gateway."
"Told him how I saw it," Raven answers. Without making the crack she'd like to make about not seeing the point of blaming one person for whole cities. This time.
"Would you do me the honor of having tea with me?" she says to both men. "I am afraid the men outside never take me up on my offers."
"Then the loss is theirs." Jerod replies, moving to take a seat. "I trust the accommodations have been...adequate?"
Raven heads for a seat herself, but she's got half an eye on Jerod for cues. 'Tea with a proper lady' wasn't quite her area.
Thalia sits and pours three cups, letting the gentlemen go first. "Very much so, Prince Jerod. I am afraid that Prince Caine's theory is that I should be kept out of the way for the moment to allow Amber to resolve issues in Gateway without my involvement.
"As a Gatwegian, and as a friend of Amber, I hope to change that situation and be allowed to convince Amber to spare the citizens of Gateway from the consequences of their leaders' foolishness. As a diplomat, I assume there is always hope." She smiles and picks up her own teacup and (if Raven or Jerod has preceded her) sips at it.
Jerod follows the protocol of first cup to start things off, making sure to give just enough cues for Raven so that he keeps up, but nothing that would be difficult to interpret, or require any kind of "protocol" response.
"His majesty has similar beliefs in the value of diplomacy." Jerod says, his best court face presented, his tone polite, his smile perfect. "He also recognizes the timing of diplomacy, when it should be applied and the proper context. I think we can both agree that context is very important for both parties. One side, say, an injured party, would not wish to engage in such endeavours when the injuring party is not thoroughly aware of the ramifications to them should diplomacy fail. Under those conditions, some might see diplomacy not as a means by which to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but as a sign of weakness.
"It is important to be aware that such a mindset...is not conducive to a successful mediation." he says simply. "It leads to situations...now, what was it that Prince Bleys once said...ah yes...'salting of the earth upon which their cities once rested'...I believe were his words."
Raven just follows along; she seems to be doing all right at figuring out what's appropriate based on the cues, although some of it may just be pure imitation.
Thalia is calm, outwardly. It's only her diplomatic training that is holding her together. "Diplomacy is an option to allow both sides to achieve a lesser goal in order to avert a greater risk. Even if the risk is not 'what might happen when we attempt this', it may be 'who will we become if we do this thing?'. I would suggest, for the sake of many who had no involvement in what may have happened, that it would represent neither justice nor a desirable message for Random to implement Prince Bleys' colorful metaphor. Prosperity is built on mutual advantage, and such can be had."
"Indeed. And I might agree...were I the King." Jerod says. "But I leave to the King the decision as to which message should be delivered, as well as the fate of how his kingdom may evolve upon its delivery."
He takes a moment to sip his tea. "I am always more interested in the means and ways by which such messages are delivered, rather than their content. It is upon that reason that I am here. To send a message, one must known what facts to build the message upon. To that end, I would know Gateway and the situation. We have some information on her now, from a view that I think we would both agree is...less than complimentary.
"I would know it from the eyes of one who would see it in a better way, and who would see it returned to that place of prosperity and peace.
"Since my last visit to the Chancellor, what has changed?"
Raven continues to listen in. Mostly without internal commentary about the person she thinks Jerod is referring to.
Thalia pauses, and looks briefly at Raven. "Prince Jerod, pardon me if I overexplain, but there is much to this. You may recall that we were generally indifferent to the concepts of governance, providing them on an ad hoc basis at best. Gatwegans who do not like the current leadership mostly ignore it, sometime violently. We are more likely to organize around a common threat than a common goal."
The captain greets the glance with polite puzzlement. It wasn't like she saw much of the town...
"The Chancellery and the College have not been dissolved, but the Thaumocracy has taken over the apparatus of governing. They have ousted my Aunt, my cousins, and myself from our positions. We have not been able to organize to fight back. My ideal end to this matter would be to be allowed to accompany an Army from Amber going to Gateway to overthrow the Thaumocrats and restore the old order."
"An army will not be going in...not yet." Jerod replies. "Not without a lay of the land and an understanding of why the overthrow occurred in the first place. Especially if the end result of an invasion is to be saddled with an uncooperative kingdom that we would have to garrison for a protracted period in order to guard our kingdom. In that case, Prince Bleys' euphemisms gain new support.
"On that note, I think appropriate then that you provide some details on why the Thaumocrats engaged in their coup and what Huon was doing to support it. It will help when I head over to Gateway for a closer look."
Raven continues to listen.
Thalia seems somewhat reassured. It is almost certain that that is exactly the message she intends to send. "I would be happy to provide such information, Prince Jerod, or indeed to accompany you in return. As I have made clear my desires and motives, I assure you that my parole would allow me to help you extensively."
She looks for signs that such an offer might be welcome, but continues talking.
"As to why, well, that's unfortunately simple. The radicals had always wanted power, and their alliance with Huon gave them the ability to take it. They played on the desires of both the expansionists and the isolationists to gain political support after-the-fact. Huon got his way, which was to allow him to march a magically augmented army under the sea and on the path to Rebma."
She frowns, as if remembering something unpleasant. "I have no idea if the Thaumocracy has even survived. We are not naturally a people who are rulable. You remember how powerless our governments have been in the past, of course."
Raven straightens slightly. "What kind of an army?" she asks. "I mean, what sort of men were in it, if you saw?"
Jerod waits patiently for Thalia's response to Raven's question, holding his own in check for the moment.
"I had been sent away by my superiors prior to the coup, which probably prevented me from dying for my cause. Those who did witness it told me of it later. Outland wizards, leading a mix of red and white men. Some of our people went with him. The same army that I heard later was defeated outside of Rebma."
Thalia pauses. "I don't even know why Huon had to overthrow our government. We would simply have let a large cross-shadow army pass and sent a warning on to Rebma, and it's not as if the same didn't happen anyway. Perhaps he wanted a friendly power to retreat to, but that seems to be an unlikely strategy for a Prince of Amber, who I would expect not to plan to lose or else plan to abandon all of his troops and flee.
"Which he did."
Raven nods, looking thoughtful. That did sound a little like the bodies she'd encountered. "Did they bring their own way of walking under the sea, or was that part of the whole thing?"
Thalia smiles. "Gateway is special because it is possible to move freely between the land and the sea. There are sailing routes to the Gate from diverse shadows and paths through the breathable water to Rebma's Seaward Shoals. Beyond. In times past, there were even caravan routes across land, but they were always less secure than the sea lanes. Gatwegians live on both sides of the gate, above and below the waves. Being a transit point has been a source of our wealth for centuries."
"Oh," Raven answers, and then shrugs. "Well, can't say as how I've seen much past the docks."
That being the end of her questions for now, the captain settles back in her seat.
Thalia smiles. "We do not advertise what our gate does to outlanders, although it's not a secret. We wouldn't want the skybreathers to negotiate directly with the seabreathers and thus cut out the middlemen, which is to say us."
The ambassador looks at the two Amberites. "More tea?" she asks, by which she means "do you have any more questions for me?"
"What of the Chancellor?" Jerod asks. "Do you have any news of her?"
Raven shakes her head slightly. No more tea for her.
Thalia pours as many as are requested, and another cup for herself. "Holed up in the Chancellery, or perhaps they retreated to the University proper. There was a faction that assumed that the rebellion would end once Huon left and that a defensive posture was all that was needed. They were not correct. The new rulers are not kind to university members caught off-campus at the wrong time."
"And if faced by the prospect of a member of the Family being in their kingdom, what do you believe to be the response to be from the new...rulers?" Jerod asks.
"Harbormaster said there was questions for anyone out of Amber," Raven offers.
Thalia nods. "Of course there would be. Huon took away their alibi that they were just bystanders when he left Marius with them. Amber must make them very nervous. It would not be out of the question, after my departure with your cousin, to find that an Amber flagged ship would be shot at upon approach. Fear of your retribution is probably what's keeping the rebels in power."
"So an approach to the Chancellor, as leader of those who did not participate in actions against the Family, with an understanding that only those responsible for attacks against Amber would be held to account...might be construed as an advisable course of action." Jerod offers. "Especially if it were understood that the general population would not be considered culpable for the actions of a few...assuming they acted to no longer condone the behaviour of said rebels, even passively."
Raven continues to listen.
Thalia nods. "That would be my advice, precisely. Your highness will recall that Gateway is a frontier society, and that our control, even that of these rebels, does not extend to the entirety of our land. Those who have, as the saying goes, 'Gone to Thraxos', are beyond the normal reach of our civil or martial authorities, even after we regain control.
She smiles, somewhat viciously. "A mission beyond the frontier was what occupied me during the rebellion. I would not be averse to undertaking the same for my Aunt's government against the rebels."
"What options currently exist that would be...approachable, beyond the frontier." Jerod asks, making a mental note to make sure to collect the Weyr.
"Did they just kind of wander off?" Raven asks, clearly puzzled.
Thalia nods. "Yes, Captain. As many a boy or man has done in Amber, but instead of joining the Navy, they head across the frontier into Thraxos. There is some kind of government there, but it's sparsely populated and the Thraxolites live on the coast. The vast hinterland is part of no country."
She turns to Jerod. "A determined force could track an outlaw, or a bounty hunter, or a wizard of power such as myself. Not all wizards will go far into it, as Thraxos itself does not lend itself to magical power. Some say a long ago war stripped it of all potential, but I think it may be a natural path to another place, in the fashion of Amber and Rebma."
"Ah-ha," Raven says. "Thank you, miss."
Thalia bows to Raven, from the neck.
"Now for the next two questions." Jerod says. "First, a place to where? And second...why would these Thraxolites consider an approach from us to be of their benefit?"
Thalia replies. "I am not knowledgeable about Amber, Prince Jerod, not about the deper wizardry, but everyone knows that there are places where one crosses from one sea to another, and that ship sail between worlds. We have heard rumors that these transitions exist on land as well, and I speculate that one exists between Gateway and Thraxos.
"Further, I think it is the source of the great myth of our people of a Land-Gate, but that because it is not as clearly defined and only goes somewhere we consider inferior, my people have overlooked it. It is only because I have travelled so extensively in Amber's area of influence that I even came to consider it."
She pauses. "It's not a theory I've shared with my people. It's not one they would find plausible.
"As to your second question, the Thraxolites may well object to your presence, as will the rebels, especially if they have prepared for such a contingency. I do not think they are capable of putting up significant resistance to Amber's forces. They are a primitive people, whose greatest martial innovation is that if they attach their daggers to the end of long poles, they can fight from further away. They are tribal and as likely to betray their kings as rally to them. Amber should face no serious obstacles to whatever she wishes to do in Thraxos."
"Is there a way to Thraxos that can be reached from anywhere other than Gateway?" Jerod asks.
Raven frowns a little at Thalia's description, but doesn't comment. Daggers on poles still hurt, as she recalls.
Thalia shakes her head just a fraction of an inch. "None that I know of. The path to it is a dead end, for our people. I would assume that Amber could approach it via mageries we do not understand by the Gate."
"Then we'll be going in the hard way." Jerod says simply.
She nods. "If they are there to take, then it would mean that Gateway was liberated, which would mean you would at least have support for your actions."
He pauses, thinking for a moment. "Westport." he says finally. "I made contact with a Lord Eleftherios, on behalf of King Corwin, and brought back his representative Hipparchos. What of that area?"
"Where is that?" Raven asks, clearly directing the question at both of them. "Ain't a port I'm familiar with."
Thalia looks at Raven. "It's far to the west, and the closest port to the way to Thraxos. It's not on anyone's trade routes. We've heard of Paris' moves in that direction, but only recently. I must admit it's a masterstroke by Corwin. Eletherios is no match for his traders and diplomats and the pressure on the merchants of the Gate will be tremendous. As is the opportunity. For someone."
She pauses. "You might do well with a two-pronged approach, Prince Jerod. Go in stealthily with forces to your friends in Westport, then turn around and come into Gateway. Your arrival in force there dislodges the Triumvirate, or what's left of it, and they flee to Thraxos, but your men catch them by surprise at or near Westport. It seems better than chasing them throughout the hills of Thraxos."
Raven says, "Ah-ha," and then frowns. "Tri-um... That's the rebels, aye? That mean there's only three of them in charge?"
Thalia nods. "Ultimately, yes. Klaya, Kranto, and Dexamene. They have lieutenants, of course."
"Tell me about them." Jerod says. "They won't get along well if they are like most of the others I've seen. What is the basis for their coalition? What weaknesses are available to exploit to drive them apart?"
Thalia nods. "I didn't have many dealings with them after I got back to Gateway. But if they can be broken, it will be Klaya and Kranto against Dexamene. Dex is a natural, not a trained magician at all. She's also the most powerful. Klaya and Kranto I knew before the war. They were thought to be lost in the fighting during the Black Tides, but they returned. Some say it broke their minds, some say it opened them."
"Or they found someone out there they shouldn't have." Jerod muses, then looks at Thalia directly. "Since I'm sure you've talking to Caine about all of this, I'm no doubt sure that the idea of...parole...has been broached. As Regent, he would be the one to make the decision here. Since I'm sure you're looking to come along on our little jaunt, what do you figure he's going to accept to release you into my custody."
Raven has nothing to add at the moment, although she does glance at Jerod for a moment and then look faintly amused when she realizes her ship just got volunteered to carry an extra passenger again...
"I've spoken with Caine extensively. He seems immune to my arguments, but is happy for my company at table. He generally falls back on discussion of Marius' state and his doubts about me. However, I would say that he doesn't particularly respect those concerns as much as he wants to use them as a bargaining chip.
"What will he accept? Your personal recognizance is most likely. However, he will ask for more. He's likely to either want to undo or join (for Xanadu) your Westport Adventure. He will not look favorably on Rein and Corwin starting a rival within the same land that his trade routes run to."
She looks a Raven, then back at Jerod. "He will want concessions from me, speaking for Gateway. He'll be able to get much of what he asks, since it will be what it takes to get Amber to rescue Gateway from the Triumvirate. I may be sent as an intermediary at first, or just a messenger."
Jerod nods. "Reasonable. Since Caine is regent here, it is unlikely that Random will override him. Never bodes well to run roughshod over the subordinates, unless the benefits are worth the friction." he says, still looking at Thalia, to see whether she has considered this, and whether the option is something she has considered.
"To move any number of troops, we would definitely need Caine for the staging operations and the necessary shipping...something I'd be inclined to leave the naval operations to him. My resources would permit me to obtain them, but it would take time and I'd rather not go that route if I can avoid it.
"The King would make the final decision concerning any actions however. Is there anything that you would like to offer before we finish, for his consideration, as it were?" Jerod asks.
Raven continues to listen in.
She looks back. "None, your highness. I hope I have explained myself and my position well enough that the King may make his decision with regards to Gateway at his convenience. I am at his disposal should he wish to hear from me directly."
The meeting having wound down, Thalia wishes them a good day and informs them that she is ready to leave whenever they or anyone wishes to take her to help in Gateway, and that she has no appointments in Amber that she cannot delay if needed.
She sees them to the door.
Raven makes her way back down to the tavern where she grew up. It's not that she really wants to be there, but there are certain questions she has now... and the last person she's going to ask is her mother. The very last. But there's a decent chance, she thought, that some of her mom's buddies were still floating around down dockside, and they might have answers.
Of course, there is the question of which ones and where. So she stops off at a couple of shops, until she finds the one that sells the sweets that the girls who worked at the tavern preferred the last time she checked. Which has been a while. But, some sweets and an excuse to not work was never unwelcome.
She ducks into the kitchen when she gets there, out of habit mostly, and looks around.
The tavern is shuttered, but it's not really locked. It looks like someone has been in recently and swept up. It's unclear if Raven's mother sold it or someone has just moved into it.
Raven doesn't think there is anyone in the building, but she isn't sure.
Right. Because people are leaving Amber. Raven snorts and shakes her head. She should have figured. But, since she's here...
She heads off towards what had been her mother's room - and the one next door to it that had been hers once and had probably been her brother's recently. There was a loose floorboard in there, she knew; might as well see if it had been getting any use since she'd last emptied it out.
Raven heads upstairs by memory and the dim moonlight coming in the dirty windows. The floorboard shows signs of repair and un-repair over time. Someone used the compartment in the past, probably Max. There's nothing but loose dirt in it now, spread evenly over the bottom of the space.
Raven idly draws an awkward-looking little raven in the dirt, just because it's too tidy. Well, at least she means it to be a raven. It's bird-ish in shape.
There's something smooth under the dirt.
There's also a noise from downstairs. Someone has come in. Someones.
Well, now. Raven brushes more dirt aside to see what's hiding there - and she figures it's got to be 'hiding' and not 'left behind.' The boy seems a little odd, but not odd enough to have left something this well-hidden behind.
In the dim light, she sees what looks like a small portrait, on finished paper. Without more than moonlight, Raven can't tell who it is.
She's got an ear on the stairs, though, to see if the new arrivals are coming up and how unfriendly they might be if they do. She's pretty sure she should still be able to fit out either this window or her mother's if worse comes to worse. More likely her mother's. It's been a very long time since she last shimmied out of this window.
Raven hears two men downstairs, muttering to each other. They seem to be methodically searching for something.
Raven eyes the portrait in puzzlement for a moment, and then shrugs and fishes it out. And then she pockets it carefully. Whoever it is, it's out of place. And since it's out of place in what could possible still be her mother's property, clearly it has to come with her. And she's curious what it is, anyway.
If there's nothing else in the hidey-hole, she will start trying to figure out which direction the men below are headed next. The stairs would be so much easier than the roof for an exit...
If Raven had to guess based on creaks, they're coming up the stairs now. She'd estimate 3-4 men.
Well, nothing for it. Clearly. Raven snorts to herself. The window would work. So would hiding. But neither one will do a thing for her curiosity right now. So clearly the only thing to do is stroll out into the hallway and play dumb.
So she does. She doesn't whistle an innocent tune, though; that's just going too far.
Besides, she's pretty sure it usually sounds like somebody mugging a bird in a dark alley instead of a tune.
Three men are working on the lock to Scarlett's bedroom. They seem to lack the knack for breaking and entering. They turn around when the floorboards creak beneath Raven's feet.
They look her up and down, and rapidly come to a conclusion.
"Beat it, this one's ours," says the smallest of the men. In the dim moonlight he lets her see that he's carrying something sharp and metallic.
"Well, you can have it, I guess, but she ain't in there," Raven answers. "Buggered off to the other place. Can't say as how I think she's going to have left much behind for you lot to run off with, but I don't figure you'd take my word for it. And you can put that away. I ain't stupid."
She stops where she is and waits.
"Neither are we," replies another, who Raven concludes is the leader. Both of his fellows seem to be following his lead. "You'll just go get some friends if you waltz outta here." His eyes flash to an armoire where Raven recalls her mother keeping sheets. It's not in much better shape than it was when she was a girl dressed as a boy. "There's the easy way and the hard way..."
"I ain't fit in that bloody thing since I was twelve," Raven answers dryly. "So if that figures in on your 'easy way,' it ain't gonna work."
"Fine with me. The hard way's good, too."
It's not a wide corridor, and they've got it blocked off. Still, they can't circle Raven very well. The men move forward, but it's clear they don't even have the Navy's basic training. They could be taught to fight, if they're not too dumb.
Raven is faster, stronger, and generally better then them.
Well, Raven isn't here to teach them, unless maybe it's to teach them to think twice about attacking someone who isn't that worried about them breaking into someone's bedroom. She shrugs and mutters, "All right, then," and wades in.
They have no discipline, and fight as three individuals, which someone trained in Caine's Navy (and as witness and somtime participant in barfights for many years before that) can exploit with ease.
One slams into the cupboard door, another swings wildly at Raven and gets his wrist numbed by an elbow drop. The last falls with only the mildest of help from Raven. Soon her three assailants are unconscious, or at least no longer trying to get up.
Raven is only slightly winded. They three men are likely to live, and may have no worse than a few bruises. Many of Scarlet's customers had worse from the beer.
If anyone else is in the building, they surely know there's been a fight.
Raven drags the three into a position somewhat farther from the door, and then goes to investigate the armoire. Must have something interesting in it other than sheets, if the leader was glancing at it...
[OOC: nope, it was just a handy place to stash a troublemaker without killing him (or maybe to stash a corpse).]
The men are stacked in an unused cupboard and the armoire is investigated. There's not much to the armoire itself, but on a hunch, Raven removes the decorative top piece and find something. There is a package on top of the armoire, one that almost no one would have found except her. It's addressed to "Maximilian St. Cyr" and it looks to be a number of years old and it's heavy.
Raven weighs the package in her hands for a moment, trying to guess whether it's paper-heavy or metal-heavy or something else. Not that she's going to leave it behind, but if it's important, what's in it that it's still here? Was it left or "left"?
Metal heavy, definitely. And she's not sure, but there's something about it. It's like it was left to be found, but not by just anyone. Holding it closely it has a faintly acrid odor.
For that matter, is there anything else that got "left"? She starts looking around for other hidden places...
After a quick but solid look around, Raven decides the place has been cleaned out. In fact, given that the armoire could be disassembled, it's unclear why the whole thing didn't get taken to Xanadu when similar chests did.
Raven notices, through a window, that the three lads inside have at least one lookout outside.
Well, that makes leaving a little harder. Raven takes a look around for other lookouts, and for how close that one is to a door...
No others are obvious. Raven thinks the lookout is placed for a whistle or a thrown rock followed by a quick getaway. He's near the door, but not within reach of the door. He's closer to the alley.
Raven thinks about it for a moment; she could just leave, since there's just one. On the other hand - well, she used to live here too. She tugs the door open a bit, hiding in its shadow, and tries to sound unidentifiable as she stage-whispers, "Hey, get in here. Need some help."
If he's stupid enough to fall for it, she will introduce him to the wall and then the floor, in short order...
It's not clear if he fell for it, or investigated it, but he did come over and has made the acquaintance of the wall and the floor. Raven now has four victims on two floors.
Raven drags the man to an out-of-the-way spot downstairs; no point in leaving him out where anybody can find him.
Next step, next step. She considers for a minute, and then shrugs. Might as well report the thieves - assuming, as quiet as everything seems to be, there's someone around to report it to. Can't imagine that them breaking in was fine... but then again, she didn't expect to find people acting like rats deserting a sinking ship when she got back to Amber either.
Raven notifies the harbor watch and then heads back to the ship, intending to drop off the package for her brother and then head back out to try and round up any of her mother's cronies she can recall.
Only... he's just a kid, and she has no clue what's in it. On the one hand, could be fine. Could be perfectly normal things a man ought to give his nearly-grown kid. Definitely ain't something she ought to be sticking her nose into, in that case. On the other hand, Raven isn't sure why it was left behind the way it was, and she's got only a basic idea of who the kid's Da was. And she's pretty sure she doesn't think the way some of these supposed cousins of hers do. So it could be something that a kid that age doesn't need, just like the crazy ideas of revenge he's already got.
She almost makes it out the door of her cabin again, even, before she gives up trying to talk herself into not opening the package. Almost. And then she curses, goes back, and tries to make it not look like someone ripped it to shreds as she opens it.
The box is filled with tiny brass cylinders, pointed on one end. Hundreds of them.
Raven scowls at the box. It couldn't be something simple to decide on whether she should give it to the kid, could it. She cautiously lifts one of the cylinders out to inspect it better.
It looks roughly like a nail; perhaps 2 inches long, tapered to a point on one end and flat on the other. It's some sort of bronze or brass alloy with a shiny, silvery metal on the tip. There's something engraved on the flat end, but it's not written in Thari or any other language Raven knows. It's either been machine made or someone spent a lot of time making it perfectly cylindrical.
Judging by the weight and the way it moves, it's hollow, but has something inside it.
"Well, that ain't normal," Raven mutters to herself. She turns the cylinder over in her fingers one more time, frowning, and then shrugs and pockets it. She'll ask someone about it later. Maybe Jerod. Then she carefully closes up the package and stashes it in her sea chest for later dealing with.
She checks in with her men out of habit and then heads back out. There was a laundress down the road from where she grew up, and Raven vaguely recalls - the few times she tagged along instead of taking the dirty linens herself - that she and Scarlet were pretty friendly. Maybe she might know something. If she's here still.
The shop is run-down, as is most of the street. More of it is abandoned than not, or so it seems.
The laundress answers the door. "I'm not accepting any work now." She's older than Raven expects, and behind her there are neatly stacked boxes. Apparently she's leaving, too.
"For once, I ain't bringing you any," Raven answers. "I just got questions today, if you ain't in too much of a hurry to get rid of me."
She nods. "Come in then, if you will. I have tea, but I'm out of milk." The inside of the row house is about as Raven would expect. It's tidy and smells of bleach.
"I've known your mother for a long time. Known you all your life. What can a poor washerwoman do for Amber's newest sea-captain?"
"Don't you start with that nonsense. You always was the best at bedlinens in the whole dockside, and that's no lie." Raven follows after her, feeling suddenly a bit too much like the awkward teenager bringing the laundry down. "I got questions about me and her, funny enough. Ones she won't answer for me. I was hoping you might know the answers, or who I can go bother next."
Pigment laughs. "Once I was known for more than bedlinens. I assisted Midwife Throat at your birth, so I may could help you with some of her stories."
She looks down at the teacups, and pours a fine smelling tea into the best one for Raven. The cup is clean, plain, and uncracked, unlike the one Pigment takes for herself.
"Some questions, maybe it's better not to know the answer to."
"Well, unless I ain't recalling it right, I already asked you if I had extra fingers and toes, when I was eight." Raven snorts softly. She makes sure to handle the teacup with care; she doesn't want to crack this one, too. "The thing of it is - well, Ma, and I... we're still about as friendly as those old toms that Boots' ma kept. And I got into a spot where I need to know just who it was that did the deed that ended up with me. Did she ever tell you anything?"
Pigment smiles. "Same as any of us, dearie. Were young, the sailors were brave and dashing, and we didn't ever think they were coming back." Her smile turns somewhat wistful. "I had my share, but your ma, she never seemed to age, never lost her appeal to them. She was something, when she wanted to be. Before--
"Back then, Amber was a whirlwind, and you had a future, even if you screwed up. Not like now."
"It'll get better," Raven says, frowning a little. "Has to. Before what?"
She shakes her head. "Child, the city is foundering. What's left is a slow "abandon ship". There's damn few of us left, and the smart ones are getting out even now. Mark my words, they'll be shepherds tending their llama herds on the side of the mountain before too long, where the great and the powerful used to look down over this city.
She pauses, catches her breath. "You can feel it? We can all feel it. The city isn't the same since the sundering. No wonder the King wouldn't stay. Here's to him for leading us to a new Amber."
"I can feel something ain't right," Raven answers reluctantly. "And I'll drink to the King. But we spent all that time coming back here." She pokes a finger downward, pointedly. "Not anywhere else. New place ain't bad, but it ain't Amber neither. I ain't giving up on Amber yet. If that means I got to hang out with overfed sheep when I come back here, so be it."
"Well, that's as may be. It's a luxury most of them as lived here don't have. We have to go now, so as not to be left behind." She smiles. "I'm old, I'm set in my ways, but I feel sorry for them as can't go. It's a life-line and I already feel foolish for not walking through already, just leaving everything here and starting fresh. Would've, but I wanted to come back for my cats.
"You've got a ship, you can go back and forth, you ain't afraid of getting stuck in the decline and fall of Amber. Rest of us is going."
"Well, I ain't trying to stop anybody that wants to go. I even made sure Ma and Max got there." Raven scowls. "But I ain't got to like it. It don't seem right, Pigment. It don't seem right. But you be careful when you get there, you hear? Lots of things shook up, what with folks moving around and folks showing up from who knows where. Speaking of - don't suppose you knew I had an uncle?"
"I didn't, but I ain't surprised. Your Ma, she kept quiet about her past. I always thought she was some sort of nobleman's cast-off from the Golden Circle, sent here to get her out of the way. She landed on her feed, that one. Always."
Raven snorts. "She ain't mentioned it where I could hear, if it's so. Then again, I think she only told me I had a brother 'cause I was standing there when he went looking for snacks."
Pigment snorts. "He's not the little boy you were, in some ways, ah, obvious ways. Other's he's just the same. I don't know as to where or what, but your ma was definitely tied up in some Shadow business. News would come in and she'd almost go into hiding, other times she was free and open. Real savvy about the politics of foreign places, she is. That's what I base my guesses on."
"Pretty sure he's older in his head than I was at that age," Raven answers dryly. "Maybe smarter, too. You don't think that's got to do with his Da and not her? From the way Max talks, sounds like he was around a lot."
Pigment collects her thoughts for a moment before considering. "I think we have lived through more upheaval In Amber in the last ten years than the fifty generations before us. The Sundering was hard on us all. The city half burned down, the castle partially collapsed, the fleet sunk at anchor, there was no way to get in enough food for us all, and the regent was half dead. There was a lot of fear in those days. All of these new Princes and Princesses showed up and nobody knew them, or only knew of a few of them. They were everywhere and they were doing things, and they were getting us food and starting us rebuilding. It was easy for his Lordship to come around here. He had a special interest in the city, and did so much behind the scenes to keep it going.
"Is he really dead?"
He reaches for the spoor, picking a piece and rolling it in his fingers, watching as it crumbles, remembering the lessons from Julian about how to track a target, learn where they've been, and where they're going. A few days he thinks, as the old memories filter back to conscious perception.
"Why a tribal culture?" Eric asks.
"It's the most basic organizational structure." Jerod replies. "It pre-dates the development of simple concepts of the state and nations. Most are based on kinship and strong familial loyalty. They are homogenous, have a clear ranking structure...and focus on stability for their survival...tradition over invention."
"That's the technical answer." Eric says, his ghost persistent as always in Jerod's thoughts. "Now, apply it. Why a tribe for the Weir?"
Jerod drops the crumbling mass, wiping his hands as he remains crouched, listening to the sounds of the woods around him, ignoring for the moment the smell of the slaughtered ewe close by. A fresh kill, but no tracks and spoor too old to be from the creature who's claws struck the killing blow.
No sound...yes...no sound, he realizes. The birds are quiet, the small prey mammals hidden and frozen in this patch of the northern forest...just outside the range of the shepherds and their usual haunts...only the insects buzz and play, too small and oblivious to care about the predators that move in their midst.
"The Weir are all the same...regardless of their origin, their color, their language." Jerod says to his father's ghost. "They are shifters...isolated, feared, hated. But they are intelligent. Their curiosity driven by their intellect The tribe is security, to limit the dangers of that intellect with counsel and wisdom. To help in the hunt or to fight those who would harm them. They will band together to join to decide...are they threatened? Or is there something greater amongst them."
The ghost is silent, the memory satisfied as Jerod rises from the crouch, turning slowly in a circle, watching the foliage, sniffing...listening.
Hunters wait...patient...watching the lone prey in their midst.
His turn completed, Jerod smiles slightly. No sign. Good. Do they perhaps realize who they have been following...and what that means. He draws Eric's sword as he approaches a tree and flips his wrist back, striking the trunk with the pommel once, twice, thrice...the bass sound of each impact echoing amongst the trees before the next rings out. Then he waits patiently...to see which will win out...Weir curiosity of something new...or their fear of the predator in their midst.
Because Jerod is a prince of Amber, with the keen senses and acute perceptions of that line, he hears the movements in the foliage first, before he hears anything. There is rustling, and then there is presence: one alone, but Jerod knows better than to believe that is the only one close by.
It is late afternoon; the shadows cast by the trees are long, attenuated. The newcomer--or the oldcomer--steps out of the trees, and comes into view.
"Who are you, stranger," he asks with a thick accent whose cadences are familiar to Jerod, "and why have you come here?" He is tall and broad and thick, not unlike Gerard in terms of build, but his hair is longer and a bit matted, and his arms, what Jerod can see of them beneath the rough costume that he affects, are far hairier.
This, Jerod knows, is a weir.
Jerod is silent as the weir makes himself visible, studying the signs and movements on display. Language is not the forte of most weir, Eric was fond of saying, but rather it was their posture, their actions that spoke volumes to the one who could see it. The turn of the head, whether the arms hung low or were crooked at the elbow, or the bend of a knee in readiness to fight or flee. It was intrinsic to their being, and to their social behaviour as well. Language served it purpose for certain and many were their tongues, but the body revealed volumes compared to the dribs and drabs of the spoken word.
"I am looking for Seeker of Men's Hearts." Jerod says, remembering the name of the weir that Eric introduced him to long ago. No simple brute that one. Lean and stealthy, a hunter with intelligence and grace. Not a pack leader, but indispensable for the good of the clan and tribe. Smart enough to attract Eric's attention and tough enough to keep it. One fit to be in the presence of Eric's offspring, Jerod considers as the social hierarchy filters again in the background. He adjusts his position slightly, remaining in a dominant stance as befits one who is at the top of the pack hierarchy.
"I would have words with him and his pack master. Tales of old hunts and old masters, for the tribe that served Eric of Amber."
The weir Jerod is speaking to is, he believes, not a leader or a master, because none such would be sent to speak with a man-shape who has only the single form. He has a prideful enough stance to be in the upper tiers of the pack, but not the natural dominance of a leader that commands respect and deference effortlessly. He is young enough that Jerod thinks he might obtain such in due time; the fine network of scars that crisscross his skin--the parts that Jerod can see--tell Jerod that he is unafraid to fight, at the very least.
Jerod's request echoes for a moment, and the weir nods. "And who should I say would speak with Seeker of Men's Hearts? For he is wise and many seek him." It's not quite what right have you got here, two-legger? or something equally insulting, but it's not a deferential I will take you to my leader either.
Jerod does not nod, though his internal thoughts recognize that he would do it were he not suppressing the behaviour to respond subconsciously. The pack would never send someone important to deal with a stranger... too many risks, too little to gain. This one would be a fighter, strong, quick and experienced. Tough enough to defeat an opponent or to escape to return and warn the pack.
"We will see if he remembers me, though many years have passed." Jerod replies. "I am Jerod Eric-Son, Prince of Amber."
"Your sire is known to us, Ericsson," the Weir says, blending the name into a single word. "But he is dead and no longer leads the pack of two-leggers. By what right would you speak to Seeker of Men's Hearts?"
"By the offspring's right to claim what was his sire's." Jerod replies. "By blood and blade, by tongues and by deed. By the offer of kinship, which surpasses even blood-ties to those who are worthy."
"I will lead you to him, then, and if he wishes to speak with you, he shall." It is not yet night and the moon is not high in the sky, but he takes the form of a wolf, his shape blurring from that of a man and falling to the ground and into that of an animal. Then he takes off into the brush again, not waiting for Jerod's presumed assent.
Jerod follows, grateful for the heritage that grants him speed and endurance to keep up with a wolf. His sword remains sheathed and tied close to the body, the better for travel but the spear remains in his hands, a balance for a fast pace, or for whatever may arise in the distance.
The path is not easy for Jerod to travel, and were he not a Prince of Amber with the speed implied by that state, Jerod would lose his way. As he passes among brush and scrub, between trees, he hears the howling of wolves, close by, and then further ahead. He and the weir he follows have an honor guard. They run like the wind for what seems to Jerod like miles, and he's glad that he's his father's son again, for otherwise he couldn't keep up and on at this pace.
Eventually they come to an open, cleared area of land, where by some magic or effort of man or weir, the grass is low and flat. Perhaps some of the herd-beasts Folly loved keep it open. In the middle of the open area sits a grey wolf, one that Jerod might guess is the weir he seeks. Jerod's guide comes to this wolf and bows, really, in submission, before running off into the high grass again. The wolves around them have fallen silent; it is left to Jerod to break it.
Jerod puts the butt of the spear onto the ground, looking over the ground and grass for a long moment. Then he smiles, mindful to keep his teeth hidden.
Court remains Court, no matter the changes in Reality or Shadow, Prince or Weir. And Jerod recognizes a Court when he sees one, his first and only home.
"Court is Court son..." Eric's ghost says. "Forms will change for that is the nature of Shadow, but the rules are always the same."
Jerod nods at the memory, his gaze sweeping the grass and distance. Courtiers and sycophants, strong soldiers and weak followers will all find their places around this court. He notes where in the grass he would expect to see them, sometimes spotting movement here and there for the less skillful amongst the clan, noting the stealth of those who would be the guards.
Too distant to see for visual cues, Jerod thinks. Too far for scent as well. Which means sound is how the Court expresses itself, he thinks, considering the distance that a low throat sound can reach above the waves, the subtle shift of currents beneath.
All is Court.
He approaches at a slow step, the spear butt a silent cadence as it touches the ground in time with his boot. He uses the spot where his guide stopped to give his obeisance to the silver one as his guide, halting his approach several paces prior to that point. A trusted member would be permitted only so close, a stranger...to be kept further away. A rule Jerod has followed a thousand times before as he drops his left knee, placing the spear to his right side as he settles to make his bow. It is respectful and deep, recognition to one in their Court by another of rank, and at the same level.
Then he settles back onto his back leg, the right leg up and slightly forward as he gets comfortable. He says nothing, letting the Court speak first, as it always should.
The Court, in the form of Seeker of Men's Hearts (if that is he, and as best as Jerod recollects matters, it likely is) accepts Jerod's acknowledgement to the guide and his obesiance to the Court. He waits for some long time, regarding Jerod, but remains in his wolf form.
Around them, the wolves shift and, Jerod realizes over the next several minutes that they are still moving, settling into their places as Jerod expected they would. The lowest and least are the loudest, and soon enough even they are silent, having found their places and settled in.
Once all the wolves--the weir--are properly accounted for by their own methods, the silver wolf regards Jerod again. Still in his canine form, he speaks to Jerod, a single, loud bark, commanding. The import, Jerod might guess, is "speak".
"I have come with a request and a question." Jerod says. "There is need of the weir in the service of the offspring of Oberon, but Eric lives no longer. The bond to service is severed and I would seek to know what is needed to remake it that I might have the weir by my side once more. That is the request.
"My question is simpler. Since my father no longer lives, why have the weir not returned to their home?"
The transformation of wolf into man occurs before Jerod's eyes again, and he recognizes the human. It is indeed Seeker of Men's Hearts, whom he recollects from the weir's service with Eric. His hair is as silver in man-form as his pelt is as a wolf. "The answer to the question is simple, Ericsson, and freely given, as a sign of respect to your sire and his place in our pack. We do not return to Weirmonken because the way is barred to us. It closed in the storm lo these many years ago, and has not re-opened since.
"As for the request: surely you know that your father's place among us was won by valor." He looks piercingly at Jerod. "We would expect no less from you."
"I would ask how he won it." Jerod asks. "His life was long and he had many deeds to his name...it was not one he spoke of.
"As for the way, that can be opened again. A sign of respect for those my father would have considered worthy of his trust."
Seeker of Men's Hearts had reformed as a man in a kneeling crouch, one that looks less than comfortable to Jerod's eyes. On hearing Jerod's offer, he rises to his feet. "You would do that?" he asks, clearly suspicious. "What oath would you ask us to make? What service would you seek from us in return? For a return to Weirmonken would be a great boon, and surely it would come with a price."
For the moment, the question of Eric's deeds have been set aside in favor of the more pressing matter.
"What price do you think appropriate?" Jerod asks.
Seeker's eyes narrow as he considers. His "Hmmm," sounds not dissimilar from a growl, but it has no menace behind it. "We are not a complex people, and we have no land or peasants to generate wealth in this barren place. Your Greatwood is closed to us by decree, so we do not go there. We have but ourselves to offer in service.
"It must not be unending, this service. And it must be survivable. And we go together. And we return armed to Weirmonken."
"And all predicated on one simple requirement." Jerod replies. "Trust.
"Trust that the Weir will serve to their word. Trust that the Prince will not abuse it and that he will carry out his word as well. Always it comes back to that, in all things.
"My father may have gained your service through valor, but how did he gain your trust?"
Seeker of Men's Hearts takes a few steps towards Jerod. "Valor and trust are two claws on the same paw, Man. Weirmonken is a dark place, dangerous and full of sudden death. Like unto the Greatwood during the monster invasion. Mankind only prospers there when led by those few of us who are Weir. Ours was a remote county, far from the heartland of our people. It had fallen to an evil wizard, and what was left of the pack of leaders had been expelled from our lands and holdings.
"Prince Eric led us against the wizard's sorcerous troops and personally slew the Red Wizard. He restored the Count's heir to the seat of his ancestors. He only asked one boon, which was for a force to help him protect his homeland against his sorcerous enemies, who menaced the people of his world.
His chest thrusts out, and his eyes are shining. "It was an honor to serve."
Jerod rises as Seeker speaks, listening to him and the Court, the words and the deeds, and his father's shadow ever-present even in death.
"And that is the service that I ask of you now." Jerod says. "To aid me against those who might threaten my home and those I call my people. This service would not be eternal for the land of my father fades and his people travel to new lands. This, for the path to the Weirmonken and your return home."
Seeker of Men's Hearts wants, Jerod thinks, to accept. Jerod could convince him, or so it seems. Still, the large man hesitates. "Eric's son, I must ask. Your sister swore us to your father's brother. Even for what we want for ourselves, we cannot shirk that duty, even if we have not been called upon as yet. Is this task his or yours?"
"Both." Jerod replies. "My uncle, now King, has bidden that action be taken to defend the new home he builds. It is my choice of the form of action to be taken, and I will be the one to ensure that way is opened for your return.
"I would ask under what conditions your service was sworn by my sister, for she is no more."
At the news, the nearby woods ring with deep echoing howls from at least a dozen wolves' throats. Seeker drops to his haunches and joins them.
Seeker takes several deep breaths, and stands. "Your sister, was like us, touched by the arrows of the moon goddess. Her mother was Weir. How was she killed?"
Jerod turns slowly as the howls echo through the Court, knowing better than to let the surprise of the information register on his face. He files it for future use, filtering it with knowledge of his father and his behaviour, wondering what alliances were struck in exchange for the offspring of a Prince.
"She died when attempting to reach Tir-na Nog'th...Amber of the moonlight reflection." Jerod replies to Seeker's question. "It appears that she fell from a great height, though we cannot be certain. Whether she died by accident, or intent, is still being determined.
"What were the conditions of service that my sister swore you to?" he asks again.
Seeker seems angry, but not surprised, as if he expected that answer. "The Queen of Air and Darkness has another death to answer for, then. Your sister swore us to two bindings. First, we swore not to breach the King's Peace while in his lands. Second we swore to defend the realm in case of invasion. We have honored both oaths."
"And the service did not include a time frame?" Jerod asks.
Seeker shrugs, slightly, as if time mattered little to him. "Implicitly, 'until you take direct service of the King or until you leave'. It did not matter, because we trusted your sister to do right. And we will not forget the debt incurred." He rolls his rrs like he's growling.
Jerod frowns. "You mentioned the Queen, and the another death. What does the Queen have to answer to on prior accounts?"
The Weir leader frowns. "We live under her curse. She created and discarded us, leaving us to die in the land of Monk. Many died, but enough lived. She is the Weir's greatest enemy, and her destruction is our people's greatest aim."
"And how would you propose to go about doing so?" Jerod asks.
Seeker crouches again, and Jerod can see several of his pack-mates moving in closer. "I know not. Your sister hoped to learn more in the city of traitors above us, and followed it when left. You could have many follow your banner, Prince Jerod, if you were to return to Weirmonken with a plan to attack the Queen of Air and Darkness."
Jerod is silent for a long moment, watching as the pack-mates move closer. He turns slowly in a circle, looking at each in turn until his gaze returns to Seeker.
"Tir and its path are closed, by order of the King." Jerod replies. "That order I will obey and all those who hear my words will obey it, for I know not for certain that the Queen was responsible for my sister's death. And my vengeance for that death will be given to the one responsible, when the truth is known and not clouded.
"Listen well, Seeker of Men's Hearts when I say that vengeance will be had." Jerod says, summoning the rage buried within, making it real. "Listen for all your people and those who would hear my words, for when you speak of banners to be followed and enemies to be fought, one day that moment will come."
The shadows do not lengthen and the wind does not change, yet everything becomes more real as he speaks. There is fury in his voice, a wave that ripples out, touching all that hear it, be they Weir or man or animal. The birds and insects fall silent and freeze, the better to hide as the rage of the Prince manifests. The oath that carries from his lips whispers forth on the silent wind, beyond the ears of those sit and crouch, upon the winds of Shadow and beyond.
"The one who took from me what is most precious, will answer to me for that. A day, a year, a century...they will answer, and I will end them.
"I will end their life, that they will no longer threaten that which I hold most dear.
"I will end their existence, that those who serve them no longer have succor and fall into dust.
"I will take their name and wipe it from Shadow, that none would know it, or have cause to even dream of knowing it.
"I will take their essence and shatter it, that none could feel it and that it may never come forth again.
"I will take everything that they are...and make it no more. And for all their defiance, I will visit wrath upon them a thousand fold."
He closes his fist, the knuckles cracking in the silence as the oath disappears on the wind.
"I will open the way to the Weirmonken, Seeker. And when you speak to your kindred of the Prince and the banner he would unfurl, speak first of vengeance. For they should know that those who would follow should not do so lightly. There will be no glory in this, no justice, only extinction for those who have wronged. If they can find solace in such as that, then their choice is already made."
Jerod's words fall into a deep silent space, ringing out as if they are the only thing in all the world. Every Weyr within earshot is totally focused on Jerod, and the pack seems to be breathing in unison with him.
There's a heartbeat, then another, then a Weyr howls in response, loud and long. Another follows, and then the woods echo with the voices of the wolves who are men.
Seeker also howls, and somehow it's the full-throated howl of a wolf, not of a man. "We mark your oath and will tell your legend for all time, Jerod Ericsson. We are yours to command."
Jerod nods slowly once. "Approach then, children of Weirmonken, for you are the key that opens the door." he says, kneeling once more to sit, the left leg bent under and the shin touching the ground.
He waits patiently as they approach, looking over each as they do, studying them carefully, nothing their colour, their smell, the way they move and breathe...each a piece of a greater whole. Once they are settled, he returns his gaze to Seeker.
"Within each of you is the seed of your homeland. It is unique, an ember that sits patiently in the fires of your soul. It gives you strength when your need is most dire for then it burns with passion and fury. Now, you need it to burn, brighter than you have ever needed it.
"Sing to me of your home." he says, turning his gaze to look upon them in turn. "All of you...sing of the land and wind, of waters and skies beautiful and terrible. Sing of prey, and of hunts long passed and of hunts yet to come. Sing of mighty forests and homes and family, of those you long to once more see and know to be yours once more."
And as he finishes, he summons the Pattern to mind.
One by one, the large, ferocious creatures of the woods come forward, circling Jerod, sniffing him, letting him get their scent. They fill Jerod's nostrils: he can smell the oils in their fur, he can sense their closeness, he can hear their breathing. Things start to come together for Jerod: details about what range of shadows they might come from, how time and gravity work there, and atmosphere and water and light.
Some of what he learns won't help him find the shadow, but he's got enough to move in the right direction.
The Weir don't stop moving, but circle around Jerod several times. It takes a few laps, but Jerod hears their song. The wolves howls aren't random, and have seem directed. Some of the Weir are neither men nor wolves, but some sort of in-between creature. Their singing is slow rhythmic beats. Seeker adds his own fully human sounds.
After some minutes, the song dies down, but does not stop.
Seeker looks at Jerod, but declines to interrupt him. The silence is vast and intense, as if every living thing is focused on the Weir and the Weir are focused on Jerod.
And as he finishes, he summons the Pattern to mind.
Jerod holds the Great Pattern before him, the image that is burned into his very self now firmly before him in his mind.
He holds the Pattern but does not extend it, lest its natural influence crush the randomness of Shadow that is before it. Instead he lets its power reflect upon the pieces of Shadow that are before him like light upon the silvered surface of water, reflecting stars and moon but also that which moves within the view like trees and animals and cloud...he looks upon the reflections that are Weir and Man and Neither, song and scent and wind and earth. He watches as the Pattern reflects upon the pieces of Shadow that are the Weir...that of which they are truly made of, looking now not just for the core of the Weir, but the distortion against which their reality is defined, that which makes them unique amongst all of Shadow.
"The core?" Eric muses, the voice of the ghost as strong in death as in life, the memory of a forgotten lesson. "Tell me again how Shadow works."
"Amber is the center." Jerod says, his Patternwalk still fresh in his memory. "All Shadows are reflections."
"True. The reflections are distorted truths of a single seed." Eric says. "But that is not the whole truth. Shadow is more than just a seed...it is the seed AND the distortion through which the seed is viewed that makes up Shadow."
"To find a Shadow, or something particular is not just to find a thing or a place...you must know both the seed that is its center, but also the distortion which wraps around it. The filter against which it is viewed by the universe."
"What is the seed?" Eric asks.
"Amber." Jerod says, then shakes his head. "No, more precisely...the essence of Amber, the reality of the life that is here. Not the city or place...but the being of Amber"
The ghost nods. "You already know that...it is a part of you for all time. Now, you need to know the distortions that are around you. The Golden Circle is an easy distortion to understand. It follows a linear progression, logical and rational in its extension."
"But the further we go, the more distorted the Shadow and its contents...the more...fragmented." Jerod says, catching upon the insight. "Until it is so wild that the distortion itself seems to be the reality."
"Indeed." replies the ghost, fading once more as the lesson is recalled.
He sits, patient, holding the Pattern as the wisps of Shadow move through his awareness, filtering and watching, looking for the final piece to the puzzle, the distortion that defines the Weir, and that defines their home.
Jerod learns what he could learn from this exercise. First, he has many clues that will help him zero in on the home shadow of the Weir although he'll need to question them as he approaches, looking for details about the color of the sky and the smell of the forest and such. Jerod's task is daunting.
In addition, he senses what was implied by Seeker's speech: that the Weir are not originally from Weirmonken. That will complicate his search.
"Ready?" Jerod asks Seeker.
Seeker dips his head, not quite a nod. "We are assembled, and agreed. We can find all we need as we travel. We are ready."
[OOC: What's the plan? They're perfectly willing to abandon those few things they have that aren't on their persons, but you may need to figure out how to feed them if the trip takes more than a day. Pehaps you could travel through The Shadow Of the Slow Moving Tasty Herd Animals...]
Jerod will not be hellriding for this trip. He'd lose too many of the Weir, assuming any could even try to keep up with him and he would not be able to adjust effectively for travel to the location based on feedback. He needs to be able to sniff out the changes, as it were and to have the pack available as a collective in order to use them as his baseline...their senses, their memories, their comments on what they find.
That means he's going to acquire a horse first off, so that he can travel at a moderate speed (walking is too slow, but hellriding is too fast), and still be able to concentrate on changes. And he's already considered the requirements for keeping the Weir fed, so that shouldn't be a problem.
On that note, it would be time to depart.
Jerod has little trouble acquiring a horse, once he begins to travel. The shadows near Amber are very similar to the true earth and a stables is easy to find. The price seems quite good to the stableman, and Jerod pays with a random assortment of suddenly-appropriate coins.
He returns to the Weir, and after the horse has spent some time becoming accustomed to the smell of predators (with help from Jerod's skill as both a rider and a pattern user), the expedition is ready to depart.
Having spent enough time amongst the Weir, Jerod will have committed each of them to memory...sight and smell and names where appropriate. He fixes each into a special compartment of his mind, setting their identity as a unique marker in the way that only the offspring of Oberon can. And when that is done, he sets off.
The pace is steady, enough for the horse to carry him without needing to be constantly controlled, the Weir in a formation around him and flanking but close enough to be seen, close enough to be in his pattern sense and affected by any changes that he undertakes, starting with the earth and the essence of Shadow that he pulled from the Weir during his examination. Normally, were he to go to a place he knew, he would change the sky, as Eric taught him to. It gives the fastest change possible and lets one cross Shadows as if in a blink of the eye.
But such will not work here, not yet. Until the land and its essence is close enough to what he has sensed can he ask for guidance from Seeker and the others for sky and smell. In this ride, patience is the watchword.
The ride is long and Jerod's shifting makes it essentially timeless. The time of day varies to suit Jerod's shadow-walking needs. Jerod slows when the horse tires. He and his weir are on or about a woodland trail. It's a step up from an animal path, but only just. If the horse needs food and rest, then the weir may also need to rest or eat.
[OOC: Unless Jerod has specific plans or actions on rest-breaks, they pass uneventfully. If Jerod changes things, this will wait until he does arrive.]
The night air is brisk, although Jerod and his horse are both warm from the extended ride they've just completed. The full moon is shrouded in fog and the air smells of fear. The forest is tall and ancient and doesn't seem to care if Jerod and his weir are there.
Some distance away, a wolf howls. Seeker looks at Jerod. He seems more animalistic than he did in Amber. "We shoud reply. Out of respect."
Jerod nods an affirmative. "Do you recognize them?"
Seeker indicates that he has not. "We have been gone too long, my Prince."
The pack howls, not in unison, but with enough commonality that others can tell they have returned. The responding howls seem more urgent.
"They need help!" translates Seeker, and takes off to the south. The pack follows.
The ride down from Amber Castle was pleasant enough, but Garrett can tell that the city below is diminished. It doesn't look small, but it looks tired, as if the spirit had left it. It feels autumnal, although that hardly makes sense, given the season.
The streets are not empty, just quieter. In some places a door might gape ajar, as if the owners don't care what happens inside them--which may be true, at that.
There is still activity and movement, although it seems to favor the docks and what Garrett thinks is the trumping point for leaving for Xanadu. The city has taken quite a blow.
Garrett arrives at the Red Mill, which is open. Few people are inside, and the tables and chairs don't match the opulent set that Garrett last saw in the fabled playground of the rich and powerful. An older man smiles at Garrett when he enters. "Your Highness, welcome to Red Mill. What may I do for you?"
Drawing his gaze back from the worn and tired atmosphere of the room, Garrett returns a subdued smile to the host. "I'd like to see Madame Silken, if you please," he requests quietly.
He smiles, wistfully. "I am sorry, your Highness. Madame Silken has left this establishment. Some time previously."
A slightly drunken man stands up from a nearby table. "You looking for Silken? So'm I." The host looks pained that the drunk has bothered the Prince and Garrett catches his subtle gesture that causes bouncers to be begin converging from the sides of the room.
Garrett remains still, except that his right hand edges subtly toward the knife at his hip. His eyes, now steely and alert, shift from the drunk to the bouncers and back. "He's fine," he mutters softly, calling the bouncers off. Assuming they stay put, his attention turns to the drunk.
"You have business with Madame Silken?" he asks coolly, adding with a glance at the surroundings, "Besides the obvious?"
He snorts. "Forgive me, m' Lord. Can't afford that, and if I could I still couldn't afford it, if you take my meaning. I work for her. Worked. Spossed to find her, give her a message."
He sways. He doesn't seem to mean any immediate harm, and if he did, Garrett could throw him faster than a stallion throws a bad shoe.
Garrett considers this for a moment, then turns to the host. "A moment," he says quietly, indicating he has more questions here. His eyes narrow and as an afterthought, he adds, "And deliver more of what he's having. With two glasses."
Garrett turns back to the swaying man and nods toward the recently vacated table. He takes the chair that faces the door and slides into it, leaning back and resting his left arm on the tabletop. He'd look like he was settling in for a friendly drink if not for the icy blue stare. His right hand rests on his hip. "Sit," he orders levelly.
The drinks arrive and the bartender looks at Garrett. "If you need anything else or change your mind," he says, looking at the drunk, "we would be happy to assist."
Garrett remains silent until the bottle and glasses arrive. He slowly pours a shot of amber-brown liquid into each glass, then picks up one and drains it. With his other hand holding the full glass invitingly on the table in front of the drunk, he opens, "So. You worked for Silken."
He nods, sloppily. "I did. I liked to say I worked for your Cousin, your honor, but she was his right hand." He smiles to himself, but declines to share the joke with Garrett. "Sent me to Xanadu to do some work, now I need to give her a message." He looks closely at Garrett. "I think I know where she is, but I can't get there. Maybe you can get us both there."
"Maybe," the prince answers noncommittally. "Which cousin? And what kind of work, specifically?"
He seems surprised that Garrett doens't already know. Perhaps he thinks Garrett is testing him. "The Lord Lucas St. Cyr. He wanted to make sure the Castle was informed of the doings in the city, and I was printing a newspaper. So many people would talk to me and to my people who wouldn't be seen with respectable people. I printed his books, too. But he didn't tell anyone he wrote them."
Garrett nods at the name, indicating the question was not a test but a confirmation. An eyebrow rises curiously at the last bit though. "Books? What did he write?" he asks.
He smiles. "Books, my Lord, on matters of finance and business for ladies. And obscene woodcuts."
Garrett's air of subdued menace cracks with a snort of amusement. "Typical," he smirks, pushing the spare glass of spirits toward the man and finishing off his own. "I didn't get your name. And you said you'd been to Xanadu. How did you get there and back before?"
He nods, "I am Heap, your Highness. A printer by trade, of books and news, and a loyal citizen of your great father. I was doing quite well before I became entangled in Lord Lucas' endeavors, but my curse is to want help those who are my betters. I know my weakness well." He shakes his head. "I came through Lord Ossian's magics to Xanadu and was returned on the first ship leaving when Prince Jerod so decreed."
He shakes, seeming to sober up by the moment. "I know where she went, your Highness. I can tell you, if you swear to take me to her. I fear her less than I fear Prince Jerod's wrath if I fail him."
The bartender looks as if he wants to kill Heap, but he's preparing another round of drinks.
At the mention of Heap's name, Garrett's general expression does not change, but a new spark of interest kindles in his eyes. "Smart man," he comments, the corner of his lip twitching in a slight smirk. "Jerod's not one to cross."
He lets that hang for a moment as he shifts in his chair, now leaning forward with elbows resting on the table. He nods the bartender over for the next round of drinks, then continues.
"I reckon we can work together," Garrett drawls thoughtfully, his voice dropping lower. "I've got some questions of my own and I hear you're good at getting answers."
He nods, vigourously. "I am, your Highness! I am. I have always been a most loyal and excellent subject of your royal father and grandfather before. I offer my assistance in any way it may of use to your Lordship's cause." His smile of relief seems genuine, like a man who has just realized that he's no longer walking across thin ice.
"No need to butter the toast so thick, man. I'll get you to Xanadu, but you don't have to be in my pocket the whole way," Garrett says, the smirk edging into a lop-sided smile.
He rubs his chin in thought as he continues quietly, "Before we leave here though, I want to know what you know about Lucas's children. ALL of them."
Heap nods. "I shall stay out of your pocket, then. I am your humble servant." He may be unclear on what exactly Garrett asked for, but he knows he agrees with it. "I know very little, Your Lordship. Silken only called on me for muscle. I didn't have the assets she did, so I was no threat to her position, if you take my meaning. She will have all your answers.
"And, Your grace should be aware, if I haven't said so before, that Silken is not in Xanadu. Word is that she is in Paris. We shall need to continue our search there." The bartender looks annoyed that Heap even knows the answer to that question.
"Wish I'd know that before I left Paris," Garrett mutters, now running through his memory to see if anyone had mentioned that previously. He shrugs slightly and asks, "When did she go? And what did she bring with her?" He glances at the bartender from the corner of his eye to see his response to the question as well.
The bartender is studiously neutral. He's wiping down the bar, although it doesn't seem to need it.
"I don't know, your highness. We seldom met, and I continued to receive my instructions. I'd've said she was still in Amber a month ago, but I have heard conflicting reports."
"From who? The same people who gave you the instructions?" Garrett asks.
He shakes his head. "There were no intermediaries, not of interest. Sealed messages. If I was fooled, then it was by someone with her seal. But they seemed to be from her, and she knew what was happening in town.
"I was sent to Xanadu quickly, so I had little chance to detect any deception. Even if I had heard that she went to Paris, it would only have convinced me that she was getting orders from His Lordship."
"That makes sense," Garrett says quietly, nodding slowly. "From what I've heard, there's no reason to believe she's not as active now as she was before. Do you know anyone else she might have been working with?"
He pauses, then continues. This time he's quiet enough that the bartender can't hear. "There were rumors, never confirmed, that she had more than one of the Castle Lords on the hook, as it were. I don't know as it's true or as it's not true, and some of it's just straight rumor. I am too humble and loyal, but some of the other printers were unscrupulous and would print anything. Someone was trying to publicly tie her to Prince Jerod, at one point. Offering enough money that all the smart or honest men in the print trade knew to stay away from it."
The bartender studiously continues not to pay attention.
Last modified: 14 May 2013