Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Vere briefly considers the idea of taking the quick route to Amber through the Deep Green, then rejects that as needlessly foolhardy when no extreme need for speed has been suggested for the dispatches he carries.
Instead he commandeers one of the the small boats of the Rangers and sets off down the river. Once he is out of site of the camp he begins shifting shadow, turning the deep forest around him to something closer to the trees close to Amber.
He also tries something new, experimenting with actually shifting the nature of the boat he is in as he travels, so that the closer he comes to the mouth of the river and the sea the more it resembles his sloop Psyche.
The boat becomes, gradually, the sloop. Vere cannot tell any difference between this sloop and Psyche. Vere arrives at the mouth of the river, and can sail from here up to Amber. The weather is clear and he can see Cabra in the distance. If he were to stop, he might find the cairn of stones that once marked the path to Rebma.
Vere sails out into the ocean, and for a short time simply delights in the feel of once more being upon the sea. He gives the sloop her head, feeling the way she moves, and shaking his head in bemusement when he finally determines that her every little trick and idiosyncrasy perfectly matches the Psyche of his memory.
Then he turns her towards Amber.
A sloop is better at sailing into the wind than any square-rigged ship, so the Psyche is an excellent choice for Vere’s sail back up the coast to Amber. He arrives to a gorgeous sunset, the sky a wash of reds and oranges tinging into blue. He comes up to his regular berth and does not see the Psyche. In fact he doesn’t even see slip 12, where he last left her. The dock ends with slip 10, which is empty.
The Psyche glides smoothly into slip 10. Vere ties her off and steps onto the dock, pausing for a moment to regard the harbor ands the city, comparing it to his memories, judging how the city and its feel have changed.
The city seems as he left it, although a few weeks closer to autumn that it was when he left.
He will wait a few minutes to see if anyone approaches him, officially or otherwise.
A young man comes striding down the dockside. "Good Evening, my Lord. Admiral's Complements and may I summon a remise for your use?" He looks to be one of Caine’s young officers, or a man who wishes to be one of that lot.
Vere nods a greeting to the young man. "Aye," he answers. "Where is the Admiral right now?"
Rather than guess which Admiral, the young man just rattles off the top two. "The Marquis is at the Naval Club." He looks up at the castle and spots the pennants flying there. "The Regent is in residence. I have not heard he is in the city, so the castle is the most likely place to find him. I can send runners, if you wish."
"Do so," Vere replies. "And another to the Marquis, to inform him that I would like to call upon him if the Regent permits. I will go ahead and begin to travel to the castle. Have someone intercept me if it is determined that the Regent is somewhere else."
The young man nods. "As you wish, My Lord. I will accompany you to the carriage house."
He glances at the end of the dock then back to the young man. "Is my memory at fault or was the dock not longer in the past?"
"The... recent past, My Lord?" The young man looks back at the dock. "It has not been longer than that that I recall. Perhaps before the sundering, but I was a child then."
Vere drops the subject and allows the young man to escort him to the carriage house. He silently looks about him as they walk, and once in the carriage will keep the curtains open and observe the city as it makes its way to the castle, looking for any other changes that have occurred since he was last here.
Amber seems greener that he remembered it being when he recently left. There is more green space, as if some buildings have been demolished. There's nothing Vere can point to and say that a particular building was gone, but there's a lot of growth, and in places overgrowth.
As Vere looks ahead, the path up the mountain seems more overgrown than it used to, as if no one was clearing the spring growth off of it regularly.
Vere frowns, then closes his eyes and opens his third eye to regard the greenery. Is it more than natural overgrowth caused by neglect?
Vere sees no signs of the incursion of the Deep Green, but it's possible activity from that front caused more growth in Amber. Plus, there are more vacant lots.
It's also warmer and wetter than this time of year usually is.
Vere briefly considers experimenting with making slight alterations to buildings as they drive through the city. Then he considers Caine's possible reaction and chooses to refrain.
He regards the castle carefully as the carriage approaches it.
They've done more work repairing the defensive fortifications that were damaged when the family tower collapsed in the Sundering.
The staff seems diminished, although the guard seems to be at full complement.
Vere's carriage is met at the inner bailey by a footman, who may or may not be a sailor on other occasions. "Welcome to Amber, Prince Vere," he says. "The Admiral is in the Library. Shall we open your room?"
Vere gives him a nod in greeting and replies, "Not yet. I may or may not be staying dependent upon the desire of the Admiral. I shall see him immediately." He will pause a moment, giving the footman the opportunity to lead him to the Admiral if that is his order. If not, then Vere will head to the library on his own.
The footman doesn't seem to have any such orders, and Vere take the well-worn steps to the library. It's diminished, of course, since Random moved the family library to Xanadu, but there are still books, both on shelves and in crates. There are many sea-charts as well. Caine sits at a table, reading some sort of report in a folder. He's shaved and had a recent haircut.
"Welcome back," he says. "How was your voyage?"
He seems distracted.
"The voyage was quiet, sir," Vere answers. "And it was quite pleasant to be on the sea again, even if I never did get out of sight of land." He lays the dispatches on the table.
Caine looks at them, as if they're not what he expected. He slowly picks the fist dispatch up, opens it, and looks at it. His eyes don't look like they're tracking the writing on it.
Caine picks up the rest of the dispatches. "Interesting. Where did you get these?"
"I have been working with the Rangers," Vere replies. "The Warden needed someone to bring these to you."
He tilts his head slightly to one side, regarding the Regent.
Caine's head tilts slightly, as if he were a mirror of Vere. "Oh, yes. My brother. How is he?"
Something is not right with the Regent. He leans his hand on the table beside him, puttling his weight fully on it. He is either about to spring up to the chandelier or collapse to the ground.
"Quite well, as always," Vere answers, giving no sign that he has noticed anything unusual about the Regent. He glances off to one side, opening his Third Eye, then slowly returns his glance to Caine. He doesn't want to blind himself by gazing full on at a member of the Royal Family if this really is Caine.
It's not Caine, or if it is Caine, he's lost whatever light and energy differentiated him from a non-royal person.
Disturbingly, the floor, walls, and ceiling of the library are also glowing, in a way that buildings almost never do. To Vere's Third Eye, the library looks like an extension of Caine.
Not-Caine lurches forward towards Vere.
Vere falls back, avoiding Not-Caine. "Is this necessary?" he asks, while reaching through the Principal of Space to recover the dispatches from the desk without approaching Not-Caine. "Can we not discuss matters?" His eyes flit over the room, gauging potential exits.
The room is well lit, with large windows letting in as much light as possible. Nestor's office is also close by, and the door Vere entered by is behind him.
Caine stumbles forward. "I don't... feel well."
The attachment of the room to Caine looks far too much like the way a Lord of Chaos is part and parcel of his domain to Vere for comfort, so he is going to avoid touching things as much as possible. He will endeavour to avoid the Cainish figure, dodging around to head for Nestor's office. If the door to the Head Librarian's office is closed Vere will use Space to blow it open before dashing inside.
Using the sorcerous equivalent of a hard kick, the door flies open. There is a room behind it, but it’s not Nestor's office. It's unfinished, like a stage set meant only to be seen from one angle.
Looking over his shoulder, Vere sees Not-Caine stumbling after him. He seems to be shrinking as he comes, as if he's peeling off a slice of his leg with every step. The net effect is that it looks like he's going down very narrow stairs into the floor.
The view through the door looks wrong, somehow, as if it's not as solid as it seemed when he was led in.
Vere slashes a hand through the air, ripping a hole in Space between here and the deck of the Psyche. He glances through the hole before leaping through it, just in case there are any unpleasant surprises waiting.
The ship is floating peacefully in the slip in the harbor. It has started to rain, gently, and some is actually falling into the hole that Vere has opened.
Behind Vere, Not-Caine has fallen to the ground, and is crawling towards the door. Each movement pulls off another thin layer from his arms and knees, as if he were composed of slices of roast beef. He's nearly at the door to the office. Or part of him is. Behind him is a trail of the rest of him.
The Psyche is firmly beneath Vere's feet, and the whole dock seems to be shaking.
Through the portal, Not-Caine looks at the Prince of the Isles. "Vere, help me!", he says.
Vere glances at the city, and the castle on the mountain, with his Third Eye, looking for other traces of Not-Caine, before turning his attention back to the portal. "What help would you have, then?" he asks in a cold voice.
"Pull me through! This shadow is collapsing! It couldn’t handle both of us." Not-Caine reaches for the rip in space between his office and the Psyche.
Vere lifts a hand, preparing to close the rift. "Be honest, and I help you," he says. "Lie, and fall." He is prepared to either reach through and pull the other to safety, or to close the opening, depending on the words and actions of the one claiming his aid.
"This is why I sent everyone away, you fool! Pull me though your sorcerous gate!" He's crawling, leaving more bits behind him on the floor. In another moment, he'll have reached the opening. Parts of him will have reached it, anyway.
"And that you are Caine is what I do not believe," Vere says, a faint trace of sadness in his voice, as he closes the Portal before any of notCaine can come through it.
He casts off from the dock, and observes Amber, or perhaps merely a shadow trap made to resemble Amber, as he sails away from it.
As Vere goes to cast off, he notices that the Psyche is in slip 12. He doesn't really know what he’d change to make this shadow more like Amber.
Vere sails a little ways out into Amber Harbor, makes certain that he is not in the path of any other vessels, then quietly observes the city and the castle for a while, using both his mortal vision and his third eye. "I certainly hope that was not you, Saeth," he murmurs quietly. He draws his father's trump, but pauses thoughtfully, and does not look at it.
Amber is itself, the partially abandoned city that is a shadow of its former self. There are still plenty of people, but not the thriving trade and rough life it once held. Many have left and even a diminished city does not lack for people to fill the abandoned spaces.
The castle and city look as they did when Vere left, but the city seems smaller. Not in size, and not in the buildings, but in life. On the fringes, parts of it seem abandoned completely. This is a continuation of trends Vere saw when he was last here.
It seems hard to believe that it once rivaled Paris or Xanadu.
Vere watches silently for a short while, then shakes his head. More investigation is clearly called for, but he will not be so reckless as to go in without informing someone, in case he vanishes.
He looks at the card in his hand. "Father," he says. "It is Vere."
"Hello Vere," his father replies. "Sorry, I was taking a nap. Have you returned from your mission for the King?"
"Not yet, Father," Vere answers. "I am still working with Uncle Julian and the Rangers, as we discussed when we last talked. I wanted to know if you have heard any news of Amber recently? I am here, and there is a most curious situation."
Gerard shakes his head. "No news that I've heard. A lot of people are still coming from there to Xanadu, of course, so I'd've expected we would've, were there any.” Gerard, at least, understands his antecedents.
Vere nods. "That is what I expected. Very well, then, this needs to be brought to the King's attention. Uncle Caine is not in residence. Instead, there was either an impostor or a construct of some kind pretending to be him. It might have tried to attack me when I discovered it was not Caine, although I am not certain if it was actually an attack, or an attempt to save itself when the constructed shadow of Caine's office collapsed." Vere shrugs. "I do not know enough about these things to be certain what happened, but I do think it is important to report that either Caine has left Amber, and left a decoy in his place, or else someone was able to kidnap and replace him." Vere's voice does not indicate which of these he thinks is more likely.
"I am about to go to the Naval Club to question M about this matter. I wished to report what had occurred so far in case of any..." Vere pauses delicately, before concluding, "...possible difficulties."
"If aught like that had happened to Caine, I'd hope we'd have heard." Gerard's face scrunches into an agitated frown. "Someone would have come through the gate."
There's a ponderous slow pause while Gerard considers the options, settling on one he clearly doesn't like. "You know that when too many of us spend time in a shadow, things become strange around it. Is there a chance the shadows around Amber have led ye astray?"
Vere nods. "That is always possible, Father. I have not been using the Pattern for long, and walking through shadows is still new to me. When I first arrived I noticed a few oddities - a dock that was not as long as it should have been, more overgrowth than should have occurred in this short time, and so on. I thought they were due to the fact that Amber is now only a shadow, not Reality."
Vere tilts his head thoughtfully. "I escaped from the false Caine through a Sorcerous portal. It is possible that I might have stepped from a shadow of Amber to the true Amber when I did that. I do not know how to test this, other than perhaps going back to the Castle and seeing if Caine is there."
"I'd leave and come back into harbor, meself, but I'm a stick in the mud that way. Are you sure you don't want to come here and have me hand you through to Caine instead? If there's no certainty of where you've landed with your sorcery, it might still not be safe." Gerard's native mistrust of sorcery leaks through the connection, along with his concern for Vere.
Vere considers that possibility, then shakes his head. "At this point I am rather interested in finding out what has happened. I shifted through shadows on my way here to turn the boat I was using into the Psyche, which I had left in Amber. When I used Sorcery to escape the false Caine I stepped through Space onto the Psyche. Perhaps Reality had created a false Amber to prevent the paradox of the two Psyches, and I am now back in the true Amber? Does that sound possible?"
Gerard ponders the question for a long moment before saying, "Could be. I've never tried to find a thing I knew was mine in Shadow to take back to Amber knowing it was there. Or to make one, if you will. If I have a thing, it's with me; if it's in Amber, it's in Amber." He shrugs, a bit of bafflement coming through the connection. It's not clear to Vere whether his father is questioning the possibility that Shadow is working the way Vere's trying to make it work or why Vere chose to plate his metaphorical and metaphysical beans in that manner.
"But you have found something in Shadow that was somewhere else in Shadow, have you not?" Vere asks.
Gerard starts to say something and then decides whatever it is isn't relevant as Vere continues.
"And Amber, alas, is but Shadow now." He smiles. "Well, since that may well have been what happened, and not some nefarious business regarding Uncle Caine, I think my next step is to return to the castle and see if he is there."
Vere pauses then, then adds, "I have not seen Robin yet, but I have been told that she has returned from her visit to Aunt Fiona."
"Aye." Gerard sounds relieved at the change of subject. "She's gone back to Arden to help Julian. The last I heard, she was sniffing around for some trouble on the border with Broceliande, such as it is. Not," he hastens to add, "into the Deep Green. Just the forest border that shades off into shadow toward Xanadu."
Vere nods. "I would dearly like to be with her," he says, "But I believe that Uncle Julian thinks it best for the Family to see that she can operate on her own and does not need to rely upon me for stability. This is logical although I do not like it."
Gerard frowns. "I wouldn't presume to say what Julian thinks or not about the needs of his daughter. But have ye considered that Robin may want to show such herself? She had a rough time coming back from the wars, but she's no child. If her knees wobble now and again, she may want to stand straight on her own, without need of her sire or any man to tell her what to do."
Vere's face reveals nothing of what he thinks of this suggestion. "Once I am through with this matter in Amber I shall return to Arden," he says. "Robin and I shall discuss the matter then.
"Thank you, Father, for your advice. I shall return to the castle now." Vere's hand hovers over the card waiting to sever the connection unless Gerard has some final words.
"Good luck, and call again if ye need me. I’ll be waiting to hear from you or Caine." And on that note Gerard is ready to relinquish the contact.
Vere sails back to the dock, ties up, and takes a leisurely walk up to the castle. He is closely observing the city, to see how it compares to the last version.
The city here is more like the one Vere remembers, though it seems to be depopulating more rapidly than Vere has any reason to expect, even given the hardships of the Regency and the exoduses to Xanadu and Paris. More buildings are boarded up and abandoned, though many shops are still open, if with fewer goods, and many homes and tenements are still at least partially inhabited. If Vere passes by the Naval, it's open, or at least guarded rather than abandoned.
The stair up to the castle appears unchanged, at least, and there are guards on duty at the gate as there should be.
Vere enters the castle and considers the servants and members of the staff that are apparent. Are they new, or are they old members of the staff who chose not to relocate to Xanadu?
Some of the members of staff are familiar to Vere from the five years of his father's Regency. Others, perhaps more, are young Naval types, presumably in Caine's service. Fewer, if any, of these are personally known to Vere. As far as Vere can tell, the people Vere knows are, in their brief encounters, behaving exactly as they ought to do. There's nothing strange or wrong about any of them.
He will request an audience with the Regent at his uncle's convenience.
The midshipman on duty passes that message to Caine.
Not long thereafter, Vere is ushered into the office from which Caine does his Regenting. It looks just like it did the last time he was in this office with Unstable Caine. "Welcome to Amber, Vere."
"I hope so, Uncle," Vere replies with a small smile. "Earlier today I arrived at someplace that wasn't quite Amber, and someone or something that wasn't quite you."
"Then you'll need to sharpen your use of the family gifts as you come here. I'm not surprised based on what I've heard of the metaphysics. To the extent that Amber is losing its reality, it's going to be harder and harder to come here directly through Shadow, especially for those of you with less experience." Which Caine doesn't say unkindly so much as observationally.
"Would you like a drink while you tell me your news?" Caine reaches around behind him to the credenza, where several decanters--flat, ship-style--of liquir are sitting.
"Yes, thank you," Vere answers. He puts the dispatches on the table in front of Caine. "From the Warden."
Caine finishes preparing two drinks and puts one down in front of Vere. He then opens the dispatches and glances through them. "Hmm. Nothing urgent. Tell me about what you encountered in Arden, and then how you think you went wrong on your return."
He stirs his drink idly with his finger, in a way that Flora would almost certainly disapprove of.
Vere pulls a chair up to the desk and sits down, then takes a sip of his drink before answering. "I am working with the Rangers currently, learning how they do things and what is going on in Arden. Uncle Julian sent me on a reconnaissance mission into the Deep Green, which contacted me to give a vague, poetical warning of some sort. I had heard some of the stories of the Deep Green and the Dragon of Arden. My brief and glancing encounter with it definitely reminds me of a Lord of Chaos."
Caine looks surprised. "I would recommend against... entanglements with the Dragon. It has bested more than one Prince of Amber."
Vere nods. "I did not seek it out," he clarifies,"And I have no plans of doing so in the future, unless under the direction of someone who understands it far better than I."
Vere tilts his head to one side. "As to how I went wrong in coming here..." he smiles slightly. "I think that was the result of an experiment that I attempted. I sailed to Amber from Arden on one of the boats of the Rangers and as I sailed I shifted shadow to change the boat into my sloop Psyche which I had left in dock here in Amber. I suspect the resulting paradox is the cause of my failure to arrive here on the first attempt. When I fled from the collapsing shadow I used Sorcery to open Space back to the deck of the Psyche and Reality appears to have used that as a loophole to return me back to Amber and the collapse the two versions of the Psyche back into one."
This time Caine doesn't look surprised at all. "I assumed it might be something like that. You can't force a paradox with the pattern, you can only make the illusion of a paradox. You got exactly what you expected, which was Amber, but without the Psyche.
"So, instead of landing in the same Amber that I'm in, you ended up in some near-Amber, but not a very stable one, from what you say.
"You can discuss the philosophy of it with your more philosophical cousins, but practically, it can be dangerous. It's one of the reasons Dad didn't let youngsters walk the pattern too soon, and why he made sure we all had Trump decks."
Vere nods once again.
Caine looks down at the dispatches from Arden. "Do you want to return immediately, or will you accompany the supplies that I'm to send to the Rangers?"
Vere takes another sip of his drink, then asks, "How long will it be before the supplies are ready?"
Caine gives the list a quick glance. "Two days. Most of it is basic supplies: blankets, food, bandages and such. It's the weapons that will take a bit longer."
He hands the dispatches to Vere. "Nothing unusual here, we're just going to have to gather it together."
In summary - Vere wants to check out the Amber library, just to see if it is still as he remembers it or if it seems to have fewer volumes. More as a point of information than anything else.
The library does have fewer volumes,and fewer librarians. Apparently much of it has been moved to Xanadu. The fragile stuff is waiting on the return of Nestor, who is in the new capital organizing the new library.
Then he wanted to go by the Naval Club to see M. Whether we play out the meeting with M or not depends on what sort of shape the old man is in.
M will see Vere. He's too old for a command at sea, but he's good on land. He seems more careworn than he did when Vere last saw him. Even the Naval seems less busy than it was. The center of Amber Naval power is split between Xanadu and Caine's office, so M is not in the middle of the web as he once was.
He's still got his wits though, and his voice is still stern. Once appropriate formalities are dispensed with (and M is a stickler for appropriate formalities), he gets right to the point. "I understand you're riding with the Rangers now."
"I am, milord," Vere answers. "My upbringing in the Isles included a great deal of forest craft, and I fought beasts of Chaos in the woods during what were called the Black Forest Incursions. It seemed a natural fit."
"I've never understood the appeal of the land, when the sea beckons." He shakes his head. "Nonetheless the Admiralty always stands ready to help the princes of the blood. What can I do for you?"
"You are in the habit of knowing things," Vere says. "That is not an easy habit to break. What is being said that is not making its way to the King or the Regent, now that you are not in the loop?"
M looks at Vere, considering how or perhaps what to answer. "There are multiple loops, and the King and the Regent are not completely without my guidance.
"What the King and the Regent choose not to deal with is another matter. And a difficult one, for how does one slowly kill a city that has lived for over two millennia? The city has not social structures to deal with wholesale abandonment.
"And yet it happens."
Vere nods slightly, without expression. "I confess to being somewhat disappointed," he says. "I had hoped that the appointment of the Regent meant a plan to save Amber, a revitalization. But what I see is a city in decline. It is ... sad." Neither his voice nor his expression show the sadness he speaks of, nor give any clue to his real thoughts on this matter.
The old man snorts. "Try not to be sentimental, Lord Vere. It's a fortification whose walls cannot be rebuilt. The city hasn't been the same since the sundering. It's foundering.
"No, we save the people and move the flag. If that works, the city will rebuild. But we do this so fast that elements that we should not allow in to the new world are amongst the first."
Vere nods. "Lady Robin and I had a similar conversation regarding the destruction of my homeland," he says. "In the end, the people matter more than the place."
He tilts his head to one side. "I believe I see your point," he adds. "If we are forced to move, then that move could have been a chance to..." he pauses, as though considering his words carefully, before continuing, "...to filter the populace."
M snorts. "Cull the bad seeds is what I mean. There's many who've already gone from Amber to this Xanadoo who should've been chained to a metaphorical oar, where they could've done some service to their King. Now those elements are parasites in his new city."
"A healthy organism can survive a certain number of parasites," Vere says mildly. "Especially if the cost of removing them is cutting out healthy flesh."
He to tilts his head slightly to one side, considering. "Unless you think it possible they are symptomatic of something deeper. Conspiring with enemies of the throne, for instance?"
"Bah! It's just opportunists. Most people will sink to unspeakable behavior, if not governed." M looks. "There's something to the King's plan, of course. Do it quick and don't look back."
"Indeed," Vere says. "Especially when there are real and dangerous enemies that have to be dealt with?" It has the form of a statement, but the tone is interrogative, and Vere waits to see what M's response would be.
"The admiralty needs to become more involved, there and here, to help maintain order and stability. There were riots on the docks of Xanadu. Riots! Sir Archer would've hanged the ringleaders, back when Oberon was King. They're probably going to give him a title and a country estate to die on."
He turns to Vere and looks at him with only the slightest tone in his voice. One might imagine that it isn't even accusatory at all. "There's no point in securing the woods against monsters if you don't also secure the city against people."
"Indeed," Vere answers. "I appreciate the point, milord." He takes another sip of his drink, then asks, "But other than warnings against the general sort of people who have been allowed to immigrate, you have no specific individuals or groups in mind at this precise time?"
"Oh we've got lists. We've passed them along to Lord Ash. The woman who smuggled a basilisk to Xanadu is on it, but she's got protection of some sort. Octave, the lawyer for another. Some of Lord Lucas' spies, who also have royal sanction. Every single printer that hasn't had his shop burned down in the past five years.
"And so on. The new Lord Mayor of Xanadu is more interested in politics than the King's Peace, if you ask me. He needs to set some examples."
Vere nods. "I see," he says. "This is then a difference of opinion between the old order and the new, complicated by the difficulties caused by King Random having brought people in from outside who have different ideas of how to proceed." He finishes his drink and sets the glass down. "That being the case, you can understand why I might prefer the more definite enemies of the woods for the time being."
"Hmm? Oh, yes. Quite. Perhaps the forest or indeed the palace are better suited for your talents and ambitions, my Lord." He pauses, just long enough for it be described as uncomfortable. "Is there anything else I can assist you with?"
The old man seems sharper, somehow, then he did a few moments ago.
Vere rises. "I would not wish to take up any more of your time," he says. "It was very good of you to see me."
"My best to your father," he replies.
Robin is a silent part of the forest as she glides toward the lake following Lady Laudine's directions. The greenery around her is still glistening from last night's torrential rain and the air is filled with scent of wet living things. At least the three firelizards that zip around her in the open air are far less pungent than they used to be. They seem as happy as Robin is to be free of stone walls and formal manners.
A sardonic snort ripples through the young woman. Her last two stabs at diplomacy seemed to have turned out all right. Maybe she can keep up the pattern. Though she suspects Lady Laudine would wish otherwise.
There are times, like the ones just behind her and the one approaching, when Robin very much misses her spontaneity. It would be soooo much easier to just jump in swinging, secure in her strength and position. But a lost war, two dreadful arguments with Family members, a nearly avoided duel and a dance with madness have... lessened her enthusiasm for leaping without looking.
Besides it's well past time that she turned her strength and her position toward healing, repairing and preventing the trouble that seems to follow her as naturally as a tail-wind. Instead of reveling in it. Dung.
Ahead of the young woman, the old growth forest reluctantly parts to reveal a rocky lake shore.
Robin notes that the level of the lake seems to rise and fall, perhaps seasonally. The signs are clear along the banks.
Where the undergrowth of the forest stops and the rocks start, there is a cairn of stones, several feet tall. It may be a match to the one marking the path to Rebma. From it, by the most direct path to the water, there seems to be a path, and one that does not terminate at the water’s edge.
Errrrr.... Confronted by the actuality, Robin finds her steps slowing and her stomach dropping. She tends to avoid thinking of Rebma and all things Rebman as they seemed to combine two of her most very favorite things: wetness and being underground. (Well, kind of underground-like.)
A shiver runs through the girl as she remembers her near-drowning in the Temple on Danu. And Vere isn't with her this time. For a moment, she misses him with a fierce fiery longing. But -- even though they said they'd do things together from now on -- her Family needs to see her standing on her own. So she swallows her misgivings and prepares to get on with it.
Robin sets down her pack beside the cairn and carefully rearranges things to make the most secure (and comfortable) lizard perches and snuggly places she can. Then she picks up her little friends and cuddles them closely.
Where they are going is dangerous! They must not fly. They must stay on her or crawl into her packback. No flying! Or they can stay here and wait for her return.
They're confused, but biddable, since they still remember the recent drenching rain. However, they are also clearly in their own little minds expert swimmers and fisher-lizards all.
Robin smiles warmly as she nuzzles them. Of course they are! And one day they're all going to go back and get that big thing in the dark lake.
The fire-lizards do not want to be left behind, and each wraps itself by the tail on their favorite perch on Robin. She can hear her little queen breathe next to her ear.
Okay, then. Breathing deeply and slowly herself, Robin regains her pack, checks to make sure all her weapons are handy and strides down the path toward the edge of the lake. Merde!
Despite her misgivings, the girl does not falter or hesitate but continues to stride right into the rippling waves.
The path continues down into water and Robin finds that she has no problem breathing it, or staying on the path. She's convinced she could swim here, but she doesn't seem to need to. Peep peeps.
Robin's adjustment to breathable water is not pretty or graceful. There is much nose-scrunching, wincing, and head-shaking as well as cursing intermixed with coughing. Bleah! Robin definitely doesn't like water, breathable or not, up her nose.
But once her own breathing is under control, she concentrates on making sure that the firelizards are adjusting as well. (OOC: "Secure your own mask first, then assist the child.") Peep’s peeping reassures her greatly with regards to that. But she reminds them (and herself), no swimming – stay on the path.
As Robin's ears adjust she pays attention to the sounds. The sound of the path into the lake is the sound of the deep green when the rains are due, but haven't started falling yet. High tones are muted and low tones are elongated, giving most sounds a deep, bell-like quality. There are no land-animals in sight, and fish have no vocal chords, so the entire waterscape is eerily silent.
The path leads down into the water over a series of switchbacks. When Robin reaches the bottom of the lake, she sees two things: a castle on a small rise and a fountain, filled with a bubble of air that does not rise. She sees no signs of people, and behind the castle is what can only be described as an undersea forest.
"Okay, sooooo... the minute I touch the Font, I attack myself." Robin is just thinking aloud for the benefit of both herself and the firelizards. "But while my wet faerie self will be able to hit me, my dry ordered self won't be able to hit me. Buuutttt I'd rather not use this Font as a weapon this time 'round 'cause Laudine will probably do something regrettable, the moment it's 'emptied'.... Therefore, we're going to have to use other terrain features to defeat myself." Robin nods as she comes to this conclusion.
And with that she turns to scouting the ground around the rise, being very careful not to touch the fountain itself. She's particularly looking for good throwing rocks, places she can trip up a horse, etc. etc.
There are trees, and a rocky ledge similar to the one Robin rode out the storm in, and the path has large and small stones adjacent to it.
The ground is soft enough that Robin could, with enough time, dig some sort of defensive trenches. If she has the time to do so.
Robin tsks but gathers some stones of both sizes, just in case.
"Okay, loves." She croons to the firelizards, "Flying okay, but only to harry our opponent. And remember, Chirrup, they can hit us at the same time we can't hit them. On the up side, I'll bet flying through the horse's head is bound to disturb him." Robin chuckles evilly at that thought.
Checking with her crew to make sure they're ready, Robin steps up to the fountain. As she touches it, she declares "I come in peace."
Then she waits for the thunder.
The bubble of air resists momentarily when Robin pokes it, deforming, but then her finger goes through into it. There's a small popping sound, and the bubble starts to oscillate. The Firelizards all fly up from their perches on Robin, circling her and trying to warn her of something. They're close enough to make it hard for her to see.
What her friends are worried about becomes apparent a moment or so later, when the ground begins shaking beneath Robin's feet. She's knocked around, but not over and it takes a moment for her to regain her bearings.
Robin notices two things. One is a vent on the floor of the lakebed, near the fountain. It's spewing forth air bubbles.
Robin chuckles; look, reverse rain. But her chuckle masks her concern that she can plug the vent before 'the lake empties.' She has no more desire to desiccate this place than she has to drown others.
The other is a bright orange and gold seahorse, floating just above the path to the keep. It has a saddle and a bridle and a rider. The rider is a slim man wearing some sort of chain mail armor. He has a lance, but no helmet. He salutes Robin with his lance.
Ooooo, seahorse! For a moment, it's hard for Robin to focus on the human because she's so interested in the critter.
His voice carries across the distance with ease. It is smooth and sounds educated. "Greetings, Interloper! Whom do I have the pleasure of fighting this day?"
"Hail, Defender." She returns the salute with her sword. "I am Robin of Xanadu - come in peace, but understanding of necessities. Are you oath-bound to attempt to kill me or can we do this friendly-like?"
"Not to kill, Robin of Xanadu, but to defend Merlin's Fount, whose tranqulity you have disturbed. Do you have a mount and a lance, or shall we meet with blades? I am Sir Ophiuchus, yclept The Serpent-Bearer."
He seems more sure of himself than Ywain was. Even in the watery half-light, something seems odd about the way he moves, as if Robin isn't seeing what is really there.
"I have neither mount nor lance, so blades would be preferred. But is it possible for me to undisturb the Fount and thus avoid the fight -- fun as it sounds -- altogether?"
The man slides off the Seahorse, frowning. His legs move in ways that suggest danger to Robin. "The Dweomer reacts to the Champion. Were I to attempt to avoid the challenge, I would be unable to control myself, and then I would find myself riding down an unmounted knight with my lance, while the basin drained the lake.
He shakes his head. "I prefer to avoid that burden on my spirit, and instead challenge you, as I am bound to, and to specify that I expect to fight you to first touch.
Sir Ophiuchus slide-steps towards Robin. "Do you have a blade, or do you need one?"
Robin tilts her head. What do her ears, the currents, the surroundings and her friends tell her is really there? Because if her sight's unreliable, best not to depend too strongly on it.
Robin's other senses tell her that he's not always where he seems to be.
Robin remembers where she's heard stories about people who move like he does. When the oldest Rangers told of the relief of the Siege of Amber, they say things about how oddly the enemy moved. The Moonriders move like that.
OoooOOO! A piquant mixture of fear, curiousity & thrill surges through Robin's veins.
"I have a blade. And first touch it is. I have no desire to burden your spirit any more than it already is." She smiles bemusedly, her head still titled as she Listens for her opponent more than looks for him.
Drawing herself upright, Robin salutes Ophiuchus with her blade and takes a standard 'en garde' position.
Ophiuchus sends his seahorse off to the side and comes closer to Robin. He stops perhaps twenty paces from her, draws himself up, and returns her salute.
From this distance, it's clear that he is human-shaped, but not quite human. He is also not quite a moonrider, lacking certain specific moon-rider talents. Robin does find the combat challenging because the water, while not perfectly water-like, does slow some movements more than others. The almost-human knight tries his best, but is not able to defeat a Robin who is determined not to be defeated.
Eventually Ophiuchus breaks his silence. "Lady Robin, you toy with me."
Robin steps backs and brings her sword to an off-guard position (though she is alert for any sneakiness or sudden attacks.)
"No," she says, "No I do not. I am very serious and considering in this. I honor you, your position and your oath and would do no harm to any of that. But I also think the whole situation is... in need of a shake-up. And that's why I here. To prove that there are ways that are neither losses nor victories. Just... you know, life." She smiles at the knight.
"Soooo, is your mind as keen and is flexible as your blade? Can you think of a way out of this? After all, my attempts lead to naught."
He stands off guard as well. He isn't winded at all, and his hair is strangely perfectly coiffed. "This fight or the larger impasse? I must fight until blood is drawn, by our terms. I do not mind losing, but I cannot make myself do so. Were you a mortal, I would just keep fighting on the grounds that you would eventually need to sleep, but that is not a weakness I can depend on in you.
"In the latter case, were the lake or the shore to 'win', it would disrupt a balance that has served all sides well. Your side has forgot it was ever at war, or has not yet remembered it, and ours has moved on.
"We are two pawns left facing each other when all the others have been put on new boards in different games. Neither of us have legal moves.
"Unless you can come up with a way to permanently separate us, then we are the frontier."
"Hmmmm, maybe I can." Robin says, "First, the impasse."
Trying not to worry that she might be following in Daeon's footsteps, Robin quickly brings her sword up to her free hand. She gently pricks the pad of her forefinger bringing a single drop of blood to the surface. (At the same time, Robin is very, very careful about where that single drop goes in this watery environ. If there is any sign that she will lose contact with it, she will immediately sop the drop up on her sleeve.)
"See?" she shows the drop to Ophiuchus. "First blood drawn by me, first blood drawn from me." Having said so, she wipes the blood off on her sleeve and makes sure that no more leaks out. "Does that work for our terms?"
He brings his own sword to the guard position and pricks his thumb on it. The blood flows smoothly from it. There's not much, but it heads towards the crack where the air is bubbling out and somehow staunches the leak completely.
Robin grins as Ophiuchus follows her example and finds an awesome solution to the leaking air.
Ophiuchus sheathes his sword and motions towards his horse, which swims towards the two of you. "It solves the small issue, but not the greater issue. If the air breathers attack their own tower, we might be inclined to press our advantage, or contrawise, they ours were the circumstances reversed.
"Many people on both sides benefit from a forgotten stalemate, at the cost of a handful of lives.
"Will you join me in the castle? We can discuss the matter further with the banphrionsa."
"I'd be honored, thank you," Robin says sheathing her sword.
"On the way, perhaps, can we introduce one another to our various companions? I must admit, sir, that your steed fascinates me. And you may have questions regarding my own little lovelies." She gestures the firelizards back to herself with reassurance that all is well now.
Ophiuchus looks at the fire lizards. "Dragonnes, in some cultures, Dragonettes in others. Not large enough to be drakes, or even hendrakes. They are a variety new to me. They seem to be well-adapted to the water, perhaps suggesting an island origin."
Robin is slightly taken aback by Ophiuchus' bland attitude, but mentally reassures herself and her companions that not everyone can perceive the innate awesomeness that is them. She shakes her head briefly, "No island origin. They're just getting used to being really wet around me." A rueful chuckle escapes Robin.
"They are, respectively, Peep, Chirrup and Ooot." Pride and fondness ring through Robin's voice as she introduces them.
The man bows to the queen and nods to each of the lads.
Robin perks up immediately at the show of manners. After all, she’s casual and a savage, but the firelizards? They're worth it.
"This fine lad is Eckford." Eckford nuzzles Ophiuchus. From close examination, he seems more decorative than strong, with a large number of frilly leaves attached. They move constantly. It's hard to believe that the creature can stay afloat, at his size. "His non-magical relatives are much smaller than he is."
"Oh, aren't you a pretty one?" Robin croons to the sea-stallion. She glances at Ophiuchus to make sure it's okay and then reaches a slow hand toward Eckford's nose. If both knight and mount allow, Robin will spend a little time admiring, petting and getting to know Eckford. Yes, the fate of this world is waiting but... critter!
Once she is done, she relunctantly pulls away and follows Ophiuchus towards the castle and more politics. Bleah.
The knight leads the was towards the castle, only loosely taking Eckford's bridle in hand. He propels himself with a smooth grace as if he doesn't need to touch the ground.
While Robin isn't overly blessed with grace (or familiarity with this kind of environment), her natural athleticism and coordination allow her to get by without too much flailing. On the way, she takes time to emotionally assure her little lovelies that they are doing very, very well and herself that she is not going to drown, it is not so bad and that she will see the sky again soon. Hopefully, really soon.
As they enter the castle, Eckherd is released to swim on his own, and he departs. The castle is large and airy (or perhaps watery) and full of light. Ophiuchus leads her down a long, empty passageway, lined with portraits.
A happy smile dances across Robin's lips at the architecture. An underwater dungeon would be just too horrible to contemplate.
"My Lady paints. These are some of her ancestors and friends. No one she has seen in some time, of course."
Robin glances at the portraits curiously to see if there are any she recognizes. She also checks for what little she can figure out about style, composition, technique and really, really wishes Ossian was here.
Not all of them are fully human.
Well, neither are most of Robin's friends and relations. So it doesn't bother her.
As they enter a courtyard, a woman rises from a bench, putting down a book. She is wearing a long gown that hides her shape and movement, and she seems almost to glide towards Robin.
"Knight Robin of Amber, may I introduce you to the Lady Morgne, Lady of the Lake."
Though briefly startled by the appellation, Robin bows. "Milady." (Castor would be proud.)
"Knight Robin, my family knew of Amber of old, but it has been many years since we have entertained her knights. You are welcome to our demesne."
Ophiuchus nods. "We are sorely lacking in tales of the world beyond the lake. We would be pleased to hear any news you have."
"I thank you for your welcome. And will abide by guest law." Robin smiles to them both.
"News from beyond the lake may prove quite... extensive. Case in point, while I do hail from Amber, my Knighthood (such as it is) is of Xanadu -- Amber's progeny kingdom." Robin does her best to clarify, not correct. "Amber... is not in such a way to create knights these days." There's no disguising the sadness in her voice.
"That is grave news. I grew up in my Grandmother's court with the tales of Amber's knights. It was a distant and fantastic kingdom and only the bravest of our people could travel the wild lands to reach it.
"I am not surprised that the Sons of Auberon are making their own cities. They were his chief Knights and legends in their own right. I saw them ride by, on a visit, when I was very young."
She looks up. "I do not wish to fall into wistful 'membrance, Knight Robin. Is this purely a social call?"
"Not purely." Robin agrees. "I come hoping to broker a peace between yourselves and those who guard the Water Font."
"Merlin's Fountain?" She seems somewhat confused. "We have had peace, for years beyond counting. We are sentry-posts, as are they. Each maintaining the peace maintaining a watch post. What do you propose in the place of this arrangement?"
"I'm not sure." Robin says, "As I don't fully understand the arrangement. I mean, I understand duty. And oaths and protecting one's territory. What I don't understand is... compulsions. How did those get involved?"
Morgne stands and moves to a window. She looks out across the lake bed and finally turns back to Robin. "It is a hard thing for me to remember, it was so long ago. Memory becomes, after centuries, like opening a box in a long-forgotten storeroom. I know what the label for it is, but the contents are often a surprise, and not always a welcome one.
"Yes, It was King Mark and my grandmother, the Queen. They were at war for many years, and had made peace numerous times. It never lasted. Sometimes as long as a generation, but it always returned.
"Laudine and I chose to bind ourselves here to create a barrier between our peoples, to make the peace last. Our sister, Basina, negotiated the peace between her parents and the binding.
"The years have been hard on her. My people are... somewhat more used to time that seems timeless. Her sacrifice is equal to mine, but is harder on her."
"And what of King Mark and the Queen? Is there reason to believe that the wars would return if the compulsions were lifted?" Robin's voice is sympathetic. In Morgne and Laudine's situation, she hears the Shadows of her father and the Dragon.
Morgne sighs. "Our parents are gone to dust, and their kingdoms, in Calamity. We stopped getting word or visitors, and when we sent messengers, they could not reach the Summerlands. Perhaps we could leave, all of us. But we are blood-bound, and the binding and my visions tell me that some successors would war were we to abandon our posts.
"The dragon-blooded forest children perhaps, although it was not always them. Or the riders of the moon."
Ophiuchus shudders. "Order would suffer at the hands of the Chaotic, or worse, war with itself. If the Queen of Air and Darkness were to find us, she would surely destroy us all. That is my fear."
Robin sighs as well. "Well, yes. All of those folks are currently active and feisty. And indeed," she nods to Ophiuchus, "the Queen of Air and Darkness has been seen. The Riders search for her, I believe. And if she has not already been found, she soon will be. But several of my more ferocious kin are on the trail of that particular concern.
"I myself am searching for some... solution to the dragon-blooded. Though I'll admit I am very young and not so given to civilized ways. It is why I wander here in the Deeper Quieter ways, meddling." Robin finishes with a rueful smile and a shrug.
"Soooo, Laudine mentioned that this place could only be a frontier. And someone else," Robin is not even going to hint that it was Ophiuchus, "mentioned that separating the Kingdoms might result in a permanent stand-down. This may be within my abilities, but I'd need to be deeply in touch with the Land. And, of course, it could destabilize the whole thing, but... would that work to release your bindings?"
For once, Morgne has no answer. "I would have to research our binding. It was more of our sister's doing than our own. Were she here, she would know, but she died very long ago.
"My concern is that if we sever the connection, we would sever the points of Order and leave a weakness for those of Chaos to exploit, a sort of blot on the ledger.
"I must think on it, and retire to my study. Ophiuchus will see you to quarters and offer you what limited entertainment the castle affords."
She bows slightly. "Knight Robin, I do not wish to downplay your offer— it gives me hope I have not had for many years that things may change. Change can be frightening, even when desired."
"I understand." Robin says, "And I would rather you not rush into a decision of such magnitude without thought, anyway." 'That’s my job,' she carefully does not say.
Ophiuchus offers her his arm. "Shall we leave the Princess, Knight Robin?"
"Of course. MiLady." Robin bows to Morgne and places her hand on Ophiuchus' arm. "Are there any more fine fellows like Eckford here?" She asks him, gently clueing him in that Robin is not so much into the gallery/garden style of entertainment.
"I can summon another, if you wish to ride. I would show you these lands, if you wish. In case they do not survive the undoing of the pact."
"Oo! Yes, please." Robin gives a happy chirp, but manages not to squee in delight.
The stables are remarkably stable-like, although there are no stablehands inside them. Ophiuchus leads out two saddled sea-stallions, his own Eckford and a more yellow sea-horse he calls Ashford.
If Robin wishes help to mount, he will provide it.
(OOC – Nope, Robin's going to vault into that saddle with glee and enthusiasm.)
The water keeps her from landing too hard, or too fast, but eventually, she settles in to the saddle.
"I'll show you the trick of underwater mounting the next time," says Ophiuchus, with a hint of a smile.
The sea horse rides like a land horse, except his feet never touch the ground, so there is almost no jarring to the motion.
"My Lady will need sanctuary," he says after a few moments of quiet walking. "She will take it if offered, but will be too proud to ask for it."
"Ah." Robin nods. "Thank you for letting me know. I am still new to this whole..." she waves her hand vaguely, "diplomacy thing."
She thinks for a few moments. "My cousin, Celina, is Queen of Rebma. It's an underwater kingdom like this, if Lady Morgne -- or yourself -- were wishing to retire to somewhere similar. And while I cannot speak for Her Majesty, I am pretty sure she would welcome older, wiser minds with some knowledge of the Old Forces... make that really darn sure."
He seems stricken. "Moins is no longer Queen of Rebma? And Oberon, you said as well, Amber is no longer the seat of Order. Pray, tell me at least the Paris stands, and Charlemagne rules there with his twelve paladins..."
"Uhhhh... A Paris still stands. But I'm not sure it's the one you are thinking of."
Robin is quiet for a while as she organizes her thoughts -- as much as they can be organized.
"I'm afraid I don't know much of the history of Rebma. I have... distanced myself from that Land and its politics; partially due to disinclination and partially due to the intense Familial interest already invested in the place. Too many cooks..." she casts a wry glance to Ophiuchus.
"But Moins has not ruled there within my lifetime or even within recent history. Her daughter, Moire, was Queen of Rebma throughout most of the time that I know of. Though recently, Moire... uh, my Family is hunting her for the murder of my cousin, Lucas." Robin shrugs, not pretty but that's the way it is.
"I also know that Rebma is still recovering from an epic battle against a rogue Uncle of mine, Huon." She sticks her tongue out. "He has since surrendered and is working off his debt in service to Rebma. Though... I still hold a grudge." No need to go into friends killed by cannon fire, brothers driven mad or cousins all snotty because Robin choose safety over vengeance.
"Moire's daughter by King Corwin of Paris, Queen Celina, rules there now. But she is very young -- like me -- and rules an ancient and potentially divided kingdom. She has been receiving much support from my cousins and the rest of my Family. But... she could use the knowledge of some who were there and who know." She smiles at Ophiuchus.
"The Paris that I know of is the older of the two Ordered Kingdoms taking up Amber's heritage, but it is still a relatively new star in the firmament. It is ruled by King Corwin and there might be paladins... I'm not sure. I've never been there." She blushes at the memory of the discussion with her father.
"Xanadu, the younger Kingdom and direct heir to Amber's glory, is ruled by King Random who was personally chosen by the Unicorn. Xanadu is... more casual than any of the other kingdoms, though it does foster Orders of Knights. The Order to which I belong, the Order of the Ruby," and Robin wishes she could sound more confident about that, "was founded to protect Amber in its decline and safeguard Xanadu against those who would take advantage of the transfer of power.
"Like the Dragon. Or the Moonriders. Or too frisky Tribes of Chaos." She smiles over at him.
He smiles back. "That is too much for me to absorb all at one, Knight Robin. Or does your order style you 'Dame'? Some did, but it was too old-fashioned, even when I was a young man."
"I think the other ladies in the Order go by 'Dame.' Buuuttt, I think I'm going set a precedence here and ask you kindly, Sir, to refer to me as 'Sir' as well. The..."
Robin pauses a moment, what to call it, what to call it? 'Order' isn't right, 'service' is totally wrong, 'brotherhood' seems a little stuffy -- rangers just don't use words to describe themselves that way. Either you are one or you're not -- and everyone knows who is and who isn't (regardless of stupid arm-bands.) Eventually she settles on,
"...Calling I followed formerly didn't differentiate between genders. And I think that's a good idea for the Knights of the Ruby too. We'll see how it goes." Robin shrugs. Yep, Xanadu is much more casual.
With that settled, Robin returns her attention to what Ophiuchus is saying.
He nods, amiably. "As you will, Sir Robin."
"In my day, Paris and Amber were ruled by brother Kings, while Rebma and Tir na' nOgth were ruled by their sisters. The realms were strong, distant centers of Order, and we filled in in places like this in between.
"It's said that in the early days of the Four Kingdoms, they warred incessantly with the 'Tribes of Chaos', and when those were beat back, they had no one to fight but each other.
"But that was the time of legends, and no one who was alive then would say if it was true."
The seahorses crest a ridge and Robin can see down into a lovely valley, decked in the colors of autumn, the leaves on the trees are swaying in the current, and it looks like any of a hundred valleys that feed into different parts of Arden.
There is no possible way that this valley is in the same lake that Robin entered, but she doesn't think she has left the shadow she was in.
Robin smiles at the beautiful yet impossible vista. Fae... or are they?
"Sir, if you don't mind me asking, what kind of beings do you and the Lady Morgne describe yourself as? If you do at all." Robin adds. Because really, she's still not comfortable with 'Lord of Order.' Or any definers for that matter.
He seems surprised by the question. "The Lady's ancestors were vassals of Moins, Queen of Tír fo Thuinn, but lived in Tir-na Nóg'th. My forbearers owed feudal duty, eventually to Paris. For the most part, we have so few people to talk to that there may be long stretches where we have not named anything for we have not needed to speak.
"It's not quite as if we hibernate when no one interrupts our routines, but I do not remember the most recent days and months any more clearly than the first days here."
"Ahhh," Robin nods happily. "Okay, then -- you’re folks."
The Ranger tips her head to the side. "My apologies for prying. I had to ask. Eventually, I must report back to my King, my Warden and my Family. And they’re all..." she waves a hand vaguely, "concerned with labels and names and things. And labels and names and things aren't my strong suit."
She smiles at Ophiuchus. "I'll just tell 'em I met some folks out this way, descendants of vassals of Moins by way of Tir-na-Nog'th, who abide.
"Does that work for you?” She asks for accuracy’s sake.
"If they will have us on those terms, we shall be satisfied. Is Tir fu Thuinn no longer at war with Tir-na Nóg'th and Amber?"
"I'm not familiar with Tir fu Thuinn. What is it?" Robin says, hoping it's still around.
"Rebma is another name for it, although that one is unfair. Tir fu Thuinn means 'Land Beneath The Waves', which was the name we called it in 'The Land of Youth'. Paris derives from name 'the land of lilting' or Tir-na Portais, because of the way they spoke."
"Oh. 'Tir fu Thuinnnnn.'" Robin tastes the words. "I like that. Cause yes, 'Rebma' is... kind of yucky. With Amber fading, it'd be nice if Tir fu Thuin could be its own thing again." Robin smiles wistfully, fresh growth after the fire always feels that way.
"What is Zanadoo like?"
"Xanadu?" Robin says, trying to model the pronunciation as genteelly as Vere would. "Syncopated, energetic, enthusiastic, young... really, it's a boom town." She smiles wryly to Ophuichus. "Honestly? I find it a little loud and frenetic. But much of my Family is there and it’s important for me to see and be seen by them.
"I prefer these kind of places." Robin gestures out to the vista before them. "The Wyld. Places that don't need to be valuable or useful to the civilized. Places that don't require meaning to be assigned to them through the observation of sentient minds. Places that just are."
"Though I am curious... how did we come to be here?" Robin asks. "I didn't notice the change in the trail."
Ophuichus smiles. "That is what makes this place so interesting. Do you see the mountain on the far side of the ravine there? You can never reach it. Ride down the path here and when we crest that ridge, we'll see a new expanse of valley before us. The next ridge beyond has the same thing, forever.
"I have ridden in that direction for four tendays once, to prove to myself that stubbornness could not resolve this puzzle. I turned around and was home the same day for tea.
"It does make a great barrier to war between two peoples, when they cannot march armies at one another. At the center, which cannot be reached, is the magic that creates this place. None living know what it is."
Robin chuckles. "Well, I'm glad you've already disproven the stubbornness technique. I'm not one for stubbornness myself and am happy to have that approach off the list. Given that the Lady allows my intercession, of course. Do you think she would mind if I just Listen? Not actually do anything, just get a lay of the Land ahead?"
"She would not mind, I am sure." He pulls up his sea-horse and waits, trying to be very quiet.
Robin takes her time listening, because everything sounds somewhat distorted anyway. The lake has a rhythm of its own, like a forest valley would. She doesn't hear anything that tells her that she is not at the top of a long ridge leading downwards.
Robin closes her eyes and concentrates on the rhythm of the lake, sensing the shadow energies around her. Does it have a central beat or harmony? Does it seem stronger from one direction?
It's distorted, somehow. It's like the places right on the edge of Arden, where if you go anywhere you might end up in the wrong forest and never get home. It would probably take some sort of evocation of the Pattern to get to the place Ophiuchus described as the center.
"Ah." Robin breathes as she opens her eyes.
She smiles as she glances over at Ophiuchus, "Yep, the valley's got a blended dissonance running all through it. But I think I could get to the... whatever. Not without making some noise, however, so best to wait for the Lady's permission." She finishes nodding as she looks back out over the vista.
"Soooo, do you hunt?" She grins to the Knight.
Ophiuchus is happy that Robin is not immediately charging downhill. "Not in that direction, but yes. Have you ever hunted underwater before? The art is different. One needs to consider depth as well as distance, and the bow is not an ideal weapon. The Lance is good, but some game fish can still strike you even if they are on the point. It's best with a boar-spear. The best direction is to the east, where the kelp forest is deeper and larger creatures dwell.
"Would you like to hunt? I can get spears."
"Ooo, yes!" Robin says with enthusiasm. "I very much need to brush up on my spear work!" She grins.
The hunt is successful and Robin has a good time learning the subtle tactics necessary for underwater spear hunting. Ophiuchus seems to enjoy teaching her, and she is a quick student.
Vere spends the next couple of days haunting the dying city of Amber, visiting old haunts and noting how they now seem little more than... well, shadows of his memories. By the time Caine has Julian's supplies ready to depart Vere is more than ready to be gone.
Before the date of departure he goes over how much material is going to be transported, and how many people are going to be in the party, to determine how best to proceed back to Arden.
The supplies will fill more than a dozen pack-horses in addition to any riding horses he brings. He has a few sailors to act as porters. Vere suspects that this is some sort of punishment duty, but no one says.
There's a pack-train prepared, but Caine suggests barges up the Oisen, if Vere can calm the seas enough to tow them safely to Oisenmouth. Otherwise, the ships can only travel a little way up Oisen before Vere will have to lead his teams on foot.
Caine does not recommend a direct path into the forest from Kolvir.
Vere considers the question carefully and weighs the pros and cons. He is loath to take sailors into potentially hostile forests. Barges could prove difficult to defend if they are attacked on the river, but they are by far the most efficient way to transport the supplies. Eventually her decides to follow Caine's advice: ships to tow the barges to the mouth of the Oisen, while Vere shifts them through calm water. Then the barges to transport the goods up the river.
The horses will come along as well, in case they need to abandon the barges in the face of unforeseen events. Vere will make certain that the horses chosen are all of calm temperament, and have traveled on barges and ships before.
Vere pays his respects to his uncle before departing, in case Caine has any last-minute instruction or (unlikely though it is) avuncular advice to offer.
When they depart the Psyche is brought along, as captain's gig.
And it's off towards the Oisen!
Vere moves his ships and his barges out from the bay, and the tow down to Oisenmouth begins. Vere finds that there is a knack to keeping the seas calm but the ships moving. Several times the ships find themselves becalmed, which seems odd so close to shore. Eventually Vere finds the right balance and the trip becomes more constant, if not as fast as Vere could take the Psyche.
When they reach the Oisen Vere goes onto the deck of the Psyche. He goes to her bow and draws his dagger, then pricks his finger, drawing blood. He leans over the prow and draws an eye with his blood, then does the same on the other side. He whispers "Sail forth to where I need you to be," then leaves the Psyche. He unties her line from the ship and tosses it back on board, then watches as the current from the Oisen carries her out to sea.
The Psyche drifts out to sea, unmanned.
The sailors seem happy when they've sailed as far as they can navigate into Oisenmouth (which is not far -- not with the draft that Amber's ships have). Vere and his crew are now reliant on Man or Animal power to move them against the current of the Oisen.
It's early afternoon when the arrive, and the men who are going on with Vere think they should stop and start fresh at sunrise.
Vere examines the banks, getting a feel for the forest here, looking for signs of human, animal, or other activity.
The forest is green, and untouched by men, but neither particularly ancient nor magically green.
He consults his internal compass. How far are they from the ranger encampment?
Having come this way before, Vere believes they are a day's walk for unencumbered men or a 2 day raft-ride for men with the supplies they have on the rafts.
Vere orders the barges to be made fast, and watches to be set once night falls. He spends the afternoon speaking with the men, getting to know them better and judging which of them know anything at all about forests or the concerns of landsmen.
It's a mix. Some of the men were impressed in the Navy within the last decade and have reasonable experience on land. The ones who went with Marius to Chaos have... odd ticks. The ones who didn't go lived on land for 5 of the past 6 years.
Forests are different, of course. The Rangers kept most people out. One of the men knows a thing or two, but mostly about which trees make good masts or keels.
Since Vere is a Ranger, they look to him for guidance.
Vere's instructions are that no one goes into the forest alone and that they avoid it altogether as much as possible.
They'll set the night watches and assuming nothing untoward happens that night be off at dawn the next day. Caution is more important than speed and Vere will be keeping an eye out for hazards as they travel.
The night passes uneventfully, and the men begin poling the raft upstream. The current is not difficult to overcome, although some of the men think it's stronger than it was the last time they were on this river.
Near sunset on the first day, having made good progress upriver, the forest grows quieter. The dusk-time life of the forest is more wary and more likely to either be predator or prey. The mood falls on the rafters as well.
The river temporarily becomes too shallow to cross, and Vere will need to portage the supplies. It's growing dark, and they might not be back in the water before it becomes too dark to work.
Vere, with his innate sense of direction, recalls that if they only carry the supplies an extra half-mile to the south, they will cut about 20 miles of polling off their travels.
Better slow than risky, Vere decides. They will spend the night on the river here, and portage in the morning. That way they can take the shortcut with no chance of ending up in the forest after dark.
The portage goes uneventfully, although it serves as a good reminder of the advantages that boats have, even if you have to pole them upriver.
The boats have already been placed back in the water and mostly re-loaded when the sentry signals to Vere that he sees someone across the river. As Vere casually looks in the indicated direction, he also sees a man behind a tree, watching them. He doesn't seem to know he's been spotted.
Vere opens his Third Eye to get a better idea of what sort of person the watcher may be.
It's not a person who is touched with the green, nor is it a family member. If the watcher is a Ranger, then it's a Ranger who needs training.
Vere would guess that it’s some sort of military scout.
"Keep loading the boats." Vere tells the men quietly. "But do it slowly."
Vere isn't sure if the man who nods is the bosun of the men or the sergeant, but he fills the role of "speaker to officers" for the others. He whistles and the men start slowing their work. Vere now has time to complete his plan.
He slips towards the river, taking advantage of cover to be certain he remains unseen by the watcher, then slides into the river, swims across underwater, and eases smoothly up onto the opposite bank. His intention after that is to circle around silently and come up behind the watcher.
The man Vere ends up behind is something of an anomaly. His clothes are a patchwork of homespun wool and tanned leathers, but over them he's got a cuirass and a short sword at his side. He's got a dark complexion, but it may just be from time in the sun.
He hasn't noticed Vere, yet.
Vere smiles quietly and shakes his head slightly, aware of the dramatic indulgence he is allowing himself.
"Are they doing anything interesting?" he asks in a conversational tone.
"N- no. Unless you think going to get killed is interesting." The man is young, perhaps more of a boy. He has a strong nose and curly hair, and somehow looks slightly familiar to Vere.
Vere raises an eyebrow, remaining still and making no hostile moves. "They do not seem to be a hostile force," he observes mildly. "More of a supply train than anything else. Who is going to kill them, and why?"
His breathing slows. "I'd've said 'you', but you seem like a survivor. 'Them?' The forest is going to. Because they don't belong. Like it did to most of my friends."
"The forest can be deadly," Vere agrees. "If you do not belong. How did you and your friends come to be here?"
Vere noted that "most" and while not relaxing his guard concerning the young man in front of him he's also letting his senses tell him if there are signs of any other people around.
"We marched. From Arcadia."
Vere senses no other people nearby. The young man's trail is obvious to the trained observer, and it looks like he was walking alone. The signs Vere sees indicate that the man is good in the woods, but not up to the quality of a veteran Arden Ranger.
"Where are you all going? I haven't seen anyone in days," he asks.
"From Arcadia?" Vere raises an eyebrow. "And marching? This implies military discipline. Were you a soldier, my friend? And what may I call you?"
"I was a conscript. My name, ironically, is Adrastos. My friends marched to their deaths, at the behest of an incompetent commander, on the orders of a Mad goddess. My fellow deserters could not survive here. I cannot either, forever. But I am willing to sell my services as a forester for help getting to a less dangerous place."
"I am Vere," and he offers his hand. "I could use the aid of a forester. My men here," he nods towards them, "Are sailors, not men of the forest. We are carrying supplies to the Warden of Arden. In his camp you will find safety from the dangers of the forest, and afterwards they will be returning to the city of Amber. Will you accompany me?" He smiles slightly. "I will tell you of Arden, and you can tell me the story of this goddess. It is always best to be warned of deranged deities."
He considers, and finally says "I will accompany you, but I make no promises that I will not move on after we arrive at your camp. This is, I hope you already know, the Wyrdwood—the wood between worlds. Some are small, like the one I hail from and some are as unending as the forest itself.
"It is easy to find oneself moving between worlds here. And stepping away from your friends and never being able to return."
"This is true," Vere acknowledges. "So stay close." And he leads the way back to the river and across it to his men.
Once there he will introduce Adrastos to the sailors, and assuming nothing else untoward occurs they will continue their journey to the Rangers' camp.
Once back on the barges Vere will speak with Adrastos some more, while keeping alert for threats. He wants more information on Adrastos' goddess, commander, and the reasons the warriors were sent into Arden.
It's the oldest story of all time, or at least the oldest in Arcadia. Vere is told the stories of ancient Arcadia, where all lived in peace, and each goddess relinquishing her primacy after her year to the next in harmony. How one Goddess conspired with Evil One to suppress their benevolent mother and extend her term indefinitely, by way of unholy offspring. How when those twins finally died, the other Goddesses were unleashed and brought their people to war, but how they could not decide amongst themselves who should be next and fell to fighting amongst themselves and their people did likewise.
He tells how the Mother of Goddesses, the world-drake, grew wroth at the Goddesses and the People and claimed many as her own. The green ones were driven back from the cities, but they are in the surrounding countryside. It changed the wars entirely.
The rebellious sister-Goddesses now fight openly against their Green Mother. Adrastos was part of a force that attempted to link up with another city-state to create a force large enough to attack the Green Mother but how it was attacked and many, such as himself, were separated and isolated and ended up here.
Vere listens, occasionally asking questions to see if he can get any specific and useful information about the strategy, tactics, and personalities involved in the various factions. He's not pushing, and he's not revealing anything about his own knowledge of and connection to the events and mythology being talked about. He does ask about how long Adrastos has been on his own, and anything unusual he has seen since he was separated from his companions.
Adrastos has no idea. Long enough for his beard to grow.
The deeper they get into Arden proper the more attention Vere will be paying to their surroundings, and the possibility of attack or aspects of the Deep Green spying upon them.
The sailors are on high alert the entire time, but as the temperature reaches its mid-afternoon high, the dock comes into view. The camp seems full again, and Vere thinks he hears Morgenstern's snort in the distance. There are men watching the river, who hail them as they approach.
Vere answers their hail. His experience with faux-Amber fresh in his mind, he opens his Third Eye to quickly examine the camp, just to reassure himself that all seems as it should. Unless anything seems out of place he will see to the docking and the beginnings of unloading the supplies.
The camp is as it should be to the Third Eye.
After that is begun, and assuming no one has any other orders from the Warden for him or any immediate news that takes precedence, he gestures to Adrastos to follow and heads for the Warden's tent.
Once the work of unloading is in progress, supervised by Vista, Vere is able to go on to see the Warden. Word of his arrival has been sent ahead; Vere and his companion are ushered into the Warden's tent.
Julian's armor is on its stand but, Vere notes, his sword is in easy reach. "Vere. Come in, and tell me about your new acquaintance."
Adrastos, who has been observing with interest, if some nerves, takes a look at the white armor, and his eyes get very wide. (Morgenstern is not close by, so Adrastos hasn't seen him yet.)
"Lord Warden, allow me to present Adrastos," Vere says. "He was a soldier in the armies of one of the goddesses of Arcadia. During an attack some were scattered and lost. Adrastos is the last survivor of a group of comrades who ended up together in Arden."
"Welcome to the camp of the Rangers of Arden, Adrastos." Julian rises and comes to inspect the newcomer. "I am Julian, the Warden of Arden. Do you know of me?"
This has a perhaps unexpected effect on Adrastos. "Lord," he says, and abases himself on the ground before the Prince of Amber. Julian looks at Vere, an eyebrow rising toward his hairline at the spectacle. "Rise, and tell me of recent events in Arden."
Adrastos begins babbling, repeating the story he told Vere. Julian listens, and when it is done, turns to Vere for a response.
"He was lost in the woods," Vere explains. "And I did not wish to leave him to die. As well, I thought you might wish to hear his tale of what occurs among the peoples of Arcadia."
Julian nods. "Thank you for bringing me this news." He turns to Adrastos. "I am giving you into the hands of one of my aides, who will see that you are fed and bathed and have a place to stay. Do as he says." With that, he strides to the opening of the tent and summons a Ranger by a Cadence tune. The Ranger leads Adrastos away, without, Vere notices, touching him.
When the guest is out of earshot, Julian turns back to Vere. "I assume you have inspected him for infection by the Deep Green, but he'll be quarantined until I have time to deal with him myself. We can't afford to take chances here."
"He appeared to be a normal man, free from taint," Vere answers. "But I do not discount the possibility that the Deep Green is capable of embedding seeds within him that I could not detect, to sprout later. Another reason to bring him to you."
"That's something I'll need to see to personally. But until then, he'll be kept in quarantine. I doubt you've been infected, but if he's been working with your men and handling your supplies, I'll need to have a look at them as well. Do sit down now, and tell me about the rest of your trip." He gestures to a camp chair where Vere can be seated; Vere recognizes it from previous visits to the Warden's tent. (Vere just might be getting used to the camp.)
Corwin has summoned the members of the family in Paris, who appear to be Florimel and Solace, though Solace is excused for reasons that Ossian and Folly suspect boil down to "not a Pattern initiate". Florimel arrives looking as if she's just come from a soiree, and doesn't appear to be entirely pleased to have been summoned from it (or perhaps the summons suggests news she won't like).
Ossian and Folly have time to change into appropriate Parisian clothes, particularly Ossian, whose wardrobe is intact from the last time he visited. (Also there was time for a brief trump exchange, and one for Folly if she wants to check in with Martin in summary.) The meeting is held in Corwin's study, and some food has been set out--finger foods--and there's wine and whiskey, since those things may be needed. Florimel has her Trump deck with her, which suggests that Corwin requested it.
Folly does change clothes -- into something soft and Art Nouveau-inspired rather than one of the more heavily corseted styles, if she can manage it -- and checks in briefly with Martin. She fills him in on the news about Reid, and particularly on Dr. Chu and the shadowpath between the monastery and Greenwood Hospital. She offers to bring him through if he wants to join the family meeting (although since it would require bringing Lark, too, she is not expecting him to take her up on it), or to keep a trump line open if he'd like to join that way. If not, she'll check in again once they're done.
Martin is Not Pleased. He's not willing to bring Lark through to Paris, but he'll take a check-in when Folly is done. (Clearly, he thinks, he should have done a more thorough job of murder and mayhem in Shadow Tyrell.)
When she arrives at Corwin's study she exchanges pleasantries with those who have arrived before her; her tone and manner are rather more subdued than usual, though, and she is not inclined toward idle chitchat unless she senses it would help ease the tension.
Ossian dresses in slightly more color than current fashion dictates. He takes a small glass of white wine. A gentleman as usual, he will kiss Flora's hand, but like Folly he stays quiet for the moment.
Florimel is dressed in a softer gown than one might expect given the current fashions, but they are en famille here. Like Folly's, her dress is also influenced by the curves and designs of Art Nouveau.
The King has also changed into a black and silver smoking jacket. (Black velvet; silver trim.)
Once they have gathered and greetings have been made, Corwin explains what they're here to discuss. He summarizes for Florimel the stories that Ossian and Folly have told them, with particular emphasis on the Greenwood Hospital part of the news. All of this appears to be news, and a bit of a shock, to Florimel, who disclaims any knowledge that Greenwood was affiliated with the Klybesians.
Brand might have known. He'd been the one who suggested that Corwin be put into the hospital there.
"I suppose Brand could have seen that as a fair trade," Folly muses. "Give the Klybesians an Amberite to experiment on, and in exchange they keep a meddlesome older brother out of the way of his schemes. But I'm not sure I buy that, unless his connection to them ran so deep he trusted that they would never try to use whatever they learned against him."
She hesitates, frowning, and looks at Corwin. "Or perhaps you were the price of something he learned from them. But I imagine it would have to be something awfully big." She makes a gesture inviting the rest of them to speculate further or poke holes in that idea; after all, they all knew Brand, and she didn't.
"Oh, I bet they had things to tell him. My grandfather was curious to a fault. I do wonder about Chew's position in the order. What was his role when you met him, Folly?"
"He presented himself as a doctor," Folly says. "He didn't run any of the actual procedures, but he's the one who came to talk to us when we went back the next day to get the test results. Told us some of my results were abnormal and that he recommended I be hospitalized until they could run some follow-up tests. In The Machine." She shudders visibly; these memories are clearly upsetting to her, but she pushes ahead:
"We started asking questions that he was not very forthcoming about answering, and that's when it started feeling very, very wrong. Wrong-er. He left us alone for a few minutes and I was in the process of calling Random to trump us the hell out of there when someone or someones came in the room and scuffled with Martin. He told me to go on, so I did, while he stayed behind to, you know, punch people in the head and blow up labs and stuff...."
Folly hesitates, and then says. "Terranova. I think that was the name of the hospital. 'New Earth' and 'Green Wood' -- possibly just a coincidence, but it's an interesting one."
Corwin is increasingly disgruntled as Folly's story continues, and by the time she's finished, he's openly frowning. "Is there anything else about the Klybesians or Greenwood or Terranova or this Hannibal person that anyone wants to contribute? Because we're past the point here where Random and I need to discuss measures, and if there's no more to add, then I'll take any suggestions you have on how we should deal with them."
Ossian shakes his head.
Folly says, "I will just add this, which you may well already have thought of: As much as I would love to see the Klybesians unmade, there is a very real possibility that they could have a Pattern initiate among their ranks -- possibly a long-forgotten and disgruntled one, if they are as ancient an order as they want to seem. That would explain how that shadowpath might have come into being even without Brand's help; all the other alternative explanations I can think of seem rather less likely. If that's the case, dealing with them as if they are a mere shadow problem could be not only ineffectual, but dangerous."
She makes a small gesture, palms up, to Corwin and Florimel: she's ready for them to call in the other players, if that's what comes next.
The room falls silent after Folly's words, quiet enough that the slightest movement sounds obscenely loud. Florimel blinks, slowly, and turns to Corwin. The Prince in Silver and Black raises his hand.
"I hadn't considered that, but if he's fallen in with them again, we have to act immediately. I certainly hope you’re wrong."
Flora's eyes are wide and she is sitting very, very still.
Folly's brow creases with concern. "Who?" she asks warily.
"Caine," Corwin says to Folly and Ossian.
Flora's expression suggests that she has had a very ugly suspicion confirmed.
"Oh come on." Corwin turns back to Flora. "Dad never told you why he pulled Caine from the succession? Why he threw all the religious out of Amber?"
"That kind of talk wasn't considered suitable for the dinner table when ladies were present, and you know it, Corwin," she ripostes sweetly.
Corwin has the good grace to look mildly abashed.
A smile flashes over Ossian's face. Then he turns somber "How old could that path be?" he asks.
Folly drops her gaze to her hands folded tightly in her lap to hide a momentary glint of amusement in her own eyes. She looks up again at Ossian's question and adds, "And for the benefit of those of us who weren't even around to hear that particular story from Oberon, what happened, if you don't mind filling us in?"
"Caine was deeply involved in one of the old martial orders attached to the Church of the Unicorn. They were involved in the old troubles between Cymnea and my mother--and Caine's--Faiella. Even I don't know all the details of how he annoyed Dad so much; as you say," Corwin nods to Flora, "it wasn't dinner table talk. And I was much out of Amber at the time. It was after my mother had died, but before Dad married Clarissa, I think. The net result was that Dad ordered all the religious out of the city, stripped them of their citizenship and goods, and Caine was out of the succession.
"He didn't get rid of the Unicorn, and now we all know why, but there were no more priests, and the Knights were purely secular."
It takes Corwin a moment to remember that he hasn't answered Ossian's question. "It could be old, depending on how much spying they were doing on Flora, or me, during my exile there. But the real question is how it survived the Black Rain."
"It was underground, if that helps." Ossian says, frowning. "Is there any way to find out who layed a certain path?"
"Or could there be anything else about the place -- inherently or by design -- that could have ensured it would stay somewhere on the natural paths between Pattern realms?" Folly says. "It didn't feel... pre-Patterny or anything, did it?"
Ossian shakes his head. "I don't think so. Jerod said nothing about that either, and he's way ahead of me."
Folly frowns thoughtfully. "I suppose it's possible that Caine -- or maybe Brand -- worked out some other way to ensure that spot stayed on the natural paths. We do seem to exert some sort of metaphysical gravity on the shadows around us; perhaps---" she nods at Corwin "---keeping you in that place, your psychic energy, somehow reinforced that effect. But that's just speculation.
"It does occur to me, though, that if Caine really is working with the Klybesians -- and if he also was somehow in on the scheme to keep you in that hospital -- it casts his actions in the recent war in an interesting light. Perhaps the true purpose of his fratricide was not so much to save the universe from Mad Brother Brand as to take out the one person who knew enough about his comings and goings to out him to the rest of the family."
Flora ponders this question. "Caine was apparently friendly with Brennan at that time." She glances at Ossian, but holds the question for now.
"Oh." Ossian says.
Folly's frown deepens. "In your experience, does Caine have the kind of skill with Pattern, and the curiosity to experiment with it, that might let him make an especially enduring shadowpath, or create some kind of anchor in shadow?" She hesitates, thinking, and then adds, "And does he have any other interesting metaphysical skills he might be sharing with the Klybesians that we should be on guard against?"
"Caine's the most skilled user of Trumps I've ever seen. He can spy on people with them, and that's a skill most of us can't match," Corwin explains. "He's almost as old as I am, and he's one of our Admirals. I don't know that he has any special skills in forging paths, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did. He wasn't one of the original pathmakers, but he learned from them, and he's been doing it for a long time.
"But it doesn't have to be him for all of it. He could have made the path for them centuries ago, before Dad forbade him any further involvement with the religious. Or he could have taught some royal bastard, his or someone else's."
"Probably not his," Flora says and gives Corwin a knowing look. Corwin shrugs.
Ossian frowns "I'd like to ask Ambrose if he has met the monks. Not that he could have laid the path.
"Silhouette has agreed to help me investigate at Greenwood. Unless you kings decide something else, of course."
"If Random approves it, I see no reason why you two shouldn't investigate together. Emphasis on together, since we don't want any more of you disappearing and it sounds as though the Klybesians can take one of you if they want." Corwin rises and moves to his secretary desk to rifle through it, presumably for his Trumps. "What about Ambrose? Brennan's brother, Brand's son?"
"Given that the monks have been involved with Caine, my father, me and Brand, I wouldn't be surprised if they contacted Ambrose, or that mad sister of his. It's just a hunch."
"Well, and if they've managed to piss him off the way they have the rest of us, he might be easy to recruit to your mission, if you think he could help," Folly says. "But -- how were they involved with you, Ossian? I'm afraid I missed that part."
"I found my mother." Ossian says with a sigh. "The Valkyrie Regenlief. Strange that. But Brennan confirms it. They fought alongside with the monks.
"He didn't learn she became pregnant. But the monks did. Stole me and placed me in that orphanage."
Florimel scowls at this report but doesn't add anything. Corwin meets her gaze and shakes his head in the negative.
"A Valkyrie would tie her back to the shadows near Brita's family. Have you brought this to Brita's attention, or Fiona's? Because it's looking more and more like the Klybesians have spread further through Shadow than we previously imagined." The question is directed to Ossian but Corwin seems interested in Folly's opinion.
"Not to mention that we suddenly have a potential motive for getting rid of Reid."
Folly's jaw has set in a hard line. "Ossian," she asks, with a coolness that he feels is not directed at him, "did you come to that orphanage before or after Meg?"
"She's older than me, so I guess after. I was only an infant... But yes, that is a problem too. What's their deal with Dara?"
Ossian looks at Flora: "Why would they want to kill Reid?"
Corwin steps in to field this one. "Reid was in the Asgardian shadow realms for a long time. When we settle in a single place in Shadow, we attract Reality, and clearly the Klybesians are interested in that. Who knows what information he might have picked up about them and their history in Asgard, given that we know they were recruiting agents like your mother there?"
"They might have needed to shut his mouth, or, depending on how things went, dispose of the evidence," Flora adds. "Exile from Amber--or Paris, now--is a cold and lonely thing." She glances at Corwin; their eyes meet briefly. "Who knows what he might have done, all unknowingly, to get back home?"
"Or not so unknowingly," Folly offers. "If I understand his timeline correctly, his youth or young adulthood in Amber could have been during the time they were still active there, yes? Which I suppose could also have led to them thinking he knew rather too much about them." She looks at Ossian, who may know more about that part of Reid's history than she does.
"That is very possible, even probable." Ossian says. "Reid did not say much about his past. Do we have any proof of their precence in Asgard? I was not aware that my mother was recruited by them at all?"
"How did she get out of Asgard to run into Brennan?" Corwin asks Ossian. "I'm not saying she was, but we know they recruit and a presence in Asgard doesn't indicate an abbey. The gods of Asgard are jealous and wouldn't allow foreign religious in without a fight. So they came as warriors--and that means military recruitment."
As the King is speaking, the door opens to allow Signy and Ambrose to slip in. They're clearly dressed for travel, with Signy bearing a plain sword on her hip.
Signy hangs back from the main group for the moment, hoping in vain that they somehow will have managed to avoid becoming the center of attention upon their arrival.
Ambrose is also mildly hesitant, but the group is small enough that there's nothing for it, so he comes all the way in as well.
Corwin is holding court with Florimel, Ossian, and Folly in attendance. It's late at night--possibly even pushing toward dawn by now--and there is food and drink, the latter of which Corwin offers to the newcomers if they want any.
Given that the King is holding family court, everyone is dressed informally, but Ambrose and Signy have come fresh from the Rebma road and are damp (but at least not dusty).
"Welcome to Paris," Corwin says. "Let me get you something to drink and settle in. We're in the middle of a family council."
Ossian smiles. "Uncle." It still sounds strange. "Cousin. You arrive timely. How much of the latest news have you heard?"
Ambrose bows slightly to the King and Florimel and acknowledges Ossian, then Folly with a smile. "There is always news in this family. You'll have to tell us which we're meant to know."
"We're glad you're here. Perhaps you'll have news for us as well," Florimel says with a smile as Corwin prepares the drinks.
Folly returns Ambrose's smile warmly, then rises and extends a hand to Signy. "I take it you know everyone else here, but I've been traveling so much lately I'm not sure we were ever properly introduced," she says. "I'm Folly. We were just talking about the Klybesians, of whom I'm afraid I know very little."
Signy makes a passable attempt at a bow towards Corwin, before giving Folly a small but genuine smile in return as she takes her hand in a firm clasp. "I'm Signy, Dierdre's daughter." She gives a quick glance around the room, before turning her gaze back on Folly.
"I know the Klybesians. My tutor was of their Order, and when Marius came to them seeking knowledge of me he took that opportunity to flee their service and return to me."
She sighs quietly, before taking in the rest of the room.
"Edan and I questioned him after the news of Reid reached Rebma. He had some information, but had fallen out of favor with them some time ago, so wasn't high in their councils when he left. I have him working on writing up any details about his time in the Order in my absence in case something in there means something to someone in the Family."
"That's great news. " Ossian says. "I would be very interested to read that, indeed.
"I, Jerod and Raven went back to get Reid's body. In short: Jerod wrecked the place when we found out who Brother Hannibal is. Folly has encountered the man before, in an unpleasant manner. When we searched the place we found a Shadow Path to the hospital where Uncle Corwin" Ossian nods towards the King "was for a while.
"Too many ties to too many of us. And they like tissue samples of Amberites." he makes a wry face. "And they got away.
"Do you have any idea of who might have laid that Shadow Path?"
Ambrose looks around, in case this question is directed at him, which from the looks being sent in his direction, it is. "I cannot say whether my father laid it, if that's what you're implying. He didn't tell me he had done any such thing, but there are many things I've since learned about him. I can't say he didn't do it, and it was well within his capabilities to lay a path, especially if he had reason to be familiar with one or both places." This is not an answer Ambrose likes, but it's clearly all he has.
"He knew the endpoint," Corwin says. "He was the one who tried to kill me and have my brains fried."
Florimel suddenly seems very preoccupied with her drink.
Signy thinks for a moment, before looking at Corwin. "Does this mean the Order might be looking to continue what he started when he attempted to destroy the Pattern? Is that why they want the samples? Or do they think that they can somehow use our essence to gain our powers?"
"Chew seemed power hungry enough to try to get our powers." Ossian says "But we should not rule out that they want to trade the samples with someone. Or simply blackmail us."
"Or they could be trying to grow their very own little Amberites," Folly says with a tight, forced smile; to Ossian's eyes she looks as though she would like to go be quietly sick in a corner. "My home shadow doesn't quite have that kind of technology, and I gather Greenwood wouldn't've either, but the place I met Chew almost certainly does."
"The shadow Greenwood was in didn't have that kind of technology at that time. But it might have developed it afterwards," Florimel corrects Folly gently. She seems less horrified at the idea than grimly dissatisfied about its very existence. "If you have enough power and you dwell in a Shadow long enough, it molds itself to your desires, if you're Real."
"If you're a Pattern initiate," Corwin says, and it's not obvious whether that's disagreement or clarification. "And we don't think they have a huge number of those."
"They have at least one," Florimel counters. "One who made that shadow path."
Ossian nods. "I agree that Greenwood probably isn't advanced enough from my more recent observation. But Chew can travel between more Shadows. I wonder if there are more paths."
"Do we know of any other locations in Shadow where the Order is particularly associated with?" Signy looks at Corwin. "Or would it be worth looking for any places that Brand was known to frequent?"
"I can make a list of some of the places I know were important to my father," Ambrose offers.
Corwin nods. "That would be useful." He gestures Ambrose to the secretary, which he opens to produce pen, ink, and paper. He turns back to Signy. "Your man, did he describe the places he knew to belong to the Order? Have you got names of places, and possibly routes to get there? Cross-referencing would be useful, and possibly give us a list of places to check."
Signy shakes her head in the negative. "We didn't really discuss the locations of other Chapterhouses. He knew of the Shadow paths, and that the Order had some collection of Trumps that they had collected over the centuries."
Ossian's eyes narrow, but he stays quiet.
She shrugs slightly. "I got the impression that he was either in his Chapterhouse, or with Weyland to tutor me, and hadn't really moved around much within the Order itself."
Folly has been lost in thought during the discussion of shadows and shadowpaths, trying to puzzle something out. Then, "Corwin?" she says, "You mentioned that the path to Greenwood, if it were laid while you were there, shouldn't have survived the giant shadow storm. But the paths between Patterns do, at least in some form. What do you know about those -- and in particular, why were they named for your mother?"
Signy listens to Folly's question before turning to look at Corwin and Florimel for their response.
Ossian too is quiet.
"I wasn't in Amber when the Faiella-Bionin was made. I left after my mother died and came back--later." Corwin chooses not to elaborate on that point, but Florimel rises and comes to him to pat his hand comfortingly, as a good sister should. "Legends have it that some people can leave benisons on their deaths instead of curses, like Eric's or--" he smiles thinly "--mine. The Faiella-Bionin is, I am told, my mother's."
Folly's eyes widen in surprise. "But then... she must have been a woman of considerable power in her own right, to create such a boon."
She regards Corwin with an artist's gaze, scrutinizing his features as if seeing them for the first time, mentally comparing them to every portrait and sketch she studied when she first arrived in Amber and worked to learn the history and legends of her new-found family and its allies and foes. It is only by an effort of will, evident in the way she has wrapped her fingers tightly around the edge of her seat-cushion, that she stays in her seat rather than egregiously invading his personal space for a closer look. She turns to study Signy's features, too, for a long moment, looking for the markers of Faiellan heritage, before turning back to Corwin.
"Was she... of Tir?" she ventures, with a tone that suggests more than just idle curiosity. "Or one of the other realms of power?"
Signy's eyes light up with a question, but for the moment she bides her time to let Corwin answer Folly.
Ossian's eyes shine. He is way out of his depth here. So he is quiet.
Corwin shakes his head in the negative. "My mother was the daughter of a noble merchant family of Amber. I don't know for certain where her family was originally from. But, given what we know from the growth of Paris in recent years, and the growth of Xanadu, it's likely enough that she came from somewhere else. But most of Dad's queens and consorts were powers in their own right. Look at Moins and Clarissa. He didn't seem to care for weak women."
Ossian and Folly suspect he has something else he might have added to that comment but decided not to say for whatever reason.
"Well, one can hardly fault him for wanting a partner with half a chance of keeping up with him," Folly observes with a little half-smile. It's not clear whether the gently wry humor in her tone is directed at Corwin or herself. Possibly both. "But he could have had other reasons, too."
Signy glances around the room before speaking up. "My father had some sort of relationship with the Order, though I'm not sure what it was other than to have Tomat provide me with training." Signy locks her eyes on Corwin's.
"What is my father's ancestry?"
Folly has slipped a small sketchpad from among the folds of her dress and is scribbling on it, angled so Ossian can see. It looks like she's working on a family tree, but twisted around on itself. After a few moments it becomes apparent to him that she's laying out family members and connecting lines along the Faiella-Bionin.
Ossian smiles at that, restraining himself from pulling out a pen to help Folly. Then he looks at Corwin.
Florimel is interested in Corwin's answer as well.
Corwin frowns, more thoughtfully than annoyed. "It's a good question, and one I'd like a solid answer to. What I do know is this: Weyland is Real, as real as any of us, and he's taken some form of the Pattern at some point in his life, or he wouldn't have been able to make something like Grayswandir." Corwin pats the pommel of the blade, which he is in fact wearing to the meeting. "So that makes him family of some sort. At what remove, I can only guess--but it can't be too distant because he's got to be ancient. Unless there's some question of time with him from being on the wrong side of Ygg."
Folly looks up from her scribbling and eyes Corwin's sword with curiosity. "How long ago did he forge Grayswandir?" she asks -- then amends, since absolute times are unlikely to make sense in this context, "When in your timeline, I mean."
Signy frowns thoughtfully. "And in making it, it seems like he would not be the type to ally with the Order, unless something changed...."
She leaves the obvious answer unspoken for the moment.
"The legend about your father makes him no one's ally, Signy. The question is what price Dad paid to have Werewindle made. And what price someone else paid to have Grayswandir made." Corwin shifts his focus from Signy to Folly. "And that's another question I don't know the answer to. It's an open secret that Caine had Dad's sword before Bleys, and the same portfolio."
Florimel nods her agreement to Corwin's statement.
Folly's eyes widen in surprise; clearly his answer has gone in directions she did not expect.
Corwin continunes, "But I don't think Caine was the first prince with that position. Maybe it was Osric or Finndo. I don't think it was Ben, though."
"Do you know whether my father ever held such a blade?" Ambrose asks.
Corwin shakes his head. "Not to my knowledge. He was desperately jealous of Bleys for having it."
"We speculated," Florimel adds, without specifying who the we was, "that it was part of what drove him into deeper studies with Dworkin."
Ossian frowns and asks "Do you think he tried to make one for himself?"
Folly looks like she might have something to say about that, but she lets Corwin and Florimel answer first.
It's Ambrose, perhaps unsurprisingly, who speaks up to answer that. "My father's primary interest for centuries was the Tir problem. I know he resented Bleys, but if he wanted a specific blade, I would have thought it was Grayswandir and not Werewindle. And his--" Ambrose searches for a word and settles on "--creative impulses, such as they were, were channeled in a different direction."
Ambrose is pointedly not looking at Folly. Just Ossian.
Folly's eyes narrow fractionally; she looks as though she might be biting back a comment or two about Brand's 'creative impulses'. Instead, she says to Corwin, "Yes, that's part of what made me think your mother might have been of Tir: not just your bond to Tir's blade, but the fact that Brand seemed so interested in keeping you out of the way and closely supervised. Well, and because Avalon guards the back way to Tir" -- she taps her pencil over Benedict's name on her sketch -- "but... was that always so?"
Signy looks slightly confused at Ambrose's words. "Tir problem?" she says quietly, hoping someone will elaborate further.
Ambrose hesitates, but Corwin gestures to him to speak. "My father thought that Dworkin--his mentor, our great-grandfather--was damaged by something that had happened to Tir, to render it out of sync. That it was a source of pain and mental instability. His plan to remake the universe sprang from a desire to help Dworkin. Though it went into darker places as he elaborated on it." Which is all Ambrose really seems to want to say about it.
With that sidebar complete, and explained to everyone who hadn't heard Ambrose's theory before, Corwin turns back to Folly. "I can't answer any questions about Avalon with certainty. I'm not sure Benedict's Avalon is the Avalon I knew. Very similar, but different. There were silver towers in Avalon as I knew it, but they were part of the city rather than in the sky."
Ossian stays quiet.
Signy frowns thoughtfully. "So, Tir and Amber are both damaged. Are there other places that once had Patterns but are now damaged or inoperable?"
She pauses before the words just spill out of her. "Was Rebma's Pattern created in response to the damage to Tir's?"
Florimel looks to Corwin as if she thinks he has some special insight into the answer to this question.
He sighs. "Signy, a decade or three ago we didn't even know about the Primal Pattern, never mind Avalon. All we knew was Amber and Rebma and Tir. We didn't even know Dworkin was Dad's father. We're all feeling our way through this, too, figuring out which of the legends and myths have some basis in fact. There are no quick and easy answers. Unless Brand had them from Dworkin."
"Not in the papers I've deciphered so far," Ambrose answers. "Though I haven't finished them by a long shot."
"Uncle," Folly says to Corwin as the War Council breaks up, "I still have a few questions for you -- but perhaps more grilling by an eager niece is not how you would prefer to conclude what has already been rather a long evening for you--" where by 'long' she undoubtedly means something about halfway between 'trying' and 'disappointing', given that they interrupted his post-opera plans. "Would you rather wait 'til tomorrow?"
Corwin, who is watching his sister and the rest of the group make their goodnights and departures, shakes his head in the negative. "Kingship means long nights sometimes. I have the luxury of setting the pace of the palace in the morning. Sit back down and I'll answer the questions I can for you." He smiles at Folly, a bit indulgently, and gestures to her to sit down. "And if there's anything I can have brought around for you, let me do that too."
Folly thinks on that for a moment, then replies with a little smile, "Well, depending on how irritating my questions turn out to be, later we may want a lute or a guitar or something -- but for now perhaps just a wee dram of something will suffice." She squashes her natural instinct to go serve herself from the remains of the War Council spread, letting Corwin play host instead. She takes a seat; her posture is noticeably less rigid than it was during the War Council.
Once Corwin has made himself comfortable, Folly begins: "Perhaps it is my songwriting instincts that make me latch onto recurring motifs and symbols to see where they go; but since hearing the story Cameleopardis told of his experiences in the sunken city, I can't shake the feeling that there is something important hiding in the details. I was hoping you might be willing to tell me a bit more about the Avalon you knew, and your life there."
Corwin had apparently been paying enough attention to what Folly had chosen to bring her a plate full of things she would generally have chosen for herself, along with the aforementioned wee dram.
Folly accepts the plate and glass with a warm smile of thanks. She makes a mental note to try not to flirt back, and then promptly loses that note behind the metaphorical couch.
He gathers up another plate of his own, and a dram for himself, and joins her. "I can see how that might be useful to you. Do you want to tell me what themes you see in common and let me search through my memories for them, or ask me a leading question or two and see what I turn up for you?"
Folly chews her bottom lip thoughtfully. "Perhaps let's start with the recurring themes, but then I might have some follow-up questions.
"The first is the silver towers, which seemed awfully important to the legend of his ancestors that the Maghee wizard spoke of. Some version of them has now appeared on land in Avalon, beneath the waves once they were sunk by the Maghees, and in the sky in Tir.
"The second is the relationship between you and Benedict, or perhaps the 'Sorceror-King' and the 'Protector', to use Cameleopardis's words." Folly's tone has softened, and she pauses to take a sip of her drink, perhaps to give herself time to choose her next words carefully; she is aware this could be a delicate area. "That image he related of the two of you striving against one another over the Pattern -- I don't know whether that is an echo of a real incident in the past or the future, or if perhaps it is symbolic of something else. Some clash between realms, perhaps. I'm curious to hear your thoughts."
"The Silver Towers were part of the legend of Avalon when I found the place." Corwin answers that first, because it's clearly the easy part. "I remember them, but I didn't create them.
"As for the other--" and here his expression turns a little puzzled, as best as Folly can tell, not that he seems to be trying to hide anything from her "--I don't entirely know. There are things Benedict and I don't agree on, but not to the point of fatal violence, and certainly not since the war. And in any case, everybody knows he's a greater warrior, and a better swordsman, than I am. He'd make mincemeat out of me unless I had some protection and some luck."
He frowns. "Though maybe it's the scene from Tir, with the arm. It was me, and him, but not at the same time."
Folly blinks. "The arm was silver, too, was it not?" she asks, then adds, "By legend, who raised the silver towers in the Avalon you knew?"
Corwin frowns thoughtfully at the series of questions. "I think the silver arm was Dad's fault. He took it out of Tir and sent it back somehow. He was a greater master of reality than any of us knew."
Folly nods; she has heard similar ideas about the silver arm, and Oberon's abilities, from Martin.
"Now Avalon, there were old gods there, and Fair Folk, who slaughtered each other long before my time. And then the people after them, the great heroes of ancient times, whose magic was stolen from the Fair Folk. They were the ones who raised the Towers."
Folly considers that for a moment. "Did you know of this Maghee clan, and Maghdeburgh, during the time you dwelt in Avalon?" she asks. "And... is the story of their 'sorcerer king' to do with you, or is it part of that earlier history?"
Corwin shakes his head in the negative. "If my present understanding of the relationship between Ben's Avalon and mine is right, I was never there. But," he clarifies, "I did know a people like the Maghees, and I warred against them, and they were the ones who pulled down the Silver Towers in my Avalon. That's the best answer I can give you." His tone suggests he doesn't expect Folly to find that very helpful.
"So, clan Maghee might not have been part of your Avalon, but if not, they sound like a close shadow of something that was there," Folly says. "What were you warring over with your near-Maghees, if you don't mind my asking? And," she adds after a moment's thought, "did they claim any notable descent?"
"They never claimed any specific descent I recognized," Corwin says, "but there were sorcerers among them, which indicates they were somehow of Chaosian ancestry, directly or indirectly. As for what they were warring with me over--well." He pauses there and considers how best to say what he's thinking to Folly. "The last part of the time I spent in my Avalon was after my mother died giving birth to my sister Deirdre. I was not a kind man in those days, nor a good ruler, and it's no surprise that anyone would have wanted to overthrow me."
Folly lays a hand lightly on Corwin's arm in sympathy, just for a moment. Then, "I think I may have mentioned the Maghee Brennan questioned identified himself as 'Camelopardis Findanus', which I thought was... interesting. I don't really believe in coincidences -- not where this family is concerned, anyway -- so I thought it might be worth probing."
She hesitates, thinking. "If I may ask, what was it you were looking for when you first found your Avalon? And... did you already bear Grayswandir then, or did that come later?"
"I had the blade by then. Some, in Avalon, called it Caliburn." The long grief which Corwin wears along with his black and silver relaxes its grip on him. "I was looking for--something very personal. It would be difficult to describe to anyone else. I don't think it's relevant to Benedict's Avalon. He would have been looking for other things. By definition."
Corwin ponders the rest of what Folly has said. "And as for Camelopardis Findanus, that doesn't sound like a coincidence to me. Finndo spread himself far and wide across the universe. Maybe that was part of why he had to die for the good of Amber."
"Yes, I seem to recall he's responsible for several branches in the family tree, and that's just the better-known parts," Folly says. "I've heard only a little bit about his 'dying for the good of Amber'. It... had something to do with Rebma?"
"That was before my time." Corwin huffs out a long sigh. "I know one of Osric's sons died in Rebma in the wars against the Tritons--there was a song about it in vogue about the time Brand was born--but that was already a legend when I was a boy. It may have been a legend in the days when Benedict was a boy.”
"I suppose it's rather too easy for history to fade to legend in a single generation when one generation lasts millenia," Folly muses. "I don't think I had fully appreciated just how widely spaced some of you were in the birth-order, though."
After a moment's reflection, she adds, "With so much of our history obscured by the mists, I expect you won't have a definitive answer to this, either, although you may well have an... educated hunch. You mentioned Bleys's blade was previously carried by at least one other person. What about your own blade?"
Corwin has an easy answer to that one. "Given how long those generations are, I can't imagine I was its first wielder. I don't know whose it was before that, though. There are legendary swords in Amber's history before Grayswandir. One of them must have been Grayswandir, under a different name. After all, Werewindle wasn't called that when Caine had it."
"What was it called then?" Folly asks. "And does the wielder choose the name?"
"Almace," says Corwin. "I don't know its doom, though. I only know the doom laid on Grayswandir. And before you ask, no, it's not something I talk about. I--chose isn't the right word, but the name Grayswandir is tied to me. More like the sword let me know in its own way when the name was right."
Folly nods; that part makes perfect sense to her. "How did Grayswandir come to you, if that's something you can talk about?"
"I've heard it was forged on the steps to Tir, but I can't speak to the truth or falsehood of that legend. What I know is that I found it in Avalon when I was young. This was before Deirdre was born, even, when Caine was still a boy." Any conclusions that Folly wants to draw about that are her own, because Corwin continues, "I've carried it since then, except for the time when I was without my memory. It was lost, and I don't know what happened to it. I called it again by instinct when I started to get my memories back."
Folly sits up a little straighter, with obvious interest. Her mind
is spinning in at least three directions at once, but she quickly
settles on a path to try first. "You 'found' it?" she asks. "That
sounds like a story all by itself. How? And how did you know it
was... you know, _yours_? Beyond just the ancient law of Finders
Keepers, I mean."
Avalon/Grayswandir were Finndo's first?
Metaphysical link to Tir -- after the Primal was damaged? (While Corwin
Benedict took over Avalon while Corwin was away? Gained Grayswandir
and drew the Pattern to protect the way to Tir?
Silver Tower (la Tour d'Argent) in Paris?
Avalon/Grayswandir were Finndo's first?
Metaphysical link to Tir -- after the Primal was damaged? (While Corwin
Benedict took over Avalon while Corwin was away? Gained Grayswandir
and drew the Pattern to protect the way to Tir?
Silver Tower (la Tour d'Argent) in Paris?
Brennan lets the Trump contact fade without protest, then lets out a deep breath and scrubs his face with his hands. Why is it, he muses, that speaking in a voice barely above a whisper is more stressful than shouting across a battlefield at the top of his lungs? There is probably some deep psychological insight there-- maybe he'll ask Bleys. That should good for a chuckle. He stands up, stretches, and manages to crack at least half the joints in his upper body, and begins the process of freshening up as though he'd actually taken a nap. And unconsciously, reflexively, he starts updating his to-do list:
Call Fiona. Call Bleys. If he catches a break, they'll be together and he can get both of them together. Call Folly? Yes... but lower priority, since Benedict is more or less up to date. Send Cameleopardis' words to his people. Track down Cledwin, see what he knows. Go to Cameleopardis' people, and make an army out of them. Question this Jellicoe character. And, come to think of it, Crisp and Mayness, although they're probably harmless dupes. And then this banquet with Benedict, Balen and Trippel-- technically it is a victory celebration, but Brennan would prefer that it be thought of as a survival banquet. Brennan craves strategic ambiguity, here.
All of those go under the sub-heading of, "Find and stop Moire."
Then there are the longer term, extra-curricular activities: Poke around the basement of Montparnasse, for one. As spooked by the place as Balen and Trippel seem to be, Brennan bets that he finds it even creepier. Check into the Silver Towers... although Conner will probably do that, and Brennan envies him the opportunity. A nice long conversation with Weyland that will probably cost Brennan his right hand... and that, only because Weyland doesn't believe in souls. Investigating these Fair Folk, and their (their?) ley lines all over Avalon. And as a last recourse, if necessary, Project Yg.
He stops and considers. Maybe those ley lines should go on the active curriculum. If this battle is fought here, it will be fought on Avalonian geography, of which those lines are a part. It may behoove him to learn something of them, especially if Moire has not. Perhaps Cameleopardis' people know something about them. Or Benedict. Or Balen. Or it wouldn't be the first time Brennan had to master something with no training, and it won't be the last.
He realizes that he's grinning to him in anticipation of... all of that... so he scrubs the smirk off his face, screws himself into the Walker persona again, fakes having taken a nap, and exits his quarters in search of Jellicoe.
Jellicoe is in the guest wing, where Walker and his men have been quartered. His room is nearer the main hall and larger than Walker's. If Brennan knocks, Jellicoe answers his own door.
Well, kicking down the door seems like an abuse of hospitality, and as much as Walker... and to some degree, Brennan... take Cledwin's betrayal personally, Jellicoe had seemed like a man that could be reasoned with. Or bought. So Brennan knocks. Is Jellicoe under any sort of guard or watch, or is he left to his own recognizance?
There’s no guard.
[OOC: Apparently a cultural difference here is that they really mean it about paroling captives. He could walk out the gate and no one would stop him, but if he took arms against his former captors, his own men would cut him down. Not that Walker knows this...]
"Nice quarters," he mutters, giving himself the excuse to scan briefly for mirrors as he looks around. And by way of inviting himself in. "Perks of rank, I reckon."
"I suppose. You’re the captain of the mercenaries, am I correct? You have my admiration for your skill and determination in defeating us."
"We had some good luck," Walker allows. He moves in such a way that Jellicoe can see that he's brought something with him-- a bottle that might have come from the royal family's private stash. Conjured, if need be, but something in exactly the style and quality that would be fit for such a stash.
"My compliments for whoever kept your groups on their timing. Ain't easy keeping two groups coordinated," he says. Then he reconsiders. "Three, I reckon, if you look at it right."
The man shrugs. "Sometimes. You can do more if you can split your troops, but there are risks as the communications get more difficult. Two commanders can't react to a change in circumstances as quickly as one, and so on. However, you can't have a pincer movement without coordinated separation of troops. And it's even more difficult at sea, where the wind also has to cooperate." While Jellicoe seems very interested in small unit tactics, and what's more seems reasonably good at the theory as well as the practice, he's also being careful not to refer to any specifics of the recent battles.
"You obviously had some sort of way out of the castle. Our magician assured us that you didn't conjure yourself outside of the walls."
"Obviously?" Walker says. "We feinted break-outs to get riders to these folks' allies. You sure I ain't just tag along with them and circle back?"
Walker, like Brennan's uncles, has cultivated the skill of casting reasonable doubt on prior certainties.
Jellicoe shrugs. "Not all watching eyes are human eyes, Captain Walker, nor do they all see in the same spectrum. But have it your way. It could be as you say."
Walker shrugs in return. Brennan notices that rather educated turn of phrase, but keeps it to himself.
He shifts in his chair. "May we have the bodies of those who died inside the castle walls, to return to their kinfolk for burial?"
Walker pours two drinks: They're negotiating, now.
"You mean those boys that came and killed Prince Maibock? They ain't mine to give, but I might could put in a good word with the new Prince." Walker does not conceal his impression that this would go a considerable distance, all things considered and all favors owed. "A good faith gesture couldn't hurt."
Walker has some ideas on that subject, but he'd rather see what Jellicoe offers. He offers Jellicoe a drink to lubricate the negotiations.
Jellicoe takes the drink and considers. "War's coming, no doubt about that. I can't commit to anything that would get us hanged back home. Them was good boys, but if we'd wanted to die for 'em, we'd've already done it." He swallows the first half of his drink. "There's a few things I can offer, one for the Mountain folk. They are isolated up here, and not well liked by their neighbors. War's coming, but it's also going to end. A trade agreement would be a good faith gesture, would it not?"
He drinks the rest of his drink. "And here's another thing I can offer. Position. You're a hell of a fighter, and you're wasted in this backwater. You're free of your contract, I hear, and we're bound not to attack Montparnasse, so there's no conflict.
"You're good, and I'd like to see what you can do for us."
Walker sips his drink while asking a few questions about this proposed trade deal: What for what, how often, starting when, that sort of thing. It is clear from the outset that Walker is not negotiating, simply getting the details of Jellicoe's offer-- such as they can be at this point-- to relay them back to Trippel. It seems from the initial offer that Jellicoe is speaking of something to begin after the war, not during it; this is something Walker wants to clarify, even if he doesn't ask in term quite that stark. After all, no Avalonian trade fleet is ever going to be anything other than armed to the teeth, and having an armed fleet of the northern coast after the war is a bit different than having one off the coast during the war.
The details are mostly of interest to the parties involved, but the offer seems to be a step further than most paroles go, even in Avalon. That it's even offered suggests that alliances here are both fluid and complex. Jellicoe is very clear that he means to honor his commitment to sit out the war. Given that this is Avalon, that probably means "sit out the rest of this campaign season".
That satisfies both Walker's duty to take a reasonable offer to Trippel, and Brennan's duty to make sure that the strategic balance is retained, at least in this small regard.
When he gets the information he needs (or gets all he's going to get) he agrees to take the offer to Trippel.
That concluded, he can investigate this job offer more fully. "Tell me more about this job," he says. "I reckon you ain't wanna tell me where I'd be fighting, but you can at least tell me who I'd be fighting for, and with."
"A mercenary should know who is punching his ticket. There is an alliance of four cities in the northlands, whose commission I hold. I cannot tell you where they would need us most, because we have been on this assignment for some weeks. Perhaps in the shield lands, perhaps with our allies to the east. The Admiral is a naval genius, and is excellent at finding how to best use whatever resources he has."
He pauses. "He'll be keen to meet you, and hear of your exploits."
"You don't mind my sayin', that ain't sayin' much: Northern cities, and a guy with a fleet," Walker drawls, waiting for Jellicoe to put even enough structure on the table to hang a hat on. What Walker thinks of a naval genius who uses sailors to assault a mountain fastness goes unsaid... although to be fair, Brennan's opinion is somewhat higher, all things considered.
"But that ain't all I meant. What about Cledwin?" he asks.
"Crisp's man? He kept to himself when we brought him to Avalon. Barely came out of his cabin. I don't know who he worked for."
"Aye. Crisp's man," Walker says. "Humor me. Call it part of my payment for your boys. Tell me what you know about him... and how it is you brung him to Avalon where I met him. Who else was with him, where'd he come from, like that."
Walker pours them another drink while Jellicoe answers.
Jellicoe drinks, again. "Half a year back, or maybe a year. Anyway, not long after the breaking of the black tides. We were afloat again and damn glad of it; we'd all been beached too long. We met the Admiral at sea, at a rendezvous he'd arranged. Us, The Dancer, and his flagship. He sent us Cledwin and someone else to Captain Stoat. We took him to the coast of Avalon and dropped him on the shore under cover of darkness.
"It's funny, we met the Admiral again after that, but I don't recall getting orders to do so. That's when we got our orders to take the Maghee to the Cannibal Coast and raid this castle. We didn't know why, but the Admiral is a tactical genius, so we did as he said."
Walker wets his lips with his drink, to maintain appearances. And to keep from scowling too noticeably-- something just seems... off. The repetition of "the Admiral is a tactical genius," the confusion over when he met the Admiral, or why they met a second time... It just feels off.
"I'm startin' to like the sound of that, workin' for a tactical genius," Walker says. "So, sell me on him. How'd you fall in with him? What's he done to earn his rep?"
Walker will try to keep Jellicoe amiably chatting about the Admiral, asking questions to draw him out looking for non-specific specifics, so to speak. It doesn't matter what the specifics are-- he doesn't care if it's a description of his face, or a name, or a particular thing he does or has done, or a location they've met, but he does gently probe for some specific. He's certainly not going to bother for anything like actionable intelligence, because Jellicoe is not a fool.
As he does, he's watching Jellicoe in two ways-- when the talk turns to a specific, does Jellicoe seem to go a little fuzzy minded and veer away? And secondly, he'll carefully, briefly, and passively look him over with the third eye for signs of manipulation.
Or Brennan might just be chasing shadows, and Jellicoe is just cagey, but at least he'll get a feel for this Admiral player in the process.
The five clans of the Blessed Isle elect a war-leader annually. He or she appoints the top officers of the fleet and the army. War-Leader Syke appointed her son Stratum as Admiral and he won several unexpected victories, using unorthodox tactics. Most people in Avalon are tactically competent, but Stratum wins unwinnable battles. Jellicoe has served under him for most of the last five years, which is a long time for both a War-Leader and an Admiral. They were devastatingly effective against the black tides.
He is absolutely fuzzy on the last meeting between himself and the Admiral. He does not know where or when it was, exactly, but he's aware of the orders he was given from it.
Brennan's Third Eye investigation doesn't show any signs of current glamours on the man, but it might not detect if he was interfered with in the past.
Fascinating. Positively fascinating. Brennan doesn't know exactly where this puzzle piece fits, but it sure looks like it's Moire's colors... or perhaps Dara's, which would be deeply unfortunate. Contrary to form, Brennan does not push the sorcerous examination any further, or augment it with Astral vision or anything active-- if there is something there, no sense disturbing it or setting off any landmind, and if there isn't it will just be time wasted. The fuzziness is enough.
Given that, though, and being unwilling at this time to press any farther on Cledwin-- since he was also hand picked by the Tactical Genius, Jellicoe is probably unwilling to give him up-- Walker and Brennan are running out of agenda. Walker will happily let Jellicoe continue to sell him on the Admiral or tell him about the Black Tides, but unless Jellicoe has some additional particular agenda to push, he will eventually excuse himself.
"I'll think on it," Walker says. "I reckon you'll be leaving before sundown tomorrow? Gives me time to talk to the Prince about you gettin' your boys back. I'll let you know what he says."
Unless Jellicoe stops him, he'll be off looking for any of Balen, Trippel, or Benedict.... probably in that order, although they're probably all together in council.
Balen has a tight smile for Walker. Trippel is lying on a couch. "Forgive me if I don't stand. I'm pretty sure this wound isn't going to kill me, but it's not for lack of trying."
Benedict looks between the two men, and Brennan thinks the Protector may have conclusions that he is keeping to himself. "I trust your discussion was enlightening?"
Walker gives Trippel a shrug, as if to say, It's Your Castle. If Trippel is fishing for an apology, he should take up farming. Being unsure of the protocol here, but being at least cognizant that the Protector's face is on coins and that Balen assumed he was an agent of the Protector, he sketches a Reman-style salute of sufficient roughness that it probably cost him a commission back home in Reme. He begins addressing the Protector, but since he knows Trippel and Balen better, his address slides back to them by the end.
"Summat," he says. "New questions for old, at least." For the first and not the last time, his address slides back to Trippel. "Jellicoe wants his boys' bodies back, the ones as killed your pa. He offers you trade pacts after the war. It ain't my call to make, I told him, but I'd pass it on."
Looking at Balen, he adds, "Cameleopardis ain't on the table for that deal. But you remember how someone messed with Cameleopardis's head? Jellicoe and I fell to talkin' about our contracts and our bosses. My price for bringing you the offer. Turns out, Jellicoe delivered Cledwin to Avalon hisself, but he didn't know why. It was on the orders of an Admiral Stratum, same fellow as later told him to bring the Maghee here and take this fort particular. He's a Tactical Genius." Walker pronounces the capital letters quite clearly. "Kept sayin' that-- Tactical Genius. It was... weird. I poked for some details-- nothing useful, because the man ain't a fool-- just details past. He ain't have too many, and I ain't even sure he realizes it. Maybe he's just playin' me, and I might not have gave it a second thought, but it made me think of what was done to Cameleopardis." Another look at Balen. "Not much more I could do, so I stopped.
"So," he says. "Who's this Stratum fellow and his mama, Syke?"
Benedict nods. "Northern warlords. They control some of the mines and more of the trade routes for metals from that part of the world, so they're not inconsequential."
Balen looks puzzled. "I'm thinking it isn't Syke’s doing, because I haven't been able to figure out how attacking us is in her strategic interests. She's not going to be a great friend of the Mountain ever, but she won't break a deal Jellicoe brings her, not if Stratum agrees. I'm not sure about the bodies, though."
Trippel replies to her. "I am. He can have 'em. I've got no use for nor room to store northern corpses. We'll hold off somewhat to get this deal solidified, but it costs us nothing to help him with his sailor's families.
"Now, what did you find out about Cledwyn, Crisp, and our sister?"
Walker is surprised that the possibility that Stratum's identity is being usurped by Moire gathers no immediate reaction-- surprised enough that he lets it show briefly in a pair of raised eye-brows, but doesn't try to redirect the conversation, at least not yet.
"Ain't spoke to either one, yet," he says. "There's a lot of sense, me questioning them-- unfamiliar face, they don't know what I know, I got no stake other than hunting down Cledwyn, all that. But going in blind, don't make sense, either. Remember we said, if we lived through to morning we'd swap life stories? Seems like this is the time for it-- be a help if I knew Crisp's story, goin' in, or at least what you have of it."
Walker is even willing to go first if Trippel really cares, which is questionable at best.
Trippel shifts from where he's reclining. "I didn't agree with my father, mostly about who we should ally with. Crisp is a Northerman, but we never held that against him. 'Everyone is friends with the arms-dealers,' as the proverb says. Mayness chose him, I hear, not the other way around."
Balen snorts. "Sort of. I'd say he made himself into the kind of mind she'd choose, and flattered her into it. She's not stupid, even if she is good-looking. She didn't have a great future to look forward to, when Trippel took over from Maibock."
Trip agrees. "That is true. Father and I didn't agree on most things, but he wasn't going to disown me for it. She wanted to commit him so that I'd be constrained. They have nothing to gain by Father's death, unless I were to die as well, and probably Balen. I don't think they were that murderous, but it's worth knowing what they were doing."
Benedict looks up. "So, if the plot were to have succeed, Prince Maibock and Lady Balen would be dead, Prince Trippel would be excluded, Crisp would be holding the castle for Mayness with the help of Jellicoe's Corsairs, and Cledwyn would be pushing the folks of the high plains south into the coastal plain to tie up Methuenport City, which was happening already, but will be accelerated if there's no threat from the Holy Mountain. Do I have it aright?"
Walker very politely refrains from pointing out that his initial thoughts to Balen were along the lines of Mayness marrying the Mountain to the Corsairs. He runs his fingers through the stubble on his chin. "Enh," he says. "Crisp and Mayness ruling the castle sounds a nice-to-have, but those elephants and that worm... they'd've torn this place down if if they had to."
Benedict is stone-faced. "It is difficult to imagine elephants as part of a subtle campaign. Unless they were summoned." He frowns. "And they are difficult to transport over seas without a fleet."
The supply train alone is enough to boggle the mind-- hundreds of pounds of fodder per elephant per day. Not impossible to move by fleet, but dragging even so much as a week's supply up the mountain would have been a back-breaking effort. But Brennan knows this; knows that Benedict knows this; knows that Benedict knows that Walker has no reason to keep that sort of esoteric trivia in his head.
So he just nods sharply when Benedict mentions summoning.
[Walker] turns to Trippel and says, almost as an aside, "If you want to set up for a sucker punch, let 'em think they almost did, and you're out of the game-- send Jellicoe a list of goods of everything you'd need after a huge disaster."
Trip nods. "We'd have to be careful to split the message if we decide on that course. We still need to be a threatening power to the north to keep the port open. We might not actually like the results of such a feint."
This, Walker readily agrees to with another nod.
"Could be that's what they promised Crisp or Mayness for their help. How's this line up with Stratum's rise, though? Is that about the time the romance began?" Walker asks.
Trip shrugs. "Could be. They met In Methryn's Port. She was sent to find arms and allies..." Balen does not hide her displeasure at the memory.
"All right," Walker says. "One more question: What's the worst threat they'll take serious? I assume you ain't want to execute your sister without proof, and maybe not even then," he pauses pointedly for Trippel to correct him if he's wrong, although he suspects Balen wouldn't shed a tear to see her dead. "Exile? Disinheritance? Life in the tower? Same for Crisp. What's his status, now he's wed?" Some of those have their own problems to contend with-- exile is a dire threat for a pampered princess, but it leaves open the possibility of the northerners to prop her up as a rallying figure for another attempt next season... although by next season it is highly unlikely that Moire will be at large in theater, and thus highly unlikely that Montparnasse will have the same strategic relevance.
The assembled royalty of Avalon and Mountparnasse seem to agree with Walker's analysis.
Trip is willing to have them stay, under arrest or on parole if they will give it, but expects them to choose banishment.
"Protector, the man is your citizen, married to my sister, who seems to have been involved in the princepicide of my father. If you wish to take them to Avalon for trial, I am amenable."
Benedict stirs. "No, we'll take him if you expel him, but make it known to him that he will need to explain things very clearly to me if he does wish to return, and that I will judge him as I see fit if he does."
Balen nods. "That ought to send them north and out of our hair."
Trippel nods. "She'll have to renounce all claims to Montparnasse if she leaves, of course."
Assuming there are no surprising revelations, and that Benedict or lesser NPCs have no further questions or distractions, Walker will move to question Crisp-- just him, separate from Mayness.
Trip will have guards bring him to whatever chamber you wish to use to interrogate him. He asks you not to kill him without discussing it with himself or Balen.
The last thing Brennan hears as he leaves to deal with his interrogation is Balen telling Trippel that he needs to marry to move the succession past their generation. He doesn't disagree.
Walker tactfully ignores the details of the impending royal succession program.
He asks to have Crisp transferred to a room with a table and two chairs and not much else, certainly not a window. Then he lets Crisp sweat there for maybe half a watch or so, to worry and wait and wonder what's going to happen next. He inquires of Crisp's guards, out of earshot of course, how they have treated him-- was he allowed visitors, what was his state of comfort, did they feed him, what did they feed him, etc. Ideally (although of course Brennan can't influence past events with Pattern) they will have been ungentle, but not brutal.
It's hard to find a prisoner who has been mistreated in Montparnasse and Crisp is no exception. It might be worth asking Benedict about, or even Balen. He's been fed, decently if not luxuriously, and doesn't show any signs of rough treatment.
When Walker finally enters, he looks around and frowns at everything although not specifically at Crisp.
"How you holding up?" he asks. "They feed you? You want I should get you something to eat?" If Crisp answers in the affirmative (or if he looks hungry but to proud to say it, or if Brennan knows perfectly well that he should be hungry but is too proud to say it) he will call for two meals to be sent up, one for Crisp and the other for himself. They can eat before they get down to business.
Crisp accepts the meal as a sort of peace offering, or something. It's hard to tell. He definitely eats, but he's not been deprived in prison.
"Reckon we got some problems, Crisp." Walker leaves it at that, for openers. He wants to see where Crisp goes with it.
Crisp smiles, but doesn't seem happy. "I more than you. I'm pleased that you've landed on your feet. When I heard of Cledwyn's treachery, I feared for you and your men. Please understand that I had no idea that Cleddy was a villain and a traitor."
Walker doesn't smile. "And that's a problem," Walker says, "Because what else'd you say? Now Cledwin, what he done is an act of war. Dishonorable, maybe, but an act of war, straight up simple. You, though... when all this went down, you was Maibock's son by marriage, we'd say back in Reme. And Cledwin was your man."
He pauses to let that sink in like rat's teeth.
"So I figure your best bet's to be convincing. If you can't be convincing, be real helpful. Start with Cledwin. Everything you know about him but maybe start at the beginning-- how'd you meet him?"
He looks despondent. "He's the son of an old friend. He knew how to fight and offered to run a guard for me in exchange for lessons in how to be a weapons-merchant. He didn't have the knack, but I did need a guard, so I took him on. We did two trips to Methryn's before you joined up.
"I thought for a while she might've sent him to me because he was my son, but I gave up on that one pretty early on. I knew he was doing some spying, it's not uncommon for mercenaries and travelers, but I had no idea he'd try to kill my father-in-law."
Brennan, if not Walker, has the grace not to chuckle at that. But only just barely.
The bit about Cledwin's mother gets placed in working memory-- there will be questions about that later, but not so soon as to make Walker seem over-eager about it.
"I see," he nods.
Walker is only mildly curious at best about where Crisp went when he wasn't on Methryn's Isle-- even a vague notion of "the North," or equivalent is more than sufficient. What he is really interested in is how much time Crisp spent travelling in pursuit of his trade, and how tightly Cledwin was part of those travels. Walker expects that someone like Crisp needs to be travelling almost constantly, but were there brief seasons off? Was Cledwin part of all Crisp's travels? If there was downtime for Crisp, did Cledwin share that, or did he go off on his own?
Walker starts with, "How long ago was that, you reckon?" and "Those the only trips you took together?" and then moves the conversation from there if need be.
Crisp nods at the latter suggestion. "Yup. Mind you, that's over three years. We'd bring the iron down to Blackpool, pick up a cargo of finished goods, and head for the southern archipelagoes. Last time, I let him do the run up to the mines, but you can do very well just making the run to Methryn's. Everyone loves a weaponmonger. You don't even have to go as far as the Tethys to make a nice profit.
"Mae says you're working for her sister now, or something. Mind telling me how that happened?"
Walker is so astonished by the presumption of the question that he actually answers it.
"Wrong place at the wrong time and no other option. I figured on swingin' from a gibbet just for comin' in with you and Cledwin, and even if I ain't, even if I walk out, I got to get through that force of corsairs showed up half an hour later with the rest of the boys. And they-- the corsairs-- 'll be thinkin' we're just a runner band makin' a break for allies when we're just five boys running down a strange mountain at night. We'd be five dead clowns before the sun came up. You thinkin' I had some better option?"
He actually pauses to see if Crisp answers that, before taking the momentum of the conversation back.
"It's hard to argue with success, Captain Walker."
When Crisp calls him Captain, Walker closes his eyes for a moment and just shakes his head slightly in resignation. But he does not otherwise comment.
"Speaking of corsairs, how do you figure things'd stand if they won and keep changed hands?"
"If I'd been left standing alone in the throne room, having heroically defeated the assassins sent by my father-in-law's enemies? I'd have asked the Trinovantes for protection, which they were prepared to offer. The keep is still too much trouble to take, but it's no longer a threat, so the Admiral wins.
"Or if the corsairs took it out cleanly, I'd've bought it back from them for my bride, then we'd be back on script."
And it is in that one brief statement that Brennan understands, should he ever have serious enough cause, how to cause Benedict serious grief in his own realm. But that is not germane to the topic at hand.
What is germane is that all of Crisp's ending scenarios end up with him or Mayness in charge. Which is perfectly reasonable and follows the logic of Avalon quite nicely. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense for Crisp to get himself involved in such a thing if he found his desire for power to be greater than his desire for land, or if this mysterious Admiral were offering him even greater monetary rewards in the future. On the other hand, it makes him a near perfect dupe because his natural inclinations lead him to perform actions in support of the corsairs anyway.
On the third hand, Brennan really doesn't care about Crisp as Crisp.
What he cares about are this Admiral's connections to Moire and finding Cledwin so he can acquire that information efficiently.
Walker nods sharply. "Makes sense," he allows. "Back to Cledwin for a few questions. You make it sound like he was off the leash at least part time. Is that right? Whereabouts was he supposed to be when that happened?" Walker will firmly but civilly press for at least some measure of detail, here. He knows he won't get a day by day, or even a month by month, accounting of Cledwin's activities, but he's trying to get a sense of how much Cledwin's time was spent off on his own and roughly where and how far he ranged.
The time right around the time Walker knows that Jellicoe was bringing him to Avalon is of particular interest, though.
Crisp is perfectly willing to provide details, but it's mostly of cities and mountains neither Walker nor Brennan have heard of. "He went to the mines to get the raw materials to make the weapons we sold. Normally I would do that, but having him available meant I could concentrate on getting the ship ready earlier. I received instructions from the Admiral, since he knew that war was coming, and he told me to meet Cledwin on Avalon, before sailing to Methryn.
"Other than those two times, he's been with me for years." He pauses, and shakes his head, as if he's bothered by a fly. "Given how badly it's gone, this doesn't seem like it was actually the Admiral's plan."
Walker shrugs, pleased with confirmation of the fact that Crisp knew-- or at least was in contact with-- this mysterious Admiral without having to fish directly after it. "Fella's pretty inscrutable, is what I hear. You never know." But, no, the grand hope was for Mayness or Crisp to rule here, Walker doesn't say, or failing that for the neutralization of Montparnasse, which can still be faked.
"How'd you get your instructions from the Admiral?" This is a matter of particular interest-- it could be as simple as written letters by ship or as telling as a mirror connection... or as telling as a fuzzed or missing piece of Crisp's memory. Walker probes gently around the area of whether Crisp and the Admiral had ever met and whether or not any memories are fuzzed, as he had done with Jellicoe.
Crisp describes the normal system: letters sent to ports they'd been scheduled to arrive at, Notes for "the next captain in our service to arrive in [place]", and so on. Orders about Methryn came via a merchant factor on the Isle of Dogs, when they put in for water. He left Cledwin there, to wait for more orders and waited in Avalon for him to catch up. It was a dull month.
When he thinks he's got all he can on that account, he changes direction without warning: "What'd you and Jellicoe talk about when he delivered Cledwin?" It's a bit of a bluff. But if Crisp should suddenly understand that Walker knows more than he lets on and that lying is perilous, so much the better. Walker watches him closely.
Cledwin arrived by road from the northern part of Avalon. Crisp knows the name of Jellicoe, but hasn't sailed or served with him.
Walker has one more question, before they get down to the meat of the situation: "How'd you and Mayness meet? Was this before or after you threw in with the Admiral?" Walker will press for details, of course, on who knew how much and when, but his real goal here is a bit subtler-- how much does Crisp care about her?
Granted, it might be hard to tell since in Avalon the penalty for being caught is a time-out, rather than a swift death-by-example.
He shakes his head. "You make it sound as if one has a choice to 'throw in' with the Admiral. We are of the same land, and when he takes us to war, we go to war. The differences are in how much or little of our duty he calls into his service."
Walker is not impressed. "You always got a choice."
Cledwin continues, ignoring Walker’s comment. "Mayness and I met in Methryn's Port. I was there by accident: Our shop, the Shield, had damaged her mast and Methryn's was closer than Avalon, so the Captain changed course. She was buying weapons, for her father and for her brother, as I recall. This was before they fought. We couldn't get my cargo through the excise men for several days, so we ended up drowning our sorrows together and one thing led to another, and soon all my trips came here and we started planning a future together."
He smiles, smugly. "Now that I think of it, it was quite a coincidence that we ended up here. If her witch of a sister damaged the Shield of Lir to get arms there for Mayness, she got more than she bargained for."
Walker just stares coldly at that-- the man has an awfully high opinion of himself if he thinks he was Balen's special target even before he and Mayness became involved.
"All right. Time for my business now: What was your orders, with or without Cledwin, after you got here. If they ain't concern Cledwin, where d'you figure he's run to now? He runs back to your ship without you, you reckon they'll take him and just leave you here if he says you're dead?"
"They might. More likely, he'll send word to the Admiral and hire on a ship going anywhere else. Too many witches on both sides to lie very much, 'the truth will out', as they say." He leans forward. "Gotta figure he's heading to Methryn's, given the start that he has. Unless he thinks you've got a way there that's faster, and then he'd cut for the hills. He and I made lots of friends on the way up here.
"Anychance, if they send an army down after him, it ends up roiling the situation in Methryn's and the Admiral gets what he wants. He's a tactical genius, you see. Most plans get him what he wants no matter which way the wind blows."
Walker gives that a very humorless smile "Yeah, I heard he's pretty clever."
In the back of his mind, Brennan has to bite back a comment about back-rationalizing brilliance to the point that getting thrown off a mountain is seen as yet more evidence of a master plan. Perhaps he'll throw Cledwin off Mountparnasse to underscore that point in whatever karmic ledger these things are recorded in. Or maybe he'll just use it to his advantage.
Once he's absorbed what Crisp just said, he nods. "All right. Here's my recommend to the Prince: I know your friends in the lowlands already. You give up a list of friends in the hills I ain't already know. You oath off any future ventures against the mountain, and you enjoy the Prince's generous hospitality til I send word back I found Cledwin... or maybe the Protector's hospitality. I understand you're his citizen, reckon he's got a say in what happens to Maibock's murderers, too. We'll see."
Crisp looks impassive. Either he's not worried, or he's an excellent actor. Brennan suspects the latter.
He gives it another moment's thought, then adds, "And your money. We ain't need Mayness buying trouble on your behalf-- how's that work, her access to your money?"
He looks at Walker oddly, as if even a foreigner should know this. "She's my wife. At home, she could raise my brothers and cousins and arm and fund them, or she can ransom me. She has her own funds, of course, and would ransom me with those."
"Yeah, that's about what I figured," Walker says.
He pauses. "The bargain offered to Jellicoe by Trippel is a much better deal than either of those options, for us and for him. We would take a similar deal. If he wishes, we will withdraw to the Northlands and only trade on Methryn's through agents. He need not see his sister again."
Walker smells blood. The humorless smile vanishes. "You keep lookin' forward to that. Sooner I send word back, the sooner it might come true."
Unless Crisp stops him-- and the best way to do so is with a shrewd guess as to Cledwin's movements and whereabouts-- Walker departs, in search of Benedict, Trippel, and Balen, or whatever combination thereof is easiest to assemble, to deliver his report. Assuming he finds them, his report is thus:
The Admiral may or may not have spelled out to Crisp and Mayness that they were intended to hold the keep at the operation's end. But if Crisp, in particular, hadn't seen it coming, he's too stupid to use as an agent. And yet, there he is, having acted on the Admiral's behalf and knowing that his protege' did so as well. In the traditional formulation of Reman prosecutors: If he didn't do it, he thought about it. Walker doesn't say so outright, but it's clear from his demeanor that in Reme, there would be serious punishments meted out.
The interesting wrinkle is that while Cledwin probably has no reason to believe that the plan failed, and is probably running back to Methrynsport to find his next assignment, that may not last very long. And when that game is up, he'll probably turn around and do something else to keep the region on edge... he might he even just hope that Montparnasse sends a full warband after him, which would do that job quite nicely.
So Walker's suggestion is to send one man-- him-- to go chase Cledwin down.
That leaves two issues. One is whether to, as he put it before, set up for a sucker punch. Trippel correctly identified the danger there, that the hill folk could decide to take advantage, or it could simply lure Cledwin back into the area to try to finish the job in a few weeks. Walker tracking down Cledwin should blunt that, somewhat. So will the list of friends and contacts in the region that Crisp is providing. That's the sort of list that an enterprising young prince could use to quietly decapitate the local opposition, if he so chose.
The other is what to do about Crisp and Mayness. Walker left them with the impression that Mayness will be exiled, and Crisp will stay here... at least until Cledwin is hunted down. Walker makes it clear that he doesn't really care, that was just his leverage to ensure Crisp's cooperation. Unless the terms of Mayness' exile can be made to include a believable clause against raising forces to raid the keep to free Crisp, the better solution might actually be that Mayness stays here while Crisp is remanded to Avalon. And when they're done using that stick, they can switch to the carrot of giving him the same trade deal as Jellicoe-- Walker points out that this carrot is so effective that Crisp asked for it himself.
"...But I can't say as I care much about Crisp and Mayness, as long as they sweat for a few more days, shake loose any information they may be holding back. And the way I see it, the best man for settling these names is the Prince," he nods at Trippel. "It's more than a list to you, you know the personalities and reputations behind them, and you gotta live with the results ten years down. But it gives you room to set up that head fake, keeps your options open. And the best man for Cledwin is me. Came up through the ranks as a scout, before..." he shrugs with just a hint of despair. "Before I got here. I heard Jellicoe mention Black Tides. Sounds like a good description, even though I was mostly on land through it."
Trippel nods through the report, asking detailed questions where appropriate. Benedict and Balen are quiet, although Balen smiles at the thought of exile for Mayness.
Trippel nods. "I shall determine the sentence for my sister and my new brother, and yes, Sister, I shall have your advice as well. As to this Cledwin, I would charge you as follows: Cledwin is declared an outlaw and The Holy Mountain offers a reward of one hundred Protector's Heads for his return, or twenty if he is dead. Take this message down the mountain to the port, telling each community along the way and spreading his likeness as you go.
"Tell your contacts to hurry, because you intend to take the bounty yourself. If you reach the port and find that he has sailed, send word to me and you are released from your obligations."
Benedict nods. It's about what he expected.
"Balen," asks Trippel, "what do you wish to advise?"
He pauses. "I... will consider. That is not for their ears, yet."
Benedict nods. "I will leave with Walker, and accompany him at least part of the way."
Walker has a few loose ends, small tasks, and farewells to make.
The important and private one is to make several copies of the letter that Cameleopardis dictated, for later use. He could always conjure the necessary materials in the field, but why bother-- ink, paper, and writing surfaces are present here in abundance. This will not take long; it's just copy work from a letter already drafted.
He also makes farewell to the other men from Cledwin's crew-- technically now Walker's crew, although the crew is now disbanded or will need to take one of the remaining members as a leader. Walker thanks them for their steadfast service, and for not leaving when the leaving was good, between Cledwin's betrayal and the start of the siege. It may not be worth much, but he'll put in good words for them if he reaches Methrynsport, and allows as how he may make calls there in the future. Of greater possible worth is a good word with Trippel and Balen, should they desire one. At the very least, he ensures that they're paid for their service for the time after Cledwin left, even if it must come from his own pocket. (He expects Trippel has more class than that personally, and that even if he didn't, the mores of Avalon would cover it.)
Balen pays them from Clasp's purse. They plan to take the wagon south and return to Methryn's Port.
Then there are Cameleopardis' remains, if any, and any effects he left behind. If there are meaningful remains, Walker asks that they be put to rest respectfully. If there are personal effects... Walker captured him, Walker claims them. He retains the religious book, of course, and it will serve as a keepsake if necessary, but he is hoping to find something a little more compact and durable-- a signet, a locket, some small personal token or piece of jewelry. Its primary purpose is, really, as a remembrance of someone who might have become a friend, whose death Brennan deeply regrets. But Brennan is too cynical to discount the possibility that it may be useful to prove that Cameleopardis lived recently.
He was wearing a torc when he was taken. It is given to Walker.
Finally, a farewell to Trippel and Balen. He still does not apologize for knifing Trippel, but does wish him well for a speedy recovery.
Trippel doesn't expect Walker to apologize. He thanks him for his good wishes.
Once on the road with Benedict, Brennan lets the Walker persona slide off as soon as they're out of view of Montparnasse. He lets the Shadows stop lying for him-- to the extent that they actually do in the environs near Avalon-- and stretches as they travel, like a man who's been wearing too-tight clothing or too-small armor for a very long time. He revels quietly in the freedom of motion and activity, and waits for Benedict to start whatever conversation he obviously wants to have.
Benedict watches him stretch. "Removing self-imposed constraints is pleasant. I am returning to Avalon. I consider your work here on my behalf a success."
Brennan smiles at the sheer pleasure of no longer constraining himself to Walker's abilities, skills, and persona. "Thank you," he says. Whether Benedict intended it as such, Brennan considers it somewhere between a compliment and an honor.
"I don't think my work for Queen Celina is complete, although I was able to report back to Rebma since we last spoke. Celina has a Trump of me, but not vice-versa," he explains. "That work, of course, is discovering her mother's designs on Rebma and, if possible, stopping them. I'm still certain she, or at least her agents, are here. Do I have your blessing to proceed?"
He nods. "She should have moved on by now. She needs two or three solid, threatening routes and to take a different one. I'd expect her to take the forest."
Brennan nods agreement. "Her position is very tense: Her need for ambiguity plays against the pressure of time. On the other hand, she still bears the ultimate symbol of the realm, which Rebma cannot tolerate. Better if she were captured or defeated, made to bend knee, and the matter simply closed."
He cocks his head to the side, chewing over what Benedict just said. "I had sought to tip the scales here without giving the appearance of a decisive victory, to preserve the appearance of ambiguity-- to preserve its utility in her mind. You think she moves to the Kelp to begin preparing the ambiguity in that theater? Or because this one is no longer useful to her?" he asks.
"Time is on her side," Benedict responds. "She merely has to wait for the right opportunity without being caught, and move in when Celina falters. Perhaps she causes that, perhaps she is merely opportunistic.
"If she has planted the right seeds in the city, and I assume she has, then she can either claim tenderness of conscience in her refusal to fight her own niece and daughter, strategic vision in her refusal to fight them while Huon was approaching, or mystical prophecies that required her to undergo a trial.
"Nothing has changed in this assessment, unless you have learned something new. It's the same position that she was in when she left Rebma.
"For all we know, she could have already moved to the kelp forests of Nedra before you even tracked her here. And when you arrive there she may have put things in motion and moved to Gateway, or Paris, or the Seaward.
"If she has the patience for such tactics, she could bedevil you for years. And if she does it right, Celina would have few places that she could flee to where Moire didn't have influence."
He looks back at the Holy Mountain. "I discussed such matters with her, in idle conversation, some decades ago. She asked me how I would attack Rebma, if I did not have an army."
"I think she'll have a hard time spinning her flight from Huon as strategic vision when we actually held it and took Huon's surrender, and Khela's death is being held up as mystic sacrifice for the good of the realm." It is abundantly clear from Brennan's tone of voice that he is aware of the level of cynicism and manipulation behind that statement. "But," he concedes, "the more troubled Celina's reign is, the more time Moire has and the more she can spin. Years seems right. Decades..." He shrugs. He doesn't think so, but he doesn't intent to let it last that long.
"If I may ask," Brennan goes right ahead and asks, "what did your answer have to say about use of the Jewel?"
Benedict chooses to answer the first part first. "Winners write the history, and it is re-written when there are new winners. A decade's absence in a centuries-long rule is nothing. Eric will never be remembered as King of Amber, and not just because Queen Vialle does not wish him to be remembered. Do not underestimate her, nor discount her while she lives."
"We did not discuss the jewel. It is worth an army, if she can attune herself to it. That would take access to a pattern and more confidence in her paternity than she has."
Brennan turns that over in his mind as they ride. "I had been using Corwin and Bleys' situation as a model," he says slowly. Then he nods, slowly, still thinking. "But there are obvious differences. I see your point."
"But there are two small blessings," Brennan says. "She has not the benefit of your advice on the matter of the Jewel, and by inference you don't think she could use it either. I remember what Brand was able to do at Patternfall... I was not eager to face even a fraction of that. But then," he says, "It is hard to imagine why she would have abandoned Rebma if she could marshal that kind of force."
He exhales slowly, then says, "There may come a time when the best course of action is to oppose her in the field, in the environs of Avalon. The Faiella-Bionin and the Kelp are both highly useful to her. That time is not now, of course, but if and when it comes... do you oppose such a course? I would need to raise the forces locally, and I cannot yet say if it would be better or worse to invoke your name."
Benedict considers. "The Faille-Bionin is a choke-point both in Avalon and in Rebma, and can be defended in a number of places. The Kelp is too large to protect, and of little use if Moire' plan is to raise an army of Tritons. She only needs to take herself through for that, or perhaps a cadre of officers to form the core of her corps.
"Unlike Arden, there are no rangers to patrol the Kelp. As a border it suited both of us, because nothing could come through without dealing with the Sons of the Dragon, and the Sons had no interest in the surface of Avalon."
He nods. "I would prefer that you stay on the Rebma side of the border in any defensive endeavor and reported it to me to deal with any problems she causes in Avalon. There are circumstances under which I would change my mind, but I adjudge them to be highly unlikely to occur."
"As you say," Brennan agrees. Then adds in a dry tone, "Of course, until I have actionable intelligence instead of--" he waves his hands in a gesture entirely unlike the universal waggly-fingered Sorcery gesture, "--this informed speculation I've turned up thus far, an armed force would only slow me down.
"My immediate thought was to chase down Cledwin and see if he has any clearer memories of his meeting with the Admiral than Jellicoe or Crisp. Speaking of which-- I'm as certain as I can be without seeing Sorcerous thumbprints on him that Jellicoe's mind has been tampered with, vis-a-vis the Admiral's appearance and identity. This seemed highly suspicious to me, given that Cameleopardis' orders came from Moire. Or is this sort of identity concealment a typical-- or even plausible-- gambit, here?" Brennan asks.
"It's uncommon, but it was used in the 15th War of the Orokoy Islands, the 5th Grand Southern Fleet, the so-called Spearfish Mutiny, and a handful of lesser campaigns. The Admiral doesn't actually exist, but his mother does. She needs to keep the war going to keep her war powers through her warlord son.
"If I don't intervene, she has a slim chance of becoming Empress of the North and a great chance of becoming dead. I haven't decided if I am intervening, if she stays to the North. These recent forays into my sphere of interest make her more intriguing. I'm thinking of writing a paper on her, actually."
"I'll let you know if I find evidence that Moire is spoofing her command and control," Brennan says. Or in some other way, colluding, because, "There was a bit too much coincidence in that chain of events for my tastes."
Brennan rides in silence, as companionably as one does with Benedict for a time, considering whether to broach a subject.
[OOC: Also giving Benedict the opportunity to raise any issue he considers pressing. If he has something, then disregard the rest....]
At length, he comes to a decision. "Uncle, there's a matter removed from any of this current business that needs counsel. This may trespass on business of your own as well." He shrugs a regret, athough he is clearly uncomfortable with the decision, or the topic, or both. "Tir-na Nog'th is often described as dream-like, for lack of a better word." Brennan, having been there, has other words-- phantasmal, spectral, visionary, prophetic-- but they aren't necessarily better words. "Have you ever known that to be... literal? Or its influence to extend beyond Tir, out into Shadow?"
"There are congruent places. Have you heard the story that Prince Garrett tells of rescuing Vialle in the woods? It was such a place, and I was there with Random and a few of your cousins. It is not an honest place."
"Yes, but from Signy rather than Prince Garrett," Brennan says. "But that's... not entirely what I meant. Those were real, waking experiences as I understand it, and those involved left with a physical token."
Not unlike your arm.
"I meant literal in the sense of a literal dream, while sleeping. And by far out into Shadow I mean in the Plain of Towers, a place where Weyland dwelt for a time. It's on this side of the Tree-- I think-- but far enough that the time scales between here and there are entirely disjoint. Although," he scowls in memory, "there were people there who reminded me of the Moonriders.
"The dream was a single image," Brennan says, "but it was clear and compelling enough to make a sketch. I believe it was an accurate image of someone I've never seen before, which does give me pause." He reaches into his Trump case, where he keeps the sketch he made of that dream, and shows it to Benedict.
"It's hard to tell with the time differential, but I was in the Plain of Towers when-- I may have had this dream when Cambina was dying."
Benedict considers, stroking his beard. "That is the Queen of Air and Darkness, Maeve." His voice sounds oddly foreign when he says the Queen's name. "Paige and her brother saw a projection of her in Gerard's home shadow. Possibly some others, although my understanding was that she was appearing to your female cousins. Possibly searching for a new host.
"You were... close with Cambina. We know sorcery can project images over distances, even across shadows. We don't know how Cambina died, but we should sincerely hope that she did not project her final visage. I almost never recommend this, but you should go to Tir-na nOg'th."
Brennan has to try twice before any sound comes out, but the second attempt seems to get all the voice-- and all the horror-- of both tries: "A new host?!" It's another long moment before he's mastered himself enough to speak again, and when he does it's still with great agitation, but more control. "A new host? What exactly does that mean?!"
Benedict shakes his head. "Speculation on my part. There is still a working pattern in Tir-na nOg'th. Therefore the Queen of Air and Darkness is not dead. She is looking for something, and doing so by probing women of the family. It's unclear what she wants, but to be cautious, I presume the worst."
Brennan stares at Benedict as his heart rate and blood pressure recede to something approaching normality, or at least to something that wouldn't kill someone not of the Family.
"I can follow that chain of logic when led through it," he says, "but I can't help feeling that the chain is informed by facts I don't have access to. What we-- my generation-- knows or believes is about enough to fill a thimble: That she is to Tir-na nOg'th as Oberon was to Amber. That at some point, the city changed from something close to 'normal' into what it is now, with catastrophic consequences for the inhabitants. That at some later date-- much later, I suspect-- there was a war to prevent the remnants from reclaiming the remnant, as it were. Less commonly known is that Brand's project and insanity was in some way related to fixing a problem with Tir's Pattern or the Queen... or at least, that's what Ambrose has so far from his notes."
Benedict nods as each point is made. He lets Brennan continue uninterrupted.
Brennan gives a beat, there, to see how or if Benedict reacts that last piece of information, then adds: "I understand that as Brand's son, I'm walking on graveyards. But I have to ask: Do we, the Family at large, have any understanding of what actually happened to Tir or the Queen? Or why?"
As Benedict answers-- or doesn't-- Brennan takes his ring of office as Knight Commander of the Order of the Ruby from where he had been carrying it. He runs one thumb around the edge of the band, both sides, without lifting his thumb and does... something... to it. When he's done, it has a half twist in the metal of the band, although the band hasn't been broken in any way. It really should not lie flat against the skin of his finger when he puts it on to inspect his work, not with that half-twist in it. But it does. It's hard to see, as the twist is between the fingers... but it does.
Benedict is slow to answer. "It's all hearsay and myth, at least in Amber. Rebma will know less, unless the Tritons have the lore of it. It wouldn't have been something Moire would want to have known. She had a vested interest in indestructible Queens and cities.
"Paris might help you more than either, since it seems to have been created with thousands of years of history already attached to it."
He pauses. "Or Weyland, if he can be convinced to tell you anything true."
Brennan doesn't interrupt and doesn't quite point at Benedict, but when he mentions Rebma, Brennan does raise a finger as though to bookmark that part of the conversation for later reference. When Benedict is done, Brennan nods, having mostly expected that response or something along those lines. "Thank you," he says. "I had to ask."
Benedict's deep dislike for Weyland is noted and filed, but not otherwise commented upon. "I expect good information could be purchased from Weyland," he says. "I expect I wouldn't like the price."
Popping the conversational stack, he says, "You said that I should go to Tir-na nOg'th, regarding Cambina. It was my impression, though, that Tir-na nOg'th was also... not an honest place."
Benedict nods. "It is not a straightforward place. It often tells what is true but either in a way the listener will not hear or in an oblique way. It is a place of staggering beauty and sorrow, and that it a kind of honesty in itself."
As Raven and Jerod approach the keep, a large wooden motte-and-bailey castle, they see a group of men approaching the keep from the direction of the forest. It is likely the returning hunting party, with the Count and his retainers. The ship at the dock is visible from their approach, so they know that Jerod has returned. They seem excited but not agitated.
[OOC: You can meet them on the road or meet them at the gates. Up to you. Wherever it is...]
Jerod prefers gates...not sure why...
The Count is dark and hairy and looks the part of a marcher lord -- a wartime leader of violent men. "Prince Jerod! I see you've kept your promise! I have the troops as we agreed. Shall I gather them for your inspection?"
Raven lets Jerod take the lead again.
"Not yet, Count." Jerod replies. "There are a few things to go over first, planning to be sure everyone's on the same page, as it were."
"Of course," he replies, looking positively predatory. "I shall call a Council of War." He looks at Raven, then snorts and looks more closely. "Forgive me, Prince Jerod, I have not been introduced to your companion."
"Lord Raven, a member of the Family." Jerod says, motioning to Raven. "Responsible for handling the ship and our voyage to Gateway, as well as any impromptu departures should they be necessary."
Raven nods, and greets the Count with whatever politenesses are appropriate.
"I am Count Valis, and this fine knight is Seeker of Men's Hearts, who came to me from Amber." He grins. "He may become 'Seeker of Mages' Hearts' if all goes well."
The knight bows. "Captain, I was pleased to see a ship flying the Unicorn Banner in port again. Some of my fellows had friends in the city. I hope all is well with our allies?"
"As far as I know," Raven answers politely. "I haven't been in ports as long as I might like recently."
He seems vaguely disappointed, but hides it well.
The gates open, and some men come out to take the game from the hunting party. "Do we have an idea of the tactical situation at our objective? Maps, reports, scryings, that kind of thing?"
Inside the gates, the keep is bustling with warriors. It is much fuller than when Jerod inspected it on his last visit. People, both normal and Weir, seem quite excited. Jerod draws a certain amount of attention from everyone.
"Come, your highness, we shall await the coming Council in my quarters."
He leads Jerod (and presumably Raven) into the keep.
"We have no tactical reports as yet Count." Jerod says, speaking quietly but conversationally. "I'd recommend holding off on the Council of War until we've had a chance to explain the King's intentions concerning Gateway."
"I was there recently," Raven offers. "Happy to discuss what I saw when we get there, but it ain't a tactical report."
"No matter, we would need to gather information anew in any case. And our patron's objectives would be helpful to know.
"If you would all join me in my chambers, you can tell me more."
The Count and Seeker lead the way to a small private chamber inside the keep. There are a number of weapons and a sand table nearby and a large pitcher of fresh water for anyone who is thirsty.
He looks at Raven and Jerod expectantly.
"His majesty's preference for Gateway is for a political solution, one which brings them back to a stance that is more suitable to our tastes." Jerod says. "Gateway engaged in behaviours that are not allowed to go unanswered, specifically with regards to an assault on one of the Family as well as aiding an enemy of the realm.
"That enemy has since been neutralized and our Family member recovered. But the ruling cabal that took over Gateway from the previous rulers need to be shown to be in error. The primary objective is to restore the original rulers and remove the new ones, in a manner that make them more agreeable to our desires. Should the ruling cabal either not be removed, or the old government chooses to follow the current path that Gateway is on, then the objective in that case is, as my uncle Prince Bleys would say, would be to salt the ground. I would take care of that.
"Conquest and occupation is not an option we are considering.
"Lord Raven was on the ground during the incident with our Family and may wish to provide additional details." and Jerod looks over at Raven.
Raven nods. "They were mighty quick to arrest me and mine when they realized we came from Amber, so saying that too loud ain't going to be the best idea. Most of what I saw was dockside, but we did leave the port with both the Family and a mage of Gateway that wanted nothing more to do with those who were in charge. She was pretty clear that she was not the only one that didn't agree with what they'd done; seems like we might have allies, if we can figure out who they are."
The Count nods. "Of course, that's exactly what we need to ascertain." He turns to Jerod. "Highness, we are not looking for new lands to conquer even further from our home. We are looking to help our allies to strengthen them in order to later to assault our common foe in The Land of Eternal Youth. When we take back what is ours and break the curse, then the people can settle down.
"So, the forces need to seem to be a credible threat to conquer and occupy, or else the opposition will know we don't intend to stay and know they merely need to wait us out. That should be possible, especially if we keep good discipline in what we allow the troops to say and to whom.
"Do we know what strongpoints we need to take to hold the symbolic and actual apparatus of government? Officers, Nobles, Officials, Symbolic Buildings, things like that? Are there religious officials who can call our attack a restoration and thus either gain us support or confuse the issue adequately?
"How long do we intend to stay?"
For all that the Count seems to be a rural marcher lord, he's got a keen grasp of the detail and practice of conquest. An army of men like him, led by Benedict, would be unstoppable.
Unstoppable perhaps, but Jerod thinks that this Count isn't getting the picture that he's painting, so he'll need to try again he thinks.
"The forces I intend to take do not need to credible, they need to work for the task at hand." Jerod says. "We are not invading or occupying, nor are we appearing to do so. Marching an army in there will not give me what I need from Gateway, which is information.
"I need a small contingent, suitable for commando operations within the city itself. They need to be able to attack in sufficient strength to destroy a small force and vanish before a counter occurs. They need to be able to infiltrate, to spy, to monitor and report back. Their function, if they are used, will to be support actions to keep any opposition off our backs." motioning to himself and Raven.
"There is one individual who still remains to be...collected, who will provide more details concerning individuals in question who are suitable to approach for support, or to either avoid as enemies or to neutralize as needed. The mage that Lord Raven brought on during their original departure. She is related to previous Chancellor and will be able to provide information that should be useful. Plus, she is a mage and that will have certain uses in my plans.
"We are remaining only as long as is needed to get the original rulers back in place, and then to find out what I want to know.
"Which means we are not going to be needing siege engines." Jerod finishes, collecting a glass of water. "If we do, then we're already too late."
The Count doesn't look crestfallen, probably through effort and discipline. It is clear that he has had diplomatic training. He takes a moment to switch gears and nods. "As you wish, Prince Jerod. We will have plenty of volunteers to choose from. A number of fine Weir will be turned away because there are not enough places for them. How do you wish to pick your team?
"Also, may I suggest we also bring a reserve team for both ship defense and in case something unexpected occurs?"
"Can't say I would turn down a few extra for ship defense," Raven says, "but not many or it's going to be clear that we've got marines on board."
Jerod nods an agreement. "Count, I would ask that you personally select the reserve contingent. I will trust your judgement on this. You may work with Lord Raven concerning how to best accommodate the personnel to ensure they fit seamlessly."
The Count nods toward Raven, and makes a mental note to discuss the marine reserves.
Raven nods in return, making a similar mental note.
"As for selecting the main commando force, I'd recommend a contest." and he smiles. "I have no doubt of their fighting skills. But they need to be able to blend in, infiltrate and get out, without being detected. Since we are going to be here a couple of days with preparations, I'd suggest that you have your best try to sneak onto our ship, find something and withdraw. We'll set a prize daily, a different object to be found, in a different location on the ship. We can track progress and see who gets furthest."
"And I think I'll be aboard as well. It should be...fun."
The Count grins, more in excitement than pleasure. "An excellent plan, Your Grace! Perhaps by tomorrow we can also have at least some of the reserves protecting the boat to increase the challenge."
He turns to Raven. "As long as your guards do not have silvered weapons, my infiltrators should be safe. They will have instructions not to kill, on pain of disqualification."
He stands. "I will announce our plans at the feast!"
"Don't think anyone brought any, but it never hurts to check," Raven says. "If you can ask your men to take the lads down without too much harm, I'd rather that to just 'no killing.' Not that we can't stitch them up if someone gets hurt, but less damage is better."
He nods absentmindedly. "We will score it based on how few people detect them. And instruct them to do no permanent harm. A Sailor can't climb aloft if his leg's been ripped off." The Count smiles again. He is not a subtle man. He may not be a man, of course.
"Are we in agreement?", he asks.
"Agreed." Jerod says.
"Aye," Raven says.
“Excellent!,” says the count. He leads the two of them into a feasting-room, where they are met with raucous cheers. The table is spread with a feast of rich game and exotic foodstuffs, although they mostly consist of meats.
The count announces the contest to the Weir, and sets the rules as agreed. Starting at Midnight, the prospective raiders must retrieve one of a score of tokens to be hidden individually about the ship. Anyone spotted will be required to leave the ship and start over. No one is to be hurt, and the sailors are likely to defend themselves. There are a few questions, easily resolved. Teamwork is encouraged, but only one person will be taken per token found.
The warriors of the Weir gather in small groups to plan their various assaults.
"That should keep them busy, Prince Jerod." He turns to Raven. "Do you wish to warn your crew?" "It would be highly recommended." Jerod says drily, in between bites of food, making note of the behaviours of the various Weir around them.
Raven snorts and shoots Jerod an amused look. "What, you mean it ain't a good idea to skip giving both sides the rules of the game when we need them to be on the same side?" she asks dryly. "Aye, Count, I'll need to warn them - and I'm guessing sooner than later, in case anyone gets any bright ideas. Didn't want to seem rude by running off to do that before your feast, though."
He smiles. "Yes, we shouldn't give your sailors cause to resent the Weir. By all means, do what is needful. Would you like to take the tokens to your ship and have your team hide them? They must be on the ship, but otherwise, I have no specific suggestions to offer you."
"You know the ship so I'd suggest you do the hiding. Some might be easy to find but we should get one or two in places that would not be considered 'hiding spots' and see just how much our infiltrators can think on their feet." Jerod says to Raven. "We can do it now or later. I'll be staying here just to get acquainted."
"I'll go now," Raven answers. "If you already have the tokens, I can take them with me and start hiding them."
The Count orders a functionary to rip up a tapestry on the wall into a score of fist-sized pieces. It must not be a very durable tapestry, because he shreds it with his hands, and turns over the strips of cloth. The Count holds them up and tells his men that these are the tokens.
The Count's idea of post-prandial entertainment involves a fencing tournament. The main rules are "don't hurt anyone else, stay in the circle, and don't become inhuman."
This is something that Jerod would appreciate. He uses the opportunity to study in more detail, asking questions at appropriate intervals and continuing to consume large quantities of food and drink without adverse effect as befits a Prince of Amber. If the opportunity to take part presents itself, then he'll also use that though since he's mostly observing he won't force the issue to obtain it.
The Count organizes a miniature elimination tournament, for the right to spar with the noble Prince Jerod. The winners are neither strictly the strongest not the most knowledgable, but those who are not weak at anything. They post no challenge for Jerod, since his skill and experience overcome the disadvantages of reach, size, and force. In the end, Jerod has been pleasantly exercised, and is reminded that even he can get out of top fighting shape when traveling by ship.
A situation which will be rectified by sparring practice, especially with individuals who are tougher than average...
We skip past the toothbrushing wherein Caine promises to hand [Thalia] over just as soon as Random signs off on it, and Random says "Sure, just don’t tell Marius until you've got something bigger to distract him with, like his captors heads on pikes or something. Her parole is whatever you say it is, and if she becomes a danger to Xanadu, well, then we’ll burn that bridge when we reach it."
Jerod promises to keep her on parole and to return her in as close to her original operating condition as when he received her as he can, subject to tactical considerations and strategic objectives of course.
Agreed. You can pull her in here, in a private room in the castle, or on the ship...
Jerod will pull her through in a private room. There is a benefit to appearing to have powers that others don't recognize or understand...keeps your allies on their toes...
She'd like to know about your plans. [OOC: She's happier with the 'threaten heavily' part compared with the 'salt the earth' plan, but expects you'll need to 'restore the old order' to get what you want. She is, of course, part of the old order, and intends to help with that plan...]
He will bring her up to speed with regards to his general intentions which are to make contact secretively with the "old order", determine who the current leaders are of the "new order" and figure out how to remove enough to have a convenient palace coup. He does not provide details on his plan concerning total nuclear "salt the earth" obliteration should it come to that.
The Weir are to be his commando force...suitable for off-balancing the enemy. If he needs to take on Gateway entirely, then the cause is lost and he'll cut his losses.
She'd recommend her aunt and the University as the best bet. She's suitably impressed with the Weir, but is concerned that they may not be ready for underwater action. Gateway is both a land and water empire.
Jerod makes a nod at her comment concerning the underwater action that maybe possible, but it would seem he has already considered this. He mentions off-handedly that he has that portion of the action covered, should it come to that. He does not articulate specifically what that might be, though his expression might lead one to believe that it his preferred course of action might include significant enemy casualties, along a "boil the sea" type scenario (as opposed to scorching the earth).
Raven heads back to her ship and rounds up her officers. When she has them pulled off to the side where the rest of the crew is unlikely to overhear, she explains about the contest; she's very clear that the set rules include that the Weir should try not to hurt the sailors, and that she expects the same of her crew. And about the making sure no one has anything silvered they could try to stab or hit any of the invaders with.
When she's done, she looks around. "Questions that ain't, 'what were you thinking?' Suggestions on where to hide these that isn't crew quarters, or how to put this to the lads that ain't going to be a headache?"
The second mate looks puzzled. "Even if they was normal lubbers and not giant werewolves, sailors can hide things a thousand places that no one would think of. It's our home. Captain, you once hid a working still from me for six weeks, between Bellum and Antioch. Working, sir. With fire and alcohol, and bottles with labels on them."
The first mate leans in. "That's enough, Heron. Captain, you tell us how hard to make it, and we'll make it that hard. Heron's not wrong, but who knows what the Weir will do. As for the crew? Tell 'em to get used to Weir. To my mind, this isn't about them, it's a test to see if we can outsmart 'em and if we can put up with 'em all in our kit."
Raven shakes her head and laughs. "Thought we weren't talking about that again, Heron, on account of me knowing exactly what happened to what got made? Besides, if I hide 'em all myself, I still have to show or tell you lot where they are." She doesn't say that that means she'd have to give up any of her own ideas for hiding spots. Even if she's smirking slightly. "The way it was put to the Count was that it's a test to see who the best Weir are for backing us up, so let's test them. And let's make it interesting for us, aye? You lot each take one to hide, spread the rest out to the crew to do the same. I'll see if I can't come up with something for whoever has the least stolen."
The officers agree, and further decide to number them, giving the odd numbers to the port watch and the even to the starboard. "No eating or destroying them, right? They have to be findable without gutting a sailor."
Raven snorts. "If someone's damn fool enough to swallow it," she answers dryly, "I ain't going to stop him, but I also ain't going to promise I won't laugh when he ends up sick from it. So aye - no eating, no destroying, don't feed it to anyone or anything else, and keep it in or on the ship. Other than that? Have fun."
The crew gets to work. Heron offers to set a standard watch, but allows that none of the crew will actually sleep tonight, what with the excitement of an invasion of giant werewolves planned for the dog watch. The first mate, Blasting, suggests that the watch be set anyway, just for formalities sake.
Standard watch is fine.
He also tells you that Snake, the cook, doesn't like werewolves much and is likely to fight. Should he be given leave or left aboard?
Left aboard, but even more thoroughly frisked for silver than anyone else and someone should be down there with him at all times to make sure nothing gets out of hand. Given a choice between "on board with invading werewolves" or "at leisure in a port full of werewolves"... the controlled environment is the lesser evil.
Raven can see a few obvious spots that have been disturbed, but can't actually see any of the ribbons. She's satisfied that it will be an effort.
Having decided to travel out through the Seawards, the Rebman equivalent of the old Amber Golden Circle, Brita makes her way out from Rebma through the underwater shadows. After a week or two, she is well away from the city and into the rural areas where the Black Trench War was fought. There are still scars in the ocean floor and in the sea craters and mountains from those days, though, as in Amber, they have started to heal.
With money provided by the palace, Brita is able to stay in inns if she likes, or she can camp along the ways outside of the Shells that make up the Seawards.
Brita will only use the monies for absolute necessities and she does not consider a roof over her head necessary at this point, so she will camp lightly - finding natural features to ensure safety (coral overhangs, small kelp beds, etc) and leaving as little trace of herself as she can on the environs.
After a week or two of determined travel, Brita has reached the outermost Seaward Shells, one of the places where there are fewer landward style humans like Brita and more of other, more sealike forms of people (merfolk who aren't tritons, selkies, and the like, never mind the kraken and other forms of intelligences that roam the ocean depths). Out here, the Shells are less cities and towns and more fortress-style outposts of Rebman civilization.
(Things will ease again as she gets close to the Landwards, which is where she'll go ashore and take to the water with Skilbladnir, or so she has been told.)
But before she can make that transition, she is met on the road one morning after camping in the kelps by two guards, accoutered and armed in the Rebman style with Tridents, who ask her to accompany them to the nearby Shell. The Lady of the Shell would like to speak with her.
Brita agrees to follow them. 'I Have Been Traveling a While and am Unfamiliar With the Lady Rulers of These regions," she notes to the guards. "Whom will I be Addressing?"
"A very great lady, who will make herself known to you when you are presented to her." The guards are kind but firm on that point. They do not seem to be inherently hostile to Brita, but they really don't want to take no for an answer.
Brita had already agreed to go and bristles at being talked to as if she were a recalcitrant child. "This Very Great Lady had Best Train her Guard to have Better Manners with Guests," Brita notes in chilled tones as she gives the speaker an icy glare. She gestures for them to lead the way.
The Shell complex, which Brita can see at a distance in the shallow waters, is like a fortress. But the Rebman waters are breathable and it's not necessarily like she couldn't swim out if she really wanted to. After all, Brita is a goddess of the waters.
Brita will take note of the apparent exits and guards around the complex as they enter.
Brita is escorted deep into the fortress, into a central area that is well-guarded and in which there are few ways of entrance and exit. A fight in here would be an ugly, brutal mess. "Her Grace will join you in a moment," says one of the guards, before leaving her alone in the room and exiting the way they came.
Perhaps a minute later, the other door opens, the two halves of the pochette sliding apart to reveal an elegant older woman, not familiar to Brita at all. She is dressed in the Rebman style, and moves as a native of the waters. "I apologize for the necessity of all this subterfuge," she says, "but my location must remain a secret at this time for reasons you will no doubt understand. I am Rilsa."
"Lady Rilsa. You Requested an Audience." Brita's face is impassive.
"Yes," Rilsa agrees. "I am taking a position of neutrality in the war between my mother and my half-sister. My mother's choices are her own, but even when I disagree with them, you'll understand that I don't want to see her killed." She smiles tightly at Brita. "You are, I believe, oath-sworn to Amber, or at least to Random. Will you bear a message to him, and to my son Jerod?"
Brita's demeanor changes, softening. "Of Course, Lady of the Shells. What is Your Message?"
"I would have you tell Random what I have told you: that I am not joining in this war. That I have retreated to the Seawards for the duration, and have no intention of raising an army for either side. That I have no contact with my daughters--I believe Valeria is still in Xanadu, but I don't know Loreena's whereabouts--and no knowledge of their plans.
"And I would ask you to tell Jerod these things as well, and bear him my love, and tell him that if he must involve himself in this war--be careful."
Brita actually smiles at that. "If Cousin Jerod Joins a War, it is Others that must Be Careful. I Will Relay the Messages at My Earliest Ability. Would You Need Anything Else from the King or Prince? Would you Have Them Know Your Whereabouts?"
Brita cocks her head to one side as she thinks of something else to ask, "Also, Lady, have You Heard of the klybesian monks? They .... Killed My Cousin Reid. ....Harvested Blood from Him." Brita visibly has to fight down a fiery rage as she says this.
"I am sorry for your loss." Rilsa bows her head a little, a few loose tendrils of hair waving in the waters as she does so.
"Of the Klybesians, I know little. They were never inclined to work closely with Rebma, perhaps because we were perceived as being too close to Amber to suit their purposes. Also, they did not seem to have a high opinion of women in many cases." She smiles in a way that doesn't make it to her eyes. "I know there are magics and technologies that can be performed with the blood, but I cannot say how many of them the Klybesians have access to. I would assume many, since their tentacles are spread through many shadows. Even in the Seawards, they may have agents."
"If You Know Names of such Agents or Any Way to Distinguish their Tentacles, It would Be Considered a Boon," Brita notes. She is not totally distracted from the original questions however as she adds, "Your Part in Providing such Knowledge would be Kept Confidential until You Wish the Boon Rewarded.”
"If I knew any such agents for certain, I would gladly hand them over to you. Eric considered them a threat to himself and to Amber, and possibly to Jerod as well. When Oberon disappeared, Eric included them on the list of parties with reason and possibly enough power to have somehow incapacitated him. They are dangerous. But unfortunately I haven't successfully identified their agents here. They don't always wear their priestly tonsures and vestments." Rilsa's expression, on a lesser woman, might have been called a scowl, but in her it only reflects her disdain.
"If I find any, and it is safe, I will send word through Llewella, if it is safe to reach you that way."
Brita nods, "That is Acceptable. Do you Have Any Further Requests or Information you Wish to Impart, Lady Rilsa? I Must Travel Onward so I can Return Quickly."
Rilsa shakes her head in the negative, a gesture that works slightly differently underwater than above. "Not at this time. But I am in your debt, though I can little repay it at this time. I will not always be so constricted in my actions, however, and I have a very long memory, Lady Brita."
Brita gives a slight bow to Lady Rilsa, "No Debt for a Message Delivery, Lady Rilsa. Hopefully, the Next We Meet, Our Respective Concerns will have Dissolved and We can be More Free to Float as we Will. I will Take my Leave." Another small bow and Brita is ready to resume her trek to her mother.
Rilsa gives Brita a graceful bow in return.
When Brita leaves the chamber, two guards--different ones--appear and escort her out of the citadel through what is clearly intended to be a postern gate. Bidding her fair seas and good travels, she is released to make her way further out to the Seawards and ultimately to the surface.
The commonest way to reach the surface from the road Brita is on is through the shadow known as Gateway.
Brita continues on along the known path. She will attempt to utilize the Pattern as she goes to glean a slight greenish tint to her skin from the seaweed she passes by and darkening her hair from the red to a more muddy brown.
This sort of teaching about the Pattern is something Brita has gleaned from watching her relatives to the extent that she hasn't outright learned it from her mother and uncles. The shadows lie for Brita; her skin takes on the green of Rebma and her hair darkens to auburn, or so it seems as she moves on in the Seawards and toward the natural gate on the old shadow path that leads to Gateway.
Around the arch that is the gate to Gateway, there is a town and trading post built up. Most of it is inward facing, in the sense that it is to service the travellers coming through from landside rather than to assist travellers from the Seawards to Gateway. (Brita suspects it will be the other way on the other side.) There are people, more or less recognizable as human to Brita, and all sorts of semi-exotics of the Seawards, including some mermish types who might have Triton blood but are clearly not the same giant sort as the servants of the Queen.
There is a line of people waiting to go through the gate. It moves quickly. The right side of the gate seems to move from the Seawards to Gateway; the left side is for Gatwegians travelling to the Seawards. Many of them cough and sputter as the water hits their lungs. Beggars rush to their aid, asking for coin for their assistance.
Brita gets in the line going air-ward. She watches the water-ward line with an occasional small smirk as her line advances. She'll take note of the type of people coming from Gateway and those in the line going to Gateway as well - rich/poor? Merchant? Families? Races?
Everyone, or almost everyone, coming into the Seawards from Gateway is a landlubber by dress and the way that they're responding to the water tells Brita that the far side of the gate will be air-breathing. If there are merchants, they are carrying light cargo: no caravans are coming through. The people are of all sorts ethnically, though Brita doesn't necessarily know enough about the peoples of Gateway to be sure of shadows of origin. There are a lot of families, and those seem to be carrying luggage.
The line going to Gateway seems to consist mostly of merchant-types with security and armed types, as best as Brita can tell. She advances to the head of the line relatively quickly; there are fewer going to Gateway than coming from it.
Brita will remain stoic enough to maybe pass as one of the security types, confident in her waiting as if this is all part of a contracted plan.
In due time, Brita passes through the gate and finds herself sputtering on the far side as her lungs readjust to air-breathing. There are people that Brita realizes rapidly are some sort of reception team present in the sunny outdoor courtyard that the gate empties into.
The line going the other way is long and moving slowly.
Once Brita has coughed out all the water and had a chance to dry off briefly, she's hustled into another line, which she can tell is some sort of travel registry. When she reaches the hed of the line, she's asked the same questions as everyone in front of her: Name, place of origin, purpose in entering Gateway, plans for departure (if any at present). Many of her comrades in line seem to be mercenaries here for hiring.
The merchants seem to have some arrangement to avoid this line.
Brita waits in the line with the rest and gives her name as Briena of Tellin (a small Seaward Shell that was third out on the Gateway side of Rebma). She had heard land travelers to the underwater realms might be looking for guides or security. She will remain here for a week or two at most to see if there are any viable jobs and then will likely move on.
This story sounds credible enough to Brita's questioners. They ask her where she plans to go when she moves on, but it's a fairly nominal question and the answer seems to be more of a requirement for bureaucratic completeness than because anyone really cares.
She says that her next destination will depend on rumors of work that she can pick up in the city if necessary. 'Landward' is the best she can do for now.
On her way out, one of the clerks calls her over and recommends an inn and a hiring hall, and tells her to use his name, Kyros, to get the best rate.
Brita suspects Kyros is going to get a referral fee out of her custom if she goes where he suggests.
Briena accepts the input with gratitude, but will make him work for his fee. "I would ask about the rumors I heard that there would be solid work in Gateway. The lines seem to indicate it," she gestures gracefully that way as if still in water, "but what are your thoughts?" her smile is bright with interest. "I am looking for a 'better class' of work, we'll say. Merchants or dignitaries or even Religious tend to pay better than families - especially ones with children." Briena gives a delicate shudder at the last word.
"Ahh, I know what you mean. Merchants and religious pay well, magi pay best, if you can get their custom." Kyros smirks. "Play your cards right at hiring hall, and you might be able to find the sort of work you're looking for, that will take you as far as Port Thule."
Which, Brita knows, is the capital of Gateway, where the Collegium and the centers of knowledge are. And probably where any evidence of anything that the Gatwegians were up to in the late war with Rebma would be.
Brita nods in acceptance of the advice, "I had not considered Magi - a good suggestion, but do you think they would be hard to deal with? I've heard they can be... flighty?" She is obviously searching for a better word.
Kyros thinks about Briena's word and sort of half-nods, slowly. "Ahhh--they have strange demands sometimes, and get ideas in their heads about how things must be. Flighty's not quite the word for it, but I can see why they might have that reputation." But then his grin grows crafty. "The other side of that coin is how much they pay for putting up with their strangenesses." He rubs his fingers together with his thumb to indicate the richness of the reward Briena could expect if she took contract with a magician.
Briena smiles wide, "Useful to know. I will definitely mention your assistance." She has palmed a coin of a size suitable to a guide looking for work who has just received some useful information and transfers it to him in a handshake before she moves to follow his direction and search for the hall.
The coin isn't particularly familiar to Brita, but of course Briena has chosen the right compensation: enough to light Kyros' greed to assist her but not enough to make her a potential target if he's also allied with thieves. He grins appreciatively at her as he takes the coin, and then she's on her way.
His directions to the hiring hall and the inn are both good; she has no trouble finding either. The hiring hall is full of mercenaries like Briena: men, women, and other beings of all sorts. Looking at the wares, as it were, are a variety of merchants, what look like guard leaders, and the occasional cloaked figure who might be a mage.
To obtain a position, Brita (or Briena) will need to register; there will be no fee to her. Whoever she contracts with will pay the hiring hall.
Briena registers as appropriate, noting her skills in weapons, scouting, and provisioning. She notes a preference for travel towards Port Thule. After registering, she will watch the interaction of those looking for services and those providing them - are the other mercenaries showing off any or just loitering?
There is some supervised sparring, but not all of the mercenaries are participating in that activity. Some of them may be waiting in line for a chance to show off to the potential clients; others are already engaged in active negotiations. The procedure seems to be that the clients will look over the records, perhaps observe a fight or two, and approach one or two likely-looking prospects to discuss terms. Sometimes these discussions are short, and one party or another moves on. But if Brita watches for a little while, she sees some negotiations come to terms and the hiring hall paid by the employers.
Briena can sign up to spar if she likes. One or two prospects seem to be eyeing her. No mages yet.
Briena does sign up. She watches some matches but also wanders around a bit. When her turn comes, she ops for hand to hand sparring, using the evasive techniques taught her by Master Ngyuen to wear her opponent down for a bit before switching to more aggressive moves. She puts a hint of pattern into her movements - arcing into the flow of the katas to make it seem like a seamless dance. She feels the probability is high that some of her motions look like spell gestures.
Briena's sparring is graceful, like a dance, like a matrix of power worked through her body. Though there are superior fighters in this hall, gathered from many shadows, Brita could defeat any of them she's seen easily, and her current opponent is no exception. With the power she has in her hands and body, the mercenary she's sparring with can't even come close.
Several cloaked, hooded figures seem to be watching, and they move to the registry during the spar, as if perhaps seeking to find out who she is.
A tall figure with a red cloak eventually turns out to be the victor in whatever contest there is for Briena's services. He puts a sack of coin on the registry table and comes to meet Brita as she steps out of the combat ring. "Well met," he says, pushing his cloak back to reveal swarthy skin and a bearded grin. "I am called Walder, and I'm travelling to Port Thule. I would like to offer for your services for protection along the road," he hesitates before finishing with, "Briena."
A slow wide grin forms at the hesitation and Brita's eyes sparkle with anticipatory delight. "Well met," she responds although what is 'meet' or fitting is not as clear. "I am unclear of the custom here - is it acceptable to Jump at the first offer or does that seem too Desperate for work?" She cocks her head to the side and smiles broadly.
"A warrior such as you are can make her own custom, I think," Walder replies, sounding, perhaps surprisingly, more friendly than portentous. "I won't consider you desperate. I'll settle your fee with the hall, with a bonus direct to you of a quarter again on completion, for your time and effort in guarding my person and goods to Port Thule. If you're agreeable, we'll leave in the morning after breaking our fast, early--and I advise spending the rest of the day in obtaining some warm clothes, as I believe a winter storm may be coming on."
Briena nods acceptance, "Sounds fair. I'll be ready in the morn, Master Walder." She grins, "Now for some shopping!"
Briena heads out from the Hall. Brita will gather a few necessities for land travel - a new set of clothes, still somewhat loose but ostensibly warmer (although she doubts she will need the warmth - 'winter storm' indeed). She gets a couple of light throwing knives to add to her accoutrements as well.
The power of the Pattern means that Brita's purse is always full, and that she never has any trouble finding things to fit her, even in shops where the goods would normally require custom manufacture to fit so well. (She might even be able to find boots that fit without them being made to a custom sole, which is extremely unusual, but anything can happen.)
It's hard for Brita to tell if the weather is unseasonably cool for Gateway. People are bundling up some but it's unclear what that means.
Arrangements for the night are easily made, particularly if Briena takes the advice she was given about where to stay. She has no difficulty making the appointed time for meeting, and she finds Walder there, waiting for her.
Brita does stay at the Inn recommended by Kyros and dutifully mentions his help in finding this fine establishment. After a restful night, she arrives ready to travel carrying a small pack on her back. She stomps a foot in her new long boots with the fancy fur cuff, noting, "These may take some getting used to, but the shop owner assured me they are comfortable. Are we ready to depart Master Walder?"
"Indeed we are, Briena." And together, they head out of the encampment, the town, really, that houses the Gate that brought Brita to this shadow.
Walder is a pleasant companion. He carries a blade, sheathed, and a heavy wooden staff with metal endcaps that he uses both to walk when needed and carries on as if it's a weapon. He has horses for the journey, both excellent animals as far as Brita can tell, and saddlebags full of goods and, presumably, some fodder for the horses as he's expecting winter weather. His conversation is light and veers between the practicalities of their journey and esoteric matters that Brita suspects are more up her mother's and uncle's alley than her own.
It takes her a while to realize it, but by the evening of the first day, Brita has reached another conclusion about Walder: he smells familiar. That is to say, like family.
Brita gives a quiet snort of laughter when the smell registers in her brain. Of course, she thinks, I'd get Stuck with Kin.
As she helps Walder pick an appropriate camp site, she asks "What Takes you to Port Thule, Master Walder? Do you travel There often? What can you Tell me about what we may Expect?"
For all that he's a magician, Walder sets up his tent by hand just like any other Amberite. "It's been a long time since I've been to Port Thule. I've been travelling the spheres for--I've lost track. I don't expect brigands to attack us or any such thing, though there are still places where wild animals and such might come on us by night if we end up sleeping outside."
He pulls the sleeping bag down from the back of his horse, who is already tethered for the night. "And I go to fulfill a binding oath."
Breena-Brita cocks her head at that terminology. "Do you mean the Oath is binding or that it is About binding - like a marriage? If it is the former, are you Free to discuss it, Master Walder? I Would ask if it poses any Additional risk or threat to our journey or if Any would wish to stop you from completing it."
"I don't think anyone in Gateway save you knows of this oath, Mistress Briena. If they did, I would expect there to be trouble before we get to Port Thule. But as it happens, the only serious trouble I expect is from the wild things on the road, and that is why I bought your contract for this. Or one of the reasons, at least." Walder grins at her as if they share a secret that he's not going to speak aloud.
Another thing Brita has noticed about Walder: his blade is plain, but as fine as any she has ever seen, with the possible exceptions of the ones her brother and her uncles bear. His scabbard is as plain as plain can be, but the quality of the leather and the craftsmanship are excellent.
Brita acknowledges the secret with a Conner-quality grin of their own. "Lionfish, Tiger Sharks and Seabears - oh, my!," Briena quotes. "I heard that in a child's play once. Well, I can Handle a mundane Wild Animal or three although You seem like you could handle Those Yourself," Brita nods at the blade.
"A man has to sleep at some point. And there are many things it's easier to do by the power of muscles instead of the power of sorcery."
As they travel, Walder asks Brita many questions, and tells her some details about himself. He's a widower, as it happens, with two children, both estranged, which he seems to expect as a commonality among wizards. Though he hopes they'll both see sense in time. He seems to be interested enough in Briena's story without being interested enough in poking holes in it.
Walder does perform some magic but it's mostly low-key. He's keeping his full ability under wraps, or so Brita thinks.
By the time they approach Port Thule, the weather is chill and rainy. The city is surprisingly un-busy given that it's the capital; there are few ships in the harbor and not so many on the road. Once they're inside the gates, Walder hires two rooms for them in a decent inn, and then pays Brita in local coin: all that he agreed to, with a generous bonus.
"There's trouble in the air. Can you smell it?" Walder asks.
"I Smell Many things," Brita notes. "Is it Usual that the Capital is so... Lacking? It Seems more like an Outer Shell than a Hub," Briena looks at Walder in question. "What is your Direction Now, Master Walder?" Brita plans to explore a bit.
"I intend to take the lay of the land, since you're right, Briena--it's much changed. I had heard there was war, or at least politics of the deadlier sort, in Port Thule, but I had not reckoned how quiet the place would be." Walder flashes her a smile. "And when I have found out what I need to know, I will be fulfilling my oath."
Something about that smile suggests to Brita, if she hadn't already decided this was the case, that the binding oath was probably going to constitute a very bad day for whoever was on the business end of it.
"I, Too, plan to explore. Do you Wish Company or Isolation, Master Walder?" Brita is showing through more.
Walder considers this question from several angles before answering it. "You are welcome to accompany me, but--I warn you: my path from here may be dangerous, and moreso than the road we've been on. There may be a time when associating your name with mine will serve you badly in Gateway, Briena. I would not wish you to take that risk unknowing."
"Danger is... Acceptable. I am Here. Might as well take some Risk," Brita smiles brightly.
"Let's go down to the harbor to see what we can see there. I believe that answers to at least one of my questions will be found there." Walder smiles enigmatically at Brita and gestures to her to join him on the way out.
They head down toward the harbor, through the market, and Brita catches the scent of family on the wind. Walking around in the market, looking for something, is her cousin Captain Raven.
Brita is following Master Walder's lead here although she noted, "I Believe that is an Amber Captain over there. I met him at Court once when I had Occasion to be there. I thought the Ship looked a bit of Amber Origins."
Walder looks at Raven briefly and then back at Briena. "A sell-sword who goes to court--" he doesn't specify which one, since she didn't "--and is acquainted with Amber captains. You're quite unusual, Briena." His expression softens a little, as if something has just occurred to him. "If you'd rather spend time with him, I certainly understand that."
"I Barely Know him," Briena notes. "But I am Flattered he Appears to recognize Me." Brita raises a hand in greeting to Raven.
The Family council breaks up, and Signy and Ambrose retire to their rooms for the night. After rising early and grabbing a quick breakfast, she heads over to meet Ambrose outside of his rooms.
"I assume since we attended the meeting last night, we're clear to depart?" she says by way of greeting.
"I believe we ought to formally announce our planned departure, just to be safe, but we were dismissed. It may be that King Corwin wants some way to get in touch with us, or perhaps he'll have some final instructions. I tend to be cautious in my dealings with our uncles. My father was--mercurial about his expectations, let us say--and I learned that it was easier to ask for permission rather than pray for forgiveness." Ambrose smiles at Signy, but it doesn't quite reach his eyes. "Shall we send a note, or go in person?"
Signy gives a resigned sigh.
"If we leave a note and just leave that's probably not really any better than just leaving if he wants to talk to us. I'd rather not wait around to see if he replies to the note, so maybe visiting him would be quickest?"
Assuming Ambrose doesn't object, she requests a nearby page to escort them to the King.
The page escorts them to the King, who at breakfast with a lady of a certain age unknown to either Signy or Ambrose. She's introduced as Mme. Hardwind and is clearly an ornament of Corwin's court. They are invited to remain for breakfast and casual conversation, which is light and mostly news of Paris and a bit about some of their cousins, who seem to be known to Mme. Hardwind.
Afterwards, they receive the King's blessing to depart and an offer of any supplies or assistance necessary.
After they leave the court, Signy gives a quiet, relieved sigh. "That wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared," she murmurs quietly.
As they make their way out of the city, she takes the lead and brings the two of them on a clearly predetermined path out of the city. As they head out through the high street area, she stops at a small jewelers shop. After a brief period of negotiation, she hands over a small but heavy purse of coins, and receives a tightly rolled leather bundle filled with jeweler's equipment. Once out of the tiny shop, she glances inside, and Ambrose can see numerous tools for working on small and fine tasks in the bundle -- hammers, picks, screwdrivers, miniature and needle-nosed pliers, and a series of jewelers' loups.
"I talked with a few of the ladies at court, and this is one of the hidden secrets of some of the ladies there. The only way they told me of his location was if I promised to keep it secret from the others that didn't already know. He's one of the best at small and fine work."
They continue on, and as they start to pass through the more industrial sections, she stops off at a small, out of the way shop. As they enter, the sounds of hammering and grinding can be heard from the back. Another quiet round of negotiations, and another exchange of a slightly larger and heavier purse of coins for a slightly larger leather roll that a quick inspection outside shows additional tools -- tap and die sets, gauges and calipers. She pulls out a smaller leather pouch that offers the briefest of glimpses at a well-stocked lockpick set before it's slipped into a pocket somewhere inside her clothes.
She gives a quick smile at Ambrose, stowing the second set of tools alongside the first bundle before leading them back to the gates and out of the city.
Ambrose accompanies Signy without comment or question until she offers an explanation, which doesn't seem to surprise him. "What my father said about Amber, and I would expect it to hold here as well, is that the tools might not be endowed with special reality, but you would be able to find the best tools in the city because of the quality of person the city attracts."
On the way out of the city, Ambrose obtains horses for them from the guard by the King's warrant. They're good quality and Signy would have been happy to have them on the plains: distance riding horses, not sprinters.
"My father would have hellridden back to our destination," Ambrose explains, "but I haven't the strength or skill with Pattern yet. Nor, I imagine, will you. But since you don't know the way this time, I'll have to do all the shifting. You can take the lead when we return, and ask any questions about what I'm doing along the way. I've had some teaching and some explanations. I'm just missing the practical experience that some of our cousins have."
His shifts after they leave Paris and get into the countryside are at first large and not particularly subtle. Things like changing colors of grass and sky as they pass over hills or around groves of trees on the road, or changing a body of water. They are obvious to Signy, and she can feel the alterations as Ambrose makes them.
Signy nods at what he says, but stays mostly quiet at first, observing and on occasion commenting on the changes she observes to make sure that she is following Ambrose's shifting.
"This seems a lot like a puzzle I saw my father make once," she notes. "Move this piece, so that you can move that piece, so that you can come back and move this piece again." She pauses, before getting a slightly far-away look in her eye. "I wonder if this was his inspiration for making it...."
She blinks, before giving Ambrose a quizzical look. "What happens if I try to shift as well? Can I make it go twice as fast, or would we cancel each other out?"
"For this trip, I don't think you can, because you don't know the puzzle you're solving. I don't know how it would work if we both knew, though." Ambrose looks thoughtful. "It's an experiment we might try on the way back to Paris or Rebma, though, if you're willing. Either it would work well, if we coordinated, or we'd be fighting each other and never get anywhere. I'm not sure how well we could coordinate at any speed, though.
"Has anyone talked to you about hellriding? I'm not strong enough to do it yet, but I'm certain you absolutely couldn't hellride in tandem. I know our uncles, and aunts, hellride together, but it seems to be one in the wake of another."
Signy shakes her head in the negative. "I think I'm like most of the rest of us, and I just walked the Pattern and...that's it. A chance discussion here, a bit of an insight there."
She pauses, before continuing. "I did have Uncle Bleys recommend I travel out to Ygg, though I'm not entirely sure what I would have gotten from that experience, since I got sidetracked right after I got there."
"With our Uncle Bleys, sometimes it's difficult to tell. He's the sort of teacher who believes it's all about the journey, sometimes to the exclusion of the endpoint." Which Ambrose says with a sort of exasperation that's touched with fondness and speaks of some acquaintance with Bleys' teaching methods. "The journey itself would be a difficult task for a novice, especially one with limited sorcery. He hasn't assigned that kind of a lesson to me, but I'm an experienced sorcerer. On the other hand, I haven't asked him for Pattern lessons, either. Have you had any tutoring from Aunt Fiona?"
Signy shrugs. "I got there, and I thought I...saw a face in the tree, but it was very quick and I didn't really have time to dig into it further to see if I could get its attention."
"Aunt Fiona was mentioned as well, but I haven't really talked with her. Maybe if she's in her lab...."
She looks at Ambrose. "Who's taught you? Or are you like most of the rest of us, and more self taught than anything else?"
Ambrose glances at Signy, surprise coloring his expression, and to a certain extent his fair cheeks. "You don't know?" he asks, which question is clearly rhetorical, because he continues, "My father, Brand, was my first teacher. Full brother to Fiona and Bleys, and supposedly their better in matters of Sorcery and Pattern both. One of Dworkin's students of Trump, attempted destroyer of the realm, and--your mother's murderer.
"I serve the family by trying to unravel his schemes. That's why I need a new code wheel: because his papers are in Uxmali glyphs and can't be deciphered without one."
It's Signy's turn to look at him in surprise. "I didn't think that he would have done that." She considers everything he said, before turning slightly serious. "Do you think he had additional plans that are still going on after his death? I hadn't thought that there could be some sort of trap in the code wheels."
"I'm sure he had additional plans that haven't come to fruition. I hadn't considered the possibility that he'd done anything to the code wheels, since he did have to use them himself." Ambrose looks appalled at the idea, and sounds somewhat resigned to whatever security precautions that will entail. "If there's some kind of kin-line protection against any curse laid on them, you might be close enough, or you and I might need to work together to learn how to protect you using me. Because I'm fairly certain my father wouldn't have trapped his legacy against me or my brother."
Signy looks thoughtful at this. "Why wouldn't he have done that, though? Was he planning on bringing the two of you in on his schemes, or was his end goal something different than just destroying everything?"
She pauses for a moment, watching idly at some of the scenery shifting by as they continue to move through Shadow, before continuing. "Code wheels and ciphers seems a lot of work, unless he felt the need to communicate to someone? He didn't seem particularly absent-minded from the histories I've read."
"The code wheels aren't for him to decipher his own notes. I'm sure he knew what he meant and only used the glyphs as a reminder. It's so that those of us who did know him, and who can speak Uxmali, which is a difficult language, can decipher what he meant. He might have meant to bring me or Brennan in on his plans, but he never did in life, or not entirely.
"As for what he meant to do," Ambrose pauses there and chews on his lip a moment, before concluding, "as best we can tell based on what we know, he meant ultimately to heal Dworkin by solving the problem of Tir."
Signy doesn't look comforted by his answer.
"Does that mean that he had others he was working with?"
"Well, of course at one point he was working with the Courts of Chaos. But of course, he double-crossed them. That was my father's nature." Ambrose looks at Signy with a little sadness. "He was the Smoking Mirror and he destroys the world. I don't think they understood the potential they were dealing with. Or perhaps they always meant to betray him and he just did unto them first." Which Ambrose says with a wry humor.
"I am the Feathered Serpent of Uxmal. It is, in some sense, my nature to oppose his works. In our family, as I'm sure you've gathered, relationships with our parents can be very complicated."
Signy doesn't bat an eye at the mythological roles that Ambrose mentions. "It seems a little at odds, though, doesn't it? His nature was to double-cross them, but he seemed to have a legitimate goal that he was working towards."
Signy idly glances at the desert-like surroundings they pass through, a pack of horse-sized lizards sunning themselves off in the distance, before turning back to Ambrose. "Would there be someone else that might have a working copy of the code wheels at the Courts?"
"It's not out of the question, I suppose. A Court would be the sort of place where you could guarantee the conditions were perfect for keeping the wheel intact, as long as the Lord remembered to do it." Ambrose frowns. "My grandmother might have one. I don't think he would have trusted any of the others with a code wheel. Grandmother coddled him and would have kept it for his sake. I don't think she was interested in helping Dworkin.
"His problem was that researching the way to solve Dworkin's problem drove him mad, I think. Because he was at the end: quite mad and vicious. And by 'the end', I mean probably longer than I've been alive." Which, given his age and appearance, could be anything from thirty years to a thousand.
Signy gives a mirthless smile. "At times, I wonder about the sanity of us all. I wonder if I was lucky that my mother left when I was so young, or if she would have offset my father...."
She sighs, before turning back to the matter at hand. "Dworkin had Oberon, who had a lot of kids, who had a lot more kids themselves. It seems odd that Dworkin only had the one, no?"
"It does, doesn't it?" Ambrose agrees. "On the other hand, given what I understand about our great-granddam--our great-grandmother--there may have been only the one time when it could have happened. While there's nothing to say that she couldn't have given birth to twins, it seems unlikely under the circumstances, or as best I can tell. I know a bit about horse-breeding, and I presume that applies to unicorns, but I might be wrong. Also, she is a singular Unicorn, so there's no reason any of it applies to her."
They move on through Shadow in silence for a time. Forests make way to jungle, jungle to savannah to tundra. As their breath comes out in white plumes in the cold, Signy looks sideways at Ambrose.
"So, what little reading I've done hasn't shown his name, but I have a feeling that my father was one of the Family, for the Pattern blades if nothing else. But in everything I've read, we don't generally form those sorts of relationships with one another."
There's no outright question, but Signy pauses for Ambrose to offer up any thoughts he might have.
"That's not the way I heard it," Ambrose answers. "My father told me our uncle Julian would have married our aunt Fiona if not for our grandfather's prohibition on brother-sister marriage. And he said that our uncle Corwin--" and there he stops and reconsiders his words. "I'm sorry," Ambrose says, "but he said that our uncle Corwin was very enamored of your mother. And that she was not above twisting him around her finger."
Signy nods. "I never really knew her, but the first time I met the King he was...moved when talking about her."
She sighs bitterly.
"Like I said, I don't know if I'm better or worse for not knowing her."
She pauses, considering, before continuing. "Did your father ever discuss the Pattern blades?"
"Dad was never personally interested in the blades that I know of," Ambrose answers after a few moments in which he was clearly searching his memories. "I know Bleys had one and Corwin had one, but I think he viewed them more as obstacles--especially Corwin and Grayswandir--instead of as something he should personally aspire to." He offers Signy a smile that suggests humor at his father's expense. "My father liked to be the planner, not the person on the front lines, and that's where those with the swords find themselves."
Signy shakes her head negatively, not immediately buying Ambrose's assessment.
"It still seems like the sort of thing that most planners would at least account for, to make sure that they had an answer, no?"
Ambrose smiles, amused at Signy's disbelief. "The answer was Bleys. Bleys and Werewindle, which with Corwin out of the picture, meant that the swords were on his side, at least in theory. My father thought he could control Bleys--and he could, right up until he couldn't. Bleys told me once that he punched my father in the jaw, but I'm not sure I believe it."
Signy shakes her head in disbelief. "Compare that with Weyland -- he would have had a plan to neutralize the blades themselves, so that if he couldn't co-opt them he could simply remove them from play altogether."
A range of mountains which had been constant on their left for some time start to turn a deeper purple hue, and starts to slowly curve around to come in front of them.
"Did he have any that he considered his equals?"
"Dworkin was his master, and he loved Dworkin. He feared his father and our Aunt Fiona, and sometimes Benedict. I can't say he exactly respected Bleys, but he considered Bleys worthy of personal manipulation, which is more than can be said for many of our cousins. And I think the same for Corwin and maybe Eric.
"My father was mad, though. Certainly at the end. His judgement was unsound." Ambrose grins, not pleasantly. "I'm glad he wasn't as forward-thinking as your father, though. He would've destroyed the universe if he had been."
As they crest a gradual hill, their destination comes into view.
"Did his notes talk about other family members at all, or talk of going to a master craftsman for anything like the code wheels? My father had a habit of using other names at times, so he might have had something to do with the wheels...."
"The code wheels were Uxmali in origin. Of our family, only Bleys, Fiona, Brennan, and myself know the language. And I'm not entirely sure Bleys knows the written language." Which thought elicits a smirk from Ambrose. "The craftsmen involved in making the original wheels may have been half-gods of my father's line, but if they were, he didn't mention it. If he did as he usually does with fine crafts work, he had the priests sacrifice them to his glory afterwards."
Fiona's tower in this shadow is a black glass pyramid.
The return of Captain Raven and her re-introduction to Thalia is the signal to allow the Weir to start hunting for the tokens. Of those who are not competing, several have been sparring with Jerod, who seems to have enjoyed the exercise.
The evening passes uneventfully. Anyone who wishes may watch from the battlements of the castle, although at this distance, not much can be seen clearly. The ship does not sink, nor does it burn.
Weir begin returning in small groups over the course of the night, with the last returning shortly before sunrise. While there were twenty tokens stashed aboard the Vale, there are 21 Weir in the grand hall when Jerod, Thalia and Raven enter in the morning.
Some of the Weir look as if they want to kill each other on the spot. The Count is not present.
Jerod sniffs at the air, looking to see who amongst the group is looking to contest a result. That there are more Weir than tokens tends to make him think there is an issue of "arbitration" at hand.
He will wait long enough to see if the Count is going to attend, or if the Weir are waiting on him. Since he is expecting the latter, he will collect an empty bowl from a side table and walk over to a larger table more to the center area of the hall. He places the bowl on the table before focusing his gaze on the Weir. He motions with a single movement of his hand towards the bowl, his expression straight and to the point.
"For those with tokens, step forward."
If Raven is taking the fact that some of the Weir want to kill each other as a good sign that there aren't nearly as many tokens as it looks like there might be, she doesn't say so. She does, however, take a good look at them to see if she can guess how much of a fight her sailors put up.
Fifteen Weir step forward. Most seem unharmed, although one seems to have a burn of some sort on his right arm. [OOC: They regenerate wounds from non-silvered weapons...]
Three more are blocked by another trio. "They stole our ribbons!", says the biggest of the blocking three, who looks like he's about to scream and leap on the nearest of the other set.
"It was not prohibited. You didn't get here with a ribbon!"
Jerod glances at Raven for just a second, enough to make it clear he'll take it but watch his back.
Raven nods slightly in response.
He then turns back, raising his fist and driving it in the table before him with a single sharp, hard crack that echoes through the room as the wood splinters.
The word will thunder through out the room, as Jerod knows it will, as he forces it to happen, as people seem to feel it echo in their bones.
For her part, Raven straightens a little, but otherwise simply remains watchful. If it weren't a room full of warriors, she might try to look intimidating; here, she figures, that might just make things worse. So, watchful it is.
OOC: if this doesn't stop them, then Jerod intervenes physically and we're in combat. If it does, then the remainder is how he will proceed.
His gaze is focused on the six that are at odds, but his words are for all when he speaks.
"The rules were clear. Bring the tokens, kill no one. How you obtained them was not relevant. And in case any of you missed it, obtaining them was a test. It was to reveal things. To show me whether you understood what we are going to do in Gateway.
"And to show whether I was right to choose the Weir, in the war to come against the Queen who will not be named here."
He pauses for just a moment. "Do you understood what you are going to do in Gateway? Do you see beyond this test of chasing a prize and capturing glory, to the needs of the mission? Because if you cannot do so, if you are interested only in the chase, then I chose wrong."
He waits to see if there is any response to his words before he would proceed further.
The leader of the thieves bows. He's a redhead and more vocal than many of the Weir. "My Prince, I put forward that we showed our flexibility and dedication to achieving the task without needing additional supervision, and without even alerting the crew to our presence by not boarding the ship at all.
"Our way, I assert, takes unorthodox paths to achieve victory, while the Weir who we robbed turned their victory into a defeat, which is perhaps a lesson for us all."
The Weir with no token turns very red at the laughter all around him.
"I will kill you, Rey--"
"You will not!" bellows the Count, from an inner doorway. "Ysengrimus, you and your brothers are dismissed. If you have no token you did not pass the test. It is up to the Prince to determine if Raynart meets his criteria."
Raynart smiles, and clears the way for Ysengrimus to leave. The large Weir turns swiftly and exits. He doesn't look the type to let it go.
Jerod watches as Ysengrimus leaves, noting to himself the mood of the group. He motions to Raynart, holding his hand out for the token.
"Those who obtained tokens by...unorthodox means...are accepted." he says simply. "Let me be clear. This was a test to see how you operate. There will be more."
He tosses the token into the bowl, motions Raynart back.
"Let me also be clear. Raynart was victorious...but he burned a bridge. How he resolves that is up to him....so long as it doesn't affect the mission. That is also a lesson to be learned, to consider the consequences of your actions. If you win your battle but lose your war, then you have still failed. If you can fix an issue after the fact without losses, that is acceptable...but do not ignore it."
Reynart nods, but does not interrupt.
He lets that sink in for a second, then motions all of them a little closer, bringing them into his "sphere", an implied acceptance that they are now part of the group, that it is no longer the chase or the game, now it's real.
"Our mission is to bring Gateway back to the side of his majesty King Random, and to deal with the insult they have perpetrated upon our Family. If we succeed at avenging the insult, but cause harm to his majesty's kingdom, then we have failed. And if that happens, pursuing your goals with regards to She who will not be named, will fail. It is important now that every element here be able to work together, both the unorthodox and those for whom conventional battle are their strengths. There is a place for deception and for honour, for strength of arms and for sorcery on this path. For those who recognize this, you are welcome.
"Your own goals require allies...and those goals remain distant on a long path. Travelling that path will require friends in many places, it will require planning and patience, open minds and strong hearts. It will not be won today or tomorrow, and it may take many more years. It may finished by force of arms the like you have never seen...or it could be won with a single word. But it will be won."
He looks at each of the Weir, mindful of Raven and Thalia standing close but unconcerned whether there is any apprehension from that quarter. Jerod's war for the future is not their war.
"Count. It's time we begin."
There's no apprehension from Raven's quarter, for sure. She's watching for reactions.
Other than Reynart, Jerod's new commando squad has been stationary while Jerod was speaking. Raven has only seen people like that at religious ceremonies. It's somewhat uncanny.
The count turns to the Weir and howls, his voice echoing through the room, the castle and the port. Before the first echo returns, the near-score of heavily armed dangerous shapeshifters join him.
There is little that one could imagine this army not accomplishing, even before King Eric of Amber's son takes his role leading them.
Second Mate Heron arrives as the echoes die, and indicates to the Captain that the crew is all well and the ship is ready to take on cargo and crew.
The trip outward from Weirmonken is both welcome and solemn for the crew of the Vale of Garnath. The crew knows that this is the leg of the journey that lands them in a place with real enemies and danger, and they have taken the toughest of Amber's allies with them, but not in overwhelming force.
The Weir seem to divide into two groups of around nine each. They aren't hostile, but it's clear that each group looks to a different leader. A group of the more traditional minor nobility of the Weir rally behind Sir Marrok, of an ancient noble line, and a cousin to the Count. The rest, including all the Weir from Amber, rally behind Reynart.
A light snow is falling intermittently from the dull grey sky when the lookouts call out that they've sighted land. The day looks as if it is going to stay cold, even though the sun is barely up. The seas don't freeze the far south, but the Weir are the only ones comfortable in the weather.
Jerod watches from the bow, a place he has occupied for the last several days as the journey has progressed, leaving the ship and its operations to Raven, rarely even approaching the quarterdeck as he fits himself more and more into the role that he will play while here, the merchant seeking his fortune.
He squints and nods to himself at the sound from the lookouts but says nothing. Indeed there have been few words spoken by him when not needed. His focus has been to the plan, to the tests of Shadow to prepare for what he hopes will not come, the worst that he can do.
For days, each morning after rising, he comes to the bow and looks to the horizon, though after a time it might seem as though he is looking...elsewhere....though what he might see the crew and the Weir would not know. He himself has spent his time sifting the Shadow as they approached Gateway, searching for the tendrils, the strands that make Gateway unique. The path the ship travelled was a natural one, an essential part of their journey if they are to appear mundane to the outside world. Upon that path would be the feel of Gateway, the energy and "realism" that made it what it is.
Then, finally, a hint, then a tug. Then he knew they were close.
It was then that he began to work. The days before had been for planning, building the model in his mind of how Gateway worked, and how he would change it, a tweak here, a nudge there. This thread tied off, another cut. Not enough to break the mesh that binds the reality of a place, but enough that with just the right trigger...the right word, the right action, the right thought...
"No snowflake ever feels responsible in an avalanche".
The words come to his mind and he smiles momentarily, remembering the man who spoke them. Brilliant, forceful, proud. And right.
Except now, when the snowflake that is set in motion will be Jerod's.
He pulls a thread, setting the trigger to turn off Gateway's magic for an instant should he so need. Another thread he ties and thickens, so he can turn it back on. He notes the nexus of threads that would need to be broken should he decide to tear magic from Gateway permanently. He decides it is somewhat difficult, but not impossible. That he will attend to directly should he need to.
Another thread for the shower of meteors, a light show of immense beauty, and terrifying directness. Then a nudge to the Shadow to settle a piece of it into place should he need one of those meteors to smash down upon the land, another for the water. Tidal waves have their uses.
The second to last of his traps he prepares while thinking of Ossian, remembering his fondness for volcanoes. One might be useful here Jerod thinks, though further offshore is better than closer and he adjusts the threads accordingly. A pity his cousin is not here to see it, he muses, though he finds the idea of the musing to be...amusing.
The final one, the most complex of all...half a day watching and sifting and staring, bringing forth the Pattern to enhance, to degrade, to set in stone or to make friable, ignoring the crew, not eating, barely breathing, his body unconsciously moving to the motion of the ship...while he spins the web of threads of shadow and reality, tying and cutting and pruning...finding the center of Gateway, finding its strengths of Order and its flaws for Chaos, balancing a strength with a weakness, pushing here, drawing back there, until the center of everything that is Gateway hangs above an open pit. Only a single snowflake is needed to push Gateway into it, to tear asunder everything that was this place. To salt the ground as Bleys would say, and leave nothing but void and death in its place.
One snowflake, and Jerod is responsible.
He closes his eyes, breathing deeply for the moment before opening them and turning, his eyes finding Raven.
"Show time, Captain. Take us in."
Raven is a steady presence on the deck. She keeps a close eye on the factions among the Weir and whether any of that is affecting her crew, but she spends more of her time watching out for all the little things that mark a ship as a Navy ship aren't obvious on the Vale.
The Vale was never a ship of the line, so it's not too hard to convince the easily convinced that she's an armed merchanter, trading far from peaceful lands. As long as the cargo of marines stays out of sight, she'll seem as expected.
Raven feels as if somehow, something is helping her blend it, but it doesn't seem to be anything she's doing. Perhaps Lir is aiding them from his watery grave. The story is that he is a relative, after all.
[Whose flag are you flying, if anyones? It will affect how the Thulians react.]
No flag is flown.
Agreed. No flag means being able to answer the question correctly when asked instead of having to backtrack.
Thalia will also be on deck, unless she's asked not to be.
Raven leaves that decision to Jerod and Thalia.
Thalia is on deck. Jerod's role as merchant is one that requires he have advisors and such. And a mage to act as a guide for Gateway's "bureaucracy" would be most useful...and would fit into character. A suitable alternate identity for Thalia would have been arranged, assuming she doesn't have one available to choose from. Jerod would guess as a diplomat she would have been prepared for such..."contingencies".
Thalia appears on deck, looking like a minor hedge-wizard, the kind that might hire her way on with merchants, rather than a major magician and a member of government for many years.
She's willing to disguise the Weir as well, but is concerned that it will go poorly if the deception is discovered.
Jerod would decline that. He has an option for the Weir if they are "found out", one that doesn't involve sending them on a rampage but which will fit with the "rough and tumble" armed merchantmen look of the group.
At Jerod's words, she nods. "All right, lads," she calls, and she starts calling the orders to her officers.
The ship comes in to a clean, well-maintained deep-water harbor in what might be a fair-sized city in other places. There is evidence of shipbuilding capabilities, most likely tied to the nearby forest. This is an outpost of civilization: The roads going outward are small, there's not a great deal of farming, and the people stay close to the city.
Some of the latter is probably due to the winter weather.
Despite the weather, there's a port-captain on the jetty, and the flags on it signal an adequate clearance for the Vale to dock.
Jerod waits patiently, Thalia close by. His garb is well fitted and comfortable and of excellent, though not garish, quality. The mark of a merchant who knows the value of something is more than its appearance, and that gold (or the currency of choice) is the most important thing of all.
[OOC: Docking puts the Vale more in control of the Gatwegans, and makes getaways slower, but makes it easier to get men and Weir on and off the ship. Raven can put the ship where she wants.]
[If the Vale docks, the port-captain will be at the rail, asking for permission to come aboard. If the Vale anchors, she will be rowed out to the ship and the same will happen at anchor.]
Jerod's preference is to get close and make for ease of access. Control, if enforced by Gateway would be quickly responded to and if the cards are played right, the merchant act should go over without a hitch.
Raven will dock. Ease of access is definitely better, and certainly not unexpected. Also, docks can be burned after they get back to the ship if need be, where having to take a boat back would be more of... an adventure... if they have to get out of there quickly.
If the port-captain is someone Raven recognizes as someone she met last time, she will give Jerod a signal to warn him. She's dressed for the part of a merchant ship's captain, in clothes carefully chosen to be comfortable, durable, and presentable - in generally that order - and whether she recognizes the port-captain or not, she greets the man cheerfully.
Of course, if nothing untoward happens, she also tries to get the business done as briskly and efficiently as possible without drawing attention. The sooner he's gone...
The dock and the Port-Captain don't seem familiar to Raven, except in that they are here. The Captain has a squad of pikemen with him. Not enough that it can't be overwhelmed by the Vale's crew, but too many to silence noiselessly. That's probably intentional.
As the Vale comes in towards the deepwater dock, the Port-Captain calls out. "Ahoy, the ship! State your name, your Master, and your business in Thule!"
Jerod waits and watches, occasionally lightly tapping the pouch of gold on his belt.
"Ahoy, Port-Captain," Raven calls back. "Captain Beam, sir, and here on trade for Master Cambric here." She waves broadly in Jerod's direction. "Is the port safe, sir, that you've got those lads at your back, or would we be better served elsewhere?"
"'Tis safe beau' o' the lads at my back, captain! We are a trading town, and we don't want trouble, so we don't allow it in.
"We like to know who we're trading wi', and that they're not sea-reavers. What's your cargo, Master Cambric, and why d' ye bring it to Thule instead of the Gate?"
The ship hits the bumpers against the dock and the sailors throw lines to the waiting longshoremen, who tie up the ship.
The Port-Captain is still suspicious, but he follows the custom of the ports of the Golden Circle precisely. "Permission to come aboard, Captain?"
Master Cambric watches as the ship docks and the Port-Captain prepares to come abroad, bored at the vague pleasantries and the interminable delays because of bureaucracy and regulations, trivial matters that interfere with the pursuit of wealth. He makes his way back to where Captain Beam is positioned, knowing that the matter of trade will need to be explained properly.
"Permission granted, sir, and welcome aboard," Captain Beam answers, waving the Port-Captain to come on. "Been a while since I've been this way - any special paperwork, or is it still the standard? If there's aught else you need, I can get it while you discuss our cargo with Master Cambric."
"The standard, and the names of your crew. You'll be responsible for them in case they break the Council's Peace. Give the list to my man Moth over there." Moth is an unassuming man, and Raven thinks that even at their most desperate, the press-gangs would've avoided him as unlikely to survive at sea.
"Now, Master Cambric, tell me of your cargo. Goods sold to the Council are, naturally, not charged subject to custom duties."
The Captain disappears into the cabin and returns with paper and the appropriate means to write out her list - a list that will account for all the appropriate individuals on the ship's actual crew. Not so much the rest of the beings on board...
The assistant to the Port-Captain scans the list, looking for known criminals. He doesn't find any, and files the list away.
Master Cambric wanders over, idly, in fact very absently, tapping the pouch on his belt, the clink of gold a subtle chime, barely noticeable unless one tries to hear for it against the sounds of the waves and the ship and the crew. "Our cargo is simple Port-Captain. We have none. We're here to buy, not sell. More importantly we are here to arrange for trade connections. It is my understanding, through some friendly ears, that there have been some changes in how business is conducted by the Council and those in charge.
"As someone constantly in touch with ebb and flow of business that comes to your land, I'm sure you recognize that opportunities come most frequently during times of change. Those who risk a little can gain much under such conditions. Opportunities to make new routes, make friends, garner information...those are what advance fortunes and help make individuals... wealthy."
He looks out landward and seems to nod to himself, as one might do if they were satisfied by a decision they had made. "Very wealthy." he says, turning back to the Port-Captain.
"What do you think Port-Captain? Do you think there is opportunity here...to make friends, to advance fortunes?" Master Cambric asks, tapping idly, all the while reading the man, and his men.
The Port-Captain nods. "Opportunity, aye, for those who see it and take a chance. It's why we're out here, man.
"The thing is, few men become wealthy on one cargo, Master Cambric. And those who do succeed wildcatting tend to want to spend it all as fast as they can."
Master Cambric nods at this, a slight twitch on his face betraying his thoughts concerning wildcatting, or the idea that he would even think to gamble on a single cargo.
"This was a quiet port, a navigational station at the north end of the archipelago. Now we are a boom town, sir. If I had a wish, it'd be that you had arrived with a hold full of foodstuffs for sale. You'll have nae trouble finding miners who have cargo to transport to the Gate, but with not a penny to their name to pay for it."
The Port-Captain sighs. "If you've nothing to declare, you've the freedom of the city. But if you wish to discuss the practicalities of making us all rich, we can discuss matters out of the sun in my office."
"Of course Port-Captain." Master Cambric says with a smile. "I look forward to our discussions, at your convenience of course."
Captain Beam gives her officer a nod at the Port-Captain's words, letting them know there's no trouble.
The mate acknowledges, and starts giving the cook and the purser instructions on what to look to buy in town. He assigns the crew liberty in small shifts, with an officer with each. The men don't seem inclined to argue. They are aware they're in enemy territory.
In a slightly louder voice, the Port-Captain says, "Well, all seems to be in order. Come by the office and I'll have the entry papers for you to sign. We'll get that cleared up then, and I can offer you fine visitors a drink."
His men disembark and the Port-Captain follows them. The soldiers guarding the dock march sharply back to the obvious barracks across from the wharfs.
[OOC: Up to you what you do next. Port-Captain, explore the town, carouse? A bit of good? A bit of bad? A little of both?]
OOC: a basic exploration of the town, under the guise of "carousel" is in order. Arrangements are made for elements of the crew to do so, with orders to get the lay, determine numbers of guards and locations, plus rumors and current "goings-on", especially concerning the Port-Captain's comments about the mining. When officials have something on their minds, it's not a bad idea to dig a bit and see what's causing it. It can be a problems perhaps, or an opportunity.
A quick review of additional details on Thule from Thalia is also prudent to be sure people are aware of how to act and what to watch for so they are not stepping on any toes.
After that, Jerod will be looking to follow up on the Port-Captain, officially to see about trade, but actually see what's going on and how best to arrange the approach to the Gate. To do that, he needs to know whose been doing what, how much of the government has changed, etc. He will take Thalia with him unless Raven has a plan that requires her presence there.
Raven is going to see what she can do about getting information from any captains - current or former - in the area, and see where what they can tell her leads.
While there are no ships in port of the size and statue of the Vale, there are plenty of sailors in the port and in the taverns. Most ships come here from the capitol, carrying supplies, soldiers, and orders and leaving with raw materials for the capital: anything that isn't important enough to come by magic, comes by ship. It's a week's walk to the gate, and twice that with a loaded wagon. Thesea is best, especially if you have a weather wizard to drive the wind into your sails. The garrison buys most of the supplies, but the town doesn't suffer by that.
If they are lucky, some cargoes are magical, and a piece of the action is worth any price the magi offer.
The merchants of the bazaar and the sailors staying under the cover of their awnings seem to all notice the old man crossing the square at about the same time. He dresses the part of a Wizard of the Gate, and he seems larger than life. Next to him is Raven's (and Jerod's) cousin, Brita, her coppery-red hair up in braids. It is entirely possible that she has seen Raven. Or smelled Raven.
Being smelled is still bizarre to Raven. Still, curious to find someone else in the area. She'll drift in an intercepting kind of direction, keeping an eye on Brita to see if she should get lost instead.
Brita's companion seems to be looking at Raven and talking to her. Brita raises a hand in greeting to Raven.
Raven nods in greeting and strolls over. She's dressed like a merchant captain, in sturdy and worn clothes, and she seems far more comfortable in those than she'd seemed in her Naval gear.
"Didn't mean to bother you," she says, "but I was starting to think I wouldn't see anyone but locals. It doesn't feel like a proper port of call without a few faces I've seen other places."
Walder smiles at Raven in greeting, but waits for Briena to make the introductions here, since she's the one known to this Amberite.
Raven notices Walder's blade, just as Brita did. Beautiful work, plainly sheathed, top quality materials. Worth, to the right buyer, a whole shadow. The kind of thing that can only be traded for another unique item, because there's nothing like it to compare for prices.
"Captain. I am Pleased you Recognize me. I Must admit, however, that I do not Remember your Name beyond the Title. It has been Awhile since we met at Court. I would Introduce you to Master Walder - we Travelled here together from the Surface Gate." Brita smiles at Raven, "and, although I doubt Your Memory is as bad as mine, I am Brienna."
Raven smiles in return. "It has been a while, but I can't say I'd forget your face," she agrees. "Beam, at your service, and it's nice to meet you, Master Walder. What news from the road to the Surface Gate, if you don't mind my asking?"
Walder neck-bows to Raven. "Captain Beam," he says, very seriously. "A pleasure. The road was relatively quiet for us, but we sped here, avoiding the waystations. It's a trick used by those familiar with Gateway." He leans in and says, quietly, "At the Gate, I found that more were leaving the realm than entering. Shadows are rising here. It may not be a good time for Amber to make trade with Gateway."
"The Trip was Uneventful and Swift in Master Walder's company," Briena notes. "I have Not Travelled that Route Before. It is perhaps a Long, Shadowed Route to Visit with Kin," Brita cocks her head to the side (towards Walder). "What of You, Captain beam? What brings You to This port town?"
"Trade," is the immediate answer. Raven gets a kind of slight eyebrow furrow that clears quickly. "Master Cambric and I partnered to transport a cargo to the Gateway area. Our last stop was pretty far from here, as such things go, so I can't say as how I knew people were leaving the Gate."
"I have always heard that Amber knows everything," Walder replies, as if it's a private joke among the three of them. "My compliments to your master. Will you be remaining in Gateway long, Captain, or do you plan to move on in your trade circuit?" His tone carries polite interest in Raven's answer, but no more.
Meanwhile Jerod and the Port-Captain meet. Jerod is offered coffee, which is nearly like coffee, and whiskey to put in it, which is of better quality than the coffee. Looking at the environs of Thule, neither crop is from this climate zone.
Turns out that Port-Captain is much like 'Mayor', at least in this town. He talks briefly about opportunity, freedom, goods and materials that Thule can offer, items they would want. He wonders how frequently ships could come here and if it was possible to generate a sustainable trade with the Vale and her trade routes.
Jerod can tell there's more to the subject, but that the Port-Captain is somehow sounding him out.
Jerod's discussion with the Port-Captain, in his persona as Master Cambric, will be quite frank. Jerod doesn't need to lie in anything he speaks of with regards to trading opportunities, nor does he need to fudge his emotions. He is quite clear to the Port-Captain that he sees Thule and later all of Gateway as a substantial opportunity. He questions the Port-Captain closely on what is most highly desired at Thule, vs what is "needed". He asks after the economics of Thule in relation to the Gate as well.
Thule is effectively a boom town. It's the farthest north outpost that has a 9-month port, and most settlements beyond it are magically sustained. Thule has boom town needs. People need to be fed and clothed and to sell what they've mine d for currency that can pay for their lodgings.
It was the northernmost garrison that did not fall in the black circle wars. The citadel turned out to be impregnable.
It has the resource colony's needs and goals. Some wish luxuries, others look for ways to become rich or richer. Good workers are what is most desired.
The Port-Captain suspects that some of the more far-flung towers in the area practice slavery, but he has neither troops nor proof. It used to be illegal, although who knows what is illegal these days.
All of this is totally valid in Jerod's mind, because if he is success in his objective, he sees no reason why Gateway, and Thule, would not benefit from increased trade. And Jerod would certainly be looking to prop up the local communities by arranging to use the information he gets and spreading it around to traders he would know he can find in Paris, Xanadu and Rebma, reliable individuals who would be able to meet these trade needs.
But this discussion leads him to where he really wants to go, which is a discussion of the current political and governmental landscape. As a trader, he would be willing to risk a lot for the chance for good, long-term trade, because that yields the greatest wealth. But Master Cambric isn't foolish...he takes risks when he knows details. Thule can benefit for sure, since know he has begun a relationship with the Port-Captain, but what about the rest? Who is in charge in the Gate? Who is on the outs? He has heard of unrest but details are unclear. Knowing these things tells him who to speak to, who to cultivate, who to avoid, and more importantly, why. The movers and the shakers of this realm.
So his questions, comments and mannerism will be honest, forthright, inquisitive and completely sincere...
He just won't mention that other little detail about how the information he receives just happens to be what Prince Jerod would need to begin his coup d'etat. After all, no reason to lie when you don't have to.
Port-Captain Flavian reviews the political situation briefly. The Thaumacracy still holds sway, but the Ivory Tower has withdrawn their support. Expansionists such as Flavian want to build power and influence by old fashioned methods, getting everyone rich in the process. Isolationists are having difficulty, but still hold some sway, especially in the Northwest. The triumvirate has lost some amount of momentum since Dexamene disappeared from view, but they still have the reins of power.
What they don't do is project it this far north, much. They technically command the citadel, but the commander and Flavian are close.
Flavian wants Jerod to set up trade with Thule, bypassing the Gate. It is too chaotic and political there. They should get rich without the southerners.
Jerod nods at the appropriate intervals, agreeing that Thule is the best choice to establish a firm, even primary economic presence. He also makes careful note to determine who in Thule would also benefit from this set up of trade, but he is very clear that he doesn't believe working solely in Thule would be of maximum benefit. If the political situation is too chaotic, it possible that if Thule becomes too rich, it could attract undesired attention. And Master Cambric dislikes undesired attention. Better to blunt it carefully, with suitable economic inroads, gifts to prominent individuals, quiet meetings to gather information about who is open to more traditional advancement such as what Flavian proposes, and those who do not.
One thing that Master Cambric does state clearly is that a trade route needs to be established as soon as possible in Thule. He intends to beat any of his competitors, thus ensuring good trade for both sides, along with a healthy profit margin for those involved.
He will request a list of immediate goods to be procured that would be most useful, followed by long term trade good goals to be established in staggered time increments.
The details of trade are discussed. The region has three main resources to be exploited -- lumber, furs, and mountain copper. Lumber is labor intensive and there are no mills, but individual ships have exploited it here. Furs are always profitable, but they depend on the local trappers. Mountain Copper is the reason the South has an interest here. It's said to have magical properties.
Flavian's goal is have Jerod buy off some of the Mountain Copper. Jerod gets something rare to sell to his people, and the shortage in supply drives up prices for the rest. Magicians will pay whatever they need to for the stuff.
Jerod is always agreeable to increased profitability, so long as it's worth the opportunities that will arise. He is curious as to this mountain copper's magical properties and asks after a sample. He will state, very clearly, that should it be viable, he would be willing to negotiate for a shipment of trade goods, to be determined by Flavian, to be brought in to Thule in exchange for the copper.
After that, Jerod inquires as to whether or not Flavian might be able to make suitable, and very discrete, introductions in the south for him.
The Port-Captain opens a safe, which looks to be remarkably flimsy, and pulls out a stone. "The is the Orichalcum ore, the mountain copper is refined from it. It makes very strong weapons and has some resistant properties, making it useful for non-Magicians."
Jerod can think of a dozen shadows that would pay dearly for this, including Bellum. Of course, Bellum would use it to invade Asir Island, so it's perhaps best kept from them.
Jerod takes it in his hand, studying it, feeling it for its reality, its variance to and from Gateway. He does not summon the Pattern to study it, that would be a bit too much right now.
The best that Jerod can tell, without tools or the Pattern, is that this rock was probably relatively deep in the earth at one point. Especially if the Mountain Copper at one point flowed as a liquid.
At the first opportunity, he will be summoning the Pattern to study it in more detail. This has piqued his interest.
The only other thing that Jerod learns from Flavian is that the material was not available in these parts before the Black Tides.
His face is expressionless as he turns it over in his hand, sifting and thinking. Then he smiles slightly. "Let us dicker on a price, shall we," he says finally.
He returns the smile. "Of course."
[OOC: It's naturally a fire/water kind of task, this dickering. The Port Captain seems to have honest but sharp goals: He wants to drive up the price he gets in Gateway (the city) by selling a significant chunk of the ore out of this shadow. Any decent return is fine.]
He names a price that, while steep, is within bargaining range of reasonable. In exchange for bargaining, he wants to be assured that Master Cambric has no plans to sell the ore on to Gateway, which would prevent his price raising scheme from working. He also asks about long-term establishment of someone representing Master Cambric's interests in Thule.
Master Cambric would also want assurances of steady supply, at least by percentage of total amounts mined, to ensure that should the quantity of material mined drop, he would not be cut out in favor of higher prices from Gateway. As for a factor to cover Master Cambric's interests, Jerod is considering his secretary, currently cooling his heels with not much to do after being emigrated from Amber. This might just do the trip to keep him occupied. Assuming the supply assurances can be arranged, then Master Cambric is prepared to agree to a "steep but reasonable" price.
The dickering is hard, but the basic agreement, with adequate guarantees on either end, is made.
Flavian recommends a celebratory dinner and he'll send out word tonight that Master Cambric will buy the Mountain Copper at the price stated, starting tomorrow. His captain will have his hold filled quickly.
Jerod wants to see if he can get away for a few minutes. He wants to do a quick Pattern check on the ore sample to see what he gets. More importantly, he wants to trump call the boss and get a couple of things arranged. After that, then he'll be going to look for the Camouflage Cartel.
It's hard to tell from the sample, but the rock may not be originally from this shadow. Jerod can't say why he thinks that, but it's somehow not like other things from Gateway.
It's not sorcerous, but it is unusual.
Edan returns to the castle. He gathers his things for another trip, summons Kyauta to him from exploring the city and environs, and goes down to the stables to prepare his horse, Aramsham. It's not a normal preparation, there; along with the grooming and checking equipment, he saddles his horse with the best and most durable tack and harness that he owns or can find, things that he can charm against the damage that extreme heat would do.
That done, he points his horse out along the coast, in preparation for a hellride that most of the Family would not consider taking.
Kyauta complains that this is a dull place and he has trouble eating birds and taking their forms. Everything tastes the way lightning smells.
This doesn't surprise Edan too much. "Not to worry, it's about about to get more exciting."
The stablehands help with the tack and the stablemaster helps Edan choose the best gear. He tells Edan that he has seen Benedict or Caine return a horse with shoes on it that no mortal smith could have forged, and that if Edan knows those spells, he may want to cast them as well.
He then makes a strange sign involving his finger and his forehead.
Edan is nodding almost before the stablemaster finishes. "I know something similar, but likely not as long a duration. Tell me, what is this?" He repeats the same finger-forehead sign.
"Sir? Nothing sir, just wipin' me brow, Sir."
He's quite nervous. "I'm a family man, sir, I need to get back to them, if your Lordship will excuse me, I will retire."
Edan smiles. "Of course. Thank you for your help. Have a good night." Once the stablemaster leaves, and once Edan is sure that he has everything he wants for the trip he is to take, a pick, bags, a rake, heavy gloves, he rides Aramsham out of the stables and out away from the city. When he's ridden out a respectable distance, he dismounts and starts a fire; he uses it for his Sorcery.
It's all about what gets used up in the spell, this time. Edan rubs down his horse with a series of rare plants and powders, using what he has because he knows this is a unique trip to make. He finishes with red hot coals plucked from the fire itself, knowing Aramsham won't feel them by that time. The entire ritual is accompanied with chanting and a dance, which is more than just for artistic show.
It may be that Edan himself will need additional Sorcery for heat protection this trip, but he is confident a more tame effort will be needed for his part.
"Hah!" Aramsham gets a kick in the ribs, and the trio is off on an easy gallop. The fire sputters and dies behind them as if it had never been.
The cadence is rhythmic, almost hypnotic; they follow the line of the coast, with a line of clouds slowly combining above them into a grey wall. It takes a very long time, but the clouds eventually darken, get lower, take on the smell of smoke. The sand coarsens, gets darker as well, until they are racing along great bands of black and yellow pea gravel.
Another burst of speed, a turn; the water begins to steam, to bubble. Vents of smoke and steam issue forth from cracks in the now flat, dry ground. The smoke gets thicker, and heat builds upon heat. Another turn, another kick. Aramsham's eyes are rolling now, but Edan stops it with a sharp command. The horse feels nothing. Ground, rocks, a tunnel of black rock. They emerge on a plain of rock and fire and black smoke. Another kick, and they are into a full gallop. Aramsham is magnificent, as they break through a shower of sparks and fire...they race along a trail, lava on both sides of them...it widens, becomes a path between mountains...the smoke is choking now, would overcome them if not for Sorcery...the world is a hellish red-lit place, and fountains of molten rock are all around...faster, faster...each strike of the hooves brings sparks and flame...they glow now, all of them, yellow and red in a hazy shimmering aura...volcanoes now in the distance, the cone he's looking for...a place where metal and precious stones pushed upward in a funnel up to the surface...racing still, slowing, finding the details he wants, the place and the temperature and the stones he's looking for...
Edan has brought bags and picks and a rake. The ground glitters with precious stones the ground has thrown upward to pry and collect. But in this world there is no one to take them, no one but Edan himself. He dismounts, takes a long drink from a waterskin; it's going to be a long day.
It is indeed a long day, but by the end of it Edan has a sackful of precious stones, ranging from tiny to a size that most human cultures would give specific names to.
He could crash the economy of a number of places without even cutting the stones.
Aramsham is, at best, bored. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the heat.
Edan makes sure that he has everything packed up and ready to go. He isn't looking directly at his affine when he asks, "Kyauta. Tell me of your existence before you were given to me at the Race to Madness."
Kyauta shifts, rearranging his bones to better sit on Aramsham's saddle horn.
Great Lord, I was a bird in the skies of Xanadu. I was a part of the Blue World. I was a drake. I was many, many fish.
I rode the moon. I was the father of the rains of Uxmal. Before that, I do not recall.
"That sounds like things that you experienced with me," Edan says. "I still don't understand why Chases-in-Madness would offer you to me as a token. According to Merlin, such a thing is not normally done. Perhaps she merely marks me as her enemy, giving you to me. Perhaps she marks me as something else. Perhaps she and her people could track me through you. I do not know. I can personally attest to your loyalty, I know that. I would...I would use Sorcery to see your life before your recollection, if you would be willing."
I serve at my Great Lord’s pleasure. Kyauta seems unperturbed by the idea.
Edan's hand catches aflame as he reaches out to Kyauta. He places the heel of his other hand, also on fire, against his Third Eye.
"Remember," he says. "Think back to where you were dancing on the palm of Chases-in-Madness. You were in the form of a horse. That is the starting point."
"I know more, Great Lord." Kyauta is neither surprised nor alarmed by his newfound ability to recall. "I was the Great Lord Chases-In-Madness’ most malleable servant, Great Lord. She protected me and I served her. When she needed a saddle blanket, I was a saddle blanket. When she needed an airborne scout, I was a scout. Of her small set of real objects, I was firstmost, as I have been for you. Before that, I was a part of her lessons. I became sentient then, as we learned how to be Lord and Affine together. Before that, I was a part of someone else, taken from a Great Lord in battle. That is beyond my ability to remember, for the parts of that being who remembered did not come with me."
Edan nods, and lets the spell lapse. "This was the answer I was looking for. You were not created as a trap. Whatever ties to Chases-in-Madness the other Riders recognize, they are symbolic. Thank you, my affine. This answer pleases me." He looks around. "Are you ready to depart? I shall fill you in on recent events and my plans as we get up to speed for the hellride back."
Kyauta takes a few steps and his legs grow longer and thicker. "I am ready at your pleasure. I would assume her other affines would report that you had given her a knife, Great Lord, to match the one she gave to you."
Edan grins. "Well, it's interesting you should mention yourself as a weapon. Let me tell you about what happened in Xanadu..." and he fills Kyauta in on the creation of the Order and his own short-term plans for recruiting as they pack up and head back in the direction of home.
Kyauta listens intently. Since it was was not asked for input into the Great Lord's plans, it offers none.
The Plan has been communicated, and that's the important thing. Edan continues back; unless they run into something, he'll set Michelle up with the starting funds when they return to Xanadu. It will be her task to convert and disburse them appropriately. After a final review of building plans and last-minute problem-solving, he'll be off towards the Land of Peace.
Michelle shows him a lovely site on the edge of town and is ready to hire men to clear it and then to build the barracks and the chapter-house. Everything looks good, but expensive. Luckily, shiny things pay for a great deal.
Random wants Edan to provide horses for the royal stables, as rent-in-kind to set a precedent. Michelle thinks it will not only be feasible, but will possibly give them a way to make the order more self-sufficient.
Edan can accept Random's idea, and is happy with the concept; after all, he has an interest in raising horses. They'll probably need more room for the stables and pastures, but that's easily arranged. With this all handled, he bids his seneschal adieu and turns Aramsham around towards the Land of Peace. By land. And in this case, he aims for a fast trip, but not a hellride; just having done one, that had to be hard on the psyche.
Edan heads out, riding perhaps for a day towards the dense jungles to the south of Xanadu. When he was last here, he thought he was nearing Amber and Kyril thought he was on an island. If the climate was warmer, this would be a forest, but apparently, the King likes the warm places.
By sticking to the beach, Edan has the opportunity to play with the dunes, and the sea birds, and the smell of the sea. Soon enough the dunes of the beach become the dunes of the desert, and the cries of the terns become the cry of desert hawks. The sea-smells fade and the sun grows even harsher than in Random's Xanadu. Edan rides on, gaining the colors and smell, and sounds of the Deep Desert.
He lets the sun set, and arrives by moonlight. It is neither cold enough nor dark enough to prevent travel, but few are abroad at this hour. Edan is home, in the heartland of the Seven Tribes.
Edan sees no signs of people.
That doesn't mean a whole lot at this hour, in this place. If Edan recognizes the location already, he turns Aramsham towards the nearest nomadic trail or settlement. If he doesn't, he'll attempt to fix his position and/or pick a direction to travel until he starts to recognize the landmarks.
Edan finds where he expects a settlement to be. The landmarks mark a place the seven tribes often camp. The stars tell him it is late spring, and thus the wadi should have people and animals a-plenty.
It is deserted. Edan doesn't see signs that anyone has been here since the last storm, and no evidence that such a cleansing happened recently.
It is a long way to the West to the port towns of the coast, and a longer ride to the east, but the east was always the more civilized place. He could also head north to the coast or south into the deep desert and towards the cities of his grandfather's people.
Edan sniffs. The air doesn't smell right for the Land of Peace. Something is missing. And yet, he is sure he is home.
Edan frowns. Of all the trouble he was expecting, this wasn't it. There is time pressure, too, in that Edan eventually has to return to Xanadu. Wasting that time travelling won't do.
Solving one mystery will likely solve another. He turns his horse south, towards the deep desert, to see if the strangeness persists; if it does, or gets worse, it will be time for some Sorcery.
The deep desert is vast, but Edan is canny, and knows the way of it, and the way to go. It is not quick, but as quickly as he can, he find an outcropping from which he should be able to see the most remote outposts of the Efrit.
He finds barren desert, pristine and empty. There is no sign that people or spirits have been here at all.
Edan also knows he's about to bleed over into a natural shadow path to an adjoining shadow, so this is where he stops. It's a mystery, all right. The worst part is that he knows he's come to the right place.
The natural shadow path may be the thing that's missing.
Well. The next step is a little drastic, but necessary. Edan Parts the Veil, a smoking tear through the fabric of Space, so that he can ride through to a spot he knows. When Aramsham steps through, they should be on a long strip of rocky terrain near the ocean and within sight of the port city of his birth.
Edan rides a through the Veil and up to a promontory above the city, looking down on it laid out below him. The harbor is busy with steamships and fishing vessels, the docks are awash in cargo and people, the temple quarter is a hive of activity, and the city looks prosperous and vital.
Some enterprising people seem to have miniaturized the steam engines from the ships and installed them in carriages, and apparently also on bicycles.
Edan rubs at his jaw. "I don't know what to make of this, Kyauta. Either I'm in the wrong place, or significant time has passed, or things have progressed naturally from the defeat of the hamaaj." He ponders for another moment. "Or someone has come and altered the nature of this Shadow. Let us find out. Conceal yourself, like you did in Paris. We shall pretend to be a holy man, coming out of the desert. We shall observe this new world."
Kyauta conceals itself and Edan comes down from the hill. The town is bustling, but horses are not unheard of. People hardly give Edan a second glance. Edan does not see anyone dressed in the robes of the desert people, though.
The first stop will be the city center, where Edan can consult a calendar. Maybe a perpetual one at one of the great libraries, or at a temple. Finding out the year will be the first order of business, and he will go as far as to ask the date and year from someone, if he has to.
The Way of Peace Library is a place of grace and beauty and is very new, although apparently it houses the collections of three previous private libraries.
Edan has been gone for about a decade, perhaps a decade and a half.
[OOC: Things seem to have advanced from Late Victorian to Edwardian during his absence...]
The library seems to have a number of books on the war, and apparently the books are common enough that Edan could pick one up without going through the scholars. He recognizes the name of the author. He was a fierce desert fighter.
Well, this would definitively tell whether he's in a shadow of a shadow. Edan sits with the book and starts to skim, paying close attention to the material near the end. If at all possible, he wants to know what's happened since he left. And if, inexplicably, there's some kind of a language problem, he'll be using some quick Sorcery to help resolve it.
The book is straightforward and tells the war story about how Edan remembers it, although Haytham seems more prominent than Edan recalls.
The end is... odd. "Sarwar Al Edan Al Damurah (P.B.U.H.) was with us until victory was assured and he ascended bodily to Paradise, ending the age of the gnostic prophets. The fire spirits of the Deep Desert followed him, and sealed the ways to their fiery lands behind them.
"The Literalists expect Al Edan to return, bodily, but the Council of the People have declared that he is to be taken as a symbol and message from The Merciful One and the Merciful One cannot be expected to honor his people to such a degree twice and claim that he is in every candle flame and hearth-fire and that all should learn from his example."
"The people of the cities accepted the Way of Peace and the tyrants of the cities who had twisted the teachings of the Merciful One were pulled down from their high places and left in the desert to survive, if the Merciful One allowed."
It goes on in that vein for some time. It seems that the seven tribes have entered into city life and are at the top of the social order, but that each city is far enough apart that the tribe that settled there has little conflict with the others...
Peace be unto him, indeed. Things have seemed to have worked out about as well as could be expected. Edan thumbs through a little more slowly, to see if he can verify where this Haytham has taken a leadership position; in other words, he tries to find out what tribe has taken over this city.
Haytham is an elder of this very city! [OOC: It's why his book is such a good seller here...]
After that, before presenting himself to the city elders, his old tribesmen, it will be time to visit his mother and siblings.
The building Julnar the Firemaiden and her children lived in is gone, and has been converted to some kind of a theater. Tonight's presentation is called "The Tale of Al Edan and the Wondrous Lamp".
Of course it is. Edan sniffs and smiles. It is not so important to track family down yet, and he was about to find someone with a better idea of Mother's migration than anyone else. Edan rides on to the city center and the city government, making an effort to meet with Haytham. Edan will identify himself as al-Alayan, the Searcher, and will say that he is an old acquaintance who seeks audience.
al-Alayan is told that Haytham is holding court in this very building in a short while. If he has business before the city or a grievance to air, that is the venue. If the matter is personal, it may be possible to send him a note to read after his work is done for the day.
The courtroom is large, and has a large bas-relief image on the back wall, showing a stylized lamp with a flame coming out of it. It is a symbol of the tribes of the deep desert, not of Dar es Salaam as he remembers it.
The courtroom is starting to get full.
That's a big question. Should Edan reveal himself to the city and become the center of the whirlwind that would follow? So little would be accomplished afterward. No, the best approach would be to stay subtle.
"It is personal," Edan says, "but he would want to read this note as soon as possible. Tell him it is a matter of the desert. I will leave the decision to you."
The note is simple.
::Haytham al-derin col, lieutenant of the al-Ghanii,
::I am returned for a short while, as I promised so long ago. I am both pleased and concerned by what I have seen in my absence. Attend me as soon as you may, for I have need of you and my time here is short.::
::Edan ibn Bleys ibn Oberon al-Kehribar al-Salaam al-Djinn-al-Ghanii::
In a few moments, a bearded man comes and sits cross-legged at the front, facing those waiting for their chance at justice. There is a murmur in the crowd and they, like Edan, are surprised it is not Haytham sitting in front of them.
A man comes up to Edan and bows. He says "The jurist asks that you follow this one to his office, Lord."
[Assuming Edan does follow...]
Haytham looks to be middle aged, and likely to age into a wiry and old man, if nothing stops him from doing so. "Lord Edan, it is you!" He rushes over, and then stops. "I would touch you and see that you are solid, and not a vision or a dream. Is such a thing permitted, or is it blasphemy to even question you? I do not know if I am honored that you came to me or cursed for needing to prove to myself that such an honor could fall upon myself."
He used to be less... philosophical.
Edan crosses over to clasp hands with Haytham, keeping the disappointment from his own face. He should have known they would make him into a Mahdi, it was one possible outcome, but it hurt to see friends and acquaintances turn into...worshippers. That was the word for it.
"I am pleased to see you, old friend," he says. "It is good to see how things worked out so well for the tribes, as good as we could have hoped for. I would stay and see how the hand of the Merciful One has worked in our favor, but I am afraid my time is short."
Haytham seems unsteady, not with age or infirmity or drink, but on the verge of being overwhelmed with emotion. "Your time was already short, but each moment is precious. Some said you would only return if the need was dire, or the Ulema had departed from the Way of Peace, to harrow us from the desert as we once harrowed those who lived here before us."
He takes a deep breath. "Lord, there are those who say you are a myth, that you never walked among us as a man, but are a symbolic representation of the power and correctness of the Way. It is hard, even for those of us who were there, to counter them, for so much of that time seems like a dream..."
Haytham trails off, not really knowing what else to say.
Celina moves slowly downward and settles into a TaKhi meditation sit. She controls her breathing and flushes out anxiety. Breath is the key to shock. She takes her time, working for a few minutes.
Conner floats over and sits beside her, waiting.
Finally she looks up at Conner. "I cannot but agree. The Master of War, a living legend, envies our challenge." She shakes her shoulders as if shrugging away a curse, or a noose about her neck. "You know more about war than I am likely to learn in the next five years. I suggest you work directly with Llewella, Jerod, the wizards of Rebma, the elite units, and of course the Tritons in planning our defense. Jerod may not be available for weeks or months. Don't wait for him.
"Oh my heart," she looks down at her laced hands. "Rebma help me."
Conner reaches out and folds his hands around hers. "Brave heart, Celina. Rebma will help you as will Xanadu and Paris if we but ask. The shark has yet to smell blood in the water and we have time to prepare. I will coordinate the defense of Rebma as best as I can. I may even seek advice from Huon as he is the most recent person to consider Rebma's defenses from an invader's point of view." Conner squeezes Celina's hands. "You do not stand alone, Majesty."
Celina nods. "We do not stand alone. True. And I shall stand with my Pattern, whatever comes.
"Conner, there are oral histories regarding the Eye of Rebma. Do you know them? I did not last year before we returned to Rebma."
Conner shakes his head no. "I have wanted to seek answers of the Archivists but did not want to tip my hand about why I wanted to know. What have you heard?"
Celina nods again, "Wise." She leans far forward and does something that arches her spine as she slides her palms down her legs to grip her toes, then she sighs and releases into a casual sit. "Well, the oral histories conflict. The Archivists keep all versions, even the ones they are told not to repeat by a queen, but now that I am queen, I can at least lay them all out for consideration.
"The mirror is magical, though the History does not confirm what sort of magic made it. Personal observation tells me it is not Chaos sorcery." She looks straight at Conner. "Has anyone ever detected your use of it? Because the story is that the sight of the Eye is imperceptible, which is not true of normal mirror craft."
"Yes, but I'll tell my tales after yours." Conner smiles.
She goes on, "It is said the Eye has cast lightning down on enemies, destroying them completely at a distance. The Eye does not answer or speak, but understands oral direction. It would be worth confirming this bit: the Eye can look on sleepers and move into their dreams, possibly to steer a dream at the request of the user. The Eye can be stubborn, and moral. Use it for evil and evil will return upon you----like a reflection geometry that slips from warpage, or exhaustion. The Eye may show you something that is Needful rather than Desired. And isn't that a kettle of fish?
"Further, there are hints of the power affecting the user over time. Strangeness may cling to the user, or changes, or even disabilities. The Eye was wielded by Moins, and an oral legend says it showed her the place to found Rebma. However, the more popular versions of the founding of Rebma do not mention the Eye at all. Do you see anything in all that you would dispute or support?"
"Quite a bit of both as it happens." Conner nods. "To start with I have had my scrying detected twice to my knowledge. Once Valeria trapped the Eye using a circle of mirrors and I was unable to close the connection until she chose to release it. Another time, I used the Eye to look in on Paige and the twins and Bleys detected the scrying and then disrupted it. So it is clear that those of skill and those prepared can interfere with the workings of the Eye. Of course, we also have the example of Dara and Chantico detecting your scrying attempt and not mine. I think it is safe to say that sensing the use of the Eye may be harder but clearly not impossible.
"As for the powers of the Eye, I have never attempted to command it by voice." Conner admits. "I have transmitted my voice to the location of the scrying. As such, I do not see why I could not use it as a conduit for other sorcery such as lightning or mental magics. I have also tried to use the Eye as a focus for temporal scrying and the images generated were not those expected. I do not recall seeing false images during a simple scrying attempt however. Of course, how would I ever know for sure."
Conner raises his arms above his head and stretches. "Now, let us add some empirical evidence. According to Brennan's Astral sight, which he shared with me on the battlefield so I have seen this as well, the Eye is Real and it appears to be a frozen affine of Chaos. It is in essence a portable Parting of the Veil but for sight only." Conner pauses to allow Celina to comment.
"Parting of the Veil for Sight, Ordered Mirror, Dreams, and probably Sorcery," Celina offers the slight correction. "Brennan's input is interesting, but as I don't know Astral Sight, I cannot ask how he knew it was a Affine of Chaos in stasis. However, that might tie back to the notion I had that the Eye was present at the creation of Rebma. If the Dame Nedra sent warrior affines, or a spy, to find out what Moins was doing, and it became trapped in the creation of Pattern, then we'd have something like what Brennan saw." She looks at Conner. "Our Loreena put much research into these tales of the Eye before her access to the Archive ended. And I still don't know more about where she is."
"Her interest in the Eye is curious." Conner agrees. "I seem to recall being told that Moire sent her to search for it. Apparently it has been hidden either in plain sight or practically her nose all this time. Aunt Llewella gave it to me during my time as First Secretary. When I asked her recently where she got it, she said that hung on the wall in her mother's rooms. I find myself curious when she found it there and took it." Conner waves away that idle thought. "Here is another interesting observation. If you view the Eye when it is in use, you will see a tendril of energy coming from the Eye going off in a direction that has nothing to do with the source of what you are scrying. Merlin attempted to track that back to its source but I wasn't able to keep the device for long enough. I blacked out in fact. Merlin's hypothesis was that the Eye was linked to another artifact."
"Moire spent considerable time on Pattern related things, and at a guess, many of her agents died due to that. Moire does not fully inform her disciples. Loreena would have known to be cautious and gather what information she could." Celina offers her opinions without shades of emotion clogging her appraisal. "The bit about hanging on the wall in Moins room is rather exciting. And tells us that Moire has missed many important clues about Pattern events."
She turns her gaze on Conner, excitement simmers in her tonal shift, "So.... what if that artifact linkage is to the other item that was likely present at the creation of Pattern? Could we get a glimpse of the Sapphire's location from the Eye?"
"I don't know." Conner replies simply. "I have scryed for people and for places but never for an item no matter how Real." Conner replies. "Accuracy of the scrying is also dependent on a clear mental image of the object of the scrying. I am also leery of using the Eye in the vicinity of Moire. Still, it may be worth the attempt." Conner reaches into an inner pocket of his vest and pulls out the Eye. He passes it to Celina glass side down. "Before that though, why don't you give me your assessment of this from a mirror user's perspective."
Celina starts to say something as Conner slips the mirror towards her, but his words stop her. She nods once.
Celina does not take the mirror immediately. Conner sees her staring at it first. She senses for the Llaya coiled within. Then she passes her hand about the Eye still in his grip, defining the Eye or tracing its edges within inches of the actual item. Her movements are extremely slow and very even, not ritualistic, but almost a caress.
It has, she can sense, the kind of Realness that a person or a real object has.
She takes it then, sliding it across the top of her bare thigh, face down. She examines it for its Mirror geometry, seeking any flaws, and all its edges without engaging the surface of it. Legend notes that mirrors may be tricked out with a minor surface compliment connected to the major obvious surface. She checks for this deception.
It is smooth like the facet of an expertly-cut gemstone. Celina does not think the hand of a craftsperson ever touched this face.
Nothing surprising to this point, Celina leans down and kisses the back of the Eye. She tests if there is some sentient reaction to her touch. Is it cool like a Trump?
It isn't cool like a trump, nor is it sentient. She is convinced that there is more to the mirror than she can see and hold, but she doesn't know why she thinks that.
Finally, she moves the mirror into a user position, but turned away from Conner, to guard him. She examines the lines and power of the Eye from an acute angle with her mirror skill. Attacks from Mirrors usually must respect the geometry at right angle to the surface. She does not believe the Eye is hostile, but she must be cautious.
She does not try to scry.
Celina’s first observation is that the mirror has a bluish tinge to it. It’s subtle, and very hard to notice in the water, but as a skilled mirror user, she sees that she is not seeing a perfect image. The second is the sorcerous connection to the Mirror is exactly that. Her ordered mirror magic conflicts directly with the sorcerous power of the mirror and each is lessened.
Celina thinks that using it as a practitioner of the reflecting arts would be counterproductive. It would be worse to fight this than to use any other glass for mirror magic, and the results would be poorer.
Conner will notice intrigue slowly replacing caution in Celina's features.
"This is not what I expected from your descriptions," Celina begins. "Brennan may be right that this was once alive, but the mind it may have had is asleep or locked down." She turns it flat again and passes it back to Conner.
Conner accepts the Eye and returns it to its carrying case.
"It is a device of Sorcery, not mirror. It seems to be formed from a pure ideal. I cannot say that it was ever crafted by hand. The shape is too perfect---particularly the back side. It might be interesting to do some precision measurements to see if there is any asymmetry to it. There is also some sort of expanded dimension to it, as if the Eye here is part of a great Beast elsewhere. The connection might lead to the affine? This could explain the mathematical rear surface, as we see something that only exists as a magical connection."
Celina looks at Conner, "In point of fact, the Eye is not a good medium for mirror work. The chaos within it is strong enough to nullify much of what I might try. I withdraw the suggestion that this could be connected to the Sapphire. You understand?"
"Curious, isn't it?" Conner nods. "The greatest mirror of Rebman legend has nothing to do with mirrors as you know it. Celina, who is considered the founder of Mirror work? Is it attributed to Moins or another?"
"I have been curious regards the same," Celina answers promptly, "and it seems to trace back through Llewella and Moire to Moins and those she taught. Also note that mirror craft can be enhanced and abetted by those who do not understand the work, as we saw with the Paris mirror Moire instructed be built. Mirror compliments Pattern."
"Intriguing isn't it?" Conner muses. "The Eye and the tradition of trial by magic indicate a Chaosian even sorcerous tradition in the founding of Rebma yet out of it comes a new Ordered power unknown elsewhere." Conner grins. "So knowing what you now know about the Eye, how would you go about protecting yourself from it with Mirror work?"
Celina weaves the water a bit with her fingers. Her hands describe a dance in three dimensions. "I'm not sure I'd do it that way. Sorcery would be likely more efficient. However, you have reasons for asking, so.... I think I would be most wary of the undetectable aspect of the Eye's sorcery. So I would build a mirror beacon where the geometries worked against concentration, draining the will of the scrying person. Usually this would not be portable, because you'd craft the geometry to provide a safe zone for your own mirror work in a room, while anyone trying to observe the room would have to deal with the harsh beacon."
Celina looks at Conner. "Basically, I'm describing a 'murk the water' scenario. Mirror would not directly try to oppose the stealthy observation, but the observation might be ....painful. Then you could conduct business with some surety."
"Valeria once used a circle of mirrors to trap the Eye." Conner replies. "I was unable to to break the connection until she let it be broken. As we now know that mirror and sorcery do not mix, I find myself curious if this was a Ordered trap against my Chaosian mirror, or if the mirrors were merely props for a sorcerous trap. I will admit that while I asked about how a mirror worker would guard against the Eye, I am really more interested in how I would undo their precautions."
"Ah, Conner, if only we had time to make a roster of test cases. We could further the art of scrying quite a lot." Celina laces her hands and sets her chin balanced upon them. "With the Eye, I think you would have trouble with Mirror precautions. The device itself does not have the concepts and you do not yet have the mirror geometries. My practical advice would be scry locations with the Eye, get into position to look at the people you wish to observe. This may put you outside of protective geometries. You were stuck because you went right to the defended place. If you knew Valeria was in a certain area or building, it seems the Eye might be able to walk you close enough to view things without centering on the defended target."
Celina shrugs. "Use the flexibility of sorcery in the moment. Mirror requires advanced fortification." She looks to see if that advice is more helpful.
Conner nods. "Improvising is what we do best." Conner sighs out a spray of bubbles. "So then to the future. Do you think it wise for me to trek into Nedra once more in search of the other end of Brennan's tale?"
Celina thinks on that quite a while, then offers, "Well, as your cousin, I'd advise a follow up on the twin Heirophants and make sure they are dealing with their internal business. If we could heal the rift even a little, it would centralize authority and put another obstacle in for anyone trying that attack route. Diplomacy is more your forte than mine."
Conner nods. "I can but try. This hunt for the agents of the Dark Mother does require our attention."
Celina looks at him. "And as queen, you are too valuable to me to put you right into the gap in our defense. Rather let us mirror the problem: how would we make the use of Nedra a trap where we could tear the attackers to bits? Assume they are sending a force that way, provide for long distance oversight of it, build some hidden deterrents that would make the cost too high. For it seems to me a battle in the area of the Dame of Tritons might suddenly remind her of why Rebma agreed to a truce. I'd rather the battle was started by someone else."
"That actually gets at the heart of why another journey may be necessary. Nedra is a big black box with very little detail. I can't plan traps, countermeasures or observation without knowing the lay of the land. That means either exploratory missions on our end, or depending on enlightened self-interest on the part of the Tritons and the Dragon to guard our flank." Conner runs a hand through his hair. "The best we could do on our end would be constant observation of the kelp forest to monitor what enters and exits."
Conner pauses for a moment. "Based on the Heirophant of Nedra's description, traveling deeper into the kelp forest takes you into zones more and more Chaotic until you meet the Dragon herself at the heart of things. Inferring from Brennan's intelligence would indicate that the same would be true passing out of Nedra on the other side until you were elsewhere. If traveling through Nedra requires traveling through the Dragon's domain, that might be enough deterrent right here. But if it can be skirted or if the Dragon could be enticed into a bargain?" Conner shrugs. "I think is says much that whether it was Moire or Dara that raised this force it got sent at Benedict and not at us. It could mean it was a path of least resistance as much as a higher priority target."
Celina shifts to face Conner. "Yes. Nedra is a mystery. Let us examine and understand what it can teach us. However, most of what you have said is that Nedra belongs to the Dragon more than us. I agree that it is a deterrent, perhaps a large one."
"To be willing to face Benedict, instead of a young queen of Rebma, by sneaking through the Kelp? Well, that seems good for us. We are thinking alike in this. As long as we control the route from Nedra to Rebma, and understand how to make it a painful route to hurt us, I think that is good enough. However, I like the idea of a monitor that is refreshed so it is not a thankless task. We could also speak to our Tritons about patrols. For certainly, I'd like to know more about the Dark Mother cult. It would seem that if the cult was going to attack us in force, it would also come from Nedra.
"We could discuss recommendations from you for a special troop, or entitlement, to keep quality people involved in the monitoring tasks."
"If the deserted outpost we found is any indication, whoever was formerly posted there took the posting as a punishment or a waste of time to be taken seriously." Conner nods. "My main concern about using Tritons is the whole worry about a fraction of them being subverted by this Dark Mother cult." Conner frowns slightly. "I need to speak with Teukros. He was there when Khela summoned these Tritons to her banner. I think we need to know more about that."
Celina nods, "That's good. I'd like to be part of that conversation. I know many of the city Tritons but I haven't spent the time with the Tritons who rallied to Khela, or served her since her childhood. That's wrong. I feel I should speak to as many of them as possible, even if it is just to have them know my voice and understand my care for the old oath. Where the honor of the paxblade is concerned, you are First Speaker. So tell me if you'd rather do this without me."
"They are bound by oath to sword and scepter. Let's talk with him together." Conner replies and goes to find a swimmer to send out a request for Teukros to attend them.
Teukros arrives, and swims into the presence of Celina and Conner.
He is still not very talkative, but perhaps moreso than many tritons. "Your Majesty. General."
Celina nods, "Well met, Teukros." She smiles and lets Conner take the lead.
"Thank you for coming Teukros." Conner nods. "We need some information about the Sons of the Dragon from the Kelplands that rallied to Queen Khela's call. What can you tell me about how and where you met them?"
Even for a Triton he seems stoic. "They moved freely in and out of the city, because no one noticed the difference between any of us. I met them in the Temple, when I was a mere porwigle."
Celina nods, noting to herself that a recitation of the life cycle of a Triton would be a good thing to memorize. "Were these Tritons carrying news from the Kelp, or acting as messengers? Or was it just common for the Kelp Tritons to mingle because they would not be noticed?"
"I do not know, Majesty. I was young." He seems inclined to leave it at then, but then adds. "It has never been common."
Celina gives Conner a look that clearly says 'not common = good'.
"So how did Khela meet these Sons of the Dragon?" Conner asks.
"I passed her request to the temple and they arranged it." He seems to be really making an effort to remember to speak. "It was suggested by me when she had recovered the token."
Conner furrows his brow. "Did she or you ever visit the Kelp Beds of Nedra?" Conner asks.
He makes the slow undulating movement that is the nearest a 17 foot long fish-man has to a nod. "I have. Not on her behalf, directly. I was invited. To witness of my life with her."
Conner perks up a bit at that. "Who invited you?" Conner asks.
Celina watches and learns the body language and social adaptation of the Triton. She enfolds calm and is attentive to nuance. She keys her sense of connections to the give and take between Conner and Teukros.
Teukros once again turns his neck. "I do not know. The request was relayed through the Temple. I testified to an audience of priests. A single monk was my interlocutor. No others spoke, nor did that seem unusual. We are not talkative even amongst ourselves."
Celina nods once and holds her questions. Conner certainly will see the temple normally has had a good communication system in place. What has changed to upset the Nedra Heirophant, could it be Huon's attack prompted additional changes in Nedra?
"What was your testimony to the priests?" Conner asks. There was no place for fancy rhetoric here after all.
Teukros takes a moment to gather his thoughts. "I answered the monk's questions. I told him of Khela and the Lady of the Neapward Banks. I told him of Cassia and Livinia, who were pushed from the stair for daring to favor our liberty. I told him of Martin and Jerod. I told him that Khela had the paxblade, and could be persuaded to break with the past.
"As the Hierophant instructed me, I told him that the temple would support a reconciliation."
Conner nods at that. "What message were you given to return with?" He asks.
Celina leans forward just a bit. This is more interesting than she expected.
"I was told that the Dragon did not disapprove," Teukros replies. "but that each son must chose as he felt the Mother wished him to choose."
He pauses, and adds. "The temple, of course, followed the Mother-Dragon's will."
Conner says nothing for a long moment and then asks, "What do you know of the Cult of the Dark Mother?"
Teukros slashes the tip of his tail, but soon calms it. "It was a perversion, and does not reflect the true will of the Dragon or her sons." He pauses, as is his wont. "Some say it comes from above the waves. None who belong to it are ever taken alive."
Celina eyes Conner with a Significant (tm) Look.
"Teukros, when I visited the Kelp Forest of Nedra, I was granted an audience with the Hierophant. I told him my tale of having a Triton ask for me at Khela's camp before our raid on Rebma to convince your brothers to join us. The Hierophant said that it was a false prophecy and that the Cult of the Dark Mother must be active among the Sons here in Rebma. Have you or others seen any sign of this?"
Teukros seems surprised by this. “I would have guessed it was from the darkest interior kelp-forest, General. Dark Tritions thrive in the Dark, not the light. But if The Hierophant said those things, they must be so. The city, so close to the surface and the light, is not the Dark One’s place."
"Agreed, Teukros, and we must work to keep it so." Conner nods. "I do not want to think that any that came from Nedra to aid us might be working against us in secret but we must allow for the possibility. I ask you to be our eyes and ears among your fellows. Talk about this with those you trust. If the Cult is here, we must find them and tell Rebma's Hierophant so that they can be dealt with."
Celina nods once. "Thank you for your honor of the Oath, Teukros." Celina looks to Conner to see if he needs more from the Triton.
Conner allows Teukros to leave. "It is a shame Tritons are too large for spying. I can't imagine interrogating one that didn't want to talk." He comments wryly. "As interesting as all of that was, I don't think it got us anywhere is deciding what to do next."
"It gave me two things I did not have before the interview," Celina relaxes and laces her hands. "It gave me further appreciation for how deftly you communicate with Otherkin, and it put in my mind that we are seeing the edges of a plot within the balance between Order and Chaos." Celina goes on, "Who benefits if the ages old oaths between Rebma and the Mother of Tritons are weakened? Benefits if the Sapphire Throne is overturned by battle and rage against the honor and service of the Tritons? Set aside Gateway or other powerful factions that do not hope to have a long enough view of Order and Chaos. Would the transport of Dark Tritons, say out of shadow, be possible for Gateway? Only, I think, with the utmost incentives from a larger player."
Celina suggests an answer, "It would be one of the Hundred Families inside Rebma itself---unlikely--- or it would be Family hoping to walk more easily into a shattered Rebma filled with strife. Except Family as we know is desperate for holding things together after war. And with a different Queen on the throne, the Hundred would be fairly exposed if they continued to use distasteful pawns like Dark Tritons. But who would not be exposed? And who would not be known to be Family? And who might find shadow paths to allow heretics to gather arms, or misuse doctrine, and yet not tip off the Nedra Temple or the Rebma Temple to the slow poison in the waters of the Dragon Oath? Family. Not the Family we know, but the Family we have yet to acknowledge or define. The Sons of Klybese, who must have something to do with our blood." Celina nods at Conner allowing him to stretch and investigate her conjecture as he wishes.
Conner mulls this over for a moment. "It is too tempting to take two unknowns and make one the cause of the other." Conner opines. "Though it would not surprise me if Family was at the root cause of all this. Besides, if we take the story told to Brennan somewhat at face value then we have the known quantities of Moire and Dara somehow involved is this hazy area of dreams and waves. Still, there must be shadow paths in Nedra that need finding. While I was a guest of the Dey of Longtides in the Land of Peace, I was told a tale of a marid that traded with the Tritons and what I only now realized is the most intriguing part of the story is that the Trtion sought out the marid. That implies shadow travel or a ubiquity of water spirits heretofore unknown."
Celina nods slowly. "Yes access and travel is key. I agree. Well, you are right about the temptation of unity. Family fills my thoughts these nights. Perhaps the Marid know something of the paths of the Dark Tritons?"
"I would have to travel to the Land of Peace to find out." Conner replies. "More to point though, the Marid's sound much like the monks in terms of trading information. Were I to seek answers from them, it would likely get back to them somehow. This is why I keep coming back to Nedra and seeking paths in Shadow as Brennan did."
Celina looks at Conner for a moment. She sighs. "Conner, I shall agree. But Brita is gone now and, as with Brennan, there is no Trump I can give you. However, you have the Eye. Tell me what campaign you would plan to undertake."
"As much as I suspect that travel to Nedra will be necessary eventually, I am loathe to return without something to offer the Hierophant there as a pressing reason." Conner says at last. "So I suggest a visit to the Land of Peace with a visit to the Marids. Thalia knew to find them for information. One of their number found the Tritons and another traveled with one of Bleys's agents. I keep coming back to the notion that the Land of Peace is connected to Shadow through more than Bleys's association with the place. I think that bears investigating. But I will need to bring information to trade or power to bargain with. Something tempting that won't weaken our position. That is the tricky bit. The last time I traded a rough family tree to them for information. Fortunately, my own knowledge was incomplete at the time. Several family member were omitted. I think they should remain so."
"So what if you told them more specific packages of information that may even benefit us?" Celina counts on fingertips, "There is Moire's abandonment of the throne. Offers of alliance might come if knowledge of an old queen fled the throne were known? There is your alliance with a Pattern Sword. You don't need to tell them her name."
"Well with her on my hip, I can hardly hide the last one." Conner smiles. "My worry is leaving behind a perception of weakness. Will the tale of Moire's abandonment prompt others to target the fledgling Queen? Still, I cannot predict the unforeseen. Circular logic will only make me dizzy."
"Then tell me what you know of the Land of Peace's hierarchy and legends of leaders," Celina responds. "For I think if you couch the legend of Khela's reinforcement of the abandoned city, speak of Llewella's defense, your own perspective of battle, and then neatly avoid the Pattern Room Crisis, or Pattern's judgement of Khela while explaining that the new Queen perished from her wounds gained while taking on the mantle, and having been so wise and humble to have prepared a successor.... they will but love your version of events."
Few would pay the woman heed, dressed in plain clothing weaving her way through the markets - a merchant, undoubtedly. Maybe a messenger or noble's servant. Someone with purpose and haste in their step. One of a hundred faces noticed and immediately forgotten.
It's a guise Silhouette has worn many times before in Shadow, one she is comfortable with.
Nor does she travel unprepared, having spoken with Lamell, confirming the possible dangerous of this venture. One person already missing for asking the right questions in the wrong way. The stilettos at her hip were an obvious deterrent, yet certainly expected of someone carrying coin or valuables on their person.
But it was the Unseen that comfort her the most. The spring-blade nestling against her wrist, cool metal on flesh. Her dark corset that appeared knit from normal fabric, yet tempered by magic to resist any 'misfortunes.' The collection of tools - mundane and arcane - concealed in the weave of her cloak, in case she encountered non-human obstacles.
Her only regret is leaving her new 'pets' behind. They could have been most... useful. But, as Celina stated, her Purpose was not Blood. At least, not yet.
She crosses the street toward a large building - where a gathering of men in servant's uniforms milled around in front of an open gate. Ignoring them, as they ignored her, she strides through the gate and into the garage beyond. Several covered sedans and larger litters rest there, waiting to be used.
Silhouette enters the building through the side entrance, searching out the largest office. Again, her confidence marks her as someone who belongs there, even if her face is unfamiliar. When she finds the manager's office, she slips inside and closes the door behind her.
The manager is a lanky, tall woman, cursed with a mannish face. She glances up from her desk, mouth working soundlessly.
"Greetings," Silhouette says, sitting down across from her. "I believe you might assist me in a question I have. And I am certain that said assistance will benefit you as well. Illumination will cost you nothing. Ignorance will cost you much. Please nod, if you understand."
The woman nods, still scowling. "I am jealous of my reputation for discretion, ma'am. A good reputation is worth far more than a single profitable transaction, and a far-seeing woman might reject what others would leap upon." She pauses, and looks down at her desk.
"You may ask, but assume that if it is about my clientele, I value them more than you."
"Answer truthfully, and you shall have more clientele than you know what to do with," Silhouette says softly.
She steeples her fingers, silently summoning her heightened perceptions - studying the woman's pulse and visual accessing cues for falsehoods. "Recently, Lady Lorenna left Rebma in quite a hurry. Someone arranged her transport. Who contacted you? And what was the final destination of that transport?"
The woman laughs harshly and looks at Silhouette more closely. “Is this an official inquiry from the palace then? Speak more plainly and I will give you what little help I can offer.”
Silhouette cocks her head, "It is an 'unofficial' inquiry, as it allows me far more... latitude during the investigation." She leans forward, resisting the growing urge to open the smug woman's throat and let the light in. Barely.
Instead, she smiles softly. "Lady Lorenna fled from her estate. I wish to know how it was arranged and by whom. And to where she was taken, be it inside or outside the city. I doubt such an arrangement would be easily forgotten."
The woman nods. "Almost certainly not. It was arranged by her sénéchal, and my lads only dropped it off. It's normal for someone renting a carriage for an extended trip to use their own staff. I don't really have boys to spare. This business needs carriages, but it succeeds or fails on having good porters. You can ask my lads, but it's unlikely they know anything."
She pauses, and her lower lip slowly slides out as she thinks.
"You'd be best to ask why it was allowed out the gate at all, if the Palace did not wish that to happen."
Silhouette relaxes slightly. "Indeed. Has the carriage been returned, by chance." It's doubtful, but she'd be remiss in not asking.
She doesn't quite shake her head. "It has not. Should I send word to the palace when it is returned?"
The woman smiles, thinking Silhouette may be about to leave.
"No. On the unlikely chance it does, send one of your trusted men to me directly," Silhouette says, providing the woman with her shop's address. "And, if you hear anything else that might be of interest, there is coin in it - monetary and political."
She rises from her chair, "I will direct my clientele your way, in compensation for your generous nature today." She places a tidy sum of coin before her. "We shall speak again, I'm sure."
"Thank you, Lady," the woman replies. "We are loyal servants of the crown." It's unclear who the 'we' is. Perhaps she has a daughter.
When Ossian is done with the war council, he goes back to his rom, washes his face, and then pulls out the Silhouette sketch. He looks at it for a few seconds, smiling, before attempting the contact.
Dressed in a dark corset and cloak, Silhouette appears to him - a shadowed alley way behind her. Beyond the liquid gloom, a rather unsavory section of Rebma.
She pulls back the hood enough to reveal her exotic features. "How may I serve you, Ossian."
Ossian smiles "By spying on the Klybesians, I guess. How long will you be in Rebma?"
"Until you require me, cousin," she replies with a sly smile. "I can come to you whenever you wish it. My current mission is secondary to the Klybesian threat."
Ossian looks genuinely moved by this. "We might want to talk to Tomat, the monk, before leaving. Otherwise I'm set, I think."
Silhouette nods lightly, "He accompanied Cousin Signy when she arrived here. I believe she left him in the Queen's care when she departed. Do you wish to join me, so we might approach Celina together?"
Ossian smiles. "I will dress for getting wet, then. Back in a minute."
When Ossian calls again he is dressed after slightly outdated Rebman fashion, bare-chested. Sil might note that he is not very muscular for an Amberite.
When he steps through he says "I will try not to tear the fabric of the multiverse this time."
Silhouette's fingers linger in his hand, a wry smirk on her hooded face. "Why stop now, my dear? Creation could use a good tearing, I think."
Ossian grins, lighty stroking Silhouettes fingers with his thumb.
She stares at him for a moment, "I found your absence... unpleasant."
"I will take that as a compliment. I think we will enjoy this.
"What time is it here?"
"Midday," she says. "The Queen should still be available."
She pulls back her hood, dispelling the illusion of her being a lowly merchant. "And forgive the garb and armament. I'm hunting. But my quarry can wait, for now."
Extending her arm, "Do you know the city, or shall I lead?"
"I have been here, but I don't know it well, so please" he says as he takes her arm.
"Would it be rude to ask what you are hunting?"
"The most dangerous prey," she says plainly. "Family."
She turns them away from the darkened coral passages and back into the streets filled with people and bio-luminescence. "One of our cousins slipped away during Rebma's Interregnum. She like has information vital to the Queen. Though, I suspect she is beyond our reach now, if not already consumed."
Silhouette smiles, "How was your trip?"
Ossian grins again "It was grand. I got to see Jerod smash a monastery with his powers. He really is much more of an artist than he would confess to." he frowns "The added grief of Reid's death does give it sophistication.
"Although I would have liked to catch more monks."
"You need to use better bait next time," Silhouette says plainly. They walk for a moment before the hint of a smirk curls the corners of her lips.
"Jerod and I do not see eye-to-eye, but I respect his skills. And that is enough."
She brushes her fingers over Ossian's hand, smiling nervously. "I promised your father that I would protect you. I doubt he believes I can do so, but it is a promise I shall keep."
Ossian frowns for a second. "That's ... thoughtful of him. Maybe I should be grateful that he cares. I am grateful that he asked you, though.
"We should probably identify our strengths and weaknesses, so we know what will be dangerous to us.
"Have you any weapon against sorcery?"
Silhouette considers this as they turn onto the main road toward the palace. "I am a Preceptor, Ossian, and thus skilled in forms of sorcery. I know defensive arcane arts, as well as offensive. However, I prefer to counter sorcery through technology. Better to kill a witch at a distance."
"Good that we have several options." Ossian nods. "The reason I ask is that the monks had at least one fairly competent sorceror. I was able to slow him down, using Pattern, but not satisfactory.
"Of course, Trumps are my forte, but they are hard to use in a fight."
"Ah, but they allow for easier movement. And freedom of movement is key to military success," Silhouette says.
"How, may I ask, did you utilize your Pattern talents against him?"
"I changed reality to make it less susceptible to sorcery." Ossian grins. "We actually have to control that I do not crash your technology if I use Pattern."
He frowns. "Do you have any items you could show me?"
Silhouette nods, "Of course. We can go to my shop, if you like. I have several items there, including some improved rifles. Although, I would prefer that remain between you and I."
Ossian's eyes shine. "But of course."
She alters their course, heading toward the upper markets. "Can Pattern be used to strengthen certain facets of Reality? Ever since I walked the Pattern, I've wondered if I could incorporate its influence into my designs."
Ossian smiles. "It can, but it might also make the design more susceptible to changes in Reality.
"There are ways to really incorporate the Pattern in things, I guess, as with the Pattern blades. But the cost of that is very high.
"Did you have anything specific in mind?"
"My various Mechanika," Silhouette says. "At the moment, they're limited in scope and range. If they were imbued with higher functions - reasoning, thought - as well as the ability to traverse Shadow without tedious paradigm adjustments, well... the possibilities are absolutely delicious."
Ossian frowns. "That sounds well beyond my capabilities, at least. But I imagine there are parts that can be manufactured only in special environments."
They turn a corner into a peaceful square, featuring expensive shops and restaurants. She leads them toward one with a green door and a large glass window. Just beyond the window, dresses of exquisite design are displayed - scintillating spectacles that are more flesh than fabric. There's an airlock beyond the green door, allowing them to return to the world of Air; The shop itself is a wide, open space populated with further wonders. "My shop," she explains.
Silhouette leads them to the desert-warm second floor, "And this is my home. Please makes yourself comfortable. I have a man's robe, if you'd prefer to remove your wet clothing."
"I'd love to." Ossian says. "How are your machines powered? I think that is the most critical part."
Silhouette briefly leaves the room, returning with a long robe. "Here you are," she says, smiling. She's changed into a flowing gown of gold and green - her hair tied back to dry.
"The heart, if you will, of my Mechanika are their accumulators. A chamber that produces either a thermodynamic or electrochemical effect to power the creature's clockwork innards," Silhouette explains, walking over to her workbench. Sitting there is a bronze aquatic creature out of some primordial nightmare - all teeth and violence. Its glass eyes flick toward her, as if weighing whether she is predator or prey.
"For Rebma, I've had to create a methane-powered accumulator. The creature utilizes the gasses from rotting matter to power itself, as well as provide buoyancy. Far too many kinks to work out yet."
Ossian takes the robe, goes behind a chair with a solid back, turns his back to Silhouette and undresses. Then he puts on the robe.
He turns around again, smiling "Ah. I imagine the accumulators are the critical part when shadow shifting. Unless protected by some kind of strange sorcery, they could easily stop working. It is so easy to slip into a Shadow where chemistry works differently.
"I know from mixing paint."
"There are arcane aspects to them," Silhouette says. "Although, with my new perceptions, I may be able to attune them correctly to compensate for more subtle Shadow-shifts. However, this is not always intuitive. I've noticed there are hidden rules in some Shadows. Rebma for example. Forms of combustion that should work, do not. My rifles operate perfectly, yet high explosives seem... suppressed. Vexing, to say the least."
She goes to the kitchen to make them some tea. "Might that be the influence of the Family?"
Ossian laughs. "Of the little I have heard from the kings, they seem to design their kingdoms exactly so that rifles do not work."
Ossian examines the machines some more. He obviously is good with his hands, but not very experienced with mechanics. After a while he is satisfied. "Now I at least have an idea what not to do when shadow shifting."
The Machine clicks and whirs softly as it is examined. In truth, it does not appear as if it should move at all - let alone be tracking him with its unsettling eyes.
Silhouette returns with two cups of green tea - offering one to Ossian. "If required, I can develop weapons to fit most paradigms. From Antiquity to modern day arms. I expect we'll be requiring both personal and siege level weaponry?"
Ossian gladly accepts a cup of tea. He seems more interested in how the light is reflected in the tea surface than the taste of the tea. "Personal weapons for sure. But you never know. It's probably wise to have heavy weapons available also.
"First we investigate that hospital, and look for Dr. Chew."
"I'll craft a body pistol for you. Best for close quarters and concealment," Silhouette says, studying him. The edges of her forest-shadow eyes crinkle, a hint of anxiety.
"Will you be staying at the castle?" she asks, another question behind the words.
Ossian looks at her with a slightly sly smile. "If I got an invitation to stay somewhere else, I might take it."
Silhouette smiles, relieved. "Well then, please consider yourself invited to remain with me. I promise I do not snore."
Ossian smiles back. "I'll be delighted to."
Silhouette touches his hand, returning the smile. "Then it is settled. Consider this your home." Her hand lingers for a moment, then drifts away.
"Please feel free to utilize my spare draft table, as well as the art supplies, should you require them."
She walks over to the kitchen area, calling back. "When would you like to travel to the castle, if at all? I can simply send a messenger to Celina."
Ossian laughs. "We should talk with that monk, and I bet Celina would be disappointed if I didn't at least say 'Hi' when I am here. So really, whenever fits you."
Ossian looks at the art supplies, humming to himself "I never gave you a Trump of me, did I?"
Silhouette smiles softly, nodding. "You provided me a sketch. I still have it. Cherish it. I did not wish to expend its power lightly."
She goes to her work bench, picking up a wax-tablet. She quickly jots down several lines of text. "I'll have my assistant take this to the castle. I'll return briefly."
She exits the room, returning some moments later empty-handed.
"You have an assistant? I never bothered. It's hard to find anyone who can mix the right colors."
He smiles "I'll make a full Trump for you whenever there is enough time. I have been doing sketches for a long time now."
How is the lighting in the room?
The lighting is bright and warm, undoubtedly to allow for Silhouette's finer work.
Silhouette will notice how Ossian unpacks his Trumps and holds some of them in different angles, as if to see how the colors are changed by the light.
She shrugs lightly, "She provides me an air of sophistication, apparently. She's dutiful, pleasant, and keeps her tongue. But, in truth, I could tie my messages to a surly cod and expect the same result."
Drifting over to the kitchen, she begins rummaging around, collecting ingredients for a light supper. "I expect we'll be called to the castle at breakfast. So, I suggest we retire not long after dinner."
"That sounds good to me. I left Paris late." Ossian unpacks the Trump sketch of the control room in Greenwood. Does it look intact?
"I do have a probably unsafe Trump entry possibility for Greenwood. I wonder if we should use it, or use it for surprises."
Silhouette looks up from her chopping, "Indeed? It may come in useful when we travel. They are undoubtedly expecting us to do...something. Taking them by surprise would be to our advantage."
She cocks her head, "Can you make Trumps of various locations? Say this room?"
Ossian smiles. "Yes, but I have to know the place well to be able to do it quickly. And I would not make one of a place in Rebma without asking the queen first. It could be used to transport an army."
From Silhouette's expression, Ossian may as well have just recited the greatest love poem in Creation. She stares at him for a moment, eyes sparkling like polished gems. "You can transport an entire army via Trump? To a location you've attuned yourself to? My, my that is a delicious concept."
She returns to cooking, "If the entrance to Greenwood is dangerous, perhaps we should hire - or commandeer - some troops? A small unit with specialized skills. Unless you believe we should keep this incursion as small as possible."
"We would have to train them of course. On how to be transported via Trump. " Ossian says "I was not thinking of invading Greenwood, but it is a possibility. But I'd rather catch Chew than frighten him away with an army."
"True," Silhouette says. "Yet, even if we do not utilize them against Greenwood, it might be appropriate to have a strike team trained in Trump movement. This operation will require a scalpel, as much as an army."
"A strike team sounds good. Too bad Jovian is gone. You would have liked him. Do you have any source of recruits? There are plenty in Shadow."
Silhouette nods, "The Broken Swords are an excellent unit. I've employed them on several times to fulfill the Grand Design. Finding them, however, may prove difficult. Their home Shadow moves."
She continues her food preparation, dipping her finger into the boiling sauce. It should scald her - badly - but, instead, she remains unharmed... tasting it and nodding in satisfaction. "Does one use their control of the Pattern to find loyal troops? Or is it easier to seek out Shadows with suitable wealth, in exchange for services? Forgive my ignorance. I've not explored my skills yet."
"I know other people have found troops. Corwin and Bleys for instance. I would bet their Pattern skills are better than ours," Ossian adds. "I think finding wealth is easier, but loyal troops are of course better."
"True enough," she replies. "If we could find some religious zealots, it would make life easier for us. They serve for the pleasure of serving."
She collects their plates and crosses the room, "Dinner is ready... I didn't know if you react well to spice, so kept it mild."
"Let's see what we can get in Shadow then" Ossian says. "I do eat spicy food, but I suspect we are not working on the same scale here." he adds, grinning.
What is served?
The dish is a white fish with bell peppers and tomato served over braised seaweed. There were two bowls of rice, as well. Despite her claims, it smells aromatic and has some real fire.
Silhouette sits down and serves him some iced tea. "When I was in the slave quarters, some nights they'd feed us this collection of fermented vegetables. Cabbage, cucumbers, scallions, and such with peppers and ginger. Most of the children couldn't eat more than a few bites, so I'd eat their portions." She smirks, "The juice was an excellent de-greaser for cleaning dragon innards. Just never get it on bare skin."
Ossian laughs and tastes the food slowly and carefully. "This is nice, I like it," he says, with a hint of tears in his eyes.
She grins over her glass.
"I guess raising an army would take some time. Which is always precious. But getting troops might be important enough. Do we go for a small company?"
"A small company of specialists," Silhouette says. "Broken into squads for various operations. Mercenaries or conscripts. Both have their benefits."
Ossian nods. "I'll try to Pattern up some conscripts. That's a fun challenge."
Silhouette smiles softly, "Challenges are always welcome. They test who and what we are. So says the Grand Design. I am glad I may share this challenge with you."
The Palace is emerald glass and silver mirrors and often appears larger inside than it could be.
Ossian and Silhouette present themselves at the north gate. The guard expects them and the honor escort is two women who walk the visitors through galleries where slow waters hold plenty of comings and goings even at this hour.
Silhouette recognizes the path and it is confirmed when the Diplomacy Gallery is the destination. The escort take up positions to either side of the metal door. The door is already partly open, Rebma's queen is within, arranging the setting on a low quartz table. Nearby carts are laden with breakfast foods. One cart even holds a few meats grilled in the landstyle.
Celina is at the low quartz table transferring food from a cart to the places set, and with a soft word and smile she sends away the young pages attending the three carts. She wears scaled trunks and bracers in a deep blue that is also black in shadow. Her green hair is braided up in a formal style.
The Queen meets Ossian and Silhouette halfway to the table. "How nice to have you in Rebma, Cousins. Well met. It is not proper for the Monk Tomat to attend our breaking of fast. He will come at call. What is it you hope to task him with? You may know I have a personal interest in his well-being."
The pages leave and seal the door.
Silhouette drifts into the room like a placid lion fish - her dress trailing a colorful forest of transparent fabrics. Beneath the flowing cloth, the curves of her body are delicate shadow and suggestion. Her fingers are casually laced with Ossian's, yet hinting at some unspoken intimacy. She offers the Queen a tender smile, dipping her head in reverent submission. "My Queen," she says, "Thank you for accepting our petition with such short notice. Might I say you are exquisite today."
Her fingers slide from Ossian's grip, "I shall let my companion explain his Purpose with the monk."
Ossian is not yet fully accustomed to having all this water around him, so his normally graceful movements are a bit hampered. He is dressed slightly old fashioned, barechested with loose trousers. No ornaments, except for the paint stains on his hands that never seem to wash off, not even here.
He bows. "Greetings... Queen. We only wish to ask Tomat some questions about his former associates. The Klybesians have, as you probably know stepped over way too many lines."
Celina gestures to the food. "Please make yourselves at home." She seats herself near the table, choosing a drift position with her feet lightly trailing the slick floor. She settles a bit more as she reaches for plates but does not seem to sink further. "You will find the monk is responsive but his leadership cut him off from the body of the Order once he was associated with the debt tasks for the Smith. Ask him about his term with the Order, but you may be very disappointed with what he can tell you. And of course, the Order knows that he knows. It is long since understood by the Klybesians that Signy took him along. They have opportunity to anticipate his comments and adjust."
Silhouette nods lightly, "Agreed. However, there may be aspects of their operations that cannot be altered quickly or efficiently." Her samplings from the breakfast table are frugal, leaving most of her plate bare, her attention more on Celina than the food.
"May I ask... what limits are set upon our 'discussion' with him?" Her gaze darkens to impenetrable shadows.
Celina turns her full attention on Silhouette. "The Klybesian Cult is serious family business, so you must needs do whatever your oath to King Random holds you to. Tomat is under my personal protection, as are you and Ossian by coming here at my invitation. I have not thought to set limits that are more constrained than these obvious protocols. So I'm exceedingly curious about your question. As I said, I think you will find the Monk responsive." She looks at Ossian to see if he also has some hidden agenda not hinted in the request for an audience. "That does not mean your questions should give Tomat information about the Family that makes him useful for the Klybesians to 'reacquire and interrogate'. Talk to me plainly, what do you think to make of this interview?"
"We will not force him in any way," Ossian says. "Our goal is to be as well prepared as possible before going after them. I want to know about their chapterhouses, their modes of transportation and communication. If he knows anything about their command structure, although that probably has changed, I believe it is useful. Also we are especially hunting one individual among the monks. Tomat might know something there."
Silhouette nods lightly, offering a placid smile. "I also wish to know about their military capabilities, as well as their arcane." Her gaze never drifts from Celina, "If he is responsive, so much the better. But we all have our secrets. And our sense of Duty. He may be holding back information for either reason."
A dip of her head, "He is under your protection, and I shall not cause you offense. Indeed... that protection might work in our favor, if he is unwilling to talk."
Celina nods a few times. "I judge these things within Tomat's ability to assist. He was a believer, a sorcerer, and a promising addition to their Order. For my part, I ask that you have three ways out of combat with the Klybesians for every one way you devise to engage them. I want you both to come back." Celina puts down her plate. "So previously you spoke of Chew and his agenda and you thought about talking to Merlin or Martin." She looks at Ossian now. "Have you gathered any additional information? Anything else to share? I can have Tomat brought here within a very short time."
Ossian shakes his head and lower his voice. "Some. Corwin actually got really talkative. The Klybesians seems to have been involved in some kind of power struggle between his and Caine's mothers. And Caine has been friendly with them in the past.
"But we still are speculating on who lay that path from their chapterhouse to Greenwood. Circumstance says Brand, but we have no hints of proof."
Celina thinks about what's been shared and when Silhouette adds nothing more, she says, "It seems to me that you are overlooking a vital piece of leverage then. Unless Caine is second on your list of suspects after Brand, I'd think you want his comments and suggestions for leverage on the Klybesians. Family business has changed a lot since the days when those mothers drove politics. Perhaps Caine even knows this Chew if you can furnish a description. And by the way, I'd like that description as well."
"I will not accuse Caine of being involved, but Corwin and Flora did see that as a possibility." Ossian says grimly. "But I think they will ask him about that. We will definitely consider that advice.
"As for Chew, I can paint you a portrait as soon as we get back to Silhouette's. "
Celina gets up and goes to the door. She steps into the hall and requests that Tomat attend her. Then she returns to the table. She nods at Ossian and Silhouette.
"I was not suggesting you accuse Caine of anything at all. However, due to his age and experience with the Klybesians, he might have a point of view or useful information, and he is only twenty miles from here." She smiles, "I've sent for the monk. And I thank you for the offer of the portrait of Chew. What else can I help you with?"
Silhouette glances over at Ossian, and then back. "I do have information for you on another matter, if you wish to speak before the monk's arrival. We can speak freely." Her hand touches Ossian's shoulder, as if confirming her trust in him.
Celina nods to proceed and gives a very open smile.
Silhouette nods, "Lady Lorenna has fled the city with the help of her seneschal. Arrangements were made to provide transport directly to her home. The carriage in question has not been returned. It is more than likely her own people were used as porters. At this point, this carriage has not been returned. My contact will tell me if this unlikely events occurs.
"That said, it is apparent that she or her seneschal arranged for her passage outside of the city. That means she likely has one or more agents amongst your door guards."
She touches Ossian's shoulder again, "Ossian contacted me before I could pursue the investigation further. I thought it more prudent to assist him."
A page returns to say that Tomat is on his way.
"It is not terribly mysterious to exit Rebma," Celina responds taking a few steps to close with Silhouette. "And disguise accounts for leaving the city without the Watch knowing who you really are. Loreena is as accomplished or more so than you, Silhouette, in the ways of deception. You should think in terms of her being an equal. I shall make inquiry of the Watch rosters based on timing to see if there was likely any bribes of guards or Watch."
Celina asks, "Do you know which Gate she left the city from? Or is your source supposing she left because the carriage did not return? If I was Loreena, I'd feel one up on Celina if I made it look like I fled and then waited for her complacency to give me a choice opening. Loreena knows the Palace, the City, and the weak minds of Court better than I do."
Celina adds, "I'm not saying you've done a bad job, just that your report makes me think there is a much deeper play being made. Where Loreena is concerned, I must be wary."
"Of course," Silhouette says. "Without further information, I cannot make a true assessment of her actions. I'd intended to inquire with the gate guards regarding the movements of the carriage, and if the occupant was indeed Loreena. I also intend to search her premises. If I can obtain an sympathetic connection to her, I may also be able to track her with my pets."
She dips her head, "And yes, Loreena's public presentation of the carriage likely indicates it was a ruse. Whether she left by other means, or remains sequestered within Rebma remains to be determined."
"Is Jerod aware of her escape?" Ossian asks.
"Loreena is 'at large', not escaped," Celina says gently. "She was never arrested or confined. She had been invited to the Court for a swearing of oaths. She and some few other people decided not to attend. Clearly, in this case, because she does not intend to be loyal to this throne. So her titles are forfeit, but not her property." She nods once, "It is a good question, Ossian. I have not spoken to Jerod so I cannot say that he does know. He certainly will not be surprised. Since you and Silhouette are headed into shadow, please be sure to tell him if you cross paths."
Silhouette nods lightly. "May I ask what politic ramifications could arise should she contest her forfeiture? And would your mother support her?" She glances over at Ossian, "And would Jerod assist her? Are they close?"
"Jerod sees his sisters as very capable of taking care of themselves. And it seems they are." Ossian says "As for his loyalties, I don't think they have been tested on that scale."
He then grins "But I think he would say that you should not trust me on matters regarding him. " Or his sisters. he thinks.
At about this point a page announces the arrival of Brother Tomat and he is brought in. He looks round to see who is present before presenting himself to Celina and bowing. "What does your Majesty require from me?"
Celina welcomes Tomat and points to the table of food. "Brother Tomat, it would be of service to Rebma if you would answer questions about the Order for my cousins here. We will try not to hold you overlong, but they are headed into peril and your words might go a long way to guarding them. I think Lady Signy would approve." She nods to Ossian and Silhouette.
"I am at your Majesty's service." Tomat does not move to take any of the food, but instead looks to Ossian and Silhouette. "I've answered questions before, and will be happy to again, though I don't know what I can answer that I didn't tell Lord Edan and Lady Signy."
Ossian smiles "We will surely ask some of the same questions again. I would start with a question dear to me. Do you know a brother Chew?"
Silhouette remains silent through the question, her impartial eyes studying Tomat with clinical interest.
"I believe I know of the man you speak of, though not under that name. Among the brethren, he is known as Brother Hannibal. He is powerful, though he does not hold an abbacy or work for the Turcopolier. I'm not sure I've ever met him, but I've seen references to him in many documents, and copied him on certain reports."
"That is him, alright." Ossian says.
Celina asks, "If you can, give me an idea why Hannibal is powerful within the Order if he is not in a favored position within the ranks. Is it his magic, his insight, or something else? How does he appear in the documents?"
"Brother Hannibal is without a formal portfolio, but he knows many secrets, which are a sort of power of their own. I would guess he reports to someone who reports to the Grand Master of our Order, if not the Grand Master himself. He is addressed and referred to as Brother, but he moves between projects over time. He has dealt with several members of the royal family over time. His loyalty has never been in doubt," which comment is tinged with a certain amount of resentment.
"So, he is the power behind the Divine, as it were?" Silhouette says softly.
Tomat shakes his head in the negative "Brother Hannibal is a power. But not the power. He isn't the only agent of that sort, though I don't think there are many. He is old, though: older than he appears. Not immortal, but time sits lightly on him, and has since I joined the brethren, even accounting for the differences in time between the realms."
Celina nods once in consideration. Her eyes shift to Ossian, inviting him to continue to satisfy his inquiries.
"I wonder if that agelessness is only sorcery or something else. So, this Grand Master. Has anyone ever met or seen him?" Ossian asks.
"I haven't, but others have. Not just Brother Hannibal, either," Tomat adds by way of anticipating the next question. "I know there were others who held the office before him. It's even said, according to legend, that one of our early Grand Masters was a Prince of Amber. I'm not sure I believe that one, though."
"What would be the ramifications if he would fall from grace... Is there someone to step in to replace him?" Silhouette says before sipping her drink.
Celina holds her attention on Tomat. She alters her posture in reinforcement of his own, making it clear that she is sympathetic and a resource if he needs one.
Ossian is also quiet.
"Brother Hannibal? It would be a blow, but no brother is allowed to be completely indispensable. It's a tenet of the Order. We can only earn uniqueness when the Order succeeds in its goal. And if he were to die, and it took a dozen men to replace him, then a dozen brothers would be found." A cynical smile crosses Tomat's face. "Or that's what we're told, anyway. I expect that most of it is true, but not all."
Celina says, "If Most of your learning with them is True, then you are a treasure to us, and your aid is vital. They have risked much, and often, in order to stay close with Amber's secrets. If the Grandmaster follows an old course, or plan laid down by an exiled or lost royal of Amber, well, we shall see if that fares well for them now. It appears they have a hand in the death of Reid. That's not acceptable. So we shall journey to them and put many questions to them." Celina looks at Ossian and Silhouette so they know they may continue to question Tomat. She also asks Tomat, "Say something about how the Grandmaster position is filled, and how many times has there been a new one? It seems the Order has a long history."
Last modified: 22 May 2015
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.