Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Raven and Jerod go out through the door and up the stairs to the graveyard. There are signs that someone has been here, recently, and there are a few outbuildings nearby. In the middle distance, Jerod and Raven can see the monastery in the moonlight. It looks peaceful.
It's a good ways back, across land that seems to be good for nothing. There's no sign of anyone here now.
[OOC: Raven's going to be inclined to see what can be found here before hiking back to the monastery, but if there's an argument for doing it the other way around based on how Jerod plans to bring the house down, by all means consider it made and we'll go bug the monk.]
Jerod is inclined to do the search of their current location quickly if something is available that merits immediate collection. Otherwise, he'd go get the monk and use him as a "native guide" to point out what's available, then drag him along to complete the search of the various spots before deciding how to obliterate the place.
The buildings include a stonemason's hut, someone's living quarters (empty), and a stable. The stalls are empty, but it's clear from the freshness of the dung that someone was here recently, possibly today. There's a door out the back and there are tracks in the dust. A number of people rode away from here.
Raven eyes the tracks. "You think that lad we got left is going to know where they went, or are we going to have to try following that mess?"
"He might know if there is anything in the immediate vicinity that would warrant travel." Jerod replies. "I do hope it's far away and they're riding full tilt, because there won't be much left of this place when I get done with it. Let's go get him."
The walk back is uneventful. The monk is breathing, and awake, and attempts and fails to rise when he spots Jerod and Raven coming. He's breathing heavily from the exertion. He either needs a lot of rest, or medical attention.
Jerod looks him over, efficiently, if not necessarily very delicately to determine his condition, and how likely he is to survive, both with and without medical attention.
Modern medical attention would be important. He's got broken ribs. It's somewhat surprising that he's made it this far.
"There are two ways out of there." Jerod motions to the interior of the monastery as he checks out the monk. "One is further up to the tombs, the other away into the broom closet and out into the universe."
"Which way did Chew take?"
The look Jerod has on his face when he asks the question is one that doesn't invite confidence for someone who might decide to be heroic, or lie, or lie heroically.
Raven stands a few steps back - well within hearing range, but in the sort of position that suggests that should the monk be faking it, he won't be getting far.
The man breathes, struggling with the wetness of it. "Father Chew? He had his own way. Came. Came and went by magic. I saw it, once." The man coughs, and it's flecked with blood.
Jerod is silent for a moment, thoughts working. This monk before him is a Klybesian, one that works in ways the appear to pose a threat to what he holds dear. So why does he feel pity for him.
"That's what you were trained for." Eric says.
"To be a good king? To know what your people feel and know how to respond to it?" Jerod replies silently to the ghost. "He's not one of us."
"No, but he is a person, who lives or dies by your choice...either deliberately or by inaction. You have to feel that for everyone you meet, not just the ones you claim to like. I made sure you learned that lesson." says the ghost before fading.
"Yes, you made sure of that." Jerod says to himself, before speaking aloud to monk. "You will tell me about you saw, while my friend obtains some supplies."
He looks at Raven, motioning to an outcropping a few hundred meters away. "Go look there, under some loose rocks. You're going to find a medical kit that I'm absolutely sure they would have left here in case of emergencies."
And Jerod is absolutely sure it will be there because he makes sure of it.
Raven replies, "Aye," and heads off to look for the kit.
Raven finds the bag where Jerod described it being, in the ruins of what used to be some sort of gardening shed. The air smells of ozone from the lightning strikes.
The Klybesian shuts his eyes and concentrates on breathing.
Jerod completes his examination of the monk before Raven returns, verifying the symptoms and determining what initial treatment to undertake to treat him. Too many fights, too many wounds, too many deaths and lots of tips from uncles have given Jerod enough experience on what to deal with as serious and what to ignore as trivial when dealing with injuries.
Once the pack arrives, he digs through it, collecting the necessary medications and gear before working to prevent more injury to him as well as stabilizing his condition.
Broken ribs, probably a punctured lung. Modern medicine will have him back on his feet in 2 weeks. Local medicine will bury him in the same timeframe.
"Tell me of how Chew travelled." Jerod says as he works on the monk.
The man winces, and nods. "Magic. He opened his copy of The Rule of Klybus, and disappeared in a flash, like a rainbow."
Raven assists in the first aid as needed, and otherwise just keeps out of the way and ready to hand things over. She eyes the monk sharply at that statement and asks, "Is it normal for you lot to have something in your holy book what does that?"
Jerod nods once, applying a brace sufficient to stabilize the man's spine but not to actually constrict his breathing. He pulls an ampoule from the bag, verifying the painkiller additives before injecting him with it.
The monk looks at Raven, about to answer her, but seems to have trouble getting his breath.
"Cough. It will help." Jerod says, verifying the level of inflammation. "Hold your breath periodically...10 seconds at least. Do several times."
He continues to work, letting the medication take effect, talking as he work.
"I am a Prince of Amber." he says, the title a thing of itself, a constant that resonates wherever it is spoken, and Jerod knows this for real. "I go where I will and do what others can only dream of. And I am not an enemy of the Order."
He looks at the monk. "Not yet." letting the words sink in.
Silence descends as Jerod speaks, letting nothing interfere with his words for this man. "Chew has chosen a path that makes that prospect much more likely. The Order appears engaged in a quest that will make a conflict much more probable. I would prefer that not happen.
"If it does, then there is nowhere that the Order can hide from us. No mountain or forest hidden, no desert extreme, nor cave of the hinterlands. No station or asteroid or planet that is beyond us. And in the end, when we are done, the Order will vanish and we will remain.
"If the Order's path can be altered, that would be good. If it cannot, then the ground will swallow them and their names will vanish upon the mists of the morning...forever.
"I would prefer that not happen..." he says, looking directly at the monk. "...but I will do what I must to protect my Family.
"The Rule of Klybus. Tell me about it. What it looks like, where it comes from."
The monk is struggling to breathe. The drugs are helping, but there's only a short window left where he'll be conscious. "It is the way for our order. Book. We all have them. Came from St. Klybus."
Jerod takes the monk's face in his hands, forcing his awareness onto the monk's. "Where is it?"
Raven doesn't interfere with the question.
The monk's eyes are starting to get a bit glassy. "Mine's in my cell. Copies in Library. You goin' to join th' Order?" He giggles, as if he's said something funny.
Jerod smiles just a little. "I will be sure to give it all the consideration that it is due." he says. "Rest now."
Once the monk drops off, Jerod looks at Raven. "Time for a book reading."
"Books," Raven says. "All the ones in the library were wrote out by hand, but I only looked at a few. Don't know about you, but I ain't exactly sure that they're all going to be the same, and besides, I can't say as how I was looking for cards between the pages." She snorts. "Or pressed posies or anything else."
"If someone's got a trump, and if they're inherent in the books, I'd want to see that." Jerod says. "They're hard to produce, so mass production would be quite a trick. I'm leaning towards magic."
He looks at the monk again. "He'll be out for a bit. I'll decide what to do with him when we're done. Let's go get some books."
Raven nods. "Looked like they kept the ones that weren't in use all together in the library," she comments. "Ought to make it faster to go through them."
And it's off to search books...
The library has quite a few copies of the Rule of St. Klybus. Almost all are hand-copied, some have additional sections ("The Life of St. Klybus", "Stories of the Martyrs", "The Life of The Blessed One"), but not all. Some look to be copied by children learning their letters, others are illuminated manuscripts and quite beautiful. Each has a name on the first page, and some of the names seem to belong to the same person, but at different times.
There are probably hundreds. None seem to have a trump in them, although several are illustrated. There are some other books, but in some ways, the library seems to be a companion-place to the graveyard.
"Hold a moment." Jerod says to Raven, before summoning the Pattern to his vision. He will be checking to see if there is anything in the area that would qualify as being "real", or having a layer of reality greater than one would find given the relative strength of this Shadow.
Raven's ideas on what to do when someone tells her to hold on and they seem to be getting ready to do something are much the same as her ideas on what to do when someone tells her, "Here, hold this," and "Watch this."
She stops what she's doing and moves out of the way.
Jerod doesn't detect anything unusual. It's unlikely that any of these books has a trump in it. Jerod may be able to detect the slight difference that indicates the start of the shadow-path Ossian took, but only because he knows it's there.
He shakes his head after a moment. "Nothing. If Chew's got one, he takes it with him."
"All right," Raven agrees. "Not sure how you know that, but the ones that I was looking at earlier, they had death dates in them, so I was figuring most of these go to the folks in graves over on the hill. In these monks' place, I'd've taken the interesting stuff with me if the place was coming down around my ears, anyway."
"That would be my thought also." Jerod says. "I'm thinking also that if there's anything valuable still left, it will take quite awhile to sift through in order to find it. So either Chew disappeared by means of his book, in which case we don't know where he is. Or else he went down the Shadow path and Ossian is in pursuit, in which case I'll leave that to him."
"So are we headed back, bothering the dead some more, or setting up camp?" Raven asks. "Since I ain't exactly going anywhere without you."
"One more sweep, for luck." Jerod says. "Then I'll decide about our friend. If I take him along for medical care, or leave him here when the meteors impact."
Raven nods. "All right. We ought to burn all these books that we ain't taking, while we're making a point. Probably ain't more than being childish, but this lot seem to be slippery enough that if there is something here and we missed it, it won't hurt to be sure they can't get it back even if they dig the place out."
Jerod starts to scan, checking the library, the office, and the other stable parts of the building on the precipice. The main thing he finds is that this complex probably couldn’t sustain itself here without some kind of regular external contact. Other than that, he finds some minor documentation that makes him think that Chew was not the Abbot here and also that the Abbot was only moderately important to the greater Klybesian structure.
He does not discover more trumps, shadow-paths, or people.
The sifting proves what Jerod had originally considered...an outpost only, used either for a specific goal of the Order or to extend their influence in the area for some unidentified reason. The isolated nature of the area had originally led him to the former idea.
Once this is completed, Jerod will see about collecting Raven and the monk. Assuming Raven has nothing else to take care of, Jerod will see to arranging some transport for them to depart (assuming the monk is still out cold).
Raven is ready to go when Jerod is.
The monk remains happily (for him) out cold.
Jerod will be arranging for horse transport first to get himself, Raven and the monk out of the area. He needs to arrange for sufficient events to occur such that he'll know probability will be certain to nuke the monastery out of existence beyond any chance of recovery.
Jerod sifts his trumps as he sits astride his horse, having checked the monk is strapped, still out cold, to the travois behind the second animal. He decides for the moment that drugs are good when dealing with injured people being transported in ways that might not be quite as comfortable for them when they are conscious, even as he sifts the cards looking for a suitable family member whose location would be capable of healing the monk. Part of him knows the monk doesn't know much and probably won't be a valued asset so letting him die would be the easier course of action.
That however doesn't sit right with him, for reasons he does not understand as yet.
He puts that thought aside as he pulls out the card for Random but does not activate it yet. Having travelled a sufficient distance to have the monastery just on the horizon, Jerod focuses for a moment, pushing and pulling the strands of probability, letting the alignments fit into place until everything is set. An earthquake, a direct meteor impact, all in place, and barring another initiate to prevent it, Jerod is certain once they depart, the resultant cataclysm will leave literally nothing to remain. All it needs is the trigger of Jerod's departure to set everything into motion.
Raven hangs back just a little, keeping a weather eye on the monk. Not that she thinks he's going anywhere, but just in case someone needs to get to him in a hurry.
Random’s countenance appears almost instantly. He looks bemused. “Jerod! Your timing is impeccable. Do you need a hand back to Xanadu?” He turns away, without letting the connection close, and talks to someone else. “Lute lessons are cancelled, due to affairs of state. Work on your scales."
"That would be quite acceptable, your Majesty." Jerod replies. "We have a guest that requires medical attention and then a guard. One of the monks of the Order."
Random doesn’t seem to be speaking to Jerod at the moment. "Barker, carry my lute, please. Daisy, please go tell the first captain you find that we have two prisoners that we’ll need cells for. Ossian, we’re about to have more company."
“Now, Jerod, that is quite a coincidence. Come through.” He extends his hand.
If Random is outside, then Jerod will arrange to pass everyone through, animals included. Otherwise he'll indicate to Raven to bring the monk.
Ossian leaves his cousins to climb out of the tomb of bones and heads down through the lab and into the slightly-less macabre corridor where the plaster is made of crushed bones.
[OOC: Does Ossian make any stops before going down the passage? Does he make any preparations? Is he armed? Is the last question too obvious?]
[If Ossian doesn't stop...]
The passageway is as before, leading ... somewhere.
Ossian goes quite slow, noting changes in structure and construction. He is carrying a sword, but not drawn, although prepared to draw it in an instant. He is carefully looking for trade, alarms and sorcery.
In the early part, there are no traps, alarms or other interruptions. The passageway continues along for some distance, the walls still being made of the plaster made from monks' bones. The floor is smooth, as it was in the tunnel and the mortuary behind him.
Ossian reaches a place where the light changes, the temperature of the incandescent bulbs is bluer, and the walls are smoother. Ahead, Ossian sees what's obviously (to him) a concealed camera watching the passageway. He's not in the arc of vision of it, but he will be if he continues on in.
If it is possible, this is what Ossian wants to do, with Pattern manipulation, unless it is out of his league. Ossian figures this is a place where camera burn-in is common, and that this camera suffers from it(like the old screen burn-in). He will then run past the camera, so it won't register him.
Ossian thinks he has succeeded, and runs past the camera. There's a room ahead, which sounds like someone or something may be in it. It may be some sort of mechanical room. There's either someone talking non-stop or there's a radio in the room. Beyond that is a set of stairs going up.
Given the lack of windows and the stairs going up, this is probably attached to some sort of basement.
Ossian sneaks closer, hand on the sword hilt. He wants to hear what the voice is saying before revealing himself.
Ossian comes closer and hears the voices more clearly. It seems to be some sort of political rally or other gathering, and since it's not in the building, it must be some sort of audio or video feed.
Ossian looks through the discolored plastic window in the flimsy door. There's a man inside with his feet on a desk, watching a large monitor showing the speech. A man with a big chin says something jingoistic and every few moments, everyone applauds. It sounds like they're preparing for a war.
The room is, as Ossian guessed, a mechanical room. There are heating and cooling units and an elevator area in the room, as well as bunch of controls. There's only the one occupant. He is wearing a uniform, not a monk's robe.
Ossian quickly steps into the room, sword in one hand, the other hand with a finger to his mouth, signalling "quiet" . He wants to place the swordspoint at the guard's throat.
Ossian slips in almost silently. The man is completely surprised, and stays completely still. He may never have seen live steel, much less had it at his throat.
The room smells of oil and cleaning supplies. Underneath the voices from the monitor, the hum of a working building permeates the room-- the mechanical sounds of the elevator, the sounds of water in various pipes, the air-conditioning system. There are controls on a panel near Ossian's prisoner, and a clipboard on the desk.
Ossian smiles. "From your perspective, I am not entirely sane. Your survival depends on that you answer my questions truthfully." Then he grins playfully.
"Who came through that tunnel before me?"
The man grins back. "Easy, friend. If you want, I'll call for a nurse to help you back to your room. There's only been the archaeology students from the dig down that tunnel since they sealed it off 3 months ago. Did you find that sword down there? I like the engraving on it, can you show it to me?"
Ossian lets his eyes widen, but keeps the sword at the man's throat. "Nurses never quite did it for me, you know. A doctor maybe. Remind me, which hospital is this?"
"Greenwood," the man replies. He reaches very slowly for the sword, not making any sudden moves. "I'll call your doctor, if you like. What's your name, friend?"
"Vengeance." Ossian says and tries to stab the guard through the throat. He will want the blood to flow in a nice spiral pattern around the body.
The man dies artistically, although he smears some of the blood as his falls to the ground. Ossian is alone with the corpse and the television.
Ossian seats himself so that he will see someone coming through the door before that person is able to see him. He then starts sketching the room. (Unless interupted he will spend one hour on this.)
Ossian works quickly and the detail of the controls and knobs and the boiler equipment give him much to work with. The sketch is basically done before Ossian is interrupted. [OOC: Do you mean this to be a trump sketch so you can get back here? Or is it just a visual reference?]
As Ossian is finishing up, he hears a voice from outside the door. "Hey, Swanny, you comin'? Time to clock out, man."
From the outside, someone pushes on the door.
[OOC: you get first reaction. Also, did you just leave Swanny on the floor? Did you draw him in the sketch?]
Ossian jumps close to the door, dagger drawn. He will let the man take one step into the room before Ossian shuts the door behind him, and presses his dagger to the man's throat. "Quiet."
[OOC: Yep, Swanny is on the floor, but Ossian has not drawn him in the sketch yet. The idea was to get preliminary drawings for a Trump sketch, so that he can complete it later in another place.]
The man freezes. He doesn’t talk, although he whimpers once.
In the grainy video screen Ossian can see that he’s staring, bug-eyed, at Swanny.
"Don’t kill me," he whispers. "Please don’t...."
Ossian says: "Cooperate and I will let you live. Stand very still."
The Ossian pulls out Random's Trump with his free hand. It's Ossian. Have a prisoner. Let us through.
Random’s hand comes through the contact and pulls hard at Ossian’s yanking him off his feet and onto a feather bed. The bed is occupied by a lady in waiting, who seems shocked to see Ossian and his prisoner arrive in her bed. Random has his shirt off, and a lute in his free hand.
“I assume you were in a hurry. If not, I apologize for the awkwardness.”
The girl pulls the covers up over her neck and stares wide-eyed at the new people.
Ossian bows to the king and the girl. "Greenwood Hospital. Is the name familiar? I can report as soon as you want me to. Although I suggest we let this chap rest in a cell until we want to ask him questions."
Random grabs his shirt and doublet. “Yes, but let’s have this conversation elsewhere. Bring your prisoner.” He reaches for the door, and then stops.
The king holds up his hand. “Jerod! Your timing is impeccable. Do you need a hand back to Xanadu?” He turns back towards the bed and the girl. “Lute lessons are cancelled, due to affairs of state. Work on your scales.” The girl nods, eyes wide.
Random opens the door and turns to the guards, thrusting his lute at one. “Barker, carry my lute, please. Daisy, please go tell the first captain you find that we have two prisoners that we’ll need cells for. Ossian, we’re about to have more company."
“Now, Jerod, that is quite a coincidence. Come through.” He extends his hand into the hallway.
Ossian waits for his cousin to arrive.
Since his majesty said for them to come through, and since Jerod has no information as to the location they're going to, he brings everyone through.
He's sure that should a trio of horses and their riders appear in the King's linen closet, it will no doubt be quite amusing...though why the King would be taking calls in the linen closet is a matter best left for another day.
Once she's through, Raven will take care of getting beings and beasts out of the way on the receiving end to make sure there's room enough for everyone.
Random stands in the middle of the chaos, letting it work itself out.
When things are quiet enough that people are able to listen to him for instructions, Random stands on a chair. “Before we discuss matters, it seems we have tasks to take care of. Raven, take the horses to the stables. Horses, go with Raven. Jerod, take your prisoner to Gerard. Barker, take my lute to the instrument room. Ossian, take your new friend to a cell.
“It’s been two days since you all left, in case you’re wondering. OK, after, everyone meet me in the dining room. Lute lessons leave me hungry."
Ossian gets a nod as well as a "look-see" over his prisoner to see what he collected.
Ossian shrugs. The prisoner looks like some ordinary blue-collar guy (technician?).
Since Random didn't provide a time limit for "when to meet", Jerod will undertake to get his monk to Gerard, with suitable explanations to Gerard as to how he came into possession of an unconscious, drugged, and injured monk. While he'd love to talk to Gerard on a couple of topics, duty requires him to be elsewhere though he will make sure to ask after how things are going with Gerard and if there is anything that he might require.
Gerard wants to know if the important thing is to get him well, or to get him talking. Other than that, he’s set.
As he has insufficient time to check up on everyone, he only takes enough time to sure that Carina is okay. After that, it's off to see the wizard, as it were.
Carina is fine. The Queen is more demanding than the Queens of Rebma ever were, and it’s very strange to be in this castle. She’s not used to being treated as a man.
Ossian will send a note to Jasmine and her mother to check that everything is ok. Then he'll go to dinner.
A page takes the note and asks if he should deliver it in the morning or tonight.
Raven takes care of getting the horses back to the stable and getting whatever gear they had squared away, and then heads for the dining room.
A stableman and several grooms rush out to help get the horses out of the castle. While this seems an uncommon occurrence, it’s not, apparently, unheard of.
Vere arrives at the tent to see Julian shuffling a card back into his Trump deck and Robin and the firelizards gone. He looks up at Vere's arrival and gestures him in, waiting until the flap is closed to speak again. "Robin has gone to Fiona, to be examined for whatever is distressing her. Fiona closed the connection once Robin was through, so I believe you were not invited." He closes the box and turns his attention to Vere.
"Which is just as well, as I believe we have some matters to discuss regarding Robin's conduct."
"Yes, sir," Vere says, voice and face impassive. Julian has not asked him to sit, so he remains standing.
Julian is also still standing; once he puts the cards away, he settles in a camp chair and gestures to Vere to join him. The firelilly is close by under its hurricane lamp.
“Vere. What can you tell me," Julian asks, "about Robin's agreement, or discussion, or what you will, with King Random, on the topic of her role and duty in this family, and particularly as regards her absence at the family council in Paris some time ago?"
Vere takes a seat. "Nothing directly as regards the latter, sir," he answers carefully. "I am under the impression that she discussed the matter of her non-attendance at the Paris meeting with the king before my return to Xanadu. When I did return, the two of us discussed Robin's occasional lapses in communication with the king, and its origin in her Black Road experience, with an emphasis on her failure to follow through on a task she had been given due to her losing track of time, and a brief mention of the Paris situation. We suggested that until Robin has recovered from the effects of whatever happened to her it would be advantageous for the two of us to continue operating together. I have a focus that Robin currently lacks, and she acts as a balance to my tendency to over analyze situations before taking action. His majesty agreed to this, with the stipulation that if he needs to send us on separate missions for the good of the realm he will of course do so."
"I'll have to have a word with him about that." Julian dismisses the King with those words, and turns his attention back to something more important. "Do you believe that Robin requires that kind of support on a full-time basis? How will that serve her in terms of dealing with family in the long term, in your opinion? She's going to have enough difficulty with the firelizards in due time."
Vere tilts his head to one side and pauses a moment before answering. "I cannot answer that question with complete certainty," he says, "As I did not know her before the Black Road, and do not know how much she has changed. But my sense of the situation is that she does not truthfully require my support. We overstated the case to the King, to ensure that he would accept our request. I believe that I can ease Robin's interactions with the Family, and smooth her dealings with them, and hopefully she will learn more diplomacy from me than she currently bothers to use."
He smiles very slightly. "But Robin is clever, even if she seldom bothers to use that cleverness in a political manner. Without my presence she would still learn to deal with the Family, given time and reason."
He shrugs slightly. "That latter is the key, I think. With our abilities and longevity, it is hard for someone still young to see a reason to do something we dislike, without sufficient incentive."
Julian arches an eyebrow in a manner Vere has come to recognize. "Give yourself a few more centuries of dealing with the family. I imagine you'll learn the reasons." He offers Vere a thin smile. "I have clearly made an error in the raising of Robin. I thought that she could manage well enough in court for her needs. Now the need has increased and her ability to manage herself has decreased. I do not intend for her to be so weak that she cannot deal with her kindred without an aid. The firelizards are one thing: she's linked to them now, for good and ill--and there will be plenty of both. But you--" Julian focuses on Vere with a certain intensity "--are a separate matter."
Vere blinks, once, and shows no other emotion. His voice is flat as he replies, "The possibility that I am a hindrance to her recovery has occurred to me. I do not believe it to be the case. I believe that we are aiding one another, and that I can be an aid to her recovery, rather than a crutch that she will grow to rely upon. However, I also recognize that I may be too close to the situation to make an unbiased judgement upon this matter."
"There are some in our family who might prefer a companion who is more biddable than she otherwise would be for reasons of dependency. If I believed you were one such, we would be having a very different discussion." Julian doesn't hasten to reassure Vere with these words; he doesn't hasten to reassure anyone, Vere suspects.
Vere nods once, an almost imperceptibly small movement.
In what appears to be a change of subject, Julian asks, "Have you and your father discussed our sister, Robin's mother?"
"Not in any detail," Vere replies.
Julian frowns. "She was--very headstrong and very powerful. Dad tried to control her, to no avail, and the tightness of the control he exerted meant that when she went wild, she went very wild. There's some very ugly history in the Isles--or was--from those days. Random is too young to recall much of this, but many of your other aunts and uncles are not.
"The point is that her mother had to exercise self-restraint, and failed, and it killed her. Solange has had the same problem, and now she's banished for defying Random in a foolhardy and provocative way. And Robin failed to turn up at the family meeting, without leave. Robin is perceived as weak, unreliable, and the daughter of her defiant mother, who came close to destroying shadows in her greed. Whatever happened to her on the Black Road, Fiona will find a way to mend the metaphysics." He pauses there to fix Vere with his gaze again. "But equally bad, in its own way, will be her dependence on anyone else to rein in what much of the rest of the family will perceive as her willfulness."
Vere leans forward, his gaze not leaving Julian's. "Are you more concerned with actual dependence, or the appearance of dependence?"
"Both," says Julian with a trace of impatience. "If you appear strong, you're less likely to be provoked. If you are strong, you can withstand whatever attacks and provocations are thrown your way. Dependence is a weakness and Robin should neither be weak nor be seen to be so: particularly because of the heritage she carries. And consider the feelings the rest of the family has about Brand's sons before you tell me that no longer matters. They have been accepted, but not with a wholly open heart."
Vere nods. "I merely wished to ascertain the exact nature of your concerns. Before I address the issue, may I ask if this conversation is intended to give me an opportunity to assuage your concerns, or whether you have already made up your mind about this matter and are leading up to telling me what you have decided?"
Julian sits back, slightly, and the trace of a smile appears around the corners of his mouth. "Far be it from me to disabuse you of that notion. Having said that, the exercise would be useful either way. In any case, it is no longer my sense of the matter that is at issue. Until and unless Fiona returns her here directly, Robin is in Fiona's care. Her opinion of Robin's stability is, therefore, of the most immediate concern."
"Ah," Vere says. He considers that for a moment. "What I have seen of Aunt Fiona leads me to believe that if there is any external cause for Robin's condition she is the best chance available to us to remedy it. Is that your analysis as well, my lord uncle?"
"I would not have sent Robin to her if I believed otherwise. Of our surviving sorcerers, my sister is the most experienced and competent, and least untrustworthy." Julian says this last as if it's a compliment rather than an insult. He turns his hawk eyes on Vere. "You say if there is any external cause. Do you harbor doubt on this point?"
Vere considers for a few moments before answering. "I did not know Robin before her experiences on the Black Road, so I cannot tell how much she has changed, and I have no evidence for how the damage to her came about. I can imagine ways in which the damage could have exacerbated previously existing tendencies, rather than being a reaction to the stress of her experiences." Vere shrugs slightly. "I am expert in spinning theories, Uncle. I can always come up with new and more exotic possibilites. Fo example, Robin's mental difficulties could be caused by some sort of psychic parasite implanted in her mind by a Lord of Chaos."
Julian's eyebrows arch slightly and he looks down his long, aristocratic nose at Vere. "I'm not particularly concerned about that possibility," he allows. "If that were the case, Fiona is certainly the most capable of dealing with it.
"In the meantime, while Fiona is dealing with Robin, and the matter of her health is out of our control, have you decided what you shall be doing?"
"I had not considered it," Vere answers. "I was not expecting to be separated from Robin, and thus have not yet made any definite plans. The king has no pressing assignment for me, although I am certain he could find work for a nephew with time on his hands. There was also the matter of learning more of the life Robin had led, among the Rangers. This was something she had planned on showing me, although I would not presume to request such a thing on my own without encouragement from the Lord Warden."
Julian considers that, giving Vere a slow once-over as if evaluating him, or deciding whether he'd be tasty or worthy of being hunted. "There would be," he says after a moment, "no especial rank and privilege associated with being a Ranger here. Those are the conditions under which Robin was raised among the Rangers."
Vere nods. "Understood," he says. "And I would of course abide by whatever restrictions you see fit to impose within your domain regarding the use of Pattern and Sorcery."
"We have never had a sorcerer among the Rangers in my years as Warden," Julian muses. "But Chaosi are viewed with suspicion and I suspect sorcery would be perceived as an extension of Chaos, or the Green, if it weren't passed off as a royal gift. We took the brunt of the Black Road here, and that when we were thin after Bleys and Corwin invaded. Pattern is a different matter, though it's best used quietly. Though excessive use of either in Arcadia risks drawing draconic attention, or that of the goddesses. I tell you from hard-won personal knowledge that you do not wish to deal with them."
Julian rises from the camp chair and moves to what is clearly some sort of portable cabinet, which he opens. It's a liquor cabinet.
"I led the Brotherhood of the Stag against the creatures of the Black Forest in the Isles," Vere says. "I well remember the fear and hatred that anything reminiscent of Chaos can engender." He remains sitting, watching Julian.
Julian finishes getting out two tumblers and a decanter of whiskey. He pours a couple of fingers into each of the glasses before putting the decanter away and bringing the glasses back to where Vere is sitting. He offers Vere one before sitting back in his own chair.
"Your experience with the Brotherhood will serve you well among the Rangers. Not perfectly, as many of our customs are different, but close enough that you will find it easier to integrate than some of our recruits who came from the city, or the Navy, during the late war. And a Ranger with your skills will be useful against incursions of the Green."
"The Green," Vere says. "I have heard the term, and a few stories of the sort of things it can do. I have also received the impression that it is related to the Dragon. But I confess that I am vague on the details."
"The Green is the name we give to that Real power that emanates from the Dragon of Arcadia. The goddesses of Arcadia and their assorted godling offspring also use it. Those of that descent line are--" Julian pauses and considers his words carefully "--vulnerable to its control. Many of them are drawn to Arcadia and have served as Rangers in the past, but in the current conflict, their affinity for Arcadia is little use to us.
"It's difficult for us to track all of them, though. My son fathered many children in certain of his guises. Nor is ancestral descent from the dragon the only possible manner in which she can achieve control. I believe those of us of royal descent are protected, especially once we have taken the Pattern."
Vere takes a thoughtful sip of the whiskey. "My understanding is that the Dragon is a Lord of Chaos trapped when the Pattern was created and Order was imposed on the Universe. She can neither be freed nor killed without destroying Arden. Is that correct?" A thought occurs to him, "Oh, and I am making the assumption that Robin has already told you what Edan told us about meeting her avatar. I should not make that assumption."
"She delivered a message from Edan; however, any additional perspective you have to offer on the matter would be welcome." Julian takes a drink of his own whiskey, and leaves room for Vere to speak.
"He said that he took a sextant from the Moonriders, which led him to the Dragon. She sleeps, or so at least her avatar, or something claiming to be her avatar, told him. They had tea." Vere smiles slightly. "A logical thing to do when meeting a Great Power, in my opinion. They had conversation, but my impression is that neither revealed very much." He tilts his head slightly. "Edan did say that she offered an alliance, but he found her terms inconvenient. He also said that as he was leaving he heard from her attendants that the White Rider was coming, which he assumed meant yourself."
"That is a name they use for me. I have not encountered the Dragon of late, or we should probably not be having this discussion. My business with the Dragon does not involve its tea-consuming avatars." If Julian's tone were any drier, it would have sucked the liquid from his glass, leaving alcohol dust in its wake. "The Dragon's terms would certainly be inconvenient. He was wise to refuse her. She wears a fair face, but beneath it lies a violent and inhuman horror. One even more inhuman than we ourselves are."
To this, Julian raises his glass and drains it to the dregs.
Vere nods, frowning thoughtfully. "Then either her attendants were mistaken, someone was impersonating you, or they were intentionally decieving Edan. Where Chaos is concerned, I confess that I am at a loss to understand motivation sufficiently to estimate probabilities."
Julian sets his empty glass on the table between himself and Vere. "The Dragon is, as we have been saying, a creature of Chaos. Discerning the details of its thinking, or those of its attendants, is probably beyond us. I do not believe any bound servitor of the Dragon would lie to it. I'm not certain it's even possible," he muses. "The Dragon can wear its own like a glove."
Vere considers this for a few moments before venturing, "The time I spent studying at Madoc led me to believe that even he, who is quite possibly the most Ordered of the Chaos Lords, did not quite understand the distinction we make between possessions, servants, and parts of ourselves."
"Perhaps that is the case, or perhaps the Dragon is merely possessive of its treasures, whether creatures or objects." Julian seems indifferent to which of the particular problems with reality the Dragon. Or perhaps it's simply time to change the subject to something he considers more important. "Do you have any further questions before you join the service of the Rangers?"
Vere tilts his head to one side. "What, exactly, am I comitting to?" he asks. "Is there an oath? Am I obligated to some period of service? If so, then my prior oaths to my father and the king will require me to notify them beforehand."
Julian ponders. "The term of your service to the Rangers can be at will, or at the King's pleasure if you'd rather. That was what we said when Dad assigned any of us to Arden in the old days, and I believe in the traditions. I'll take your word that you will obey Ranger orders while you're in service without a public oath. You're not taking charge of a post or anything that requires official notice. Your position will be, in fact, more like Robin's. If you acquire seniority and trust, it will be in the manner she did: by leading and behaving in a trustworthy manner.
"If you need to speak with Random or Gerard, I have my Trumps."
"I have one of Father," Vere says. "With your permission, I will contact him about this now." He smiles slightly. "Unless Father thinks otherwise, I do not see any reason to bother the King over this matter."
Unless Julian has anything to say at this point, Vere will take out his trump of Gerard and regard it. "Father, it is Vere," he says.
Gerard is sitting in his chair on what appears to Vere to be the balcony of his chamber in the castle in Xanadu. "Aye?" he asks. "Vere, how d'ye fare? How is Robin?"
"We fare well, Father," Vere responds. "The half-troll is dead, and we went from that task to speak with Uncle Julian. I am with him now. Robin has gone from here to consult with Aunt Fiona, and until she returns I thought to serve a while with the Rangers, to learn more of her way of life. The Lord Warden is agreeable, but I thought it best to inform you."
A bit of Gerard's confusion and concern come through the contact. "Aye, I'll be glad to know where ye are, and I'm sure yer work will be good. Is Robin getting worse, that she needed Fiona? That's a strong medicine for any ill."
"Not getting worse," Vere replies. "But not getting better, either. We neither of us wished to just let matters lie, when the underlying cause is still not understood."
"It's good that she's getting help, then." Something of Gerard's care and conflicted feelings continues to leak through until he marshals himself and cuts it off. "If anyone can sort out what happened to her, it'll be Fiona. And I see no harm from you working with Julian, but stay away from the dragons. And I know you've sworn oath not to dally with women, and wouldn't anyhow, but be wary of strange wenches from the forest wearing nothing but leaves and vines who want to be your friend. They're worse than the wenches who get sailors on shore leave drunk and take their last penny."
"I shall take care, Father," Vere replies fondly. "Give Mother my love."
"I'll do that. Let us know what happens with Robin. Yer ma and I do worry about her." Gerard won't offer the indignity of saying he worries about Vere, but that shines through the connection as well.
Vere ends the call and turns his attention back to Julian. "I am at your service, My Lord Uncle," he says.
Julian smiles slightly. "Very good. Let's finish our drink and then you can meet the Rangers you'll be working with."
Vere is in his watchful mode as Needle shows him around and introduces him to the Rangers currently in camp. Any questions Needle has about his level of woodcraft will be answered completely, but without bosting, and without any of the verbosity Vere has sometimes been known to show. Vere has his own questions about the current status of the war with the Deep Green, and any other pressing threats of the moment.
Vere is interested in learning more about the Rangers individually, as people, and in piecing together as much about there overall society as he can. He's also looking for ways in which his own talents can aid them, while doing his best not to seem like either a pushy noble who expects special treatment or a know-it-all outsider. He is approaching them with the idea that they are the experts in their own environment, and that anything that is done in a way that seems strange or unusual to him has some reason behind it.
Ranger hierarchy is both rigid and invisible. On the surface, no ranger 'ranks' another, but invariably each knows his or her place in the chain. This leads to some friction, but for the most part the rangers are all willing to work for whoever Julian and his inner circle give tasks to, and those who cannot, leave. If they can barely get along, they tend to merely spread their territories to be far from each other.
It wasn't always this way, but it's been that way as long as these rangers have known.
The organization is small and not truly suited to man an armed frontier. Some nights, not all ranger posts have rangers at them. They are eyes and hunters and protectors and each is expected to be able to face down the beasts and humans of the forest with no little or no support.
For this war, Julian has recruited from the people who live near his forest, but it's clear who is a ranger and who is not.
Julian often travels with no more than a handful of ranger companions. Here, he has two score, which is a measurable portion of all the rangers.
The rangers here are curious about what Vere can teach them.
Vere is very interested in comparing the woodscraft he learned in the Isles and the Eastern Forest with that of the Rangers, and comparing the plants and beasts of the the world of his birth with those of this Primal Forest. While his operating hypothesis is that the vast majority of his wilderness lore is tranferable, he is sensible enough of the potential differences between realms to pay close attention to anything the rangers have to say that indicates potential differences.
Vere quickly comes to the conclusion that what he knows about rocks and water is the same, that large animals are very similar, and that plants are the most different. He has much to learn about herbalism in this forest, but little to learn about hills and caves.
Still, these differences all have cascading effects. Vere has to learn which fallen leaves can be walked on silently, which plants are eaten by which animals, how to track a person based on how long ago a branch got bent as they passed by, and how not to get downwind of predators.
He anticipates that he will need several years, so that he can learn the land in all seasons. His Dannan skills and knowledge combined with his rate of learning will likely convince others that he's an accomplished woodsman long before he feels himself to be so.
Anything that he knows about woodcraft that they don't he will be happy to teach them, although he is approaching the situation with the assumption that the accumulated knowledge of the rangers will be greater than his own practical knowledge.
Vere's endurance and fire are still better than most rangers. He can teach the new ones much about fighting, especially about fighting woodland creatures like boars or monsters. Or people. Few of the rangers have done much fighting against people.
Vere will be happy to share his knowledge of fighting humans, large beasts, and monsters with the rangers. Unarmed combat, armed combat, improvised weapons and group tactics. He uses that training to learn more about the rangers as well, and to get a better feel for the social dynamics of the group. It's especially interesting that a gathering of this many rangers is an unusual event for them, and Vere watches for the sorts of tensions and social maneuvering that can occur when a group of loners are forced to work more closely than usual.
The accumulated lore of the Rangers is wide and deep, and definitely includes a lot that even a hero trained by the Brotherhood of the Stag doesn't know. It seems to Vere that perhaps the lore of the Brotherhood has been incorporated and adapted, almost as if someone had taken what they considered the best parts of the Brotherhood and used it to mold the Rangers according to their desires.
After some days of camp duty, Vere and Needle are up for a patrol. What kinds of Rangers would Vere like to take with him on patrol into the Deep Green?
Everything Vere has learned about the Rangers convinces him that they work best in small patrols, so he'll keep his to no more than five people. Besides himself and Needle he'd like one Ranger with a great deal of experience with the Deep Green, and another who has impressed Vere with the depth of their knowledge of woodcraft. The team will be rounded out by a relatively inexperienced younger ranger, as missions like this are vital to give them the experience they will need in the future.
There aren't a lot of novices in this camp, just relative novices. Those seem to be the new Rangers who were brought in during the war. The divide between them and the "old" Rangers recruited before the war is clear, even if they seem to be working together under Julian's guidance.
(None of the "new" Rangers have been accepted into Julian's inner guard, despite some losses in Julian's numbers at the far end of the universe. His close followers are all veterans of Chaos, or joined the Rangers prior to the wars.)
Needle suggests Mum for his Deep Green expert, Modal for his woodcraft expert, and, if he wants one of the newcomers, Rain.
Vere is happy to accept Needle's suggestions.
The group assembles the next morning.
Mum is a drop-dead gorgeous fellow; Vere's seen no one quite like him before. He's carrying a heavy pack with what Vere suspects is some extra gear. Modal is an older ranger. His dark hair is streaked with grey in his braids. He and Mum exchange quiet greetings, though from the size of his pack, it's clear he's already consulted with Modal. Rain, the third Ranger, is a tough-looking woman. She clearly didn't get the memo, because her pack isn't as heavy as either Modal's or Mum's.
Needle seems to have gotten some of the memo. His pack is middling heavy.
They look to Vere for a lead and instructions. Needle has made arrangements for horses for them, though sometimes horses are lost on patrol.
Vere greets everyone, and asks Mum to give them a quick briefing on what they can expect in the Deep Green.
The Deep Green is much like the rest of Arden, only more so, as far as the superficial goes. It's bursting with life, full of exotic plants appropriate to the climate and small animal life: a lot of small to medium herbivores. But there's also a sly and, to Mum's mind, vaguely hostile intelligence in the Deep Green. Paths change, so that you can't retrace your steps. If you're trying to maintain quiet, plants and animals will almost conspire to betray your position. If you're trying to go somewhere, it's almost as if the Deep Green will conspire to lead you astray. There are a million small things Mum can show on the way, and he will, but the key is to expect the unexpected.
Oh, and stay together. Splitting up is how you lose people in the Deep Green.
Right, then. Vere emphasizes the "Don't split up" rule, and stresses that we should expect the Deep Green to try to throw things at us that will make it seem reasonable and necessary for someone to go off on their own.
Do not do this.
We will set out, letting Mum lead the way.
Mum advises that Vere and Rain be in the centre, and Modal should take the rear.
It rapidly becomes apparent from the instructions Mum and Needle are giving to Rain that the Rangers expect threats to come from any direction: vertical as well as horizontal, and sometimes from below as much as above. Mum occasionally stops to take leaves from a plant.
They have food with them; Mum takes a rabbit the first evening, but inspects it thoroughly before he roasts it. He explains that there are signs of Green contamination that Vere and and the others should be looking for. (Part of the duty of a Deep Green patrol is to measure the level of infestation. Another piece is to look for demigods.)
As they travel Vere stays alert to every sight, sound, and smell in the forest, as well as more subtle sensations that he could not put a name to, but that make up a complex mosaic of information about his surroundings.
When Mum inspects the rabbit Vere asks questions about the signs of infestation.
Mum says that it’s hard to explain but he’s pretty sure that Vere will know it when he sees it. Especially with Vere being royal and all. The Warden has always had a real sense for Green corruption.
Things that are infested by the Green aren’t really what they were. And they’re certainly not safe or good to eat.
Vere nods, and marks this down mentally as something to watch for.
He also clarifies exactly what they are supposed to do with demigods if the find any...
Observe. Do not make contact unless contacted. Be polite but careful. In this situation, with Vere being royal and all, he’s probably going to be the one any demigods want to talk to. Also any goddeses.
He makes sure Rain isn't around and that he and Vere are working on something alone before he says something about the forest goddesses offering themselves to men, and how Vere should know not to take them up on any such offers.
Vere nods his understanding and agreement. He considers for a few moments, and then asks, "Do they ever combine these offers with mental compulsions or enchantments? I am thinking of various fae who will combine seduction with glamours designed to dampen the critical faculties and inhibitions. For example, appearing as the object of a man's desire, while suppressing his ability to question why that person would be wandering around in the middle of a forest."
Mum hasn't personally experienced such a thing, but he wouldn't be surprised if they tried such a trick. Mum's opinion is that he's not that valuable in terms of putting to stud. But a royal might be different, though. Mum does wonder if the royal gifts like the Warden has won't protect Vere.
Vere makes a quiet noncomittal noise in response to this.
It goes without saying that they set up a guard rotation for the night. Vere will inquire about standard sleeping protocol in a patrol such as this - back in the Isles they would have taken to the trees and made simple night nests while travelling through hostile sections of the Eastern Forest.
It varies. In this terrain hammocks or night nests or whatever you want to call them are probably safe, but deeper in the Green, you might end up with an infested tree trying to do something unpleasant with you while you're sleeping in mid-air. Mum keeps sealed tents overnight against that -- there are things it won't protect you from, but nothing can get at you trivially, at least.
Vere will defer to Mum in this, and in most things to do with travelling through these woods, until and unless he ever feels confidant that he has surpassed the senior ranger's knowledge and judgement.
Mum rousts everyone in the morning, has them all inspect themselves thoroughly and they make their way further into the Deep Green, carefully watching for corruption. It's about halfway through the morning that Vere gets a whiff of something that's wrong: not so much that he can sense it with his usual senses, but more like he feels it in his bones.
At about the same time, Mum has drawn his bow and has an arrow ready to nock. Mum's gesture sets off the others and suddenly everyone in the group is like a bristling porcupine, ready for action.
"How many of you smell it?" Mum asks.
"There is ... something," Vere replies quietly. "Something wrong."
He opens his Third Eye and examines their surroundings.
Vere's third eye is nearly overwhelmed. There is so much life and it all shines. Vere is aware of every plant, every insect, every bird and every drop of water. They move in patterns that look to Vere as if all of Nature were breathing in and breathing out. Vere can't see very far since there is so much life surrounding them, and all of it is green.
"Air De Droit," says Needle, slipping into the Ranger shorthand. The other Rangers as a unit turn to the right and point their bows up into the trees.
"Modal, you're on torch." That Ranger puts down his bow and picks up a half-burned piece of wood from the fire, coaxing it to light.
Mum clucks. "Can't tell if it's in the trees or just the trees. Rain, I need you to pack our gear, on the quiet. We're here to scout, and if it's just a tree, then we mark it and send an assault team."
Needle looks at Vere. "Can you tell anything?"
"Everything," Vere breathes. "All around us. It is all connected, all Green." He shakes his head, as though to clear it, and then tries to focus his attention up into the trees to the right, to see if anything there stands out in any way. If he doesn't spot anything with his third eye after a few seconds he will drop it and use his less esoteric senses.
Needle nods. "It's like that, My Lord. My Grandmother was a sailor. They talk of the Deep Blue the same way we talk of the Deep Green. We're not talking about the shade of the green, but the depth. Like the Ocean. We all have our Mother Carey."
Vere spots something on the branches of the tree. Some sort of giant black cat. When Vere spots it, it moves further back into the trees.
He thinks he could reach it, if he heads up into the branches. The rest of the patrol probably couldn't.
"Feline," Vere says quietly. "Large. Black."
At once all the rangers, even Rain, come to attention. To the extent that they weren't locked and loaded, they are now. "Verde!," says Mum, moving back and to the side. Needle's bow is pointed mostly in the direction of the target, but it's not clear he's tracking it yet. Modal is following his lead with the torch, but neither of them seems to have the instinct. Rain is covering them as best she can from the other side.
After a moment, Modal switches his center of attention so he's covering their back, as it were, along with Rain.
The beast seems to be aware it's being tracked, and moves back into the leaves.
"I will go up after it," Vere says. He waits for a moment to see if anyone has an argument against doing that before he begins to climb.
“Fire!” Mum calls to Vere as he moves to climb up the tree. “You’ll need to burn it to kill it.” He moves to light the arrow he has nocked so he can take a clear shot before Vere gets too close to the retreating cat.
Vere considers that for a moment, then says, "Too dangerous to take fire into the trees. I shall focus on knocking it to the ground, where the rest of you can burn it."
While Vere and Mum are debating, the cat slinks further away. Vere will need to hurry to catch up with it or to have any chance of knocking it from the trees to the ground. Meanwhile, Mum has moved toward Modal and the torch with his arrow, possibly with the idea of shooting a flaming arrow into the cat at some point if needed.
Vere turns away from his companion and climbs the tree quickly, keeping an eye on the cat. He wants to get above it, with several possible avenues to follow towards it depending on which direction it moves, if possible.
The cat is swift and seems to know its way about the trees, as it slides off into the foliage with Vere in climbing pursuit. He is able to keep sight of it and follow because he's an expert in seeing the possible lines of travel in the overground and guessing which the cat will take (usually the one most difficult for Vere to follow). Vere isn't losing the cat, though he might be leaving his ground support behind if he's not careful.
He doesn't think he can catch up with the panther without some special effort, and certainly not without abandoning his team.
Vere briefly considers Sorcery, then instantly dismisses the thought. Instead, he coninues moving after the cat, and concentrates on the certainty that one of the branches the animal is about to move onto is weaker than it appears, and will break under the cat's weight.
The cat makes a screeching noise, different from, but eerily similar to an actual cat as it falls. It hits the ground hard, and heads off downhill. If the terrain here is at all normal, there should be water that way, eventually. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem slowed down. Vere could maintain chase in the trees or follow on the ground. His team is coming up as well, but if he waits for them, he’ll lose the beast.
There’s some blood where it hit the rocks, or at least a brown smudge. If the creature lost that much blood, it’s not in good shape.
Vere makes a long leap to the ground, rolling to absorb the shock as he hits, then springs to his feet. He takes two running steps after the cat, then comes to a stop, shakes his head, and turns, checking to see how far behind his companions are. "Do not get separated," he says quietly to himself, with a small smile on his lips.
The patrol catches up with Vere and, seeing the brown spot on the ground, immediately apply the torch to it. It sputters and smokes and spreads faster than it should, and the immediate need is to stay clear of the fire. Mum warns him against putting it out before the beast is dead, because it’s like the roadside grass on the back road.
Unless the beast is circling back to attack, it’s likely far away by now.
Vere throws a longing glance in the direction the beast took, then turns back to his companions. "I believe that I could have caught up to it," he says, "But I also believe that I made the right decision in not choosing to do so, and separating from the rest of you. It occurs to me that it might well have been trying to lure me away in just that manner."
Mum nods in agreement as the others, who were strung out behind him, catch up. "If it is, it'll be back for another crack at us. At you," he says to Vere.
Once the group is assembled, they report. The brown spot was completely burned out, so no taint was allowed to set into the ground. None of the others were injured by anything falling from the tree or as they tried to keep up with Vere and Mum. Mum has to ask the same question of Vere: any injuries, any broken skin? It sounds like a formality but Vere can tell from his tone that the question is serious, if routine.
"No injuries," Vere reports. "I never closed with it." He turns, examining their surroundings. "If it does come back, might we arrange for me to be in an apparently exposed position, to lure it into an ambush which we can turn back upon it?"
Mum says, "That's not a bad idea. If it's gone off to report, there'll be another attack." The rest of them nod, Rain a half-beat later than the others, and more out of loyalty to the shared understanding of Rangers than out of any personal knowledge if Vere is any judge. "Is it more important to deal with the cat or to complete the patrol circuit?" he continues, directing the question at Vere, whom he clearly considers in charge of setting mission priorities for the group.
Vere considers the question for a few moments before answering. "Completing the circuit takes priority," he finally decides. "It is always possible that the cat was sent as a distraction to prevent us discovering something more important. Taking down the cat remains a high priority if we get the chance, but we will not allow it to distract us from completing the patrol."
He falls silent for a few moments again, listening to the life around him, the rhythms and flows of it, so that any changes will be all the more obvious.
"Suggestions on ways to lure it, and/or any reinforcements it might be bringing, into an unwise attack while we travel?" he asks.
Mum laughs. “It’s hard to come up with something that isn’t unwise on our part, without stopping the patrol. When the war was at its worst, it would come at us in human form, actually looking like people we knew who they’d killed. Back then, if someone got separated from a patrol, they had to prove they weren’t a greenie by holding their arm over the fire.
“But the thing is, they can change shape, too. That cat might infiltrate that ash sapling over there, or a salmon if it suited it. We’ve encountered their scout, as it were. The rest of the patrol is to see if they’ve moved closer to us. There’s a river that was stopping them the last time I was here, but there also weren’t no cats on this side.”
Needle nods. “They don’t die when they should. I’ve heard stories. Decapitated greenies fighting you with their hair.”
Rain looks alarmed by this story. Modal nods. “Heard that one, mysel’. Twas a horse they used. It attacked Ro— Lady Robin.” Modal sniffs the air. "We should move. There’s a campsite at the end of today’s walk, if we don’t dawdle. If they plan to attack, they’ll attack. We ain’t more vulnerable moving as staying here."
Vere nods. "Logical," he says. "They are not living creatures in the way that we understand it. Do not assume they are dead just because they look dead. Until they are burnt, consider an apparent corpse, a body part, or blood to be an active threat."
He gives a decisive nob. "Move out," he says.
The group forms up in its previous orientation--it's hard to get anything but a file line in the Green, which are deep enough forest that they sometimes have to hack a new trail where one used to be even when the growth isn't apparently contaminated. As the group moves on, the sun slowly starts to sink lower in the sky. Afte a while of hacking and marching, Mum pulls Vere aside to put a question to him: at this rate the group won't make the campsite by sundown. Would Vere rather stop soon and pick a potentially defensible campsite, or press on after dark?
Vere looks around, judging the defensibility of the local area, as he asks, "How long do you estimate it would take us to reach the campsite if we do push on? I am inclined to think that traveling through this underbrush in the dark would be too hazardous, but it might be worth risking it for a short period."
Mum ponders the question. "I'd say maybe half to three-quarters of a glass after sundown, assuming it doesn't get any more difficult to make our way there--and that you can hold the path, if you don't mind my saying so." Needle nods to the last bit, as does Modal. Rain looks a touch confused for a moment, but then her eyes light with understanding as she catches on to what Mum means.
Vere nods. "Describe the campsite to me, and give me as close an estimate as possible of its distance and direction from here, and I shall not lose the way. A very short time at higher risk against a night in a location with defensibility issues seems a reasonable gamble."
Vere listens carefully to the description of where they are heading, asks a few questions about the terrain between, then leads them as quickly as possible via what seems to him to be the best route, adjusting probability as they travel to give as clear and trouble free a journey as possible until they reach the campsite.
The trip passes without event, which is to say no creatures of the Green attack them en route. Vere can feel a sort of pressure on him as he manipulates probability here. It's not sorcerous per se, but his use of the Pattern is--not so much opposed as tested, perhaps? He has a sense of his strength being measured and taken.
When they arrive at the campsite, it is more overgrown than Mum expected, and he takes it as a very bad sign. Fire clears out the excess vines and plants: they retreat from it almost physically. By the time they're ready to eat and assign watches, they're all very tired. Even Vere notices the efforts they've had to take.
Vere gathers them around the fire, keeping a watchful eye out while they talk. "I mislike this," he says. "I have the sense we are being observed, and this overgrowth is excessive. I will take the first watch. Get rest, you may well need it before this night is out."
After they eat (carefully), the rangers arrange their hammocks and prepare to sleep, splitting the later watches so Rain is paired with Mum and Modal with Needle. Soon enough, they're all asleep, based on the sounds from the hammocks. Even Rain has learned to sleep where she can.
Perhaps an hour into his solo watch, Vere catches a glimpse of something moving in the trees near the limit of his vision. It's pale and sort of luminescent, from the glimpse he gets.
Vere cocks his head to one side, considering it for a few moments, then slowly turns a full circuit, using all of his senses to check the surrounding terrain in all directions, including above and below their campsite, for sounds, movements, scents, and anything else in any way unusual. He doesn't want to be taken by surprise by a sudden attack from a different direction, in case this is a distraction, and he also wants to get a sense of how the more 'natural' inhabitants of the Green are reacting to the presence of this ... whatever it may prove to be.
The natural inhabitants of the Green, such as they are, don't seem to be paying whatever it is a lot of attention. It's man-sized, and roughly man-shaped. It makes no sound as it moves in the general direction of the campsite, and as Vere watches, he can see that the creature, or being, doesn't disturb the plants as it passes by them. Vere's nose isn't good enough to smell anything, either.
If Vere's historical experience with them is any guide, it's entirely possible that this thing is the manifestation of a ghost, as it appears in the Green.
Vere moves silently to Mum's hammock and nudges him awake. "Something approaches," he says quietly. "Let me know whether or not you are able to perceive it. It is quite possible you will not." Then he moves closer to the edge of the campsite, watching the figure approach.
Vere feels Mum's landing as he leaps down from the height of the hammock that Vere had had to reach up to. He already has a long knife in his hand, one that Vere recognizes as suitable for cutting animals or plants.
He spends some time looking around the campsite as Vere watches the figure approach. "I can't see it," Mum says after a bit.
Vere nods. "That is valuable information. Thank you."
He steps a little closer to the edge of the camp, careful not to actually walk into any of the vegetation. He tilts his head to one side and tries to get a better look at the figure, looking for any hints of details.
As the figure gets closer, Vere confirms that it's in the shape of a man. It's also definitely green, and it makes Vere's teeth itch in that way he's learning to associate with the Green. No: it was a man. Now it's sewn together with Green energy somehow, from what Vere can see.
He stops, finally, and looks at Vere, and says, "Hello, man of Amber."
"Something very bad is wrong here," is what Mum has to say, though he doesn't seem to have heard the approaching man or ghost or whatever it is.
"Something that was a living man once," William says to Mum quietly. Then, more loudly, he says, "Greetings, spirit of the Green."
Robin awakes some time later. It’s dark outside, but wherever this is, that may not be a real indication of time passing. There’s a tray of food, simple fare like bread, cheese and fruit. Peep is hungry. Robin suspects that if she moved, the others would wake up and be hungry, too.
With a cheerful chirp, Robin disturbs the lizard-pile and immediately starts dishing out bites of food; one for you, one for you, one for you, one for me and so on, until everyone is full. (If she has to jigger probability a little in order to do so, she will.)
If no one has disturbed them by then, it's time for stretching. Robin knows there are times when one has to drop in one's tracks, but one's going to pay for that in the morning. So before the pain and stiffness gets too bad, Robin indulges in a series of long, slow stretches. With a smile, she invites her little ones to join her and slowly her stretching becomes a dance -- a dance of joining and connection timed to the lightning and music in her blood.
Afterward, a quick drink and sponge bath from pitcher of water and she reaches for the door to her cell. Onward.
The door opens smoothly and she finds a blank-faced, white skinned man there, in livery. “Are you ready to see the Mistress, Ma’am?” He asks her. His voice doesn’t have much inflection, as if he were a machine or zombie rather than a full person. The hallway behind him looks as it did previously; stone mortared to stone, with wild skies out the windows.
The three lizards firmly attach themselves to Robin. They seem to object to letting go.
Many, many different answers blossom in Robin’s mind. And the paths beyond each stretch out into an endless lattice-work of possibilities. But in the end, there can be only one decision. So she chooses, “Yes, please,” and gestures for the liveried being to lead the way.
As she exits the door, she strokes her firelizards comfortingly. She doesn’t want to let go either.
In the end, Peep stays on Robin’s shoulder and the boys stay in the room, for the moment. Robin is led back through stone corridors to the same library where Fiona examined her some time before. The sky out the window continues to be little help, and while it looks as if one could keep time by the floating rocks, it’s not clear if they are constant. Or maybe they are and everything else is variable, which is no different.
As soon as Robin sits down in the indicated chair, Chirrup and Peep arrive, and perch themselves on bookshelves.
Fiona walks in, looking impeccable. “I had a nice chat with your great-grandfather while you were taking your walk, mostly to keep him from paying too much attention to it. I’ll want to see how my readings compare to my earlier baseline. How do you feel?”
Again, many, many answers bloom in Robin’s mind. She smiles as she considers stroking Peep’s eyeridge. When she feels ready, she begins.
“Tired but rested.
“Hungry for meat.
“A little achy but overall well.
“Connected, Very, very connected.
“Like an aperture through which possibilities are narrowed.
"Like singing for the rest of my life.”
Robin spreads her hands open. From there on, there are no words.
“Yes. So, what I’m doing here is seeing if the tools I have here can detect any difference in you after your walk. It’s not required that you speak, but it tends to make this easier, especially if the topics relate to the pattern walk you just completed. So, do you have any questions from your walk? Did you learn anything? Did you see anything unexpected?"
She looks up from her notes. “Do you think you were changed by it?"
Robin nods her understanding of what Fiona’s doing and her willingness to help.
“Unexpected – yes.” Robin smiles ironically.
“At the fourth veil,” her emphasis indicates that while she had heard there was such a thing, she had to experience it to believe it, “there were two correct paths. I do not think it was an illusion or a test. I believe I could have successfully completed the Walk in either way, had I so chose.
“Have I been changed by it? Yes. Am I different? No. I have been refined by it. And have received some clarity. Which is what I sought.
“I have no questions from my walk – but that has always been my way. I learn by doing and seeing and being, not blah-blah-blah.” Robin makes a ‘talking’ motion with her hand. “Though – if I may – I’d like to return some day to visit with ‘Wixer.’” She grins. “I have always had a fondness for large predators.”
Robin scratches Peep’s eyeridge. She has a fondness for small predators too.
“And I learned that fear was my undoing. I still see and hear... so very much. But it doesn’t frighten me so anymore. I see myself as the chooser from among all those myriads of possibilities, not their hapless victim.” She smiles again.
Fiona nods. “This sounds excellent. When I asked Dworkin about the fourth veil, he was vexed, and blamed it on Random adding a four-against-three polyrhythm. I’m still trying to digest that, which is the way all good conversations with him go.” She smiles, mostly with her eyes.
“That makes sense.” Robin nods thoughtfully, “The King does seem fond of syncopation.”
The princess puts down her pen. "Would you be willing to run an errand for me in Xanadu? I have a message I need delivered to someone in the city.”
“I would be willing to do, if you would be willing to facilitate a contact with Vere first. I had agreed to remain in his company previously. And now I’m not.” Robin spreads her hands to demonstrate For a moment, she considers a joke concerning the worries of the weaker sex for Fiona’s sake. But then, she realizes that Vere’s background would make that too pointed. So she just shuts up.
Fiona nods, still paying more attention to her devices than to Robin. “I can send you back to your father via trump. My message is not urgent, and it does not matter if he accompanies you. If you are wondering if this is part of the examination, the answer is ‘yes’."
Fiona addresses a folded piece of paper. “This is for Madame Bywater of Amber and now Xanadu. If you will, take it to her, and follow her instructions.”
"In that case, I'd be delighted."
Robin takes the paper from Fiona and considers it for a moment. A few brief questions and paths circle in her mind, but none of them seem urgent or important enough to matter. Time will tell, it always does. So she smiles and nods, and carefully tucks the paper away in one of her more waterproof pouches.
"Is there anything - else - I can do for you, Aunt. Something that I may help with, to thank you for your time and attention?" There is a certain wry humor to her question though she's sincere. She understands that the knowledge and data Fiona's gathered is significant, but perhaps a minor personal 'thank you' would be nice too.
Fiona puts her pen down. “That’s kind of you. I can’t think of anything I need. Just this. Look out for the women in the family when you can. It’s very hard to be female in this family and we all have responded with our own very different but generally isolating survival strategies. Help your female cousins and aunts when you can.” She reaches into her pouch and pulls out a trump deck. “Ready to go back?"
Robin nods and stands, calling Ooot and Chirrup to herself with a gesture.
“Isolating survival strategies...” Robin nods again to herself. “Not Brita.” She smiles at to Brita's mother. “I can do better at that. And I will.”
With that she holds out her hand for transport.
Fiona flips over the deck and looks at the trump of Robin’s father, after a moment, she starts to speak, but not to Robin. "It went well ... She can tell you ... Just a few days ... She’s ready." Fiona takes Robin's hand and Prince Julian is there-and-not-there in the way of Trumps. He takes her hand from Fiona and he becomes quite real.
"Thank you, dear sister. We are in your debt." Robin finds that she and her winged menagerie are both in a tower and in a forest campsite. Julian does not yet let go of her hand.
"You always do bring me intriguing puzzles, Julian. Good luck in your war." She fades from view, leaving Robin squarely with Julian. She smells Morgenstern on him. He’s been riding recently.
"Sir," says Robin with a nod, though the smile in her eyes says 'Dad.'
Figuring that the Warden will want to do his own evaluation, Robin holds out her arms in a 'here-I-am' gesture. There is a hint that her gesture could become a hug easily enough, if Julian is so inclined.
Julian does give her the once-over, then the not-quite-solicited embrace of welcome. "Welcome to Girth's, Robin. You appear to be faring well." Julian doesn't make this a question, but leaves a moment of room for her to reply before the person he must have been talking to moves in for a greeting of his own: Vista.
“I am.” She beams as she hugs her father firmly and with great love. “Better than I have been in a long time.”
"Look at you," Vista says, "off on royal business and now you're back."
Robin nods. She is, indeed, back.
He nods to Julian. "I'll be by later, and I'll tell the mess to send dinner for two.
Robin sends a little wave in Vista’s direction before turning back to her father. Smiling again she raises an eyebrow, with a distinctly Robin-like glimmer in her eye. “Sooooo, what are you seeing?” She gestures to her selfness.
The King greets each of his nephews as the arrive back from their errands. He is still shirtless, and it seems a wise choice on his part, because the castle is quite warm. The windows are open onto the terrace, but there’s not much of a breeze.
“Buffet style and en famille rules. Help yourselves, the staff was dismissed.”
On the terrace, it’s clear that it is late at night, although someone in the distance is playing a tune on a fiddle.
Random looks out at the sea below. He sits at the head of the table, but perches forward on the chair, probably so he doesn’t stick to it. “So, here we are. I got a corpse yesterday evening and two prisoners tonight. I look forward with bated breath to the story that goes with this. Who’s going to start?
"Chew got away." Jerod says, glass in hand as he slouches slight in a chair, a plate in front of him loaded with a significant amount of food. "He's got a means of transport that makes me think of trumps, an illustrated book. I'd turned off the magic for the Shadow so that should have disabled any escape options. The monk I brought had seen him use the book before, so that's why he's here, along with a few samples from their collection of books." and he waves to a small satchel on the ground.
Jerod goes into more details on what they found during their inspection, the nature of the monastery, how it was isolated, likely to be in need of support due to its location, the findings of the books, research facilities, the vaults of the dead, and the many books that were found.
"Combine what we found with what Martin told me of his connection to Chew and I'm thinking the Order is now in serious need of being dismantled." Jerod finishes up. "And I'm getting a bad feeling about who they might be connected with.
"I'm curious as to where that Shadow path went."
Ossian smiles: "It went to a hospital called Greenwood. Is that the place where Folly and Martin ran in with Chew?
"Its on a fairly advanced technology level, although I did not investigate too much, as I deemed it too dangerous. I will be able to make a trump sketch of the place if you want me to. Of course they could fill the place with traps for us. Had to kill a man there.
"My prisoner is only an ordinary guy. Probably harmless, but I did not want to kill him also.
"What do we know about Greenwood?"
Raven pauses in her attempt to clear her plate and shakes her head. "Don't know the name myself. I ain't got much to add to what Jerod said. Figured he had a card between the pages of his book instead of a magic book, though. Didn't know you could make those part of a book."
Random looks over at Raven. “Given that the details of them were state secrets of the great Sorcerer-Kings of Amber and Xanadu and Parts West, nobody should know a lot about them who isn’t us. Ossian pained one on a cave wall. Reid tattooed one on the chest of a traitor, which, by the way, is the single creepiest thing I’ve ever heard of, AND I’m Brand’s brother.
“But yeah, an order of Monks has an illuminated manuscript they’re using to hide trumps. Hmm. Gotta see what we can do about that.
“Now Greenwood. Greenwood is really interesting. So, every story has a lot of beginnings, depending on who tells it. For me, the war started with a card game. For Corwin it starts at a place called ‘Greenwood’ which is outside of New York City. Ossian, do you happen to have your prisoner’s wallet? I want to see what he’s carrying with him. If he has some kind of Greenwood ID, that might help, too.
[OOC: If not, Random will send a guard for it...]
“When we question the prisoner, we can ask about this Crew fellow. What was their reaction to my totally calm and reasonable requests, as passed along by you?"
Jerod waits to hear Ossian's response, eating and drinking throughout. His expression indicates he's heard the name Greenwood before, apparently in the vein of Corwin.
Ossian shrugs. "The guards have a bag with stuff they took from him. We can send for it. I'm pretty sure there was a wallet."
Random gets up, opens the door, and sends a page to get the wallet.
He pulls out his sketchbook and starts leafing through it, while speaking: "I got the feeling they tried to stall us, when we started to make demands. And Jerod had information on that Chew guy. We decided that it was wisest not to wait for him to 'talk with his superiors'. Ah, here...."
Ossian points to one of his sketches. A jacket hanging on the wall of the room, showing text that says:
Greenwood Rehabilitation and Long Term Recovery Center: A Member of the Memorial Healthcare Family of Hospitals
Raven nods her agreement to the idea that the monks were stalling.
Random nods. “Yeah, that’s probably what they’d call it now. This guy’s been all over us for a while, then. I wonder if he’s the one who brother Corwin held at gunpoint before he went to Flora’s?” That’d bring him into this a long time back...”
Random drums on the table. “I bet he’s from New York. This just smells like that. We’re going to need to talk to Flora and Corwin.
“Alright. What else? What are your joint and several recommendations on how we proceed?” He swings his finger around. “Raven. You first."
Raven blinks and then straightens in her seat - not unlike a sailor giving a report, in fact, although she does skip any formalities that might have gone with it. "I wasn't so sure when we left that these monks were a threat. But I changed my mind, because ain't anything I heard from these two," and she nods to Ossian and Jerod, "that made me happy with what those folks are up to. Can't say as how I saw anything there that made me happier. So I'm thinking we need to find this Chew, ask him any questions we've got, take his things, and drop him down a deep, dark hole - and Your Majesty's pleasure on whether he's breathing at the bottom. Same for anybody else like him, if there's any more. Probably ought to round up the ones like that lad we brought in, that don't seem to be up to real mischief, and maroon them somewhere they can't get out, but I can't say as how I know enough to know how easy that would be to do."
Ossian nods in agreement. "Who else have dealt with the monks? Marius, I know. A main question is whether Chew is just one of many, or a major player. I bet on the later, even if he seems to have superiors. We should talk with Marius at least."
Jerod remains silent, nibbling and drinking and waiting for the King's response.
Random sit back. “Who has? Who hasn’t? I know Reid, Solange, Vere, Lucas, Folly, and Martin have. I think others may have met them as well. They’re related but not the same as the group that Gerard told me about during the Regency, the Parish. Somebody ought to go to Caine and get his super secret dossier on them.” Random pauses, as if something about that troubles him.
“OK, anyway, Jerod you’re up next. Anything to add? What’s your take on this Chew guy? Any ideas on how we find a Beadle in a Haystack?"
Jerod finishes his drink, rolling the tumbler in his hand for a moment. "Chew smells of someone connected to Power." he says after a moment.
"He knew to run as soon as we showed up, which means he's familiar with how we operate and what kind of damage we can do on short notice. They had a Shadow path from this outpost to another place far away for ease of escape, to a place connected to technology no less. He's also got a means of departure that while still unknown is very reminiscent of trumps. That means they were ready for contingencies because their activities might attract unwanted attention. If you have an escape route, it's usually because what you're doing can be considered to be really bad by someone else. Which means Chew and company are up to something very bad.
"This place was an outpost. Isolated, not meant to be found without someone deliberately looking for it, and disposable. Despite the number of people who are supposed to have lived and died there it could not support itself - it needed re-supply. But it also means that as an outpost it can be dumped from the main body. That makes me nervous, because it means finding them is going to be hard. They know to disperse their resources to hide them from us. I'm not sure if that means though the entire Order is involved, or they're an isolated faction, a splinter."
He puts the glass down. "He's a needle in shadow. If he could travel through Shadow, I'd say create a downward path to force him to arrive at a preset point of our choosing, then have a little discussion with him to see what's up. We'd need more information on how he operates though to get him to arrive at a point we choose. We could also try to sift Shadow for him, look for his traces, but that has the same requirement of knowing more about him. I've done it before but it takes a lot of time, peeling the onion to find what you're looking for. We've got our two prisoners - they might be able to shed some light though how I'm guessing not very much."
"What is it about Uncle Caine's super secret dossier that bothers you, Majesty?"
Raven listens quietly, a thoughtful look on her face.
Ossian is also silent.
Random bites his lip. “I need to stop hanging around with sensitive people. The problem with Caine is I don’t know. I bet you all don’t either. Dad banished these folks, and banned religion in Amber. And Caine was involved. And now I’m worrying that Caine was involved with the people who caused Dad to do that, and that they’re the same as these monk dudes.
“I don’t want to put him in a situation where that all comes up. And I don’t even know what it was all about.
"The only thing I can think of, by the way, is to send Vere to go talk to ghosts, friendly and unfriendly, in that graveyard you talked about. But that hasn’t been historically as effective as I’d like.”
Random looks around. “Anything else? Anyone? Let’s not see the same hands every time... This may be more of a term project than a pop quiz. If you want to talk it through and think about as you go off on mission numero uno, that’s good for me...”
"Going to the graveyard might be a little tougher than expected." Jerod says, going to collect another drink. "You know the old phrase 'nuke them until they're glass'?
"Well, that outpost should be so lucky."
He looks over at Ossian. "Greenwood might be worth chasing down. That ties back to Corwin, and the not so good-ole days. But I need to get go figure out what's up in Gateway."
"Besides locking up anyone that says they're from Amber?" Raven says dryly. "Aye, I still got a a word or two to say to certain folks in Gateway."
For all its splendors, Paris is built on bones and ashes. Its glittering streets rest upon the backs of the long Dead. Refined towers held high by tombs and charnel pits. A grand city rising ever-upward from a foundation of its discarded lives. Plenty upon loss. Music upon silence. Light upon darkness.
But even here, in the moldering shadows, beauty persists - albeit of a more macabre nature. Yellowing skulls decorate the walls, fleshless bones cut and shaped into form and function. Generations upon generations crafted into exquisite tableaus, stories within stories, memories within memories. The forgotten history of Paris, waiting to be rediscovered.
Here, a phoenix walks amongst ghosts. Sun-touched fingers caress polished skulls as she drifts through the gloom. Silhouette can almost hear the whispers behind the silent mouths, see the souls behind the empty eyes. There are ghoulish wonders here, calling to her, urging her deeper into Paris's dead heart. Tantalizing treats hidden around every corner, waiting behind every iron door.
They remind her that she is more comfortable with the Dead. They are stripped bare of their secrets, and offer only Truth. And, at this moment, Truth she what she desires most.
She pauses before a grotto shrine - devoted to a blinded maiden. Small devotional candles burn, offering peaceful repose and contemplation, casting the shadowy world in orange light. Painted words at the statute's porcelain feet are long since faded, yet offer peace.
Silhouette continues her silent reflection, even when she hears the soft footsteps on bone-dust behind her.
The tread on the floor of stone and bone is heavy enough that it must be Paris' king; a woman's foot, particularly her mother's, would step more lightly. He comes to a halt behind and well away from her, giving her enough time to compose herself and/or be aware that he's no footpad to attack her.
"Welcome to Paris, again," says King Corwin. "I trust your journey was uneventful."
Silhouette curtsies; a hand flourishing her dress. "My King." A thankful smile colors her features. "An enjoyable trip, to be sure. I am glad to be above the waves once again. Thank you again for your invitation.
"I pray it hasn't been too costly for you. All your limbs are intact, at the very least," she chuckles.
"I am still the King," Corwin points out mildly. He doesn't add that Flora knows which side her bread is buttered on, but he hardly has to. "I've arranged for a meeting between you and my sister. I suggest very strongly that you keep in mind that she sincerely believes her daughter to be dead. If she's wrong, and she may be, she's a victim here as much as you: her consort murdered and as far as she knows, her child too. Someone lied to her and you. You should keep that in mind."
"Of course," Silhouette says. "I can fully appreciate the difficulty in casting off firm beliefs. It is a lesson I've been learning a great deal of late." A deep breath to calm her, "Thank you for this opportunity. I shall not squander it."
She slides her hand through the candle flames, back and forth, collecting a thin layer of oily soot. After dipping her finger into the shadowy pool, she draws two arching lines on her cheek, interconnected. Corwin might recognize it as a Herakleotikon hamma - a symbol of peace and healing.
With a nod, she joins him. "And you, my King. How do you fare?"
Whatever comment Corwin has about Silhouette's symbolism goes unspoken. Instead he answers her question. "I'm keeping up with the Joneses, or at least with Random and Caine, and probably staying ahead of the latter. There are some royal decrees in the works that may make for bad blood, though. Not family blood," Corwin adds, "just discontent in the city. The occasional unpopular measure is necessary to keep the city going, as Dad always used to say."
Silhouette smiles faintly as she walks beside him, "One must always have enemies, and stirring up the waters is the easiest way to find them. Might I ask what decrees you are instating? Of the Kingdoms, I find this one of particular interest." Her words are genuine, as if a pupil seeking a mentor.
"I find it necessary to trace the origins of the religious houses of the city. Some of them may have to be banned."
Corwin seems to be aware that this sort of law may require explanation. "Enemies of the realm are using one or more of the religious houses to get a foothold in Paris. Reid is dead, and an attempt was made on his life here before he left. I want to know who made it, and why."
Silhouette nods solemnly, "Ah yes. Reid. Very sad. I'd hoped to join Ossian in the search for him, but matters in Rebma took longer than expected." She sighs deeply. Although having trucked in Death for so long, it has become... wearying to her. "Do you suspect the monks of St. Ninian are being used as a front for this incursion?
"And would Lady Dara be involved?" The name poisons her tongue.
Corwin looks askance at Silhouette's tone, but doesn't question it. What he says is, "Not to my knowledge, though Dara has fingers in more pies than even I originally suspected. If she had some peripheral involvement in this, I wouldn't be surprised. I don't think she's the prime mover behind whatever scheme Reid stumbled onto before he died, though. I still can't get a good read on how tightly the Ninian monks here are really tied into the Klybesians, not to mention the lot in Abford--and how tightly those are tied to the Klybesians. Or the bunch that left Amber and went out to Asir Island. But I'm beginning to understand why Dad simply banished the lot."
"You may wish to attack their coin-purses. Removal of tax exemptions may allow you to better see where their true support is coming from," Silhouette says. "A slow process, but effective. Also subtle, thus distancing you from reprisals of the Citizenry.
"Is there any possible connection between Reid's death and my brother's?" Silhouette inquires. "Both were killed while investigating possible threats to our Family's interests. Possibly a coincidence, but those are few and far between, yes?"
Corwin waves his hand and shakes his head in the negative. "There's no reason to suspect Lucas' murder was anything other than what it appears to have been, which has no connection to any of the religious at all. And they have no exemptions, and never have. Charity proper here is distributed through the Crown and the Church, such as it is, of the Holy Unicorn, Notre Dame de Paris. The operations of other faiths is questionable at best as it is. But if they're Klybesians, they're not here for the money, and finding their money will tell us nothing. They have it, but their ambitions lie somewhere else."
Silhouette nods, taking this in. "Forgive me. I am unaware Paris's political structure. What power could they hope to obtain, should they infiltrate religious society? Does the Church hold more power than the Crown? Indeed, are they separate entities? And could you turn the houses against one another? Doctrine against doctrine, as it were?"
Corwin looks at her quizzically in a way that suggests to Silhouette that she's asked the wrong question. "How much do you know about the Klybesians? If you've kicked around the Shadow trade routes, you ought to know them. If you've sold weapons, you've probably even traded with them, or one of their fronts."
Silhouette shakes her head ruefully, "Unfortunately, if I've encountered them, it was through another agency. My travels through Shadow were random, quite literally at the whim of the tides. This inhibited my service to the Grand Design tremendously." As they turn a corner in the tunnel, she nods. "If you might Illuminate me to their Ways, I might recall a similar encounter."
Corwin shrugs. "I'm sure you've dealt with them in one form or another. They're involved in many of the different faiths of Shadow. Conflicting doctrine isn't a particular concern of theirs." His smile is wry as he gestures Silhouette through an arch. "One way or another, all the chapter houses of the various religions they’ve commandeered report to their central command, and they use the information to--do some things that we don't entirely understand. Part of it is keeping track of us and our descendants."
Silhouette mulls this over for a moment. She worries her lip, "Blood magick, perhaps? One technique for utilizing powerful blood - such as ours - would be to keep tabs on its source. Huon displayed an amazing ability with his blood, for example. Those abilities would be desirable. Or a study in eugenics? Manipulating our bloodline towards a certain end. I'm not familiar with their cross-Shadow capabilities, but placing certain genetics strains - as it were - in our path couldn't be too difficult.
"Considering the number of bastards amongst us, such encounters could be more common than not."
As Silhouette considers her answer, Corwin watches her. "Magic or technology--and in some places there's hardly any difference--is doubly dangerous with our blood. As far as I know, nobody has broken any shadows over that kind of interference with us, yet." The caveat is important, if Corwin's tone is any indication. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if they did manipulate our bloodlines to produce children. But I expect they also stir the pot with any children of our bloodline left unprotected." He leaves that item hanging.
"Although, it strikes me as odd that they'd simply murder Reid, rather than utilize him in another way," Silhouette muses. "Unless whatever he stumbled across endangered them far too gravely to risk his escape."
"We know he died. We don't know for certain that they killed him; there are other things out there that can kill even one of us. But if they're doing blood magic, or blood technology, they don't necessarily need a live bleeder. In the shadow where I lived for a few centuries--one of Flora's, but not, I think, one you know--they had developed basic blood transfusions. I learned better than to donate even when I couldn't remember who I was." Corwin's expression isn't quite a nostalgic smile. Then his thoughts return to the present, and it fades. "There are shadows with 'advanced' technology. You can imagine what they'd do with unusual blood like ours."
Silhouette nods to this, barely containing the smile. Indeed, she can imagine it. So many possibilities. "The bioweapons potential alone is most..." Delicious, she thinks. "...interesting.
"Pity we do not know if exsanguination was involved, as that might add credence to their involvement," she says. "Exactly how long have they been observing the Family? Is this a recent development?"
If it bothers Corwin that Silhouette's first response is to think of bioweapons, he doesn't say so. Instead he seems to be stuck on her second question, pondering it for a moment. "Dad threw them out of Amber about, oh, a thousand years ago or so." He says it with the carelessness of a Prince of Amber who's lived that thousand or so years. "It would have taken Dad a while to get his fill of whatever they were doing before that. So fifteen hundred years, give or take? Not that they're all the same monks, obviously, but there's a continuity of structure and organization across time and Shadow."
Silhouette gives a faint nod, troubled by the glacial time-frame. "I'm surprised they've been allowed to persist for this long. I'm assuming they've been more annoyance than threat." She brushes against him as they pass through a narrow archway. "Do you intend to place someone within their ranks to learn their true Purpose? It seems the wiser choice than disposing of them, lest they retreat and regroup."
The glacial time frame seems normal to Corwin, clearly.
"I'm surprised they're even still around. Fifteen hundred years in Amber can be a very long time in Shadow. Normally things that last that long have something of Reality to them." Corwin shrugs, and dodges a low bit of the ceiling. "Trying to put someone in has its appeal. I understand we have a rebel from their order now. It may be easier to get what we want out of him, to the extent that he knows it.”
He’s not exactly ignoring the fact that she’s brushing up against him, but he is certainly the archetype of the perfect gentleman.
Silhouette remains equally polite, despite the cramped quarters of the tunnel. "Would it be possible to allow or arrange for his escape, once any information has been gleaned from him? Perhaps through the aid of one of the Youngers. They cannot possess information on all of us, surely. We seem a scattered generation."
Corwin shakes his head. "If they're large enough and determined enough to stay intact in Shadow for fifteen hundred years, I'm not so sure." He pauses to let Silhouette proceed him through another narrow spot; he doesn't seem to expect any danger. "And it's a well-known family lore that we attract each other. Meg and Ossian ended up in the same orphanage in Shadow. I'm surprised you didn't end up there as well, given the sort of gravity we exert on each other, even by accident. And in any case, they don't have to have everyone, just most of us, to make trouble. Or, just enough of us."
Silhouette shrugs, "The Principia states distance and mass affect gravitational pull. I suspect my distant placement in Shadow extended the time period before one of the Elders drew me into their influence." She smiles, "Your sister was most kind, in that regard."
She laces her fingers behind her, strolling at a careful pace. "Their propensity for survival reminds me of the hydra. Strike one head and two more shall grow. Only through completely annihilation of the body might one achieve victory. But where is the body?" She asks this rhetorically, but regards Corwin as if he might actually know.
Corwin finds a door, which he opens. There's a stairwell behind it. This is not the route Silhouette took into this place, but apparently it's her exit, because Corwin gestures her up it. "Random seems to think he's found a potential location. If nothing else, it's a big chapter house. It's where Reid's body ended up. Several of your cousins are retrieving the body, and possibly dealing with the monks, with prejudice. We'll see what we get from them, and whether we can prove that they've actually murdered one of us this time. That we can't allow."
"Of course not," she replies with some finality. "Whatever assistance I may provide, it is yours. My King."
She bows her head and follows his given direction.
Corwin mounts the stairs behind her. "Be careful what you offer, niece. You'll find that I'll take you up on that." He casts a smile in her direction, even though she probably can't see it in the dim light of the stairwell. "But it's a princely offer. It's something my sister might have said, under the circumstances."
Silhouette instinctively turns her head to return the smile. "High praise, indeed, sire. Thank you."
She climbs the stairs, falling quiet for a moment, weighing the next words. "Someday, might you tell me of her?"
"Someday." Corwin falls quiet at that for a bit, and all Silhouette can hear for a moment is the clank of their feet on the spiral stair up to wherever they're going.
Silhouette maintains the silence, allowing Corwin his privacy and peace. She is all too familiar with pain. And some cannot be shared.
By the time Corwin and Silhouette get back to the Louvre, there is a room arranged for her by Corwin's chatelaine, Lady Alice, a superficially friendly but no-nonsense woman. Waiting inside is an invitation from the Princess Florimel, in her own hand, to tea. There is about enough time for Silhouette to refresh herself and possibly change into something more formal, if she wishes.
Given the opportunity to change, Silhouette does so - if only to remove the fine layer of bone-dust from her tanned skin. She wears one of her own designs; a sensuous obsidian dress with princess-seamed bodice and overlapping, lettuce-edged tiers. A burgundy ribbon accents her throat, while long, black opera gloves cover her lower arms - the proper etiquette for sleeveless dresses. When she moves, the fabric shimmers, like heat rising from cooling magma.
When Silhouette arrives at the appointed place, she finds that Florimel has set out afternoon tea in what must be the Parisian style: a very full service with a variety of potential additives or adulterants, depending on your point of view, like milk, tea, and lemon, and a generous service of pastries, both of the sweet variety and the less sweet (madeleines and financiers).
Florimel does not rise to her feet when Silhouette is shown into the room.
Silhouette approaches the table, offering Florimel a polite curtsey. "Princess. My deepest thanks for speaking with me." She raises her head, studying her mother for a moment. It has been so many years and a life-time ago. It's decidedly odd to her, seeing this woman eye-to-eye, rather than gazing up at her through a child's worship. She waits to be fully acknowledged, and invited to sit.
Florimel is wearing a tea gown in the Parisian style, in a shimmering pale fabric with an overlay of sea green that sets off her eyes and blonde hair.
"Silhouette. Please join me. My brother says that you wished to speak with me on an important matter." She gestures to a chair next to the settee on which she herself is seated. The situation is so elegant and civilized that it's almost easy to forget the woman is a Princess of Amber and possibly more dangerous than Corwin.
Silhouette sits, smoothing out her dress to clean, perfect lines. She feels Flora's eyes upon her, and immediately she is a child again - the armor of pain and hatred stripped away with a single gaze.
She dips her head respectfully, "Efharistó polí, Princess. Firstly, I wish to apologize for my vulgarity at our last encounter. For thirty odd years, I've been under the false belief that you had abandoned me and my family. This erroneous belief poisoned my words, as much as it did my heart. Even so, this does not excuse my actions. Me sygkhoryte." She bows her head again.
"However, I've recently discovered that outside factions contributed to the harm done to myself and - more importantly - to you, Princess," she continues. "I understand you have strong doubts as to my identity. I understand, more than most, how painful this part of your past is. But, with your permission, I wish to speak with you about that dark time. And, together, uncover the truth of what happened. I ask this boon of you, as I wish to confirm that the threat against us does not persist." She gathered a shaky breath, knitting her hands together.
"We need not discuss recent events," replies the Princess, "but instead focus on the past." She looks Silhouette up and down. "I have, upon consideration, decided that I have a duty to perform. I see three possibliities. The first is that you are my child and I must determine how you were taken and respond appropriately to that. The second is that you believe you are my child and are, in fact, the child of another, and we must know how that happened if it did. The third is that you are not and you are attempting to deceive me for your ends.
"There is no one among the living and nearly no one amongst the dead who would have a reason to attempt to trick me for anything I have or know, so we must assume that the hand that moved against me did so for reasons that were meaningful during the war.
"Given that, and my, as you say, 'strong doubts', it is important to know what you know of yourself.
"Please, begin at the beginning. I shall not interrupt."
Florimel pulls a pair of glasses from a case at her side and places them across her nose. She dips a quill in ink, ready to take notes, and indicates that Silhouette should speak.
Silhouette sips some tea, and nods to the request. "According to Father, Cadmilus, you met during the Posidea Festival in Delos. He was a demiourgos and merchant of some influence, and had travelled there to seek blessings of fair winds for the coming year. However, he found the crowds and festivities suffocating, for he suffered a deep melancholy at losing his wife some years before. He wandered away from the temples and markets, following the beach to a place where the rocks hide the town from sight. And there, he discovered you.
"At first, he thought you were the goddess Cytherea, watching the sun setting while the tide curled around your bare ankles. You wore a sea-green dress and headdress of golden laurels, which caught the light. 'The goddess of love draped in fire and foam.' His words, not mine. He always wished he could have been a poet, rather than a politician." She smiles wistfully.
"Believing you were divine, he fell to his knees in the surf and asked for your blessings - for himself and his young daughters. He asked that you could mend his heart and provide his children with the mother they deserved, for he knew not the secrets of women that his daughters required. You were so taken with his impassioned prayer that you favored him with a kiss. And then again each night after that for the rest of the festival; you waiting for him at that very spot on the beach. On the last night, I was conceived - or so Father liked to believe. Again, the poet in him.
"You accepted his family, and they welcomed you in turn. As I mentioned, Aigle, my sister's mother, had died while they were babes. A wasting illness that beset her after child-birth, if I am not mistaken. Too young to remember their mother, Erato and Parthenope were overjoyed by your presence in their lives. And, even after I was born, you continued to treat them as if they were your own daughters."
She pauses for a moment, cocking her head. "Truth be told, I do not know if you ever married my father. You were always our mother, Antheia, the goddess of flowers. I would like to believe I am not a bastard, but such matters weren't a child's concerns. And events took you from me before it could be a consideration, let alone the truth be revealed to me. Either way, Father loved you with every fiber of his soul. You saved him, I think. Made him believe that he could live again.
"And live we did. You named me Kabeiro after the dolphins that frequented the bay beneath our domus. You and Father would walk along the shore each evening while I was still in your belly, and the dolphins would always sing to you. I do not know if this is truth or Father's poetic license again." A chuckle escapes her lips. "I believe that was where you were happiest, though. Never a night passed that you did not walk along that beach, and always with Father - except the rare night the forum stole him from you. We weren't allowed to join you, no matter how hard we begged. And you always knew when we tried to follow. Ha, how angry you got some nights, especially those you and Father wished for the privacy our domus did not provide."
The words are flowing like rain now, pouring out of Silhouette. Tears shimmer in her eyes, of sadness, of joy.
"You raised all of us to be Ladies - not women. You told us that we would not be merely wives, shadows to our husbands' wishes, like so many other girls of Magna Graecia before us. No. Like the Moirai, we would rule our own fates and shape the world to our choosing. You paid for the finest scholars to teach us, making certain we were well-versed in the Philosophia et Septem Artes Liberales. I think you tested me, pushed me, more than you did Erato and Parthenope. As if you expected more from me. Being the youngest, I found this decidedly unfair, yet always struggled to please you. But I thank you for that, as my studies of the Quadrivium - particularly geometry - saved my life some years later."
After another sip of tea, she continues, "At some expense, you also constructed a sizable library for the domus, filling it with scrolls and tomes from every corner of Magna Graecia. And many from other Shadows, I now realize. I believe you were both pleased and frustrated by the amount of time I spent there, sometimes missing meals or important engagements in favor of my reading. Many a night you would come to collect me, usually finding me on the sill of the western window. It was painted blue, I remember, and overlooked our herb garden. The winds off the Mesogeios Ocean were coolest there, lemon myrtle thick in the air. I'd spend hours watching the stars come out, studying the constellations so I could tell you about them during the morning lessons. You'd come collect me, and carry me to bed. I pretended to still be asleep when you tucked me in, listening to you softly sing and stroke my hair. Some nights, you'd whisper to me about other worlds, other places. And how someday you'd show them to me. You smelled of olives and jasmine, and I'd cling to my pillow after you'd gone - drinking in that scent. It made me feel safe."
A frown passes over her face and she pauses... the next words coming slowly. "Then the letter came. Just after my eleventh birthday. It arrived, carried by a man in strange clothes, riding a horse unlike I'd ever seen before. White as chalk and massively built. You seemed equally perplexed by the arrival, but whatever the letter contained troubled you more. You went down to the bay for much of that afternoon. And, after Father went to retrieve you, I could tell both of you were upset upon your return.
"You called me to the south balcony, just as midday was slipping into evening. You wore sea-green chiton. Your smile had lost its softness. It was like looking across the ocean and seeing grey clouds, the warning of a coming storm. The letter was crushed in your hand, fingers white with the tension of it. It frightened me. But the words to come frightened me more. You said, 'I must leave you, Little Meliai. But only for a time. I shall return to you, I promise.'" The voice eerily mimics Flora's, as if a ghost speaking for beyond the Veil.
She breathes out, pained. "You did not return, of course."
Silhouette glances up, staring into those blue eyes. "Do you have any questions before I tell you how... How I died?"
Flora looks up from her pad and shakes her head. "Just be as thorough as you can. What happened after I left?"
Silhouette nods politely, continuing. "Not long after your departure, Father grew increasingly involved at the Forum. I could tell he was hiding something from us, some facet of life and politics he believed us too young to understand. But he could not protect us from idle talk at the markets. We learned that the flames of war had begun to smolder, as the Hydran City State threatened Magna Graecia once again. When we confronted Father, he assured us that the conflict would never reach our shores." She pauses, fighting to get the next words out. "He promised that no matter what happened, he would protect us."
Another pained pause, "It was a promise he could not keep. In the second month after you left, our home came under attack. I found myself pulled from my bed by some man dressed in peculiar armor. Not bronze and leather, but light mail. Bearded, brown-eyes, and bad teeth. His hair was long, matted and not oiled, as most men do. When I resisted, he punched me in the stomach, stealing my breath.
"He dragged me into the portico, where his companions had tied Father up. Not after some resistance, I might add. Father bore the injuries of his struggle, as did some of the men. But for all his promises and training, he could not stand against so many." She stares outward, darkness falling over her features - her jaw tightening to the point of breaking.
"They were taking turns with..." She stops, choking on the words. "They ravaged my sisters. Father screamed and thrashed, but his bindings were too strong. Erato and Parthenope refused them the satisfaction of crying out. That angered them the most, I believe. The men beat them. Hurt them in so many ways. And, in the end, cut their throats.
"Perhaps, I was too young. They did not steal my maidenhead. Instead, they bound me to Father. They bludgeoned him into unconsciousness, then covered us in oil. Smiling. Yammering on in that strange language of theirs. Laughing as they lit the comus on fire.
"The flames reached us like lightning, consuming us. Father. Crisped, screaming, clutching me even as the flesh sloughed from his bones. He took so long to die. Too long. I felt his pain. But none of my own. Only the sting of smoke in my eyes and lungs, smothering me. Until I finally, blessedly, fell into darkness."
She glances over at Flora, searching for anything in that face of hers. Anything the might read as human.
Florimel listens impassively, her expression still, as if she has heard such stories before to the point where she no longer has to react to them. Silhouette can hear the quill scratch as Florimel notes the details of the attack, or whatever else she may be adding.
At the end, she says, "You know that there are magics and technologies that alter memories, even of those of the blood of Amber. Have you ever encountered any of these?"
"Encountered and utilized," Silhouette replies guilelessly. "However, I do not believe any of the methods I've encountered could withstand the Pattern's restorative effects. As my Uncle can attest to, I'm certain."
She nods again, as if answering an unspoken question. "I know now that some of my memories were affected. Clouded by shock from the physical and mental traumas, no doubt. From my 'death' and the trials of slavery to follow. Many returned to me while on the Rebman Pattern." A low sigh, "Several troubling Enlightenments, to say the least. Many that I am still coming to grip with. But I do know that my blood, or something in it, is the only reason I survived the flames." Another sigh, "Indeed, it has made me question whether or not my Father truly was my father."
Florimel ignores the jibe about her presumed daughter's paternity.
"There are methods that cause organic memory loss, even beyond what the Pattern can repair," she says, "but that doesn't seem to be your problem. Though the detail that you _died_: clearly you didn't. We survive things that others would not, it's true; and since it seems you are of the royal blood at some remove, you may well have lived through a fire that would have killed a shadow dweller.
"The way you speak of it, assuming you are speaking truthfully--" a caveat that Florimel issues with a cool smile, not hiding the concern but not making too much of a point of it "--tells me that you're more concerned about your feelings about what you think I did or did not do, and not about those who attacked you and murdered your family, and presumably left you to whatever terrible fate you suffered afterwards."
"Then, Princess, my apologies. I misrepresent myself," Silhouette says, straightening her back. "True. Once, I did blame you for abandoning me, but such feelings were ill-placed and foolish. You left because of Duty, be it to your Father or King Eric. There is no fault in that, nor could there ever be. I understand and respect Duty more than most. The fault lies with two other family members."
Her face remains impassive, "I believe King Eric ordered the attack. His motive being to eliminate your outside ties, and thus bind you to his service during the Interregnum. I do not know how you learned of our deaths, but I can only assume it came from him.
"However, I believe that neither you nor Eric realized, another Family member likely intervened on my behalf. Your sister, Deirdre. She, through direct means or agents, rescued me following the attack and transported me into Shadow. You mentioned the inability to find me, so the location must have been hidden. I suspect Deirdre wished to use me as a tool. Leverage against you, as you were involved in Corwin's incarceration. Revealing my fate would also have likely turned you against the King."
She leans back, "Unfortunately, Deirdre's subsequent capture prevented her from carrying out her plans. And, when she did not return, her agents sold me into slavery, likely to alleviate their expenses. This, in time, led to my arrival in Vanderyahr - a Shadow that perpetually moves through Creation - further compounding my misplacement."
Florimel's eyebrows rise in surprise. "Have you told His Majesty, my brother, of this theory?"
Silhouette nods lightly, "Yes. We discussed Deirdre's involvement, and is the reason he agreed to be our go-between, I believe." She pauses, weighing the next words. "Initially, I thought I'd offended him at the suggestion, but, in the end, he was very diplomatic. I did not wish to press him on the subject. His love for her is deep."
She meets his mother's gaze. "Only you, myself, King Corwin, Queen Celina, and Princess Llewella know of this. It might be best it remain that way."
"I daresay this is not a suspicion I would be inclined to carry further." If there's any way to disturb the unflappable Princess, this is not it.
"But your guess as to how I learned of the murders of my family is incorrect. I heard of matters through my own agents. While I would hardly be surprised if my father, or my siblings, for that matter, had agents in Magna Graecia or the Hydran City State, I do keep an eye on things that are mine. How does that fit with your theory, or does it change it in any way?"
Silhouette shakes her head, "No, madame, it does not alter my hypothesis. If anything, it helps strength it. The bearer of ill news, in this case, would have been immediately suspect."
She taps her chin, considering. "May I ask who led Amber at that time? Your Father or Eric? Due to Time Distillation, I still do not even know where these events fell into Amber's Time Frame."
"It was after my father disappeared, but before Eric took over. No one thought anything of my father's absence at that point; he had a history of leaving and returning at will. Sometimes he brought home a new wife." Florimel smiles thinly there, as if she finds something about that amusing, but not very. "There was no reason to suspect the jockeying for power in Amber was going to grow more deadly, much less turn out as it did.
"Attacks by strange creatures in Shadow were starting even then. To the extent that I believed that my family's loss was a strike against me, I later concluded it was intended as a blow against Amber from that angle."
"I see," Silhouette says, nodding. "I'd once believed the attack to be random, but my subsequent 'misplacement' in Shadow remains highly suspect. Also, Llewella is convinced someone purposefully moved against you specifically."
She leans slightly forward, "What convinced you otherwise?"
"I am not convinced otherwise now." Florimel arches her eyebrows slightly, for a moment. As she continues, they descend to their usual place. "At the time, I wasn't considered a major player by the factions jockeying for the throne." A slight quirk of her mouth follows that statement.
"Nobody had any reason to strike at me then. The picture appears different in retrospect, of course, with more knowledge of the factions and their choices. And Llewella has every reason not to like Eric, even more than she has to dislike the redheads. Family history plays into one's judgement of one's relations." Another slightly quirked smile, this one more indulgent.
Silhouette nods to this, folding her hands together. "I've offered my perception and memories of the events. You may take them as truth, or dismiss them as falsehood. But the question remains. Do you believe a threat still exists? Someone went to considerable lengths to harm you. And myself. Someone of Power. I have only hearsay of the Family's intentions and personalities from which to draw conclusions. You possess the superior knowledge and perception of who that may have been."
A expression touches her face; perhaps a hopeful smile, perhaps a grimace. "I do not know if you desire a reconciliation between us, as I do. Or if the gulf of time and doubt will forever keep us apart. But we share a common adversary. Be they alive or dead. I seek your wisdom, so we might dispel or destroy their influence on our lives."
Florimel leans forward just slightly as she replies to Silhouette's question. "If the threat is from Deirdre and Eric, how can it continue? They died in the war. Do you think Jerod prosecutes a secret vendetta against me or you? Or perhaps Marius and Signy? That there was someone out there who prosecuted a grudge against me, on my child, is entirely possible. But your history of the war is incomplete, and if matters are as you suggest, then there is no justice to be had and no threat that continues. As opposed to--" and here her voice grows more fierce "--the murderer of my son Lucas, who is still at large and a threat to the family."
Silhouette nods, "If the Guilty are dead, then justice is no longer required. And I am glad for it. As to Lucas..."
Her expression hardens, a steely cruelness darkening her forest-shadow eyes. "Tradition requires I avenge my brother's death. However, the Right of Vendetta belongs to you, Mother. I cannot - and will not - act without your permission, lest I insult you further." She straightens her back, "Particularly, as my parentage remains in question.
"One cannot avenge a brother they cannot claim as theirs."
"There are many people who claim a right of vendetta against Moire, King Random not least among them." Florimel's accustomed serenity has returned to the extent that anything said so far in this conversation could have been said to even slightly disrupt it. Her green eyes rest on Silhouette, assessing her. "If you would claim vendetta, there are other, nearer targets for your wrath. Tell me how you avenged yourself on Magna Graecia, or how you plan to if you haven't yet."
Silhouette nods; her voice genteel, almost innocent. And certainly not the voice one would use to express the words to follow. "Lack of opportunity and the Precepts of the Grand Design inhibited swift retribution. However, once I escaped my enslavement, all those directly involved were disposed of. As well as those who profited from my suffering. In most cases, they died at the hands of their families or enemies - so they understood the true agony of betrayal. It is amazing what harm a single word whispered into the right ear can inflict. The wrath of a jilted wife or an avaricious son are more deadly than any blade.
"Their leader, Ireneus, had a weakness for wine and the dice. In the end, I bought his all markers through an intermediary. Then called them in at the same time. He was forced to sell all his property. His wife and children were forced into the streets, scrounging like animals. Through my agents, I made certain that they were allowed no respite, no charity. Shunned, spat upon, reviled. Suffering every indignity I endured, and more. Their resentment of him, growing, festering. Then one day, I made certain Ireneus gained a jug of wine by 'happenstance.' He took to it like a ravenous beast, drinking himself into a stupor. Unconscious, he was easily moved to a katalyma (inn) and put to bed.
"I appeared before his family as one of the Erinyes, told them of his crimes, of his many sins, and how they'd come to be in their personal hell. Half-mad with hunger and hatred, they were easily convinced of my divinity. Then I told them that he'd come into money, but had spent those coins to sate his own thirst. I led them to the katalyma, and allowed them to witness the 'truth' of my words. Ireneus, lying their, his belly full of food and wine, his body wrapped in soft sheets.
"It is fascinating how much damage teeth and nails can do to the human body. Even in their weakened state, they ripped Ireneus apart like wild dogs. His son beat him with the wine jug. Then cut him to ribbons with the broken shards. He was too drunk to fight them off, but remained deliciously aware through his death. He saw me in the doorway, recognized me. Realized the Fate he'd unleashed upon himself." A wistful smile. "Even as his wife tore the remnants of his manhood from him."
She turns her gaze to Flora, "True enemies are beyond reconciliation. They must be exterminated. Crushed. Utterly denied the opportunity to turn back on you like a half-dead viper. This is the Fifteenth Law. But, sometimes, even enforcing a Law can bring a modicum of satisfaction."
Through the narrative of revenge, murder, and dismemberment, Florimel consumes tea and a small pastry.
"Random has forbidden the murder of family members, even if it were otherwise safe to do so." She puts her teacup down. "And because she is his son's grandmother, and mother to Corwin's daughter, Moire almost certainly counts under that dictate. And Random's law carries more weight than any other system you might care to consider." Her smile is bright and hard. "If you were to avenge Lucas on Moire, how would you do it?"
Silhouette refills her tea-cup, "Hypothetically speaking, if Moire is responsible for Lucas's death, Vendetta involves several considerations. In particular, her affiliation with King Corwin and Queen Celina intensifies her role in the Grand Design. The repercussions will affect many levels of Creation." She sips her tea, thinking. "Without further Enlightenment, I believe two approaches could achieve our end and promote the Greater Good.
"One: bolster Moire's position and power. Embolden her desire to retake Rebma from her daughter. Provide her with the opportunity to attack, and even triumph in such a conflict. This would force Corwin, Random, and Celina to retaliate, lest Rebma be destroyed in a civil war. Then, during the ensuing conflict, kill her. Be it through assassination or by 'chance,' as it were. War allows for many such opportunities. This would adhere to the Grand Design, as Rebma would be renewed by the conflict - and expose and eliminate traitors within their midst.
"Two: drive Moire's force and supporters to desperation. Place enough force upon them that they will turn on her, killing or capturing her for us, as an act of self-preservation. If captured, it shouldn't be too difficult to enlist an assassin to remove her while she is in custody. Indeed, they might believe it is for the betterment of Rebma. The woman effectively abandoned her people - a sign of weakness. I sense a... predatory nature to them, just beneath their regal surface. One that can be encouraged and honed."
She sets the cup aside, "The key, however, is to assure my involvement remains undetectable."
"Yes," Florimel agrees, "keeping your involvement silent would be key, because if you were to be caught in fomenting family trouble of this sort, particularly the sort that involves causing a civil war in Rebma, Random would not deal lightly with you--nor would Celina, nor, likely, Corwin for her sake.
"But this is a moot point, as nobody knows where Moire is to enable her to do such a thing, nor to force her former supporters to turn on her. She has no supporters now, of course, if only as a matter of practicality." Florimel smiles again, in a way that suggests quite the opposite of her words' plain meaning.
Silhouette returns the smile, "Such a pity then that the Queen employed me to locate and befriend Moire's supporters in Rebma. My feted venality tends to attract the worst sort of individuals, after all. But an unsavory reputation can have its benefits."
She tops up their cups, "Celina is the key to your desires. She is young, malleable, and eager. These weaknesses are compounded by her mother's ill-treatment and the death of her lover. Fill these gaps, and she is yours. Then, she will provide you with the opportunity you seek. As well as serve as the perfect buttress against reprisals from the Two Kings."
She samples some of the fare before adding, "Maybe it is time for you to come to Rebma? If only to visit your sister. She is most concerned for you."
"Then you're well positioned to take advantage of whichever supporters might turn up. As for me--I'm needed here for the next while. If you wish to pursue the matter through the Rebman court, within the family rules--we will see then if you have the nature of Lucas' sister." Florimel smiles coolly and raises her teacup to Silhouette.
Silhouette raises her cup, bowing her head. "Indeed."
After a quick sip, "Might I ask one favor of you, Princess? A Trump of you. The ability to circumvent others in our communication would be highly beneficial."
"Unfortunately I don't." Florimel is already shaking her head in the negative before she begins to speak. "Trumps aren't simple to obtain even now, and they were less so before. Those who can make them are in high demand, and some even conceal their knowledge of the art. Lucas kept that knowledge mostly to himself until his death. It was Brand who taught him, you see, and that's not an affiliation many wish to admit to."
"Very well," Silhouette says, bowing her head. "Then, with your permission, I would return to Paris regularly for my business. We can speak of this matter further, under the pretense of discussing fashion trends to be brought back to Rebma. Few would doubt my consulting with you, as your refined aesthetic is legendary."
Florimel nods at the idea of regular visits. "I am certain you can come up with some excuse that will bring you to Paris, to keep me apprised of the situation.”
Soon after his call with Fiona comes to a close, Brennan feels the gentle stirring of another trump contact.
Brennan is flipping through the Maghee's prayer book and making notes when Folly calls, although he doesn't seem to have made very many. Possibly the wait just wasn't that long. He looks up at an angle through the contact, smiles briefly and says quietly, "Ready when you are. If you're having trouble following the conversation, I've got paper and a pen to take notes with so you can see them." Although Brennan rather suspects that they won't be needed, he does tend to come prepared. As he stands, he also tucks a pair of leather gloves into his belt.
For a moment, Brennan may feel Folly regarding him through the trump in appraisal -- taking in his posture and bearing, his attire, his expression, his movement. Whatever she learns from this, she seems quite pleased by it.
"I'm ready," she says. "We should be free of interruptions from my end for at least a little while." Brennan can see that she has moved from a porch overlooking a beach to a room that might almost be an office if it didn't have so many musical instruments in it.
Brennan nods, and hands the prayer book back to Folly, so she can flip through it and refer to it unseen while Brennan gets on with the interrogation.
With that, he makes his way briskly to the tower where they've stashed the prisoner. When he gets there, he enters the room, and surveys the scene-- Guards? Furnishings in the room? Restraints? Condition of the prisoner?-- before saying or doing anything.
The prisoner is in what seems to be a combination family chapel and library. As Brennan enters, he's looks up from a stack of books. Open in front of him is some sort of history of the island, with an emphasis on the mountain people. The room is well-appointed and there are no guards, no restraints, and the furniture is overstuffed leather. It's hardly a prison cell at all.
If Folly's view through the trump catches the aspects of the room that are most chapel-like, she'll take a moment to try to pick out any religious iconography or interesting motifs. Otherwise, she's quiet and listening as Brennan begins his interrogation of the Maghee.
The religious iconography centers around spears and horses.
"Ah, Captain Walker, these are a fascinating people. Are you familiar with them, beyond the current conflict?"
There is no possible way Brennan would stand for being interrogated by his own prisoner. Walker, however, has a very slightly higher tolerance for it, if only because he might get more out of the Maghee by playing good cop to what had been Balen's bad cop.
"These ain't my people," he says. "I ain't signed up to fight a war, neither, I'm just here after a job that went real bad at the end. What I hear, though, these folks ain't think much of you. Neither do those boys outside. They all just call you 'the Maghee.' What's your name?"
Brennan glances at the spines of the books he's reading, so he can return to them later if he needs to, or at least the subjects.
The books are bound folio-style, with no spines. They look to be hand-copied instead of printed.
The Maghee seems unsurprised. "Forgive me for not introducing myself sooner, I was rushed in our initial meeting, as you may remember. My name is Cameloeopardis Maghee. Our people are not loved. It is difficult to be the children of a diaspora."
Cameloeopardis? Apparently even the Maghees' mothers don't love them if they're naming their sons after giraffes, Brennan thinks.
Walker grunts at the memory. "Nothin' personal, I just ain't want these walls fallin' down till I'm done and gone. I reckon that gives these boys a pretty good reason not to like you, though." He gestures with a free hand to taken in, nebulously, everyone in the castle walls.
Then, "Diaspora. That means... you're lost? Looking for home?" Walker intentionally misunderstands the word somewhat.
"Ooh," Folly says, "he might volunteer it, but if not I'd be interested in his take on how his homeland fell and any legends about how his people might return to it, or gain a new one. And whether it seems weird to him that anyone -- like that high priestess of his -- might actually live in a sunken city beneath the waves." She experiments with shifting her view through the trump a bit, so that she can see the Maghee in addition to Brennan.
[OOC: Seeing both is not easy. Either Brennan has to sit beside the Maghee or he needs a "mirror of truth" or somesuch.]
The Maghee nods. He may have been a teacher, sometime in his life. "An interesting word, 'Disapora.' It means 'those who have been sewn throughout'. Do you know of the Fire Climax Pine Tree? The seeds can only germinate in a fire, thus assuring the species survival by creating new growth in burned-out areas. It's quite interesting. We call it 'the Disapora Pine' becuase it is so like us. Our home is gone, Walker.
"It's a story the Maghee tell of themselves."
Walker seems perhaps more interested in this than he ought to be. And he will take advantage of the Maghee's presumed pedantry as best he can.
"Gone can mean a lot of things," Walker says. "Occupied. Destroyed. Can't get there from here." Which, all things considered, might be an odd comment from a mercenary soldier like Walker. "Occupied means you can take it back. Destroyed means you can rebuild. Bringin' down these walls gonna help with those?"
He shrugs. "If Lir so wills, then perhaps it will. But Maghdeberg is on a sunken island, and the silver towers were, occupied and then destroyed in the final assault on the Sorcerer-King. We proudly sacrificed our home in that noble fight, but the aftermath of the war was not kind to those most victimized by it."
"I reckon if anybody could raise up a sunken island, it'd be a god. But I ain't never noticed the gods pay any much attention when you really need them." Walker punctuates his bitterness with an act of desecration-- he spits on the floor of the chapel library.
Go ahead, try to convert me, he thinks.
Folly may not be able to hear Brennan's thoughts through the Trump, but she reads his intent well enough; she blows out a breath, not quite a laugh, at his in-character goading of the Maghee.
"How'd your island sink?" he asks, although he sounds as though he can guess the rough outline of the answer-- the Sorcerer-King did it. Or at least caught the blame.
"I'm having trouble getting eyes on him to read his answers," Folly says softly through the trump. "If he says anything surprising, or interesting, you might want to jot down a note or two."
"Sinking it was our greatest achievement. We cut the land from beneath the Sorcerer's feet. It took our sorcerers a score of years and a bargain with the Fae to make it happen. He could not rebuild our towers against us." He smiles. "We are proud of our ancestors, but it ushered in an era of continual war. It was not until the Protector's Pax that anyone in this land felt safe, and then only those he was not oppressing directly."
Walker manages to scowl and smile at the same time, as though the Maghee managed to make his own point for him about the fickleness of the gods. "Sank your own island? Impressive, I suppose, but that's a rather Tartanian victory, you ask me." Walker turns to look out the window of the tower and let Folly get her eyes on the prisoner. The gesture gives him a moment to think, as well-- the Fae interest him quite a bit, but unless one of them is masquerading as a High Priestess of Lir, they're beside the point of this conversation.
Folly sees a man in what look like stereotypical monks' robes. He's middle aged, but fit, and looks like he's no stranger to physical activity.
"Better," Folly says.
Then, as though the thought just struck him, he asks, "Wait, though, ain't that where your Priestess came from?"
"And did they even have Priestesses in the city before it sank?" Folly adds to Brennan.
"When we brought down our towers, we brought down half of Avalon with it. The island was much larger then. It was home to a great forest, and when it sunk, the forest went underwater as well. Those with the magical skills to breathe underwater can visit both, as long as they keep their wits with them. It is an easy place to get dangerously lost."
Walker looks back over his shoulder with some skepticism. "Wouldn't you just be able to swim upwards?" he asks. He knows the Rebman answer to that one. Does the Maghee?
"In the forest? Then you're lost and tangled in the kelp and you may run into monsters. At least on the floor, you can be sure one direction is safe from attack."
When he gets the answer, he turns back to look out the window, trusting Folly to give him any visual information he might need. In fact, if he thinks Walker isn't watching, the reactions might be more genuine. "Your priestess caste-- they went along with this? They helped?"
Folly is, in fact, watching very closely to see if the Maghee's face shows any particular reaction, especially at reference to the 'priestess caste'.
The prisoner nods. It's clear to both Folly and Brennan that he doesn't quite agree with Brennan's characterization, but isn't going to argue too much.
After a moment, he replies. "They did. The priests and priestess were different then. I'd've been a priest in those days, or I wouldn't have been a magician. Lir was more sparing with his gifts, before the Towers fell."
"...And that makes me wonder about the possible sources of 'Lir's gifts'," says Folly, who caught enough of that through lip-reading to get the gist. "Too bad Brita's not there to... y'know, sniff him."
No conclusive Rebma, though Brennan mouths, still looking out the window.
Walker doesn't seem too impressed with the idea of being caught in kelp, but maybe that's because he's never actually been caught in such a forest. "And this is something people do, breathe water in a sunken city." It's not quite a question. "This is something you've done?" That is. "Why? Pilgrimage?"
The Maghee smiles. "Not I, soldier. I am not religious. No, I was a seeker after esoteric knowledge when I entered the sunken city. Some of my kin wanted to go, doubtless to recover the great treasures of the clan, but they needed to breathe water, so that needed a mage. I had my own needs, so I went with them.
"My kinsmen did not survive, and I was taken prisoner. It is good for me that the spell to breathe water is so very, very simple."
"You were captured?" Walker asks. Brennan is moderately surprised at that, too. "So you're saying people... live there in this sunken city? This I gotta hear about. Why'd you go? What's this place like?" Unremarked upon is the terribly cyclical nature of the Maghee's existence, bouncing from one failed expedition to another, always ending up captured and, presumably, escaping.
Walker continues to divide his attention between the window and the Maghee, giving Folly as much opportunity to keep her eyes on him as possible without looking artificial.
Through the trump, Folly looks as though she may have had a question or two to add herself, but the bit about being captured takes her rather by surprise, too. She peers through the connection and over Brennan's shoulder to try to read the Maghee's response.
The Maghee nods. "I was captured twice, before this. We always knew some of our magical creations might have survived. Some of them were hardy, and some would have had no need to breathe. But it was not these who captured me. There is some part of an army there, men who fled from a battle in some distant place, who breathed water with no magics. They were surviving well, netting fish and establishing strongpoints. They'd fled the deep monsters of the forest and come to this edge. They told of kingdoms on the far side of the forest where people lived undersea as if it were land and where women ruled over men. It was like a fairy tale."
He waves his hands, trying to encompass the whole of the island and the ocean and failing. "They were going to the city, which they had seen as they exited what they called 'the accursed city'. I was spared to be their guide. I did not tell them I had never dared to venture into it before. They were reasonably kind, for soldiers. I gave them no trouble.
"No, that was all the doing of Lir's Chosen." He pauses, to see if Walker has questions.
That makes almost no sense compared to Brennan's model of how things work. Rebma-- because that's obviously what he's talking about-- and Avalon should be connected along the Faiella-Bionin, not some arbitrary meander through an undersea kelp forest. They *are* connected along the Faiella-Bionin, Brennan proved it. And that kelp forest, in relation to Rebma, sounds like Nedra. Having it also be the remnants of a surface-Avalonian forest is... troubling for the timeline. But not as troubling as the recollection that Nedra has a Dragon associated with it.
He lets some of that confusion register on Walker's face.
"So these deserters that took you captive, they was on the run from the accursed city on their way to *your* sunken city, Maghdeburg-- and this kelp forest between them is what used to be the forest on land?" That wasn't entirely for Folly's benefit. There were just enough loose pronouns in there that he wanted to clarify and try to fix the geography in his head. He lets the Maghee correct him if he got anything wrong, then lets him proceed.
The shaggy-haired wizard shakes his head. "No, I misstated. I speak Thari poorly. They called the forest accursed, because it was full of monsters that chased them out. They did swear about the city, because it bested them in war, but the edge of the forest was where they were when they sighted Maghdeburg. I do not think they intended to enter Madghdeburg when they entered the forest, but once they were run off, it seemed a good enough goal."
Walker nods his understanding and gestures for him to continue.
"They were loud and whatever denizens of the city we came across chose to avoid us rather than confront us. I would have investigated the towers, but I was in no position to insist. I was curious to see the palace, so I did not protest at all.
"The palace was a ruin, but we were not the first to approach, not by centuries. The opulence of the Sorcerer-King had long been stolen or drowned. 'The treasure is below', their Captain said. We were looking for a way downwards.
"I was the one who found the way to open the throne room door. The room was huge, perhaps a thousand feet across, and we had entered from above, behind the throne. What a throne! Carved from a single giant sapphire, it was both the apex of the decadence of the King, and so bulky as to defy thievery. As soon as I saw it, I was struck by a vision. I saw the floor of the throne room light up in great spirals of light, centered on a man, following them along the floor. Sparks flew from his feet where they touched the line.
"'Do you see that, Captain?', I asked and he said nothing, or at least to me. Something was happening to him and his men, but my eyes were glued to the man. He was struggling, and the sparks threatened to engulf him.
"I know it was a vision, and not reality, because the next thing I saw was the Sorcerer-King, Karol Le Magne in our tongue. Corwin. He was in front of the man, with his sword raised. He was fighting the Protector, who was not even in Avalon at the same time as the Sorcerer-King."
Folly has been watching the tale-telling closely through the trump, but that really gets her attention. She leans forward, wide-eyed.
"They all disappeared behind the sparks and I passed out and fell to the ground next to the throne.
"When I woke up, she was on the throne and the floor was no longer blazing."
He reaches for a tankard of water and drinks half of it down.
In the back of his mind, Brennan makes a promise to himself to somehow, someday, plague Brooke, Leif, Jasmine and the rest of the youngsters similarly.
Walker takes out a pewter hip flask with the characteristic wolf and hawk motif of Reme pressed into it. Perhaps it was once fine, but now, it's mostly been beat to hell. Walker takes a pull from it out of good faith, before offering it to the Maghee to steady himself. It's got something in it that's technically brandy, but isn't now, never was, and won't ever be fine. But it's drinkable.
He makes sure to take it back with a murmured, "All I got left to remember," comment.
Once the Maghee looks ready to proceed, he says, "If that was a vision, that mean you know what comes next is real?"
"Have we gotten a physical description of this priestess-woman yet?" Folly says. "I've got some sketches you can show him to try to rule out anyone we know. Not active ones, just pictures." She's pulling a small box from her pocket and thumbing it open one-handed as she speaks; she retrieves three cards by touch and offers them face-down to Brennan through the contact.
The Maghee takes the flask and drinks the brandylike liquid. Of all the things he may be, averse to alcohol is not one of them. His enjoyment is clear, and he thanks Walker for the refreshment. "She was sitting on the throne, tall and thin like a reed, and dark. She was paying no attention to me, but instead to the rune-carved sword, held by no hand, at her throat. She spoke, addressing the phantom swordsman as 'Corwin', and I saw that the Protector stood on her far side. The protector clashed with the invisible assassin, or at least with his sorcerous blade.
"The Protector's blade had changed hands, and his free hand shot forward and fixed itself upon some unseen target. The two blades parried one another, locked, pressed, their points moving toward the ceiling. The Protector's right hand continued to tighten. Suddenly, the Sorcerer-King's blade was free, and moving past the other. It struck a terrific blow to the Protector's right arm, severing it cleanly.
"Then the Protector turned and dropped to one knee. He clutched at the stump of his arm, and I watched as it regrew from the stump like smoke from a fire. The severed arm hung in the air near the floating sword. It was moving away from the Protector and descending, as was the blade. When both reached the floor, they did not strike it but passed on through, vanishing from sight. When I looked for the Protector again, he was enveloped in smoke, and gone when the smoke cleared.
"Before I had time to regain my wits, the enthroned woman spoke to me. 'My name is Dara. What did you seek here, if not your death?'"
There are a lot of responses that bubble up immediately to Brennan's consciousness: 'Was the arm mechanical?' is one. 'That's no Priestess of Lir, that's my insane cousin!' is another. And, 'I wonder where the arm went if it wasn't mechanical?' (And his mind immediately answers him, 'In the basement of this place, probably.')
Absolutely none of those things is appropriate for Walker to say, though.
"Well, what did you say, man?"
While he's distracted by his telling, Brennan takes the sketches from Folly if he can do it surreptitiously.
"And unfortunately, if it really was Dara, she could have looked like anyone," Folly says, frowning.
The sketch handoff goes smoothly. The Maghee is quite wrapped up in his storytelling.
If Brennan glances at the sketches, he sees that they are vividly colored in an art nouveau style: the images are stylized but still recognizable as their subjects -- Moins, Moire, and Dara. Something about the layout or decoration of the Moire card gives a faint sense of unease; the Dara card, even moreso -- there is even a hint of a skull-and-crossbones shape hidden in the negative space of the background swirls. Brennan might guess that their primary purpose is as a teaching aid.
"I was too stunned not to be honest, Captain. 'My past, Lady,' I said. 'Here my ancestors overthrew the sorcerer-King Corwin, at great cost.' She became quite excited when I mentioned Corwin, and claimed to be of the house and lineage of Lir, the great patron of the Maghees. She told me many mysteries of the home of the gods, and the lives of Lir and Corwin and the Protector." He pauses, and drinks the last of the drink Walker handed him.
"She was here researching the Sorcerer-King as well, for he has returned. When she stated her intent to destroy him and bring down his new kingdom, I naturally offered my aid. She said I would receive my instructions shortly, and that I should sleep, and that a priestess of Lir would tell me her bidding. Her magics made me sleep then and there.
"And so it was. Through I know not what magics, when I awoke Lady Dara was gone, but another woman was tending to me. 'Are you Lir's Priestess?' I asked her, and she said she was. She ordered me to take command of her ships and attack Methrin's Isle. It was not until I left the sea that I began to doubt my experiences. I am not usually so ... revolutionary.
"Which brings us to the present, Captain. I fully intend to stay on this Island until I die, for I fear that the sea will not appreciate my change of heart."
"I ain't so sure it does," Walker says, "and there's a lot in that story that ain't make sense about the Protector and the Sorcerer-King. But before we get to that, I want you to look at these, tell me what you think."
The Maghee is about to interrupt, but quiets at Walker's last request, merely nodding at the delay of the former subject.
He arranges them where Folly can see them, then puts them on the table in a stack face down. When the prisoner turns them face up, they will do so in the order of Moins, Moire, and finally Dara.
The Maghee deals them out, the first two upright and the last turned 90 degrees.
"There are so many ways to read a spread of three. Virtue, Fault, Fate is one. Past, Present and Future is another. The cause, the case, and the conclusion in some descriptions.
"In one deck, these could be The Creator, The Defender, and The Usurper. Or in another, The Empress, The High Priestess, and Justice.
He points to Dara. "She is Dara, a goddess of Amber, of whom I have spoken. On the other end," he says, pointing to Moins," is Lir's wife, Dido, in whose service he died. She is Elyssa, the Blessed. The Dido. You can read much of her, and their eternal love that went beyond even the bounds of death in the book of my people that I gave you." He smiles.
He pauses on Moire's picture, his confidence from before abandons him. "I ... This one I know, but I do not know why. Who is she?"
Brennan makes a mental note to research Moire's paternity.
"I was hoping you'd tell me," Walker says. "But I know more now than I did. A seer woman told me they was the only hope I had of getting back home from here. She ain't sound so hopeful when she came out of it, though. But now I know where one is-- or was, anyways," he taps the image of Dara, "and this one's name," he taps the image of Moins, or as the Maghee called her, the Dido. "I ain't have time to read your book, much, but maybe it'll tell me where she's at, too.
"That leaves this one," he taps the Moire card. "What's it mean, you know her but you ain't know why? You met her but ain't remember it?" Walker seems to decide that's the case and presses it a little, trying to jog his memory: "What else comes to mind, looking at her? A time, a place? Some other people? By God, if she's the Present, she could be my best hope!" There is increasing urgency in Walker's voice as he continues, slipping further into the dialect from his putative homeland.
Folly, smirking through the contact at Brennan's strategy, says, "Probably not that 'Priestess of Lir', then, although perhaps it's possible she was among the ships he brought to Methryn's Isle. I don't really see what she'd have to gain from being part of this attack though -- what either of them would gain, for that matter, if Dara's stated aim is to bring down Corwin. Unless this was some sort of test-case: win against Benedict, or at least against his Optimized War Shadow, and you know a win against Corwin will be easy by comparison." She shakes her head, not fully satisfied with that explanation.
"Do we know where this sunken city is relative to where the known path seaward hits land?" Folly asks. "From his story, it almost sounds like he ended up on the skyward side, you know?"
The magician sits, his brow knitted in thought. "Captain, I can only say that I don't know. My mind wars, with half saying she is the Priestess who sent me here and half denying that thought." His hand shakes, slightly as he reaches out and touches the Moire card.
While the Maghee sits and thinks, Walker's face is composed but his teeth grind so hard in frustration that the sound is audible. "Stay here," he tells the man, as though he really has any choice in the matter. He sweeps up the three cards, puts them in a pocket (not with his Trumps) and leaves the room, closing the door behind him.
"Fetch Balen," he directs the guards outside, then takes up a position to guard the door himself... far enough that he won't be overheard when he talks to Folly, but close enough that he'll see Balen coming.
Once he's got suitable privacy, he says to Folly, "If one of them put a geis on him, she won't be able to break it, but she'll probably confirm it. And it gives us a chance to confer." Pause for a beat, then, "What a mess. Either of them alone I could understand, but together...?" He scrubs a hand through his hair. "How many calls you think we'll need to make?"
"My count is up to four or five at least, probably starting with Corwin. Or possibly Merlin," Folly says grimly. "But there's something a bit off about the whole topology of his story, both in time and in space, you know? Like, I might believe that what he witnessed was another angle on the singularity of that wackiness with Ben and Corwin, rather than being actually 'here' and 'now', except for Dara making reference to Corwin's 'new kingdom'." She frowns. "And it feels more plausible to me that Dara would herself take on Moire's guise to... I dunno, imply a broader alliance, maybe, or tap into this guy's own mythology, if I thought she were that subtle... than that they're actually working together."
"It's like we've got the pieces of three puzzles all mixed together," he agrees. "I don't buy the masquerade angle, though, at least not with that motive. Why impersonate someone and then magically prevent the witness from remembering or talking about it? I will note that she doesn't seem to have said the 'new Kingdom' is here, though-- only that he should attack here. Which... still makes very little sense."
He sighs. "I can make a case for the Present," he is still too cagey to name names even when he's sure he won't be overheard, "taking those actions even if it's a thin case. I can make a case for the Future having some interest in the area, but the actions make no sense. But I can't come up with any excuse for them to work together at all. We're going to need to wring more information out of the prisoner and if local talent can't break that block... well, I have a better chance, but then I can't let him go walking around free afterwards."
And as cold as Brennan can be, sometimes, it doesn't sound as though he is enthusiastic about casual murder.
"Yeah, I'd rather we avoid that option if we can," Folly says grimly. "I'm rather beginning to feel sorry for the poor guy. And I suspect there could be other reasons than just a geas from that priestess that he's having trouble working out or remembering what exactly he saw. I mean...." She hesitates, and Brennan can tell she is choosing her words carefully. When she speaks again, her voice is unexpectedly gentle. "...This isn't the first person we know of to end up on an unexpected vision-quest on the edges of that realm and then not really remember it afterward."
"Well, he could always be... relocated," Brennan says. "But at that point, there's no way to leave him in a position to help his people and avoid being a Family catspaw." He shrugs. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and while he's not going to cut the man's throat as a result, Camelopardalis' happiness in life is not his uppermost concern.
Then he frowns, evidently having worked out what Folly meant about vision quests. "Vision-quest. That's... true... I suppose," he says finally. "But it seems an awfully specific effect. Speaking of that, I could almost understand the vision about the arm as a sort of resonance of what we heard about from during the War." When Brennan capitalizes it, there's only one war to refer to. "But again, the geography of it. Why would there be a resonance in a place that isn't a Realm? As unhappy as the Uncles will be that's a mighty curious thing. There's been enough of those freak visions that I think I'm going to have to bother an Aunt about it."
"Well, I can certainly believe there might be a resonance effect from being at a metaphysical balance point between two realms -- or among three," Folly says. "If it really were at the balance between just the landward and seaward sides, I would have expected you to see it on your trip up. But if you throw in the skyward side...."
She hesitates, pursing her lips, then continues, "I just can't shake the feeling that there's some kind of screwy time effect at play in all of these vision-things. Like Brita witnessing a walk from the history books. Which, come to think of it, she experienced at about the same time as that other vision-quest." She frowns thoughtfully. "You should ask your mage whether there was a full moon when he had his vision. And have any members of that fleet that the mystery high-priestess gave over to him been captured? It would be interesting to hear their side of the story."
"No, I had the same thought myself," Brennan says. "There's no reason at all to think they were both in the same time frame. It's not normally my first conjecture, but given the circumstances... it might make my head hurt less to consider that, than to figure out why those two would be working together.
"As for the rest of the fleet, I have no captives but there's a whole bunch of them sitting outside. You can see them from the window if I stand in the right place while I look at him. I don't have their full story, but they seem to be just corsair thugs and their arrangement is one of the things I meant when I said part of his story was shaky. It might just be ethnic tensions and greed, but they don't seem to think of themselves as being led by our new best friend. In theory, I traded this guy for the weapon he summoned that would bring down the castle, so I'll have to give him back soon and they can go on their way and mug someone else." He shrugs, faintly. "I figured outright destroying the invading force would send up red flags. I may alter the deal, though."
"Captain Walker? Who are you speaking to?" Balen steps silently into the passage. "What deal do you speak of?"
Folly, who doesn't have quite the right angle to have seen Balen, asks, "Do they declare any particular loyalty to anyone else, though? Someone of our gifts could have rallied a fleet like that and pointed them in this direction. If that's the case, it would be interesting to know who pulled the strings."
Walker has the grace to look sheepish. "Myself, I reckon. Can't say much more useful to that Maghee until you have at him, and then we may not want to cut him loose. Something about that boy just ain't right."
He gives a long, slow exhalation and proceeds to fill her in. He gives her a thumbnail sketch of the conversation, but adds more detail when they get to Camelopardalis' Excellent Underwater Adventure: It is the encounter with Dara and then the high priestess that receives the most detail, especially the priestess' command to take her ships and attack this island. "...And by this time, all the hair on my neck's standing straight 'cause I ain't heard anything that fey-weird since-- well. Not for a long time. Before I ever set foot on Methryn's Isle, I asked a seer-woman how to get back home. She gave me these pictures and reasons to believe she ain't a fraud. So I followed my gut, showed him the pictures."
Brennan holds them out in turn. "This one, he says is the woman on the throne and it matches the description he gave before he ever saw the card."
"I have seen her in an ancient book. She was a Hell-Maiden? I don't recall. Some sort of minor demon of temptation."
"This one he said is Dido, someone from his religion. I still got his book, I can read about that."
"Dido was Lir's lover, and when he left her to go seek adventure in foreign wars, she cried so much that she drowned her kingdom, and turned the sea-water salty. It is a chlidren's tale. I am not surprised they still tell it amongst the Maghees. I have no idea why he would think he knows what she would look like."
Walker looks as though he might hazard a guess, but decides not to get her on a tangent. It's the middle one he's interested in.
"But this one..." he shakes his head like he's trying to get a gnat out of it. "This one he says he yes and no, he knows her and he ain't. Gets confused when I press him. I think someone's... done something to his head." Walker gives a perfectly unambiguous shrug that is wholly unlike Brennan's trademark finger-waggle but has the same meaning: Magic. "I reckon we both got our reasons for wanting to know more, and I reckon you're the one to tell me if someone's messed with his head. And maybe un-mess it."
He doesn't yet advance the hypothesis that she is the priestess-- he wants her to make that connection for herself.
It should go without saying that Brennan watches her reactions to the cards as closely as he can through Walker's story-telling.
"I can at least tell if he is under a glamour, and depending on what it is, may be able to lift it. It sounds as if it is breaking down already."
She hesitates. "He shouldn't recognize Queen Moire of Rebma, unless he's also working for the Protector, and that's not the story you told."
"Moire," he repeats, as though fixing her name in his mind. "Now I got names for all three."
Then, "No, he ain't say nothin' about working for your Protector. Don't really know what he thinks about him. He ain't say she's this priestess he seen, either, that's just my hunch. So, yeah, let's go see if you can get rid of this glamour," he uses her expert word for it.
Unless she stops him, he moves for the door and escorts her in.
Balen puts her hand on his arm. "There are risks. Sometimes removing a glamour kills the subject. Sometimes worse, it might disrupt other spells on him. It's not common, though. I'll warn you before it starts, but be prepared to defend us."
Brennan may notice that Folly has gone very still and quiet on the other side of the trump contact as Balen touches his arm. She's still there, but there's a feeling of partial withdrawal, as if she's peeking out from behind a mental screen.
Walker is no more a huggy, physical-contact kind of guy than Brennan is, and Brennan is aware that he's in Trump contact with Folly. If there's a way to decline that physical contact with grace or subtlety, he'll do it. At the very least, he'll make sure it lands on leather, not on bare skin.
She then lets him escort her in. She nods at the prisoner, and looks around the room. "Maghee, you seem glamoured, at least to the Captain. Are you willing to let me try to remove it?"
He sighs. "There's not much choice, is there? Remove it or none of us know when it might make me do something I cannot control."
She nods. "I will do my best to prevent that." Balen turns. "Captain Walker, please lash him to the chair." She points to a number of leather straps on a shelf on the wall. Cameleopardis sits down and puts his hands against the chair arms, ready to be strapped in.
Now that Balen is no longer touching him, Folly says to Brennan, "I don't know if there are likely to be any effects from being in a trump contact while a shadow sorceress does her thing in the same room. If you're concerned -- or if you start to get a headache or something -- just scratch your nose, and I'll drop the contact and call you back in a few minutes."
Brennan thinks that over while he starts to rearrange the furniture, clearing a broad circle for the chair to sit in, and selecting the stoutest chair he can find. By the time he's done that, he's come to the conclusion that it's for the best that they cut the contact-- not because of Balen, unless she's got a notable fraction of Amber or Rebman blood and is a true Sorceress without knowing it, but because he can't figure out how to secure Cameleopardis without touching him. And because if things go very far south he may need to take actions that would be profoundly unwise while within a Trump contact.
He srcatches his nose and waits for Folly to drop the contact before proceeding.
When she does, he secures the Maghee properly to the chair: Boots and footgear off, no jewelry or any other adornments he may have that might fray the leather, etc. Hands behind the chair back, not on the arm rests. Feet bound at the ankles under the seat. Legs bound at the knees, thighs bound to the seat, abdomen to the chair back. He considers trying to bind the man's head into position, or bind the neck, but decides against it. That might end up killing him if he ends up possessed, or convulsing. Neither Brennan nor Walker are sadists or fools, either: The bonds are secure and professional, but not injuriously tight or torturous. The Maghee will be glad to stand up when this is over, but not injured. Not as a result of the leather straps, anyway.
"You're a brave man, Cameleopardis," he says.
He laughs, ruefully. "I am a Maghee. My ancestors demand it. I feel an injustice has been done to me, and I must know."
Then, to Balen, "His eyes?" Frankly, Brennan thinks that will be more protection for Balen than anything else if someone-- Dara, Moire, anyone similar, ends up looking out of his eyes, but he can't really say that. If she nods, Walker will find a hood or a blindfold or something suitable and secure it into space.
"No. I need them open. They will reflect."
Walker shrugs and leaves his eyes unobstructed.
Brennan notes to himself that Balen seems to have been extremely well-briefed about people like Moire, although perhaps the level of threat that Moire poses may not fully have penetrated. Or more competent than Brennan would expect for a Shadow wizard. Belatedly, he is beginning to suspect that she actually is one of Benedict's agents... although he still has no intention of giving up the cover at this point. What she doesn't know serves to protect her as much as Brennan's current task.
Either way, when he's finished, he'll give his work a weather eye, then fish a piece of chalk from a pocket and put marks around the chair, about a foot farther away than what he thinks the man's reach would be if he broke loose in a spasm.
Then he takes up position behind Cameleopardis, pats him on the shoulder twice to reassure him, and nods to Balen.
Balen produces a candle, which she lights. She walks widdershins around the bound man, along the chalk circle. She's chanting, and so is Camelopardis.
The smoke from the candle is unusually dark and cohesive. It spirals in around the Magee, not dissipating. The room was always warm, but now it's sweltering and even Brennan can feel the soporific effect of her actions.
She steps up to Camelopardis and slowly begins to part the clouds of smoke that surround him. She digs deep and the smoke moves like mud, swirling back in, but slowly. Eventually she is down to his bare head. Balen sighs.
"So, yes, then?" says Camelopardis.
She nods. "And very old. The dangerous kind. Should I procede?" She's talking to Camelopardis but looking directly at Walker, through the break she's made in the smoke.
Walker shifts his stance as though about to take some action to secure the Maghee even more, then realizes it's futile. Unless he grapples the man while he's still seated, there's not much more than can be done to further immobilize him.
"Do it," he says, and adds, "Don't get killed doing this." To both of them, really.
Brennan also brings up the Third Eye, entirely passively, with no special Astral component. If he can passively use it while in a Trump contact, he should be able to passively use it here without drawing attention to himself. Especially since Balen and Cameleopardis are going to be otherwise occupied.
Astrally, the magician looks no different than he did before, although the smoke seems to be causing something else to show up. Camelopardis seems to have some chaosian Sorcery applied to him, with a principal of Time, but used differently than the way Brennan knows it. It's definitely affected him and drastically so.
Whoever cast this wasn't very good with the principal, because it seems that it is vulnerable to local magical tampering. Balen reaches out and undoes a strand of the magic. That goes well. Then she removes another of the loops, and Camelopardis, who has resumed chanting, breathes easier. "Oh!", he says. Brennan sees the sorcery begin to shimmer, as if it is unstable.
Balen bites her lip, and starts moving her hands faster. "I'm not sure I can control this anymore. I'm trying to do this in a controlled fashion, but it's about to come loose."
Camelopardis lets out another noise, as if he's been hit. He's chanting again, through clenched teeth, and his sweating profusely. "Don't stop!" he hisses. His head snaps back, to the extent that it can.
Balen reaches in and pulls one more loop, and the entire edifice slides off, including all of the Time-based Sorcery that was so loosely attached to Camelopardis.
The smoke stays pooled on the floor, and starts dissipating. Balen snuffs the candle and the room becomes noticeably cooler and brighter.
"I'm free of the compulsion, then?" says Camelopardis. His hair has turned completely white, and he looks somewhat fragile.
Balen nods. "Yes. But I suspect there's still a price to pay. I'd rather if we'd had to wrestle with an actual demon. I have a bad feeling."
Brennan knows full well that Dara knows the Principle of Time. There's a good chance that Dara doesn't even know that he knows-- not that she would have any reason to suspect Brennan, of all people, to come romping through whatever scheme the spiders in her mind have hatched. But there's no way she's that sloppy with it. If this is Dara's work, then this was meant to unravel that way. Not unlike Brennan's entropy bombs.
If Balen is smart and has any heart at all, she'll want to be somewhere else, right about now. So, as he starts to undo Cameleopardis' bindings, he says quietly, "Why don't you let this man and I finish our chat?"
Balen nods and steps out.
There are no mirrors in the room, so there is no fear that he'll see his own face. Once his hands are free, though, there will be no way to prevent him from seeing his own skin.
"The woman, Cameleopardis," he puts the cards in front of him again, Moire front and center. "Who is she?"
While he's concentrating on that, or his new condition, or both, Brennan shifts from the passive third eye to a much more active Astral view trying to determine two things:
How much time has he got left? Minutes? Hours? Days? Is he still aging out before Brennan's eyes, or has he just been aged and still has a brief but natural span before him?
He's still aging.
And is there any residual Sorcery left on him that Balen couldn't discern and/or get rid of?
There's a bit of the time sorcery, but it's dissipating fast without its anchor, which was itself. It was a neat piece of work, but it's irrecoverable, now. It's like his time is reeling back into him.
"I ... don't recall, clearly. She was the one who woke me up. She wasn't really a Priestess, was she? She just told me that to get me to do her bidding.
"She told me the Sorcerer-King had a daughter who had wrested Dido's kingdom from her, and that I was to prepare the way here." His lips form a thin line. "I must have been ensorcelled to believe that. That one has made an enemy of all Maghees."
"You shouldn't judge people by their fathers, anyway," he says. "My father was no prize, either. This is important, Cameleopardis: How were you to prepare the way? Why this place and were there others? Why were you to prepare the way here? How did this help with the Dido's realm?" All of which is to suggest that the best way for him to throw a wrench into Moire's plans is for him to tell everything he knows about them. Walker does, after all, have a demonstrated ability to screw peoples' plans just by sheer orneriness.
Although for the moment, out of respect for the dying, he's dropped the Walker dialect.
"I don't know, I wasn't consulted, just told. She wanted a lot of fighting here. Doesn't make any sense, it's not like this island is of any importance. I didn't even know there was a castle up here."
He nods as though it does make sense. "All right, one more question for me, and then one for you," he says.
"First: Describe to me every piece of jewelry these women were wearing, ever piece of jewelry you saw."
He coughs, and it is disturbingly wet. There doesn't seem to be any blood in it. "I am a magician, young man, for all that I may look like a shopkeeper. I would only notice such things if they were magical.
"No, I do remember. The Queen, she had a pendant jewel on a chain around her neck. She used it a focus when she awoke me."
Brennan nods. Of course she was. It's a cause for curiosity and mild concern, then, that Balen was able to do anything about it at all.
Brennan, still looking through the Astral-enhanced Third Eye, glances back at the door to make sure no one is huddling behind it eavesdropping.
No one is. While Balen is in the hall, she is some distance from the door. Unless Brennan leaves by another exit, she'll see (and presumably intercept him).
"Second: I will not give you a mirror, but look at your hands. Feel your skin. You've been used more terribly than you may know, and while I am... not innocent, this was their work, one of them. This was the consequence of releasing the glamour. Tell me, Cameleopardis, what do you want for your people, going forward? If you could guide them, how would you do so?"
He looks at his hands. "My age is catching up to me. I guessed this might happen. When no one on the corsairs' ship had heard of a Bobbit Worm, I thought it odd. I suspect the glamour kept me from wondering why. Luckily it kept me from worrying about undoing it as well.
"I should write a letter to the clan. It will be brief. If I had my materials, I'd dictate it to an enchanted scroll, but that I will not see again.
He looks Brennan in the eye. "How long would you say I have?"
Brennan looks back, and doesn't flinch. "I'm sorry, Cameleopardis, but... not long. Maybe not long enough to write, with those hands. If you think it will serve, I will be your scribe." He produces paper and a writing implement, either for Cameleopardis or for himself.
Camelopardis nods. "Please write exactly as I say it, so that they will know it is from me." He waits for Walker's acknowledgement before continuing.
"To the Council of the Sons of Ghee, greetings. I am Camelopardis Findanus, and I give this testimony freely to the Mercenary Sorcerer Walker of Afalon. I am in the new castle on Ynys Meithryn, where by the trickery and dark magics of the Corsairs I was made to fight the allies of the Protector.
"You have not heard from me in many years, and I assume you govern well by our old custom. I say unto you that the Corsairs of the Gogledd-Orllewinol sea are allies with the Queen of Rebma, whom I declare our enemy. The time is coming when we once more may have to battle with Gods, like unto the great heroes of our people in the war against the Sorcerer-King.
"For now, I die. The magics that unnaturally extended my life are dispelled. I grant my blessings to all of the clan. Fall upon our enemies like wolves, my people.
"Triogal Ma Dh'ream/ Een dhn bait spair nocht"
He turns to Walker. "If you can add my arms, that would be best. It's a giraffe's head erased Proper, crowned with an antique crown Or. The girl outside can get it drawn, if you're not skilled in heraldry."
It is at about this point that Brennan again feels the gentle stirring of a Trump contact.
Brennan hesitates over taking the Trump call, but decides to allow it-- or at least, not to fight it. He doesn't acknowledge it immediately when it come through. Instead, he reads back the draft of Cameleopardis' letter back to him, for Folly's benefit-- it will give her almost all the context she missed.
"'Camelopardis Findanus'," Folly repeats as she mulls the letter over. "I wonder if the whole clan traces its descent from Finndo?" she muses.
That is not a thought that had occurred to Brennan. But he suspects it is more a reference to following Lir, than being descended of him. Even so, one never knows.
"That part about the Queen of Rebma might want to change," Brennan suggests, mildly. "She's not, anymore." The passage about the Sorcerer-King, he leaves unchallenged, and offers no explanation of how he might know any of that. And he's not going to waste his breath denying he's a sorcerer to a dying man.
"Did you say this Balen and Trippel are the Protector's allies?" he asks. It's almost, but not quite, a non-sequitur, to Cameleopardis. But not a non-sequitur to Folly.
Camelopardis nods. He's still getting older by the moment. His skin is like parchment. "I did. It's a conclusion. The Queen expected the Protector to support him, which would help her." He takes a deep breath, as if he was going to say more, but doesn't.
He begins sketching Cameleopardis' device on a separate sheet of paper, to present for his approval. He's no Ossian or Folly, but his hand is steady and captures the image of his mind well enough.
As Brennan moves to draw the device, Folly catches a glimpse of Camelopardis and sucks in a breath. "Poor man," she says. She hesitates, then adds darkly, "If he really is descended of Finndo, I wonder if he gets a death curse? Besides calling on the wrath of the Maghees, I mean."
Brennan suspects not-- it's been centuries if not millennia-- but there's no easy way for him to say so.
He finishes his sketch and hands it to Camelopardis for his approval. "Then we don't actually know they are the Protector's true allies, since we don't have it from him," he says. Again, more for Folly's ears than for Camelopardis'. By Brennan's way of thinking, she has spoken to him recently.
"I will see these delivered. But what Moire has done, angers and offends me." Certainly a true statement in both senses-- the treatment of Camelopardis, and the treatment of Rebma. "Should the need come, will your people join me? Is there a phrase or a token by which your council may recognize me?"
Camelopardis coughs, and Brennan can see his hair falling out. "The letter you have, with our motto in it, should be enow. 'Triogal Ma Dh'ream/ Een dhn bait spair nocht'. It should move the Maghees to war."
He doesn't seem to have long to live.
Brennan nods and closes his eyes for a moment.
"Very well. Rest now, Cameleopardis Findanus. I will see your words to your people spread wide, and Moire opposed. I regret your passing, for I feel we may have called each other friends had things fallen out otherwise, and that is a rare thing. I am sorry, Cameleopardis, for the use that was made of you, and I will mourn you."
Brennan gives the man what comfort he can.
Camelopardis nods. "Don't mourn. Waste of time. Fight. Of all my captors, you were ... the--" He closes his eyes, and slips peacefully from his elongated life. He slumps in the chair and is gone.
"I mourn as I choose, my friend," Brennan says.
Out of respect, he covers him with his cloak while he talks to Folly in the same low tones he was speaking to Cameleopardis. Since he no longer needs to worry about Folly's viewpoint, he keeps a Third Eye view of the door to make sure Balen doesn't barge in and find him talking to himself again.
After a long moment of respectful silence, Folly chants in a lilting tone that is not quite a song, but sounds as if it ought to have distant bagpipes behind it:
"'Triogal Ma Dh'ream,' the red Magruder said, 'Een dhn bait spair nocht' -- and here is where they bled: The enemies of peace that by this shore we fought. 'Mine is the blood of royals; slay, and spare ye not.'"
She falls silent again after the chant ends. Then, "I don't even remember where I learned it, but that phrase made me think of it. That was what made me think he might actually be one of Finndo's, way back."
"Possible," Brennan says. "But not of greatest concern. Even if they are, it's probably been fifty generations or more, from then to now. Here's what I got out of that-- Moire just played the corsairs and the Maghees both, possibly as a diversion for the Protector. Diversion for what, I think we all know, but not the details.
"We now know of two routes from here to there-- one through the Kelp, and one along the Great Road. It doesn't seem like something through the Kelp would need a diversion, but the Road probably would. And it would be my preferred route if I were invading. And if I really wanted to hit hard, I'd do both-- a visible force through the Kelp to draw the City's defenses and an elite force along the Road. Something like that.
"So. What to do and who to tell," he asks.
"I'd say Corwin, Celina, Benedict, and Random are at the top of the 'who to tell' list," Folly says. "Did any of the stuff I missed when I dropped out shed more light on whether Dara and Moire are actually working together? -- because it doesn't seem as though they'd be interested in going the same direction. Who do we think put the magical whammy on him?"
"Maybe not in that order, but yeah," Brennan says. "The Queen might be hard to reach. But for reasons of my own I'll be talking to my Aunt soon, and her children should hopefully have returned there by now. My brother was there as well.
"To answer your question, almost no new information. He was convinced that Moire did it, and I'm inclined to agree. The bits with Dara just seem... off, somehow. They just put me in mind of the kind of visions one has in Tir," and despite his best efforts, Brennan's concentration wavers for a moment before he forces it back to Folly. "I'm going to be aggressively agnostic, because I hate being wrong and I don't want to close my mind."
"Well then, let me ask you this: Do you think it's possible that vision might suggest active involvement by an agent of Tir rather than just a passive proximity-related effect?" Folly gives a little shrug. "I don't know that we have enough information to say one way or the other, but it might be worth bringing up with your aunt if you're--- Oh, there's a thought...." Folly squints a bit, as if searching for a memory. "When we told Fletcher the story of Ben and Corwin and the Magic Arm, Martin guessed that the weird temporal effect might have been his grandfather's doing. Which might have no bearing on any of this, but I thought I should mention it."
"What about the family here-- any information? It may be years out of date for you, but it's still fresh for me," he asks and says.
Folly has to think for a moment before she replies. "Yes, I think we did talk to Ben right after the last call we had with you, to fill him in on what you'd told us before the attack...." After another moment's thought, she fills Brennan in on the details she remembers from that call -- that Ben expected to be done with his own negotiations within a tenday, but might send some of his allies to Montparnasse to see what was happening; that Brennan was welcome to stay and gather more information or pursue his own agenda; that the attack seemed to him more foresighted than the opposition he usually saw from his neighbors. "He, ah, did mention he would be interested to question any prisoners you take," she adds ruefully. "Oh, and he was familiar with Balen. He'd suspected that she had been turned against him, but reckoned that her hatred of her sister may have put her back in his camp. Er, perhaps I should've remembered to say that earlier."
"I don't think we have anywhere near enough knowledge to make an informed speculation," Brennan says. "Even with the arm, when I heard about it, I had the same thought... and then later on we learned the Floaty Woman had some skills in time manipulation, too. Maybe not on that scale, but I can think of a half a dozen people that I know or suspect have some skills in that area." And that's not even including Brennan himself.
"As for the family here, thanks. I doubt knowing that would have changed my actions too much. I'm still inclined to play close to the vest, here. She knows I'm someone from somewhere doing something, but I doubt she knows any details to divulge, intentionally or unintentionally." Brennan mostly overlooks the comment about questioning prisoners, although he gets back to it tangentially.
"So that brings me to figuring out what to do about this. Locally, I had been inclined to let the corsairs loose. They have no special fangs anymore, without Camelopardis. If they stay here and keep the siege, I think Montparnasse can weather it. If they move on..." he shrugs. "Either way, no special need to relieve this place. But that's local, tactical. Before I left, our Uncle and I discussed the larger situation. As far as I'm concerned, I've just found evidence that makes this, in his words, 'a different sort of war.' It's tempting to go win the war in this theater, hand-deliver the note from Camelopardis, and have an army standing ready when we know what to do. Or, go hunt down Cledwin and get more information that way. Or," and he gives a Bleysingly evil smile, "go looking for Moire, and let myself get captured.
"Any angles I'm missing, here? There's enough work here for three or four of me-- was there any word from Lilly or Fletcher?" Brennan asks.
Folly shakes her head. "We hadn't heard anything from Lilly before we left. Fletcher was still at the castle; I believe he was considering heading in your direction, but he may have decided to stay and hold down the fort until his father's return."
She pauses, thinking. "Cledwyn -- that was one of the weapons traders you were traveling with, yes? But the other one... Crunch... Crisp? ...was the one that looked somewhat... substantial?" She hesitates again. "I guess if we really are thinking Moire is behind at least part of this attack, it would be interesting to know if they're her agents. Or someone else's. And just how far her reach extends. Of course, if they know the 'hedge wizard' portion of the attack failed, they may already have turned tail. Were they or other members of the caravan obviously joining in the fighting that you saw?"
"Cledwin," Brennan says. "I remember it like was yesterday. Cledwin was the mercenary captain that hired me. Disappeared the night all hell broke loose and everyone is sure he's the one who let the assassins in. He's probably the one who shot Prince Maibock personally. Crisp was the one who came here to get married to the younger Princess. Those two were taken into custody as soon as we found our feet. I'll be talking to them, too. The rest of the mercenaries have been following me."
Folly nods as she gets all the pieces sorted out in her mind.
"As for Cameleopardis, I had arranged a nice low-key solution to the siege-- the corsairs would get Cameleopardis back, we'd get their summoned weapon, and they'd go away and bother someone else." Brennan shrugs. "Seemed about right-- a reversal for Moire, but not so drastic as to be suspicious." He glances over at his might-have-been friend's body. "Not any more. Now we owe them blood price, or we'll have to kill them." From Brennan's tone, those sound about the same difficulty.
Folly blows out a sigh. "There's just too much we don't know yet. You could go rally your Army of Maghees, but then what, if we haven't yet figured out where to point them? In my experience, righteous anger without an immediate target is its own kind of danger -- although perhaps these Maghees are more level-headed than that." She gives a wry smile; that's not something she'd bet her life on.
Brennan lets that pass without comment. But not without an arch look that expresses his cynicism quite well.
"On the other hand, if you keep poking around trying to find the major players and what they're up to, at some point you might wish you had that army. And it still bothers me that the attack here does not seem to offer any obvious tactical advantage, except perhaps as a distraction to draw our attention -- and our uncle's -- away from the real plan, which might include sneaking agents or an army up or down along one of the paths connected to that realm...."
Her eyes light with a sudden spark of something akin to mischief. "Do you think your Maghees might like to become Guardians of the Ways?"
It takes Brennan a minute to unpack that. "You mean park them on the Queen's Gift? Ah, no. That's not an option right now. Even if I didn't know that our Uncle wants that route kept hidden, I think raising and placing an army that close to the Castle unannounced is a bad idea. But talking through that makes me lean toward finding Cledwin or letting myself get captured. Or did you mean something else? Also, can you cast the cards for me while we're talking like this? I mean, is it even possible?"
"I was just having a very similar thought," Folly says. "I don't think I could cast while holding the contact open, but I can pass you my fortunes and have you do it. I rather like that better anyway, since you'll be the one taking the most direct action: I always take the spread to be situated relative to the person asking the question, particularly the bits about 'forces supporting' and 'forces opposing'; my feeling is that you get a cleaner reading when the one in the middle of the situation is also the one to ask the question." She digs around in a pocket, comes up with a deck, thumbs a few cards into her own lap -- Trump sketches that wouldn't survive the transit, perhaps -- and offers the rest to Brennan.
"You've got my three witches already; feel free to shuffle in any other cards of your own that might be relevant." She regards Brennan through the contact. "What are your thoughts on what question to ask?"
"Has anyone ever asked the cards a question that does not amount to, 'What should I do next?'" he asks. "I was thinking something along the lines of, 'What's the best way to catch Moire?' which, yes, begs a bunch of other questions along the way."
Folly can't help but smile at Brennan's suggested question. "I often favor more open-ended questions myself; that way the cards may give you hints about things you didn't even think to ask. Like 'where should we look to find those who sent Cameleopardis against the Protector' or 'what is the true target of the plot for which the Corsair attack served as a diversion'. But then, I'm always looking to dig through the signs and symbols and see the bigger picture. When you're there on the ground, you don't necessarily have that luxury." Her smile turns wry. "...says the girl hanging out on the beach while her cousin the man of action is in the middle of a raid."
Brennan shakes his head. "I see the reasoning, but my priority here, in this place, is Moire. That first hunch that she would be here is why I'm here. For the moment, everything else is secondary."
Folly nods; she certainly understands -- and respects -- his reasoning, too.
He takes the cards that Folly offers and thumbs through them-- carefully-- to see what the deck will consist of, before adding any of his own to the mix that aren't already there: Amber, Paige, Folly, and then with a fatalistic shrug, Uxmal. "Too bad we can't throw mine in there, too, but that would kill the connection. But does that even work, just adding mundane sketches to a deck like that?" If she indicates yes, he'll add all three to the pile.
Folly has handed over a full fortune deck, plus Ossian, her own Paige trump, Garrett, Random, and Xanadu. At Brennan's question she hesitates, cocks her head, and says, "Ahhh... perhaps not. I mean, on the one hand the Fortunes themselves are 'mundane' in the sense of not being Trumps, but on the other they play by their own rules." She hesitates again, longer this time, then plucks one of the cards from her lap. "Perhaps you should add this one, too, then," she says with a small frown.
"I don't know exactly what they are, but I don't think the Fortune cards are mundane," Brennan says, absently. He assembles a deck composed of the Fortune cards, the Trumps he has, and the Trumps Folly first passed him. Not Dara, Moins or Moire, although he does keep those in a separate stack well out of the way. And not, when he sees who it is, Martin. That card, he places face down on the table in front of him.
"Do you think he'd approve?" he asks quietly.
Folly gives a little half-shrug, more 'it's complicated' than 'I don't know'. She knows she doesn't have to dissect that part of Martin's history for Brennan -- he already understands it, more than most. What she says is, "He knows I trust you." The words have an almost palpable weight.
And yet, Brennan may have taken a different meaning from her words. A cheek muscle twitches, his chin rises almost imperceptibly. "But he doesn't."
After a moment she adds, "I think he'd approve of the larger goal of trying to stop any scheme of Moire's that she might be trying to hatch against the family. Particularly if it turns out she's not the only player."
He thinks it over. Her points are good, and without a Dara, Martin Reversed is the best way to read Meg's involvement in the whole emerging debacle. Still, no. He puts an index finger on the card, still face down on the table, and moves it decisively back toward Folly.
With a little nod of thanks, she takes it back and tucks it among the other cards in her lap.
He shuffles the assembled deck, sans Martin, asks the question: "What is the best way to catch Moire?" and casts them on the table where they both can see them.
Overlooking the Diamond
"Hmm," Brennan says, once the cards have fallen. "We always ask what to do next, and cards always say, 'I dunno, boss.'"
He looks at them skeptically. "Okay, I guess the bottom row depends on what the cards think the context is: The current situation in Rebma, or the current situation here in Avalon, or somehow both. Either way, the situation at hand is-- was-- poisoned by something unseen. I'll tentatively read that as the situation in Avalon and its natural state of war, poisoned by Moire to her own ends, while admitting that it just as easily refer to Dara, or both. The present: War, reversed. Either Moire is fighting for the wrong cause, or I am, or less severely the current situation is her poison bearing fruit. The less severe reading is "safer" in that it doesn't require me to believe that the cards care about me or Moire directly, I suppose. I'm not even going to pretend to know what the future card means.
"The Defender Reversed, as a virtue? In this context, cliche though it may be, I could read that as saying that the best defense is a good offense. Which would be uncommonly direct advice, so I'm sure it's wrong. And Overlooking the Diamond is just useless. Someday I should ask Dworkin if he can replace that card with a dunce cap," he grumbles.
Folly smiles; but as she peers more closely at that row, her jaw begins to take on an odd set.
"And then Knowledge as the fate. Interesting. Up, I usually regard that as knowledge of some fundamental truth; Down, as a preconceived notion or a stubborn fixation on one element of a larger truth. Anyone can learn something new, but it's hard to replace an old truth with a new one. Sideways... might it mean that the actual truth, or which aspect of it is important, is still in doubt?" he asks.
"Well, it could just be the cards being cute and telling you that if you do catch Moire, you'll know what she's up to," Folly says, directing a look that might best be described as 'stink-eye' toward the cards in question, "but it could also be about bigger questions related to Rebma, and its rule, and the bigger mysteries of why it survives if its Pattern scribe doesn't, because...." She hesitates, and Brennan can feel the agitation rolling through the contact. "Because I think the cards *are* telling you one way to catch Moire. I didn't see it at first, because I thought the Defender had to be the Protector--"
Brennan starts physically at that, and nearly claps his hand to his forehead, but lets Folly finish without interruption.
"-- and so the Defender Reversed as a virtue was just about seeing past that diversion you're in the process of foiling, and looking where the Protector isn't, but maybe that's not it at all, it really is about putting someone in peril, because... because...." She gives Brennan a hard look, hard and a little desperate. "Look at that bottom row. What's the best way to tempt a Unicorn?"
"Defender, Protector. Defender reversed, Protector offspring," he says. He glances up at the door with the third eye again to make sure no one is snooping. "Lilly? Fletcher?" He shakes his head, "Possible, but probably not. Redheads? Nnnneh. If Lir is his, not Finndo's, then I could believe the Maghee. But absent that..." he taps the Defender, Reversed, and then the Dara card he had set to the side. "Dara. Not exactly an ally, but very possibly the enemy of an enemy."
Brennan finds the mental note he made earlier about asking Fiona about Lir, underlines it, and puts it back in place on the top of the stack.
His eyes move back to the Unicorn, Reversed and, finally addresses Folly's question: "With a virgin, canonically. A ship that's sailed, for most of us. And I... don't... even want to know what that means in terms of the larger metaphysics. What are you thinking?"
"Not just a virgin," Folly says, her eyes wide. "Purity. *Innocence.*" She swallows hard against a tightness in her throat and nods toward the spread. "That second row: What the cards are telling you, the answer to your *exact* question, is that there is an innocent sitting here, un-Defended by a Pattern, that your target would really just love to get her bloody hands on, except that no one knows we're here."
She meets Brennan's gaze again, her own eyes glinting with black humor. "What's that principle where the act of asking the question changes the answer? Because oh my GOD we are so going back to Xanadu now."
Brennan frowns in thought, then says, "Okay, I see how you got there by the cards. I don't understand how that maps to the real world, though. She'd do anything to get her hands on this innocent.... why?" As usual, Brennan is too cagey to name names even when he keeps looking to make sure no one is eavesdropping. "For what purpose? Seems the only thing Moire would accomplish by that is hardening nearly everyone in the Family against her... including the three that outweigh the rest of us combined."
Folly shakes her head minutely. "I don't think she'd do anything so blatant as to draw immediate ire. It's more her style to manipulate the situation -- or the facts -- so that if anything untoward happens, she can set it up as someone else's fault." There's bitterness in her voice as she says that. "It may be that what she wants is just to take the measure of this new player in some way, even if it's just over tea and biscuits. I'm just not sure we're ready for that yet."
As she speaks, she rises from her seat; through the contact, Brennan can see that she has moved through the door and opened it just a crack to listen.
Brennan nods. It is, after all, Folly's child, not Brennan's-- he can afford more clinical detachment than she can, by a large margin.
"All right. That, at least, I understand. But I promise you this-- no one knew your whereabouts from me, nor will they," Brennan says. "Do what you need to do to be safe. There is another interpretation of that card, though," he taps the Unicorn. "If reversal sometimes means children or offspring, then the Unicorn reversed might mean descendants of the Unicorn. Which we know Celina is. Do we know that Moire is?" It's a rhetorical question, unless Folly has more information than she did the last time they discussed the ancient roots of the Family Tree.
Folly can hear the sounds of splashing bathwater with what might be Martin singing in the distant background of the other end of the house. Two Rebmans at bath-time can result in long delays, especially when one of them can keep the bathwater improbably at temperature for a while.
Folly smiles at the sound, closes the door, and turns her attention fully back to Brennan and his question. "We know Dworkin and the Unicorn had other children besides Oberon. I've been running on the assumption that Lir might be one of them -- that in fact all the scribes of the three original realms might be -- but no, we don't know that for certain. If that is Celina in the spread... well, I'm not certain what that means. One could also take it to mean, more generally, the decline of the primacy of Amber or the influence of the children of Oberon. Taken that way, and taking the 'Defender' to be the 'Protector'.... Honestly, it could be telling you that if you want to find her, she's right there hiding in plain sight, there where the Protector isn't." She hesitates, then adds, "But then that might make the Unicorn Reversed a warning: Don't be too tempted to try to take her on by yourself." She hesitates again. "Do we have any reason to believe Moire might be capable of shapeshifting, speaking of hiding in plain sight?"
She doesn't say, "...Because if she really has teamed up with Dara, maybe she's learned a new trick or two," but she's thinking it pretty loudly.
"No reason I know of, except a desire to make our lives more difficult than they are," Brennan says.
"And I keep coming back to the question of why some of us can Walk, and some can't," he continues. "With no evidence beyond a gut hunch, I look to differences of parentage, even at the Scribe generation." He shrugs, gathers up the cards on the table, and partitions them into his own and Folly's. "But this isn't the time for that. I think we've rung all the information we can out of the cards, and time presses."
He gives a long exhalation through his nose. "Our Uncle will want to know my plans. They're fluid, and my gut and my head are disagreeing. My gut's winning, though, and it's telling me to wrap this battle up in favor of the Mountain and make sure it's bound to Avalon and ready when the time comes. If it's not flashy, well, reversals happen in war. Eventually, she'll know something is up and start taking a hard look at who is screwing up her plans in this area; better to make that later than sooner, but I'm not going to tie myself in a knot trying to preserve that ambiguity for a few more days or weeks." His eyes flick inward briefly, considering. "If you reach our cousins before I do, and for some reason can't convince them to contact me, tell them a distraction on their end may divide her attention. And then, after I'm done here, I may try to find Cledwin and beat some information from him. But," he shrugs. "It's a war, now. It's fluid."
Folly nods. "You're still pretty limited in who you can call, right? I'll plan to fill in the four Monarchs -- er, three Monarchs and a Protector -- on at least the broad strokes of what's happened here. Anyone else?"
"Very limited, yes," he says. "Use your best judgement. There's only one or two people I'd actively avoid, and I'm sure our lists are damn similar in that respect."
As he hands back Folly's cards to her, and takes back Camelopardis' prayer book if she has it, he adds one last thing: "By the way, right now, it's not personal, it's professional. Her departure is formally understood to be abdication, and history moved on without her. If she starts involving children... Stay safe. Don't let her make this personal."
"Thanks. You stay safe, too, okay?" She thumbs out the Three Queens and hands them back to Brennan. "And maybe you should hold on to these, in case you need to play 'Have You Seen This Sociopath?' again. I can always make more."
"Thanks," Brennan says, to both the cards and the gesture. "But it's not my job to stay safe-- there's work to be done." The way his lips twitch, that work likely involves violence, and he will likely relish it in some part. "Say hello to everyone, too."
"Will do," Folly says. "Good luck." With a little smileof farewell, she closes the contact.
When the cards and books are exchanged and the Trump contact closes, Brennan gets up from the chair and takes another look at Camelopardis' remains. Mostly, just to see if the unraveling continued after his death so he won't be surprised when he summons Balen back in. But also an Astral glance just to make sure nothing weird-- nothing new and weird-- is going on. He tucks the note that the Maghee dictated, and the device he described, into a pocket as well.
Then he steels himself back into the Walker persona, opens the door, and gestures Balen back in.
"He's gone," he says. "He did right in the end. I'd see his body treated with respect. And he reckoned this one," he holds up Moire's image, "was the priestess giving orders, working the corsairs. Ain't know exactly why this place, though. Me, I reckon if we had Cledwin close to hand, we could beat some information out of him, but we ain't, and there's an army between him and us." Walker clenches his fists to crack the knuckles, and to indicate that this distance is the only reason Cledwin's teeth aren't decorating the floor right now.
"About that army, though... now we got a problem. The Maghee was the price to buy those boys off, out there. I ain't think they want him like this. And I ain't think it's smart to give him back like this anyway. What's it like out there-- they kept their truce?" Walker moves to one of the windows to see the field while Balen brings him up to speed.
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.
Conner stays silent until they are some distance from the chamber they left. "Well cousin, you certainly made an entrance." Conner smiles slightly. "Not quite the impression you intended to make I presume."
"Father would be so proud." Edan shakes his head. "Bad news always causes a stir. I wasn't aware just how strong an impression I would make. I will admit, in my rush to catch Signy here, I did not take the time to consider it."
"Diplomacy and sorcery are similar in that you should really take local conditions into account before acting." Conner comments. "Alas the Third Eye is rarely useful in diplomacy for that purpose." Conner starts leading them towards his own quarters. "I have arranged for a light repast to be served in my rooms for us. I thought you might like your first attempt to eat and drink underwater to not be in front of the wider family." Conner smiles. "It quickly becomes intuitive once you get used to the pressures and surface tensions involved. How is your fiery nature handling this much water?" He asks.
Edan casually glances about, confirming they're alone before answering. "Ah. Well, the temperature is roughly twenty percent below what I would consider comfortable. Pressure-wise, I am standing at the bottom of a column consisting of millions of tons of salt water. I cannot eat, drink, or perform the most basic of bodily functions without assistance. The proximity to a Pattern makes my Sorcery very difficult, and until I learn how your mages are standing around smoking, I would say that here I'm just a blade. A slashing one, at that, so I would conservatively guess at least a quarter-second delay from any movement over three feet. I've seen beluga whales smaller than your guards, and to be honest, I don't know if I could take one in a fight. What's not to like? The warm currents keep me from shivering, which is a good thing, and I calculate the exact psi on my head from moment to moment to distract me from the lethality of the pressure. Despite all that, you could say there is a small part of me that welcomes this place. I love the exoticism, the buoyancy of the water. I would love to dance here."
Conner smiles wide. "So you're fine then." He concludes. "I would arrange a ball so you could dance but you would likely spend the night fending off marriage proposals. I have some protection from such things because the matriarchy decrees that any would be suitors would have to gain the approval of my mother." Conner chuckles. "No one has had the nerve to try yet."
"I saw her, not long ago. Did she tell you?" Edan asks. "We tangled with a company of Moonriders, and I do believe it was a decoy on your mother's part to draw attention away from Father. Later, she showed me how to create a bird of desire- ah, yes, that reminds me to try that here and see what happens." He walks a few steps, says, "Rebman marriage proposals would be flattering, but I believe I am, as you might say, 'taken'. But first, perhaps, we should talk about that new sword on your hip."
"Certainly." Conner smiles. "Ah and here we are." Conner opens the door to his quarters. As promised, several trays of finger foods and drink bulbs await on a low table and Conner waves Edan to a set of chairs and couches around it. Conner takes a few moments to go about his rooms draping mirrors and similar precautions before coming back to the table. "These used to be Random's quarters when he stayed in the palace. The walls were thickened and insulated to baffle the sound of his constant percussion instruments. We are less likely to be overheard here as a result." Conner slowly draws the Pattern Blade of Rebma from her scabbard and displays it for Edan on his open palms. "Her name is Halosydne. What else would you like to know?"
"So, then, you have bound yourself to her?" Edan leans forward, and then winces, as only one who tries to look at a Pattern Blade with the Third Eye would do. "I saw some equations, a long time ago. There is a reinforcing harmonic that builds between the wielder and the sword and the Pattern." He smiles. "I called Father the Knight of Amber when I learned that. As, I suppose, Corwin would be the Knight of Tir-na Nog'th. As you are now the Knight of Rebma."
"According to my knighting ceremony, I am also Duke of the Shallows, Warden of the Nedra Beds, and Defender of Rebma." Conner smiles. "Yes, I am bound to her by blood, by the will of the Queen and by walking the Pattern while bearing her. I don't recommend the last by the way. Your father welcomed me to the fraternity and as per usual offered a mathematical metaphor. I've also impressed every Triton I've met."
"That does not surprise me in the slightest. And it is a nice segue into the only real concern I would have for you right now. Of course the Tritons would respect you and the blade. You protect the Pattern and the new Queen. They have fought against this combination before and lost, neh? But they are not the only concern. Moire is still out there, and she is a former Queen. Binding yourself to this sword, you are fated to eventually face her. What will happen then?"
"I expect that Halosydne would strike her down as she would any threat to Rebma." Conner replies. He returns the Pattern Blade to her sheath but Conner's hand lingers on the hilt. "Uncle Bleys described the mandate of a Pattern Blade as protection of the Pattern and by extension, the city, the Queen, and the realm. By all accounts, Morie never walked the Pattern, could not walk the Pattern. She is not part of the equation that binds Pattern, blade and ruler." Conner announces. He pauses to grab a drink bulb and very deliberately goes through the motions of taking a drink so a keen observer can follow the steps. "Having said that, I am concerned that Morie can make use of the other symbols of rulership, particularly Rebma's jewel, to try and protect herself from Halosydne."
Edan raises a similar bulb in a salute before trying it himself. "I didn't realize Rebma had its own jewel, but it makes sense. You make it sound as if these other symbols aren't here, and if that is the case, Moire has really, ah, 'done a number' on Celina. These other symbols, are they more than symbolic? For instance, is there a scepter without which the Queen cannot publicly dispense justice?"
"Much institutional knowledge is lost to us with Moire and the archivist fled and Khela," Conner pauses and finally chokes out, "dead." Conner pauses again to drain his drink bulb and select another. "Here is what we do know. The oath that was used to bind the Tritons into Rebma's service, written in Mabrahoring as it happens, states that they are bound by the power of throne and jewel and the tokens of sword and scepter. Celina has taken the throne and found the scepter. I bear the sword. That leaves the Jewel. We presume that it is in Moire's possession or has been hidden by her so finding her is a rather high priority. Unfortunately, she is quite adept at defeating scrying magics."
"I heard about Khela. I am sorry." Edan looks away for a moment. "When I spoke to the Dragon of Arcadia, She called the tritons 'my sister's children'. Of course the contract of their binding would be in Mabrahoring- dragons are of Chaos, and so, then, are their progeny. Brij wondered aloud if there were intermediate goddesses in Nedra, like there are in Arcadia and Arden." Edan, fidgety, puts down the bulb and tries a bite of food. "Considering how everything else mirrors, they should be there. As far as Moire goes, well, you still hold the castle. You hold the high ground, you have the garrison, you control the flag. She must come to you. Of course, she knows this. Forgive my ignorance...are there rangers in that great kelp forest, keeping order? Or is it a vast unknown?"
"I will answer your question but we will return to the topic of you meeting the Dragon of Arcadia." Conner smiles. "I recently came back from a visit to Nedra and though I know more than I did, we are firmly in the vast unknown category. Not only do we not have a ranger force there, I think the Tritons could be accurately described as the Dragon's Rangers patrolling the kelp beds to keep us at bay." Conner chuckles. "There is that odd form of reflection again. The way the Hierophant of Nedra described things is that there is a core of Chaos at the center of Nedra surrounded by the kelplands and the Tritons which are chaotic enough to interact with that core but ordered enough to deal with us, and then the outer fringes where the Pattern holds firm."
"As bad as that," Edan says, and rubs at his temple. "I envy you, cousin. I do not think I would been able to make the choices you have made. You have set yourself up to be knight-protector of a new reign. You live on the edge of the blade, where everything is fresh and unexplored. You are the Guardian of a realm both ancient and new. Long may you serve." He toasts with the bulb again. "I do not like your circumstances, though- it sounds as if too much is unknown, and your enemies are moving in that darkness. And they have something you need."
Edan makes a sort of shivering movement, as if shrugging off that thought. "Well. Things will go as they will go. So. Yes, I met the Dragon of Arcadia, or at least her avatar. We had tea."
Brita drops Ambrose's hand as they enter the air chamber and paces a distance away and then back. As she moves, she is digging through pockets, drawing out pencils and a small wax wrapped notebook. She unwraps and flips open the notebook. "It Has to be Big," she mutters, "but Subtle - Powerful and Elegant." She is sketching rapidly as she paces around.
Ambrose has been following Brita with a concerned expression but a closed mouth. "What has to be big?" he asks. "What are you sketching?"
"Memorial," Brita angles the pad and Ambrose can see rocky cliff with cascading water. "Should It be a Normal Trump or One to Endure Watery Rebma's Natural Element like my Shell Sketch?"
Ambrose just stands there for a moment, looking at Brita. "I don't understand," he says. "A memorial--wouldn't that be something you'd put in Rebma, or where you met him and knew him? How does a giant Trump make a memorial? You can't contact him with it, unless you think--unless it's like my father and you think he's really not dead, as he suspected Huon wasn't, or Ysabeau, or--others." Whom Ambrose chooses not to name.
Ambrose startles a small smile out of Brita and her pacing stops, "I am sketching The Memorial for Master-Cousin Reid. The Questions were About Queen Celina's Trump." She pauses as the rest of Ambrose's words catch up to her brain. With an almost desperately hopeful tone she says as she flips over to a blank page, "A Trump as Proof - I had Not Thought...." Her sketch now is obviously of a person... Male or Female is not yet obvious.
"I was wondering." Ambrose makes a noise that might be a nervous, unhappy laugh.
"A trump can only be proof one way: if someone responds, or you can sense them through it. If they're silent, it can mean any number of things. But I don't want to give you false hope. The most likely answer is that Edan's story was right in the only important particular." He reaches out toward Brita, but since she's sketching, and he knows better than to break her concentration and effort, he stops short of actually touching her unless she encourages him. “I’m sorry."
Brita's shoulder dips for a second at his words, but she looks back at him and gives him a small smile of thanks. "It is Worth a Try, Just In Case, but I Will Consult Other Artists as well." Her sketch is starting to look more feminine. She starts a smaller facial sketch to one side.
"I only know because father kept Trumps just in case. I didn't know why until much later." Ambrose seems to be saying that as much to say something as because he thinks it will help.
He is silent for a few minutes, watching the two sketches take form under Brita's talented hands, before speaking up again. "Is there anything I can send for, to help you? Something to eat, in a bit, or something to drink, or some supplies for your Art? Or something else I can do?"
Brita shakes her head at his list but says, "You Can Help Me. How do We Keep Dying? What can We Do to Prevent Further Deaths? I See Connections - Interwoven Threads tying All Acts Together; My Brother postulates Random Events. What are Your Thoughts on What has Happened to Our Cousins?"
As morning makes its way into Rebma, it finds Signy finishing a long vigil at forge in the back of the shop.
She's not quite sure how she ended up there. The last thing she really remembers is the breakup of the Family meeting, with Ambrose's casual, off-hand remark tossed out there to sit out there in full view of everyone. She suppresses yet another momentary flash of irritation at him just tossing that out, as she finishes the last quenching of the dagger that she had spent the night crafting.
She pulls the blade back out and eyes her work. The blade doesn't reflect much light, a dull grey sheen that just seems to kill the light that does reach it. Much in the same way that the glances that she occasionally caught from him over the years as he taught her slowly withered away and stopped, especially after the conflicts between her and Weyland became more overt, more confrontational.
She looks at the edge, razor-sharp, a mean curving expanse that ends abruptly but more than capable of slipping between someone's ribs to reach their heart. She wonders if there was something similar happening those years when she was locked away at her father's whim, that kept Brother Tomat coming by the door to her quarters where she was locked away. He never really spoke, or made any overt noises, but he was out there. Just how she knew when he had come by she wasn't too sure, but she knew he did. She supposed the visits stopped when her father sent him back to the Order.
She rolls her shoulders, stretching muscles cramped from the night at the forge.
An ugly blade, for an ugly mood.
She slips behind a wooden partition, and quickly changes into a fresh set of clothes that she leaves here, and works on putting away the traces of her night. She looks at the dagger, before slipping it into a plain leather sheath and then tucking that into the small of her back, held in place by a plain leather belt.
Both Edan and Tomat should arrive shortly -- she dispatched pages last night to find them both and ask them to meet her here right around now. She quickly grabs some bread and cheese and sets it out on a table. Plain fare, but she also doesn't think that people will much feel like eating, either.
Edan arrives, wearing the trunks and belt that are so common in Rebma. It reinforces just how thin and spare he is, as if all the water were burned out of him long ago. That, and his cinnamon-brown skin, look completely out of place here. He wears no weapons. He inclines his head in greeting, and moves to seat himself at the table. "Cousin. Thank you for arranging this."
A few minutes later, Tomat shows up. He has also adjusted to Rebman clothing: he's wearing shorts and a shirt-like thing that's made mostly of metallic chains in a fine gauge with large opening, so it's light, and looks mostly like a large piece of metallic cloth with a hole in it for Tomat's head. There's a belt holding it around his waist. It drags a bit in air, but Signy and Edan can see how it would drag less than a cloth shirt in the waters of Rebma.
"Am I late?" he asks Signy. "I'm sorry." He looks to Edan, whom he does not appear to recognize. "I'm Tomat," he adds by way of introduction.
Edan stands and extends a hand, though the act is still uncomfortable for him. "I am Edan. Bleysson. I have asked my cousin Signy if I may speak with you."
Signy offers a brief smile of encouragement. "There are some questions that have come up about the Order, and we were hoping you offer some answers based on your time there."
"I'll be glad to help however I can. What questions do you have? I was involved with negotiating with agreed petitioners when I left the Order. I never was raised any higher in the Order's strategic counsels, so there are many things I don't know." Tomat looks from Signy to Edan and back again. "But I will tell you anything I do know, gladly. The Order will have named me an enemy for leaving with Marius; I have no reason to keep their secrets now."
"I am sorry that a powerful organization has named you enemy, but I was kind of hoping it would be like that. There are many things I would like to learn." Edan doesn't know how well Tomat reads people, but he suspects he's about to find out; he deliberately relaxes his own body language, or tries to. "There are things you will not know. There are things you do. There are things you might suspect. I would learn all of them. The Order has attracted our attention, lately, and I will share the circumstances with you, but I think it best if we started at the beginning. How did the Order start? What are its connections to the Paresh, who once dwelt in Amber?"
Tomat has to think about the answers to those questions for a moment before answering. "The Order dates to the ancient of days. Legend has it that the Order was originally sponsored by Oberon of Amber, but I don't know whether that's true, or whether that was an ancestral order of monks of whom Klybes, the founder of our Order, was once a member. The Order is tied to many religious foundations across shadow. I don't know the Paresh in particular, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn the Order had ties to them, or even received reports from them. The Order has wanted eyes and ears in Amber ever since Oberon banned the religious from the city."
Signy silently lets out a breath that she didn't realize that she had been holding.
"If Oberon sponsored the Order originally, what is their take on why they ended up getting caught up in the ban?"
Edan smiles at Signy. "It is almost exactly what I was thinking. An organization, it is not just created from air. It has a dogma. A belief. A goal. A...purpose. What was its purpose, at the beginning? If the man who sponsored them banned them, how did that purpose change?"
Celina moves from an extremely early TaKhi workout and tiny breakfast to Aunt Llewella's quarters.
She is unsettled by the news of Reid's death and the various Cousin's reactions. It brings back too much, too soon. Funerals and inadequate words mix with memories of her own failures. She is not sure why it should haunt her so, since she did not know Reid, or Adonis, or Cambina, or Lucas, or..... Khela nearly well enough to feel this empty.
Or did she? Does the Pattern that lived in them sorrow inside of her? She worries she is coming apart from the inside.
Scratching at the door, she arranges the apology in her head for disturbing her Aunt at this hour. Yes, she needs to Trump her Father. Perhaps Random as well, but later.
And of course she needs a Trump to do this, but it could wait until lunch. After all, Tomat has not commented yet. Something may come of that ....though she doesn't think it will. Celina puts her hands up over her eyes and takes a deep breath. It's all too much. It has to get better.
Llewella’s triton lets Celina in and goes to fetch his mistress. There are a number of voices from behind the door, and shortly Llewella comes out. She’s wearing standard Rebman garb: scaled shorts and crossed suspenders--all metallic, but not reflective. Her hair is up.
“Your Highness, how may I serve?”, she asks. There are sounds of the triton (or someone) tidying up in the rooms behind the Princess.
“Of course, let’s go up to my air room.” The princess of Amber gestures up the spiral stairs, but swims up herself. Once they have both alighted, Llewella looks over at her Queen. “Are you ready for this, or do you need something fortifying to drink?”
Celina makes a small apology pointing off towards the unknown guest that Llewella has left below. She smiles. "Drink, no. This is bringing Father current with news. It should not be stressful. He's a warrior. He won't be shaken as I am."
Nestled deeply within a ring of coral walls, the Lower Market seethes with activity - as vibrant and colorful as any living reef.
Boisterous hawkers offer up the sea's rich bounty; sponges, squid, crustaceans, and fish of every shape and size. Makeshift kitchens allow patrons the benefit of a quick meal, each serving as a tiny community of people. Daring fish dart around these diners, ever-hopeful for a spare morsel. Nothing goes to waste here.
Beyond the food stalls, dozens of shops of every ilk and size crowd together - their owners vying for business. Clothiers, jewelers, pharmacists, repairers, toy makers, wholesalers, and more. Like deep-sea predators, they use their wiles and glamour to lure in the unwary, siren voices leaving people confused and lighter in the purse. The cramped space drives some to attacking each other - exchanging harsh words that question parentage and intelligence. Patrons simply smile and enjoy the posturing show, rewarding those with the inventive vocabulary.
And so, as Edan drifts through this tide of humanity, it's odd that a singular voice rings out over them all. A siren call, otherworldly and delicate, woven with exotic words and harmonies.
When he rounds a corner, he discovers a small crowd circling a dark-haired woman and a young, male street musician. Although dress in Rebman garb - a sheer dress of sea-mist green - Edan immediately realizes she is from the Above. Smooth olive skin, and hair as dark as volcanic ash. As she sways in time to the music, the water around her lithe body shimmers almost imperceptibly, not unlike a hydrothermal plume. There's also something... familiar about her, a ghost-impression that nags at the brain.
When her song ends, the crowd applauds, offering up money for the performance. She politely waves it off; instead, making certain all the monies go to the young man. They briefly exchange pleasantries before she disengages and steps back into the crowd.
It's then her forest-shadow eyes find Edan.
A curious smile curls Silhouette's lips, recognizing another Outsider.
It is an easy task; for the man she sees is as out of place here as the burning sun. At first glance, he could be a twin to Bleys or perhaps Brennan; but his skin is a cinnamon brown, and he is as thin as if the sun had burned all the water out of his body. His eyes are a bright, molten gold. Even in the scaled shorts that are so commonly worn by Rebman men he is out of place; but he carries himself with the hauteur of a prince. Those curious passers-by drawn by the sensation of this alien man look their fill and then quickly move on, proving that he is certainly not the first remarkable foreigner in their memory.
Edan heads directly to Silhouette, ignoring the stares from others. He has the slightly confused expression on his face that one would associate with trying to remember something.
"Forgive me. You...look familiar. I feel as if I have seen you in another place, but I do not recall the meeting. Who are you?"
With all the allure and wickedness of an angler fish, Silhouette smiles widely. "I am whomever you desire me to be, my lord." She dips her head, chuckling. "But until you decide who that may be, you may call me Silhouette."
Last modified: 27 July 2014