Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Once the festivities are well underway, Edan and his troop of city defenders arrive on their horses and hand them off to waiting grooms. The applause is plentiful and seems to be enthusiastic. Lord Mayor Ash greets the Order in the name of Xanadu and the King, and officially gives them the freedom of the city. Edan is asked to give a few words.
It is later in the afternoon, and the lengthening shadows combined with the harbor breeze have sapped much of the unpleasant heat of the day. Lamps are everywhere around the square, and the dancing area is already filled with moving bodies as a dance band plays fast and lively music.
And finally, the Order of the Lamp appears. Still but a company, around forty strong, but each rider is clad in a colorful uniform of red and white and black, and the horses are energetic and glossy and beautiful. Anyone in the know could see that Michelle did an amazing job in the preparation.
Normally, Edan would be clad in the same uniform, but today he is in dancing silks of his own colors; spotless white with a wide crimson sash as a belt. His feet and head are bare, and his hair transitions from dark roots to reddish ends. Here, there is no hiding the color of his eyes, and anyone can see the molten fiery gold of the irises. His sleeves are gathered strangely, lengths of extra crimson silk at his wrists. A pair of heavily taped and weighted Avernus hook-swords are thrust into his sash.
The riders' formation is like and yet unlike to the rangers; for as the rangers operate in groups of three, these troops ride and fight in groups of six. Their horses make patterns of stars as they make their way down to the town square.
They are relaxed as they can be, with the eyes of the city upon them and the applause around them. The mounts are well behaved, showing off, really, as the company moves down to the square. Grooms are there to take the horses as the knights dismount.
Celina notes the arrival of Corwin and Silhouette in serious conversation. Dolphin's face maintains its normal pleasant mien, but her Father seems very interested in the conversation.
Really? Celina sighs to herself.
Whatever it is, they finish their conversation momentarily thereafter and Corwin makes his way toward the dais, though it's not clear if he's coming for Celina.
Signy and Brita are also looking toward the dais where the Rebman party has gathered with the Queen. In the absence of Corwin and Random, Celina may be the senior Royal on the dais.
Celina judges that her Father is the weather. You cannot say where it is going but be prepared. So she waves to Signy and points to the stand area the Rebmans are holding.
Silhouette turns from her former companion and drifts toward the Rebman 'camp' with a purposeful gait. She tries to catch Celina's eye, bowing her head reverently.
Signy gives Brita a quick grin of farewell before threading her way through the crowd, managing to time it so that she falls in besides Silhouette, easily matching her stride.
"Cousin," she says quietly. Ho are you finding the festivities? There's business to be had, if you're looking for supplies."
Her face makes a momentary pout of distaste at the need for the practical realities of operating a smithy.
Silhouette quirks a brow, "Indeed? Business is my ambrosia, as it were. We can discuss this further whenever you desire." Her smile curls up, "And soon, I should commission you for a blade."
Celina nods a welcome as they approach the stand. She makes introductions to her Archivists present for Signy. The Rebmans know Silhouette. "How nice to see you both. I think the excitement is about to start. I admit I do not know much about horse dancing."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "If I'm not mistaken, my Queen, the stallion leads - with the exception of waltzes and soft-shoe."
From near the dais there is a fanfare of trumpets. For those who know Random (or Syd, as he called himself in Texorami)'s early compositions, it's a short piece entitled "Don't Tell ME not to give you high notes".
People across the square and beyond become still and quiet, anticipating some sort of presentation or speech. Those people are not disappointed, as first Prince Corwin welcomes Edan and his knights in the name of his brother-the-King and then, following applause, Edan himself speaks, magically amplified. People seem as impressed by that as his riding, although a few seem less than thrilled to experience actual magic.
Lord Mayor Ash has several young men light additional lamps, and the floor is cleared for Edan's entertainment and demonstration of skill. Ash also has people to keep the crowd from pressing too close to the knights as they perform.
Celina spends some time examining the methods of her cousin's mastery of the sound amplification. She then nods to Silhouette. "Does the stallion always lead in Xanadu, or were you speaking for all shadows you have seen so far, Silhouette?" Celina grins to let both cousins know she is enjoying the jest. She'll find out what soft-shoe is later. Probably a kind of horse footgear thing.
Silhouette continues to smile, "Regrettably, it appears to be a widespread truism. Pity, really, as through observation, I've found mares far more kinesiologically-inclined."
She pauses to observe Edan's use of magic, cocking her head mechanically. "Intriguing. I must speak to him afterwards. His technique might benefit the work I've done for King Random." She glances between her companions, "Do the paradigms here allow magic or is this an anomaly?"
Celina responds so quietly, even Family ears must listen closely, "Xanadu is blessed with such anomaly, though I have studied it only in passing. I think many things associated with sound are easier here."
Signy briefly frowns.
Soft horse shoes doesn't seem terribly practical, but then again there was much Weyland didn't teach her.
She scans the crowd again from the new vantage point.
"Both yourself and King Corwin are here, but King Random isn't?"
Celina nods. "It is a puzzle, but King Random likes to surprise with his appearances." She looks at Signy, "Unlike many royal courts, the people seem to enjoy it."
Their conversation concluded, and on a level of amicability that surprises even Jerod (will wonders never cease), he heads over to the bar to catch up with his sister.
The presence of the Octave does not deter Jerod from his approach, though part of him thinks that if he leaves Octave alone with Valeria long enough, Jerod will have to clean up the greasy spot on the floor, and that's just too much work right now.
As for Huon, Jerod had noted the arrival of the kin-slayer very early on, but since he arrived with the Queen, that pretty much puts him off limits...at least from receiving the business end of sharp, pointing things like spears and swords. Admittedly he is somewhat depressed by this set of circumstances, but only for a moment.
Thus he will arrive at the bar in relatively good spirits, while he waits to see how long that might last.
As a good barman, the barman catches Jerod's eye as he comes up. "Can I get you something, highness?"
"Something dark, very strong and lots of it." Jerod says simply.
From near the dais there is a fanfare of trumpets. For those who know Random (or Syd, as he called himself in Texorami)'s early compositions, it's a short piece entitled "Don't Tell ME not to give you high notes".
People across the square and beyond become still and quiet, anticipating some sort of presentation or speech. Those people are not disappointed, as First Prince Corwin welcomes Edan and his knights in the name of his brother-the-King and then, following applause, Edan himself speaks, magically amplified. People seem as impressed by that as his riding, although a few seem less than thrilled to experience actual magic.
Lord Mayor Ash has several young men light additional lamps, and the floor is cleared for Edan's entertainment and demonstration of skill. Ash also has people to keep the crowd from pressing too close to the knights as they perform.
Jerod collects his drink from the barman, and the stronger the drink, the better the barman. He makes sure to pay at least moderate attention to the events that Edan has put such effort into, though regrettably his sister warrants more attention, so he will intrude upon her time at an appropriate moment.
The Barman is one of the better ones in town. His drink is strong, simple, dark, and strong. Given the southern latitude, it's probably molasses based.
Ossian seems to have headed directly to interrupt Octave and go off with Valeria.
After a short break, Edan appears at the center of the square. He looks up in the general direction of the castle, murmurs a few words, and touches the side of his throat with a smoking index finger; after that, his words carry outwards to the square as if he were standing next to each listener.
The trumpets sound, and the proclamation is read, welcoming the Knights of the Lamp to Xanadu. He waits through it, draws breath to speak...then stops. He smiles, and says, "I am not used to this. I am more used to shouting orders across a field, not giving speeches or lectures. But that is exactly what I will be doing, because our vision is that of a school. A place of learning. We will explore excellence in the martial and arcane arts. Horse and foot, sword and spell. At the same time, we pledge ourselves to the defense of the King and of Xanadu. We are deeply honored to be welcomed by you. We are proud to join the brotherhood of the Knights," and he rattles off the list of active knight orders that Michelle drew up for him. "We will strive to be worthy of this honor."
He turns and gestures to where the drums were being set up. "And...we have arranged a little entertainment, an introduction of sorts. A sword-dance of my adopted homeland. I hope that you enjoy it. I think that you will."
From near the dais there is a fanfare of trumpets. For those who know Random (or Syd, as he called himself in Texorami)'s early compositions, it's a short piece entitled "Don't Tell ME not to give you high notes".
People across the square and beyond become still and quiet, anticipating some sort of presentation or speech. Those people are not disappointed, as First Prince Corwin welcomes Edan and his knights in the name of his brother-the-King and then, following applause, Edan himself speaks, magically amplified. People seem as impressed by that as his riding, although a few seem less than thrilled to experience actual magic.
Lord Mayor Ash has several young men light additional lamps, and the floor is cleared for Edan's entertainment and demonstration of skill. Ash also has people to keep the crowd from pressing too close to the knights as they perform.
Three score of vertical drums are set up in a precise circle that dominates the central area of the square. Earlier dancers might have noticed premeasured marks on the dance floor, which are used to set the position and alignment of each drum. It was not an easy task; the drums are each about eight feet tall, and the base of each one is weighted with sand or earth. They break the plethora of torchlight and lamplight into a kaleidoscope of color and light and shadow within the ring.
Between the vertical drums and the crowd are arranged the Knights of the Lamp, each carrying a djembe for the hands or sitting at various larger drums or water drums; were this not Xanadu, one might wonder if they've claimed all the drums in the kingdom. The exception to the formation is Kyauta, who in dragonet form is flying from perch to perch around the circle. There are two openings in this drum ring; on one side, there is a low table behind which Vere sits, cross-legged. A bowl of golden coins is placed before him.
On the other side is the space where Edan enters. He is still in his dancing silks, shining white with a crimson sash tied at his waist. Lengths of crimson silk are sewn at the cuffs, long ribbons that look capable of reaching any of the drums from the center of the dance space. His feet are bare. Small bells are worked into the hair at the back of his head, such that sudden movements are accompanied by a ringing chime that can be heard through the crowd. A pair of Averni hooked swords are thrust into his sash, the swords blunted and heavily taped.
Those observers with Third Eye or other magical senses can tell that Edan has divested himself of any magical effect. For now, it's just him and a pair of swords.
Edan crosses to the center of the space. Though he was disappointed that Vialle was not here to experience this, he does not let it show. He had intended this to be partly for her enjoyment. Well, no matter. He removes another, shorter length of silk from his waist sash and ties it securely around his head and eyes, ignoring what shocked reaction he hears from the crowd. With blindfold in place, he moves from pose to pose and finally freezes, balanced on one foot, arms extended. He extends his other leg, toes pointed, and stretches it up towards the sky. He balances there, motionless, turned in Vere's direction.
Vere sits quietly as Edan makes his preparations. Once Edan is in position, holding his balanced position in perfect stillness, Vere slowly runs the fingers of his right hand through the coins in the
bowl. The clinking of metal on metal sounds unusually loud in the hushed square as the spectators watch. Vere lifts his hand from the bowl, one coin caught between two fingers, and with a sudden snap he sends the coin hurtling towards one of the vertical drums. It strikes the drum with a 'thrum' that echoes through the square and bounces off it onto the floor.
As the first coin hits the floor, Edan is moving; his leg comes down, there is a turn and then a pirouette, and his arm snaps out. The attached length of silk extends and taps the same drum that the coin had hit. Around the circle the Knights start up a quick beat. Edan uses the cadence to dance around again to the center, and eventually takes another pose. His arms are together, one knee raised, toes pointed to the floor, head down as if contemplating. His body becomes still. The drummers end their drumming all on the same beat, and silence claims the square again.
Vere waits until the Knights end their beat and Edan is once more motionless, then with a faster movement of his hand he sends a coin towards another standing drum. It hits much harder this time, and bounces across the ring to strike yet another drum before rebounding onto the floor.
Two drums. Edan throws his arms up high, and the ribbons float down to gather in his hands as only silk can do. He snaps out both arms this time. Again, the ribbons snap out to strike the two signaled drums. Again, the Knights give him a fast beat, and he uses it to move and dance back to his starting place, silk swirling around him. He is in his Knights' hands as much as they are in his. And then the beat is gone and Edan is frozen again, this time a martial pose, one arm defensive, one poised to attack some imaginary foe.
Vere allows himself a small smile as he watches Edan's mastery. Once more his fingers snap forward, and a coin flashes through the air towards a drum a third of the way around the circle. Vere had calculated the force and trajectory precisely, and the coin rebounds off the drum to fly past Edan's ear, barely missing him, before striking a drum on the opposite side of the hall, rebounding again to another drum, and then again to a fourth drum before landing, spent, upon the floor.
Four drums! This time, Edan pulls one of the Avernus hook-swords out of his sash with his right hand and throws it, even as he spins and snaps out the silk from his left. The sword spins end over end and smacks flat against one of the signaled drums as the silk snaps against another. Edan's spin turns into a short leap and a few steps; the handle of the thrown sword, having bounced off the drum, smacks back into his palm. How long had Edan spent with tape and twine and grinding wheel to weight this length of metal well enough to fly true? How many hours spent practicing the throw, the bounce, the catch? But he does so, perfectly, blind, in step and to the beat. And then he does the movements again to the other two drums, with the other sword, using the opposite arms, to show it is all practice and discipline and skill and not luck or sorcery.
And then, in another movement, the swords are back in his sash and the ribbons are back at his wrists. He hangs there in another dance pose, on one foot again, body extended much like that of a swan in flight. The beat stops again.
The moment Edan stops moving Vere is on his feet. His eyes flick once to his cousin, then down at the coins in the bowl. His hand seizes the bowl and he spins once in place, eyes fixed on the coins, calculating. As he completes his turn his hand flashes forward and the coins fly from the bowl in a golden stream, the first of them striking the drum immediately to his left and then the rest, in a glorious cacophony, striking each of the drums in turn.
Edan smiles, eyes still covered by the blindfold. Such is Vere's skill that none of the coins have touched the dancer, only the drums. All the drums. Magnificent.
After the last of the gold stops bouncing and clinking on the ground, the drummers around the ring set a fast beat. And after four measures of this, Edan dances.
Arm to the left, sword to the right, move to the left. He spins, he leaps, he turns. Edan's jumps are amazing. His footwork is perfect. His timing is godlike. He hangs in the air with each leap, making the eyes ache to follow him, to deduce all the movements he makes seemingly all at once. Here, too, showcases the skill of the Knights of the Lamp, who could only have kept up with their Sultan through months or years of repetitive practice. When he slows, they slow; when he speeds up, they do the same. They support Edan through every leap and step and turn. Bare feet, long used to shifting sand, are not affected by the coins on the floor. Indeed, the fact that there is a solid floor seems to make things even easier. Turn. Stretch. Throw. Extend. Snap. Catch. A routine that cycles through all the variations of movement, even as the drums are systematically struck. The bells in Edan's hair chime in time to the beat as he whips his head this way or that. The silk ribbons are like the flow of water around him: here a wave, there a cocoon, different shapes forming as he dances. Fractured torchlight flows and reflects along the fabric of his dancing uniform as he moves. Faster faster faster. Turnthrowcatchsnapextendturnspin. And when Edan is down to the last twenty or so drums, the best trick of all; for instead of striking drums, he throws out the ribbons to snake around the handles of the hook swords in mid-flight. The beat, and the dance, changes. The swords are an extension of him now, waving at the end of his arms of silk. He spins, he shifts direction, contortionist efforts to keep both swords in the air and moving to strike the last of the drums. His targets shiver with the weight of the strikes he makes on them, heavy metal barbs at the ends of silken whips. The drumming is as wild as Edan's dance now, keeping him aloft and moving. He and the Knights feed off each other. They are his kin, extensions of his will as the ribbons are extensions of his arm. He is their mentor, their teacher, their Sultan. He is a warrior, a rider, a sorcerer, a Knight. He is a Sword Dancer, and this is his Dance.
Vere smiles more broadly as he watches Edan's skill. And as the last of the last of the drums are struck Vere's hand flashes forward one last time, sending the bowl hurtling through the air directly at the head of his blindfolded cousin.
Even in mid dance, Edan's smile matches Vere's. One sword drops to the ground. The other, he pulls to him. The handle smacks into his palm even as he spins in a circle and brings the blunted edge of the sword down on the bowl. It shatters before him. And the final turn, the final pull of the other sword into his hand, the last movement brings Edan back to the center of the dance floor with swords in hand and a rain of delicate colored pottery to clink and bounce on the floor around him.
Edan finishes, then, with a bow towards the king's place and another bow to his partner and a third to his Knights, without any of whom this would not have been possible.
The crowd applauds, at first tentatively, then enthusiastically. It lasts perhaps longer than is needful, but people see the royals on the dias applauding and keep their applause up.
There is a flash of light, momentarily dazzling from the balcony of the Mayor's house, and the King appears, wearing his crown and the state jewelry. Next to him are the Lord Mayor and his wife Tjaden, also applauding. Prince Bleys is on the other side of the King, with his sister Fiona. "Welcome, our gallant Knights of the Lamp! Your King is proud to have you defending our land from enemies, and teaching the philosophy and arms to those who wish to learn! Long may your red light shine!"
Random steps back, then steps forward again and adds. "You may all dance until dawn, there is no curfew tonight, and tomorrow is Red Lamp Day henceforth, and an unsolemn holiday."
Then the King retreats into the mayoral manor and does not return.
Edan holds his smile for the crowd, for his brethren, and for Vere. A smile is enough for the latter; they both know they nailed it.
Something is Not Right, however. The King was polite but abrupt. The Queen was not present. And with Father and Fiona there, sorcery might be involved.
There are going to be delays. A kind word to the Knights. Family come to talk to him. At the moment, Edan doesn't espy Hannah. But when there is finally a moment, he heads towards the mayor's residence; if nothing also but to tell his father of the impending grandchild.
Edan is going to have the toughest time of anyone getting to the manor. He gets to the Mayor pretty quickly. "Very impressive. Should we organize a reception line? Everyone wants to meet you." Ash frowns. "I'd've expected Syd to organize that, at least informally."
Edan smiles, because he knows he's neatly trapped. He spares a glance towards the manor house. With Random not here, Edan can't very well disappear. Not tonight.
"Something on his mind, I suppose. Has Random, er, Syd, has he organized a reception line down here before? We could follow that setup, or I could call some of the Knights together to help."
The Lord Mayor is visibly relived. "The Knights would be excellent. People will want to meet them as well."
Michelle comes up to Ash and Edan. "Is everything in order, my Lords?"
Edan holds his smile for his seneschal. "Look all around, how well everything is organized. You did that. People will talk of this for years to come. The Lord Mayor and I were talking about an impromptu reception line, since Random has left that duty to us. I was just about to send Kyauta to round up some of our more loquacious and sociable knights."
"Thank you, my Lord," says Michelle. "If you will send your message, the Lord Mayor's men and I will arrange a reception line by the dais. It will facilitate access to any royal who wishes to be accessible."
Ash nods and turns to one of his aides, an officer named Viper, telling the man to work with Michelle.
Edan sends out through his link to Kyauta that he needs help from a specific list of knights. Women from multiple realms want to meet and compliment them. He asks Kyauta to fly and pass this message along.
Kyauta flies overhead and makes a loop, then flies towards the troops. The weeks of marching have, at least, meant that this no longer panics the horses. Or the troops.
Those singled out will head to the reviewing dais shortly.
When it's clear he's done, Ash looks at him and gestures for him to lead the way (to the dais).
And there Edan goes, with a short trail of knights behind him and Kyauta perched on his shoulder. He does bow to his men before they go, thanking them for this small sacrifice of time and effort. And a smile in the general direction of Celina's group, too, as he sees them start a dance that reminds him of the dance styles he saw in Rebma.
Brennan watches the grand entrance of the Knights of the Lamp with a critical eye, although generally a constructive one. He will, after all, be handing off a small group of his own Knights into Edan's care, the better to help turn this group of forty horse warriors into the first cadre of something more. A fresh and professional perspective never hurt anyone. Well, that may not precisely be true, Brennan corrects himself, remembering the Family stories of Corwin and Eric in particular as the King welcomes the new Knight. But Brennan and Edan are not Eric and Corwin.
And anyway, Edan has good material to work with, and more than enough heat to forge them. Interesting swords, though, he notes to himself. Haven't seen those in quite a while.
As Edan is giving his introductory speech, Brennan catches a glimpse of Ambrose and heads in his direction. "Ambrose, I'm glad you're here. It's good to see you," he says. "Come join me watch Edan's display?"
Ambrose smiles and says something that sounds like "of course" though it's hard to hear him over the crowd and the amplified speechifying. Whatever he said, he comes to join Brennan. They make their way toward the dais, where much of the royal family is gathering, while Corwin is speaking. There are opportunities to at least nod a greeting to a lot of different relatives.
Brennan does take those opportunities to nod to relatives he's not seen in a while, especially since most of his time at the pre-revel buffet was spent out on the balcony with Robin, Vere and Edan.
After Edan's display, he offers up genuine applause. After Random's abrupt appearance and retreat, the applause continues, pro-forma. There is a phrase in Uxmali whose idiomatic translation is something close to, "The universe is a sonofabitch," which, in addition to its mild vulgarity, carries a substantial weight of blasphemy when spoken by the priestly caste, much less the son of a god. This, Brennan mutters to himself as the pro-forma applause continues.
Ambrose's own response in Uxmali directly translates to something like "as the God wills it", which is a ritual response to a divine appearance and command, but given Ambrose's tone and his own godly priesthood, not to mention the arch of his eyebrows, sounds distinctly unimpressed.
"How goes the project with Signy?" he asks, once the roar has died down.
"I showed her the innards of one of the code wheels that's failing and Fiona and I taught her basic Uxmali in the direct manner. She's got the hang of speech, but not of centering her words yet. She has a prototype of the small wheel made of balsa wood but the enchantments-" Ambrose pauses and shrugs. "Our father couldn't make anything simple." The last sentence is in Uxmali and centers on the negative.
"Our father lost his own center before either of us were born," Brennan says, as though that explains it. Uncharacteristically, he does does not employ any of the Uxmali circumlocutions that would make 'center' the center of the sentence without actually saying it. Uncharacteristic of any discussion of their father, the statement is melancholy rather than bitter or angry. "I'll help her practice, if there's time before the end of Mandatory Fun. Allowing for the fact that I can't really stay beyond that, anything useful I can do?"
"If you have any observations about the wheels that you'd like to make, since you've worked with them too, that would be helpful. I can explain what I know, but even a god's perspective is necessarily limited." This Ambrose says in Thari but it's evident that he's thinking of how it would sound in Uxmali: a cross between nonsensical and deadly blasphemy in his mouth.
Brennan smiles at the blasphemy-- his own opinion on the Uxmali gods is well-known, at least to Ambrose.
"Just one: Those things are modular. Is it possible that no one, not even you and I ever saw a complete one? I have some dim memories of seeing a wheel with a hole in it, as though for some sort of fixture that I didn't have. But the memory is so old... I remember asking Tayanna about it, but not if I ever got an answer much less what it might have been. It would have been like him to focus everyone's attention on part of the apparatus while keeping something in his back pocket for his own private use."
"I hadn't tried that," Ambrose says grimly, "but you're right--and it's not like he hasn't used two wheels together to imbue a glyph series with double-meanings in the past." His mind is racing, but he quells it enough to ask, "How are your works faring, and can I offer any aid in them, given my own circumscribed ability to act at the moment?"
"Fairly well, actually. If Moire herself is not in Avalon, then her agents are, and Conner and I have narrowed down her plans to a set I think we can deal with and foil or disrupt. There is something you might be able to help Ossian with, though. Your knowledge of Uxmal is far more recent than mine-- do you know of any eye-based iconography associated with the pyramids?"
"No, not the step pyramids." Ambrose shakes his head in the negative. "I've seen the Klybesian eyes in the pyramid but it's not related to Uxmal. Our father wasn't involved with that priesthood as far as I know; they wouldn't have accepted his claim to godhood. And he'd hardly want a priesthood as dedicated to their own causes as they seem to be."
Brennan nods and scratches his chin idly. "That's about what I'd expect. I was too young when I left to trust my lack of memories of a group I know I hadn't even heard of at the time, but that's about what I'd expect. Here's why I ask: Ossian found his mother, Regenlief of Asgard. Since I expect that will be part of the more formal news exchange and strategy, I've brought her with me even though she won't be part of the closed council."
That's an open semi-invitation to introduce them-- when/if Ambrose expresses interest, he'll send for Regenlief.
Ambrose doesn.t interrupt, but his eyebrows rise and he's clearly interested.
"The monastery Ossian was found at? Klybesian. The people who stole him at birth? Klybesian. So either they had a reason to take the child of a Valkyrie, or they had a reason to take the child of an Amberite and somehow knew who or what I was." Brennan lets pass unstated which conclusion the narcissism of Amber supports. "It had crossed my mind that perhaps Brand entered into a bargain to keep tabs on me."
There are flaws in that idea, but Brennan leaves them unpicked to see what Ambrose thinks.
Ambrose has to pause and consider that for a time. "It's not out of the question. As you put it, we have insufficient data to state conclusively, and if they've got half an organizing brain, we won't have any way to get the data. But if they're as all-encompassing as they seem to be, and able to move through Shadow easily, they could have been following you on your own. So: inconclusive. But the probabilities there are the sort that could easily be manipulated." He's lapsed back into Uxmali, and the last sentence centers on 'manipulated'.
He ponders that more. "And if our father made that bargain at some time, and later ended it, do you think they'd stop watching?"
"No," Brennan says. No hesitation. It's not even a sentence, just a glyph that would lie like a negation over a whole sentence. "Not a snowball's chance."
"I'm really of two minds," Brennan says. "If they were working for him, it would explain how they knew who I was after centuries of not using my real name. And it would explain why Abford is still standing instead of razed to the ground. But it doesn't reconcile with my memories of him... or yours, apparently." 'Memories' forms a very awkward center. "Something about this nags me, aside from the personal angle. I'm beginning to think there's an actor we don't see, yet. Maybe this mysterious Turcopolier, maybe someone else."
He shakes his head and sends a page to fetch Regenlief. "One word-- no, two words of advice. She hates the Klybesians about as much as Ossian and I do, so expect to get grilled. And she's probably gotten the Brita question half a dozen times today already."
"The Brita question--oh." Ambrose is fast on his feet and works his way through that. Brennan can see when it hits him. "I'll not ask, then. And not mention my own godhead, either. Do you mean to introduce her to all of us one at a time, or will there be a mass inspection for the poor woman? I'm happy to be a relatively friendly face."
"There's nothing for it but to announce her during tomorrow's Mandatory Fun," Brennan says, "but she can't be there for that. She's met a few of us already, and Ossian and I gave her the sketch of the Family earlier today, but it seems only decent to let her put as many names to faces as possible before that." He shrugs. "She's a Valkyrie, she's looking at this like a battle, which is almost right-- it's part of a larger campaign."
He frowns. "I've got enough urgent business that has to get taken care of before tomorrow that that might not be possible. You, Brita, and Edan-- she already knows Connor-- are where I'd thought to start, and then expand out time permitting."
"I'll do what I can to assist here, but I don't know that--" and that's when Rides in the Van, one of Bleys' Altamareans, arrives in the middle of their conversation. "Ambrose, Brennan, I have a message from your uncle Bleys. All is not well. Please come to the Mayor's house as soon as possible."
Also approaching through the crowd is Regenlief.
Brennan isn't sure which will be worse: if this is connected to Vere's and Edan's tale of Cambina and Vialle, or if it's some entirely new disaster, unrelated and presumably even worse.
He shoots Ambrose a "buckle-up" glance, before taking out Bleys' Trump and giving his full and considerable attention. Hard to be faster than that in Xanadu. If Bleys answers, he holds out his hand for Ambrose to join the conversation.
Ambrose reaches out his hand to Bleys, making a firm connection to allow himself to be pulled through.
Bleys opens the connection promptly. "Ah, yes. We're having a little discussion at the Lord Mayor's. I think I hear some of your cousins downstairs. Come through?" Bleys reaches out his hand.
"We received your message from Rides in the Van," Brennan says. "It seemed best to Trump directly."
He reaches out his hand in return.
Ambrose has his other hand in Regenlief's and Bleys pulls the three of them through. Ambrose looks chagrined, Regenlief looks curious, concerned, and doing math behind her eyes.
Bleys says, "Regenlief, charmed to see you again. This is family business and I don't think your sword-arm will be needed, but it would be helpful if you took up a station at the door and kept the rabble out." Conner is already in the room and at the door, preparing to open it.
This is, at Brennan's best guess, the room that opens out onto the balcony that Random was speaking to the crowd from. Random isn't here. Neither is Fiona.
Brennan walks with Regenlief to the door, assuming that's where she's going. "I have no idea what's going on, yet," he says in a low voice-- low enough that polite non-listeners can choose to tune it out, at least, "but I have reason to expect it to be unpleasant. And I'm more pessimistic than Bleys. We may need that arm yet. Did you come over to join us with news, or to meet Ambrose?" That is not a flippant question, but quite serious-- Regenlief may not be familiar with Xanadu and its court, but she's a sharp-eyed Valkyrie, and Brennan believes in the virtue of fresh eyes.
"I was coming to meet Ambrose, but I wanted to ask you--what's going on with the King? I guess we're about to find out, or you and Ambrose are, at least." Regenlief looks less resentful about this than worried. Although she's not armed, since she's not formally a Knight in any of the orders, Brennan knows Regenlief can appropriate or scavenge a weapon as needed. He's seen her do it many times.
Regenlief knows Brennan well enough to know when he's on edge-- this is one of those times, although Brennan tends to get sharper when he senses a threat, not distracted. "I'll tell you what I can, when I can. I expect this to be... revelatory." By which Brennan clearly means unpleasant. When the stairs clear, he escorts her to them, but does not depart.
Regenlief takes up a guard position at the top of the stairs so she can keep people out.
During Edan's performance, Robin is mixed in with the crowd and wildly enthusiastic about the artistry, the joy, the playfulness and the comradery she sees. She cheers, she whistles, she applauds, she stamps her feet and claps in time and she is very, very much in love with that brilliant coin-thrower.
Her other cousin is pretty good too. Soooo much better than stilted court stuff. That's what life and living is all about!
When the King makes his appearance, Robin stops and listens. And tilts her head in bewilderment as her brows furrow in confusion. Afterward, Robin shakes her head though she can't shake the pensive expression from her face.
She moves toward the trumpets distractedly. Because while something's... off, there are also brass instruments to lick.
Ossian comes to the bar as Edan starts his speech. He nods and smiles at Octave and says to Valeria, "I have not forgotten about that dance."
Valeria smiles and finishes the drink she was working on. "Sir Octave, it's a pleasure as always--I look forward to discussing this further on the morrow." She turns her full attention on Ossian and adds a high-wattage smile. "Prince Ossian," she says, keeping the promotion that she gave him in her last conversation with her brother, who is edging his way up the bar.
Sir Octave looks like he might correct her but decides better.
She continues, "Let's find a better sightline for whatever your cousin is doing next. I do enjoy watching a man dance. Almost as much as dancing with one." She offers her arm to Ossian.
Ossian takes her arm. "Edan is a very, very good dancer. I have danced with him at one point. Forceful.
"I thought you 'princed' me to tease your brother. But he couldn't hear you now. Why?"
"Now, because it pleases me." She glances down the bar to where her brother has landed. "And perhaps because it will get back to him. But mostly because it pleases me."
After the speech, once they're up in the dais, Valeria waits for the swell of noise that rises to die down a little before saying, "You did promise me the dance. Edan is forceful, I agree, but I think I prefer you. He is fire and you are water."
Ossian smiles. "Maybe so. And dancing with someone is quite different from watching." He goes quite quiet during Edan's dance. After Random's speech he takes Valeria's arm.
"Let's see if you prefer my dancing."
The music has started so people can dance, though more people seem to be lining up near the dais in a reception line so people can meet Edan and his knights. Valeria, however, is more than content to be taken out into the open area where Edan was performing and joining Ossian in a dance to the tunes.
The music is up-tempo and drum-heavy, with only acoustic instrumentation. (Think something like swing or big band.) Ossian is in a position to lead and set the pace, as he and Valeria are the first couple from the royal family to dance and other dancers will follow their lead. Valeria will try to match Ossian and dance with him, but her ability to execute will depend on his style and the amount of effort and energy he puts into the dance.
Ossian is a gentleman and a good dancer. He will work hard to make Valeria both enjoy the dance and look good on the dance floor. Still he keeps on the very edge of her ability, while covering any mistake she makes, so that maybe even she will not notice. If she starts to get too winded he will suggest that they join the reception line after fetching drinks.
Valeria will dance with him for quite some long time. Her style is fluid, of course, though she has some reflexive tendencies to swing large that Ossian intuits come from her expectation that there will be water resistance to certain of her motions that just isn't there on sweeps. So there are plenty of minor mistakes to work with, though Valeria is aware of many of them and does her best to compensate, and makes fewer as time goes on.
She tires out more quickly than Ossian, but not too much so; she's not an Amberite but she is a Rebman royal and enough of that blood runs in her that she seems to be able to outlast most Amberites. Still, she's ready for a drink and a move toward the reception line after a while.
As they stand in the line Ossian asks: "So what brings you here? Not just Edan's new order, I guess."
"I've been in Xanadu for some long time, since before my mother abandoned Rebma and went off on her mad warfare spree against my Aunt Celina and the rest of our family, and yours." Valeria frowns a little poutily at that, but it's pretty, and Ossian suspects she knows it.
"I hope to speak to Celina tonight and return home with her when she goes back. If she's taking in your uncle who nearly destroyed the city, she can find something useful for me to do as well. I've been doing little or nothing since I arrived with the Amber refugees, and I have no use here. And neither Random nor Vialle look on me with favor, so I'll do no worse under Celina," she explains.
From someone else it might be self-pity, or seeking pity from Ossian, but she's simply being honest as far as Ossian can tell.
Before Ossian can reply to that, he can see Paige's bodyguard/babysitter Rides in the Van headed in his and Valeria's direction.
Ossian smiles. "How can we help you?"
"I am Rides in the Van of the Knights of Altamar. Prince Bleys has sent me to ask for you to join him at the Mayor's House. I can keep the lady company in your stead." He nods politely to Valeria, and adds, "Madam."
Valeria looks to Ossian to see what he's going to do.
Ossian frowns and turns to Valeria "Although I am loath to leave you, I think I will have to answer the Prince's summons. It is too uncommon to ignore. In fact I think this is the first for me." He the turns to the knight. "Keep Lady Valeria company, as long as she wishes. Neither less, nor more."
Sir Rides in the Van bows. "As your Lordship commands."
With that he kisses Valeria's hand and goes for the mayor's house.
"Good night, sweet Prince. We shall dance another time."
Rides takes her hand and the two of them swirl off to the music. He is a good dancer, but no Prince of Amber.
Paige heads to her son, kneels at his side and simply asks, "Where is your sister?
"Somehow, I'm sure, even among all these people, you can find her."
He smiles. "Yeah, I can hear her. She with grandfather. She's not going to leave the square. That's the game."
He's gotten more vocal since the onset of puberty. It's odd, Paige once would've guessed that she would be the vocal one.
She nods at him and takes a mother's liberty, kissing him on the cheek.
Someone is trumping Paige. From the urgency they're using, it's probably family, and by family, it's a redhead. Or Nana Clarissa.
The urgency alarms her, but she's careful to not startle her son. Still kneeling, she answers, "Who calls?"
"Mother Hannah...I mean Brita. Brita Calls. Cousin Hannah is Birthing Now. Come. Help?" Brita seems a little flustered but she is reaching out a hand.
Paige nods, calling back over her shoulder to Grizzle, "My regrets to the Quartermaster, but he's the duty this evening, as it seems my cousin is having a baby. Leif, please listen to Alain and ensure that your sister adheres to the game, no place beyond the square without supervision? Understood?"
Without waiting for his consent, as it was a rhetorical question anyway, she extends her hand to Brita and disappears in a flash of rainbow brilliance.
Brita briefly watches Cousin Signy head to the dais and continues her rounds around the dance area. She watches as the drums are set up -- intrigued by the precision of placement and the scale of the instruments. In the bustle of people, she pulls out a plain scarf and ties it over her braided hair, twirling and tucking the braids up so they are completely covered. She meanders a bit, watching Cousins Edan and Vere perform with a slight smile at the drama. It is really rather impressive and she will have to remember to tell both of them. She pauses as Random appears and then disappears just as fast. A look of disappointment flickers across her face -- Uncles can be So Annoyingly Wiley sometimes. Maybe they All have a little of Uncle Loki in them. She notes the placement of her mother through this brief sighting of the King, wondering at her level of insight into what is going on. Something to ask later. She continues to wander seemingly randomly through the crowd, listening to the people's reaction to the new Knights and Cousin Edan. Eventually, she nears the bar and that cluster of Kin.
Brita suddenly strides up to Hannah out of the crowd. "Cousin. Your Water? Do you Need Assistance?"
"I do, I suppose. I'd like to stay on my feet as long as possible, but may need support. It's good to see you." Brita gets a genuine smile, and Hannah takes a moment to clasp her hand.
The Victorian upbringing just can never quite be put away though. "Have you met our Uncle Huon? Uncle, Brita was the first welcome me to Amber."
"...don' t know." Robin is muttering as she walks up to the bar. "The last time I licked a trumpet it did not taste like that. I think it was the polish. You know, because of the formal occasion."
On her shoulders, Peep and Chirrup are trading a look of disgust and concern. In her arms, Ooot is making sounds and gestures much like a dog with peanut butter on its tongue.
"One club soda, please. In a dish if you can." She tells the barman.
As she waits for her drink, Robin looks up and around at the cluster she has suddenly found herself in. A brilliant smile is sent to Brita. A glare to Huon. And... a Julianic eyebrow is raised to Hannah.
Hannah doesn't even hesitate, but gets a grip on Robin's forearm with her right hand. "Sister, I'm going to need your attendance. Have you been introduced to our Uncle Huon yet?" She looks between them.
"Well, consider yourself attended." Robin smiles at her sister as she covers Hannah's gripping hand with a comforting one of her own. Then with a sigh for her sister's fine manners, Robin's eyes dart to Huon. 'We've met' is what she tries to say. Really. But it comes out as pretty much as a growl.
Peep uncharacteristically does not react harshly, but instead croons at Hannah. The boys do not like 'Uncle Huon', who finds them amusing.
Hannah lets go of Robin to offer Peep a perch on her wrist.
Robin nods. Excellent! Peep is officially on distraction-duty.
Brita, courageously supporting Hannah from the other side, has bared her teeth at Huon in a semblance of a polite smile. It is unclear if the stress behind it is due to the impending dangers of childbirth or her uncle until, she says "uncle huon." She leans around Hannah to smile more gamely at Robin and notes, "We should Probably Alert Cousin Paige. She is More Knowledgeable about Children."
Robin's eyes sparkle briefly at the lower case 'uncle huon.' Someone's been appropriately dissed. And she nods back to Brita with a comfortable and confident smile. Robin is obviously not fashed by breeding issues. In other people.
Huon nods. "Please, let's not dwell on formalities when you have your sister and/or cousin to help. Hannah, you will be here all day if you attempt to introduce me to everyone, and that is not how I believe the King expects you to dance all night. I shall absent myself to find Paige." Huon bows briefly, from the neck, scoops up Hannah's unwanted drink and heads for the dais.
Hannah's eyes follow Huon away. "Well, I don't like that he knows who Paige is, and where Paige is. I have her trump right here if one of you want to grab her ahead of him." She flips it out of her dress top and offers it.
"Would you mind, Brita? Damn things never work right for me." Robin shakes her shoulders to get the boys into the air and searching for easy paths out of the crowd.
"Soooo, Ms. Hannah, do you think the patient should walk to her den or be carried?" Robin stands ready to assist with either.
Hannah gives her sister a little smile. "Gravity is the friend of labor. Never let a mother rest while she can walk or stand. People who lay women down for birthin' don't have the least notion of how awful they are... that is, ignorant. Ignorant nonsensical..." Her voice has gone tight along the way, and she shifts her hold from Brita over to Robin. She holds tight, but not too tight while another contraction passes. "Five minutes, I think. I need a stopwatch. People in pain can't make accurate measures of time, usually. Are our bodies really this efficient, that I might skip right over the first stage of labor, or not notice I'm in it? Or that the first stage of labor is shorter but more intense?" Obviously, she's coming out of it. Her grip loosens.
"Hey kitten, do you feel that?" she asks Peep. Hannah grins at Robin again. "I wish I'd been able to midwife for Folly. Paige will know this, but stage one most women can go about their business, but they feel it. 'Bout 7 mins between. Stage 2, usually 5 to 3 minutes between, mother is generally too pain distracted for conversation. Last stage is pushing. Women who can't stand up in stage 2 need to be held up for pushing, excepting exceptions. Like breech and hangin's and bleeds. Those are why you have a midwife."
Brita is studiously concentrating on the image of the newest red haired Warden. Much more energy in her stare and she might bore a hole through the card.
"Or a Robin." Robin has been listening carefully to Hannah's explanations. "I don't usually get to see the early bits." She explains, "Usually by the time I'm brought in, there's a boat or a tree or wild animals involved. Sometimes all three." She grins.
Paige hasn't answered yet, but looking at the stage, where she is, it's clear she's felt the trump. Huon is nearly there.
Hannah gives Robin a confused look. "Involved in a woman giving birth, or themselves giving birth?"
Brita speaks, presumably to Paige. "Mother Hannah...I mean Brita. Brita Calls. Cousin Hannah is Birthing Now. Come. Help?" Brita seems a little flustered but she is reaching out a hand.
Robin chuckles to Hannah. "I've never delivered a baby boat. But the universe is infinite and I might be around for quite a while, soooo..." She shrugs. An errant thought bird hops across her mind, wondering if The Psyche and Martin's sailboat have met. Robin shoos it away with another chuckle.
"Trees and wild animals, definitely. But yes, I was thinking about them being involved with women giving birth. Human-type women. Ooorrr mostly human-ish type women." Robin allows to be fair to some of her memories.
As she is speaking, Robin is gently steering Hannah away from the bar and toward the edge of the crowd, while maintaining very clear sight lines and proximity to Brita.
Hannah laughs. "She just called me 'mother Hannah'." This seems tho make her contemplative.
"Yep." Robin nods sympathetically, "Get used to that."
Paige appears in a quick shimmer of that rainbow brilliance that accompanies someone Not There then Two Dimensional then smiling at her cousin. She begins by taking a quick appraisal of the situation, giving Hannah the once over. "Right, I had wished for more time, but children have a mind of their own, especially Powers," she states.
"How close are the contractions?" the redhead asks. "Did your water break already?"
"Water approximately ten minutes. I was distracted. They're at about five, but without predecessors. I've never seen anyone who wasn't..." she clears her throat, "induced in some way skip right into stage two. I think I've got a minute to the next. Come feel it. It's definitely full-banding contractions."
Hannah looks over at Brita. "Cousin, it's nothing to be afraid of. Come with us and learn all about it."
Now that Paige is there and asking Knowledgeable questions, Brita seems less stressed. She nods at Hannah's invitation and is clearly following although letting Robin and Paige take center stage with Hannah.
Robin nods to Paige as she appears, passing the first responder baton to the obvious designated lead. And grins to Brita - Hannah is apparently a group breeder, instead of a solo spawner so the more 'human female' energy around the better. Robin slides into her role as soux-midwife and back-up 'oh shit!' manager as the four woman (and three lizards) exit the square.
Paige waits to palpate until they've found someplace for Hannah to sit. Her focus is keeping the new mother comfortable before asking questions about the color and odor of the amniotic fluid, and when she does she turns to Brita, because she's the Nose of the family.
"I'm not calling my brother until you're at least into active labor, but one supposes someone should at least inform him that he's only another day of carefree life before him," she chuckles.
"It smelled fleshy, like a ripe apricot and was slightly yellow," Brita notes with a slight wrinkle of her nose.
Paige nods pleased that the baby hadn't fouled it.
Hannah is not keen on sitting, and strongly prefers Paige just feel without poking and prodding. Hannah is full of opinions about childbirth, and during her time away had gathered and made all the traditional items she needs.
She's very confident that there will be no major issues, that she will be able to perform a proper silent birthing, that if the child is difficult and breech that Paige will 'simply' turn it, and that she herself can endure an extended painful manipulation as required.
Of Edan, she says, "Your brother and I talked and he has agreed he has plenty of duties down here to see to. Let him know when I finally feel like pushing. That will give him time to worry without it being torture."
Robin takes a mother/midwife distraction moment to whisper to Brita. "Any floaty-moon women show, you take 'em out no questions asked, right?" Then Robin pauses and thinks about it. "And don't ask about this 'cause I can't say, but if the Queen shows, politely stall like the dickens. Okay?"
Paige feels the rising contraction and agrees with Hannah but thinks her cousin is likely further along than either had realized. "Walk while you can," she allows.
Paige looks to Robin and Brita. "So, do we know who might still be up the hill or are one of you going to ride ahead with one of my Trumps?" she asks, implying that Hannah isn't walking that far.
Brita, looking appropriately threatening at the air and darkness and all things floaty (present dragonettes excluded), notes "All of My Contacts are Here" with a brief nod encompassing the square and town.
Hannah gives Paige a short look. "I wasn't planning on walking all the way up. Anyone have Solange? She doesn't seem to be around."
Robin shakes her head, her contacts are either at the party or irrelevant. "I could run up there and call one of you from the Trump Booth. I'mmmmmm pretty quick on my feet." There's a lot Robin's understating there.
Paige bites her bottom lip and pulls out her deck, unwrapping it from the green silk. "I may actually have Solange," she mutters. "We can at least try it."
It's halfway through the deck before the diviner locates it, as Paige keeps all her cards in play with the Fortunes, and well after she locates one of herself to send with Robin as a backup plan.
"I drew this of Solange back before the Trumps worked again, so it may not chill, but I can't anticipate any adverse effects to the attempt," she explains.
Paige centers herself and reaches for Solange, willing the image on the card to life...
Solange answers. "Um. Hello? Who is this?" For all that she knows the theory, she doesn't seem very versed in using the cards. Amongst other things, she seems to be leaking emotions, and she's unhappy about something.
"It's Paige," she offers gently. "I was hoping you might be at the palace. Hannah is in labor and I'd like to get her back up the hill." Her voice is call and imparts no sense of urgency.
"Oh," says Solange, and then, "OH. Of course, let me get up and--where should I go?" She doesn't have the strength or frame of reference to hide where she is; she's in a sitting room somewhere in the castle as best Paige can tell by the look of things.
Solange says, "It's Hannah. She's in labor and she wants to come through," which is clearly not directed at Paige. Then she adds, for Paige's benefit, "Kyril is here and so is his niece Allie. He's going to get what we need. You can hand Hannah through any time."
Robin and Peep unobtrusively take over primary Hannah-watch while Paige is doing the communication. Though she smiles to Brita as the Goddess takes up the defensive duty. Yep, it's a good team.
Hannah leans into Robin and says quietly, "I don't want to be going through that trump contact during the contraction and there should be one coming very soon. Safest for all involved to wait it out."
As Robin waits and provides strength to Hannah, she sends a brief 'all claws on me' directive to the boys in the air.
"How many times have your dragons been through trumps?" she asks.
Robin purses her lips as she thinks about the answer. "A couple of times. With the assistance of Princess Fiona." Robin grins in fond remembrance. "She fireproofed her tower for them. And then took us to a wonderful Family Monument where a giant lizard lived. We didn't have time to talk to him then. Hopefully, someday we can go back and visit." Yep, idle distractive chatter -- Robin-style.
Paige nods to Solange, explaining to both groups, "She's in a sitting room with Kyril, and I'm also going to be sending Brita and Robin." She then proceeds to start passing women through.
Brita notes the dragonettes in the air and nods to herself. "I will Go First to Assess while Cousin Hannah Works." She puts a hand on Paige's shoulder to enter the Trump, grasps Solange's hand with a brief "Cousin" in greeting and goes through. She remains in contact with Solange on the other side with a light hand on her arm to remain in the Trump contact.
Robin nods her understanding and complete agreement with this plan.
Solange really isn't used to large-group contacts, but she does know how to pull someone through, at least. This she does with Brita.
On the far side, Brita's in a sitting room in Castle Xanadu with a very wide-eyed young woman who looks like she's related to Kyril. "Uh, hi," says the woman who must be Allie, who has clearly never seen someone come in on a Trump before.
Hannah keeps her eyes open through this contraction, using the pain as an experiment in perception changes. She looks at the scales on the little dragon, the colors in Robin's hair; she sniffs at Peep, just to see if he smells like anything other than bird. Her mind, though, keeps wandering back to Gerard, and how much pain must color everything he sees. She forgets to breathe and has to remember, as she gasps, "Ah, yes, now I have to think of breath. That's why it works. Robin, do you think your wanágthe knows what is happening to me? Can she... understand? She's still a young one, yes?"
"She's young, yes." Robin nods, "But I think she knows. Her kind don't seem as... reliant as we are on formal teaching to understand the world." She smiles at both of Peep and Hannah.
When Paige reaches for Hannah she will go through.
Robin and the fair accompany Hannah: bright, confident and very, very much there.
Paige passes Hannah once the contraction ends and then Robin and Peep, following herself in the end. Once in the palace she kisses her cousin on the cheek in thanks and begins setting about making sure that Hannah is comfortable.
"I think you are further along than you think," Paige suggests.
Solange brings everyone through, including the fair. The fair are sitting on Robin's shoulders when she comes through, and Solange gives her and Hannah each a bit of an extra squeeze when they're passed through.
Robin grins at her "baby" sister and returns the squeeze.
They all arrive in one of the sitting rooms of Castle Xanadu with its chairs and love seats. Kyril comes back in the door, saying, "I've sent for water and towels and blankets, and my medical kit. How far apart are the contractions?" He doesn't sound worried, just like he's turned on professional detachment. "Paige, you've done this before, haven't you? How about you, Solly? Allie?"
"'bout five mins, and I agree with Paige that I'm farther along than that timing might lead you to believe. Doctor, I appreciate it and all, but we've set up a birthing suite, and my traditions forbid men. Though it's good to see you're well. Nice to meet you Allie. Solonge, you are coming with us, right?" Hannah asks in her best 'eldest sister with expectations' tone.
"Sure, I'm coming with you," Solange says, and sounds remarkably cheerful about it.
Robin nods politely to everyone present, and catches Kyril's eye. She's got something to add when Hannah is... in a less directive place. Other than that, she and the firelizards remain in a supportive background role.
"I know you're against poking and prodding," Paige comments, "But I'd have a better idea of exactly how far and how quickly this will progress if you would let me check dilation and effacement."
"Can we do that in the birthing suite? Allie, Kyril, get whatever you sent for--water, whatever--forwarded to the birthing suite. The servants should know where that is. I'll catch up with you two later," Solange tells them.
Kyril starts to say something and decides he's better off keeping his mouth shut.
Hannah's eyes narrow, not quite able to make out what's happened here with her sister and her parolee.
Allie asks, "Do you need someone to stand guard at the door? I'm good for that and I've got field medic experience if you need it."
"Sure. Don't physically try to stop anyone though - and all the women can come in. If it gets too crowded someone will sort it out."
She lets go of Solange to reach for Paige's arm. "Let us proceed to your domain, trusty midwife."
The Warden smiles at her cousin and friend in agreement.
Hannah turns back to Kyril. "Would you mind, after you're done with sending necessities, stopping by Lady Corvis' suite to see if she is available to come sit with us? She'd be a comfort."
Kyril nods. "Not at all, Doctor. Just remember the old saying about lawyers who represent themselves."
Brita, after nodding to Allie's greeting, has been surveying the room purposefully. She notes to the girl, "I will Guard the Inside and Alert you to Any Issues." She is hoping the birthing room is large enough for Hannah's growing entourage.
Paige leads the way with Hannah on her arm, pausing when the next contraction occurs, again palpating gently. "I'm not experiencing them, but they seem stronger," she observes.
As she ushers Hannah into the birthing suite she continues, "I'm not worried. Just noting it."
The suite is exactly as Hannah has prepared, and the proximity to the baths make the provisioning of fresh towels and clean water extremely easy.
Solange mentions that she's been in barns when horses have given birth, but this will be the first human she's seen do so.
Solange gets the side-eye from Hannah at this comment.
It's pretty clearly nerves.
Allie stations herself outside the door, her soldierly demeanor kicking right in.
Hannah starts handing out assignments. "Solange, if you could please, write a note to my father introducing yourself and let him know labor has begun. I have no idea where he is..." She looks to Paige to see if she knows.
"Brita, you're so wonderful. It will be fine. Have you seen women die in childbirth? You seem nervous." Hannah offers her a hug. "I'm not even going to get loud." They've managed to get a pretty big suite, with birthing room with about a half dozen chairs, and a sitting room half set for tea and cards, and the other half holding medical supplies and baby equipment. The baby board and cradle are beaded works of art.
"Robin... if you'll take turns with Solange keeping me hydrated. Just hydrated enough, you know..." she waves a hand. "And upright as long as possible. And probably do what Paige says, even if I'm not complying." Hannah grins, and finally turns to Paige.
Robin snorts in amusement as she sets the firelizards loose in the room. Keep things wet? Yeah, she can do that. But Robin bets that if she is not careful, Hannah might end up having an aquatic birth. Regardless of how high up on a mountain in a Pattern Realm they are. Her eyes are sparkling at that thought when she nods in response to Hannah.
"I can feel one coming on. That's closer. We'll check, I'll change clothes, and then you can tell us where we're at and if we need anyone to change what they're doing. Maybe if we're lucky I'll get to eat and sleep and eat before this meeting."
Brita accepts the hug. "I have Seen Many Births. As Goddess of Clear Waters, I was Called by Prayer to the bedside of Many women in Hard Labor. My Powers were Not Always Strong enough to Help and I Have Seen a few Die - both Mothers and Children. Here... I Have Nothing to Offer but My Watchfulness."
"Your watchfulness is no small thing cousin. I've seen them die too, when it was my responsibility to prevent it. I could use a favor though. If Vialle comes up, try to talk her out of coming back. It can be right stressful for a pregnant woman to see another in labor. Her first duty is to herself, not me. Don't push the issue... but tell her I said that and want her to keep safe." Hannah shrugs. "I guess that'll go for anyone pregnant that shows up. Maybe you can pass that out to Allie - except for Vialle, of course. She'll need family attention..."
Robin nods in confirmation. A Goddess of Clear Waters is good member to have on the team, regardless of what she thinks of her effectiveness. Robin's lips quirk as Hannah brings up Vialle and she catches Brita's eye. And gives another small nod. No Vialle. Everyone is on the same track here.
Brita nods in acceptance to the task and then returns Robin's nod with a look of stoic resolve. No floaty women will be allowed past Brita's guard either. She moves towards the door and alerts Allie to her task to protect other pregnant women from the trauma of childbirth and with a offer of assistance with "Any of the Family, Including the Pregnant Queen, who Might Feel that Young Allie is not Worthy of Their Obeisance." She indicates she will remain close inside the door.
By the time everyone has had a chance to listen to and start on Hannah's tasks, Solange has written her note and folded it, and asked Allie to send for a page to deliver it. In deference to Hannah's sensibilities, they hear her ask Allie to send a female page so that the page can deliver any message to Hannah personally. And also has Allie repeat the message for the page in case Solange has written in the wrong language. (Solange knows Thari but isn't sure what the written dialect of Hannah's home shadow is.)
Robin has a task for Allie too but Solange's comes first.
Once that has been seen to, Robin asks Allie to ask Kyril if he might find some fireproof baby supplies to have on hand. Just in case. Maybe some minor fire suppression gear too. Nothing too much, mind you. Robin doesn't want to scare anyone, but Afrit heritage has been mentioned.
Allie also takes care of this, though she doesn't know what kind of fireproof supplies might be in the castle.
After Paige has done an examination and Hannah has changed into what she considers a birthing gown, she sits, finally, and draws her sisters to either side of her for a quick discussion. She motions to Brita and Paige that they're welcome to come join them.
Robin and Peep snuggle in. The boys have found themselves out of the way perching places.
"Robin, Solange and I have talked about this, uh, curse or unholy connection or whatever it is between the women of our line, the Isles, and childbirth. I can't remember us speaking about it. Have you heard of this notion that women of our line lose... something with each birth and the third kills us?"
Hannah shifts. "I bring it up because I told Solange I'd test it first - get pregnant and see what happens. And I just wanted to say, that isn't what this is." She gestures to her stomach. "This... was me not expecting to meet... to share... I got caught up and didn't regain my sense for some time. All my scientific goals were somewhere else. So I wasn't consciously addressing the issue of how our intent may or may not influence our fertility. I have no regrets, and it would break my heart if Edan were to think this was all some experiment."
Solange puts her arms around Hannah. "I would never think that. Never mind say it to Edan." She gives Hannah a quick squeeze before stepping back to give Hannah room. It's obvious to Hannah and Paige that she really hasn't ever been present at a birthing before.
Paige smiles, suggesting that Edan will never hear of any of this from her lips. Considering the point settled, she busies herself about preparing for the evening's labors.
Robin nods, less concerned with Edan's feelings than her sister's risk. She licks her lips nervously as she tries to find the diplomatic words.
"Ah, yes. Ladies?" Robin addresses the various powers in the room. "My Father and I have spoken a little on this subject, and there may be a sort of 'life-link' between the mother and children of our Line. I'm hoping I can mitigate that or help it somewhat if it becomes too great a burden. But... well, I'm not supposed to get all... Family Heritage around sorcery," Robin looks at Paige, "'cause it creates 'nodes.'" Bleys' words, not hers. "And the Heritage would definitely limit any divine or technologic effects." She adds looking to Brita and Solange.
"Aaannndd," Robin finishes reluctantly as she turns to Hannah, "If things start going seriously sideways, I am calling Dad." She holds up Julian's Trump. "Regardless of cultural taboos. You can hate us both later." The girl is both embarrassed but determined.
Brita pipes in "I Can Call My Mother, if Needed."
Hannah sighs. "First... I won't hate anyone for something done out of love but I'd rather have Gerard, if it *must* be a son of Rilga. I'd rather a woman if it needs magic." She starts to say something else but stops for a contraction. She gets up and waddles though it, stretching and making uncomfortable faces.
Once the pain passes and her breathing calms down, Hannah sits again. "Now, I need clarification. Define 'sort of life link' and 'Family Heritage' and 'nodes', please."
Solange clearly has some thoughts but she's letting Robin speak for herself to start. She offers Robin a reassuring hand in case Robin needs it.
Robin takes Solange's hand with a smile, then takes a deep breath, waits for a moment when there is only Family in the room and tries to find the words.
"My sister," she says to Hannah with warmth and care, "I want to be careful, because I know how much of this is based on confidence." She waves her hand at Hannah's... situation. "But, if all doesn't go well, then that might be a good time to stop pretending you are human so hard.
"See... My impression from Dad and from my visit to Danu is that our maternal grandmother was a divinely-descended... Something. And our mother was a Goddess of the Isles. Both of them were tied to their land. And in order to give life outside of it, they were... 'drained in ways they did not expect' is what Dad said. He said he remembers his mother as always being tired. That sounds like a life link to me." Robin shrugs.
"Family Heritage are the words I grew up with for..." Robin waves her hand again and lowers her voice, "calling upon the Pattern within ourselves to bend the worlds to our whim." She shrugs nonchalantly, "I've heard some of the boys call it 'Pattern' or 'using the Pattern.' But that's a misleadingly technical term for something that is basically an Art. Soooo... I call it Family Heritage.
"Bleys is the one who called the badness-one-gets- when-Heritage-and-Sorcery-mix 'nodes.'" Robin shrugs again, "I'll take his word for it. I'm no sorcerer.
"But to get back to my previous point. I understand that you would prefer Gerard Son-of-Rilga or Fiona-for-Sorcery, but what I... both me and my Father are private people so we don't talk a lot about what we do. But we are... life-makers? Practitioners of Exalted Husbandry and Agriculture? Mastercraft Species Desingers? Uhhh.... I don't know the words." Robin gestures helplessly. "We create lifeforms. For purpose and for fun. Using our Family Heritage. 'Cause... it's kinda neat..." She trails off.
"Anyway, if you or the baby are having trouble channeling life forces or getting the biology working well, I can track a short ways. But if really creative solutions are needed, we want Dad. Definitely." Robin's sure about that.
Solange looks to Brita to see if she has anything to add, and at Hannah to see her reaction.
Brita nods with Robin's description of her skills "Far Better to have one who Understands what Makes Us Real and who has Experience to Detect any Taint of the Deep Green."
Paige doesn't flinch at the mention of the twins grandmother and her influence, but she nods in agreement at the idea of Julian's support if they must break the Ponds taboo.
Hannah has many questions, so she asks none. She gets up and stretches before the next contraction, and during it pulls a feather from her hair and whispers the same invocation she'll later be using to pray with the local ladies. As she relaxes again, she places the feather into her medicine pouch, wipes off her brow, and sits back down. "Mon petite oiseau, I have never been more glad not to be human. I would accept your father, if you cannot do it yourself. I'd like to see you do it sometime when it's not on me. It sounds like the life-link isn't mother to child, but mother-Isles. Two questions: what do you and Solange think the life-link is? What will happen if my connection is with the Blue Earth - please speculate. Oh, and a third just for Robin. Let me write it down." She gets up to stretch again and brings back a note, folded, that she hands to Robin.
Solange has been thinking about what she needs to say while Hannah is writing her note. After a moment, she starts talking. "I don't know what the life-link is, really, and since I haven't been in a position to fall pregnant, and don't want to right now, I haven't worried about it, Hannah. But I would think it's--well, you're a medicine woman, connected to those powers. Corvis is a priestess and our mother was a goddess working with those same powers. And Robin works with them too, in a different way, as a life-shaper. If how we use the Pattern, the Family Gift, whatever you want to call it, shapes us, then it seems like that would be a form of shaping that affects you. But you don't work in the tradition that Corvis worked in, that our mother was a goddess in, so maybe not."
Robin is a slow reader, but she's been practicing so her lips do not move as she sounds one word out in her mind. Once she finishes, she smiles at Hannah. She doesn't quite agree but she truly appreciates the sentiment.
Robin shakes her head. "Dad made real sure I was disinclined to get comfy with the Isles. Even after the Isles hadn't exactly made themselves welcoming anyway." The girl sticks out her tongue at the memory. "But even then, knowing that I had no connection to that Land, he... asked me very seriously to seek him out if I ever found myself pregnant.
"On the other hand, I don't know where I was born. But it wasn't Arden. If Solange and I were both born in Danu, and you were born in the Blue Earth... maybe that would have an effect." She shrugs. "I don't know."
Celina cheers when Edan is done with his speech.
Celina applauds with great delicacy and precision.
Random steps back, then steps forward again and adds. "You may all dance until dawn, there is no curfew tonight, and tomorrow is Red Lamp Day henceforth, and an unsolemn holiday." Then the King retreats into the mayoral manor and does not return.
Celina laughs. "I accept the challenge! Dancing until dawn it is!." She applauds again.
Signy dutifully claps at the dancing and the King's speech, but as the King retreats back inside, Signy shakes her head ruefully.
"And yet after announcing the big party, he heads back inside."
She looks around at the crowd before a worried look crosses her face.
"Was that a command? Do we all need to dance until dawn?"
Celina smiles and puts a hand on Signy's shoulder, "While I'm sure the King would be amused if we chose to interpret his humor such, I do not think it is a royal command in that sense."
Silhouette smiles softly, "Although, I suspect your dance card will be quite full, might I trouble you for at least one dance this evening, my Queen."
She glances over at Signy, "And you, cousin. Do you dance? Sometimes the forge takes us away from such aspects of life."
Celina nods with excitement, "It may not be custom above the waves, but in Rebma, three ladies may dance a number of styles together if you wish."
Celina adds with a smile, "It's not hard to learn. There is no dance that is done wrong. I've taught this many times."
Silhouette bows her head, "I think, for tonight, custom shall be considered fluid and all-inclusive, my Queen. I would be delighted to be Enlightened upon this form of dance. Thank you."
Celina gently nudges Silhouette towards the crowd of lively celebrants.
"We don't have to do much, just let people experience some joy," Celina says softly. "This is an entry and memory night for Edan. We can give people a treasure to carry away and tell their children about."
Silhouette regards her for a moment, some wicked thought apparently inspired, rising to her lips, yet remaining unspoken.
"The boguin is a sword dance actually but we will not worry about that. Keep your eyes on me, we'll walk through it together. It will feel like a mirror dance at first, then get more fun as you find the currents it has."
Celina begins. She keeps her head always level and matched to Silhouette's gaze. A big smile seems balanced and weighted for the crowd. As they sway a bit towards each other and then away, their arms move in the same ways that the horizon calls to sailors of the double dozen seas.
Silhouette's focus is almost unnerving in its intensity, studying Celina's every movement, every nuanced gesture. With perfect symmetry, she mimics the dance, matching motion and timing. Outwardly, it is beautiful to behold. Yet, her dancing is too perfect, too exact. It lacks true grace.
Celina adjusts her style a bit, warmer, more open, allowing Silhouette to appear to be almost leading. Her smile is still for the crowd, but she is an inviting partner.
Silhouette eases her stance slightly, encouraged by Celina's openness. As the dance progresses, she allows her partner to shine, As they close, she whispers, "Even above the waves, you are the most graceful woman in the room." She quickly adds, "My Queen."
"Would that my City and People found me so," Celina replies in gentle whisper. "But dancing with you will suffice for today."
"Give them time, Milady," Silhouette says, touching Celina's hand. "They will soon love you as I do."
She drifts away, only to return, fully taking control of the dance now - apparently inspired by Celina's kindness.
"We shall see, Fierce Beauty," Celina whispers now, "for I do not think time is on our side. I would gladly give the Emerald City my time, sworn to it, in fact, but while I intend to, what moves in shadow to take away these choices? That's what tomorrow's family conference will tell. You shall join me there, yes?"
Silhouette slows her steps and movements, perfectly in sync with the music. "The conference? I believe so, my Queen. Ossian and I must report our findings," she says, her voice edging toward cool professionalism. Then she adds, "But, I serve you above all others. Where you say, I shall go."
Celina perks up, her smile grows, "All right then, we'll try to ride the storm together. And if I end up sounding too stuffy, you give me a slow wink. OK?"
Celina adds a more complex step to the shared balance, since Silhouette is now so relaxed.
Silhouette matches her step for step, adding in a few of her own - playing perfectly off her partner's natural rhythm and grace. For her, the outside world drifts away, everything framing in this moment, these movements. She ignores the watchful eyes, even though it's likely people will talk about this dance, whisper about the unrestrained joy of it. Let them talk.
"Might I ask a favor of you though?" she says, fingers brushing over Celina's wrist as she makes another fluid step in time. "Spend a single afternoon with me exploring this city? I wish to see its marvels, but have found sharing such experiences more Enlightening when shared with someone..." She swallows the last words, but they shine in her forest-dark eyes.
Celina considers. Xanadu is fresh and probably wilder than Rebma. People will talk. Could that get back to Rebma and put Silhouette in danger? Anyone who seems a favorite of the Queen is subject to added scrutiny.
Yet Silhouette is hardly defenseless. Truly, Celina realizes that she is more concerned that her reliance on a friend will be exposed. Celina worries that the Queen is too exposed already to those who will wish to end her bond with Rebma as soon as possible.
"I will agree," Celina says quietly, "depending on the Family conference delivering news that I must act on short-term. I can delay my return and visit Xanadu with you. We should both have modest disguises."
Silhouette bows her head and smiles, "But of course. No on will recognize us, of that you can be assured."
She completes the final movements of the dance, letting the fading music draw them to a regretful conclusion. At the end, her hand lingers in Celina's, yet only for the briefest monents.
Finally, she steps away and provides her partner with a stiff bow, "Thank you for indulging me, my Queen. I fear my skills were not up to the task."
"Let me kill your fears," Celina says, "for I enjoyed it so much. Dancing for fun is something I need to do more. And your words lifted my spirits."
Celina nods to the crowd, "We can mingle, and provide addition lift to spirits around this event. I shall try my best. Come rescue me if I get stuck dancing with Huon."
Silhouette smiles softly, "He has two left feet and isn't as charming as he believes himself to be. But for you, and only you, I shall make the sacrifice."
Raven, in the crowd, frowns slightly at the shortness of the King's speech. It doesn't hurt her feelings that it's short, but it does seem like the dance and all that should have maybe produced a slightly longer one. Or maybe that's just the way this king does things. She shrugs a little then and looks around. Her brother probably needs even less keeping an eye on at his age then she did, really, but she is curious what he was talking to a Prince and an Admiral's son about.
"Don't know that we've properly met," the captain says as she approaches. "You're Vere, right?"
Vere had been staring thoughtfully at the now empty window of the Mayor's Mansion, but he turns slightly before Raven speaks. He nods slightly. "I am," he answers, "And I believe that you are correct that we have not met."
"Sorry - name's Raven," she supplies. "Still figuring out who's who, but your father pointed you out at dinner. If you don't mind my asking - everything okay with my brother? I saw you taking to him earlier."
"Ah, Captain Raven," Vere offers his hand. "I have been told of you, and young Max mentioned you when speaking of his siblings. He appears to be taking his responsibilities quite seriously."
Raven returns the gesture. "Which responsibilities was he talking about? The last time he and I talked about that, he was making noises about a vendetta, and I'm pretty sure he ain't old enough for that kind of talk yet."
"He did not say anything about vendetta this time. Whether that means he has changed his mind, or merely learned discretion, I do not know." Vere smiles slightly. "No, he was saying that he felt your father had left him the responsibility of locating and protecting his younger siblings. Why Lucas would have that duty fall upon him rather than you he did not say."
"I'd imagine," Raven says dryly, "that has a lot to do with it being unlikely that Lucas was my father too."
"Ah," Vere replies. He gives a slight bow of the head. "My apologies. I made an unwarranted assumption."
Raven smiles and shakes her head. "No need. Can't say as how it's unreasonable," she offers. "You'd have to know a bit about our mother, or been there when she was explaining. Only mostly sure myself, at this point."
"The parental strategies of our elder generation are..." Vere pauses as though seeking just the correct phrase, then settles upon "...quite mysterious in their variance." He pauses again, regarding Raven. "Victor is your uncle, as I understand it? He is an old friend of my beloved, the Lady Robin, although I do not know him well myself."
"That's what I've been told." Raven shrugs. "He wasn't around when I was a kid - didn't even know I had an uncle. Actually met him the same day I met Robin. And her..." She pauses. "Friends? Pets?"
"Companions is probably the best word," Vere answers. "Highly intelligent and psychically linked to her. And they definitely have strong personalities and their own minds."
"Ah," Raven says. "I saw them, a bit, but things got busy - we ended up tracking someone down, there was a riot, and then I've been off with Jerod. Part of why I haven't talked to Victor much, there. What kind of man does he seem like?"
"An experienced demon hunter, so a man capable of taking care of himself physically. He likes to affect a somewhat rough exterior, but he's actually extremely sensitive to the subtler points of communication. Good at subtly disappearing into the background, as well." Vere considers for a moment, then nods decisively. "Yes, 'surprisingly subtle' is the phrase I think I would use for him."
Raven glances in the direction she'd last seen her mother, with a thoughtful look, and then shrugs. "Huh. Thanks. Nice to have a hint about what I'll be stepping into." She shoves her hands into her coat pockets, in a way that looks very habitual. "Hope I'm not keeping you from anything with a bunch of nosy questions, here."
Vere glances back at the Mayor's mansion for a moment then smiles slightly. "No, in fact you probably kept me from making a mistake." He laughs very quietly then continues, "If it is not intruding, might I ask if you were raised in secret, knowing that you were a member of the Family, or if your parentage came as a surprise to you?"
Raven snorts in amusement. "Surprise is a good word for it. Grew up dockside in Amber, and Ma didn't care to say much on who my father was. Pretty much had given up on it, really, until Brita announced I was part of all this."
Vere nods thoughtfully. "I can understand her desire to keep her children out of the politics of the Family. Especially considering the way things seemed to be under the reign of Oberon, with rivalries and backstabbing common. The younger generation is trying to create a better way of doing things." He shrugs slightly. "Time will tell how well we succeed."
"Guess that's a reason she might've kept it to herself." Raven's expression says she's not so sure that's actually why. "Speaking of the old King... seeing as how I've only been around for a little of this one, is that a normal royal speech now? Seemed kind of short."
Vere's eyes go back to the empty window, and he frowns slightly. "No, that was not usual for our king. His speeches are sometimes short, but always ... interesting."
He looks back at Raven. "Will you be at the Family meeting tomorrow? I have the impression that we will be discussing matters of grave import."
Raven nods. "As long as I don't get told to do something else. Jerod and Brita and I came back from Gateway with one of those, I think."
"Ah, you were with Jerod, then." Vere gives a slight nod. "I heard a very brief synopsis of that mission. Weyland Smith, two dead mages and one left alive creating an army of the dead, and a thief who sees the future. That last is a little unclear, I confess."
"Well, sounds like you didn't get the part where he was a bird when we found him the first time," Raven says dryly, "but I don't know that I can clear the subject of him up much past that. We were about to go down after the mage that's left, and he came running up to tell us not to. Said the dead would threaten Xanadu and Rebma if we went down there without a whole army."
"A bird?" Vere blinks once. "No, I did not hear that part. Jerod suggested that I speak with him, but whether he meant that seriously or if it was a bit of dry humour referencing the fact that I occasionally have visions, I am not sure."
Raven shrugs. "We brought him with us so's people could ask him questions and figure out if he's making things up or not, but don't ask me if he meant one at a time or if everybody's going to have at him tomorrow."
Vere sighs. "There is going to be much to discuss tomorrow, and little of it pleasant. There are forces on the move, and they poke and prod to determine if Random is as strong a ruler as Oberon, or if the defeats he gave his enemies can now be reversed. I rather suspect there will be an assigning of tasks by the king."
"Aye," Raven agrees. "As I understand it, any gossip that's not been taken care of today gets taken care of tomorrow, too? So maybe it ain't all going to be grim."
Vere smiles. "The family does love its gossip. During the days when our elders were at each other's throats the tale is that they would still pause when meeting to share news of the family before fighting. This may be an exaggeration, but it reveals an underlying truth. There is a certain etiquette to it, as I understand. It is normally the duty of the less senior member to share their news first." He shrugs slightly. "Some elders are more fixated upon that sort of thing than others. In my opinion it is usually wisest not to antagonize them over such relatively unimportant points." He smiles again. "Other members of our younger generation might be less concerned about the customs of our elders than I am."
"I was reminded of that rule earlier," Raven says wryly. "Not screwing it up again, am I?"
"Not at all. I did not bring that up in reference to this conversation," Vere hastens to explain. "Merely that it is something that I have observed does not consistently get passed on to new members of the family, leading to friction through misunderstanding. As opposed to friction through deliberate action."
"It was made a point of for me." Her voice is still a little wry. "I figure it's a chain of command thing, aye? Once I wrap my head around who it gets used with that wasn't a Prince or Princess when I left Amber, I ought to have it. Ain't so sure that part's easy. That's why I asked."
Vere laughs quietly. "I think it was much simpler for our elders. They mainly were concerned with their own birth order. We have to consider our parents' relative ages, our own ages, and any official or semi-official positions we hold. I can understand why some relatives prefer to ignore the whole thing. Others have egalitarian leanings, of course."
"Did anyone think of making a list?" Raven suggests, a certain amused dryness back in her voice. "Ignoring that kind of thing ain't going to cause anything but trouble."
"Has someone been telling tales about me?" Vere inquires with a laugh. "I was noted during the Regency for making endless detailed lists of all manner of things. That one in particular I have not yet made, however." He looks back at the Mayor's Mansion and appears to make a decision. "I have enjoyed our discussion, and look forward to speaking with you more. But right now there are some matters I really think I should attempt to deal with." He nods his head to Raven.
"No, but I'll keep that in mind." Raven chuckles, then nods in return. "Aye, don't let me keep you, please. And thanks for answering my questions."
"A pleasure, I assures you." And Vere departs, heading through the crowd.
Celina greets townsfolk in the milling crowd as she navigates the currents around the plaza. She raises a hand briefly at one point so that her entourage of guards and archivists cannot doubt she is fine and still soothing the locals with kind words.
Celina misses Ossian's departure by several moments. She stands watching as the Knight dances with the Rebman, taking a measure of the lady's stamina with the surface dances. That walks her mind past a stray scene of dragging Silhouette into her royal bedrooms in the palace. Celina sighs but turns it into a cleansing exhale from deep in her Takhi.
When she thinks the couple has made a pleasant number of turns, she slips closer to see if she can take a turn with Valeria. "Well met, friends," Celina says.
The two stop just as the music stills, a new song will start shortly, but the band has paused to allow people to change partners.
Valeria gives a perfect bow from a member of a royal house to a sitting monarch, both in another's Kingdom. Rides in the Van bows as well, and his movements are smooth and somehow slightly disturbing to the eye.
Valeria smiles and it's "Your Majesty. My dear Aunt. I saw your entourage arrive, but did not know if you wished to see me. I fear my branch of the family has been willful."
"All our branches are willful, Valeria," Celina says with a slight smile. "In fact, we may as well stitch that phrase into a banner for the Rebma heraldic. I hope you have enjoyed Xanadu. Perhaps you'd like to tell me about it while we take a dance." Celina looks back and forth from Valeria to RidesintheVan.
Valeria smiles at Rides in the Van. "I will dance with the Queen now. Thank you for the dance, and for your good service, sir." She offers him a courtesy before turning her attention to the Queen.
Rides in the Van politely waits for the Queen to dismiss him as well.
Celina addresses the Knight directly, "Our thanks for your courtly consideration. We will take the lady in hand. May I ask you to have two ginger waters waiting at the bar for us? Thank you."
Rides in the Van bows politely and says, "It will be as Your Majesties command." He goes off to take care of the ginger water.
"We have much to speak on, Your Majesty. But first, I would ask, have you heard from my sister or mother at all? I have little enough news of Loreena and Rilsa here in Xanadu these days and that concerns me deeply." Celina does not doubt the sincerity in Valeria's voice and demeanor on this matter, if nothing else.
Celina taps a foot to give them both a visual cue to the music. She nods once to Valeria, "I have heard a bit. Both were well last I spoke to them."
While there is no significant change in Valeria's demeanor, Celina intuits through the changes in the TaKhi stance of the dance that Valeria is relieved.
Celina pauses, enters deeper into Valeria's dance space, and uses her fingertips to write in her dance partner's palm, 'more later'.
Celina takes the lead and smoothly circles the dance steps so no one view of the speaking pair can gain view of their mouths.
Valeria lets Celina take the lead and maneuver the dance in whichever way Celina wishes. Her dancing is poised and she follows with alacrity and skill rather than merely letting Celina pull or push her wherever Celina wishes. It takes her a moment to catch the point of the circling but then she tilts her head to widen the distance between their mouths, the better to foil sorcerous watchers as well as the more mundane sort.
"What would Your Majesty ask of me?"
"I'll need to talk to you. Your mother made a request of me, which I intend to honor," Celina says. "Passing you that information and letting you help me would be pleasing. Perhaps that's the best place to begin."
Valeria twirls as the music suggests for a moment before she returns close in to answer Celina. "Should I attend on Your Majesty privately later tonight? I am at your disposal."
Celina bites her tongue. Surely the universe did not hate her that much?
The chimney of years blows the words back at her, so close, so far. Khela so alive. Celina trying to make her laugh at the sideways lewd reference.
Celina keeps the flow around the paired dance. It is easier to swim with current than bleed irony all over your sex life.
"There will be calls on me to attend politics tomorrow. Tonight would be fine, if you can arrive in shadows," and Celina describes where her rooms are in the castle. "I'll make sure the Rebman watch believes a Trade Factor wishes to advise me discreetly. But please don't let the Xanadu guards turn me into limerick fodder tonight."
Valeria's look can only be described as indignant on Celina's behalf, and Celina doesn't sense any falsity behind it. "I will be careful, but Your Majesty, you are my mother's sister." She lowers her voice a little, hissing, "I know this isn't Rebma, but Queen Vialle will surely feed any guard who mocks you so to the fishes."
"If you wish," Celina replies with a warm smile, "you can tell me why you think so this evening. This isn't Rebma. Will never be anything like Rebma. And I am beholden to keep a peace in Xanadu as I would in my dear Rebma. Therefore I am not relying on the kindness of people I do not know very well. Instead I ask for your help to keep me in balance here. I feel from your passion you will be willing to offer your expertise. So we should not have to count on Queen Vialle for assistance. Yes?
"And really, Valeria," Celina laughs and swallows long, "I would never complain even if Xanadu confounds you on your way to me. Rebma asks me to be stronger than mockery. Just do your best and we shall prevail."
As part of the dance, Valeria makes a sweeping gesture that is best interpreted as a neck bow. "It shall be as Your Majesty commands, of course. I would not see the men of Xanadu mock Rebma as the men of Amber did of old. I want a better age for Rebma, my Aunt, and I want to help you achieve it."
"Excellent," Celina responds, keeping the flow moving to compliment the pair and the larger crowd. "A better age is already begun and those who seek to mock or hinder us will swallow their own venom. I look forward to tonight."
"As do I, your majesty." As the music changes, Valeria sketches a bow.
Knowing the king's proclivities, Folly told herself that she would be keeping a close eye on the crowds, and musicians, particularly in the vicinity of the drums, during the evening's festivities.
But then Edan's dance started, and suddenly it was impossible to pay attention to anything else. At its conclusion, she cheers wildly and enthusiastically...
...until the king's appearance and brief speech reminds her what she's supposed to be doing.
She bids a temporary farewell to Paige -- "I have to go run an errand, but I'll find you later for dancing if I can, okay?" -- and then turns to her mother and daughter.
"Are you two going to be all right if I leave you alone for a few more minutes?" she asks in a studiously neutral tone, and kisses her daughter's wet hair. It's difficult to tell in the play of torchlight and shadow, but her eyes might be twinkling.
Brij stretches her arms up and locks her fingers at the extremities, showing off her gymnast's figure and Folly's best spangly dress. "We were thinking of taking a swim, but I hear they've closed the pool," says Brij. "You do whatever you need. I'd offer to help Hannah, but I think you've given birth more recently."
Brij smiles. "Run along, we'll do fine."
Folly hesitates just an instant, wondering whom Hannah is midwiving that she would need assistance with, but decides other matters are more pressing. "Perhaps for now you can substitute dancing for swimming," she offers, mostly to Lark. To her mother she continues, "I shouldn't be gone too long."
Given her recent history, she could be using any time scale from minutes to days for that particular estimate. But probably minutes. Ten or twenty or... even two hundred minutes is still not very long in the grand scheme of things, right?
Brij nods. "Just don't leave me to explain things to Martin without you, is all I ask."
"Explain? What is there to explain?" Folly asks with a twinkle in her eye -- but more seriously, she adds, "I promise."
As Folly leaves, she hears her mother greeting someone. From her tone, it's someone she doesn't like. At all.
Then she slips into the crowd to look for Syd. She's headed to the Mayor's house by way of a circuit around the edge of the drum circle to see if he's managed to show up there yet. If not, she'll be on the lookout for him moving in that direction.
The crowd is excited and reasonably happy. Folly sees many people. Julian is talking to a young child wearing his cape. Gerard is wheeling through the crowd somewhat freely. Most of the notables of Amber society from the Regency are around, and several greet her. The show-drums are being removed, but there are a number of musicians on seaward side of the square, playing in a band shell. It's clearly an impromptu band, because they're playing typical session style, which is good for the dancers and friendly to inexperienced players. There are 4 drummers, none of whom is Syd. Eventually she gets to the Lord Mayor's house. There are two guards at the door, and they do not look like the fun kind of guards that are at the rest of the party.
Just in case they are the super-obstructive kind of guards, Folly whistles a little melody as she approaches, loudly enough and at the right pitches to cut through the crowd noise, but cheerful enough that she could reasonably just be whistling to herself out of joy. If Syd (or anyone else in the band, for that matter) is anywhere within earshot (and the house isn't too thoroughly soundproofed), he should recognize it -- as well as who is likely to be whistling it.
When she gets close enough to hail the guards, she greets them cheerfully in a voice that carries: "Hi, there! I'm looking for Haven and Tjaden. Could you tellthem Folly is here to see them?"
The door opens from the inside and a young man looks out at her and opens the door wide. Edan arrives at that moment and he is also admitted. The guards close rank on the door behind them.
The man who introduces himself to Folly. "Your Highness, my name is Viper, I work for The Lord Mayor. Apologies for the men not recognizing you. Your uncle is upstairs. I'd see you up, but I need to wait on further arrivals."
One of Michelle's assistants, a young man named Liam, stands unobtrusively behind Edan and tells him who each approaching person is. He either has some sort of telepathic powers or he has an amazing memory for faces.
The faces and names and greetings come very fast, including a number of boys who are interested in training (or else their fathers are in their names).
Edan needs no introduction to the one of the later well-wishers. From his walk, he is Altamarean and Liam confirms that he is "Rides in the Van", a warrior and confidant of his elder. "Greetings from your father," he says, hugging Edan. He whispers in Edan's ear. "All is not well. When you can discreetly escape, come to the Lord Mayor's house."
Even worse than he thought. Edan nods, covers up his dismay with a smile, and says, "Of course. So glad to meet you."
Hannah hasn't come through the line yet, either, and the odds are pointing at one likely answer for that, too. Silently wishing her the best, he stays as long as he can stand it and then turns to his lieutenant.
"Thank you for taking this duty with me. I must look for someone, and the reception line appears to be flagging- would you take over?"
If all is clear and he can be discreet, Edan heads onward to the Lord Mayor's residence.
Edan maneuvers through the crowd which somehow manages to part reasonably easily before him. He notices Viper and some of the other Lord Mayor's men are intercepting and moving people to help him through, still it takes a while to cross that many people in a square. Edan sees many people he knows, including Julian, Corwin, Florimel, and many people from the city who he only just met in line. Even with help, Edan is not making as much progress as he wants, and is only halfway across the square.
Kyauta finds that there are too many people and contents himself to fly over the crowd. He notes that Edan's cousin with the flying lizards is here. He finds them fascinating and puppy-like.
Edan is amused by this. There are several options here, all of them flashy, and most magical, but it's not worth drawing that kind of attention to himself here and now. He keeps his affine up in the air and uses their mental link to plot as best a path as he can through the crowd while he continues onward.
Edan fights he way to the door, where a guard is blocking Folly's path. A man inside opens the door, and waves them both inside. He introduces himself to Folly. "Your Highness, my name is Viper, I work for The Lord Mayor. Apologies for the men not recognizing you. Your uncle is upstairs. I'd see you up, but I need to wait on further arrivals."
"Thank you so much, Viper -- who else are we expecting?" she asks.
"Prince Bleys sent for his sons and nephews, Ma'am."
Edan nods to Folly. "Hello, Cousin. It's been quite a while since we last met. Would you like to go on up?"
"Hi, Edan -- your thing was fantastic!" Folly says brightly, though her expression betrays other emotions. She gestures toward the stairs and falls into step beside him to head up.
The stairs go up (as stairs do) to a landing. There are rooms off the long hall to the left and the right, and one at the end which is where the balcony that the King appeared on is.
Edan heads straight towards the door at the end and will eventually knock unless Folly stops him. "Thank you! It has been some little while since I have had the chance to dance in that way. I am glad that I still remembered it. Vere made things easy." There is a hint of tension in Edan's shoulders, and he can't help but spare a glance towards their destination.
At the mention of Vere, Folly puts a hand on Edan's arm to stay him, just for a moment. The pressure of her fingers betrays her own tension. "Have you his card if we need it?" she asks, her voice low and intense. "Or do you know enough of his news to relay it?"
Edan may intuit that she is carefully not saying that news out loud herself.
Edan quirks an eyebrow, then shakes his head a little for emphasis. "I do not have his Trump. I assume- hope- he saw the king and is headed this way. I made oath to Vere that I would not discuss anything before he spoke to Random himself. It is his story to tell."
Folly nods once, abruptly. "I fear this might turn out not to be the best time for it anyway," she says grimly, and gives his arm a gentle squeeze that feels not so much like reassurance as a signal of solidarity.
Then, with a quirk of one eyebrow to make sure he's ready for what comes next, she proceeds to the door and knocks.
The door opens to reveal Conner. "Folly. Edan." Conner nods to both of them and is speaking as if announcing them to whoever is behind him. "Come on in." Conner steps back and opens the door wider to allow them entry.
Edan smiles at Folly and turns his attention to Conner. "Conner. Haven't seen you in a while, either. It is good to see you." He almost makes it look like he isn't worriedly looking beyond into the room.
Beyond Conner, Edan can see Brennan and a tall, muscular woman, her dark hair matching the long cloak she has wrapped around herself that evokes raven's feathers. There may be others in the room, but the area around the door is quite crowded.
"Thank you, Conner -- what news?" Folly asks as she enters the room and looks around with purpose. She does not bother disguising the concern in her voice and body language. "Where's--- where's the king... and queen?"
Conner shrugs slightly. "Just got here myself. I think Uncle Bleys is waiting until all are assembled before what he knows." Conner sighs. "For all that he tells the same stories often, he claims to hate repeating himself." Conner smirks.
Having escorted Regenleif out, Brennan joins the group of cousins, but only long enough to say, "For that matter, where is Fiona?"
Brennan walks back over to Bleys and Ambrose.
"The Princess Fiona attends the Queen, at her majesty's request and the King's command. They, and the King, have returned to the castle." Bleys is not rushed, but his tone displays a certain urgent quality.
"Your Highness, your presence is an unexpected pleasure. It's good that someone outside our circle know of these matters."
"Brennan, you'll have to catch your son up on anything he may miss."
Bleys leans towards the youngsters.
"About an hour ago, Fiona called me in to consult on a problem she was having. She had accompanied the Queen to Rebma, at the King's request. While she was there to look after the safety of the Queen, what she found was that the King is enchanted. And in a way that his own tie to the Jewel and the pattern prevent us from removing it.
"We are concerned. There are very few who could do so, none of them could do it in Xanadu, they aren't here and we know them all." He pauses to let that sink in.
Folly, who has the advantage over some of her cousins that her most relevant applicable vow in this situation is to protect the king, nods as though this is all completely obvious and blurts out, "You have to get the King away from the Queen, if you haven't already." She's bouncing on her toes with nervous energy, like she's ready to jump through a trump right now to make that happen. "I think she's trying to use Vialle's pregnancy to recorporealize."
Distantly, Edan feels his jaw click back shut. "Maybe he'll be okay with just telling the Reader's Digest abridged version," he says.
Conner looks at them both as if they grew an extra head each. Conner examines his whirling thoughts and plucks out the most relevant question. "What is the nature of this enchantment?" He asks Bleys.
Brennan evidently would like to hear Bleys' response to Conner and especially Folly more than he would like to hear himself talk. With eloquent silence, he looks to Bleys.
Bleys takes a second to process all the replies. "Last things first. We don't know. It seems to sap his will and his initiative. He seems to have a few things he cares about, but they are all. We cannot actually look on the King with our Third Eyes, but by looking at reflections and shadows, we can see that something magical is affecting him. Fiona is working on answering 'what' and 'how do we break it'.
"And Folly, I am afraid you have raced ahead of us. What makes you think someone is using Vialle's pregnancy to recopoeralize? And, for the sake of fullness of understanding, who is and how did you discover this?"
Folly's reply comes out in a rush. "I knew something was wrong as soon as Martin told me about the pregnancy -- and then when I got home earlier this evening I could feel the wrongness in the family wing. My daughter did, too. The 'who-or-what' was only a very, very strong hunch until just now when you described the enchantment, immune to Pattern defenses. It's the Queen of Air and Darkness."
She gestures in Brennan's direction and says, "I'm glad Brennan's here, because he's the one that mentioned the Queen might be... I think he said 'looking for a new host'... when last we spoke. I was already concerned about Vialle's disappearance and re-appearance in the near vicinity of Tir. Then the pregnancy, the palpable wrongness, the enchantment...." She laces her fingers together to signify 'everything clicking into place'.
She carefully does not look at Edan, but she turns her laced fingers palms-upward in a way that seems to invite further evidence from any who might wish to provide it.
Having something to focus on and grapple with seems to have settled Brennan's mind considerably. This is no longer worrying, this is the start of planning.
"I got that from Benedict, the 'searching for a new host,' speculation" Brennan says. "And to my knowledge, the vast preponderance of her appearances have been to female Family members.
"But I have some questions of my own," Brennan continues. "Chiefly: Does the King know and understand he is under what I have to assume is an attack, or does the nature of the attack prevent him from seeing its effects? Is he in a position to discuss this or receive private and urgent news?" Brennan obviously has a long list of follow-up questions, but the answer to that one will inform just about everything else.
Edan sighs. "I assisted Vere on a visit to Tir last night, with the king's permission. I believe Vere can explain more- but he wanted to talk to Random first. This news complicates things."
Conner clearly has questions of his own but waits to hear the answer to those already asked.
The door opens, and Bleys pauses a moment, while Ossian comes in. Regenlief shuts the door behind him and returns to hall guarding duty.
"Well," says Bleys, having gathered his thoughts, "I certainly hope they are related phenomena we are severally chasing down, because it would be quite unfortunate if two different magical attacks were happening at the same time.
"To your first point, I am concerned about separating the King from the Queen. At this point it may be dangerous to him. When separated he seems to lose most of his drive, eventually ending up sitting down and waiting for her. He doesn't even drum, which is most unlike him. He will answer questions, but unless it's about Vialle or their unborn child, he is mostly indifferent. You heard his speech below. After that he was insistent that he needed to return to the palace and the Queen. The only other thing he talks about is getting all of us to swear allegiance to the unborn child as his new heir. I suspect that's what the meeting tomorrow is about.
"We had not been thinking of the Queen as the vector for the attack, but rather as somehow immunizing him, but that may not be the case. I'll have to tell Fiona what you shared with me, it will affect our investigations.
"Tomorrow, I'll be skipping the meeting, because I will be trying to avoid the magic he's under. Your highness, if you can keep your husband away, it will be bad for him in the short term, but probably good for him in the longer term. I won't advise you to stay or leave yourself, I know you're close to my brother and will have to make whatever decision is best. Whoever does attend should remind the King that he send any of us who do not on secret missions and expected us not to be there."
He pauses, perhaps dramatically, perhaps to see what else needed to be said. "My family, I can tell you I don't know how this ends, but there are some possibilities that are grim. I want you each to take care of yourselves and each other. And remain careful, alive, and loyal to the family, even if the path to do so seems fraught."
"What questions do you have?"
"You said that there are very few that could do this and we know them all." Conner asks. "Who are our suspects?"
Brennan nods. That was one of his own questions, that he'd like to hear the answer to as well.
"Vere needs to know this immediately," Brennan says. That's not even a question. And frankly, Robin and Jerod, but especially Vere since he was the primary witness. "With the obvious proviso of Family Only, who exactly are we planning on telling and not telling?" Brennan, by his expression, doesn't think there's any good answer to this question. All answers are seriously flawed at this point.
There is time to stop him, but unless that happens, Brennan crosses the room, sends for a senior page, and sends that page out with a simple directive: Bring Vere.
Edan says, "Even if you're not attending tomorrow, I will have to be there. Am I going to need to ward myself? Strongly?"
After a moment he adds, "Oh... and we should talk. Just a moment of your time."
Partly in answer to Brennan's question, Folly says, "Soren knows that something's not right -- that the king has been acting weird lately, especially around Vialle." She hesitates, then adds, "And I think Vere reached out to him about trying to set up a meeting with the king. He won't have the context to understand the metaphysical details, but he should be kept in the loop at least in broad strokes."
She looks at Bleys and adds, "And if there's any chance this enchantment can be weakened by reminding your brother of who he really is, Soren and I probably have the best chance of that. I think I'm going to need to get my daughter out of here for her own protection, and warn my husband away for the nonce, but I have to stay and help. Whatever it takes." She looks grim.
"So my questions are mostly about that, and mostly metaphysical -- things like, you've found Pattern won't work against this enchantment, but what about trying to reach his mind through Trump? Based on your observations, how dangerous would it be for me to try to talk to him that way -- assuming I could even get him to answer -- or face-to-face? What's the likelihood that our enchanter has enough power here that she'll be able to sense our movements against her? I recall at our last family meeting Benedict cautioned against even speaking her name because...." She wiggles her fingers to signify 'creepy juju heebie jeebies'.
Bleys holds a hand up. "Too many at once. Let me try to answer everyone and then see if there are still questions." He points at Conner. "Your Grandmother, for one. Some of her friends. Dara. The High Marshall of the Moonriders. The Dragon of Arcadia. We hadn't thought of the Queen of Air and Darkness, because she has been acting indirectly, but if she has a vector, then she's the latest one, and she's the most likely to have power to affect a pattern maker."
He moves on to Brennan. "I was planning on telling my son and nephews, and the distaff side if they needed to know. We are far too large to keep a proper secret, so I have no answer for you."
He points at Edan. "Yes, please. And watch with your third eye, as indirectly as you can, to see what is happening. And help and reinforce your family. And we can talk soon. I saw your cousin gathering her ladies, including your sister, for her birth."
He turns to Folly. "I am not worried about saying the Queen's name. If I knew how to break this spell, I wouldn't be here, I'd be there doing it. Now, is the castle unsafe for Hannah to give birth in?"
Folly, who never made it to dinner, hadn't realized that Hannah was quite so far along, and it shows on her face. What she says, though, is, "If it were me, I doubt I would risk it. But Hannah's child is perhaps a less obvious threat to that 'get everyone to swear fealty to Vialle's unborn child' plan." She grimaces, as if she'd just had an unpleasant thought, but shakes it off and adds, "I suppose the original threat that had Floaty Woman sizing up any female family member she ran across is greatly diminished now that she has seemingly found a host."
Ossian frowns. "I guess Trumping could be incredibly dangerous. Still, we could learn things from it. But, honestly, Folly, Martin would kill us all if we let you do it."
Folly smiles wryly. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, the most likely outcome is the same thing that happened the last several times I tried it -- namely, he won't pick up."
To Bleys, she asks, "How has Vialle's behavior been? Any new weirdness?"
Edan looks like he's running all the scenarios in his head regarding a newly-invested knight taking orders from a possessed and/or mad king. He looks more horrified with each one. "Hannah won't be leaving anywhere except by Trump, she's that close to time. And I doubt she would accept to do that, or accept any warding I might want to create. Not right now. Not to mention I'd have to be in there, causing disruption, and I will not be welcome until it is over."
"Then someone capable of observing with the Third Eye should be there," Brennan says. He does not volunteer. "Which probably means widening the circle.
"We should also consider that, 'not picking up the contact,' might mean either deciding to refuse it or ignore it, or it might mean it's not going through. I assume the card is still cold or Folly would have said something to that effect. Bleys, bearing all of us in mind that this situation is... highly fluid... how can we help?" Brennan asks.
Once more, Conner holds his questions so as to not overwhelm his uncle.
Bleys points at Folly. "I have no sextant or map by which to tell ordinary pregnant woman 'weirdness' from possessed by our worst nightmare 'weirdness'. Can you be more specific? I thought the most surprising thing in the whole affair was that Random slept with his wife again. He'd been catting around for months."
"Well, in case it helps," Folly says drily, "Peeing a lot and craving strange foods: normal. Trying to make a kingdom swear fealty: maybe not so much, unless that sort of thing is your normal MO. Failing to notice your spouse is acting aggressively weird, also not so normal."
On this Bleys corrects her. "I can tell you're not from a fundamentally monarchical society. Nothing is more normal than attempting to promote your offspring at the expense of all of the other lines or offspring."
The Prince catches his breath. "Be very careful. The Jewel, most of the Princes, some of the Princesses, will overwhelm your third eye. Do not look directly at the King.
"Thank you for asking how you can help. You can protect the family. Conner, get Celina out of here. Corwin and Benedict are safe--they have their own patterns. Celina is at risk. Edan, take your knights out of the city. Brennan, see to yours. They may be needed sooner than we want.
"We'll need to guard the approach to Tir, which means Paige's Rangers. Hmmm. Brita, Robin, and Solange are the obvious choices if Paige isn't available. Perhaps Vere. Ossian, do you think you can take the order to the Rangers 'protect the three steps at all costs'?
"Ambrose, can you protect your Cousin Folly and her child?
"Folly, I may have been exactly wrong. Edan, do you have the magical artifact we captured from the Moonriders? We need to know where it points right now."
Conner looks to Edan expectantly.
Folly gives a small nod; she doesn't know precisely what Bleys is asking Edan for, but she intuits what he's trying to accomplish.
Brennan looked about to make the same point about Corwin and Benedict, but settles for just giving Conner a side-nod when he beats him to it. Then he, too, waits to hear Edan's responses.
Edan holds out his arms, showing the empty sleeves of his dancing silks. "It is in my rooms, tonight," he says. "I can go get it, or we can go there." A second later, he adds easily, "I can send the knights out for exercises with the gathering army in Broceliande. But I will not leave here before Hannah and the baby get away, even with the best of excuses. Several rooms will need their auras cleansed as well- someone with Blood or Sex or Psyche Principles could use those rooms to affect the two for the next half-century."
To Edan, Brennan says, "Take the cadre of Ruby we arranged. They're ready and waiting. Conner, you and I can talk later, but we have an orphaned force in Avalon that was due for at least another cadre. Aside from that..." he closes his eyes and shakes his head, thinking of how this will sit with Marius and Lilly. "We're going to end up having a Midnight Family Council before the actual Family Council at this rate."
Ossian says, "I can take the order to the Rangers. Let's just hope they recognise my authority.
"I worry that this is the time when the Klybesian monks will strike." he blurts out.
Ambrose says, "I can certainly act as magical bodyguard to the family. But first, I will bring in Lord Vere," and goes out the door.
It's odd because there's no evidence that Vere is here.
Bleys says "thank you," as Ambrose leaves. "I see your point, but I think that Random had a particular weakness for magic from Vialle that not even Corwin shares. It also took a very long time to affect Random. Months, at least. I might worry more about people who've been in the castle and in daily contact with her. Her staff and confidants, anyone she's taken a special interest in. We might find them to be less loyal to the King than they should be."
He turns to Ossian. "It's a possibility, especially if they're colluding with the Queen of Air and Darkness. What we really need is a way to stomp on them, drive them into disarray, without depleting our forces or our reserves. I wonder if Benedict has any help he can give us. Or if anyone knows where their Turcopiler is.
"It would be jolly useful if Jerod and his little corps of fuzzy thugs gave them a distraction on his way home. We'll probably need Brita to help nudge that one along, once she's off Baby Duty."
Having slowly made his way through the crowd while ruminating on the incredible natural beauties of his native Isles, Vere approaches the door of the mayor's mansion.
As Vere is approaching the house, one of Mayor Ash's assistants comes out and spots him. "Ah, Lord Vere. Prince Bleys sent me to find you. Thank you for making my job easy." He opens the door and ushers Vere inside, to the consternation and annoyance of the guards.
The assistant walks Vere up the stairs and escorts him to the door, where there's a Valkyrie waiting in guard position, though she doesn't have an obvious weapon. To Vere, her nature is clear: she is a Chooser of the Slain. Her power is pooled around her like wings to Vere's senses.
"Thanks, Viper. I'll take it from here." To Vere, she adds, "I'm Regenlief. Prince Bleys and a number of your kin are talking inside." Her expression suggests to Vere that whatever they're talking about is probably not good.
"Chooser," Vere nods a respectful greeting.
She knocks on the door and after a moment, Ambrose opens it. "Ah, Vere. Come in. Edan and Brennan said you had some things to tell us." And to Regenlief, "Thank you."
Vere is ushered inside.
Vere nods to her once more as he passes through the doorway.
When Vere comes in, Brennan goes to greet him. He gives Vere a brief moment to take note of who is in the room before continuing.
"Vere, thank you for coming," Brennan says. He is filled with quiet intensity, moreso than usual. "There is news that I think is absolutely crucial for you to hear-- let me quickly summarize what's been said:
"First, and most importantly, Bleys tells us that he and Fiona have discovered that King Random is presently afflicted by a spell, what I might describe as a geas or something related. Its chief effect is a single-minded focus on a very few topics, and magical apathy when separated from the objects of his focus. Those being: Vialle, their unborn child, and having the Family swear allegiance to the child as heir. This prospective oath is the likely topic of tomorrow's meeting. Related, the enchantment seems to be leveraging the strength of his ties to Jewel and Pattern against removing the geas.
"Second, Folly has a separate report from Soren that the King has been acting strangely and especially so around Vialle. So it is noticeable. As one might expect from apathy so strong that when separated from Vialle, he simply sits and waits.
"Finally, the conversation has turned to making sense of this information and what exactly to do with it. The list of capable entities, per Bleys, includes the usual suspects: Dara, the Dragon of Arcadia, Clarissa and few associates, the High Marshall of the Moonriders, and the Queen of Air and Darkness. Most of the speculation has revolved around the later two on the strength of Folly's intuition, the warning I had from Benedict of her search for a new host, and her recent spate of appearances. I am of the opinion that more information is better.
"You can see why I thought it vital that you be part of this discussion," Brennan finishes. His focus remains accutely on Vere.
"I see," Vere says. "This is ... distressing news. Have you yet passed on any of the matter I had discussed with you and Jerod?"
"No," Brennan says. "It's best from you."
"I'll go get the device from my rooms in just a moment," Edan says, espying Vere. "I've waited to hear the other half of this tale."
Bleys nods. "Please start at the beginning. Why did you choose to ascend the stair? When you asked the king for permission, was Vialle present? Did the king seem quite himself?"
Vere nods. "I shall speak on the King and Vialle when I reach that point in my narrative. For background, my trip to Tir occurred due to a request from Caine. Robin has discovered two Ladies of Ancient Power, locked in a metaphysical knot as part of a Truce between their respective courts. They call themselves Lady Laudine of Lothian, Countess of Landuc, and Lady Morgne, Princess and Lady of the Lake. And their respective Champions. Robin cut the knot, resulting in a release of metaphysical tension that separated us. While Robin went with one of the Champions to Rebma, I undertook to guide the other three and ended up in Amber." He smiles thinly, "With interesting side trips that I would think vital to relate were the matter of principal interest not so pressing. Benedict was visiting with Caine, and I presented the Ladies to them. They were welcomed and made guests, and I assume they still wait in Amber. Caine later asked me to venture to Tir, with Random's permission, to see if I could gain a vision of the Ladies, to give some clue as to whether they were more than they seemed. I trumped through to Random, who was entertaining Edan upon the waters of the bay."
He nods to Edan. "My cousin had been speaking to Random for some time previous, and perhaps has more to say on his manner, but he seemed very much himself to me. Joking, inventing silly games, but with a deep understanding behind the facade of jester. He read the message from Caine and granted me the right to visit Tir, so long as I would give him the report of what I found as well. We then climbed the cliffside, and met with Vialle. She also seemed much herself. Random mentioned that we had a mission for Caine, but did not mention Tir to her. Whether she learned it later, I do not know."
Vere pauses for a moment, as though reviewing that conversation again in his head, and then with a slight shrug continues. "With Edan watching me through trump I ascended to Tir. There I did have a vision of the Ladies. In the interest of brevity I will pass over it unless you think it important. What is more vital is that I saw a masked woman who seemed to see me, interacting with me in way that no other Tir ghost did, and she led me to the Pattern chamber. There, she revealed herself as Cambina, and spoke with me. She told me that Vialle had requested that Cambina accompany her to Tir, and she had done so because she had forseen herself doing so, and because Vialle said she would attempt the ascent without aid if Cambina did not come with her. Once they were at Tir the Queen of Air and Darkness appeared and held Cambina in place while Vialle walked the Pattern. Vialle completed the Pattern walk as dawn came, and Cambina fell to her death."
Vere carefully does not look at Brennan as he tells this part again. "She then found herself trapped in Tir, in the form of a spirit of that place, but with awareness and apparent free will. She has been hiding from the Queen of Air and Darkness since then, believing it would go very bad for her if the Queen learned that she had not been completely removed from the board by her death."
Vere shrugs once more. "That is pretty much all she could tell me. Dawn was coming, so Edan trumped me back to the foot of the stairs. I asked him to tell no one of what he had heard until I had a chance to speak with the King in private. We returned to Xanadu to learn that the King had announce Vialle's pregnancy and departed, so at that point I turned my attention towards gaining a private audience with him as soon as possible, and informing a very small circle of individuals of what I had seen."
Vere stops then, and awaits comments and questions.
Brennan knows what's coming, and lifts his chin fractionally in defense, or perhaps in defiance. "Thank you Vere. I am able to speak more freely, now, without speaking for you.
"To forestall some obvious questions: Robin, Jerod, and myself," Brennan says, thus explaining also the grim conclave out on the balcony a few hours ago. "The plan emerged to do everything possible to get the King's attention until midnight, and failing that to regroup, find a mutually agreeable aunt or uncle and seek advice. The conundrum was how to get that information to him privately and before the greater Family meeting, which we judged might be.... embarrassing. That plan is now a bit overcome by events, but now Robin and Jerod are behind. I have other things to discuss with Robin-- I'll bring her up to speed as soon as possible.
"I have a number of observations and questions coming directly from that account, but I'll hold most of them while everyone digests that. Except this: My son is right-- neither the Klybesians, the Dragon, nor others will wait patiently while we assess and take action here," Brennan says.
Folly offers, "Although I can't say so with complete certainty, everything I've heard from those in a position to know suggests no prior suspicion that Vialle would be able to walk the Pattern. And anyone who has drawn a Pattern should be able to sense if she could."
She turns to Edan and asks, "What is this device you speak of, and how will it help? If you plan to take a fast way back to the castle to retrieve it, I may want to join you, if you're willing and able." To the rest she adds, "And does anyone here feel they know Vialle well enough to have an unbiased sense of whether she is acting strangely?" She looks particularly to Vere and Ossian, who were in Amber for the whole of the Regency, and Conner, who knew Vialle in Rebma.
Conner lets out the breath he did not realize he was holding. "I've made a point to visit the Queen when in Xanadu and I knew her rather well from her visits to the Embassy with the King. I would hope I would notice but..." Conner trails off and falls silent for a moment. "I took tea with her shortly after her rescue. Aside from being weak and tired, she was the Vialle I always knew. Staying locked away in her rooms was unlike her but after being abducted, it was an understandable break from habit." Conner shrugs. "Silhouette spent quite some time with the Queen then. She wouldn't notice any changes but I am now curious what their relationship was like. I also wonder what tales Vialle's servant Ember might tell."
Vere frowns thoughtfully. "Also, I was told the King and Vialle had gone to Rebma. Do we have independent confirmation of this, or is it possible she took him somewhere else? Somewhere that this spell might have been cast?"
"Yesterday was the second time I've met Vialle, so I cannot speak to her state of mind," Edan says, "but the king acted his normal self. Note that he officially endorsed the 'Order of the Red Lamp', and the joke is not lost on me. Cambina... looked like Cambina. I wasn't about to confirm it with Sorcery through a Trump. Folly, the item in question looks like a compass. We took it during a raid on a Moonrider camp. They were looking for natural shadow paths, so it was not a stretch to assume that was involved- though maybe it points to someone rather than somewhere. I'll have to ride; I have no Trump to the front gate and it's hard to fly here."
Bleys listens to Edan and then says "I have a Trump of your sister. It's been quite handy in the past. She can pass pull you through and then send you back, if she's not too busy." He reaches for his belt to pull out his deck. Fiona's card is on top, but Paige's is just below it. He hands it to Edan. "Don't lose it, I'm partial to my daughter's art style. Anyone going with Edan should go soon."
Folly holds up a hand to forestall him. "You needn't part with it -- I have one as well." She withdraws her own trump of Paige and offers it to Edan.
To Vere he looks as if he's considering things. "We were somewhere underwater. I came at Fiona's request, she had Trumped in at the request of the King. We should find out if the Royal Couple presented themselves to Queen Vialle. It would be quite a breach of etiquette if they hadn't. It's most likely that Fiona first detected problems with Random when she Trumped him. It may have been a call for help. Conner, can you ask them what they know?" If Bleys is unclear on who "they" are, it's likely that it's clear to him.
"Brennan, can you find your cousin Jerod and suggest a Klybesian target? It would be a feint, but we really should knock them off their guard if we expect other troubles at home in short order.
"It's too bad the moon won't be full tonight. I'd like to go to Tir myself now. Although I might need to bring Regenleif.
"I'll be nearby, working on determining the problem and trying to restore the King. If you need to get in touch with me, Paige will know how."
Brennan's teeth grind as he is reminded that Tir will not be accessible for nearly a month.
"Reme," Brennan says. "Regenlief stashed a rutter of Klybesian shadow paths there. I haven't been there in decades, but if Reme is a Klybesian stronghold these days, let Jerod be the obvious threat, the hammer, while someone," Brennan looks over at Ossian, questioningly, "escorts her to slip in and retrieve the rutter. Then let the hammer fall. If it's not, then that rutter will let us go for the jugular.
"Something else," Brennan continues. "For those who will attend tomorrow's Family conclave, you mentioned warding. It will not go well," he looks around the room, "if half the Family is using Sorcery and the other half is using Pattern. Before we scatter, we should know which approach is better."
"Is there anything you need me to do?" Vere asks Bleys. "Has anyone yet told Father any of this?"
Ossian nods. "I can't be in two places at once. Of course I could run to the Rangers first and go to Reme after that."
Conner parses Bleys's statement and responds. "I'll check with Queen Celina and Princess Llewella to see what they know of the Royals movements in Rebma. Is Mother still here? I would talk with her before I go."
Bleys nods. "Vere, can you see to the Rangers? We don't want Ossian to need to be in two places at once. Conner, your mother is with either the Queen or the King. Or most likely both."
Edan raises the Trump in salute to Bleys. "Folly, if you're ready, I hope to be there and back quickly. Brennan, it does not matter to me how we ward tomorrow, but I will be more effective with Sorcery."
Folly nods her readiness and offers, "I would guess Sorcery, since our presumed foe is not repelled by Pattern...? But that's not really my area."
Bleys frowns. "It's hard to do sorcery in a pattern realm, and twice as hard to manipulate the pattern. I think that is your best approach. Don't let the King notice you, because that in itself might be enough to disrupt your castings."
Vere nods at Bleys' comment, then says quietly, "I will, Uncle, but might I ask exactly what it is you wish me to do regarding the Rangers?"
"Guard the approach to Tir," Brennan explains. But he's puzzled himself and asks: "Why, though, if the stairs aren't there for close to a month? Are the Moonriders not subject to that constraint? And what about the Avalon side?"
"That was an excellent question and I'm sorry you asked because it made me think of the problems with the answer. Because of Time magic. If they take it during the dark of the moon and bubble it up for a tennight, then they waltz up it like two Rebmans passing court secrets.
"Or worse, they take it now and send themselves back at the spot by a tennight, or a year, and our problems begin to include time-decay effects. Anything else?"
Brennan doesn't need to do more than scratch the surface of that idea before he nods in understanding. "Now is not the time, but we're going to have to sit down and talk about these people and their tactics. But for now-- if you get to Ben before I do, tell him I offered to watch the Avalon side. Aside from that, good luck and remember that Fiona has my card."
Folly makes a small gesture to remind him that she also has his card, and she's not afraid to use it.
Vere nods as well. "I will try to find Paige as soon as I leave here," he says. "If she is not available, I should know most of her captains from the Regency."
"You'll want the captains; per our uncle, Paige has headed back to the castle already for a spot of midwifery," Folly says. "We'll fill her in on what's happening, once we get there."
"What a mess," Brennan says to Ossian, after everyone trickles out. "You're okay with staying on the Klybesians' trail and going to Reme?"
"Yeah. I have found a focus with the monks. And we should be able to get Jerod to help us too. " Ossian smiles wryly. "I had the strangest conversation with him. We agreed on something."
"Good," Brennan says. "I thought that's what you wanted, but I can get focused on the best person for the job without worrying about their plans." Brennan shrugs-- Ossian knows this.
"I'll ask about Jerod in a minute," Brennan says, "but we're going to have to call Regenlief back in shortly. So before that: are you going attend this grand meeting tomorrow in the light of... all this?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe it's better to start working on the monks. I guess the meeting is more dangerous the fewer of us are there. And some will surely be. You?"
"Stay and get strong-armed into swearing fealty to a... I'm not even sure how to describe it, a changeling host to the Queen that killed Cambina?" Brennan says. "Does this child have an existence independent of the Queen of Tir? There's no part of that I look myself in a mirror and live with. I don't know. Maybe I'll get lucky and Firumbras will be under attack when I check in on him."
He sighs. "For that matter, Jerod may or may not accept Bleys' suggestion on any of this, for any of a number of reasons. The whole Family is stretched thin-- you should have an alternate in mind."
"Jerod might be a problem in that regard. He will need quite hard proof. Or Martin to persuade him.
"As for the meeting with the king. If we don't show up, what will we be then. Traitors? That is not necessarily a bad thing, of course."
"Disobedient, at best," Brennan says, "especially since everyone knows we're here. At worst...." He shrugs again. "I haven't figured out what I'll do, either. At this rate, there will be a desperate conclave of cousins at midnight all trying to figure out what to do.
"There is one other thing I want to say before we talk to Regenlief. I was going to try to do this myself, but there are too many other things to do. Try to introduce her to Brita. There's a reason. If she ever mentioned if or how she's related to Odin, it's long forgotten. What I didn't know then was this: As far as I can tell, Bestla would have been my first cousin, which makes this Odin fellow your second cousin."
Ossian nods. "Let's see. So Bestla is Odin's mother? With Finndo, right?
"I do believe I have almost been in Asgard one time. I do at least speak their language.
"I will introduce her to Brita at the first opportunity. But the Rutter has higher priority, I believe. Do you want Brita to smell her?"
"Bestla was Finndo's daughter, is the way I heard it," Brennan says. "Who the mother was, I never heard. Fletcher might know. And, yes, for lack of a better term. Subtly, maybe. There's a reason beyond the obvious one. I've been wracking my brain for weeks trying to figure out how the Klybesians found me to take you. But they were founded around Finndo's and Osric's time. Maybe they know-- or think they know-- something we don't." He shrugs. "I don't know. It makes some things make more sense, but not others."
Ossian nods. "I wonder about our eldest relatives. Their memories seem so fuzzy. Sure, they are hiding things, but I also think they actually don't remember. Let's go get Regenlief."
"Stop wondering," Brennan says, with a wry smile. "Seven hundred years from now, someone's going to ask you who Daeon's various kids are like it's the most important thing in the world, and all you're going to remember is this conversation."
Brennan gets up and heads for the door, making just enough noise that anyone on the other side of the door can easily hear him coming, without making so much noise that it's obviously done on purpose.
[Assuming Regenlief is there]
"Thank you," Brennan says to her, and means it-- for not making a fuss when Bleys deftly put her outside, and for waiting. "I've got good news, bad news, and news I can't explain or say much about.
"The bad news is," Brennan continues, "that there's major trouble on the horizon, sufficient that it almost drew Ossian away from retaliation against the Klybesians. The good news is, we talked ourselves back to the position that we need to seize the initiative against the Klybesians at least far enough to set them back into some level of confusion so they don't take advantage of that trouble. You've been to Reme more recently than I have. Is there a major Klybesian presence there? We obviously want that rutter, it just matters for how it's done."
"There wasn't the last time I was in Reme, but it's been a while now. I believe they're taking advantage of the change of regime to spread from shadow to shadow like the plague they are. Either way I think it's a small job, for a handful of people at most. Not one we send an army for. Someone will notice an army and it doesn't have to be the Klybesians.
"I wasn't listening at the door," Regenlief adds drily, "but seeing who was going through and who wasn't allowed in made it pretty clear what kinds of things you can't talk about. You need me to sneak in, get it, and get back--where, here?--as soon as possible." She looks at Ossian. "Which of you is with me, or are we all going together?"
Ossian shakes his head. "I'll be going with you. Maybe, just maybe, we could get another cousin to help us distract them.
"I'm most worried about their sorceries. As you have seen my powers do not seem to suffice fighting that."
Brennan nods at Ossian. "You're is the right man for the job-- you already knows as much about Klybesian Shadow paths as any of us, and more than most. You know what to look for. Time permitting I can give you some advice on Sorcery, but still... I'd probably want a third if I were going myself."
Brennan turns to Regenlief, and adds, "It's impossible to come up with a hard plan until probably some time tomorrow. Too many fires in the air. But say we wanted an army to get noticed by the Klybesians, say because it was burning down something the Klybesians couldn't afford to lose. I'm not promising we send one, but if we did... where would you choose, and why?" Ossian may have some opinion on that as well.
"There's a place I have heard of where they keep their secrets," Regenlief says. "One attempt has been made against it but the strike wasn't complete. A place of glass towers, called Tyrell. I've never been there, but I know of it. They say it is so covered with smoke from their engines that you cannot tell day from night there."
"Doesn't sound familiar,' Brennan says. "I haven't been there. I'll see if I can find out more about it tonight and tomorrow morning-- there's no better time for it, with everyone gathered before the storm hits."
His posture changes. He's obviously getting ready to leave. "Speaking of which, there are a lot of people I need to get out and talk to, now more than ever. Regenlief, if you can tell Ossian everything you know about this place, that'll be helpful. And if you know, who made this previous strike you mentioned? Ossian, stay ready, stay safe."
Ossian simply nods. "You too."
Brennan waits to hear the answer to that, but unless Ossian or Regenlief have something pressing, he'll be departing.
Regenlief says, "I don't know for sure, but it was one of the sons of Amber because he destroyed one of the glass towers and it would take one of you to do that. Farewell, and I expect an accounting of your deeds when you return."
Ossian nods. "Do we know what the tower contained? I have a guess."
"It was a library of secret knowledge kept in vast machines," Regenlief says, "or so I am told."
Ossian nods. "My guess was a hospital. But a library makes sense. I hope they lost some knowledge in the process.
"So how many people do we need for the operation? Or will you and I be enough?"
"To get the rutter? I think few is better, but if you want a sellsword or two as backup, we can find some. Just not the poet. He didn't seem very useful for this sort of thing," Regenlief says with a not-entirely-apologetic shrug. "Do we supply here or find things along the way, given the situation?"
Ossian frowns. "We don't recruit sellswords here, I think. But if there are any supplies you know you need, I think we should get them here. We should still go by the castle, I think.
"I'd like to know if Brennan manages to recruit Jerod before we leave."
"Let's go, then." No gentle lady, Regenlief strides down the stairs and toward the exit without waiting for Ossian to offer an arm or anything like that.
Vere gives his relatives a general nod as he leaves the room. He gives another brief nod to Regenlief, pausing long enough to say, "I regret not having a chance to speak with you, lady. Perhaps we shall have a chance at a later date. If you are agreeable, of course."
Then he is on his way out of the mayor's house. He pauses on the steps, looking over the crowd, for anyone he recognizes as a senior member of Paige's Rangers.
It's hard to tell her Rangers from other Rangers, and there aren't that many of anyone's Rangers here. Paige's sometime associate Alain LeClaire is on the dais, across the way. Alain is the quartermaster of the Rangers, so he's at least a lead. Her son is on the dais, as well.
In the middle of the crowd, Vere recognizes Prince Martin, talking to Garrett and Lilly.
Vere heads through the crowd towards Alain, but keeps an eye on Martin as well.
Martin keeps talking to his brother, but while doing so, he flips his rucksack over and holds it in front of him, and then cold-cocks it. It stops moving so much.
Alain is one of several people on the dais, including a number of Rebman archivists and Brother Tomat. He bows when he sees Vere approaching him. He seems oblivious to any alarms or events and is enjoying the music and the night.
Vere joins Alain on the dias and nods a greeting to him and to Tomat and the archivists. "Step aside with me," he tells Alain, and pulls him off a short distance away from the others. Keeping his eyes on Martin, he asks, "Can you assemble the captains of Paige's Rangers who are here? Immediately."
Alain's smile doesn't drop, but his manner tenses. "Of course, your highness. Discretely, or do we raise the hue and cry? The latter will involve other Rangers and belike Princes."
"Discretion, please," Vere answers. "We do not want a general alarm. That is the reason I did not use cadence to summon them." He frowns, watching Martin's group beginning to move. "Damn. I had hoped someone else would talk to him." His eyes switch back to Alain quickly, and he leans towards him, speaking quietly directly into his ear, "Paige is up at the palace and does not know the situation yet. We need to guard the stairs to Tir. No one goes up, or comes down. Until Paige can be notified I will be taking charge. I need to speak with Martin, then will meet you at the stables. Get everyone you can find there, and continue spreading the word. Those available will head to the stairs immediately, others to follow as they are notified."
And with a final nod he dismisses Alain and heads toward Martin.
Signy slips off as the Queen and Silhouette make their way towards the dance floor. The closest thing to entertainment that ever happened at Weyland's was watching some poor visitor find out that he had gotten the short end of the stick when bargaining with the famous smith.
A wicked smile briefly twists her lips as she heads towards the bar. If she were to go out there and dance, that may end up with Random revoking his challenge, and quite possibly cancelling the holiday.
She catches the eye of a bartender, and she quickly brings Signy her drink. She leans her back against the countertop, eyeing the throngs taking their King up on his offer, before noticing Jerod within arms reach. She tips her glass briefly in his direction in a silent salute and takes a pull.
"Cousin." she says with a nod and a smile, before taking another pull from her drink.
"Signy." Jerod replies, passing his empty glass back to the bartender only to find another ready before he has a chance to even motion for a refill.
"We've not had the opportunity to properly meet I believe. We find ourselves in a fortunate circumstance then at the moment. How fare you this day?"
Signy pauses and thinks back before ruefully shaking her head.
"No, I don't believe we have met. I'm sorry -- it's hard to keep track of whom I've met and whom I've just heard of."
She mentally traces the Family Tree in her head, remembering where Jerod fit.
"I'm well enough, though I've spent the past...." Here she frowns, trying to figure out the time of the whole thing before giving it up as a lost cause. "Well, however long in Aunt Fiona's Shadow working on a project for Ambrose.
"Where have you been lately?"
"Where lately?" Jerod replies, taking a long slug on his drink. "I'm not sure the bartender has that much booze." and he looks back at the bar. "Though it might be worth trying to find out.
"Dealing with a situation in Gateway actually. Involves Marius, some rather unpleasant mages who sorely needed to have their asses handed to them, and some regime change. Managed to take care of some of that, though one mage is still...well, active I think is the correct word. Not sure about alive or dead....not yet at least.
"And we ran into Weyland the Smith." he says, taking a sip of this drink while waiting to see Signy's return serve.
Signy stalls for a moment by taking a sip from her drink, before realizing that her sip managed to empty the full glass. She gestures at the bartender for a refill at the same time as the bartender places a new glass in front of her.
"Yes, Brita may have mentioned that you ran into him."
She takes another drink.
"What was my father doing in Gateway? That seems rather far afield for him."
"Officially? His stated reason was vengeance upon the Triumvirate for their actions against Marius." Jerod replies, his slight smile ever so precise from years of Court. "Which from an immediate, no questions asked, perspective, makes perfect sense. I'm pretty sure that any Prince who had family treated thusly would have been burning Gateway to ash.
"Now unofficially? Not sure. After everything went to hell, we actually were heading out into Shadow, to the Tower Lords. Didn't get there of course, but we were heading in that direction. We were dealing with some chaosian tag-alongs that were merged with the Triumvirate. The paranoid side of my personality always looks to wonder where a gift-horse is really a Trojan one, but so far nothing has come up."
Signy decides to just give up at this point, and quickly tosses back the rest of her drink. She gives the bartender a welcoming smile at the drink that appears next to her elbow before the empty glass makes its landing.
"Of course, if we're asking questions it would be interesting to know how someone who has been more of a rumor and myth to the Family came to know not only that his son that he had never met had been stabbed, much less the ones that were responsible."
She takes a mouthful of the new drink, thinking.
"I wonder if there was anyone in the Family that Weyland was close to, that may still be in touch. I tend to doubt that anyone holding one of his Blades would have been overly fond of him, knowing how he deals."
She lifts her glass again, but pauses before taking her next drink.
"Did he know about our little gathering tonight and tomorrow?"
"He knows we were called back, but not why...that I can verify." Jerod says. "He is apparently somewhat bemused by the idea of Trumps, so that would suggest he is not fully aware of our abilities. It is possible he has assets here that could provide him with information on Marius, or us, whether those assets are family or otherwise. Given his connection to the family through Marius, via Deirdre, we should discount nothing. I do know that Corwin actually once offered to get me in touch with Weyland if I were interested in one of his weapons, so that tells me he at least had an ability to reach out. I decided then that I'm dysfunctional enough all on my own without adding to it." and he smiles, finishing his drink.
"Since he is a Chaosian, I would be hard-pressed to be surprised that he could not track his own offspring through Shadow, or to follow-up on rumors concerning whereabouts of said offspring. Given that the Triumvirate were foolish enough to do what they did, they had to realize that we would retaliate at some point. Even word of that would send out ripples to be noticed by those with the talent for listening."
Signy takes another mouthful from the tumbler while her cousin speaks before putting it down on the bar. Her fingers remain curled around the glass loosely, one finger absently tapping out a steady rhythm.
"He remains in his Tower all those years," she muses. "Doesn't really leave for Patternfall, no mention of my having a brother all those years, a man who is infamous for a lack of sentimentality, then suddenly he's off to wreak Family vengeance."
The chain doesn't appear to add up too well for Signy, but she also doesn't seem to have any way to come up with a better answer.
"I wonder if there was ever anyone in the Family that he was close to."
She pauses for a beat.
"Well, besides my mother."
"No idea." Jerod says. "Given that he was mythic to most family would tend to indicate he has minimal family involvement directly that others are willing to share. Doesn't mean people might not know him... just that they're not talking about it. With his history of providing weapons of power to individuals, I'd guess in the good ole days no one would talk about it because he'd be a resource for them. Don't want to give your enemies access to better weapons and all.
"As for now, who knows. Dara's rather nuts about her son Merlin, so there's always the possibility that he does care, though if he's following Dara's path, it's more about re-absorbing a stray of himself to gain what it has learned. Not a lot of familial love and affection on that path."
Signy frowns, thinking about Dara and Chaos and Family.
"What is Madoc's status with the Family?"
"No idea." Jerod replies, finishing his drink. "Never met him. Only have third hand knowledge, much of it suspect and not verifiable so I won't bother repeating it. The redheads would be a better source to approach for answers to that if they are necessary, since if you actually do get anything, it's likely to be more reliable."
Signy nods and files that away for later.
She gestures with her glass at the surroundings. "I noticed a lack of our parents at the big event," she notes. "I'd have thought that some of them would at least have made more of an appearance."
Jerod smiles slightly. "Well, both of mine have good reasons for being absent. Though yes, I did notice that. One would think with the usual family gathering going on that more of them would be around, at least for a brief time," he says as he looks around, then frowns.
"And it would seem we're missing some of our own crew as well. The number of cousins has dipped noticeably."
Signy looks around at how few are left and blinks in surprise.
She thinks for a moment, scanning the surroundings again.
"What is the etiquette on these things? How much of an insult to not attend the event like this? I get that not showing for tomorrow's meeting is a Big Deal, since the King commanded it, but this...."
She waves her glass vaguely at the surroundings.
"One can get away with not showing up here." Jerod says, his glass on the bar as he moves out to look more fully.
"I'm not seeing a bunch of people who I was just talking to a short while ago." as he frowns, putting pieces together as to missing parties, in particular the redheads and Vere and he moves closer to Signy to talk without raising his voice.
"I'm thinking someone went to find the King."
Signy nods soberly, though her face somehow doesn't change expression.
"His speech after Edan's dance seemed oddly...subdued. Should we go and check on them as well?"
"Uhhh....not yet." Jerod says slowly, deciding that patience is better in the situation. "Enough of the cousins are out of touch that having two more show up isn't going to do anything besides clutter up a meeting room and reduce the supply of any available alcohol or food. If they want us, they'll come get us. I'm guessing if they want someplace invaded or smashed into rubble, they'll come get me. I'm hoping they don't - still have stuff in Gateway and the Weir to settle. If it's seriously important, then we'll find out in due course. Tonight if it's a screaming, the-universe-is-about-to-implode problem, or tomorrow if it's just the run of the mill world-ending problem.
"Let us instead keep an eye on things out here. Never know if one of the not-so neutral delegations decides they want to cause a problem. I'm very surprised right now that our kinslaying unworthy-to-wear-the-title-of-uncle Huon hasn't been stabbed yet by his one-time allies, for example. Their restraint would appear to be considerable." and he points out Hannah's people should it be necessary.
Signy suppresses a sigh and masters her brief flash of impatience.
"Huon was one of the ones that had his hand involved in what happened to Marius, right? Do I need to be worried that my brother might try something?"
Keeping an eye on things proves immediately fruitful. Jerod and Signy both spot Prince Martin, looking as if he's just come in from the woods, talking to Garrett and Lilly.
"Ah, things are appearing to get more interesting." Jerod says, spotting his friend. "As for your brother, I suppose that would depend on whether Marius will choose to disobey the King to seek vengeance. Uncle Random has meted out his judgment on Huon and everyone is expected to follow it. I understand why Random is worried about Huon's death curse and all. Too much crap going on right now to deal with that kind of stuff too.
"Though I suppose if your brother did want to kill Huon, he could always do what Caine did and shoot him in the throat like with Brand. Or like I tried with Huon and stab in straight through the heart. If you can't speak, you can't curse."
He motions to the bartender for a drink that is very large and in a mug that is not going to be missed if left somewhere before motioning to Signy. "Come on...let's see what his Majesty the Crown Prince is up to. Who knows...we might get into trouble." and he smiles a little wolfishly.
Signy quickly collects one last glass for herself, and falls into step with her cousin.
"I don't know him well enough to know if he is the type to completely disregard the King if he felt like it, though I think that it would also depend on what the consequences might be," she muses quietly, almost to herself, clearly thinking about the King's edict about their Uncle.
"You may rest assured that Martin is the son of the King." Jerod says quietly. "That means he'll do what he needs to do, when he figures it's needed. And then see about asking for forgiveness later.
"Oh, and he'll definitely know where to bury the bodies. Make him your friend."
The drumming was magnificent. As the amazing display of rhythm and precision wraps up, Garrett finds himself breathless and shaking his head in awe, completely forgetting the company of Max, Victor and Abd-allah nearby. His father's speech is half over by the time it registers to Garrett that the King is speaking.
As he begins to regain his composure, Garrett glances around the circle of faces at the front of the audience. Many of them are familiar; lords and merchants and relatives mingle together in the crowd. At the far edge though, one face in particular causes Garrett's breath to catch in his throat once again.
Her head turns, eyes locking with his. Panic flares in her chest. Would he want to talk to her? Had her departure ruined any chance they had at a lasting relationship? Perhaps Garrett had already found another. At once Lilly feels both foolish and afraid. But their eyes had met. Running, as she had during dinner, would only make her feel more pathetic.
Swallowing hard, Lilly pushes through the crowd. As she comes face to face with Garrett, words fail. She stops a few feet away, her fear keeping her from going any forward. How is this harder than combat, she wonders vaguely. Unable to speak or move, she stands, holding her ground and trembling ever so slightly. A single tear flows softly down her cheek.
As Lilly starts to move through the crowd, so does Garrett. He slows as she comes up short and stops just out of reach, his head cocked and expression tentative. He gulps involuntarily, but that seems to be all that's needed to clear his expression. A small smile starts at one corner of his lips. He remains still, but holds out his hand gently, as he might approach a timid and unfamiliar mare, allowing it to come if it will.
The hint of a smile is enough. Lilly closes the gap in a single movement throwing her arms around Garrett, pulling him into an embrace. "I've missed you," she says into his ear. "I didn't think I would be gone so long."
Garrett grunts as her weight suddenly hits him around the middle, but he eagerly wraps his arms around her, bear-like, and lifts her feet off the ground. "And I you," he breathes back. Setting her back on her feet, he breaks the embrace, but reaches for her hand. "We should talk," he suggests, nodding toward the edge of the crowd. "Come on."
Lilly nods her agreement as she comfortably allows him to take the lead. "You are lacking the small child I saw you with at dinner. Who was she?" she asks in a neutral tone as they walk.
"My niece, Lark," Garrett declares proudly. "She's a spitfire, that one."
He looks back at Lilly as what she said just registers, "Wait. You were at dinner? I didn't see you."
"You were quite caught up with Lark," Lilly responds with the hint of a smile. "And then Gerard, I believe. While I was hiding over with Corwin. I slipped out quietly. I wasn't sure I wanted out reunion to happen amidst a family meal. They are unsettling enough as it is."
Garrett leads them to a garden beyond the worst of the crowd and offers Lilly a seat on the wide stone ledge that surrounds it. He sits beside her, at a comfortable but not intimate distance. "That they are," he replies, "And yeah, I reckon I was distracted when I came back to dinner. You probably came in while I was out taking the Trump call from Folly to bring her and Lark in." At that thought, Garrett frowns and lowers his voice before continuing, "She needed her whole household brought in as well. There's trouble in the Shadow she came from. Martin's still out there."
"Everyone is just so full of good news this evening," Lilly responds flatly. She shakes her head and sighs. "What happened? Is Martin safe?"
Something in Lilly's tone makes Garrett turn to look at her quizzically. A little smile of apology appears and his eyes grow softer. "I'm sorry. I'm mucking this up, aren't I?" he says, taking her hand and resting their joined hands between them on the seat. "I haven't seen you in forever and I open with disaster. Martin can wait. Where have you been?"
Shaking her head, Lilly responds gently. "You are not mucking this up. You know that Martin is like a brother to me and I would prefer to know if he is in some sort of mortal peril. The tale of my travels can wait. It wasn't that exciting. Time with Benedict is more about education. But I did learn quite a bit and now I'm back. That's about it."
Garrett looks solidly into her eyes and nods. "I had forgotten that you and he lived together for a time. At the Tecys, wasn't it?"
"Anyway," he continues, "Folly said that she believes the trouble he's in involves Klybesians. That makes sense, considering that the name keeps coming up in pretty much every conversation I've had since my return. He encountered what Folly called 'zombies' - ghost men in physical form, I believe - in both the shadow they were in and another shadow he frequents. It sounded like he had things under control for the moment," and Garrett's expression conveys that Martin's version of 'under control' probably differs from his own, "but Folly will likely be calling out the cavalry if he's not here by morning."
"I'm sure she will," Lilly agrees with another nod. "We seem to be under attack from all sides. Brennan has concerns. It seems that a 'ghost island' of sorts has just appeared far too close for comfort. And there are rumors of other strange occurrences. I am not convinced that anywhere is safe. Keep your wits and stay armed. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you."
Lilly's last words appear to take Garrett by surprise. He smiles reassuringly and starts to speak, but seems to be at a momentary loss, perhaps deciding that this is not the time to make light of her concerns. "I will," he agrees finally. "And you as well. You're more likely to be on the offensive if anything comes up. They'll put me to guarding Queen and Castle, I reckon," he says, with no indication that that is a bad thing.
"Did Brennan say anything more about his concerns?" Garrett asks. "I didn't see anything particularly odd while I was traveling, but then again, not having much experience in shadow, I might not have recognized something as being out of place."
"Just that Islands suddenly appearing right outside of Benedict's stronghold seems to be cause for concern," Lilly replies dryly. A moment passes and she shrugs. "The death of a cousin. Threats in shadow. Old enemies appearing. Lots of details best discussed in less public places. So many things coming together at the same time. He's alarmed and that's enough for me to be on my guard."
"Yeah, Brennan doesn't alarm easily," Garrett agrees flatly. He sighs and rubs the back of his neck wearily. "And you're right. There's naught to be done for it now. Or here," he gestures at the crowd.
Garrett's eyes soften as he changes the subject. "So you said you were hiding by Corwin at dinner. Were you really hiding?" he asks gently.
Lilly cocks her head and shrugs. "Maybe, " she responds with a grin. "You did come in with a date after all. Perhaps I was feeling intimidated." Not a lie, the warrior maid decides as the words come out. Young children were truly frightening creatures.
"Well, Lark IS sort of a force of nature," Garrett smirks, then adds more seriously, "Did you think she was mine?"
"Maybe," the grin remains. "There is a family resemblance. And, with the way time flows in shadow it was possible that I was gone much longer than expected."
Lilly shrugs, as her features melt into seriousness. She pulls a homemade ring from a pocket and holds it out to Garrett. "This hasn't left me since you gave it to me. It has been my constant companion on my toughest days. But with so much time passing... I just... I just wasn't sure that I should still be wearing it." She takes a deep breath. "I wasn't sure you would want me to or maybe that you would be hoping I lost it or some other thing." Lilly shakes her had and tries to laugh. "I'm sure I sound insane and I'm sure I'm over thinking everything."
Garrett carefully takes the well-worn horseshoe-nail ring from Lilly's fingers. It still resonates the warmth from her body. He looks down at it, rolling it gently in his fingers as he speaks. His hair drops over his forehead to hide his face. Uncharacteristically, he does not brush it back.
"I was angry at first," he begins softly. "And hurt. I wondered for a long time why you didn't tell me where you were going. Or that you were going at all." He pauses and sighs. "Then I reckon I... I guess I just... moved on. Sort of. Got busy with assignments and obligations and such. And once I was out on my own, in shadow, I didn't have much contact with the family for months, if not more. There was no one to ask."
He glances up at her shyly from under his hair. "Sometimes in the rigging, on watch in the middle of the night, with the breezes blowing... I'd wonder. Think about you and wonder where you were. If you were all right. I reckoned you must still be alive somewhere 'cause no one ever told me you weren't. I reckoned you were doing like I was...exploring and learning."
He shrugs and raises his head, still turning the ring in his fingers as he looks at her fully. "And then I got called back and things happened so fast from there that it never hit me that you might be here too. I never even thought about it. Or what I would say if I saw you. And then I DID see you," he smiles then and offers the ring back to her, "and all there was was 'Lilly.'"
Lilly takes the ring with a nod, the ghost of a smile playing upon in her lips. "Our parents... or maybe I should say my father has long forgotten how time passes for our generation. There was a need to leave suddenly and he told me it would be for a very short while so I went. I felt a duty to do so. In his mind, we have only been gone a very short time. It's the perspective of his years. I am sorry. I think, if we want to continue having any sort of relationship, that we need Trump of each other. Surely one of our cousins can help with that. I might need to offer a favor in return but I am happy to do that for you."
"You're right," Garrett says with a quick nod. "Folly drew one of me some time ago. I'd trust her to do one for you. She might not even ask for a favor, though I expect she'll have her hands full for a while. Have you ever had a Trump drawn of you?"
"Paige and Ossian were both working on them," Lilly replies. "Between the three of them, I am sure some one can help out. In the meantime, I may just have to stay put and if duty does call I promise to give you a warning before running off."
"That's all we need for now," Garrett nods with a smile. "We both know duty comes first. Next time, I'll know not to question it." He squeezes her hand to emphasize the point.
Lilly squeezes his hand back as she leans in to kiss Garrett gently on the cheek. She steps back and takes a moment to reorient herself with their surroundings. They can not afford to let their guard down for too long.
When they look up, there's Martin, looking like he's been drug through a wringer in a burning swamp, with a short duffel over his shoulder that's moving. "Hi Garrett; hi, Lilly. Good to see both of you. I just got here and Ben said to check in with you and find out what's going on.
"I've got some cargo for Fiona here and we probably ought to get it stowed safely. Would you mind helping me with that?"
Lily eyes the bag suspiciously. "Not a problem at all," she responds. "We can catch one another up on the way once that's done."
Garrett stands, his expression matching Lilly's. "Of course," he says with more enthusiasm than his body language reveals. He steps around to look the bag over while asking, "Are you all right? Have you seen Folly yet?" Leaning in closer and squinting at the bag, he adds, "And...what's the best way to 'stow' it?"
"Yes, no, and probably a cold room in the castle well away from the food. And restricted to family access only if we can get it. Is something going on with Folly?"
Jerod and Signy are making their way over from the bar to join Garrett, Lilly and Martin.
The duffel makes a thumping noise and jerks like something is moving in it. Martin flips it over his shoulder so the bag is in front of him, not behind him, and punches the side of the duffel. There's a echoing thump inside the duffel, like he smacked the side of a box hard enough to knock whatever was in there to the other side.
"Might want to get a move on with getting this thing properly secured. Letting it loose here would be bad."
Signy and Jerod show up after having made their way over from the bar. Signy polishes off a glass of a translucent amber liquid as they join the three of them on the dais.
She gives Lilly a quick smile of greeting, before turning her attention to the other two. "It seems like the party may be getting kicked into high gear," she notes in a bored tone of voice that doesn't carry beyond the five of them, pointedly not looking at Martin's sack. "At least, if you know where the good after parties are."
If she notices Brother Tomat nearby, she doesn't seem to give any sign or indication.
Martin has tossed the duffel, which is now quiet again, back over his shoulder.
"I think it's time to head up the hill. I've got a delivery for Fiona in here and I don't want to delay it getting to her for too long. Where is everybody? What's going on?"
Lilly is still eyeing the duffel. "Let's walk and talk, shall we? I'd hate to have to stab Fiona's souvenir." She takes Garrett's hand as she starts moving towards the palace. "The Family is all supposed to be here at the party. Is Fiona expecting the package or do we need to call her?"
"I hope she's expecting the package. That's Folly's end of things," Martin says.
Garrett seems surprised at Lilly's display of affection, but he takes her hand with a smile and begins walking along. "First off, Folly was fine a couple hours ago. That was when I saw her last. And so was Lark," he assures Martin quickly. "Everyone scattered after Edan's performance, so other than those who stayed in the square, I'm not sure where they all went. Lilly and I got to talking and I wasn't paying that much attention," he admits with a rueful smirk.
"They seems to have all disappeared into the official manors as it were." Jerod says, also pointedly not looking at the sack, though Martin gets a nod that combines official, friendly and curious all at the same time. Must be a Rebman thing.
"That was just after the King's official comments. There are a few bits of information from Vere and Brennan that would be good to review with them, that I figured would be coming out in the official family gathering tomorrow. They're not for public commenting however, if you get my drift," as he pointedly ignores the people around the group.
Martin says oh shit but the words come out, "Sure, let's have story time while we walk after we get up the hill."
Vere is heading down from the dais toward them as well.
"Cousins!" Vere calls out cheerily. "Well met indeed!" He is smiling, but the look in his eyes does not match his smile or his voice. As he draws near he continues, "I was just speaking with Uncle Bleys and a few of our cousins," he waves a hand airily. "Quite a jolly gathering. Folly, Conner, Brennan, Edan, a few others. You would have enjoyed it. Such amusing anecdotes about the family." He shakes his head and gives a little laugh. "It would do you no end of good to speak with one of them, I tell you."
"Then I'd suggest we bring his highness up to speed on Tir...now. Cause part of me is thinking that what you told me previously is just the fuse to a much bigger bomb." Jerod says. "And that part of me also thinks it's been lit."
"Fantastic." Lilly shakes her head. "I was hoping this family gathering would be interesting." Her sarcasm is somewhat hidden by her flat tone. "Brennan did have quite a story earlier. Let's get this package stowed. If the party gets rowdy, it would be nice to have one less thing out here in the streets to worry about."
Signy falls in with the group as they move. She herself is not up to speed on Tir, so contents herself with listening for now while she scans to see if anyone outside of the Family seems to be inserting themselves into their conversation, or following along a little too closely.
Having nothing new to add to the conversation, Garrett listens as they walk, keeping himself and Lilly between any curious townspeople and the duffel bag.
"We do not want this package loose. It's aggressive. Also possibly contagious," Martin says, and it's like he had another word in mind for aggressive and decided against. "Why don't we all get moving, and Vere, you can catch us up while we're on the road." There's no question mark in that nominal question because it's not really a request so much as Martin really wanting to know what's going on.
Fletcher finds himself at the edge of the dais as the receiving line is breaking up. Edan has moved on and people are either dancing or sitting out dances.
"Fletcher!" says a voice from behind him, "There you are at last."
It's Brij, Martin's monther-in-law, with her granddaughter in tow. "I knew I'd find a helpful cousin eventually. I need a favor, which is to ditch of my awful ex. Can you pick up Lorelei and help me find Haven and Tjaden?" Her tones are smooth and friendly, but if Fletcher hears a bit of desperation, it's not his imagination.
Fletcher looks up quickly, pulling himself out of his personal reverie. Too much time inside one's own head can be a problem. A damsel in distress is just the thing to distract the knight. "Of course!" He waves to Lorelei, "We may not have been formally introduced my lady. I am Sir Fletcher, you cousin. You've grown up quite a lot since I first heard you." He extends his arms, "Will you help me see if we can find the others for Lady Brij?"
Lark puts her hand out to shake his, and it's clear she's Martin's child even at this young age. "I'm Lark. Pick me up and tell me what they look like."
Fletcher shakes Lark's and kneels to scoop her up.
Brij takes his other arm and lets herself be led into the crowd.
"I suspect we can spot them by looking for valleys opening up in the adult crowd where they pass through. Lady Brij, do you know what colors they're wearing?" Fletcher asks as they wade into crowd.
"They'll be wearing the last of my daughter's unnatural materials that haven't turned to rags yet. Check the bandstand first, they're both musical. Tell me about yourself. They say you're older than the King..."
Fletcher steers them through the crowd toward the bandstand, eyes intently seeking their quarry. "Oh, me. Well, yes. Though we seem to have more than one King in the family these days, so it's more accurate to say I'm older than the local King. Corwin is still older than me. I grew up in Amber. My court title is Defender of the Faith, and part of that responsibility was dealing with religions and religious issues for the Crown. Amber attracted all sorts of people, including believers in any number of things that weren't native to Amber. I'm also a Knight of the Unicorn. It seems that only some of them have made the trip from Amber to Xanadu so far. But all of that was some time ago. I spent much of the interim walking in shadows, handling problems for Grandad in places that can't be gotten to quickly or easily. Generally trying to keep problems from getting unmanageably big. Of course given where we are it's clear that all it takes is *one* problem getting too big. What about you? I gather you settled down in Texorami?"
Brij laughs, genuinely amused by his wording. "The last thing I did in Texorami was 'settle down'. I was born there, and I didn't know about my Grandfather's heritage. My grandmother, like me and like Folly, picked up strays. Hers was Julian, mine was Huon, and Folly's were Random and Martin. I kicked at the traces pretty hard there, until I figured out I really didn't belong there."
Fletcher pauses a moment and looks at Brij. "Oh. That must have been... awkward. Learning about it all later. There must have been a lot of catching up to do." He thinks he spots one of the kids in the crowd and turns to look again. He asks, "Do you see them Lark?" To Brij he continues, "Then again I was raised in Amber and I'd hardly say my formal court upbringing prepared me for all of this."
Brij shrugs. "I never knew any different. People assumed I did crazy workouts and diet and surgery to stay young looking, but really, I haven't aged much since about 30. I looked even younger when I had Folly and people used to talk. You were raised in Amber? I've seen it, but I hear it used to be more... something."
From her perch on Fletcher's arm, Lark calls out, "I see them!" and points to the bandstand. Sure enough two women wearing stretch metallic fabrics are standing next to the band, apparently waiting their turn to take the stage.
Fletcher's head snaps around in the direction Lark is pointing and sighs, "Yes, it was something, but we'll have to continue this after we finish our hunt." He begins making a way for their group politely but forcefully through the crowd. "Keep your eyes on them," he tells Lark. And a moment later once under way he asks, "Shall we prevent them from taking the stage?"
Brij, being small, follows in his wake. "As long as not too much blood has to be shed, that would be good. Otherwise you might have to dance with us."
They push through the crowd and reach the two women, who are now waiting as the prior band packs up. The audience is clapping. "Jade!" shouts Brij, "Hey, Haven!"
Haven turns and pulls on Tjaden's arm and the two of them usher another act towards the stage. "We'll swap," Haven says.
The sudden replacements rush on stage and start setting up.
"Hey, I was just with Folly and she made me promise to introduce you to her daughter. And also to her cousin-uncle, Fletcher. Fletcher just saved me from a boring and/or terrifying discussion with my ex-.
"Jade, Haven, this is Lark. She's grown up fast."
"Mamma's teaching me to sing your parts," Lark says to Tjaden.
Haven says hello to Fletcher. "Cousin-uncle?"
Fletcher bows slightly, giving the added effect of Lark dipping slightly as well. "I am both Lark's first cousin once removed and (if I understand correctly) her first cousin three times removed, because nothing in our family is every simple. The 'uncle' part is probably a reference to how terribly ancient I am. Laaa-dy Brij was concerned about the durability of your shining armor so I was happy to help her find you." Fletcher may only have a vague idea of who Haven and Tjaden are, but figures it's safe to at least tweak Brij in return for 'cousin-uncle.'
"More like Lady Brij really has no idea who's related to whom." Brij laughs. "Apparently we're no longer trying to mass-murder my ex- and he's a relative, too. Folly tried to explain it all to me and my head started spinning. Mister Not-My-Favorite-Person is here with the Queen of Atlantis, and they're pals, but I think it's politics.
"And what my ancient uncle is trying to say, is that we found you because nobody else is wearing silver lamé spandex."
Tjaden turns to Lark. "OK, sing one with me. I can do all of Folly's parts."
Haven leans in to Brij. "Is something wrong with Sid?"
Brij looks around. "Yes. Or I think so. Soren was totally out of his mind in the castle and dragged Folly away as soon as he saw her. Can you get Ash prepped for... whatever? I don't know if it'll be an intervention or a kidnapping. But something."
Neither one of the two women seem to mind that Fletcher is next to them, hearing their talk.
Fletcher asks, "I was under the impression we were supposed to go somewhere. Is there time for a performance?" He looks scans the surroundings for possible carriages to commandeer.
Brij smiles his way, her nose wrinkling up. "We're not supposed to be anywhere until tomorrow, and then only you and Lark, because I'm not in the club. But I don't think they're going to perform, just sing at each other."
Haven looks at the crowd, and does a double take. "AoD is here."
Tjaden stops singing.
Fletcher shifts Lark to make sure he has unimpaired access to his sword and inconspicuously scans the area, still smiling. He asks, "Who's Ayodie?" He pauses a beat and then continues conversationally, "And what's this about exclusive clubs? I don't remember getting any membership cards."
Brij blinks. "Almost assuredly, you literally did, but let's not get into family semantics at this point, I can tell you later about me. A.o.D. is a code-name certain people have for Martin Prince of Xanadu, Duke of Earl, Earl of whatever comes next, Knight-Commander of the Order of the ahem Card, and Lark's father."
She points him out in the crowd. "He's the scruffy looking one who needs a bath over there, beating up his own duffle bag."
After Brennan takes leave of Regenlief and Ossian, he makes his way with as much haste as is seemly back to the square where Edan's great demonstration took place, and where the Knights of the Ruby were congregating. Basically, where he just Trumped away from. When there, he corners all of the following at the same time: Dame Patience, Sir License, Sir Whither and Sir Xenial.
Patience and License are already part of the squads slated to head back with Brennan to Avalon and with Edan to wherever he rides, respectively. Brennan reinforces that they are to be ready to depart quickly, and he puts a hard deadline on it: Be ready by midnight. Whither and Xenial were not part of either squad, but are informed that between them they'll gather up most of the rest of the Knights and also be ready to go by midnight, but to await orders. The Knights who Brennan expects to stay in Xanadu include Dame Tempest the disguise artist and Sir Whither, the scout. If Brennan doesn't have a chance to talk to them, Sir Marius will.
Above all, they are not to make an obvious fuss about this-- they're not to depart the gathering en masse, but separately, quietly, and spread out.
Everyone seems excited, alert, and worried as all hell. They want to know who the enemy is, Sir Brennan.
They'll be briefed later, is Brennan's terse answer.
That done, he surveys the square: What is the mood and who if anyone among Family seems to be present?
Martin is in a crowd near the exit, it looks like he's about to lead a group up the hill. Every military man, Prince, and Princess on the field is watching to see what happens there. The mood of the crowd is more frenetic than it was before Random's announcement. People are picking up on the mood, but the band is playing on.
Brennan hauling ass across the square will generate more attention that he wants to generate, so instead he sends one a senior page to head over to Martin's clique, letting them know he's on his way. She is to walk long enough that she won't be seen taking off like a shot directly after talking to Brennan and then get there as fast as she can.
Another page is sent to encourage the band to, and the page is encouraged to relay these words exactly, "Play cheerful and celebratory tunes or else." If it's appropriate to encourage them with money, Brennan will do so.
Another thirty seconds to give the first page some distance, and Brennan starts moving Martin-ward with as much speed as is reasonably possible.
Brennan is on his way by the time the music gets particularly cheerful and celebratory.
Vere joins the group as they walk, glancing around to see how close possible listeners are to their group. "I do not have much time, as I am ordered to take Paige's Rangers and guard ... certain steps. And the news I have is not the kind that can be spoken in any kind of open forum." He frowns. "I had really hoped that Folly or Brennan might have found you, and been able to explain the ... situation."
"Then we'll get right to it." Jerod says, his voice now stilted, altered and much quieter. Martin would certainly recognize it from Court, soft speech with no lip movement, to confuse observers and reduce detection underwater.
"Vere made a visit up the steps. What he saw was the monarch up there apparently held Cambina there until she fell, while Vialle was doing a walk."
Fletcher has been navigating his way toward Martin, carrying Lark, [presumably with Brij too] and has had the ill fortune of arriving just as Jerod began his little story. He hopes he's misheard or misunderstood some of what Jerod just said, and decides that this isn't the moment to interrupt. He shrugs to the group in greeting.
Lilly gives a nod to her brother. Though paying close attention to what is being said, her gaze is focused outward as she continuously takes in their surroundings. She did not want to be caught unaware.
Signy listens, before glancing at Jerod. "There's some implications in the second half of your recap, correct?"
Garrett glances quickly at Martin, gauging his reaction, though he knows very well there may not be a visible one. Lack of reaction says something too. "Indeed there is," he answers Signy quietly, but leaves it to his elders to determine how much to explain in this venue.
Fortunately for everyone waiting for Martin to explode, Brij and Lark show up, trailing in Fletcher's wake, and Lark interrupts anything he might want to say with "Daddy Daddy Daddy Daddy DADDY!" Martin hands the bag to Garrett (assuming he'll take it) and accepts an armful of child from his mother-in-law.
Brij and Martin smile at each other with the cordial loathing of two people who can't understand how the person they share puts up with the other one. "You're late," she tells Martin. "The party's already started."
"I brought it with me," Martin says when he disentangles enough from Lark to reply. And then he turns back to Jerod and Vere and says, "What the actual f**k?" Like he heard what they said but needs to be sure he heard it right.
"Someone give him a drink, he's gonna need it," says Brij.
Fletcher, who is almost supernaturally aware of the nearest source of liquor at all times, acquires a couple of drinks from the nearest source, probably over-tipping in the extreme (whether money was even required or not) and not at all worried about it. He smirks at Brij and offers one of the drinks to Martin. As an after thought he decides to offer the second to Brij.
Martin takes his and tosses it back. "Thanks," he says.
Brij takes hers, raises it to Fletcher, and does the same.
Vere glances at Brij for a moment, but then with a slight shrug he says, very quietly, "It is even worse than that. Bleys says that Fiona has discovered a spell on Random, somehow using his ties to the Jewel of Judgement and the Pattern against removing it, causing a single-minded focus on Vialle, their child, and having the Family swear allegiance to the child as his heir. Folly had an independent report from Soren that the King is completely apathetic and directionless when not in the presence of Vialle."
Signy listens to what Vere has to say, expressionless.
"This sounds suspiciously like what we encountered when we rescued the Queen for the King," she says just barely loud enough for the Family to hear.
"There was also a chain we brought back, that might be worth being looked at."
Martin looks at Signy and says, "Get it. Don't go alone." He sweeps his gaze over the group and says, "Fletcher, go with her. We need to figure out what the f**k to do and Garrett and I can't go up there right now. We have to get the package to Fiona, so we need a courier for that. One of us."
[OOC: And he'll take volunteers for that.]
"Where is my daughter?" Brij asks, before the group can break up.
And Lark, who has been absorbing all this with big eyes, because she clearly knows who some of these people are but not all of them, repeats, "Where's mama?"
Vere glances at Lark, one eyebrow rising slightly, and then smiles at her. "Folly and Edan went to the palace," he says, striving to remove any sense of urgency or concern from his voice. "To obtain some 'device' of Edan's, if I understood correctly." He looks at Jerod. "Brennan was going to look for you, Cousin Jerod, to explain the situation and suggest a diversionary target. Reme, which is apparently a Klybesian stronghold. Ossian will have a clandestine mission there, under cover of your overt mission. Conner was to inquire of Queen Celina and Llewella if they knew anything of the King and Vialle's supposed trip to Rebma last night." His gaze goes back to Martin, "And now, your Highness, with your permission I must be about my own mission, to guard the steps in case of a Moonrider attack from a different time."
"What is it with everyone wanting me to blow things up?" Jerod asks with the vaguest hint of annoyance.
Garrett adjusts the bag on his shoulder. Turning to Martin, he asks, "Can't we trump it to Fiona?"
"I'm guessing you'd have done that already if it was allowed?" Jerod says, looking at Martin. "I'm tempted to do courier duty, just to do something before wandering off to set more of the universe on fire."
"If she's working with Dad, Fiona needs us not to distract her," Martin answers Garrett. He turns back to Vere. "Don't go alone. We go in pairs now." He scans the group and starts to say something, but a page runs up to the group.
"Highness," she says, "Sir Brennan is coming and would speak with you."
"Still don't go anywhere," Martin says to Vere. "If we're doing this, we're doing this, and nobody goes alone. We need Brennan's report."
Shortly after being named, Brennan appears. He is less out of breath than young Tenacity because, not wanting to put the crowd any more on edge, he didn't sprint over to them. On the other hand, people do tend to move out of Brennan's way more readily than some page. To the page he says, "Don't go too far-- Think about whether you want to be a squire."
Turning his attention to the group, he says, "Prince Martin, everyone. We're going to have to find some better place to discuss this-- I assume everyone has Vere's news and the bomb that Bleys dropped in our laps?" He waits a beat for someone, anyone, to nod before continuing.
Martin nods, once.
"Right. I have some very trenchant ideas about what needs to happen. As I'm sure you do and, by my count, the dozen or so cousins who also know by now." Brennan makes a gesture with his hands that might be ten people all running off in different directions, or might be an explosion. Or maybe he hasn't decided.
"And there's a lot of us who don't know-- yet-- that deserve to know what they're walking into." Brennan says. "So here's a thought: if we can't contain it, get in front of it. Get everyone together than can be got, tonight. At least cousins." He seems to notice Garrett's bundle, blinks, and mouths, "Zombie?" He's probably more concerned about upsetting Lark than being overheard-- he really hasn't said anything that anyone without context could understand.
"It's a zombie," Lark agrees, very serious.
Lilly smiles slightly, "She needs a sword." Her expression takes on a more serious tone. "And we need a plan. It's clear that this is some sort of set up. I'm not fond of being on the defensive."
Vere's lips quirk very slightly for an instant. Then his head turns to look away for a moment (to what only the most intuitive watcher might conjecture to be the direction of the distant steps to Tir), before sweeping back around the square looking for any of Paige's Rangers that might be visible, then turning back to Martin.
Garrett smiles slightly at Lilly's remark and glances over at Lark, but remains silent, deferring to those more experienced than he in matters of magic or battle. He continues to hold the duffel tightly closed over his shoulder.
Signy glances at Fletcher to catch his eye before turning back to Martin. "Where should we plan on meeting up," she asks.
"The Spring of the Unicorn," Martin says, "It's the analogue to the Grove here. If you don't know where it is, pair off with someone who knew where it was in Amber; it's in roughly the same place. Nobody goes anywhere alone, including Brij here, who needs to get to Ashe and Tjaden and Haven," he adds with a look at her like he's expecting to get an argument.
"Also Vere, you may have to drop in by Trump. Take Lilly with you, all right? Anything else? Anybody else?"
"I do not have a Trump of any of our cousins," Vere says, "And I do not think any have one of me."
Jerod shakes his head, thankful for the opportunity to not have to blow anything up right away, while eyeing the bar to get a bottle to take to the Spring.
"Figure about midnight?" Brennan says. "Gives the revel time to wind down without making our absences conspicuous. Gives us time to spread the word discreetly, too. Other things, yes, speaking of spreading the word. Conner is hustling-- or trying to hustle-- Celina out of the city, but they both need to be part of this too, by Trump if need be. Someone needs to hustle to find them before one or both leaves, if that's their plan."
Martin nods, once.
Brennan turns to Lilly and says, "Half the Knights were ready to move in the next day or two anyway, in two groups. Now it's almost all of them, in four groups. No set assignments for the other two, yet, just readying."
To Vere, "Take someone who doesn't have that problem, or borrow one. I don't have one of my own to give, or I'd hand it over now."
Back to Martin, "I'm going to go start spreading the word by finding Robin, unless there's something else urgent. She and I have something we need to talk about." Apparently the zombie doesn't count. He starts to leave, then turns back to address Lark in a less clipped and business-like tone, says, "It was nice to see you again, Lorelei," in that way all grown-ups have when they want to tease someone too young to remember them. "Sorry I can't stay."
"Nobody goes alone," Martin says. "Signy, you're with Brennan. Luck to you both."
Barring objections, Brennan will soon be off, trailing Tenacity if she hasn't decided to run far and fast at the thought of being Brennan's squire.
Martin pulls out his trump deck and shuffles out a card to Vere. "Call Merle, tell him what you need, get him to come. He has all the cards you'll need. Remember, nobody goes alone. Good luck, Vere, and you too, Lilly."
Vere accepts the card, frowning slightly. "You want Merlin to join Lilly and me, and the three of us to guard the steps to Tir together with the Rangers? And then trump you at midnight for a general conference?"
"Yeah, unless you have a better idea that involves not going alone." Martin asks.
Vere shakes his head, "Just confirming that I understood correctly." He turns to Lilly with a bow. "Shall we depart, then? I gave orders for the Rangers to meet at the stables. Unless you have some business that must be handled before we leave...?"
Continuing with giving directions, Martin adds, "Garrett, I'm going to ask you to go with Jerod. Jerod, don't let anybody have the zombie head. We're immune but everyone else is not. And Fletcher, that leaves you with me. Brij, it's been a delight as always, but I need you to get to Soren and that means Ashe and his merry band of troublemakers. Can you tell them the round and stinky has hit the rotating blades and Syd is in trouble? And stay safe after that, and away from Vialle."
"Avoid your father's wife, right. I think I can handle that," Brij says. "What about Lark?"
"I've got Lark," Martin says.
"And where do I tell her mother that you've gone?" Brij prompts.
Martin sighs. "The spring where Paige took people when we first got here. She'll remember."
Raven circles back through the crowd, this time looking for the other side of the family. Whatever's going on with the King, it's clearly not an all-hands emergency, so this is as good a time as any to actually talk with her surprise uncle.
Once she finds Victor, she'll greet him with a nod and a, "So I'm thinking we should actually talk, if you're free?"
Victor nods back. "As long as you aren't looking to dance. I'd hate to show up Prince Edan at his own festivities."
"Oh, and is this an 'at the bar over drinks' talk or 'find a convenient alley and try to inflict bodily harm' talk?"
Raven chuckles and shakes her head. "Had enough of the bodily harm today, so if you're not in the market for it, I sure ain't. Just figured we could use this whole 'being in the same place at the same time' thing to get to know each other a little. You know, since I didn't know you existed and all."
Victor ambles towards a bar, where he orders a sailor's drink for each of them. "What do you know about the family already?"
Raven snorts at that.
Silhouette walks by, moving with purpose and focus toward the bar. She catches Raven's eye and smiles with respect. "Captain," she says, bowing her head.
Victor smiles, and waits to be introduced or to be dismissed.
Raven likewise smiles, with a polite nod. "Silhouette. This is one of my cousins," she explains as she reaches for her drink. "And cousin, this is my uncle Victor. And I get the idea he's a friend of Robin's as well?"
Silhouette extends her hand to Victor, "Well met, sir. A friend of Robin's is a friend of mine. Have you encountered her this evening? She appears to be in good spirits."
She steps back, the smile remaining. "I am not one for such celebrations, but I must admit this evening has been most acceptable. Have you both enjoyed yourselves thus far?"
"Robin and I spoke earlier. She's in good spirits. She was anticipating the performance tonight with something akin to glee." He looks at Raven. "Robin and I go way back. Not 'Rebma' way back, but definitely way back."
Victor looks around. "Where is she? It's like all your cousins are disappearing."
Silhouette collects her drink from the server - a lilosa. "Last I saw her, she was with her beloved. They wished to speak with other family members, so are likely mingling." She glances back over her shoulder, "I am unsure what the remainder of evening requires of us. Do either of you know?"
"So far's I know, the general plan was 'party,'" Raven answers. "Might have something later for myself, but I think the next official thing is breakfast." She takes a look around of her own, with an eye towards those family faces she recognizes, as she adds, "I think Vere was headed for where the King gave his speech, but Robin wasn't with him."
"As far as I could tell that was a 'you are dismissed if and only if you want to be dismissed' kind of dismissal. The populace seems inclined to drink the king's drink and dance to his music, whereas all it makes me want to do is climb to the top of the upper falls and scan the horizon to see if the enemies are closing in by land as well as by sea.
"I'm an old pessimist, though, so that's to be expected."
"Pessimism is a wise stance in these days of doubt," Silhouette says, nodding.
Victor smiles. .It.s pleasant for me that it.s come back in vogue."
"Won't catch me saying that's a bad thing," Raven says, shaking her head. "Well, maybe wait until the sun's up to go climbing a waterfall unless it's life or death. What's the crowd from the sea say about it, Silhouette? Since you were over there with them and all."
"I fear I am catching up on current affairs, so I could not rightly say. I hope to speak with my Queen at greater length later this evening," Silhouette admits. "I've only just returned from Shadow, after conducting reconnaissance against our adversary. A slightly disheartening experience." She sighs faintly, "Our elders do not appear entirely concerned, however. Odd."
Victor purses his lips. "Any signs they're ensorcelled? I am a demon-hunter by profession, and demons dearly like to ensorcel royalty."
"What kinds of things would we be looking for?" Raven asks.
Silhouette raises a brow at Victor's question, determining whether or not he is serious. At Raven's follow-up, she gathers he is indeed sincere in his query.
"I do not know them enough to fairly judge their normal behavior," Silhouette says. "However, from my brief observations, I would say King Random's lack of verbosity this evening out of character. However, this may simply be explained as distraction from non-demonic sources."
She pauses and then speaks in a low tone, "My mother's animosity toward me does hold some concern. Even her siblings have suggested the vehemence with which she has behaved to be perplexing. Whether or not this stems from some supernatural source, I could not say. My experience with magic is more engineering based."
Victor nods. "Strange humors are a sign, usually tied with other signs. It can be hard to tell without an expert opinion. Sometimes the problem is that the Prince is eating paint chips off the walls, other times the problem is that demon is making the Prince eat paint chips off the walls.
"Everyone will be able to tell if there is demonic influence if the king kills his family and rules from atop a pile of skulls, if that wasn't in his character before. And sometimes it's not even a demon, just a run-of-the-mill sorcerer who has a grudge against the king, or his ancestors. Those are easy. They bleed blood."
Victor turns to Silhouette. "Tell me more about your mother, Lady."
Raven sips at her drink; for the moment, she has nothing to add.
Silhouette frowns faintly, "It has been some years since I knew her. She left us in my early years. However, before she returned, my family was murdered by slavers and myself sold into servitude. That said, she was a dutiful mother - even to my step-sisters. She loved my father very much and treated him as an equal, despite her obvious superiority to him. She tested me frequently, honing my skills and knowledge, yet always with patience and a gentle hand. Sometimes she appeared... haunted? But I suspect that stemmed from her past with the Family."
She glances over her shoulder, scanning the room before speaking. "I do not recognize the woman I've encountered here."
"A woman consumed by grief, losing her second child in short order, being suspicious of the first child, miraculously returned?" He looks at Silhouette. "I would think it a bitter effort to close off her emotions rather than a demonic possession. But I can run some tests. Can you get me some of her blood?"
Silhouette's benign expression remains perfectly unfazed. She breaths in, preparing to speak, only to state, "No."
"Getting the idea there's a lot of blood involved in your job," Raven comments dryly.
Victor thinks for a moment. "Not as much as you might think, at least not when it's going well. Lots of ichor, though."
Silhouette smiles at that, but only briefly. "You may wish to refrain from mentioning blood and the collection thereof amongst the Family. Our enemy has stolen the blood from a few of our members. As such, it is a touchy subject at the moment."
She thinks, "Although your advice on blood may be welcome and provide Enlightenment into our current troubles."
"Monks or dead people?" Raven asks, looking at Silhouette. "Not sure there's much blood involved in the walking dead."
"Monks," Silhouette replies. "They appear to have a keen fascination with our blood. And have kidnapped some of our cousins to that end."
She cocks her head, "The Dead. Do you refer to the Riders?"
Raven shakes her head. "Don't think so. This was more of a 'the dead are risen and walking around, might want to fetch an army,' kind of thing."
Silhouette's brow rises again, "Surely, you jest. Vrykolakas are something reserved for frightening children." She pauses, looking over at Victor. "Then again, if demonic entities exist in this world, perhaps the restless dead do as well."
A faint sigh, "The Family does collect its share of enemies."
"Starting to get that idea, aye," Raven says dryly. "Not sure what your 'vrykolakas' are, but I'd say these dead ain't so much restless as press-ganged. There's a mage that's raising them."
Victor nods. "That's not a bad case. You usually just have to fight your way to the mage and then the rest of them collapse.
"Generally. Most of the time. At least seven in ten times."
Silhouette smiles despite herself. "Reasonable odds to be sure. We might consider increasing them by employing long-ranged weapons, such as my rifles."
She finishes her drink, "Once I considered utilizing the dead as weapons platforms. Very efficient, low maintenance, and restockable by the virtue of battle. However, my arcane talents lay elsewhere." She looks to Raven, "Do you know how large this mage's army is? And what are his intentions, beyond conflict?"
"Didn't see it myself," Raven answers. "Could be small, but I'm not gonna bet on that. Even aside from whoever's been buried where she's at, I followed a bunch of bodies to Gateway when we finally made it there. Ain't all that far from the city where we started seeing them."
"This mage is a woman?" Silhouette asks. She sounds impressed, almost hopeful.
Victor nods. "It would be surprising if she were not. The famous gateway between worlds, the place where the civilizations of the seafloor meet the civilizations of the land, is a place where women lead. That's well-known. They say it is because men do not have the logical head for serious magic, being too prone to fighting."
Victor's eyes narrow. "Is that who I think it is, talking to the young prince and his lady?"
Sure enough, Martin, looking bedraggled, has stepped up to Garrett and Lilly.
"Well, I guess that's one thing off my plate," Raven comments. "Aye, the mage is a woman. Wouldn't expect to have a chat with her. The line of people who'd like to get rid of her for good ain't getting shorter, and some of that list is doing it to as part of Crown orders."
Silhouette cocks her head considering their words, "Do you mean Rebma? This mage... She would not be Moire, by chance? The Fallen Queen. I know she is magically-inclined, but didn't not know that extended to necromancy. That would explain the Family's reluctance to deal with her, though."
She follows Victor's gaze, squinting to make out the faces. "I know Martin only by name, but recognize Garrett. They are brothers, are they not?"
"Not Rebma," Raven clarifies. "Part of Gateway's under the waves. And this mage goes by the name Klaya and was ruling Gateway for a while with two others, so I'd lean towards it not being Queen Moire."
Silhouette nods lightly, "Thank you for this Enlightenment. I've not heard of Gateway."
Victor says, "Gateway has always had ambitions to be important. They'd like to replace Rebma as a trade hub for Amber instead of Rebma. They're well placed for it in some ways, but it's a long voyage by boat and it's not on any of the standard shadow paths of the double-dozen seas.
"On the other hand, it's where the sea and land come together to trade. If it were in a position to control trade either way, they would get rich like Amber was.
"I haven't been there since before the black road appeared, but I've never heard of this Klaya. Is she from the College of Magic?"
"Aye, believe so." Raven thinks for a moment. "There were three of them that took over in Gateway for a while, before Jerod, Brita, and I helped put the old folks back - this Klaya, Dexamene, and the one that ended up melted somewhere inside that tower... Kranto, that was it."
"And who have you placed in power? Can they maintain enough support to prevent Klaya from returning to power?" Silhouette says.
Victor doesn't have anything to add here. But he's watching the royal reunion in the middle of the square with half an eye...
"Well, when those that were in power before are nice enough to help you pull off a coup, it's hard to argue with putting them back," Raven says dryly. "And if she goes the way of the other two, I'm thinking her returning to power ain't going to be a problem, at least not for a while. Hard to do that if you're a coat rack or melted into rubble."
Victor seems surprised by some of these. "So, they took over from your friends, and you replace them and --melted them? Do you mean that literally? Are they made of metal?"
Intrigued, Silhouette nods along with Victor's question, waiting for Raven's explanation.
Raven snorts in amusement and shakes her head. "Nah, she ain't made of metal that I saw. She was on fire when somebody on our side tossed a big ball of something at the tower where she was. Melted's as good a guess as anything else, because I'm pretty sure they ain't going to be able to pick enough of her out of the rock to tell."
Silhouette smiles, "Well then, at least that issue is resolved. For the moment, anyway. That which is dead rarely remains so, in my recent experience."
Victor frowns. "There are a lot of people and things I've killed that I hope stay dead. 'Vengeance from Beyond the Grave' stories rarely work out well for the living."
"Gonna have to agree," Raven says. "I'd prefer to have seen the last of more than a few, just while we were lost." She reaches for her drink. "Let's talk about something that ain't going to be beat to death tomorrow, if that doesn't bother either of you?"
Silhouette fills her drink and smiles softly, "Indeed." The smile broadens, "So, tell me of yourself, Captain. What distant shores have you seen? And do they call to you still?"
Raven snorts in amusement. "More than I expected, and if a shore's calling you, either you've had too much to drink or you need to get away from it in a hurry before whatever's there has you for lunch. I was actually hoping I could talk Victor out of some family history, since Ma hasn't shared much of it. Ain't sure it's going to be interesting to anybody but me, though."
"Surely your cousin would find that boring. We can speak of it another time," Victor says, adding, "Is something happening with the young Princes? All of the elders and military men are watching them."
"Not in the slightest," Silhouette says. "I am ever seeking Enlightenment regarding the Family." She chuckles, adding, "Which is why I am forever amused by the verbal gymnastics our Elders employ to avoid discussing it."
She follows his gaze, "I'd not heard, but I wonder if they've made progress against our adversary. A solidified plan, as it were."
"Or there's been an attack of some kind," Raven suggests, looking the same direction. "Can't say I feel like I know any of them well enough yet to tell a busy walk from a 'don't panic anybody' walk. Either of you want to take a guess?"
"Ossian and I had captured one of their kin. From the brief interaction, I gathered she was known to the Family, somehow. Perhaps, they've learned something from her?" Silhouette ventures. "We could simply inquire under the guise of making small-talk."
She glances over at Victor, "Perhaps you've like to introduce us, sir? Being our elder, it would seem proper."
Raven frowns. "Other side of the family, Silhoutte," she says. "He's mine and Max's uncle, not yours. Ain't going to try to speak to who he might or might not know, but I at least kind of know Jerod, so he doesn't have to introduce us to anyone. Just not sure I know what Jerod's 'don't panic anyone' looks like, considering the things he and I have been up to."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "I fear I only know his Disapproving Look, which is why I'll follow your lead when speaking to him."
The music from the band suddenly gets cheerful and celebratory. If it had a look, it would be Don't Panic Anyone.
The band certainly gets a (wry) look from Raven. "Well, that answers that." She turns to Victor. "We really do need to talk, but maybe some time when things ain't on fire..."
Whatever the response there, she turns to Silhouette next and gestures to the cluster of cousins. "Let's go make that group bigger, aye?"
Victor demurs. "You go on. I'll make sure Scarlett is protected."
Silhouette bows her head to Victor, "I do hope we may speak of blood-magick and demons soon. I believe the conversation would be most Enlightening. Be thee well, uncle."
She extends her arm to Raven, "I am yours, Captain."
Victor bows and heads to find his other nephew.
Raven takes Silhouette's arm - maybe not the most graceful at it, but it's possible the captain hasn't had much practice. "Right. Let's find out what this's about."
And with that, she'll set them off towards the group of cousins.
Conner emerges from the Mayor's house and sweeps the crowd looking for his quarry: his queen and his Princess. Spotting Celina first near the dance floor, Conner moves purposely through the crowd towards her. His smile is fixed in place. He replies to any that hail him with courtesy but swift regret that he must move on. His manner might fool the general party goer but to Celina, Conner's body language is screaming that something is wrong.
Celina sees that change is in the currents as Conner approaches. She does two things: nods to the guards and archivists at the review stand, putting them on higher watch, then she feigns being winded and wipes her hand along her neck and shoulders as if tired. She is pleasantly surprised to be rescued by Conner from further dance. "Oh, yes. Your timing is excellent," she offers when Conner arrives.
Conner offers Celina his arm to escort her to a place to sit. As they walk, Conner leans in close to whisper. "We need to withdraw from here and talk. Preferably somewhere we can ward against being watched and overheard. Probably best to avoid the Palace for the nonce."
Celina walks more easily at Conner's side, leaning only slightly on him. "Why don't we commandeer one of these houses off the plaza. At chance, it will not be a place any would notice." Celina whispers, "Family or something else?"
"Family with a capital F." Conner replies. "With a possible Rebman connection and a threat to your Royal person thrown into the bargain." Conner follows Celina's lead to select a house to commandeer. She is the visiting monarch after all.
Celina eyes the nearby homes and selects one that appears to have some wealth and privilege of location on the plaza. She'll accept it may be large enough to have many ears inside. She moves with Conner to it and knocks on the door, opening and entering as she does.
"May I ask for a cool pitcher of water?" she says as she looks around.
Houses along the square are for the first and richest migrants to Xanadu. The residents are having a small gathering themselves, and invite the royals in. Their bows are practiced and Conner and Celina are sure they spend time at court regularly.
A girl runs to the kitchen to fetch some water.
Celina gives Conner a look of serendipity, and follows the girl to the kitchen. Looking around once there, she notes easy exit, views of the circulation of the house, and no one present who will presume to socialize for a few moments. When the girl turns around with the water, Celina is right there smiling. "I could use a chair. I need to sit a few moments." Celina speaks to the others present, "And I need to loosen my (nonexistent) corset. May the Knight and I be alone for a moment? Thank you all."
Once the kitchen empties out and their anti-eavesdropping counter measures are in place, Conner smiles thinly and shakes his head. "Loosen your corset? Is it not enough that one court thinks I'm bedding you?" Conner chuckles but it trails off quickly.
Conner sighs and comes closer to Celina to speak near her ear. "Before I tell you the news Uncle Bleys has shared, I must first ask a question. Did you have any idea that King Random and Queen Vialle had visited Rebma in the last few days?"
Celina immediately looks worried, "No, and I just came from there. I expect I would have heard such a thing." She bites her lip, now waiting for more bad news.
"I thought not. We must check with Llewella." Conner murmurs and sighs. "Bleys summoned most of the Redheaded cousins to the Mayor's residence. The short version of the story is that my mother accompanied Queen Vialle on a trip to Rebma as a safeguard for Vialle. While there, my mother studied the reflections of the Royals and determined that King Random has been enchanted. More disturbing is that the enchantment was laid upon him such that his attunement to the Jewel holds the spell in place and works against its removal." Conner pauses to let that sink in. "The enchantment causes him to be listless and uninterested unless he is near Vialle or speaking about Vialle or their unborn child."
Celina's worried expression passes into something more primal for a second, then settles to a simmering intensity. "That is bad news on several fronts and at many levels." Celina reaches suddenly and puts a hand on the hilt of the Sword of Rebma, she immediately senses it is real and relaxes again.
Celina whispers, "Ah, it is you. Good. Conner you know these people better than I do, and you accept this story. However, if a conspiracy against the King were already this successful, why would it not advance the additional step? Why should I believe word passed thru Bleys from Fiona? Why would Vialle's safeguard not be compromised immediately? In all the Family, Fiona's expertise is most regarded for this kind of magical complexity, so isn't it likely she is also enchanted by now?"
"There are few beings in existence that could ensorcel my Mother." Conner asserts. "Admittedly that is cold comfort as that short list overlaps perfectly with the beings that hold both power and knowledge enough to enchant a King through the protections of Pattern and Jewel."
Celina gives him a sad nod.
Conner moves off a bit from Celina. "However you need not take only their word. Folly was there and reported that Soren told her about the strange apathy of Random when away from Vialle. Most disturbing of all was Vere's report. He ascended the stairs to Tir with Edan holding his Trump. Vere met a shade there that revealed herself as Cambina." Conner takes a deep breath to steady himself. "Cambina claimed that Vialle led her through Tir to its Pattern chamber and successfully walked it. Cambina was frozen in place, able only to watch, by the Queen of Air and Darkness. She held Cambina there until dawn and you know how that ended."
Conner sighs. "Folly's conjecture is that the Queen of Air and Darkness is trying to be reborn as Vialle's child and Bleys further opines that the purpose of the family meeting is to have us swear fealty to the babe."
Celina measures by eye and keeps the distance Conner has chosen, but she moves a bit in a Mobius wave within a pace, side to side. Her words are as cold as her expression now, "So in summary, Vialle is complicit in treason against the King, in murder of a dear Family member, and in kidnapping the future ruler of Xanadu, with some intent to be first among the Court of Air?"
"Or Vialle has been ensnared and enchanted in a similar manner by the Queen of Air and Darkness." Conner replies. "You may remember Vialle's abduction and rescue from the shadows around Tir. It is our conjecture that Vialle was taken first in order to be used as a sorcerous tool to prepare the ground for what has happened to Random now." Conner shrugs. "Either way, she is not to be trusted now."
"And what are the next steps as proposed by Bleys, speaking for Fiona," Celina asks. "Tomorrow morning, one assumes, we are drawn to conference."
"It is suggested that you have received an urgent message from Rebma and leave tonight to deal with problems in your realm." Conner replies. "This gives you a plausible reason not to swear fealty to the child and protects you from whatever enchantments are upon the monarchs. Your link to Rebma will shield you in your own Realm but here you may be vulnerable. More to the point whatever happened to the King happened in watery realms if not in Rebma proper and the only way to investigate those linked so tightly to Pattern realms is in their reflections." Conner replies. "Since you seem to mistrust what I have told you, returning to Rebma seems the best way to seek your own truths."
Celina considers and stills herself. "I want you to know I am not questioning your truths. And I can understand why you answer in a limited fashion if the senior members of the Court are asking me to leave---- for my safety. Is it wise that I'll not know what moves are happening here? But I want to be clear about my concern, which first falls on you, Conner, as my man and friend. Vialle is taken away to some realm and influenced. Then Cambina is taken to another realm and killed. Then Random is taken to someplace and enchanted. And then Fiona is taken to some watery realm, which is could be Rebma, and comes back with dire news. I am pointing out a pattern that calls my dread. No one should be going anywhere alone."
Celina adds, "Of course I shall trust you in this and return to Rebma. And Llewella shall hear and have a chance to comment. Are Trumps still reliable?"
"I have not heard otherwise." Conner replies. "I find myself torn between my duty to keep you safe until you reach Rebma and my duty to remain and be your eyes and ears. What would you have me do, my Queen?"
Celina summons a smile, "You follow your passion, Conner. That is what will make Rebma stronger. Find out what's going on. Save two realms if you can. Slay Vialle if you have to. I'll look after myself. I shall try to get you a sign when I am back in Rebma. I think you have just given me the urgent message which calls me away."
"I am less concerned about slaying the Queen and more concerned keeping myself safe from that which possesses her." Conner drops his hand to Halosydne's hilt. "I would have my bond to Halosydne would be shield enough and now we have an enchantment working in the heart of a Pattern realm on its own sovereign. How do I defend against that?"
Celina takes the question at face value, she considers, "The Stain in Arden, the Dragon there, seemed to have access to Family despite them being in the heart of the bosom of Pattern. So it is a valid question. However, Rebma is a different Pattern. This invasive Royal Spectre has made some inroad into Xanadu, but not Rebma as far as we know. And Halosydne is an old warrior. You may be the only person who has a chance. I suggest asking Halosydne for a blessing."
Conner looks thoughtful at her turn of phrase. "I know others plan to shield themselves with Sorcery due to the difficulties of manipulating Pattern so close to a Pattern. But I concur with your reasoning. In any event, my sorceries focus on the energies of the physical world. I have some ideas but nothing seems quite appropriate to guard the psyche." Conner slowly draws the Paxblade and lays it on the kitchen table. "It is said that all you need to wield this sword is the blessing of the Queen. Let's see if that is true about tapping its power to protect its Knight. Will you aid me in this?"
"I can do no less and considerably more," Celina answers. She moves to place her palms on the quiet blade, leaning into it as she would a dependable friend. Her hands are widely set, near pommel and blade tip, allowing Conner the middle blade, thus she surrounds and encompasses his ownership of the weapon.
[pending Conner places his hands]
"Halosydne, hear my blessing on Conner, Warden of the Nedra Reaches, and
Defender of the Sapphire Throne,
May his sight always be True,
May his enemies always be Late,
May his Necessity always be First,
May he honor and cherish the Privileges you Bestow."
Celina bends down and lightly kisses the Blade between Conner's hands.
The music from the band suddenly gets cheerful and celebratory.
"Thank you, my Queen." Conner says solemnly. Conner sheathes Halosydne and sighs. "I'll be in touch as soon as I can. I hope you can find truth within reflections. I think we'll need all we can find."
Celina throws her arms around him impulsive and thankful. She hugs him hard for a moment, as only an amberite may. "Thank you, Conner. Travel with all boldness."
Conner returns the hug warmly and he kisses her on the cheek. "I shall. Long live the Queen."
Word comes that Corvis is on her way, and some time after that, the lady herself arrives. It's clear that the reason she had remained in the castle and not gone to see the men dance is that her health would not permit; while she's not in a wheelchair, she has one of the girl-pages at her elbow to help her walk.
Hannah, when she has the focus to speak, wants to make sure Corvis is comfortable and has water and gets fed. Hannah seems quite happy to have someone to worry about beside herself. She does suggest that, "My lady should consider having a two seat wheeled-chair made so you can travel with him."
"I'm past watching the young men dance in that kind of ceremony," Corvis says with a smile. "That's for young women like you and Avis. If we really need to see one dancing, we can call them to the castle."
"So long as you're not missing it, my dear," Hannah grins. "Edan is gifted and I didn't get to see him dance. Maybe we'll make him re-create it for us. I'm sure it's artistry."
Also during this time, there are visitors: women of the Xanadhavian household with small gifts for Hannah and the child that is soon to be born. Most are new-made but some carry the signs of use and love. It's clear that the customs of many lands are being observed in this new castle, where Hannah will be the first to give birth.
Hannah has hospitality gifts for these visitors too, and has Solange help when Hannah can't speak. She's giving out simple bracelets of soft leather cord, strung with blue chalcendony agate. A tiny silver horse dangles from the clasp. There isn't anything magical about them, but they were made as part of her ritualistic practice, with intent, direction and purpose on her part, by hand.
Solange is pleased to help Hannah when she needs it in addition to making sure Hannah drinks a lot of water.
Robin stays quiet during most of the female socialization time. And is noticeably a little awkward around Corvis. She helps Solange with the hydration and is immediately available for any lifting, hauling or steadying that needs to be done. Otherwise, she keeps out of the way.
And if things are going on too long - maybe Brita would be interested in a game of S'yang Stones?
Once it becomes clear that Hannah has gifts to give, some of the women, mostly the pregnant ones, also ask for her blessing as medicine giver.
Whenever anyone asks, Hannah makes the offer to pray with anyone in the room who'd like to, as soon as her next contraction passes.
She encourages them to take hands in a circle, and she prays.
"Sun, Moon, Stars, all you that move in the heavens, hear us!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, that they may reach the brow of the first hill!
"Winds, Clouds, Rain, Mist, all you that move in the air, hear us!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, that they may reach the brow of the second hill!
"Hills, Valleys, Rivers, Lakes, Trees, Grasses, all you of the earth, hear
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, that they may reach the brow of the third hill!
"Birds, great and small, that fly in the air,
Animals, great and small, that dwell in the forest,
Insects that creep among the grasses and burrow in the ground, hear us!
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, that they may reach the brow of the fourth hill!
"All you of the heavens, all you of the air, all you of the earth, hear
Into your midst has come a new life.
Make the path smooth, then shall they travel beyond the four hills!"
(Omaha Children's Song to celebrate a birth.)
Corvis doesn't know this song to start with, but she familiarizes herself with it and helps to sing and to bless the petitioners at Hannah's direction. It.s clear that she is used to working with other priestesses even if the details of her tradition are different.
Hannah then, while she still can, reminds them that hand washing kills disease, teaches them a washing song, and talks about care women need after birth. When she can't talk long enough to get it all in, she motions to Paige to teach them recipes that promote healing and ease some recovery pains.
Paige is full of old wives tales but tries to offer the ones that she can justify with some evidence, not just antecdotes.
When her body pushes into full intensity, she lets Robin block the door, and crying, tells Corvis once again that, "I miss my mothers. I am so grateful to have you here."
Corvis walks with Hannah and holds her, dabbing her brow with cool water. "I will be your mother and stand for them on the day, as I have done for so many others."
Robin trades a nod with Brita before returning to his sister's side. After one more quick check to make sure everything is where Paige wants it to be, Robin takes up her position to help the midwife.
Paige smiles and lays a thankful hand on Robin's arm. When the time comes, she is calm and precise with direction and request. It's apparent that Paige has seen her share of births and despite Hannah's practices it's not much different than others.
Hannah gives birth.
As Paige and Robin are dealing with the afterbirth and setting the crying child on Hannah's body, Kyril's cousin Allie appears in the doorway. "Queen Vialle is here and wants to visit you, Hannah."
Corvis's hand pauses in her work of putting a cool compress to Hannah's brow, and every servingwoman who has come to assist Hannah and receive blessings looks to Hannah and Corvis.
Robin growls under her breath and visibly mantles. With her eye on the door, Robin's hands drift toward sword and Trump.
Hannah's intense focus is on the child, so it is only when Robin moves does Hannah looks up. Her brow wrinkles at Robin's behavior, but it's Robin, so she looks back to the baby.
"Of course. I just need 10 minutes, we're in the thick of it right now. Brita, can you get the Queen some tea? Her timing is very good, actually."
Brita glances at Robin with a slight nod of acknowledgment. She moves out the door to intercept the Queen with some tea and conversation. "Your Majesty. Cousin Hannah needs Time to Clean Up and Greet her Newborn Child. Would you Like some Tea while you Wait? How are You Doing?" Brita can Do Court Polite.
Vialle is waiting in the outer room with Ember, her assistant. Ember looks mildly frightened, though Vialle appears to be her normal self.
"I'll send for the tea," Allie says, since that's something she knows how to do and there's clearly a bunch of stuff she doesn't know about going on.
Meanwhile, in the birthing chamber, Corvis has taken charge, calmly. "Robin, please take charge of the door. No one may enter or leave that way. Solange, please put the gifts in this chest--" she indicates a large one that sits at the foot of the bed where Hannah now rests-- "and when you are done, please close it and spread a blanket so we can sit on it. Paige, please keep attending to Hannah."
Robin nods her gratitude for Corvis' understanding to the former Lady of Danu. But knowing that the formidable Brita is on the job, Robin takes a moment to rest her hand on the head of the baby as she kisses her spent sister on the head.
As she does so, she calls upon her Family Heritage, tunes herself to the syncopated beat that is Xanadu, and makes a quick check that everything is alright with mother and child.
Corvis turns to the half-dozen or so women in the room who are not family. They're all clearly nervous. "Ladies, please leave through the service passages. We will arrange it so no one knows who was here." That evokes relief in the women, who gather up and move toward the exit that servants use.
Hannah watches all this in silence. She's managed to get the baby feeding, so she looks back up as everyone is leaving. She catches up with what Corvis has been saying and her brow wrinkles again. "Did we break a protocol? Vialle won't mind, I don't think we need to fuss." Her move to pull out her long-destroyed bun and attempt, with one hand, to rake her sweat-soaked hair into submission suggests she doesn't exactly feel that's true. She's also glancing about the room with some relief that it's not the mess she expected. Lots of ladies have cleared away everything she's crushed and whatever other marks of childbirth were there. She has been really focused... for some time. "It's not morning, is it?" she asks.
"No, just about midnight," Paige answers smiling at how well the beautiful new life latched on and obviously pleased with the child's nursing. She sets about taking care of Hannah's hair, drawing it back in a lover's knot for now. "I'll wait until we've settled with Vialle before calling my brother."
"Powering up," Robin says -- a little belatedly -- as she makes her way to the door. Time to warn the sorcerers, the divine and the scientists that shit is going to be working the Ordered Way for a while. With each step Robin calls on the Pattern, the lightning in her blood, the music in soul, matching her footsteps to Xanadu's rhythm until by the time she reaches the door, she is (hopefully) able to affect some small but nasty probabilities in this oh-so-Real Realm.
"I'm not you or your Father, but I'm not unskilled, cuz. Mom and baby are doing fine if you need me." The redheaded midwife comments, remembering having helped cast the Dragon from Amber once, what seems years ago.
Robin nods that she's heard but her mind is on other things.
"Does that mean I've staunched enough to get up? I'm starving," Hannah asks. "And I don't want Vialle to have to be assaulted by her sense of smell."
"Should I get candles to hide the scent, or should we strip the bed and remove the sheets?" Solange is clearly ready to be put to work beyond hiding gifts. She just doesn't know what she needs to be doing to help and looks to Paige for direction.
While they're talking, Corvis finishes hustling the women of the castle out of the servants' doorway and into the back corridors of the castle.
Hannah sighs. "Nope. Here Solange, take him. Let me try to stand. Worse thing that happens is my parts fall out. Paige will catch them," she teases. "But really, I'd like to go out to the sitting room if I can. It will be easier to eat and to see the Queen and the men in my life and I want to swaddle him and put him in his cradleboard and make sure it's right." There is clearly a longer list in Hannah's head but she ends with, "I need to rinse us off and put on my fancier dress."
When Robin reaches the door, a couple of things (hopefully) happen. One, if it's not already, Robin closes the door firmly - not slamming it, mind you, just definitively shutting it. Two, the door suffers an unfortunate failure due to hurried workmanship and recent overuse and the latching mechanism wedges solidly in place. Three, Robin's firelizards drape themselves around her in full 'on-guard' mode, their eyes whirling quickly.
Robin sighs and looks back at Hannah, "I... could tell you some polite social lie, sister. Badly." She admits. "Or I could pretend to have an accident that I'm too agile to ever have. But instead, I'm just going to tell you. I have reason to believe that the Queen might be a threat to your child at this time. If I'm wrong - I'll endure my exile gracefully." She shares a grim smile with her sister. "But for right now, nothing comes or goes through this door." She finishes echoing Corvis' words.
Hannah looks at Robin as if she's gone mad, and then looks at Corvis, whose behavior makes more sense now, in that it is also mad. She shakes her head and reaches back to Solange for the baby. "You might want to secure the back door from... Vialle, then, but I think we could take her." Hannah says dryly. "Paige, I'm getting up, please catch me if needed. Oh, Solange, please grab the umbilical cord for me. I have an amulet it needs to go in." She's not kidding, but her eyes do sparkle, because for some reason it's fun to make her sister uncomfortable.
Paige follows her cousin to ensure she's ambulating with a steady gait, a hair closer when she's holding her new nephew.
Solange makes a face but she starts to do as Hannah has asked.
"Hannah," Corvis says, "I know it sounds foolish, but the women of the household are afraid of Vialle now for a reason. Something has happened to her, and we don't know what it is. Most of the time, she's still herself, but sometimes she is ... not. And when she is not, she can be cruel, and we don't trust what that means for those who have no power. You could stand against her, but could your son?
"And it's not just her. There's something wrong with the King as well. Frankly, for all that he's my husband's well beloved brother, I wouldn't think a newborn infant safe with him, either. When he's apart from her, it's as if he's under a geas of some sort to return to her. Without life and spirit and music, which is so wrong for him.
"Perhaps we're overreacting, but keeping an unprotected infant safe is my first priority, and I think Robin's as well."
Robin smiles a little grimly as she nods. She'd far rather be thought mad (been there, done that, has the scars) and be wrong than be too timid and be right.
Hannah seems to find is easier to believe Corvis isn't over-reacting to something. She shifts the baby to her other arm, holding him close. She reaches over to slip open the drawer of the nightstand, taking out two knives. She just sits back down by them, at the edge of the bed, for now. "Hurting a newborn isn't cruel, it's vicious. It is also suicide, in this instance. If Random is influenced somehow, then the land is as well. Whatever protections aren't provided by the sigil could be weakened or collapsed. When exactly did you first notice these symptoms? And what have your ladies been telling you that she's done? Has anyone gotten Ember alone?"
Paige busies herself with tidying the other implements, thinking it will be harder to procure ice for Hannah's swelling with doors locked. She's obviously listening closely.
Robin shakes her head as she fluffs a little. That would require hanging around the palace and talking to people and stuff, totally someone else's track.
"I've tried to get hold of Ember privately but she's almost always with Vialle now that the Queen is with child. But she seems upset or worried to me, and I don't know what Vialle has said or done to her behind closed doors.
"Vialle has been behaving strangely since she was rescued. Some of it was nightmares she was having, and I know your kinswoman Fiona was helping her with that. But she's become angry and volatile, and I'm told that wasn't her nature before, or during the Regency." Here Corvis looks to Paige, Robin, and Solange for confirmation. "The women fear her. I don't know if she's struck any of them, but she says harsh words, makes threats. If she has a hold over Random, a magical one, there's no stopping her.
"Everyone has noticed that Random has become--less vital, less himself, of late. It's hard to say exactly when, but it's finally become noticeable to those of us who have been here, never mind those who have come from abroad. And yes, you're right, the land is threatened by whatever is happening to Random. And Vialle. Fiona is working on that, as the best-qualified. This is beyond my magics, but I promise you, Hannah, I will protect your son with my life."
Meanwhile Solange has collected the umbilical cord in a white handkerchief and has it ready for Hannah.
She takes the handkerchief from Solange, and lays it gently down on the bed. As she reaches into the drawer for the amulet, she says, "My lady, I... the sentiment is appreciated but honestly, if, uh, Vialle can go through Brita, Robin, Solange, Paige and I, I'd rather you surrender and survive. So... is our plan now just to sit in here and leave poor Brita out there to hold up Vialle until she gets mad enough to do something?"
"Well, there is always the option of us going to my brother rather than he to us here," Paige offers now that her hands seem finally clean. She draws a packet wrapped in green silk from her jacket and taps them against her palm. "If Trump travel didn't harm him in utero, I can't think it should in your arms.
"When asked we can explain that he couldn't wait to see his son, so we sent you two on," she suggests.
"Or you could go out the back way like the servants did, if you're physically up to it," Solange reminds Hannah.
"But what I want to do is confront her and see what she does. What can she do with this many people here but lie and play nice? I just... we're talking around what the problem must be. How about I send the baby off with you, Corvis, and Solange can go along to help. Then he's out of sight for a bit, and Robin, Paige and I can poke at Vialle and see what we can get at." She looks at her sisters and her midwife. She seems to think she has the energy to do this, and also, that it'd be fun.
Robin's expression cannot contain how very, very bad an idea she thinks that is. And this from her. But what she comes up with is, "Can't. Door's busted. Nothing in or out."
"Robin, that's not going to hold forever," Solange says. She turns back to Hannah. "It's a terrible idea, Hannah, but if you're going to insist, I'll do it. But Corvis has to be the one to bring the baby." It's clear she's not taking chances with her father's wife.
Hannah looks between her sisters, and then fiddles with wrapping up the umbilical cord, one-handed. "Fine, let us evacuate. What about Brita?"
Robin snorts but does NOT say out loud -- she'll probably get kidnapped to somewhere interesting and meet all sorts of neat people while I escort the civilians out... bleah.
Paige extends her arms to take her nephew for the moment and free Hannah's hands. "One of us can always Trump her out," she suggests while trying to see Edan in the pudgy face.
Hannah hands over the baby, and if Paige didn't know better, she'd say she's pouting. She lays a handkerchief over her hand, twists the cord into a spiral, and her put-out expression passes as she whispers in Omaha and focuses on what she's about. It only takes a minute, but she looks more satisfied.She wraps the cloth around it and sets it on the table, followed by her knife, her medicine bag, and then turns in a circle. "Y'all have cleaned up neatly, but everything with my or the baby's DNA on it has to be burned. It's ritual. Robin, you can handle that while I change, yes? Just say some cleansing words, and watch you don't break the fireplace," Hannah says dryly, glancing to the door and back to Robin a few times.
Robin grins. Breaking things is one of her specialties. Second only to drowning them. But she's good with fire too. And while her type of cleansing may be more "scorched earth" than Hannah is probably thinking about, Robin figures she can manage some pleasant words and a small fire, and still keep an eye on the door.
"Maybe by the time I'm dressed and clean I'll be in the right mood to talk about all the things I should've been told before we came to the castle, because I would have been just fine having this baby in the woods." She pulls off her birthing gown and tosses it at Robin's head.
Robin catches the gown easily, keeping it off of and out of the way of the firelizards. "I'd've preferred the woods too. I'm much more used to trees and boats and wild animals than potentially possessed queens. But," she shrugs one shoulder, "I didn't know until just a little while ago."
"If Fiona had been with her, as we expected, it would not have been a concern, certainly not for you, Hannah, or the child. But I don't know where she is, and that also worries me for her," Corvis explains. "Had your labor waited until after the gathering, I would have taken you to a place I know of that would be safe and protected. But the timing was as the Gods will it, and not as I would have wished."
Solange says, "I just got here tonight so I didn't know either. Is Dad safe from whatever's going on?"
"I hope so," Corvis answers.
Paige smiles at her finger currently trapped by a nephew's pudgy hand. She obviously hasn't noticed the gentle sway in her hips that began when she cradled him in her arms.
"Perhaps I've been too focused on drilling my Rangers, but this is new to me as well," the Warden admits. "Not seeing the trees for the forest or the like."
From her dressing room, Hannah calls, "You know, my pattern-walk... our mother..." She falls silent. She comes out in a white elk-skin dress with bands of sky blue and bright purple seed beads at the shoulders, neckline, and waist. Under the arms and below the neckline white leather fringe falls in layers to the next set of beads, and then again beneath that, to the floor. She's got matching boots, which becomes obvious when she sits again and starts tucking knives and wrapped cords and the purple feathers back into them. She's brushed her hair out and it's long and loose. She doesn't look half bad for a woman who just gave birth, though she is a bit pale.
"Paige, will you swaddle him and improvise me a carrier?" she asks.
The midwife nods returns to the bed, the baby in her right arm, and fixes the blankets to suitably wrap the infant. As to carrier, once the little djinn is bundled, she selects a fresh top sheet from the spare linens on the sideboard and folds it to make a long narrow length that she then wraps like a tabbard tying it at her shoulder loosely. Obviously it would need be cinched tighter on the new mother's frame, but it would suit as a sling that would keep the boy secure and leave her hands free if not the papoose that the Ponca might prefer.
Meanwhile, Robin has left Chirrup and Ooot by the door, while she and Peep use their excellent noses to suss out any 'biologicial material' that may have escaped the prior cleaning. And with the blue lightning of the Pattern burning through her veins, she's pretty sure she hasn't missed anything.
By the time Hannah has returned from her dressing room, Robin has a nice roaring fire going in the (unbroken) fireplace. She is carefully burning everything while whispering & ...honking? quietly to the fire. If what she is whispering is barely audible enough to be recognizably not a human language - at least she is being sincere about it. (Parasaurolophus cleansing chants via the mammalian throat is tricky, but Robin figures those monks knew what they were about.)
Hannah turns to Corvis, "My lady, is the safe place at a spring in the woods?"
"It is," Corvis says, clearly not surprised that Hannah knows where she's talking about. "It's a sacred place, and clean. I believe they would have said in Amber of old that it belongs to the Unicorn."
Hannah nods. "That might have been nice, but it might have scared me. I had a vision that my... I think, my mother, but it could have been grandmother Rilga..." Her eyes drift over to Paige and the baby. "I... she was very pregnant, and nesting, but the stone building on the mountain by the sea was the wrong place for the child to be born and...there was a woman, used to riding a horse, perhaps a soldier. She didn't like I was going to have my daughter in the forest but it was politics, I think. She said, 'A daughter of yours who was not antagonistic to our sisters in the woods might help seal the old breach. I had not known you desired it.' I have been guessing, since, that I was my mother, and Robin was like to be the baby. I was going to the spring in the grove that he showed me. Maybe 'he' was Julian? I don't know." She shrugs. "No, wait. That was Rilga, because I knew it was a daughter, and I didn't think he needed more sons, whatever he thought. The father, I mean. Did Oberon marry Rilga to get an army suited for fighting the 'sisters in the woods'?" She asks the room in general, apparently not conscious of the tears running down her face.
Robin has been listening very closely, her head cocked. When Hannah finishes, she clears her throat.
"Ummm, yes. Probably Rilga and me. I'm not antagonistic to our Sisters in the Woods but I didn't seal the old breach. Instead I drowned the wall." She shrugs, though it's clear that it bothers her.
"But I don't think The King cared enough to worry about them and armies." There's a tone in Robin's voice that makes it clear she's talking about Oberon, not any of his successors.
Solange adds, "And if he did care about anything in Arcadia, it was mostly about the boy twins." Not that she's bitter about that or anything.
Hannah reaches back to Paige for the baby, having tucked everything away. "We should go, if it's really not safe. We can talk about all this later."
Robin nods as she settles herself for traveling. "Paige, you take front? I'll take rearguard?"
Corvis is following all this as best she can but she's clearly missing enough of the story that she doesn't understand half of what Hannah has to say. She pats Hannah's hand occasionally during her speech, but otherwise preoccupies herself as best she can with preparing for departure. When the group is ready, Solange moves to assist her.
"Paige, are you going to trump Edan?" Hannah asks.
Before Paige can answer, there's a rap on the door in Cadence. Robin recognizes it as "ware the door."
"Right." Robin nods firmly. "Go now. Call Edan on the way."
She then turns back to the door curses loudly (and as crudely as she can). The ranger jiggles the latch more firmly into its jammed position. The jiggles though are in Cadence for "Retreating. Grove of Unicorn. Rendezvous soon?"
"Sorry, Cousin." Robin calls. "I think the door is fucked up. We'll come round." ( Robin is intentionally being as rude and rustic as she can, knowing that it makes Vialle... uncomfortable.)
Vialle smiles at Brita once she hears her voice. "I am well. I hoped to see Hannah and her child. Is it a boy or a girl?"
Brita gets an amazingly dumfounded look on her face. "You Know, I Forgot to Ask." She shakes her head in amazement and smiles at Vialle, "It was Healthy, Regardless, and Not Aflame." Brita smiles a Conner Bright Polite Court Smile.
"Goodness. I wasn't aware aflame was an option. I've brought a gift for the child and for Hannah as well."
Ember steps up and offers a bundle that's obviously a hand-embroidered gown, or perhaps a blanket, for the baby. It's not white, exactly, but undyed and soft.
Allie returns and bows to Brita and Vialle both. She makes a little cough before she starts speaking and says, "Tea for three will be here in a moment, Your Majesty, Princess Brita, Miss Ember."
Ember says, "Thank you."
Brita gives Allie thanks as well and then replies to the Queen, "Cousin Edan is the Father, and His Shadow heritage Could have Come Into Play. This is Lovely," she says as she gently fingers the material. "Very Soft and of a Good Weight to be Warm but not Too Warm for a babe. Did You Embroider it, Your Majesty? The Work is Exquisite."
There's a thump-crunching kind of noise from the other side of the door. Allie looks at it, looks at Ember, and looks at Brita for guidance.
Vialle has to have heard it, but she ignores it. "Thank you, Brita. Yes, I did most of the work, with some help from Ember when I needed actual sight, and to help keep me from pricking my fingers. I hope the child will enjoy it. It won't be as cold here as it was in Amber, but a child could still have something warm to wrap up in."
Brita also ignores the noises. She waves the group towards the chairs. "Let us Sit as we Wait for the tea And for Cousin Hannah to get Cleaned Up." She moves close to the queen, although she doesn't touch her, and takes a deep breath. "Birthing Seems Very Tiring, even for those Not Directly Involved. All I did was Stand and Watch and I Feel Wrung Out."
Allie goes back outside to resume her guard position and pulls the door shut behind her.
Ember says, "I've been present at births before, but I suppose it's different for the royal family. Or maybe not." She looks at Vialle, as if waiting for the Queen to say something.
Which Vialle does. "Was it terrible, then? I know Random means to tell you all in the morning, but it won't hurt if you already know. I'm with child and soon enough I'll be in Hannah's position."
To Brita Vialle smells mostly like herself, with a hint of royal family smell, now. Which makes sense if she's pregnant with a royal child.
"Congratulations, Your Majesty! May Your Child be a Clear Spring of Purity, a Life Spring of Health, and a Well Spring of Fortitude." Brita's tones sound like the formal blessing of a prayer. She continues, "The Birth was Better than Most I have Seen. Cousin Hannah has a Calmness and Strength that are Rare in Shadows. I am Certain You will Also have that Strength to bring Your Child into Reality."
"Your blessing is gracious, thank you, Brita." And her smile is genuine, if a bit unfocused in that Vialle way. "I expect the rituals will be different, though, for Hannah's kin. I am used to the ways of Rebma and giving birth above the waters is not what I thought of for my life, even when I thought of being wedded and having children at all.
"I'm glad it went well for her."
Brita cocks her head to the side "Would it Help if we Emulate a Watery Birth for You Here? I do Not Believe That would be Difficult." She is listening for the tea to arrive.
"I think it might help," Vialle says, "especially if I had you standing by, Brita. I forget sometimes that water on the surface is different to the water in Rebma, until it reminds me."
And on that note there's another knock, which Ember rises and answers at some subtle signal from Vialle, and the tea is brought in. Tea Rebma-style, with the salt that Vialle so enjoys, and small Rebman delights.
Allie is pretty sure she doesn't quite know what this is from the look on her face. It's food, it arrived in response to her request, and whatever she's used to, this isn't it. And she sure hopes it was what she asked for and nobody is in trouble.
Vialle has clearly caught the scent of her favorite. "Ah," she says, "the tea has arrived. Brita, will you pour?"
"Certainly, Your Majesty. Do you Require any Additions to your Tea?" Brita asks as she begins to pour out the tea. She will offer cups to all and then notes, "I see they sent Urchin Cakes and Salmon Roe Tarts. Would you Like One as Well, Your Majesty? Allie? Ember?" Brita offers the plates around, pointing to a small spikey half dome and then giving a thumbs up to Allie to note they are good. "These are Sweet and Very Good," she notes. "I had some when I was in Mirror Rebma with My Brother."
Allie visibly relaxes and forces a smile, shaking her head in the negative because she's not sure how you eat some of this stuff. But she's clearly grateful to Brita for including her.
Ember makes sure Vialle is served properly first and takes a couple of small items for herself after Brita and Vialle have been given first choice. Vialle takes her tea the way Brita remembers her taking it from her years in the Regency.
"Thank you, Brita; thank you, Ember; thank you, Allie." Vialle has caught the name and pronunciation from Brita but Brita intuits she hasn't really dealt much with Allie yet and isn't sure where she fits into this situation. "I should have asked for enough for Hannah and her ladies. Do you know who was attending on her, or how many? We can send to the kitchens for something for all of them."
Brita thinks for a second - "There were Many who Came Through, Women of the Court, Sisters of Cousin Hannah, Lady Corvis,...Four where Left when You Arrived, I Believe, Assisting in the Cleaning."
"Ember, Allie, could you send to the kitchens for something for Hannah and the women tending on her? Half a dozen, I think, with the King's appetite," Vialle suggests. Ember rises to assist Allie in making the request, which is a good thing because the comment about the King's appetite makes no sense to Allie.
"Could you knock and see whether Lady Hannah is ready to receive us?" she adds to Brita as the other two women leave.
"Certainly, Your Majesty," Brita says as she stands and moves to the door to give a light double tap [cadence for 'ware the entrance']. She waits a few seconds and then taps again a little louder. "They do Not Appear to be Hearing Me," she says as she goes to try the handle. "Perhaps they are Distracted by the New Baby."
Loud crude cursing emanates from behind the door along with a jiggles of the latch right before Brita clasps it.
"Sorry, Cousin." Robin calls. "I think the door is fucked up. We'll come round." (Robin is intentionally being as rude and rustic as she can, knowing that it makes Vialle... uncomfortable.)
Brita grasps and rattles the handle as well, slaps a hand on the door and jerks back on it a couple of times. She sighs and then says, "Understood, Cousin Robin." She turns back towards the Queen. "There have been Problems with the Door all evening, Your Majesty. Several Visitors had to use the Servants Stair or Leave by There. It is a Long Way and may take them Some Time to Return Here. Would you Like more Tea?" Brita moves back to the chairs.
"Don't you guys have something like WD-60 here?" Allie asks, confused.
Ember shakes her head in the negative, looking at Allie. "I don't know what that is." Brita reads her expression as a little panicked.
"I wouldn't want to put Hannah out if she's still exhausted from the birth by asking her to come to me. I'll send someone to have the door repaired and return to visit her later. Brita, can you give Hannah her baby-gift?" Vialle asks. She's not ready to finish her tea just yet, but she clearly understands her desire has been frustrated for now.
"Certainly, Your Majesty," Brita is projecting calm at Ember. Everything is Fine. "Cousin Hannah Seemed to Come Through the Birthing Better than Most. She was Very Concerned about Assisting and Teaching All who were Able to Visit. I am Certain, she will Wish to Assist You as well." She sits and takes another sip of tea.
"You are so kind, Brita. I'm glad you're here to help both of us." Vialle smiles at her.
Ember says hesitantly, "We could stay and wait for the door to be repaired, or I could," to Vialle.
"I wouldn't want to trouble you so," Vialle says, and to Brita she seems completely sincere. "But I could ask one of the pages to help me find my way back to Random and Fiona."
"I could Help Your Majesty," Brita notes. "I would Like to Speak with My Mother. Where Is She and King-Uncle Random?"
"He wasn't feeling well, so I think he's in our quarters, and Fiona was looking after him. Would you like to walk up with me?" Vialle asks.
"Certainly, Your Majesty," Brita says as she sets aside her now empty tea cup. "I am Sorry to Hear Uncle-King Random is Not Well. That Must Explain the Short Welcome for Cousin Edan's Order."
"Yes, but your mother will have him feeling better soon, I have no doubt," Vialle says. She finishes her own tea and sets it aside. "I am ready to go up whenever you wish."
Brita is ready to leave. She will do whatever is typical (take Vialle's hand to place on her arm?) and head towards the Royal suite tout suite!
Vialle doesn't need to take Brita's arm, though she might out of the same spirit of friendliness that anyone else would. Without a cane, though, she depends on Brita's assistance to avoid any obstacles that there might be en route to their destination. The servants know well enough to get out of the way of Vialle, whether from fear or courtesy, but if, for instance, there were a loose rug or something like that, Vialle would need Brita to tell her.
Once Edan has Folly's Trump of Paige in hand, he gives her the same salute he just gave Bleys. "Right, then," he says, and concentrates on the image of his sister. "Paige? It's Edan and Folly. Are you at the castle?"
After a long moment he frowns and turns towards Folly. "No answer. You know, she never did forgive me for that bird I sent that bled all over her tea party."
"Well, you know, some people are sensitive about that sort of thing," Folly says with an almost-straight face as she takes back her card.
She holds up her little finger and tilts her head like she's listening for something. Then, "Horses. This way...." she gestures, and begins to lead the way, but asks, "Is that magnificent beast of yours stabled with the others? Something tells me he'll be the quickest non-magical way back up the hill. Unless Ash has somehow built a motorbike."
She tilts her head again, like now she's trying to suss out the location of the nearest motorbike.
"I am egotistical enough to think the stable hands wanted to wait for the dance. Yes, Aramsham should be here, and still saddled."
Folly nods. "If he's willing to take two -- and you're willing -- let's try that, then."
Edan smiles at that. "Aramsham is strong and tireless. He will carry us both. Then he will think up some deviltry to make me pay for it."
"Then I shall try to be extra-nice to him so he thinks he's getting a good deal," Folly says. She pats at her pockets with a thoughtful frown. "I'd offer him an apple, but I'm afraid all I've got are little cheese-flavored crisps shaped like dolphins and surfboards."
Edan can tell Folly is anxious to get to the castle as quickly as possible -- she is a buzzing bundle of tension -- but even so, on their way up the hill she says, "I suppose congratulations are in order? I would gladly offer piles of parenting advice, if you wanted, but it turns out I'm sort of making everything up as I go."
"Thank you," Edan says. "I have siblings but know nothing of raising children. Every question I come up with, though, Hannah already has an answer."
Folly chuckles. "I get a little of that from Martin, who had rather more direct childrearing experience than I did, before Lark. Sometimes, especially early on, it was quite helpful and comforting. Other times...."
She hesitates, thinking, and when she speaks again Edan can hear the wistful smile in her voice: "I know some cultures think that mothers always know best in matters of child-rearing, but don't forget you get to have opinions and input, too. You and Hannah are both sensible people and will sort out the family dynamic that works best for you. Just... don't go into it thinking you always have to be the one that steps back. I mean... I wouldn't be who I am without my papa. And I know the same is true for Lark."
"I will have my input," Edan says. "I figure that the afrit blood will be strong, because of me. So might Sorcery. Each of those things are very dangerous, untamed. Or untrained, I guess that is a better word."
"Ah. Yes. I can see how that might be an issue," Folly replies. "Perhaps for safety's sake your fire-baby should hang out with my water-baby. Not that her own gifts manifest in quite that way -- so far they are more mental than physical -- but if she's teaching him to surf there will be fewer chances for accidentally burning down the castle, you know?"
After a moment's thought, she asks, "Are you looking forward to it?"
Edan pauses a moment before answering. "I am. I am also worried. This new Order is not for show. I will be riding off to war." Another, slighter pause. "Most often at the King's behest."
"We can at least hope those calls are few and far between," Folly says, then adds grimly, "Although the way things are going, that first call is likely to be soon, even if it also turns out to be rare."
They are now far enough up the hill that they are far from the crowd of party-goers. Once she is confident they are unlikely to be overheard by anyone else, she asks, "What's your plan, once you get back to the castle and get your thing?"
Folly gets a sideways look and a sideways smile to go with it. "I find out where it points," he says. "And perhaps, welcome a new child along the way."
The castle is both empty and busy. Most people are down at the event in town, but the few that are here are quite busy indeed.
Edan says, "I will have to be there tomorrow. I do not as yet see how I would refuse any edict he makes. After all, I have just declared my service to the crown. My timing is...unfortunate." He looks up and to the side. "The compass, it is in my rooms. Are you coming too?"
"Family wing is my first stop," Folly says, "unless I can feel that the king is somewhere else. Finding him is my priority, but I'm curious to see this compass, and where it's pointing."
Edan nods. "It is not far," he says. "Up this way," and he leads them up towards his rooms by the fastest path he knows.
It isn't far. Edan leads Folly in. Somehow the room is 5 degrees hotter than the rest of the castle. Edan quickly locates his pendant.
"Here we are," Edan says, and holds it up. "Father and I raided a Moonrider camp, and I found this on the way out. Unfortunately, we were witness that day to the Gheneshi reuniting with their Queen. We were in a hurry to get out."
Folly blinks. "Reuniting... where? Like, physically? You saw her? And not just as a disembodied Floaty Woman?"
Edan nods. "Well... who knows if she had some avatar or illusion present. I would think the entrance wouldn't have looked so powerful, though. I didn't hang around to get more than a peripheral glimpse. We weren't there to fight, just spy and disrupt." He hefts the pendant. "And steal."
Folly nods in a "filing that away for later" sort of way. "Depending on how this goes" -- Folly gestures broadly to indicate not just their present experiment but the whole situation -- "I may have more questions for you and Bleys later. But before you run off to follow that thing, I wanna check something -- it's not far. I, ah, I mentioned that Lark and I had felt something... amiss... when we first got here? It's not far."
If he's willing, she leads the way to the spot, keeping an eye on Edan along the way to see if he or the pendant seem to detect any changes, while also feeling for any differences herself.
The dangling pendant is moving between two points. And doesn't seem inclined to come to rest.
Edan does come along, curious, dividing his attention between the pendant and looking around with his Third Eye. (passive senses to the max, after a short time of wondering what Folly might have sensed).
Folly curses a little under her breath when she sees the motion of the pendant. As they approach the spot, she holds up one finger and lets it drift, compass-like, in the direction her intuition tells her the king is most likely to be -- that's her planned next stop anyway. Then she takes a glance to see if that matches either of the directions the pendant seems to want to go.
Edan follows along, but he says, "Just to be clear-under no circumstances do I want the King or Queen to see this bauble. It is not yet time for that kind of encounter."
Folly nods once, abruptly. "Understood."
The pendant seems to be pointing to a lower room, and an upper window [Vialle and the Stairs to Tir].
If he were himself, he'd be in his studio with Soren or at the party. If he wasn't, he'd be with Vialle. [OOC: neither. Vialle left him in their rooms, to waddle off and deal with the birthing thing.]
Folly closes her eyes and takes a deep breath to orient herself, then opens her eyes again and looks at Edan. "Stairs," she says, indicating that upper window, and makes a gesture like ascending stairs and then taking off into the air. Then she indicates the other direction the pendant points, holds up her fingers in a "V" shape, as if she's concerned about being overheard, and arches an eyebrow questioningly. "Not sure, but that's where I think I'd look for her right now," she says. "But instead I'm gonna...." She gestures farther down the hall, toward the door to the royal quarters.
Edan clearly doesn't have the same command of the castle layout. "Where would Hannah and Paige have gone?"
Folly cocks her head like she's listening and then makes a face. "That's less obvious, but I think... maybe also down." She points again to almost exactly the same spot where she indicated Vialle. "But I'll bet any of the domestic staff in that part of the castle will know exactly. The women, anyway."
"Very well," Edan says. "Do you have need of me, cousin? I will not leave you if you are aiming to encounter... trouble. Otherwise, I want to see my child."
"Oh, I definitely understand," Folly says. She looks at Edan, then in the direction of the royal suite, then back at Edan. "But maybe---"
Edan feels the tug and urgentness that indicates that someone is trying to reach his mind via a trump.
"--just for a second, you could--"
Edan holds up a hand to stall Folly as he skids to a stop. "Who calls?" he asks.
Folly stands still and alert, watching closely.
Hannah jounces the baby in his carrier quickly to make sure it will hold on its own, then motions for Solange and Corvis to start down the stairs before she follows.
A rattle of the handle followed by a palm bang on the door as the door is jerked (gently) a couple of times, 'Delayed.' sounding in the ears of Robin and Paige. "Understood, Cousin Robin," Brita's voice trails away as she turns back towards the room. Robin might catch 'Problems', 'Door', 'Majesty', and 'Long Way' in Brita's formal speech.
"Right, let us get some distance before invoking the Art," Paige agrees as she follows Hannah, the hesitation giving her a chance to begin shuffling to Edan's card.
The group proceeds slowly through the servants' hallways, with the limiting factor being Corvis's speed rather than Hannah's. After that becomes apparent, she tells the others to go ahead, that she'll make her own way to the kitchen and let the servants help her.
They do see some other servants in the hallways, but when they see Hannah and the baby, they stand aside and let her pass in the tight hallways.
Hannah offers quiet thanks and soft, grateful touches on arms as they pass. She's feeling close to the castle staff tonight, especially now realizing how much work they must be having to put into not angering Vialle; how afraid they must be. It makes her mad and protective.
Now that Hannah has asked Paige to trump Edan, she's anxious to see him. Nervously so. As soon as they can step out of the servants' way, she's looking at Paige impatiently.
Paige can take a hint and concentrates on her brother's Trump, willing his features to life, his clothes to reshape as she had seen him earlier in the evening.
Robin, Peep, Chirrup and Ooot are taking their job as rearguard seriously. But not so seriously as to unsettle the staff.
All three are keeping all their senses peeled.
Hannah leans to Solange and asks her if she'll please stay and make sure Corvis makes it back alright.
Solange nods and goes to catch up with Corvis. She'll catch up with them later.
There is a response to Paige's trump. Edan is in the castle, holding up a hand to stall Folly as he skids to a stop from a run. "Who calls?"
"Of course you're in the Castle," the Warden shakes her head. "Are you close to the stables? Hannah and your son would be taking their leave if you can help."
Paige looks to Hannah, extending her free hand and inviting her into the contact.
"It's Paige," Edan says to Folly, and he moves back to bring the latter into the picture. "We are close to the King, I think, not near the stables. Folly, Hannah wants to come through, and..." he pauses. "Son?"
Hannah reaches for Paige's hand. "I don't think riding in a carriage right now would be any more enjoyable than riding a horse. I'd rather walk."
Hannah takes Paige's hand and immediately is scouting the background of Edan's location with her eyes. Her hair is loose and drying. She's in a white elk-skin dress with bands of sky blue and bright purple seed beads at the shoulders, neckline, and waist. Under the arms and below the neckline white leather fringe falls in layers, some of the pieces bunched on top of the cross-wrapped white sheet holding the swaddled baby tight to her chest. His dark, scrunched profile stands out against all the white. Hannah's free hand is curved under the baby. She is far more emotional than normal and isn't stopping it leaking through. She's relieved to see Edan, happy, proud, impatient, frustrated, nervous, angry and anxious. And hungry, very hungry.
Edan reaches out and, unless there is objection, brings Hannah through. Still touching both Paige and Hannah, wishing he had more time to express his joy and amazement, he says, "If you are all moving, I guess you know we have to get out of here. I may have to return to cleanse the birthing room with sage and fire. Things are... bad." He looks over. "Folly? I don't think I heard all your sentence. Do you need this trinket? Would you be safe? What can I do for you before I get them out?"
Paige looks back to Corvis, Robin and Solange asking, "What are your plans? Would you follow and accompany Hannah, or will it be easier for smaller groups to make it to the spring without being tracked?"
Corvis and Solange have already left the group. Solange is taking Corvis back to Gerard's chambers.
"Staying with Hannah," Robin confirms as she sends a quick 'all claws on Mom' message to her firelizards. Holding out her hand to Paige, she adds "Could you ask Edan to have Kayuta stand down for a moment, please?"
Hannah also doesn't let go of Edan's hand. She glances over at Folly and makes a tilting, 'come-hither' motion with her head. Then she looks back at the contact. "Why are we going there? Someone is going to tell me everything they know about what in les boules de dieu is happening." Her grip on Edan's hand may indicate it's going to be him.
Stuff is happening outside the field of view of the contact, and Hannah is reacting and speaking to someone else. Without letting Edan go she's slowly moving him along somewhere.
Paige answers, "I thought we decided that was the rally point back in the birthing suite. Either way, Robin and her clutch are coming with and politely request Kayuta stand down."
She waits a moment for the sorcerer to acquiesce before taking Robin's hand.
Edan nods, then mentally directs his affine not to start anything when the dragonet come through.
"Of course you're in the Castle," the Warden shakes her head. "Are you close to the stables? Hannah and your son would be taking their leave if you can help."
Paige looks to Hannah, extending her free hand and inviting her into the contact.
"It's Paige," Edan says to Folly, and he moves back to bring the latter into the picture. "We are close to the King, I think, not near the stables. Folly, Hannah wants to come through, and..." he pauses. "Son?"
Folly looks up and down the hallway and listens for a moment. "It should be safe for now," she says, "if Vialle is down where they came from." Consciously or unconsciously, under the guise of keeping watch, she is inching back away from Edan and his trump conversation, and toward the Royal Suite.
Hannah takes Paige's hand and immediately is scouting the background of Edan's location with her eyes. Her hair is loose and drying. She's in a white elk-skin dress with bands of sky blue and bright purple seed beads at the shoulders, neckline, and waist. Under the arms and below the neckline white leather fringe falls in layers, some of the pieces bunched on top of the cross-wrapped** white sheet holding the swaddled baby tight to her chest. His dark, scrunched profile stands out against all the white. Hannah's free hand is curved under the baby. She is far more emotional than normal and isn't stopping it leaking through. She's relieved to see Edan, happy, proud, impatient, frustrated, nervous, angry and anxious. And hungry, very hungry.
Edan reaches out and, unless there is objection, brings Hannah through. Still touching both Paige and Hannah, wishing he had more time to express his joy and amazement, he says, "If you are all moving, I guess you know we have to get out of here. I may have to return to cleanse the birthing room with sage and fire. Things are... bad." He looks over. "Folly? I don't think I heard all your sentence. Do you need this trinket? Would you be safe? What can I do for you before I get them out?"
Hannah doesn't let go of Edan's hand either. She glances over at Folly and makes a tilting, 'come-hither' motion with her head. Then she looks back at the contact. "Why are we going there? Someone is going to tell me everything they know about what in les boules de dieu is happening." Her grip on Edan's hand may indicate it's going to be him.
To Edan, Folly says, "You should hold onto the thing, for safekeeping and to keep an eye on how it's changing... but I think she's moving." And indeed, her left arm, index finger extended, is stuck straight out and slowly rising, like a compass needle pointing Due Evil. She looks more and more stricken the closer it gets to level.
To Hannah, she says, "We think the Queen of Tir is using Vialle's pregnancy to re-corporealize. She's influencing those around her, too, and Pattern is no defense, because---"
She makes a face like she's been punched in the gut, mutters a couple of choice curses, and blurts out, "I'm sorry, I have to---" She gestures down the hall, and then takes off running, calling back over her shoulder, "Be safe!"
Hannah's expression moves from sudden understanding to worry, watching Folly leave. She's completely distracted from the call now, which she seems to be treating as background noise.
A young blonde woman in the uniform of a Ruby page rounds a corner in the castle corridor. "Sir Edan," she says, because he's pretty notable. "Ma'am," because she doesn't know Hannah on sight. "I'm looking for Lady Robin, with a message."
Hannah smiles over to the page. "He's in a call. Follow me please. He may be able to help us with that." Gently pulling Edan along behind her, she tries the nearest doorknob.
Edan talks to the air. "Whoever would like to come, come ahead. Folly just left, in a little distress but her own choice. I intend to strike out towards the stables."
Tenacity (for it is she) follows Edan and Hannah.
Robin steps through the Trump.
The Ranger nods to Edan and noticing the lack of territorial companions, she launches her own territorial companions back into their overwatch positions. She also smiles and nods to the retreating Folly.
"Right then, Grove?"
Hannah takes a breath and twists the doorknob. "Just a second," she insists. "Robin, the young lady has a message for you."
Edan nods agreement, then looks at the door Hannah is trying, ready with action or apology, as needed.
"Edan, don't leave Paige there alone, please. And if I'm going to ride I may need her yet," Hannah says, releasing him now that Robin is here.
While Edan and Hannah are resolving their business (and Paige is coming through) Tenacity turns to Robin and says, "Sir Brennan has a message for you; he needs to speak with you. He said it in the square below, but I think I saw him riding up to the castle with Lady Signy. I can find him for you, or with you, if you will."
Robin smiles at the page. "Thank you kindly. Will you please tell Sir Brennan that I have kept the secret though there is independent confirmation from the ladies of the Castle? And that my sister has delivered a son, which significantly reduces the risk in my opinion, but we are still proceeding to the Grove of the Unicorn with all alacrity in the company of Edan and Paige. And that if he is desperate, he can probably get ahold of me through one of them?"
Cause Robin's got her priorities, but that's not Tenacity's fault, so she adds, "If he can catch us before we leave, I'll talk."
"Maybe Paige has his trump," Hannah offers, looking about the room.
Paige takes stock if her surroundings as she puts Edan's card back in her deck and wrinkles her nose, considering for a moment.
A shake of her head indicates she's without contact for Brennan, "Although I could scamper off to the booth or try a sketch, both eating time you two, or three, don't have." Her eyes are suggesting her brother should have his love and his life moving already.
Edan nods and turns to Hannah. "What are we doing?" He asks. "Finding a private space? Is there something needs done with yourself or the baby?"
"Well, the first thing was to get out of sight. The second thing is food. I will be much more cooperative after I have gotten food. I don't even care what. Third," she looks at Paige and Robin, "can't we hide Edan and I somewhere and sisters just trump us and pull us through when you get to the grove? I would really like to let him have a piece of time with his son that isn't mad scrambling. I really do not want to experience jarring transport right now."
"I hear you, Hannah." Robin says sympathetically. "But I am not leaving your side until we reach the Grove." She smiles to her baby sister, who is so much more mature than herself. "I'm also confident enough in Edan's expert horsemanship that were you and the wee one to ride in his arms, there would be no jarring." She grins to papa. "And I can manage food on the way. But as long as there is a risk to you and the babe -- sorry, mad scramble it is." Robin finishes with a rueful shrug.
Hannah makes what is clearly a rude gesture at her sister. "We should kill two birds with one stone then and try to join with Brennan. It doesn't get much better for protection than you two, Edan and Brennan, yes? Does Solange know we're going to the grove?"
The page says, "I'll relay the message that you're going to the Grove to Sir Brennan, ladies, Sirs." And she's off to find Brennan.
"She does," Robin nods. And returns the rude gestures with fondness.
"Thank you," Robin acknowledges.
"Right then," she says turning back to Hannah. "Shall we see if the ever impressive Aramsham is up for an adventure in babycarrying?" Robin is smiling. She is also holding out an arm in a firm after-you gesture towards the stables. In addition, she's going to use some body language, firelizards and, if necessary, crowding to get the whole passel (Hannah, baby, Paige and Edan) moving. Verde! Lizards are soooo much easier.
"I'm sure Arasham is up for anything. This is just..." Hannah rolls her eyes heavenward and takes a deep breath. She breathes it out. "Fine." She gestures for Edan to lead the way.
Edan had produced a few almonds and what looked like some dried cranberries out of a pocket. He looked like he was about to do something...sorcerous with it, but changes his mind. "Fine," he says. "To the stables. If we don't find food on the way, I've got it handled."
Hannah looks at this offering and bites down on her bottom lip as she takes it from him. "Thank you," she says quietly to Edan. "I'm getting rather cranky." She pops it all into her mouth and looks mildly relieved.
Robin grins at Edan's back as he and Hannah move forward. Yep, she feels like that a lot. And if he says he's got it handled, he's got it handled. But the Ranger does raise one eyebrow to the intrepid Ooot. How's he feeling about a flying raid on the kitchen?
Ooot spreads his wings. Mighty Hunter! He will be back immediately with raw meat.
Edan reaches out to touch the baby's face. "My son," he says, in a voice filled with wonder.
He turns his head, then, to look at his affine. "Time to head back to the Order," he says. "Pass the word- let them sleep off the night's festivities, but then it is right back in the saddle. Two thirds ride out to the army in the forest, one third here. Just as planned. We must move the schedule up a few days, that's all. I will be out there soon as I can, but the training should start soon as they arrive."
Assuming there is a nearby window for Kyauta's egress, Edan then leads the group towards the stables as quick as they can all move.
Robin grins as Ooot catches up with his bounty. Mighty Hunter, indeed! New momma will dine well tonight... once they've arrived and Robin can get a fire going.
Hannah takes a moment to greet the Prince of Horses and introduce the baby to Aramsham. "I have brought you a child to teach how to be a proper Shóge íthaethéma. I will teach him to honor you and you will teach him when he doesn't."
Edan looks unhappy at the dearth of available horses, but is relieved when he finds their individual mounts have been spared from emergent use.
It appears everyone has a mount, but as they search he says, "I can create a warhorse- like Aramsham- if needed. Sorcerously."
Robin nods as she takes in the information. Between herself, Paige and Eden, the folk who can 'do things' had better to take care of not stepping... speaking of which, "Uh, Eden? I'm pretty lit up with the Family Heritage. Please warn me if you need to get all sorcerous."
Seeing there isn.t a need to do any magic, Edan merely shakes his head. "Your abilities and right arm are good enough for me."
She ticks her tongue as she checks Misae's tack one more time. What is it with her siblings and red-headed sorcerers? Ah well, at least Solange and Jove have some sense.
Hannah cooperates with riding with Edan, though not without some good natured complaining about not having rode double since she was a girl.
Just as good-naturedly, Edan grins and says, "Well, there was that one time. That's how we got here."
"Ha!" Hannah says and slaps his chest. "You're not a horse, you're a cat. I know, I've heard you purr," she says more quietly.
Edan doesn't lose his smile. "I remember other noises, too," he says.
Robin smiles as the happy family bonds. She and her winged horde will keep watch. With that in mind, Robin sends a hand sign to the Warden of Broceliande to take the lead, while she and the firelizards manage rearguard and overwatch. Robin does take the time to remind the intrepid airborne ones that Kayuta is on the 'pass' list.
Brita and Vialle make their way back to the royal suite, which is not presently guarded. That seems unusual to Brita, as there should be pages there to help deliver messages even if there is no armed guard present. The door is closed.
Brita says softly, "No One is Here. Perhaps the King has Left," although she will rap gently on the door and listen for a response.
Well before she arrives at the Royal Suite, Folly knows she is already too late. With each step, she mutters under her breath, barely audible even to herself: "I'm sorry, Syd. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. F***. F***. F***."
She's approaching the last turn when she... hears? Senses? ...footsteps and voices ahead. She stops. Listens. Hears Brita's voice.
She stops a few yards short of the corner, out of view of whomever is in the hall outside the suite, and calls out, "Brita?" Calm, casual, friendly: she masters her voice, even if her face, damp with hot tears, would surely betray her.
Vialle turns at once on hearing the voice. "Folly?" she says.
At almost the same time, Brita says, "I am Here, Cousin Folly. With Her Majesty Vialle."
"Oh, good," Folly replies cheerfully. She wipes at her cheeks with the heel of her hand, then steps around the corner. "A page said I might find you headed this way. I just ran into Edan, and he's trying to figure out where Hannah is. Do you know? We thought you'd come back up here with her, Brita." She pulls a small pad of paper out of her pocket and flips it to a blank page, perhaps to jot down directions.
"The door to Hannah's chamber is broken," Vialle says. "Ember and Allie, Kyril's cousin, are trying to open it. Brita was kind enough to walk me back to our suite. Is something wrong, Folly? How can I help you?" To both Brita and Folly, the question seems perfectly sincere.
"Well..." Folly responds slowly, like she's trying to piece some things together, "we were under the impression she'd set up a birthing room somewhere besides her own quarters, but neither of us actually knew where it was supposed to be...?" She looks intently at Brita.
"It was Not," Brita agrees to the first part of Folly's statement. "It was in the Exit Stage Left Wing, but None are There now. Her Majesty and I were Waiting on those Attending to Clean Up Before seeing Cousin Hannah and the New Babe when the door Broke. Cousin Robin said they Would go Around the Servant's Way and Meet Later."
Brita waves a hand at the Royal Suite door. "None appear Here now Either. I would Not want to Leave Her Majesty Alone and Unattended."
Folly has been nodding and scribbling something in her notebook as Brita speaks. "Is this the room you're talking about?" she asks as she hands the pad to Brita.
In urgent scrawl, it says:
Vialle &/or pregnancy possessed by QoAaD ^^^ Affecting others @ her -- def King, maybe yr mom? DONT GO ALONE
Brita raises an eyebrow but nods, "Yes, That Is the Path."
Vialle's expression, to those who can see her, is confused and concerned. She can tell there's something really wrong but not what it is. Her blind face isn't made--has never been made--to successfully hide her emotions. "There should be someone here to attend on Random and Fiona. Why aren't the guards here?"
Folly looks at Brita, then looks at Vialle, and asks, "Do you have the key?" Without waiting for an answer, she tries the door to see if it's unlocked.
The door opens at her touch. It sticks a bit, as if the humidity has made it swell, but it is no match for Folly's efforts.
"Random?" calls Vialle.
"Yes, my dear?" responds the King. He stands. "What's wrong? Where are your ladies?"
Fiona also stands. She looks at Brita and Folly, and has a worried expression on her face.
"I went to visit Hannah in her birthing-room, but the door broke. Brita brought me back here and we ran into Folly."
"Hello, Folly," Random says, almost as if he's seeing her for the first time. Or perhaps almost as if he's seeing Vere for the first time. He's warm, but not familiar.
"Brita," says Fiona, "do you think you could go to my quarters and fetch my magnifying loupe? I seem to have forgotten it." She turns to Brita and draws a rectangle with her fingers, and mimes lifting it towards her face.
Brita raises another eyebrow at Folly and says, "Certainly, Mother. There are No Pages about, Are There? Where is It in Your Room?"
Fiona smiles brightly. "Oh, I think it's on my worktable. Or in the cabinet beside it. Just pop in and have a look, would you, dear?" She makes the card gesture and nods her head towards the door again. "It will help me examine the King."
Vialle looks up. "I'm sure his majesty must be tired, with all the guests and excitement and travel today. Are you sure you don't want to let him rest and continue your investigations later?"
Fiona raises her eyebrows. "No, your majesty, this spell is powerful, but slow. I need to observe the King for some time to get a diagnosis. Brita will be a help to me and won't disturb you or the King."
Random, uncharacteristically, doesn't say anything. He just looks from speaker to speaker.
"Why don't I help you look?" Folly offers brightly to Brita. "Four eyes are better than two, regardless of what the boys at my school used to say" -- she flashes a lopsided grin at Random, more as an excuse to scrutinize his demeanor than because she particularly expects a response -- "so we can help that much quicker." She turns her smile on Fiona, and gives her a little nod; she's got far less of a baseline for comparison there, but she's alert for any additional clues.
Then she turns back to Brita. "Shall we?"
Random is still looking pretty blank.
"I shall retire to my chamber, then," says Vialle. "I shall be fine with the Princess Fiona outside, but please do send Ember to me."
"Certainly, Your Majesty, as Soon as I See her," Brita replies reflexively as she nods to her Mother and leads Folly out of the suite.
Celina heads out from the kitchen to the main house entry, giving Conner some cover to exit the kitchen door and be less of a target.
She tarries a bit with the owners of the house, inviting them to come visit her in Rebma for dinner and opera.
Then with thank yous for the nice water and rest, she's out into the plaza, signalling for guards and scanning around, counting noses of her party, including Huon and Silhouette. Time to leave while the dancing and music are still loud.
The biggest cluster of family she sees is around Martin, near the entrance to the square. Others come and go from his party. He's got his daughter in his arms. Silhouette is heading that way, while Huon is on the dias, talking to Paige's friend Alain.
Celina moves directly to Huon and Alain. She stops close enough to them that she interrupts their chat just by arriving.
"I have news that must take me away to Rebma," Celina offers to both. "Regrets tendered all around. Huon, how long has Martin been here?"
Alain nods. "We haven't heard the details, but it seems unsurprising. The Prince has been in the square since just after Lord Vere asked me to summon the Rangers. He went to see Martin when he saw the Prince had arrived, likely to confirm his orders."
"Yes," adds Huon. "It was... subtle. He's returning, slightly more subtlety."
Celina notices that the Rangers are now mostly at the back of the Dais, and don't seem to be talking to anyone except each other.
Celina nods at Huon. She gestures her guard captain closer. It's not subtle, she's in full court gravitas. "The Rebman court is departing ... now! You stay long enough to make sure there are no stragglers and if anyone tries to intercept us... double quick back to me with the possible count and armaments so we are ready." Celina does her own nose count, and comes up short Silhouette, who she saw elsewhere in the crowd. It makes no sense to linger... over a dress maker.
Celina smiles to the Archivists, "Ladies, once we are beyond those immediate houses, we'll be jogging to our carriages and doubletime to the Faiella Bionin. Please do not lag behind. I'm sure you don't want me to carry you."
There is shocked comment but they seem to be lining up to depart forthwith. Huon grabs a bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses, 'for the road'.
Celina tells the Second of the Guard to move out. She'll trail the group with Huon to make sure no one dawdles. "Oh, Captain, if the lady dress maker breaks away from her admirers, see her back to our company. Thank you."
Once they are moving along, she'll share with Huon quietly, "Family in crisis. We are suggested to reflect elsewhere."
"I serve at the pleasure of the Queen," he replied. "Is your kinswoman joining us?"
Celina almost but not quite stops dead, but she turns it into a direction change that swings her body and head about looking around the square. "Pearls. She was supposed to ...." Celina sighs. She shakes her head at how far Conner's news has pushed her mind off other business.
A soft growl whispers deep in her throat, but she holds further comment until they meet beyond the plaza at the carriages. "I need your help, Huon." Celina gathers the guards and Archivists at the transportation, making another nose count to see that all are present. Celina sees that everyone is packed up, then puts her head together with Huon. "Can you make sure my people get back to Rebma? I have to collect Valeria, now instead of later."
"I serve at the pleasure of the Queen," he says with a bow. "My Lady, the fastest way out of a port city is by sea. If you will allow it, we will sail to Le Harve and then up the Seine to Paris.
Celina nods, "Yes. But please keep in mind that I don't want to lose my Archivists or fall cross purpose with my Father in Paris. That means best not be too public if you are slipping back to Rebma through Paris. He is here and not there, of course."
"We shall cooperate fully with his Vice-roys. The passage to Rebma is outside of Paris, so we shan't be formally entering the city. I expect no delays."
Brennan and Signy depart the ostentatious cluster of Royals hovering around Martin, and Tenacity is swept along in their wake.
Brennan turns to Tenacity and says, "If you're interested in that Squire position, here's your first job: Go find my cousin Robin and set up a meeting between her and I. Signy and I will walk slow back to the celebration and when you come back with news and arrangements I'll introduce you to some of the Knights, and they'll make arrangements, get you kitted out and ready to leave in a day or so." He thinks that over, then adds, "If you're not interested, do all that anyway and we'll skip the introductions and kitting out and you can consider it a bullet dodged."
Brennan lets her move off on her own, then says to Signy, "Two birds with one stone-- I trust my squires with a lot, but there's going to be a lot we all talk about in the next day that would put her life in danger to hear about. So you're caught up in rough terms on all this business about Tir and the King and Cambina?"
Signy nods slowly. "And we think that the same one that was in Tir with Cambina is involved with the King, right?"
She sounds hesitant, still not quite sure if she's connecting all the dots correctly.
"That's the theory. And if you're feeling confused and like you've only got a fraction of the story, well, I feel the same way. And I'm getting tired of it," Brennan says. "Hence the meeting late tonight. It's cards on the table time. I just hope we don't degenerate into the cloak and dagger, advantage seeking, secrecy for its own sake mentality as our parents' generation," he grumbles. It sounds as though he might physically knock heads together if that starts up.
"We do need to stop at my quarters briefly. There was a chain that we brought back from when we rescued the Queen, and I wonder if it's somehow related or might provide some further insight into what's going on."
"Right, I remember hearing about it and talking about it, but never actually seeing it," Brennan says, as they enter. "Yes, that's too dangerous to leave lying around. It might also be too dangerous to bring to the meeting, so I don't know what to do about that. Edan supposedly has some device he stole from them, and I haven't see that, either. Do me a favor and keep a weather eye on that thing, Sorcerously if you have to, while you're in close proximity to Edan tonight. If there's time maybe I can take a look at it, too."
Signy listens quietly to Brennan as he speaks.
"There is a spot, on the road down to Rebma. When I was travelling down there the first time with Red Fox Claws and Brother Tomat, we spent the night in a cave with some sort of stone thing that looked like a seated figure. I slept, and dreamed that the same woman was there gazing off into the distance. She seemed intent on something, but when I tried to see more I ended up waking as things were shaking like an earthquake."
She pauses, before glancing at Brennan. "It seems like that location and that event is important somehow, if only something that should be mentioned to the Queen so that she can try to guard or watch that site as best she can?"
Brennan almost breaks stride when Signy mentions that. "I know the site," he says. "It was holding a key to Rebma's Pattern chamber that I conjured. Celina knows about it, too, because we talked about it, and Conner because he was there. But bring it up tonight anyway-- I haven't thought about that in a while and it's the sort of thing people need to know about if they don't, reminded of if they do. For what it's worth, the figure on that throne is the Queen." And he obviously doesn't mean Celina. "Tell me about this dream?" Brennan asks.
Signy sighs quietly, thinking back for a moment.
"Tomat, Red Fox Claws and I were travelling to Rebma. We reached a cavern on the road where there was a statue that looked sort of like a person on a throne, but not clearly. We decided to pause there to rest, and set watches. The room was lit up with magic, though, that much I could see when we checked it out."
She pauses, licking her lips, before continuing in a quieter, more cautious voice. "Red Fox Claws had the first watch, and I was asleep as soon as my head hit my pack. I woke after some time, and I was by myself. The rock formation looked much more like a person than it did when I went to sleep, and was sparkling on its own."
She pauses, remembering little details. "The statue looked like it was breathing, and had been holding a long weapon of some sort.
"I tried using Sorcery to look at the formation, see what it really was, and it cracked open and She was there. It was weird - that close to a source of Order, and the working was effortless. She was gazing off into the distance, and seemed...eager, and also worried. She also felt like she wasn't really there, so I tried to see where she was projecting from. It was far away, and I couldn't really figure anything else out about where she was projecting from. Or when."
She sighs. "At that point I wanted out, and tried to use Pattern to force myself back into the real world. It was weird -- She felt like she somehow connected to the Pattern, and when I was using that instead of Sorcery were the only times that she seemed to take any notice of me. It seemed like she had just figured out who I was or something when Red Fox Claws woke me up. In the dream the cavern felt like an earthquake was happening, but after waking the room was just a little more dusty."
"Well, now you know the reason she seemed connected to the Pattern," Brennan says. "She is to Tir as Oberon was to Amber.
"Was there a mirror in the chamber when you were there? And-- a weapon? What kind of a weapon?"
Signy pauses her narrative to think for a bit. "I don't recall seeing a mirror. I don't know what the weapon was, but it was a longer one, a spear or a sword."
She thinks for a moment longer. "So Dworkin created the primal. Then, for some unknown reason at some point Oberon created Amber, She created Tir, and it was one of Cneve or Lir that created Rebma. Then, at Patternfall, Corwin created Paris and Random Xanadu. Does this pattern imply something about Corwin and Random's relationship over time? And do we have any idea what the event was that caused the creation of the three?"
"Well, that's interesting. You'd remember the mirror if it had been there. It was not subtle," Brennan says. "And I'm pretty sure it was Moins herself who created Rebma. Lir's background is obscure. The most credible story I've heard is that he's her son. The second most credible is that he was her lover so if you find yourself talking to someone personally invested in any part of those stories.... step very gingerly.
"No, I've go no idea why Amber and Tir and Rebma were made, if they were even made at the same time, just the vague notion that it might have been part of the defense against Chaos. But then I'm an old soldier-- I look at that arrangement and think towers or bastions." He shrugs. "Don't forget Benedict's Avalon, or the really weird stories of a Paris under King Carol. Your friend Firumbras claims to have been a member of Carol's court. All of those events are so long ago they're all but out of living memory. Most of them are so far before Benedict's time they were legend and myths during his youth.
"What about Weyland," Brennan asks suddenly. "Does he deal in things other than swords?"
Signy listens to Brennan's take on the layout quietly. "I wonder -- we had the Ruby, and the Sapphire. Was there a stone for Tir? It feels like there might be some balance there, and things might be upset with three Patterns made with the Ruby?"
"Weyland made any number of things for people. Mostly it was people showing up with projects that were worthy of his skill, and who would pay the price he set. If you went to him and asked him for a sword he would hand that off. A sword that's bound to the Pattern, on the other hand...." Her voice trails off for a moment.
"It's harder than it looks, too," she says a bit more conversationally. "I tried to make a gauntlet for the Queen not too long ago. It...didn't go well."
Brennan looks interested-- very interested-- when Signy mentions this gauntlet, but doesn't want to get sidetracked quite yet.
"That's a hell of a good question, about a jewel for Tir. It's one I've asked myself. If you ever find out, let me know, it's probably critically important given... what Bleys described." Even on horseback switching back and forth up a mountain cliff, Brennan doesn't quite want to discuss Random's condition in the open air. "And you're very perceptive-- I'd be fascinated to know if Weyland could produce such a Jewel, but I think asking the question would reveal a greater depth of ignorance than I'm comfortable with.
"But I was thinking about information in general. Piecing things together, including what I've heard from Benedict, I think Weyland belongs properly to the same age of antiquity as Lir-- which is to say, legend to even someone as old as Ben. Other than Dworkin and oddities like Firumbras, he may be our best bet for information that is someone's living memory. The rest of the Family doesn't seem to think much of him, and I can begin to see why-- they say he'll forge anything for a price. But will he speak true, answer questions for a price?" Brennan asks.
Signy gives Brennan a sober look. "I don't know, to be truthful. He might, though he never really was willing to talk and open up to me, outside of smithcraft that didn't touch on the Family. I had no clue about the Pattern blades and his involvement until I walked the Pattern."
She pauses, and considers her next words carefully. "If you do approach him, be very careful with the bargaining. I've seen many people not be specific enough about what they want out of him, and leave having given up a lot and not gotten what they really wanted in return. I've also seen people get what they want, but give up far more than they expected to. It all depends on his mood, and your skill as a negotiator."
She pauses again. "You may not want to mention that you know me all that well, we didn't part on great terms."
She switches back to the other thread of the conversation. "Is it just me, or does it seem like Dworkin had a few children, and a lot of this is the result of Oberon's power plays with his siblings?"
"Oh, I'm sure he thinks mostly highly of me, too, for my role in that. There was no chance we were going to leave you behind if he tried to imprison you again-- that just wasn't going to happen," Brennan says. "I'm not even sure if I'm asking for myself or just to raise the possibility for someone more... diplomatic... to go in all our steads.
"And I don't know. I'm not even sure that Moins or the other one were actually his siblings, much less this mysterious Carol-- are you? It stands to reason, but I have no evidence other than that. And if there is anyone who can explain to me in detail what happened with Tir-na Nog'th, they're not telling. Ambrose and I were hoping something would turn up in Brand's papers, because we know he thought there was some problem with her Pattern, we just don't know what or why. So what's this gauntlet you mentioned?" Brennan asks.
Signy shakes her head in the negative. Things still don't seem to add up.
"Dworkin had Oberon, and Oberon had Brand and Dierdre and all the rest. But the Pattern swords are as Ordered as anything that is out there outside of the Patterns themselves. I'm new at a lot of things, and clearly have a lot to learn about my craft, but I don't see any way that a non-Ordered being could craft those blades.
"So that raises the question of where Weyland fits into our family tree -- is he some other lost generation of Oberon's children, or did Dworkin have more than just Oberon? Moins drew a Pattern, so she's Ordered as well. She..." and here, Brennan hears the particular emphasis that she's talking about the red-haired woman from her dream, "only really became aware of me once I started to apply Pattern. I think I could have thrown Sorcery at her until the end of time, and I don't think she would have noticed in the slightest."
She sighs, and feels a familar ache behind her eyes as she runs through the Family tree again and again, making and discarding variants.
Brennan's had this discussion with enough people, enough times, that he's gotten past the reflex to argue it to the hilt.
"The gauntlet? Wasn't my proudest moment. I'd wanted to craft something special for Celina, something that would be proof against most normal blades and would let her quickly form a mirror with a palm full of water.
"It wasn't...normal, but it wasn't really what it was supposed to be. It lacked something, but it's a something that's on the tip of my tongue, that I just can't quite express somehow. I'm pretty sure my father would know right away, and the Queen suggested Dworkin might be of assistance as well."
"Reality?" Brennan asks.
Brennan and Signy have had to take the last bit of path to come round the corner to where the castle is and have now rounded that corner. The castle (where Signy left the chain) is before them, with the usual guards in place.
Brennan lets Signy lead-- since she knows where they're going-- but not, if he can help it, linger.
Signy moves quickly into the castle, making a straight line to her quarters. She keeps the two of them moving quickly enough that the inevitable staff moving throughout the halls don't feel the need to stop them.
They rapidly get to the Family quarters, and Signy slows down and stops outside one of the doors. She puts her hand on the handle, before turning to Brennan. "My pack's in here, so we should be in and out. Is there anywhere in here that you want to stop before we head out to the big meeting?"
"I have to talk with Robin, if she's available. I probably should have had Tenacity tell her to meet here, but as it is... it's back to the square, I guess," Brennan says. "Don't feel bad, either, but that's going to be a private conversation."
Signy pushes on the door to open it, and strides in, motioning Brennan in behind her, as she heads for the chair next to the small desk where her pack hangs over the back.
The chain is where Signy left it. It's a thin chain like a (large) jewelry chain, but strong as anything. Five feet long, made out of silvery metal, shiny not matte, and very bright. It looks like something that someone should have gotten off Tir.
Brennan grunts in mild surprise when he sees it. "I was expecting something... heavier," he says.
"If you don't mind?" he asks before taking it.
Signy nods and hands over the chain for inspection. She keeps one eye on Brennan while he inspects it as she rummages through her pack to produce a pair of daggers, the first one that she belts to her hip.
Everyone's on a schedule, so Brennan doesn't take too long, but he'd be derelict in multiple duties if he didn't take the chance to inspect the chain at least briefly. He opens his Third Eye and starts with Bleys' trick of looking at shadows-- he and Signy should both be solid enough to cast shadows in that sense. Then if it seems safe he moves to an inspection of the thing itself. Since this is one of Maeve's or the High Marshall's toys, and since Brennan is not without his own understanding of time and space, he looks particularly to see if there are lengths or links that are hidden in some time-like or space-like way.
Is it a closed loop or an open length? He pays attention to see if there are any topological tricks incorporated, like the one he's put into his own Knight-Commander ring.
The chain is an open length, about 5 feet long, and tremendously strong.
With his Third Eye, Brennan sees that each loop is bound magically to the next in a way that reinforces the connection if any stress is put upon it. It's a good design for a very light, immensely strong chain. And it would be a hell of a time-consuming task to enchant.
"This... is going to take some effort to break, if we ever decide we need to break it." Signy may have the feeling this is a vast understatement even by Redhead standards. "This is less an enchanted chain than a collection of individually enchanted links made into a chain that becomes stronger under stress." Brennan hands it back to Signy. "If you decide you have to break it, don't try main strength, that'll almost certainly fail."
Was the enchantment on the chain Sorcery/Chaos-y or Pattern-y/Ordered?
Brennan would say it's an Ordered thing. It's reinforcing its own properties. It seems particularly 'real' to his senses.
He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Have you shown this to Bleys or Fiona yet? What did they say about it?
Brennan is already moving toward the door, since he sees no reason to linger.
"Brita said that her mother had looked at it briefly, but that was it. And...Bleys knew of it, several of us chatted about it at one point in time." The missing 'Uncle' is audible in there.
She pauses, and glances at a sword hanging off of a belt on a hook by the chair.
"Do you think that's needed?" she asks, offering him one of the daggers in her hands.
"For you to be armed?" Brennan asks. "Not so much armed, as ready for anything. Which means.... yes, armed." Brennan declines the dagger, since he and his Knights were armed and armored out of respect to Edan's new order.
"To break the chain? I don't know. But it's a thing of Ordered magics, which is to be expected. And it's more like a jewelry chain than I expected. And Bleys is saying that whatever is happening to the King is leveraging his connection to the Jewel. So I'm suspicious, but not crazy enough to try to break it right here. I'm not sure we'd succeed anyway," Brennan says.
Signy swiftly crosses over and grabs the belt and has it fastened around her waist by the time she gets back to the door. One of the knives is sheathed and hanging from her belt, and the other seems to have disappeared somewhere on her person.
"It seemed to change, somehow, when we disrupted... whatever it was." She sighs at how maddeningly vague that must sound. "It went from chains to secure a captive to, well, this."
As she reaches Brennan at the door, she hesitates. "At the time, the King made some offhanded comment to the chain being 'smaller than he remembered', but I don't think anyone ever pressed him for more details on that."
"He'd seen it before," Brennan says, his voice suddenly flat.
He had been turning to the door, but stops suddenly, caught in thought. His expression grows cold and dark and angry, like someone who wasn't even aware that he was taking part in a game but suddenly comes to realize that he's one of the marks.
"He'd seen it before. Maybe I have, too. I mentioned the statue in the chamber between Rebma and Paris, where I conjured the key to the Pattern Chamber of Rebma. The key, when conjured, was stone, and part of the statue, and I chiseled it off. I didn't pay too much attention to the statue-chain at the time, but.... the length of it would be about right, and the style of it. I don't know what that means," Brennan says, "but I do not like it."
Signy's hand reaches for the door handle as Brennan speaks, but stops as she takes in his words. Her fingers absently tap on the handle for a moment.
"I wonder if that room maybe needs to be watched. There seems to be a lot of important signs and events that happened there recently," she muses.
She pushes down on the handle and starts to swing the door open.
"I also wonder if there's anyone that has memories that go back far enough that will talk plainly in our Family," she sighs softly.
Tenacity is standing outside the door, and waits for Brennan to come out. She bows quietly to Signy; it's not clear she knows exactly who she is other than Important.
"I saw you coming up, Sir, and asked to find out where you were going. I spoke to Lady Robin. She's with Lady Hannah, Sir Edan, and Lady Paige and they're all going to the Grove, Sir, and would like to speak with you there."
Brennan nods. "Good enough for me," he says. "Tenacity, meet my cousin Lady Signy, daughter of Princess Deirdre; Signy, my page Tenacity."
To Signy, he says, "Looks like the grove is my next stop. You?"
Tenacity bows to Signy and waits for further instructions, if any, or for a dismissal from Brennan.
Signy gives Tenacity a brief nod and the hint of a smile before turning to Brennan. "I don't have any other business now that I have what I came for, and since Martin was rather explicit...." she trails off.
It's clear that for now her path is still with Brennan, assuming he is willing.
He is, but he takes the liberty of borrowing some stationery and a quill or a pen or whatever writing technology Xanadu has converged on. He jots a hasty note which he gives to Tenacity and says, "Take this to the Chapterhouse," by which he can only mean the Chapterhouse of the Order of the Knights of the Ruby in Xanadu, "and give it to Dame Pebble. Wait there, take what she gives you, and follow her directions."
The note is sealed with his signet and reads:
This young woman, Tenacity by name, is my new page. See that she is outfitted properly, armed and armored, for a long journey. If any squad departs with me, make sure she is with it.
Sir Brennan Brandson, KCOR
(Dame Pebble is known among the Knights for her ability with logistics and fine details, and is herself already assigned to the squad Brennan hand-picked for a return to Avalon. The general expectation so far is that that group will be the one to move out with Brennan, but all is in flux.)
Tenacity bows, takes the note, and is off with it to Dame Pebble.
Once Tenacity departs, Brennan looks at Signy, shrugs, and says, "Off to the Grove, then," and heads off, probably to encounter one or more cousins on the way back down the mountain.
Garrett nods once after hearing Martin's instructions. He leans over to squeeze Lilly's hand. "Be careful. See you in a bit," he says quickly, releasing her hand.
Turning back to Jerod, he shifts the duffel on his shoulder and asks, "Any idea where Fiona might be?"
"Well, we could go looking where we saw the King last, but there's no guarantee she'll be there with her brother." Jerod says, reaching into a pocked to pull out his Trumps as they walk.
"Or we could find an isolated spot and give her a shout." and pulls out Fiona's card.
Garrett nods and subtly shifts his position to block the card from public view while Jerod chooses an appropriate spot.
When Jerod tries to contact Fiona, he is unable to do so; it feels to him as though her mind is busy with something that is taking her full attention and she is unable to respond. Sort of like the effect he'd feel if he'd Trumped Dad while Dad was hellriding or something.
Garrett cocks his head in question, looking concerned, as he recognizes the difficulty Jerod is having getting through.
Jerod stops once he recognizes the interference, then puts the card away.
"No dice." he says quietly. "Busy it would seem. We'll be doing it the old fashioned way it would seem."
"Right," Garrett agrees with a single nod. He gestures toward the stables. "We can go grab horses. Hope they don't shy at the load," he suggests, shrugging the duffel on his shoulder to indicate his meaning.
Approaching footsteps eventually herald Conner's arrival. "Evening cousins. How interesting has your night been?"
Garrett, who's carrying a heavy-looking duffel bag over his shoulder, turns to answer. "Evening, Conner. Very interesting so far," he smirks. "And you?"
"Fairly moderate, given the situation." Jerod replies. "Came away from a battle that nuke Gateway, got decent scotch, found out my sister is out politicking and now stuff is going to hell with the King. Should've stayed in the battle I'm thinking.
"We need to deliver a zombie-head to your mom, and up the hill is where we go. Time for horses."
"I only got to see the Silver Towers rise." Conner replies. "And it seems you've heard my news of the King but I've clearly missed news of an undead nature." Conner replies. "I'm looking for Mother too. Catch me up on the ride?" Conner asks.
"We should be able to get horses at the stable," Garrett says, nodding in that direction and starting to walk there. He hefts the duffel bag into a more comfortable position on his shoulder and continues speaking once they have escaped the worst of the crowd. "I don't know the whole story, but Martin brought this back from the place he and Folly have been living. Sounds like he's been encountering them across shadow, which is alarming," he explains grimly.
"Then let's be off for the horses." Jerod says. "Cause alarming is beginning to sound like the new norm. We had zombies in Gateway too. Took down two the three Triumvirate, with some help from Weyland who was apparently looking for some vengeance time because of Marius. The third of the crew is apparently under the remains of the Citadel that we blew to pieces, raising an undead army."
The group makes their way, at speed then, to the stables, where Jerod, in typically Prince like fashion, makes an announcement that three horses are required immediately for business of the Crown. He then waits for a second or so in case any of the locals want to complain before he gives them a look that will make them want to shrivel up and die...
And if that doesn't work, then Conner can try to sweet-talk them... while threatening to kill them or feed them to his Mom.
"As much as it pains me to have to say anything other than 'with pleasure' to you gentlemen," the stablemaster says, wincing, "Lord Vere and the rangers have just taken the last of our horses--on Crown business. But for Crown business, I am sure one of the nearby merchants or householders would be happy to lend them to you and Prince Garrett, good sirs."
Even as the stablemaster is speaking, Garrett is surveying the nearby shops for the one most likely to have a horse with a carriage or small cart. Settling on a bakery on a nearby corner, he turns back to the stablemaster and says, "Thank you for your help, sir. That's a good idea." He catches the eyes of his companions and nods toward his target, then starts to lead the group in that direction.
The stablemaster looks relieved that Prince Garrett has the matter under control.
Since Garrett has a target already in mind, Jerod goes with the flow.
Garrett leads them around to the service door at the rear of the bakery, looking for either a horse and cart or someone to ask about those things.
Well, there is a cart-horse, and also what look like several plough-horses. They're attached to wagons that might've been bringing flour to the bakery.
A baker's boy comes around the corner. "Hallo, Sirs, we are closed for the festivities."
"Good evening, young sir. I am Prince Garrett," Garrett begins politely. "I and my cousins are in need of a horse and cart to return to the castle on crown business.
"If we can borrow this one," he says, pointing to the cart-horse, which appears to Garrett to be the best horse of the bunch, "we will happily send it back with a batch of flour specially ground for the royal kitchens to use in your bakery."
The boy turns white, which is a feat with all the flour on him. Whiter. "Ah, of course your majesty. Anything you desire. Ma will be most happy to have assisted you."
"Damn but he reminds me of someone young and new to the world." Jerod says quietly, a very slight smile on his face looking at Garrett.
Garrett is still focused on the boy, but apparently heard Jerod based on the quick smirk that flashes across his face. "Good man. My thanks," Garrett says to the boy with a smile.
Turning to his companions, he nods at the cart. "Gentlemen? Shall we?"
"We await on his majesty's pleasure." Jerod replies, even as they move off, keeping mindful of the zombie head.
The cart rumbles through the street, pulling the three royals. It's a bit livelier than it would be were it full, but it is still a street-barge.
At last, the last turn is made and the cart comes into view of the castle.
Garrett steers the cart to the stables and pulls it to a stop on the edge of the stable yard. After ensuring that their parcel is safe with Jerod and Conner, he turns the reins over to the nearest stable-hand with instructions that several bags of flour from the castle kitchens should be on board when the cart is returned to its owner.
Once the directions are given, he returns to Jerod and Conner. "Would she be in the Royal Chambers, you think?" he asks them.
"She would be attending the King. Were this an ordinary time, I'd say to check his studio over his quarters." Conner shrugs. "Let's head that way and hopefully find a page that can tell us where the King or Mother is in residence."
"If there's one thing I learned on a ship," Raven says as she approaches the group, "it's that when the officers cluster, something's going on. What needs doing still?"
Silhouette dips her head respectful to those assembled.
Martin's hard to read but he looks relieved that someone is here to lend a hand and not give him some guff. He has a child in his arms, presumably his daughter, and he starts ticking things off on the fingers of one hand. "First and most important: Apparently Dad's been taken over by the boss lady of the city at the top of the stairs, who is wearing his wife like a glove. Second, meeting at midnight in the local equivalent of the Grove. Family only. Third, Garrett's got a zombie head that I brought back from San Lucien for Fiona and apparently she's busy so we may need someone to run it up to the castle. Zombies in this crowd would be bad, so let's not.
"Also someone needs to get hold of the women with Hannah, which is basically all the redheaded women, to tell them. Also my wife. Last but not least, no going alone, so if you find one of us going solo, take 'em with you and make sure they get to the meeting. Any questions?"
Silhouette smiles, "How may I serve you best, cousin? And should we call Victor into this discussion?"
Raven shakes her head immediately. "Leave Victor out of it for now. Should be able to lay hands on him if needed." She frowns and nods in the direction of the girl. "Whoever's collecting the kids needs to round up a page named Max while they're at it. That's my brother. Other than that - sounds like we're headed for the castle with a head or where the cards are, which I think is the castle...?"
"Some people have things that will take them up there. Others are doing things down here," Martin clarifies. "And I think Max will be fine; we're having a council and Lark here--" he bounces the little girl "--is a special case." He glances at Brij and adds, "I don't want anything or anyone of Folly's or mine near either Dad or his wife right now."
Raven nods her understanding.
Brij starts to say something but a young Rebman page approaches and coughs to let everyone know she's there. "Lady Silhouette," she says, "Queen Celina is departing for Rebma now. I believe she wishes you to join us if you are ready to leave."
Silhouette turns to the woman and nods. "Thank you."
She turns back to Martin, "Forgive me, my Prince. My Queen calls, and I must answer. With your permission, I will take my leave. But, if you require me, I am at your service." She pauses, thinking. "If you wish, them safe, I can escort your wife and child to Rebma. While certainly not what they're accustomed to, my home's guest room is designed for comfort. And seclusion."
"Thank you," says Martin, "but Lark is staying with me. And when I get hold of Folly, I'll convey your gracious offer, but I suspect she's already up to her elbows in royal business here." And he turns back to the page. "Convey the greetings of Prince Martin to my kinswoman the Queen, and tell her that I would speak with her briefly before she leaves, if possible, on matters of state. I will remain in the square for perhaps an hour or a bit less, but then must go onward to our next destination.
"If she cannot reach me, ask her to contact her brother Prince Merlin."
The page nods. She's been trained in the Rebman fashion, so she'll be able to repeat the message verbatim and convey tone when she speaks to Celina.
"Good luck, Silhouette." Fletcher, Raven, and Silhouette can guess he means you're gonna need it.
Silhouette bows graciously, "Thank, sire. Until we meet again."
She dips her head to the others, "Cousins."
And with that, she gestures for the page to lead on.
Fletcher watches Sil leave, and turns to Martin. "I've been wracking my brain trying to remember anything that might help from my days in Amber. I don't have any great ideas about the mechanics of previous victories, but I will stand with you as long as I'm able. I attend in the grove of course. In the meantime, how immediate do you believe the danger to you and Lark may be? I can remain with you if needed."
"And if not, looks like I'm out a partner," Raven points out. "Unless I can catch up to someone else."
"Your offer is gracious, Sir Fletcher," Martin says, and something in his tone makes Lark straighten in his hold, "but I would not keep you from your duties. Having said that, though," and here he looks from Fletcher to Raven, "there are three of us, and I really don't want any of us going anywhere alone, especially not after what we've all heard. So let's make our way up to the grove in a few minutes--after Brij here has gotten herself safely to the Mayor's house."
And he give Brij another look. "Kiss your gramma goodbye, Lark, because we may not see her again for a while."
Lark dutifully kisses Brij on the cheek and gives her a hug as best she can given the size differential. Martin's not a big guy but Brij, like Folly, is tiny. "I'm glad we got to spend time together," Brij tells her.
"I'll miss you, gramma," Lark says.
Brij takes off a necklace she's wearing and puts it over Lark's head. "Hang on to this for me, sweetie, till we meet again." And then, after another hug, Brij is off, across the courtyard toward the Mayor's house.
Fletcher nods in agreement with Martin, hopefully not giving away his confusion about why he's adding up the four adults in the group and coming up with three. "Good night Lady Brij."
"Night, ma'am," Raven says, with a nod in Brij's direction as she leaves. And then she looks to Martin. "If anybody spots any more strays, feel free to point me at them. Sounds like there's enough to do that it ain't worth it to have more than three of us in one spot right now."
"Is that Ossian?" Martin asks, indicating what looks like Ossian moving out from the Mayor's house where Brij is headed. "I don't know who that is with him, but we need to make sure he's in the loop. If you would, Captain."
"Aye, sir," Raven answers, and there's probably only not a salute there because the captain is out of the habit now. She nods a brief farewell to Fletcher and heads off in Ossian's direction.
"Thanks," Martin says as Raven leaves, and then turns back to Fletcher. "I need to stay here long enough to see whether Celina's coming, or if we don't get anything back from her, we need to move on in about a quarter-glass, if not sooner. We've got a hike coming.
"Yes we do," he adds to Lark, who can clearly tell something is going on and has shut up to listen and figure it out.
Once Huon departs for the Port side, Celina pulls out Trumps and tries to get Llewella.
The response comes quickly. "Who calls?"
Celina speaks clearly and quickly, "It is Celina. There is a Family crisis to speak of."
Llewella yawns. "I thought that wasn't for hours. Are you safe? Do you need to come through? Do you need troops?"
As they speak, Silhouette and a female page cross the hall, heading toward them. Seeing the group involved, she pauses at a respectful distance - waiting to be invited over.
Celina reacts to the sounds of movement, but does not split her concentration with the Trump, "I wanted to let you know things are escalating. It has been suggested strongly that I leave here, but I want to gather Valeria before I go so she is safe too. Xanadu may be compromised by Tir. Your sister, the senior redhead may be fighting this, or already in too deep in defense of the King. Conner is fine so far and taking a direct hand. I don't suppose you have a Trump of Valeria? We were to meet later, but I need to find her now."
Llewella stretches, taking in all of Celina's points. "I think a Trump would burn out her tiny mind. And until the end of Father's reign, we didn't know that anyone but Dworkin could make them."
"Ah," Celina replies, adding that to the pile of things she should have known if she grew up in Rebma.
Celina lifts a finger, pointing at the female page, then Sil. She gestures them to stand near to her. How she manages to do this so precisely while staring at the card is a mystery.
The page is used to imprecise commands given with a high level of precision, and stands where she is instructed.
Silhouette moves closer, nodding to Celina as she joins the page.
"Yes, well, be safe, be wary of strange summons. This seems to be shaping up as worse than the Green Death." Celina pauses, now that Llewella is warned and other persons are not.
Llewella frowns. "We are not ready for a war with our brother, and have not tried to be. Where do your father and Uncle Benedict stand on the matter?"
"I can hardly say as we have not had the felicity of the Family conference," Celina responds. "Benedict has not appeared as yet. Do call me if Benedict arrives in Rebma. Prepare for Bad Things. I have to go. Huon is bringing my Archivists back by ship." Celina shows remorse at the shortness of the exchange.
The Page, as soon as she sees that Celina has made eye contact, moves her lips without speaking aloud. Lip reading is endemic in Rebma, and she only hopes the Queen has the skill. "Message from the Crown Prince, Your Highness" is what Celina sees her 'say'.
Celina motions the page forward pointing at her ear, she leans down, keeping the card focus, "A moment, Aunt. Word comes."
Llewella nods and waits.
The page leans in and, without touching Celina (and therefore not joining the contact), repeats Martin's message, only changing person where necessary. "I convey the greetings of Prince Martin to his kinswoman the Queen. He would speak with you briefly before you leave, if possible, on matters of state. He will remain in the square for perhaps an hour or a bit less, but then must go onward to his next destination.
"If you cannot reach him, he asks you to contact your brother Prince Merlin."
Celina nods to the page, "Thank you so much." She then speaks for Llewella and Sil, "Martin has arrived and wants to talk to me before I leave. Since I have to gather Valeria, I'll be delayed anyhow. I'll have Silhouette with me if we run into rough stuff. Anything else?"
Llewella speaks again, perhaps to additional courtiers in Rebma. "We will have a celebratory parade when you return, your Majesty. I will personally spend time preparing the military."
She seems ready to close the contact.
Celina blows a kiss and closes the Trump. She asks the page to lead them to Martin. And letting the page step out a couple paces, she moves whisper-close to Sil. "Do you have a 'find person' magic handy? I want to get Valeria out of here and I don't want to go to the castle at all."
Silhouette considers this, offering a vague smile. "I would require something personal of the target. Location spells generally necessitate the use of sympathetic magic."
A pause, "I would also need access to my tools. So, I suggest a more tactile and less arcane approach, my Queen."
Celina nods, "All right, tactile. My plan is to make a blood compass. Valeria and I are close family." Celina pronounces the lower case 'family'. "It should get us started in the right direction. Let's talk to Prince Martin."
Silhouette nods, "He sends his greetings and does wish to speak with you over a matter of state. I believe we can find him in the square."
She falls in beside Celina as they walk. In a whisper only the Queen can hear, "Your Trump contact went well, I hope."
"Rebma is warned," Celina whispers back, "and maybe now we can save a few lives. I'll be delighted." She looks more closely at Silhouette. "I have an awful feeling about leaving all this before the Family gets together."
Silhouette offers a faint mile in return, "May I ask, if you are attempting to create blood magic, have you spoken to Huon? He seems to excel in the craft? If he can send creations across Shadow, a compass seems a trifle to him."
Celina does not slow down, now sighting the crowd where she notes Martin's blond head. But she sounds excited to Silhouette, "Really? How very interesting. We shall talk then."
Martin catches sight of Celina in the crowd and waves them over. Fletcher is still there, keeping an eye on things. He leans in to speak to Celina, carefully, his lips not moving much in case they're being visually scryed on. "We're meeting in the pool that's the analogue to the Grove of the Unicorn at midnight to decide what to do. Can you come or do you need to leave immediately?"
"I promised Conner I would go, but Silhouette is dependable. I want to take Valeria with me, she's not safe here. Do you know where she is?" Celina gives Sil a look that says, 'this is going to be crazy but I won't stop you.'
Silhouette dips her head at the Queen's praise. At Celina's glance, she offers a faint smile. "Whatever action best serves the Great Good, I shall undertake it. But my first duty is to the Queen. If she wishes I remain at her side, then that is where I shall be."
Martin makes a disgruntled noise and Lark, who is in his arm, pokes at him to try to cheer him up. "We're going to disperse after we all talk. I don't think anyone wants to be put in the position of vowing fealty, or refusing it. But we can at least do something about finding Valeria. Fletcher, can you find a member of the Royal Guard in the square and ask him to find Lady Valeria and have her present herself at the Mayor's House? I'll meet her there late tonight or in the early morning, depending on how things shake out."
"Of course, Your Highness," Fletcher answers.
He looks back to Celina to see if that will do for her, while Fletcher starts looking around for a Royal Guard (of whom there have been some about and they're not all dispersed, not with the intimations of trouble and the Rangers riding out.)
Celina nods assent to Martin about his help. She removes bracelet and hands it over to Fletcher. "Have the guard give this to Valeria. She was concerned about her safety, with reason it seems, and this will say you have my permission." Celina turns to Sil, "So we wait in the Mayor's house. At least two hours."
Silhouette bows her head, "Of course, milady."
Celina looks back to Martin, "We will not be at the Grove, but we send you with our Blessing. We will make our way back to Rebma, but help is only a Trump call away."
And Celina asks more quietly, which is the Mayor's house, for reference.
Martin point it out. "The Mayor is Lord Ash and his ladies are Haven and Tjaden. Convey him my greetings and tell him that I have asked him to extend the King's hospitality. If he requires verification that it's actually me, tell him I think his tuning on the tenor still sucks. He'll know what I mean. Same for Soren if he shows up. I'll see if I can get Conner to take the news to you afterwards. Your wisdom will be much missed."
"That's not very nice," Lark tells Martin.
"It's true. If the bass isn't properly tuned, the bass line isn't happy, and then nobody's happy, kiddo."
Celina nods, "Well that seems to be all of it. We'll hope for further news from you all after this impromptu session at the Pool of the Unicorn." She turns to Sil. "We may yet have some excitement. Let's go meet the Lord Mayor Ash."
Silhouette bows her head, "Of course." She steps back while Celina says her goodbyes.
Celina hugs Martin and then Lark with equal seriousness.
Lark and Martin hug Celina back. "May the Unicorn guide us all. We're going to need it."
Raven heads straight across the courtyard to the pair, or at least as straight as she can without drawing too much attention.
"Ossian!" she hails as soon as she's close enough to do so without raising her voice enough to get the attention of everyone in the area. "Need to have a word or two, pretty much now..."
The woman who is with Ossian -- clearly a warrior even if she's not currently armed -- takes clear notice of Raven, but waits for Ossian to respond before answering.
Ossian bows "Cousin Raven. This is my mother, Regenlief."
Raven nods. "Ma'am."
"Kinsman," Regenlief replies.
"Things are moving quickly now." Ossian steers the others out of the crowd to some more quiet place. "What's the news?"
"Aye, looks like." Raven lowers her voice. "Prince Martin asked that family meet at midnight at whatever's the local Grove of the Unicorn. And that nobody walk around alone. Didn't say so, but I'm thinking 'alone' probably also means 'without family.' And I didn't follow all the why, but sounds like the King and Queen ain't a part of that, and might be the reason why it's needed."
Regenlief takes all of this in and waits for Ossian to reply.
Ossian nods. "We would do well stay away from the King and Queen according to the latest news I heard. Keeping together is probably wise, also, but I'm not considered wise..."
"You are welcome to join us. Between the three of us we should be able to fend off most threats. Did Martin say anything else?"
"Garrett's got a zombie head to deliver to Princess Fiona," Raven answers, "which I'm thinking means the dead are rising in two different places. Can't say I'm thrilled about that. Otherwise - spread the word to anybody that doesn't know, which I guess is a lot of the girls, and collect anyone that's alone." She shrugs. "I got the idea there's going to be show and tell tonight. At least, I hope so, because I'm not sure I've heard all the interesting bits yet."
"Most likely not" Ossian agrees. "There is change coming. I even managed to have a conversation with cousin Jerod, where we agreed on something.
"So what is your plan until then? Find the girls? I suggest we follow Martin's advice and stay together."
"The 'girls' will have gone wherever the one who was ready to give birth meant to do that," Regenlief says. "Wherever that would be." Which Ossian or Raven will know better than she will, or so apparently Regenlief thinks.
"Kinda hoping it's up there," Raven answers, jerking a thumb in the direction of the castle. "If not, your guess is as good as mine. For plans - aye, the only outstanding order was finding them. Seemed like everything else was covered or not a problem right now. So unless there's something else that's in need of doing that we spot..." She shrugs. "Well, and I was hoping someone else knew exactly where it is we're going. Ain't been here enough to know for sure."
"I have some guesses where to find them up in the castle. There should be some hustle around a royal birth. " Ossian smiles. "Let's sneak into the castle."
Regenlief had been about to say something but Ossian pre-empts her and she looks at him a bit quizzically. "Why would we have to sneak in? Do you think the whole of the castle has already been turned against us?"
Raven looks to Ossian for the answer to that as well.
Ossian shrugs. "No. I don't mean literally sneaking, that would be silly. But we should keep a low profile. We should avoid the king and queen, as far as I get it.
"Let's go" Ossian starts walking towards the castle.
Regenlief is satisfied by this answer. (She's pretty straightforward and while sneaking is definitely in her repertoire, she likes to avoid it when we can.)
"I was wondering if I should re-arm there or whether I should wait until later. Sounds like I can still find something before we go off for this midnight meeting." Regenlief moves off with Ossian, expecting Raven to fall in with them.
"Given the day I've had," Raven says dryly as she follows, "I'd re-arm there. I'm thinking things ain't going to get less busy."
"Then let us all re-arm there, because I would rather have an extra dagger than one too few," Regenlief says, equally dry.
They move towards the castle.
When they get to the castle Ossian asks a page if they know where Paige is. Or Hannah.
"They were in the birthing room but the lock was broken," offers one of the young pages. "We can see if we can find them. I know a page was looking for someone else that was with them, but I think she's gone off to return a message.
None of the pages are older than about 14 or so.
"Or maybe they're with the knight who came up a little while ago."
Another one runs off to see if they can find Hannah or Paige.
Ossian frowns, but asks in a calm and non-alarmed voice "Do you know who else where with Paige and Hannah? And have you seen Lady Brita?"
"Lady Brita was with Ember and the Queen," one of the pages says. "They asked for tea. And the new girl."
The first page agrees, "Yes, her, and then they were going to the King's apartments."
Regenlief doesn't like it but Ossian has the lead here, so she's looking to Ossian and Raven for the correct reaction. (Court is clearly not her thing.)
"Brita next?" Raven suggests to Ossian. "I know that ain't exactly what we'd planned, but seems to me she might need an update on family business sooner rather than later."
Which is about as close as Raven's going to get to 'we should rescue Brita from the maybe dangerous queen' in front of a pack of kids that don't really need to know what's going on.
Ossian nods. "Yes. Paige is quite capable of handling doors properly, I think."
He turns to the page. "I think we can manage getting there by ourselves."
Turning back to his mother and cousin he says, "This likely means meeting the king or queen. Or both. We'll have to be very careful. And if I say run, we run. I don't think fighting is a viable option.
"Let's hope someone else got there first. This operation is sadly way too uncoordinated."
"That's the problem with having dozens of you and no field commander. Or one who's compromised," Regenlief says.
As they leave Prince Martin and their cousins Vere explains their mission further to Lilly. "While the full moon was last night, and the stairway to Tir-na Nog'th should not open for another month, the Moonriders are known to be able to manipulate time. There is thus concern that they might try to take the stairway now and ..." he frowns, searching for the proper term, "...temporally shift it. I do not believe we have any intelligence indicating this is expected, but it is a possibility, and we would be foolish not to guard against it."
As he talks he leads them towards the stables, where he had ordered the Rangers to assemble.
"I am not terribly familiar with Tir-na Nog'th. My father told stories, cautionary tales really, but my experience ends there. Is there anything in particular I should look for that might indicate an impending attack? Or is it more of a general keeping eyes open for anything peculiar?"
"I have not fought them, but Edan taught me to see the ripples in Space that a Temporal disruption can create," Vere answers. "I can be on the lookout for that, while you watch for more conventional signs."
Vere and Lily arrive at the dais and find Alain there, with the Rangers gathered and ready to move. "Is there anything else you need me to do, Lord Vere?" Alain asks as the Rangers fall in, ready to march out.
Lilly continues to scout the area looking for anything out of the ordinary. She listens for Vere's answer but maintains her silence.
"Find Paige and inform her that we've taken the Rangers. She should find one of our cousins to gain more information, if she has not already heard." Vere pauses, considering what to say to Alain, and finally settles on, "There is serious business going on, as I am sure you are aware, but I am not at liberty to discuss it with you. And please try to keep everyone calm, and try to keep rumors from spreading." Vere winces slightly, knowing how difficult that instruction will prove.
He nods to the assembled Rangers. "We need to make haste. I assume all of you can ride, and we can requisition horses enough for everyone. Let us be off."
The Rangers begin to move out the back of the Dais and casually towards the stables. Vere hears bits of Cadence, quietly between the troop. "How Many Horses?" "What Type?" A ranger smiles at Vere. "My Lord, what type of horses should we acquire? Runners, Warriors, Forest-Friendly?"
"Our mission is to reach a spot as quickly as possible, take up defensive positions, and hold it against a possible attack," Vere explains as they walk. "If there is an attack and we repulse it we will not want to follow them, in case it is an attempt to lure us away. That would indicate a need for speed more than anything else." Vere frowns thoughtfully. "On the other hand, the enemy is known to prefer cavalry tactics. So as many war trained mounts as possible would be an advantage."
Vere nods slightly, "I know I am being vague about the task ahead of us. There are things I do not wish to say while there is any chance of us being overheard. I will explain further once we are on our way."
Lilly manages a sincere smile. "I would lean towards warriors if we have to choose. But fast warriors - nimble fast warriors - are better. Lean towards those my father would favor. That's what we will need tonight."
The ranger looks dubious at the idea of finding and requisitioning, on the fly as part of the trip, horses that Prince Benedict would approve of.
"We will find the horses that best match your criterion, my Lords." He bows from the neck and moves forward through the crowd. The Cadence that comes out says 'fast, light, and now'."
When Vere and Lilly reach the stables, the mounts are almost all saddled, and the Rangers are efficiently. A worried little man sees Vere and immediately comes over to him. "I ... We are most pleased to supply the Royal Expedition. I can send an invoice to the castle, my Lord?"
"Send the invoice to the Mayor," Vere replies, as he chooses a mount and gets to know it. "He will make the arrangements for payment." He murmurs quietly to the horse for a moment, stroking its neck, then turns back to the stablemaster. "Do I recall you from my days on the Regency Council of Amber?" he inquires, eyes narrowing slightly.
"The Lord Mayor, yes, My Lord. I was a farrier in Amber. I once shod Prince Jerod's steed when he threw a shoe in the city, but I was not well-known or rich."
Vere nods and clasps the man's shoulder. "You seem to be doing better here," he says with a smile. "My thanks for your service this night."
The Rangers have all the good horses and are ready to leave.
Vere mounts and with a nod to Lilly he leads everyone out, and sets out as quickly as is safe through the city streets.
People are startled by the approaching troop through the city, but there is little that slows them. The troop takes the path up to the castle, taking advantage of obvious and not-so-obvious shortcuts in the long switchback trail. It still takes just under an hour to reach the level of the castle. From here, another half-hour's ride to the top and then to the Ranger's camp and the stair beyond it.
Once they leave the city Vere will slow enough to explain to the Rangers that there is a possibility, not a certainty or even a probability, but a possibility, that there may be an attempt by the Moonriders to take the stairs to Tir, and that their job is to guard it. Anyone who has any experience with the Moonriders is encouraged to share it now, so that plans can be made as to how best to carry out their duty.
The older Rangers turn and the senior-most falls back. "I have not, my lords, but I have heard the stories from old Rangers when I was young. As these have, but I spoke to the ones who fought. They have a mystic power, it is said, over time. You can fire an arrow at them and they suddenly were never where your arrow lands, as if they can step backwards. A true attack on them needs surprise, or no possibility of escape.
"Worse, it's said they can throw a man into the past. There were rangers who were decades older than they should've been, right after the war. They'd been sent back."
Vere nods, "That matches what I have heard. I know they are moving in the Shadows, now. My cousin Edan has met with them." He looks at Lilly. "Did your father ever speak of tactics to use against them?"
Lilly is thoughtful for a long moment. "He had shared much wisdom over the years. But the Moonriders... the Moonriders seem to hold a special place of esteem. He does not like to speak of them. And that is the thing I find most worrisome."
Vere nods. "I certainly understand that worry, and I share it." He shakes his head. "Ideally, I think one would want to hold a well defended position with limited access points, a large killing field that continues over a long time period, and ideally a mental attack or knockout gas of some kind that renders them instantly insensible and unable to use their abilities. None of those are going to be available to us."
"Sorcery." Lilly nods. "Definitely not my area of expertise. We need to look at possible points of entry and the most defensible areas. We also need to assess our men in order to decide on a plan." She manages a smile and her tone softens a bit. "Then we need to throw all of that out and come up with something much less predictable and a backup or two for when that falls apart. That's when things get to be fun."
"Indeed," Vere replies drily. "Allow me to express my fervent hope that our particular part of this plan proves totally unnecessary, and we end up spending time guarding something that is not, in fact, a target."
Lilly chuckles quietly. "Well now that you've said that aloud it shall never come to pass." After a thoughtful pause, she adds, "It is definitely plausible that it will not come as a large scale attack. Marching an army in would be difficult. I expect multiple attacks in multiple places to keep us all busy and distracted. I think the Island outside of my father's realm is evidence of that. We need to try to determine there is an actual goal or if the plan is simply full on family annihilation."
Vere nods. "We have an unfortunate lack of information about the aims of our enemies," he agrees.
Vere and Lilly ride into visual range of the stair and see a single ranger on guard. He doesn't move like a moonrider. He is alert, because it's hard to keep a dozen or more horses quiet, even if you're good.
As they approach Vere does a quick visual scan of the area, looking for anything out of the ordinary. After that he will carefully open his Third Eye and examine the area again, being especially watchful for any of that subtle warping of Space he noticed when Edan deomnstrated time manipulation.
Lilly stills herself, takes a deep breath, and listens. Eyesight can fail at this time of the night. Better to rely upon instincts and her other senses.
Vere scans the area with his third eye. The three steps are a bright white blob to his third eye, like looking at the pattern in the pattern chamber. The grass sward around it seems oddly manicured, and there are not even the expected signs of life, like animal trails or droppings.
From behind Vere there's a syncopated clapping sound, answered by the step-guard in Ranger whistles. Approaching friendly forces. Rangers with royal children.
Lilly listens, hearing the Rangers, Vere, their horses, the wind, and the distant sea. The guard holds his position, but Lilly is aware that he's communicated with their Rangers.
"We'll secure the forest verge and see what kind of perimeter can be etablished, unless you have other needs," a senior Ranger says to Vere.
Vere nods. "Do it," he says. He dismounts and hands the reins to a Ranger, the turns to Lilly. "I am going to call Merlin now."
He takes Merlin's trump and concentrates on it.
The woman nods. She takes up a watch position near Vere knowing he may be distracted for a few moments. Her hand rests upon the hilt of her sword, ready for action if needed.
Celina heads to the manor and scrapes the door loudly. "Hullo there!" she calls loudly.
There are guards at the door and one says, "Who goes there?" It's not paranoid but they are definitely aware and paying attention. "Does Prince Martin send a message with you, Lady?"
"Prince Martin sends us with a message. Lord Ash may wish it in private from me, please convey to him Queen Celina would like to whisper in his ear....small musical commentary." Celina smiles at the guard.
Silhouette remains behind her, dutifully silent. She holds herself with the assurance of an assistant... or bodyguard, ever-present, yet easily forgotten.
The door opens from the inside, "Your Majesty, Lady Silhouette, my name is Viper, assistant to the Lord Mayor. He will be here directly, please do come in." Viper smiles at Silhouette, who he recognizes from her Basilisk adventures.
Viper doesn't look like anyone's assistant, unless they need assistance with mayhem.
He says something to the guards on the door, and they seem more intent on guarding than they did a moment ago.
Celina smiles at Sil. "Of course. There isn't a problem, Sil?"
At the name, Silhouette's cheeks actually flush. Embarrassment doesn't sit well on her stony features. She straightens up, "No, my Queen. Indeed, I believe Mr. Viper assisted me following an impromptu bare-knuckle brawl. Unfortunately, I was unconscious at the time."
She bows her head to Viper, "Thank you, sir. It's a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. You are very well spoken of." She allows herself a sly grin, recalling her evening with Robin.
He smiles. "It is a pleasure and a challenge to serve a royal family with such widely talented and interesting members, My Lady."
Silhouette unconsciously touches her ear, "Hopefully, our current and future business will be less of a challenge."
"I serve at the pleasure of the King," say Viper, clearly not concerned if it is challenging or not.
"Ah, Viper, always the diplomat," says a new voice, coming from the stairs. "Forgive me, your highness, I have only just returned from my duties elsewhere. I am Ash, the Lord Mayor. How may the City of Xanadu aid the Queen of Rebma?"
"I have urgent business in Rebma, so sadly I must leave here as soon as possible. Lady Valeria must travel with me, so I need assistance in locating her quickly." Celina adds smoothly, "Prince Martin asked for you to extend the King's Grace to me. He did add something about 'tuning on the tenor still sucks'. I'm not quite sure I know what that means, but he was sure it would confirm my urgency." Celina sets her expression to complete innocence.
Ash smiles. "And you may tell the Prince that I will consider his advice as I would any advice from a bass player, and he will know I have received his message." He turns to Viper.
"Viper, if you and your men will find and bring the Lady Valeria of Rebma here with all due haste, I will keep our guests entertained in your hopefully brief absence."
Viper bows. "Is there a word to give the Lady to assure her cooperation, or shall we assume that she will be... uncooperative?"
"Yes, tell her the Queen said it was urgent she cooperate. There is no mocking involved." Celina says.
Celina quickly examines the room, the exits, and the faces around her again. She speaks directly to Viper, "I appreciate your discretion in all this."
Viper nods. "Discretion shall be our watchword, Your Highness." He quickly goes out the back, by the door that Ash entered from.
"We'll have to give him at least a few minutes before we accuse him of inefficiency, Your Highness. May I get you anything while you wait?"
"I'll ask for water," Celina smiles. "And a silver hat pin if you have one."
Silhouette shakes her head, "Nothing for me, but thank you." She begins moving around the room, politely examining its aesthetic.
It's eclectic. There are a mix of furnishings; some which look like antiques, like a large mirror with a patina of gold beneath it or the elaborate sideboard with the carvings of animal scenes along the back. Some is more modern, looks like it will be antique in a few generations. Most interesting of all is the hand-painted wallpaper, which shows scenes from a river-port town that looks unlike anything Xanadu could ever become. No scene on the paper is repeated anywhere else in the house, and the style seemed to match that of some of the portraits.
Ash himself goes over to the bar and pours Celina a glass of water, then calls for a servant to ask her for a hatpin.
Celina listens to the rhythms of the house, to get the sound tapestry, and to understand if it changes suddenly. She catches Silhouette's body language and thanks her host when he brings the water.
It is a large house, by Xanadu.s standards, and clearly has two rhythms. The front is the business portion, while the back is living quarters.
Silhouette seems particularly interested in the golden patina - lightly touching it. "The distressing technique utilized here is most skillful. My compliments to the craftswoman."
"I'm sure they'll be here shortly. My wives worked on that together. It's a simple technique--you let a diluted acid eat through the silvering on the back side of the glass, and as long as you didn't do too much, you get a nice effect that, we think, reflects light well but interferes with mirror magic."
"That's right," says the first of two women coming in from the back. "It's supposedly protective." They come up and stand on either side of Ash.
"Good evening, your highness," says the older of the pair. "I am Haven, and this is Tjaden. Welcome to Xanadu."
Celina inclines her head to her hostesses, "Thank you for the welcome into your lovely home. The acid etch is a practical defense. My compliments. Silhouette and I are here to gather up a Rebman who needs to leave with us. We appreciate you giving us a place to shelter."
Silhouette returns to the Queen's side, bows politely to the ladies. "Thank you for your kindness in our time of need."
Haven curtseys, and Tjaden bows somewhat stiffly. "This is the King's House, and while he used to warn us that we wouldn't want to meet his relatives, we've been reasonably happy to do so, almost every time. I am particularly happy that I can now say I've met his granddaughter and that he is therefore defined as 'old'."
Ash laughs. "We love all of his majesty's relatives as if they were our own kin," says Ash. Is there anything you need to take other than your kinswoman? I'm afraid I don't have troops, but if you need a bodyguard, I have someone I can send."
Celina responds, "I expect to leave with Family assistance from Rebma. However, it might be prudent to have a small boat ready to exit your harbor. I can imagine being safer a thousand meters out and away before I try any quick exit. Is that any trouble?" She doesn't say anything about the bodyguard offer. He'll just assume she has it covered somehow. She pointed doesn't wink at Silhouette, but it looks like she might.
Silhouette's brow rises mildly, as if missing something.
"A boat can be arranged. However, are we discussing a boat with a Xanadhavian crew that goes a kilometer out to sea and then returns with tales of the disappearing queen, or are we discussing a boat which departs our port and never returns? Either is fine, but I need to know which explanation to obfuscate."
Celina nods once, "You're very kind to ask, and so this is the tale of the disappearing queen, and the monster that carried her off while the crew tightly shut their eyes and faced Xanadu. She promised to return one day, and would know if they tried to peer at the monster for they would be turned to salt. Hence the double dozen seas are very salty."
"Would such a narrative even be believable?" Silhouette asks.
"urely a sailor's legend, never believed and soon forgotten. In any case the portmaster can arrange things however she wishes." The door opens and Viper holds the door for Valeria . She enters, looking first annoyed then concerned when she sees Celina. She drops a perfect court curtsy and holds it.
"Lady Valeria," Celina's voice is warm and calm, "events in Rebma draw me back there before I can enjoy any of the delights of Castle Xanadu. Would you be willing to leave now, instead of later? Please rise."
Silhouette falls in behind the Queen, examining the new arrival with a discerning stare.
Valeria rises. "I serve at the pleasure of the Queen," says Valeria. Ash and his wives smile at this. "May I send a message to my household, such as it is? I will, of course, bring any assistance that I can muster to bear, if there are dangers in our homeland."
Celina looks at Lord Ash for a moment, then answers Valeria, "You can leave a message with Lord Ash. He'll see that your household knows you have left and how they might find defense or exit from Xanadu. I think they should sit tight until they hear from you again. We may be back tomorrow if fortune finds it so, I will be pleased." Her voice doesn't sound so likely on that last. "My part here is done for today, and I have pledged to leave. I want you with us."
Valeria leaves a message and Ash's men duly agree to deliver it as directed, and will offer aid as needed to any of her people.
With all the details arranged, Valeria, Silhouette, and Celina are escorted to a vessel in the harbor named "The Happenstance" and sail away. When Celina is ready to depart, she takes her leave of the the Captain, and sends her party through to the city under the sea.
Once outside and well down the hall on the way to her mother's rooms, Brita turns to Folly and states the obvious, "That was Weird. The Queen Seemed Genuinely Frightened at the Oddness of No Attendants. The King was... Lacking."
Folly nods and says in a hushed voice, "Here's the short version of what we know: Vere took a trip up the stairs and encountered the ghost of our recently-departed spooky cousin, who told him that she had journeyed up the stairs with Vialle but was held frozen by the Queen Above while Vialle Walked The Pattern" -- she pauses just a moment to let the weight of that, and her own belief in the wrongness of it, sink in -- "and then fell to her death when the sun rose. Vere just reported this to Bleys and all the redheaded cousins who weren't with Hannah, and I know he's told Robin, too. Bleys knew from Fiona that the king has of late lost interest in anything besides Vialle and her pregnancy, and seems obsessed with getting everyone to swear fealty to the unborn child. I'm theorizing that the Queen Above is somehow using the pregnancy to recorporealize. Pattern is no defense against whatever is going on, for obvious reasons."
She looks at Brita. "You've been with Vialle this last little bit -- did you notice anything strange?"
As they near the door to Fiona's chambers, Folly adds, "And did you get the sense your mom was asking you to call her?"
"The Lady Seemed Normal in My Company although her Attendants Seemed Stressed. Odd that Yet Again she Had Sight - Enough to Walk."
They come to Fiona's room and Brita enters. "She was Either Asking Me to Call or Bring her Cards." When she finds the loupe where Fiona said it was, she holds it up as she uses the other hand to draw out her deck. "I am Thinking it Was the Former."
She pulls forth Fiona's card, staring into the green eyes that hers reflect and thinks, "Mother?"
Fiona answers her without speaking. The focus of the Trump is very tight. _The King is under a complex and difficult enchantment. Warn the rest of the youngsters. Find your brother and your uncle. Do not tell me where you are going lest the worst befall._
_Understood, Mother. Stay Safe._ Brita thinks back.
Brita nods down the hall "Incoming Cousins," she notes to Folly. "I Need to Find a Page to Take This to My Mother," she holds up the Loupe.
Folly's lips press into a thin line. "What did she say? Did she seem herself? Does she know the source of the problem is probably Vialle?"
Ossian, Raven and Regenlief come down the corridor. When they get close Ossian says with a low voice. "You were quicker getting here, Folly. Is everything well? Brita?"
"Not well, but probably no worse than it was an hour ago," Folly says. She still seems quite agitated. She looks at Brita to fill in additional details.
"My Mother Works on the Complex Enchantment on Our Uncle," Brita notes. "I Believe She Understands the Danger - She Wished to Protect Us." Brita also searches out a page and gives the child the loupe to take to her mother and says, "Tell her I have Been Detained by My Cousins and Need to Meet with My Brother."
The page takes the loupe and disappears.
"Plan seems to be that everybody's meeting," Raven offers when the page is out of earshot. "Midnight, at whatever's the local Grove of the Unicorn. And no wandering around alone, on Prince Martin's orders, which is why we were looking for you, Brita. Not that you were alone and all, but... well."
Folly looks up at the mention of Martin and puts her hand on her hip; Ossian can see the outline of her trump case through the fabric of her dress. "He's here? Did he have some sort of package with him? Maybe about like...." She holds her hands out and makes a round-ish shape, about the size of a chicken.
Ossian nods. "I guess you haven't met... Cousins... This is my mother, Regenlief." He turns to his mother. "Cousins Brita and Folly."
"Regenlief is from Asgard, Brita."
Folly extends a hand in greeting. "Well-met, Regenlief, and welcome to Xanadu. I'd offer the full tour, but... maybe not under the current circumstances."
"I think the--" Regenlief hesitates and settles on "--Lady Folly and I have met in passing, but it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." She turns to Brita and smiles. "Goddess," she says, "to see one such as you after the end of the world pleases me well. I had not thought so many survived Ragnarok."
Brita smiles gently at Regenlief. "There are Not Many Who Survived, But They are There -- My Father was One. You may Call Me Brita Here, Valkyrie Regenlief." She offers her arm for warrior's clasp.
Brita turns to Raven, "It will be Good for Us to Meet. There Appears to be Much to Discuss."
"Aye, the list ain't getting shorter," Raven agrees. "I didn't get a good look at it," she adds, turning to Folly, "but I know Jerod and Prince Garret were sent off this way with some kind of package."
Ossian raises an eyebrow, and waits for Folly to react.
"Unfortunately, that package was intended for Fiona," Folly says, "who already has her hands full at the moment." She sighs.
"The package is the head of a zombie; Martin has been encountering them across shadow and was hoping Fiona could determine something about their origin, and how to combat them, from a... fresh biological sample. It has the potential to infect anyone who's not one of us, so we don't want it getting out."
Folly looks around at the assembled group. "I'm inclined to call Garrett and let him know to hold onto the package, and then call Martin, who -- depending on how much of a head start he's gotten -- might be able to get us over the mountain the quick way. But..." She looks at Brita. "Do you think we should give Fiona a quick call to let her know? Or save this for later, when we've got a better overall plan?"
"Is Fiona with the Queen? I think Trumping would be dangerous, if Fiona is overpowered" Ossian says. "I should make the call if we decide that it needs to be done. Several reasons."
"Martin was still in the square when we left," Raven offers.
Regenlief says, "If there are undead, we should all be armed. Not just with blades, but with boar spears we can use to keep them away from us. Where can we find such in the castle?" The question is directed at all of them, but Regenlief is focused on Raven, whom she apparently thinks is likeliest to have an answer to this question.
(Perhaps, Brita may intuit, because Brita is a goddess who needs no weapons, but of the other three Raven seems the likeliest hero.)
Folly cocks her head. "I think the armory isn't as... armor-y... as you might want for boar-hunting, but there are other sorts of blades. And sturdy long-handled implements that aren't actually weapons, but could be used as such in a pinch, out in the storage near the stables. Or maybe Jerod will let us borrow his giant fish-spear-thing." She flashes a grin, then adds more seriously, "As long as we keep the specimen contained, I think -- I hope -- we won't have to worry about undead contamination anytime soon. The places we'd been traveling were pretty far out from here. But better safe than sorry, I suppose."
She has pulled out her trump case as she speaks and has Garrett's card in hand, but she looks again at Brita for her thoughts on calling Fiona.
Brita has been thinking, staring off into space. She turns to Folly, "Mother Was able to Take My earlier Call. I Can Relay the Information when Needed, but Not Now."
Ossian nods. "Let's go to the armory anyway. Besides. Do we know if anyone has contacted Paige or Hannah yet?"
"Aye," Raven agrees. "Few more weapons won't hurt any of us, but we probably don't want to be walking armories ourselves if we don't want to get everyone worried. Got enough attention on what's going on by the way we all left the party at once."
"Well, if we're headed up the mountain there won't be nearly as many people to notice us," Folly offers. She looks back over her shoulder, presses her palm to the wall, and closes her eyes for a moment. She looks like she might be whispering something.
When she opens her eyes again, she gives quick directions on how to get to the armory, for those who aren't yet familiar with the castle and its layout. She finishes with, "I'm just gonna give Garrett a quick call as we walk, so he knows what's going on here," and makes a broad 'lead on' gesture to the group as she drops her gaze to focus on the card.
Brita pulls out her Trumps and notes, "I shall Call My Brother. He Needs to Know." What he needs to know, she doesn't say. She begins to concentrate on the card as they move.
Three groups of cousins find themselves in the courtyard at once.
Outside the stables, planning their trip to the grove are Brennan and Signy.
Exiting the Stables, no longer riding in a cart, are Jerod, Conner, and Garrett.
Exiting the Castle and moving posthaste towards the stables is a group consisting of Edan, Robin, Paige, Hannah, and... baby $BABYNAME.
They are close enough to wave to each other, or get closer and have a conversation.
When Brennan sees first Jerod's group, and then Edan's group of cousins, he says to Signy, "Remember what I said about keeping a weather eye." He then breaks into a trot in Edan's direction. It's not a dead run, and Signy could easily keep up if she so chose, but she'd have to decide that was worth doing.
When he reaches Edan, Hannah, Paige and the newest addition to the Family, Brennan says, "Hello, everyone. At the risk of being socially graceless-- Edan, did you retrieve that object? Signy also has with her the chain that she and Robin and others retrieved from..." Brennan fails for words because he's not even sure how to describe it, "...that event with the Queen. Don't know if they're going to start interacting, but wanted you to be aware."
Conner also moves across the courtyard towards the group of Edan et al. Before he says a word, Conner pauses to gaze at the baby and smiles the brightest smile he has this day. "I see the splitting up part of the plan is going splendidly." Conner observes deadpan. "I know the night has been busy for everyone but have any of you seen my Mother in the castle?"
Hannah shakes her head at Conner, but smiles at his smile. She's going to take herself and the baby out of the way of the knights while there are interactive objects about one another. She takes this opportunity to find a stone to sit on within earshot and feed the baby, grateful for the draping of the fringed overcoat.
As Robin's watchful eyes catch sight of Jerod in the company of Conner and Garrett, and Brennan in the company of... Signy, she guesses, a sigh flows through the girl and she immediately drops the Pattern from her mind. While those two get their wind up, there just ain't no good in getting in front of them.
As Brennan trots directly toward Edan, so she drops back to monitor Hannah. Conner gets a quick nod and a small smile. But Robin's pretty much just staying watchful.
"I have the thing," Edan says, and is immediately watchful. In fact, he has his Third Eye up with the express purpose of warning against magical interactions between the two artifacts. "We should take them somewhere...else."
Jerod, having climbed off the cart, zombie-head in bag securely secured, is quick to take in the situation, making note of Knights, cousins, baby and assorted 'goings-on'.
"I need to get back home more often," he says to Garrett as he heads over to Brennan.
Signy keeps pace with Brennan as he moves over to the larger group, but does keep a bit of a respectful distance from Edan.
It never hurts to be safe, though hopefully being in a place of Order will be protection enough.
She flashes a quick smile. "Are things always this exciting at Family get-togethers," she asks dryly.
With Paige and Edan and Jerod, Brennan gives Edan a sympathetic look as he just put Edan on even more guard than he was before, but explains he didn't want to take chances with Hannah's and his new child so close. If Jerod's got something urgent (which would not surprise Brennan at all!) Brennan takes that seriously and waits. But while Brennan would like to talk to literally every person present who is capable of speech, he's got a clear priority now that his warning has been delivered: Robin.
Left to his own devices, Brennan will be heading to Robin and Hannah, next.
Assuming none of the family gaggle here is going to have any information on where to find Fiona or the King, Conner will turn his attention to any remotely useful servant types around to ascertain their location so that they might drop off a rather nasty undead containing duffel bag.
Hannah is resettling after feeding the still-swaddled baby. She has taken off the sling he was in and draped it over her lap. She momentarily holds him up to her ear and looks thoughtful. She grins at Brennan, knowing this looks silly, but then nods in apparent satisfaction. The child is returned to her lap while she fusses with the white sheet under him.
When Brennan makes his way over to Hannah and Robin, he wears a caricatured expression of offense that Hannah and the baby might be talking about him... for about three paces before it dissolves into a smile. "Hannah, Robin," he greets them, then softly, "Hello, newest cousin." He turns to Hannah and Robin, aware that he was just the buzzkill, and says, "I expected to catch up at the Grove, not here." A shrug. "I didn't want to take chances. All is well?" Under the circumstances, anyway.
Hannah grins at Brennan and offers up the baby. "Actually, I'm very hungry and my willpower is all used up, but these people keep marching me around." Robin gets the look again, but Hannah can't quite hold it. "Other than being denied food, and the various unrelated dramas, all is well. I would very much like to hear about what you've been up to later, if there is time."
Robin's business face slips a little from repressing a grin at Hannah's "look". If Robin were vulnerable to Mom-looks, she wouldn't be Robin.
She nods to Brennan and keeps it as short and sweet as she can, "I left a report with your page. But birthing went well. Cousin's a nephew, which reduces the danger some in my opinion. Someone tried to visit, but Brita distracted them and I broke the door so there was no contact. Headed to the Grove now. With incipient barbecue for testy mothers." She finishes with a wry grin.
Brennan takes the baby and holds him carefully, but not in a posture that implies he's settling in for a long conversation. When Robin mentions that it is a boy, he nods to her in some gratitude-- that sets his mind even more at ease. He still looks tired, as he did at the Balcony Conference, but also like he's hit a second wind and is just going to push through until he rests.
To Hannah, he says, "Short answer, I've been in Avalon with Conner trying to foil Moire and if possible take her into custody. There's a lot to tell, though," and he's including Robin now. "Bad things are happening very fast, close to home, and I don't think anyone knows all of it, or even who knows what." Brennan is very evidently including himself in that position. "I'm glad you'll both be at tonight's gathering. Robin, maybe we should ride down ahead?"
"As long as Hannah and infant are with us." Robin's eyes twinkle as she anticipates Hannah's reaction to that.
Hannah doesn't seem to love Brennan's answer nor Robin's 'suggestion'. She gladly takes back the baby and shifts his swaddling to show Brennan his currently-black hair. Something about his amuses her. "He'll be more awake if you can catch him when he hasn't just eaten. He'll be more interesting when he's ready to ask you questions." She half smiles at the child and looks back up at Brennan. "Next thing we know he'll want to go 'campaign' with you.
"We're with Edan. He hasn't had two minutes with his son." Her tone indicates there isn't going to be any negotiation about this. She stands and re-secures the wrap and child so her hands are free.
Robin nods agreeably.
Conner feels the contact of a Trump. It is imbued with a sense of worry.
Conner takes the call and Brita can see the stables of the castle behind him. "Who calls?"
"Have You Spoken with Mother?" Brita comes into focus. He can see a couple of cousins behind her and they appear to be moving. Brita converts to a mental She is With the King and Now the Queen and Warned Me Away
Warned you away? Conner thinks. I only just got to the castle in search of Mother. Jerod has a sample of some zombie-like creature that Martin brought back from Shadow. He wanted Mother to examine it but she'll not have time for it now. Brita can almost hear the unspoken Now what do we do with the bloody thing?
"Do you Know of the Meeting in The Grove?" Brita asks. She Spoke of a Spell on The King and Worried It was Dangerous.
I do and of the enchantment as well. Uncle Bleys gathered our Redhead cousins and told us. I got Celina out of here and Uncle Bleys is making himself scarce. He worries the enchantment may spread to others of strong Pattern nature. Conner's sigh is out loud. Where are you? I can bring you all to the stable if you are looking to leave here for the grove.
"We are Headed to the Armory," Brita notes. "Do We Wish to Go to the stables with My Brother?" she asks the group.
I am with Cousin Folly, Cousin Ossian, Cousin Raven, and Valkyrie Regenlief. Brita nods and waves a "go ahead" hand at the others. "Can We Stay Connected, Brother?" She says out loud "We Will Join you Shortly."
Certainly, Sister. Conner replies. Much of the family is here making their preparations to depart. I do hope there are enough horses. We had to come here in a baker's cart. The mental sigh is loud.
Brita's mental grin has wattage as she asks, Did you Get me a Muffin or Ten? I'm Feeling Peckish.
Conner's mood brightens in kind. Alas, we only got the cart sans baked goods. Perhaps you should be raiding the kitchens and not the armory.
As the clusters of cousins in the courtyard begin to regroup, Garrett feels the stirrings of a trump contact. It seems... loud, somehow.
Stopping short in his effort to catch up with Jerod, who was striding in Brennan's direction with the zombie-bag, Garrett answers, "Yes?"
Folly comes into focus. The view is pretty tight around her, but she seems to be somewhere in the castle, and moving. She says, "Hi, Garrett -- just to let you know, I know the errand you're on, but the person you're looking for is going to be unavailable for that particular task due to other urgent family matters. So you may have to hold onto your delivery for a little while. Are you comfortable with how to keep it secured?"
Garrett sucks in a breath as a look of concern crosses his face. "Hadn't thought about storing it, to be honest. Jerod has it now. We're together in the stable yard. You have any suggestions?" he asks.
"I doubt we want to leave it unattended," Folly says. "But even if we take it with us, I just want to make sure it's... well-contained." She pauses a moment, thinking, then asks, "How is it packaged now?"
"It's just in a canvas bag right now," he replies.
She describes a few things that might help: sturdy leather straps, some kind of small container impervious to the elements, protective gear such as gloves -- although soon after she mentions that last, Garrett gets the impression that she's been successful on her end with that one.
"All right. I'll see what I can do," Garrett responds. "Are you going to the Grove now?"
"I think we're headed your way very soon," Folly says, and grins. "See you in the stableyard in a few minutes? Looks like we've scrounged some possible containment here -- we'll see how it works."
"All right. I'll see you when you get here then," Garrett grins then closes the contact.
"Have you Spoken with Mother?" Brita asks the connection. A pause. "Do you Know of the Meeting in The Grove?" Another pause. "We are Headed to the Armory," Brita looks up and around at the group. "Do We wish to Go to the stables With My Brother?" she asks.
Ossian asks "Do we have Paige and Hannah covered? If so, yes, why not?"
"If we want to do the armory, we'd best do it now or we'll just be back here later," Raven points out. "And then we could leave from there. If not, then we might as well go."
Regenlief looks to where Folly is apparently having a different conversation through her Trump. "You two go ahead and I can stay with Folly. We'll meet you in the stable soon."
"Let's go pick up some weapons then," Ossian says. "What do you need, mother?" He seems to expect a quick answer as he is already moving towards the armory.
Meanwhile, Folly seems to have gotten through on her call. She says, "Hi, Garrett -- just to let you know, I know the errand you're on, but the person you're looking for is going to be unavailable for that particular task due to other urgent family matters. So you may have to hold onto your delivery for a little while. Are you comfortable with how to keep it secured?" Without looking up from the card, she points back and forth between Ossian and Raven and gives a thumbs-up, then walks toward them while maintaining the contact.
Quite possibly, the armory will help secure that delivery of Garrett's.
"I'm thinking that's a 'we're all going,'" Raven says dryly. "Brita, why don't you bring that call along, if he doesn't mind hanging on for the walk?"
Brita nods and waves them on. "Can We Stay Connected, Brother?" She says to the card. "We Will Join you Shortly."
Still concentrating on her own Trump connection, Folly says, "I doubt we want to leave it unattended. But even if we take it with us, I just want to make sure it's... well-contained." She pauses a moment, then asks, "How is it packaged now?"
Ossian smiles. If Folly or Brita seems to need it he will take their arm and lead them, if that allows the company to walk faster.
Raven is going to fade back to be the rear of the group, unless someone stops her. That seems the easiest way to both make sure that no one wanders off and make sure that the distracted people aren't exposed if they run into something more dangerous than pages or a wrong turn.
The armory, when following Folly's directions, turns out to be quite conveniently close. Regenlief secures a boar spear, sword, great-shield, and hemet for herself, and looks a proper Valkyrie. She starts picking equipment for the others, based on her best guesses of their needs. She seems to be completely in her element in the armory.
Ossian is quite curious as to what Regenlief will pick for him.
Raven is likewise willing to see what is picked for her, but generally favors being armed like a sailor and not like a walking tank.
Folly broadly describes a few things that might be useful to her purposes: sturdy leather straps, an impervious container, flexible protective gear. The armory is not so big on head containers, but Folly does end up with a pair of mesh gauntlets that seem to please her.
Brita has been scanning the room and poking around behind the weapon stands. When she finally finds what she is looking for, she calls out to Folly - "Would This Armor Case Work for your Package?" From behind a stand full of ornate and complicated axes and, inexplicably, one electric guitar, she uses a foot to nudge out a black lacquered box about 20" square. It is emblazoned with a gold circle surrounding a three leafed symbol also in gold. Its edges are reinforced with metal brackets and it has a hinged lid. Two metal handles stick off the sides.
Regenlief dumps an arsenal of weapons on a nearby table, and goes over to each person in turn. She looks at their hands, looking for (and generallly not finding) callouses and patterns that indicate long familiarity with particular weapons.
Folly gets a knife and a buckler, and then Regenleif hands her a second knife. Raven is handed a cutlass and a dirk, Ossian is given a rapier and a dashing helmet, Brita is given an axe. The axe is clearly one of the prizes of the room, but it doesn't seem to belong with anything else.
Regenlief herself takes a tower shield, a helmet, and a spear.
Folly nods her thanks to Regenlief. She continues her trump conversation, but in a slightly louder tone that is clearly meant to be heard by the others in the armory: "I think we're headed your way very soon," she says, and grins. "See you in the stableyard in a few minutes? Looks like we've scrounged some possible containment here -- we'll see how it works."
By her body language, she's ready to head out as soon as everyone else is comfortably armed and armored.
Regenlief pulls a chainmail shirt over her head. "When you're ready," she tells Folly and the others, "we should go."
Ossian smiles and takes the helmet and rapier. "Let's go. Are they still in the stables?"
Brita gives a decisive nod. "Shield Maid Regenlief - Take the Armor Case." Once the Valkyrie has shifted her spear and picked up the box, Brita places a hand on her shoulder and notes to Conner with an odd little nod, "We will Come Through Now." After Regenlief is through, she brings each Cousin into the contact one by one and allows them to step through to her Brother. She oddly announced each in turn, as if Conner can't see them as they are brought into the Trump call. "Cousin Raven... Kin Ossian...Cousin Folly."
Are you Bored Yet, Waiting on Hold, Brother? Brita asks after she has come into the armory. We are Almost Done. Connor hears the talk of the armor case as an option for the package and watches her accept an axe from the Valkyrie.
Then Brita thinks Ok. We are Ready. I Will Send them Through One by One In Case there is Any Trickery. She places her hand on Regenlief's shoulder and the Valkyrie comes into focus, carrying a lacquered black box, shield, and spear tucked into a harness across her back.
Beware the Weapons she thinks as she dips her head towards Regenlief... odd little nod. "We will Come Through Now," She says out loud. After Regenlief is through, she brings each Cousin into the contact one by one and allows them to step through to her Brother.
"Cousin Raven." ...with a Cutlass and Dagger
"Kin Ossian." ...Rapier
"Cousin Folly." ...Knives
...and me - Axe she thinks the last as she takes Connor's hand to come through.
Folly, Ossian, Raven, Regenlief, and Brita all come through on Conner's trump and are in the stables. They have come well-armed and prepared for a potential conflict, though not in the stables. More like if some trouble shows up where they're going, they're armed for it.
Regenlief looks over the group and says, "I am Regenlief of Asgard, and mother to Ossian. Well met, kin of my son. Where do we go from here?"
Garrett, being a bit apart from Conner and the arriving group, looks around for Jerod so he can retrieve the parcel for the "containment" Folly mentioned.
Jerod remains conveniently close by, making sure no one gets bothered by the "package".
Brita glances at Folly and then waves at the box Regenlief carries. "Prince-Cousin Garret and Prince-Emeritus-Cousin Jerod," she greets each with a nod. "Valkyrie-Kin Regenlief has the Armor Box you Require."
Raven gives a general nod to the group they've joined, by way of greeting, but disposal of the head really has priority here, in her opinion.
Regenlief has the aforementioned armored box and opens it so Jerod and Garrett can put their burden inside.
Jerod proffers up the aforementioned moving, squiggly, unpleasant satchel of doom. "All yours."
Folly steps forward and takes it, sizes it up, and then eyes the armor case. "I recommend we try to put this whole thing in the case, if we can, rather than try to transfer it." She brings the duffel toward Regenlief, pauses, and then gestures for her to put the case on the ground. "I don't want to risk exposing you," she says, by way of explanation.
Regenlief starts to say something, looks to Brita, and looks hard at the duffel. Whatever she sees looking at the duffel convinces her to put the armored case down and back well away.
Ossian looks disgusted. He stays quiet for the moment.
Garrett steps up beside the box, ready to clamp the lid down on it quickly when the duffel is safely inside.
The thing inside the duffel wiggles and protests a little, but Garrett gets it into place with little difficulty and slams the top shut. It has a lock and key that Garrett can use to secure the opening.
Regenlief looks at Garrett and Folly. "What is that thing?"
"A zombie head that Prince Martin brought back from a shadow where he spent some time," Garrett explains more calmly than one might expect as he locks the box. He looks down at the key in his hand for a moment, then flags down a stablehand.
"Hey. Run and grab me a small sack big enough for this," he says, holding up the key. "And a short sword and belt from the stash in the back of the stable."
Signy glances at the closed box from the corner where she's been quietly leaning against the wall. "This seems like the sort of thing that would be better examined off in a Shadow somewhere," she notes.
Folly adds, for Regenlief's benefit, "If you don't know this word 'zombie', it used to be a man but was infected by being bitten by another zombie. The infection turns you into a single-minded, almost-unkillable moster that -- if it behaves true to the legends -- craves living flesh and brains. Our blood offers some protection, but I don't know how closely related you need to be for full protection. So, y'know, don't let it bite you." She offers up a grim smile.
"Oh." Regenlief sounds disappointed. "A draugr." She clearly thought it was going to be something more exciting.
Once Garrett has the items he needs, Folly gestures them on up the hill, zombie-head case in tow.
Brita hefts the box and notes to the Valkyrie to take up rear guard before proceeding up the hill.
Robin, Edan, Hannah, Stormaggeddon (working name for Baby), and Brennan help the grooms find them horses, saddles, saddle-bags, and anything else they need and they prepare to ride up the hill to the forest to find the grove.
Edan finds an opportunity to hold the baby, and when he does they both are warm. Very warm. Sorcerously warm. But he seems to have a good idea of where the comfort zone should be.
Hannah, having finally eaten, sees what he's up to and gives the sheet-carrier over to him so the baby can stay on him for awhile. She's somehow coaxed the stablehands out of a pillow. "I'm going to use this for extra padding when we ride, and you can keep him. He's just eaten and I plan to sleep on you. Be careful with that heat - if the milk curdles you'll regret it." She grins though. Maybe she's teasing.
"Understood. Just making things more like the hot tub he's enjoyed for months," Edan says. "Have you considered a name, or is that too premature?"
"My people don't find their names until they have survived 3 or 4 years. If he lives four days, we give him a baby name. There are ceremonies, of course. I will have to do that, whatever is happening, even if it's just he and I. I've been thinking Ingthonsinznede, which means 'cougar' for a baby name. He sounds a bit like a baby cougar when he roars. Is there anything we should be doing to honor your culture?"
"I'll have to sit down and write it out, probably," Edan says. "There are names for who he is, who we are, what he does... my name, for instance, is 'Edan ibn Bleys ibn Oberon al-Kehribar al-Salaamal-Djinn-al-Ghanii'. He will have that, and more."
"Is it important I actually memorize that voluble title? This poor child. Maybe he'll tell us both to forget it, he's going by John." She yawns, and reconfigures the baby's position so she can lay her cheek on Edan's chest. "I'm teasing you," she says tiredly, "but yes, write it all down."
Edan smiles. "Jaw...jawn. Strange name. So monosyllabic. Well. Plenty of time to learn a name. And all the rest of it. When we reach this meeting, we will have to firm up our own plans."
"Hrm," she murmurs, eyes closed. "Some of us have to stay, whatever the consequences. We can't abandon Xanadu. I hope we will end up on the same side." She slips her other hand under the carrier strap on his back and twists a loop around her wrist to hold her on the horse. "I mean, us three."
Edan shifts slightly, so that suddenly he has the baby in the carrier and his arms around Hannah and somehow still has full control of Aramsham. A lifetime of living in the saddle must have made that possible. He's still toasty warm.
"I don't know how this will go," he admits, unhappily. "While I will get out regularly to train Knights and army, I see little choice but to remain and work from the inside. At the same time I wouldn't want someone to try and use you or the baby against me."
"I wouldn't want you to let them. Anyone who would try that will be... unworthy of belief. Sometimes you'll make decisions in the interest of your great-grandchildren's great grandchildren's," she waves her free hand in a circle, "that seem incomprehensible to others at the time. You need to remember there are atrocities I would happily suffer the worst torture to try to stop, unto dying, and that your son is likely to be just as true to his principles. To change course and compromise yourself in order to protect us is to betray us." She manages to pull herself up to look at him with sad eyes. "I know what I'm asking for. I'm sorry."
She kisses his shoulder and lays her head back down.
Edan struggles a moment to find the right words. "I know my mind," he finally says. "I know the line that will have to be crossed. Unfortunately for Martin, without clear public evidence of meddling from the Queen, this vow thing they'll want doesn't really cross that line. If Random was in his right mind, he'd have every right to name his successor. Not the motivation, thankfully."
Hannah sighs but says nothing for awhile, then comes out of sleep with a start. "We can trust the cousins, right? Not so much about... the politics, but with the baby? I don't want to be paranoid nor naive, I just want to... know the unknowable." She grins, and relaxes slightly.
Edan shrugs a little and smiles. "You're asking me? I'm still an outsider. Okay, maybe not so much now. I know Paige and Brennan more than most, and I think we could count on them for almost anything. The rest I do not know as well, but most of our cousins seem to have a strong sense of Family. Like our elders acted long ago."
She snorts. "Like when Corwin used to fight with his older brother until he no longer remembered who he was? You're making me nervous. I would trust Folly and Martin - I don't know why I'd trust Martin, but I would. Brita, Jerod, Brennan, Conner, they could all do it but I don't know there is any interest there. When he's older, it'd be different. And Robin and Solange and Paige to at least keep him alive. Well, Vere. Vere would be the right kind of steady. Ossian would not. I don't know the rest of them well enough to know. Lilly seems young to me, younger even than Garrett. Oh, yeah, he could do it. Not Celina, no fault of her own. I've switched over to 'what if we have to drop him with someone.' Being trusted not to murder a baby or otherwise mess with him - that better be all of them. I hope I can get some time with Folly to ask about how she is handling parenting in this family... beside hiding out. That's not my path."
"I can't imagine you hiding out," Edan says, "though at the moment you're in no shape to fight. If something happened, beyond the chaos that's already happened, you need a safe place to recover." He thinks. "The old tree in the forest of the Blue Earth, I gave him sentience. Have you been around him long enough that he would know you?"
She pulls up again to look at him strangely. "I'm not sure. What kind of sentience did you give him? He might still be processing his last communication.
"And I can fight just fine. I'd hate to end up hand to hand, but I could do it. I'd just be at a disadvantage. I suppose I should be after a bow and arrows. I have knives. My plan is to stay back and doctor. Every person I can keep alive..." She falls silent and looks off to the right, composing lists in her head.
Edan almost grins. "You understand the psychology of trees," he says. "This makes me happy. Father had to explain this to me. I gave Grandfather Tree awareness of the progeny around him, sped up his thinking to where we could talk, gave him awareness of the cycles of the earth and of the network I created. What I'm saying is, if you ever needed a bolt hole, there's a place just outside Xanadu's forest that would take you to him. If he didn't recognize you outright, he..." Edan's skin darkens and he glances away.
Hannah sighs. "He wouldn't recognize your son. Is it a fiery death?"
Edan turns his face back a little, and Hannah can see embarrassment is what made him flush. "You misunderstand me. First, our son is half mine, he should be able to tell that if I did my job right. Second, after what we did before the dance, if Grandfather Tree didn't recognize you, he'd know we'd been...together. I've ramped up his perceptions, remember. No fiery death if he didn't."
"Oh. So how does that work with sorcery? Is it that your aura has rubbed off on me, or is it your dna? What does he do with people he doesn't recognize? And are you sure he's a 'he'?"
Some of the embarrassment evaporates. "Never would I have thought I would give expert answers to these questions," Edan says. "There were no flowers to check, but the voice in my head was male. That might have been confused through the lens of my sorcery. I didn't give him defenses, though he might have developed his own by now. The magic isn't supposed to work at all unless I'm somehow involved...like me, or our son, or for the moment, you. Our auras are all ensnarled in each other right now, though that will wear off with time. Sex is a Principle. So is Blood. Sex and Blood magic have been around as long as Time itself. Which is why I'll be cleansing the birth chamber with sage and fire if it's not already done. Someone might be able to overcome our natural resistance to sorcery if they were very innovative."
Hannah sighs. "I can't imagine it is possible we got everything, but if not-Vialle wants to do something, the time is now. Sage," she smiles tiredly, "is what my people use too. I only had a little in my bag and it's needed there."
She looks up at him a moment, and then seems to decide something. "My people don't use sex for magic, because to take those energies away from the relationship they're warming is a kind of stealing. I should say, the people are not supposed to. There are always stories. So, otherwise someone just needs your blood, or mine as it is now, or the cougar's to be seen as... in relation to you? Would your father's work?"
"I don't know. Maybe," Edan says. "He is also a sorcerer, and each of us have our own...imprint? Signature? To our sorcery. That might interfere. Blood was never my favorite Principle. I know some things, but hardly put it into practice. Birds of Desire are completely different, of course, that doesn't count."
Hannah looks between Edan and the baby for a moment, silent and thoughtful. She seems to have given up the notion of sleep. "Is a Bird of Desire what you get when you mix the Principles herefore described?"
"We're I to make one on the other side of the Tree, I would use Blood and Similarity," Edan says. "But a Bird of Desire is a Pattern thing. Fiona taught me. When we find the time, you should learn it too-" He breaks off as Folly's whistle sounds down behind them.
Hannah groans. "Do you want me to trump somebody? We've got to be almost there, based on... what I know about the Grove."
Edan smiles as he looks back to her. "Let's see you and the baby safe before we worry about anything else, yes? Safe, or armed properly. Or both."
After helping make whatever preparations for the trip are necessary, Brennan also takes a horse and sets out.
He trails after Hannah and Edan at a respectful enough distance that they can have privacy of conversation even if they're not out of sight range.
Brennan is free for conversation.
Robin rides Misae comfortably and expertly, though the horse-blooded in the group (Edan) would note that she's not one of those born-to-the-saddle types. With a quick gesture, Robin gets her firelizards into the air and into ... maybe? ... an overwatch pattern of a type. They're still babies after all, though they do try.
She then reins her horse up to the tired Brennan. "Did you want to chat at me or should I take point?" Either is fine with her.
"Yeah, we should talk. Probably for more time than we have right now, but...." Brennan ends that awkwardly with an it-is-what-it-is gesture. "The whole purpose of this exercise in Discretionary Fun is to keep people from getting blindsided, but there's blindsided and there's blindsided. Has Vere gotten a message to you? Or did Edan tell you about what Bleys dropped on us?"
Brennan looks like he's gotten a second wind, somewhere, or just decided that there's so much to worry about that he doesn't have time to be tired.
Yeah. Holding a baby can do that to a person. Robin's eyes twinkle slightly at that inner thought.
But she shakes her head in response to Brennan's question. "No messages. And Eden and I didn't get around to trading stories yet? What's lurking?"
"After Edan's display, Bleys called him and his nephews up for a talk. Folly was there uninvited but appreciated," Brennan says. "Here's where I just rip the bandage off quick: Bleys says the King is subject to a magical attack, a geas, that uses his ties to the Jewel. It's resisted Bleys' and Fiona's attempts to counteract it so far. The effects are a single-minded focus on the Queen, their unborn child, and getting everyone to swear fealty to it. And near-crippling apathy when he's separated from them. Some of that, the observed effects, Folly corroborated independently.
"That throws some sand into the gears of the old plan," he says.
Robin frowns. "It does indeed... Oh! I should also throw into the mix, that Lady Corvis has noted that the Queen's 'moods' are not constant. That sometimes she is as she has always been. And at other times, she becomes 'cruel'.
"On a personal note, I have already used up my not-attending-the mandatory-events cards. If I'm alive, I have to attend the get-together tomorrow. Don't know what I'll do about oaths....
"As far as alternative plans go, the only ones that jump to mind right now are pretty darn bad. And would get me locked up for a couple decades..." Robin shrugs, "Rather not do that."
Brennan echoes that shrug, with feeling. "I don't know, either. Good to know about those moods, though.
"Folly came to the same conclusion we did-- Queen of Air and Darkness-- for somewhat different reasons. Surprisingly she wasn't on Bleys' primary suspect list. She is now. We called Vere in. One reason was the same reason I just told you all that, to make sure he understood the new danger in talking to the King. I hoped he'd volunteer his encounter in Tir to Bleys, and he did." Brennan scrubs a hand through his hair. "The whole situation is a cluster. Vere is watching the Xanadu approach to Tir with Lilly, and I think they'll be joining us by Trump. I've lost track of who knows what, now, which is dangerous enough. That's aside from not knowing what Bleys is doing right now, either."
Robin shoots a sympathetic (and grim) smile at Brennan. Yep, Lords of Order - worse than a bunch of firecats.
"Hmmmm? I hate myself for suggesting this. But what about King Corwin? He's got some experience with nascent realms, jewels and tricksy women. He's also reasonably pro-Xanadu/Random. Is he involved in the cluster, yet?"
"No idea," Brennan says. "I talked to Martin briefly before herding everyone in this direction-- part of this is just to get in front of the rumors that started spreading, and give people some warning, let everyone's decisions be informed ones for a change. And part to bounce ideas like that off each other. Funny, I don't think anyone's suggested including anyone from the next generation up. Corwin's either the best or the worst person to talk to because of that sword of his. My thought was Benedict. Us or Bleys, I can't comprehend not telling him once we can get hold of him.
"Anyway, you know what I know-- didn't want you riding in blind," Brennan says.
Robin nods, "Thank you."
She pauses as she thinks, then reluctantly allows, "Sooooo, we've got a small ride in front of us. Did you want to talk about..." she shrugs, "Knight stuff? It's a change of pace at least." Robin finishes with a wry smile.
"It's as bad a time as any," Brennan says, "which is just how we roll." He waves a hand to indicate he's talking about Family, not just Robin and himself. "Yeah, we have to talk about that. And probably our previous... disagreement." Brennan's pause is a tacit offer to let Robin to pick a direction if she wants.
Robin snorts in agreement regarding Family timing. Then blows a fluff of air at her bangs as she thinks.
"Let's talk about Knight stuff first. At least for me, disagreement stuff will probably ease with time..."
Brennan nods agreement, or acquiescence.
"Though I suspect that the main... force, thought, thing?... behind both is that I'm not military in either training or inclination. I've been mulling it over in my mind. And I'm thinking that the closest I can come to Rangering in terms of more widespread philosophies is Special Ops Peacekeepers... Kind of." She shrugs.
"If you guys decide you want something like that in your Order, fine. But I'm never going to be a toe-the-line order taker. I can't and won't give my power as a Scion of Amber, or the responsibility that goes with it, to anyone else. Even and especially to another Scion of Amber. Except for the King, of course. Him, he gets my best efforts. Because he's demonstrated that he's worthy of them."
Robin shrugs. She realizes that she's rambling a bit, but she's got to start talking or the civilized people will never trust her. (Stupid words....)
Brennan mulls that over for a while, probably deciding between questions before settling on, "Aisling, Lilly, Marius, your brothers and I-- how many of us do you see as military by training or inclination, as you say?" Brennan doesn't seem to regard 'military' as an insult or a compliment, particularly.
"You, Lilly and Marius. You know, the remainders." Robin smiles sadly at the back of Misae's head. Then she shrugs and looks back to Brennan, "But I'm willing to admit to a false dichotomy if you see one."
"No, I think there's something to that. I hadn't thought about it much, though," Brennan says. "I'll cop to it, and I think Lilly would. Daeon, Aisling, not in any way, shape or form. Marius I'd put an asterisk next to. I don't know as much about Amber's navy as I'd like to-- Xanadu's, now-- and I don't know how... regimented they are, for lack of a better term. Maybe Jove, too. Those flyers seemed organized to me. But, yeah, I see what you mean. Self-selection, definitely, and what looks like attrition.
"So how do you figure a team of three equally ranked officers coordinates, with or without three equally ranked non-military types?"
Robin purses her lips as she thinks about. And shakes her head sadly. "I do not know. Daeon and I fought pretty badly over authority issues. But Jove and I didn't at all. You and I?" the Ranger makes a ticking sound. "Lilly and me, no issues. Never worked with Marius.
"I think it might come down to the nature of 'orders.' Rangers and Dragonriders have that in common. Among them what may sound like orders is more... strongly worded suggestions, usually only given in time-sensitive situations and usually only issued by recognized experts. (Given the Impression process to filter out the difference between ambition and ability amongst the 'Riders.) 'Orders' among the 'Riders and the Rangers are also always open to debate, revision or disregard.
"I don't have much experience but I feel like almost none of that is true about 'orders' in the military."
"Fair," Brennan says. "I may want to ask you about Ranger customs, later. It wasn't a rhetorical question-- if there's some perfect answer, I don't have it, not for three Knights Commander, or six Knights Commander, or whatever this is going to be," he gestures roughly in the direction of the grove, "if we decide this is a crisis and Martin elects not to command.
"For Ruby, in some ways it'd be easier if we each just had our own order. But that's not what we've got. I don't know if there's ever been an organization with all Family members as equals. Maybe Osric and Finndo-- they were twins, so I hear." He sighs. "I won't pretend that I think we should treat the Knights as equals, but the Knights Commander? Yes.
"Part of it comes down to not doing anything drastic and permanent without at least trying to touch base. Ruby is organized into go-teams right now on my say-so, because I was the first one to learn about the current situation, but I filled them in as quickly as possible. Pretty useless to have strike teams if the leaders don't even know they're waiting for them, anyway," Brennan says. "The other part-- my answer, my working answer-- comes down to common goals, and trust."
"That'll work for a start," Robin nods. "Though..." she drawls with a fond smile, "I expect having us work together might have been exactly what was on the King's mind. Instead of creating separate Orders, I mean. Separate Orders might lead to more Family Wars rather than Family Snipping-at-One-Another." There's a twinkle in her eye as she glances back over to Brennan.
Brennan widens his eyes and nods his head in vehement agreement. "Another Corwin-Eric feud had to have been on his mind," he says.
The Rangers go to work setting up the perimeter as Vere ordered, disappearing into the verge in pairs and triples without discussion. To Lily's eyes, while they are not the epitome of tight military order, these Rangers do work together in a way that Benedict would approve of. Of course, he could tighten them up as a unit far beyond the camaraderie and professionalism that they currently have. But they will be an effective force if an enemy come through.
Merlin answers at once. "Hello, cousin Vere," he says pleasantly. He looks like he might be busy with paints and things "I know I am late but--what is wrong?"
"We have a serious situation," Vere says. "Prince Martin has asked that you join me. I can explain once you are here."
"Bide a moment and I will come to you," Merlin says. The moment is spent fetching things, including his blade and his boots, which he clearly thinks he's going to need. "Is there anything specific you would have me bring?"
"We might be going on a war footing," Vere says. "Sorcery and/or Pattern might be involved." He smiles faintly. "So pack accordingly."
Through the connection, it's obvious that Merlin is not pleased by this news. He gathers up some things--a change of clothing more appropriate to the night outdoors than the indoor garments he was wearing, and his weapons, among others--and says, "Bring me through." He reaches for Vere's hand so that he can come to Vere.
Vere pulls Merlin through the connection. 'Well met, Cousin," he says. He nods to Lily. "You know Cousin Lily, I believe?"
"Indeed I do," Merlin says. "Well met by moonlight, cousin. I will take a moment to garb myself, and you both can explain to me about the war footing we are now on."
"The short explanation," Vere says, "Is that the King appears to be under an enchantment, believed to be the work of the Queen of Air and Darkness, rendering him unable to effectively reign. His queen is believed to be compromised by the same being. Her thrall may well date back to the death of Cambina, now also believed to be the fault of the Queen of Air and Darkness. Fiona is working on this enchantment. Martin wants a meeting between the cousins at the Grove of the Unicorn. Lily and I are to guard the steps to Tir against possible Moonrider activity, and use trump contact to join the meeting, without leaving here. Martin also orders that no one of our generation be alone from now on, hence our summoning you. Martin may wish you to go through the connections to the Grove when the meeting begins, I do no know." He smiles tightly. "A great deal to absorb, I know. No action is called upon from you, save to help us guard this place, until you have a chance to speak to Martin, so you do not need to decide whether to trust our information as of yet."
"I see," Merlin says as he pushes his besocked feet into his boots. There is a long moment in which he ponders everything that Vere has said, though Merlin is his father's son and difficult to read even on a good day. Merlin finally rights himself and looks at Vere and Lilly. "Do we expect the invasion of the Moonriders from below, to get into the city, or from the city itself?"
"Their capabilities are unknown, and the situation is unclear," Vere answers. "As I understand it, the main concern is that they might seek to seize the stairs and then somehow alter the timestream so that they either already have used them to descend or else descend from the next full moon. That implies to me that the expectation is that they would seize them from the ground, as they cannot have already approached from above until after they have seized them."
"I do not see how this prevents longer temporal paradoxes," Merlin says. "You could ask my father about--"
Merlin's comment is cut off by a cry from the woods. A definitive human cry, of horror more than pain.
Vere's eyes flick in that direction, then he carefully looks all around, taking in the entire area. "Rangers!" he snaps out. "See to that, carefully, keeping in mind it might be intended as a distraction or a lure to an ambush. Everyone, defensive positions and full alert."
Merlin draws his sword.
The rangers establish a perimeter and it is a tense five minutes before a runner comes back from just inside the woods. "We found the corpse of a Ranger, my Lords. He looks to have been dead several weeks. It's Ranger Gamut. Gamut was the one who found the corpse. He's... upset."
Merlin says something incomprehensible and chaotic. He adds, for the benefit of the rest of those present, "Time magic is cruel."
"Indeed," Vere replies. He pulls his trump of Martin. "We should take this as a sign that there will be an attack. Prepare, as best we can. I will inform the prince."
"Hold the Pattern as best you can to protect the Rangers," Merlin tells Lilly. "I hope your father prepared you for this." He adds, to Vere, "Tell Martin we need reinforcements. Three is not enough, not of us."
Vere trusts Merlin and Lilly to keep him from being killed while distracted, and turns his attention to the card. "Martin," he says. "It is Vere."
As always, Martin takes what seems like an unusually long time to respond, like it's a conscious and not particularly welcome choice to release whatever instinctive block he has against Trump calls. "Fletcher and I are here, Vere. What's up?" By reflex, perhaps, Martin has reached for a weapon.
Vere suspects he's speaking aloud for Fletcher's benefit.
"We have reached the stairs," Vere replies. "One of the Rangers has stumbled across his own corpse, several weeks dead. No other signs of enemy yet, but that is certainly suggestive. Merlin is here, and he urges the need for reinforcements. I concur with his assessment."
"Fletcher's all I've got with me yet but the rest are coming. Folly's supposed to have been here ahead of me. We can try her and pass through, or you can call her directly if we need to go that way. Who else do you have? Is Merle with you? See who he has and might call on." Martin sounds distinctly unhappy about this turn of events. It's not every day the city gets invaded by Moonriders.
"I do not have a card for Folly, or for any of our cousins," Vere replies. He glances at Merlin. "Merlin, Martin asks whose cards you have?"
"I can call for Folly or several other of our cousins. Paige or Ossian. I will try Folly first," Merlin says and draws a Trump from his deck to do so.
Meanwhile, Martin is saying, "Wait, people have started arriving here. Mounted. Can you take them?"
"Indeed," Vere answers Martin. He makes certain there is enough room around him for several riders.
Folly can feel the stirrings of a Trump contact as she and the others head up the mountain.
"Folly, it is Merlin. The Moonriders will be attacking here soon. We need family assistance; is there anyone who can join us? Particularly warriors like Jerod or Brennan or Edan?"
Folly nods, seems to gaze through Merlin to a spot well ahead of her, and lets out a sharp whistle clearly meant to get attention.
Ossian notes the ongoing Trump call and gestures to everyone to get closer to Folly. "If there is an emergency..."
Conner comes over to see what is going on.
Raven will likewise move closer, but she's more keeping an eye on the surroundings than on the conversation. Nothing like the word 'emergency' to make one want to make sure the ugly situation is only over there and not here, too...
Brita slows as she realizes the others are converging on Folly.
Noting Raven's caution, Garrett takes up a position on the opposite flank of the party, also watching the surroundings, but keeping an ear out for trouble from the trump call.
"Call from Merlin," Folly says. "He's calling for warriors. Moonriders." She holds out a hand for any of her cousins who want to join the call and returns her focus to Merlin. "Where are you?"
Delivering a zombie head, vs Moonriders? Jerod is first in line for the latter as he grasps Folly's hand.
Signy takes a couple of steps towards Jerod, considering how much she could help. Almost unconsciously her hand drifts down towards her belt, and comes to rest on the hilt of a knife.
While the others gather, Jerod takes Folly's hand and Merlin pulls him through.
Trusting Merlin to maintain the contact from his end, Folly scans ahead a bit. "Where's Regenlief?" she asks. "This seems like her bag."
Seeing her nearby assembled cousins, she adds, "Anyone else?" And then for Garrett's benefit, in case there was any doubt: "Our package should NOT go through." She shudders visibly thinking of what kind of mess time magic could make if applied to that particular problem.
Brennan is nodding vigorously at something Robin has just said as they come riding into the Grove proper. Brennan's never been there before, nor to its counterpart in Amber, so he takes his cues from Robin, from Martin and Fletcher, and from what his memories of what others may have told him as far as observances and etiquette are concerned. Seeing that Martin is on a Trump call, he approaches them making himself conspicuously visible, but keeping generally quiet-- no surprises, but no distractions, either.
Lark is with her father, who seems to be a bit distracted. She runs over to greet him, with Fletcher following right behind. "Hello Cousin Brennan! Are you here for the council or for the fight?"
Meanwhile, Martin is saying to nobody in particular in that way that suggests he's in a Trump contact, "Wait, people have started arriving here. Mounted. Can you take them?"
Brennan looked about to dismount, until he hears Lark's question.
"Hello, Lorelei. I'd hoped we had time for council before we had to fight. Where is the fight?" He sounds like he's already made a good guess, and doesn't bother to ask who it's with. Glancing at Fletcher, he asks, "Do you have a Trump of Benedict?"
Fletcher greets them both and begins to shuffle through his deck to find Benedict.
Robin is familiar with the Grove (both of them actually) and she rides in confidently. Though she notes Martin, Fletcher and Lark, her eyes are first looking for any signs of those pesky firelillies. Assuming that she finds none, she grins at the small girl running toward Brennan. Oh, yeah - there's Family trouble on the hoof. Gotta love the lively ones.
There are no firelillies in this Grove, nor has Robin seen any in the immediate vicinity as she approached.
At the word 'fight' her ears prick up and Robin calls the firelizards to herself. But overall, the Ranger feels that there are enough people talking right now. So she doesn't add to the chatter, merely extends respectful nods to Martin and Fletcher.
"All right, I'll see who's coming." Martin says to Brennan and Robin, "We're pretty sure it's Moonriders. One of the Rangers saw his own corpse."
He offers a hand to them to send them through to Vere.
"Right." Robin throws a leg over Misae's back and quickly dismounts. Handing the reins to Fletcher, she says "Her name is Misae. She's Hannah's -- who is coming shortly. She's not war-trained and the last time I did that, I got thrown on my ass.
"Besides, I'm better on my own two feet anyway." she mutters as she takes Martin's hand.
A moment later, Robin's blue eyes light up with delight as she realizes Vere is on the other end of the Trump. Despite that the girl is getting combat-ready, the floomph! of joy/love fills the connection before Robin can damp it down. Stoopid Cards!
"All right, I'll see who's coming." To someone standing near him, Martin says, "We're pretty sure it's Moonriders. One of the Rangers saw his own corpse."
Behind Vere, Merlin brings through Jerod.
Holding hands, Celina, Valeria, and Silhouette step from the Xanadu longboat into the chill waters of Rebma. The Trump rainbow shift ends. Celina drops Llewella's hand and gives her aunt an informal hug. The hug is much warmer than the nearby glimmering crystal braziers.
"Conner has taken the lead in Xanadu," Celina states without preamble. "He asked me to withdraw. So I agree we should have troops standing by if he calls. Volunteers preferred for the first wave. I suspect nasty magics are going to be loose, so if we have some mages who wish to make their reputation, we are taking those sorts of volunteers also."
Celina smiles at Llewella. "Would you debrief Lady Valeria this time?"
Llewella smiles back. "It would be my pleasure."
Valeria swallows, and looks visibly pale. "I had no idea the situation in Xanadu was so dire. If you need trusted family members at the front, Your Majesty, I am at your service."
Celina's face does not express it, but she admires how Valeria covers her reaction to personal questioning by Llewella, with a reaction to front lines combat.
Silhouette bows her head respectfully to her aunt, but keeps her distance. Instead, she focuses on the other woman, dutifully looking her over. She makes special note of Valeria's movements and measurements... as she'd likely need to provide her with armor.
"We must be ready, things could move fast and my favorite uncle may be in jeopardy," Celina adds.
Then she makes a small follow gesture to Silhouette as she heads for her own chambers. "Let me see what sort of armor I can salvage from the Queen's wardrobe. Valeria is more my mother's build than I am."
Celina leaves Llewella and Valeria to chat and exits. She moves through the corridors but stops halfway to the Queen's chambers. She turns around and looks at Sil. "You mentioned Blood Magics of Huon as if you knew quite a bit about it? What principles are involved?"
Silhouette cocks her head, "While negotiating his surrender, Lord Huon and I communicated through the utilization of Blood Magic. Regrettably, circumstances prevented me from observing more beyond this. However, I hypothesize its core principles revolve around the shaping and manipulation of our divine quintessence through one's willpower. Huon formed small birds, which would bind with my flesh - thus allowing us to speak through Shadow, not unlike a Trump. Said creatures can traverse Shadow and possessed rudimentary intelligence, so carry a portion of our Nature, as well." She pauses for a moment, reaffirming they are alone.
"Our Blood's destructive effect the Pattern and the sympathetic connection it provides makes the form of Magick highly dangerous and likely frowned upon. But its potential is virtually unlimited."
Last modified: 10 March 2018
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.