Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Vere slumps for a moment, allowing the stress of what has happened to wash through him, then throws it off with a shake. He turns to his passengers. "Is everyone all right?" he asks them.
Ywain stretches his lean fighter's frame. "Yes, Lord Magician, I am. I do not feel the call of the basin, which I did even when I left the tower before. I am free, thanks to you and Sir Robin."
Morgne looks around. "Where have we landed, Prince Vere?"
The lagoon, as Vere looks around, has clearly been populated at some point in the past, although it seems abandoned. Vere can see the sunken remains of a sailing ship, which looks as if it may have burned at anchor. On the shore there are a number of bits of wreckage. It's not very recognizable. The wreck may be years old.
While the lagoon is becalmed, there must be some kind of magic involved, because beyond the mouth of the lagoon there is a raging storm wall. If it's what passes for normal here, Vere may be far from the centers of Order.
"I do not know, my lady," Vere replies. "The journey was... somewhat fraught." He gestures toward the storm outside. "I do not wish to hazard that with the Psyche in her current condition. While I could take us all to my father and avoid any other entanglements I am somewhat of a believer in fate and meaning and I would rather like to see where we are to determine if there is a reason for us being here."
He bows his head slightly to the two ladies. "If on the other hand you would wish to speed to a safe destination I shall be happy to see to that instead."
Morgne nods her head. "I'm sure Ophiuchus is fine. He's with your mate, Sir Robin. Do you have a small boat to take us ashore or should we conjure one? I don't think we need to raise the wreck over there."
Laudine looks at the storm. "Even with all of our sorcerous powers, I mislike the look of that storm." Ywain nods at that.
Vere examines the wreck, and then the shore, with his Third Eye. While doing so he replies, "If you can summon a small craft for us then I should be grateful if you would do so. I do not have one myself." He does not mention that he is also interested to see whether their magical powers will operate as they expect in this shadow.
To his third eye, the wreck is non-existent. It is a transient thing, neither alive nor 'real', nor solid rock. He sees the magic of the two witches, reaching into the water and pulling up a boat. It is either from this wreck or an earlier one. While the hull is staved in, the boat seems to be magically free of water.
When Vere turns his third eye to the land, he sees the great volcano rising from the sea. He also sees glimmers of something along the shore, but he's not sure what it is.
Ywain offers to help him into the boat.
Vere lifts an eyebrow at the offer of assistance. "Thank you," he says politely. He makes certain the Psyche is firmly anchored before he joins the other three in the boat. He allows Ywain to row them in, and stands watching the shore with both mortal and sorcerous sight.
"Ladies," he says as they draw near to the beach. "Do you see anything odd about the shore? Something magical, perhaps?"
Morgne frowns but Laudine replies. "The whole place is magical, and slightly wrong. This is taking more effort than it should, and not in the way that sorcery in the Cities of High Order does."
Morgne is still not responding. With his third eye, Vere sees a line from her to the holes in the boat. Laudine keeps talking. "Looks like someone made it ashore. There's a boat pulled above the waterline and some crates and luggage that looks to have been opened. Half-a dozen men, maybe more. I don't see any sign they stayed here long."
Vere nods, then raises a hand as they draw close to the beach when the water is only a couple of feet deep. "Hold, please," he says. "I do not wish us to set foot on the land until I have examined it more closely." He sweeps his gaze up and down the beach, searching for anything out of the ordinary with both mortal sight and the Third Eye.
If he sees nothing then he will ease out of the boat and approach the beach on foot, stopping just before the shore. He'll kneel down and examine the beach more carefully, then raise his eyes to examine the crates, luggage, and the tale the tracks in the sand tell.
It's hard to see details with the third eye. The island is real, but there's something that feels slightly off, magically, here.
When Vere looks at the scene, the story he sees is a boat, maybe a launch from the wreck whose mast is still sticking out of the lagoon. It's pulled up into the vegetation. There are some crates and a large set of what might've once been nice matching luggage is on the shore. It looks like they hastily went through it and proceeded inland.
There's no sign of any kind of struggle; they might not have wanted to drag so much luggage.
Vere nods thoughtfully to himself, and looks back at his companions. "Bide a moment while I test the land," he says. "There is something ... odd. I cannot quite put my finger on what it is."
Then he braces himself, and steps onto the beach. He will wait a few moments to see if anything out of the usual occurs, magically or mundanely, before signalling for the boat to come ashore.
The sky is blue and cloudless, except for the great barrier storm at the edge of the lagoon. Vere can hear the wind howl from that, at a distance, but there is just a warm tropical breeze from the sea where he stands. The boat comes in and Ywain asks Vere how far they need to drag it to keep the tides from swamping it.
It shouldn't be too far up; the high tide indicators are close.
Vere assists Ywain in pulling the boat far enough that it won't be taken out again by high tide.
Morgne and Laudine come ashore, neither caring if their clothes get wet, and head towards the abandoned containers. "I can't see anything more disconcerting than the storm," says Laudine, "but we've only just got here."
Vere smiles thinly. "Indeed," he says. "I am certain fate can supply something, if we give it time." He regards the edge of the forest, then shakes his head slightly, and turns his attention back to the ladies, dropping his sorcerous sight.
"Let us see what we can learn from these containers first," he says. "They should give us an idea of the technological level of the society from which they come, perhaps will have markings that give us information on the owners, and there might even be one or two overlooked items that reveal something about the nature of these people." As he says this he concentrates on the certainty that it is highly probable that this will be the case.
The cases are awash with clothes, and the lower layers seem to have suffered little damage. Very little has been taken from them, as if the owner meant to return but never did.
Everything is exquisitely hand made, but perhaps not all would be considered tasteful in Amber's high society.
Every item is monogrammed, including the codpieces.
They all say "L St. C"
Vere raises a single eyebrow. "Interesting," he observes, but does not elaborate. He looks at the tracks disappearing into the forest, then at the ladies. "I am minded to follow, to learn what happened to the survivors of this wreck," he says. "And to learn what foes or allies we may face. Would you prefer to remain here? Your own powers, and Ywain's prowess, should serve to guard you until I return."
Ywain protests. "Sir Vere, Sir Robin would want me to come with you. Scouting is best done pairwise." He says the last as if it is a lesson he learned long ago.
Morgne nods. "We will be fine. I want to give a proper looking over to this luggage, to see if someone has left us anything useful."
Vere nods. "If you ladies are certain. Ywain is correct that it would be best to travel together. Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable before we depart?"
Assuming they say no, or that whatever requests they have are easily and quickly complied with, Vere and Ywain will set out to follow the tracks. Vere suggests to Ywain that they keep aware to the possibility that traps or an ambush might have been set up along the route, and that they value safety and caution over speed.
Once they are on their way he also tells Ywain, "In truth, it is not Sir Vere. While Robin considers me a knight, for that I was one of the Council who helped to rule Amber under my Father the Regent before the King returned, and all the Council were given knighthoods by the King, I had taken an oath to accept no new titles or honours until my Father is restored to health. And thus I have not yet accepted the knighthood. I am Lord Vere of Amber, and Prince Vere of the Isles of the Dannan."
"As my wife has ties to Amber, I will use that title. When Sir Ophiuchus and I were first here, he spoke more in the Parisian way than he does these days. To him a knight is a horseman, and a lord is simply addressed as 'elder'. If it pleases you, I can refer to you as 'Elder Vere'".
He doesn't seem to see anything ironic or even odd in that, even though he is likely thousands of years older than Vere.
Vere chuckles quietly. "In Amber the term Elder is used by the younger generation to refer to the sons and daughters of Oberon, our parents and their siblings. I should find it strange indeed to be called such."
The trail ends at a clearing. It looks like a large farmstead has been built in the forest here. The land has been harvested, but the ground has not been re-plowed for more crops. There are a few buildings on the far side of the clearing.
Vere crouches behind cover at the edge of the clearing, eyes narrowed. He looks carefully for signs of recent habitation, judging how long it has been since the harvest, and what has been done since then, looking for smoke from chimneys, any sounds from within the buildings, or marks of recent travel across the ground.
Vere thinks the great-house is occupied. It is elevated on brick piers off the ground and has a separate cookhouse, which has smoke coming from the chimney. The house looks well-suited to the tropical environment, and large enough for dozens of occupants. It’s unclear if there are that many, but there are probably some.
Vere is looking at the back of the house.
Either it is immediately between harvest and re-plowing the land, or this field is fallow. While there are stalks and signs of a recent harvest, there has been no attempt to use the land again.
Vere gestures silently to Ywain to follow, and circles around the clearing. He moves silently, keeping his senses open and on the lookout for people, creatures, or traps.
His intent is to move until he can clearly see the front of the house. He wants to see not only what the house looks like, and whether there is anyone outside in the front, but also get a feel for whether it is fortified in any way. He wants to see whether the inhabitants believe they have anything to fear on this island.
Vere moves towards the front. The house does not seem to be fortified, but it does look as if the main living levels are on the second and third floors. The front looks odd, as if the building and grounds have changed purposes. There's a row of great oak trees leading up to the house like a trail. That kind of thing takes decades to mature. But there's also a vegetable garden and some goats corralled beneath those trees.
Ywain points to the house. "I see people through the windows," he says. It's definitely movement, and he's probably right about the people. It's too far to see what they are doing.
Vere thinks a moment, then says quietly. "You remain here, unseen. I will approach openly. If I am attacked come to my aid. If someone else comes out of the house after I have entered follow them. It is possible that there is someone else on the island they must report to, and if they send someone to report my presence I would like to know where they go. If no one else comes out, and I myself have not come back out of the building within half a watch, return to the ladies to tell them what happened."
He waits for any questions or arguments that Ywain might have, and unless they are sufficient to change his mind he will slip out of the forest, then openly approach the house. If there is no reaction to his approach he will pause when he is about halfway across the clearing and call out, "Hallo the house!"
A woman steps out of the main door. She's dressed in clothes suitable for field-work. She has a large dog next to her, but it doesn't seem hostile.
"Who goes there?" she replies.
"My name is Vere. I took shelter in your harbour from a storm. May I ask where I have landed?" He smiles, while carefully judging her reactions and capabilities.
"Oh, yes. We were told you'd arrive soon. This is Asir Island. Please, come up and join us for supper. You may invite your friends, as well. The Elder is expecting you."
Vere blinks, but shows no other reaction. "Very kind," he says. "Give the Elder my regards, and tell him we shall arrive soon. A short time and a place to freshen up before supper would be appreciated as well. We have travelled hard."
(Insert polite leave taking here)
Unless she has anything else unexpected to say Vere will return to the forest, pick up his companion, and head back to the beach. He is silent and thoughtful on the way.
When he returns to his companion, Ywain indicates to Vere that someone is watching them. There's someone quite a long way away in the forest, and he's not moving in or leaving.
Vere doesn't think the man is a farmer.
Vere nods and gestures to Ywain that he is to return to the beach. He accompanies Ywain for a short time, carefully noting what the watcher does.
If the watcher doesn't follow then once Vere thinks they are out of his sight he will signal Ywain to wait while he ducks into the underbrush and carefully and silently makes his way back to where he can observe the watcher.
If the watcher does follow then Vere will wait until he finds a place where he can duck out of sight, signal Ywain to continue towards the beach, and fade into the underbrush and wait for the watcher to come into view.
The watcher does follow, cautiously. When he comes into view, Vere sees a young man of no more than a dozen years. His skin is tanned and rough and it looks like he's used to walking and working in the tropical forest.
He hasn't spotted Vere, but if he goes much further, he'll spot the ladies on the beach.
He's unarmed, or at least not seriously armed.
Vere lets his pass his hiding spot before stepping silently into the path and saying, "Well met, young man."
He's ready for either attack or an attempt to flee, although hoping for civilized conversation.
The boy jumps, and spins. He's young and breathing heavily. "I came to warn you. Don't trust 'em. They ain't right." He looks at Vere, and explains further. "The Germanians. Not all as go in come out."
"Thank you," Vere says with a nob of his head. "I appreciate the warning. What else can you tell me about them, and about your people?"
He looks grim. "Don't really have a people much anymore. The city was destroyed in an avalanche, and most folk just fled. Some ended up here, and they didn't get on with the folk as were already here. They ... did something. People who went in that manor, they didn't come out."
Vere nods. "How long ago did this happen? And did the storm outside the harbor begin then, or later?" He starts walking again. "You may come with me to the beach, if you wish, and we can discuss how we can get you to safety."
The boy, and he is a boy, or at least not yet a man by the standards of the Isles, seems more at ease. "Don't worry about my safety, I know the woods. The avalanche was in the spring. The barrier came after. To protect against invaders. You're lucky I was nearby, you nearly wandered into 'em. If you want to meet more civilized folk, I can lead you to 'em."
Vere glances at the sun, judging how long it is until nightfall. "Come with me to the beach," he repeats, "So that my companions may also here your story."
He looks at Vere, then shakes his head. "I have to get back. You've heard my warnings. Pass them along!" The boy slips into the trees and turns and starts to run.
Vere watches him until the boy is out of sight, then shakes his head and heads back to the beach. He will pause when he reaches the end of the jungle and take a careful look at what is going on there before stepping out of the concealment of the trees.
Ywain and Laudine are petting each other's arms, as if they’d been separated for days. Morgne is looking through a book.
They look up when he steps through. Ywain looks a bit puzzled. "I thought you weren't alone, Sir Vere."
"I was not," Vere replies as he joins them. "But the lad gave me a warning, then departed." He glances around, to see what the ladies have been doing while he was gone, then continues, "Ywain may already have told you that there is a house, and we are invited to join them for supper. They appear to be related to a religious cult that I have had experience with before, in Amber. As such, they represent a mystery that I am interested in, as I sent a ship to follow them when they left Amber that was never seen again. The fate of the crew of that ship still weighs upon my conscience. There would also appear to be a separate group of people on this island, who are not fond of the people dwelling in the house." He smiles thinly. "We have been warned that not all who go into the house come out again. I must confess this rouses my interest, and leads me to wish to enter the house to see what is going on. But it might well not be safe. So I wished to see what your preferences are at this moment, for my first duty right now is to see to your safety, as I promised the Lady Robin. I could send you ahead to a place of safety while I look into this matter. Or, if you desire, I could put aside my curiosity and accompany you away from here. As I said, my promise to Robin takes precedence. The final possibility is that you accompany me to the house."
Vere tilts his head inquisitively as he waits for the ladies decision.
Vere cannot tell exactly what they've been doing, but the contents of the luggage seem to be sorted folded piles by type.
Even for a society that wears codpieces, there are a lot of codpieces, relative to everything else.
Morgne smiles. "I can't imagine anything that can stand against 3 spellcasters and two knights, so I'd say it's better to stay together."
Laudine nods. "We are old, but we don't remember enough of it to act old."
Ywain says, "It has been hundreds of generations since anyone has invited us for supper. We should not demur."
They all look back at Vere.
Vere smiles in genuine amusement. "Excellent. I confess that I am looking forward to learning more about this situation. Shall we go now, or do you have preparations to make?"
"We are ready," says Laudine. "My only regret is not knowing what this is for." She picks up a codpiece. Apparently they weren't in fashion in her era.
"And why they needed so many," adds Morgne. "They certainly look... suggestive."
"These are more extreme than most examples of this particular fashion," Vere explains. "Suggestive of a rather outgoing personality, I should hazard."
He looks at Ywain, "We should be on our guard among them, but endeavour not to appear so." Bowing to the ladies, he says, "Shall we?"
And so to sup.
They agree and follow Vere and Ywain to the front of the plantation house. "This was once a great estate," observes Morgne. "These trees formed a sheltered row to allow cool air from the river that is over that rise to blow up to the house during the hottest times."
Laudine nods. "And the climate here is clearly regularly hot. That's why you build houses on piers. That or flooding."
As Vere reaches forward to knock, the door opens inward and the same middle-aged woman smiles at them and speaks in slightly-accented Thari. "Welcome to the house. Please enter, and join us. We've just sat down, so your timing is perfect."
The house looks busy, and more like a working building than a home. To either side of the long central hallway are parlors which seem more like offices. In the back is a communal dining room with two score men and women (mostly women) bustling about it. Some have started eating.
At the head of the largest table is a familiar face to Vere. It is Elder Germaine. He looks hale, as if country life agrees with him. He smiles and rises, and the people at his table make room for four more to join them.
"Well met," Vere says. "It has been some time, has it not?" He glances quickly around the table, checking to see how many of the people here are ones he remembers from his previous visits with the Paresh and how many are newcomers. "I am pleased that you found sanctuary after your departure from Amber. May I present my companions?"
He will perform introductions formally, granting the ladies the status of nobility but giving Germaine the honour of being their host.
Germaine bows gravely to each of them in turn, responding politely to the introductions. When the preliminaries are over, he speaks to Vere. "Well met indeed. We have been expecting you since your sister and her lovers came. We were surprised by how long it was, since we expected you earlier. How is she? Recovered from her possession with no harm done, I hope?"
"Time flows strangely," Vere says. "Perhaps that is why I am not here when expected. Alas, I have not seen my sister in some time, and did not know of her possession. What can you tell me of this matter?"
"She came here some years ago. Before the great collapse, with two men. The Queen of Air and Darkness appeared to her and possessed her, but did not keep possession. Perhaps Lord Lucas and the other one scared her off. She seemed shaken. The young lord continued to the city, while she returned to her world via magics.
"That was the first time she came here, although I hear she was on Asir Island a second time."
Ywain stiffens slightly at the mention the name "Asir Island".
"Ah," Vere says, "Yes, I know now of what you refer. I did not consider it a possession, as it was so brief. My sister did speak of the vision of the Queen to me. There were no lasting effects." He tilts his head to one side and considers Germaine. "Has the Queen been seen here since then?"
Germaine shakes his head. "No, that night cured the plantation of all hauntings. We have seen no unquiet spirits for some years." The old man pauses. "I cannot say that that has been interesting, but it is at least new."
He pauses. "Our experience here with Amber has been that there are often calamities following the arrival of your people. Almost certainly mere coincidences. May I ask what brings you to Asirria?"
"Nothing deliberate on my part. A storm came up and blew us here, and we find the storm now blows constantly outside the harbor. There is perhaps a story to that?" Vere's head loses the slight tilt but his eyes seem to be focused somewhere just beyond Germaine's left shoulder. "Mind, I do not say that there is no purpose to my arrival, merely that I do not know it if there is. Fate often moves my Family where we are meant to be, as you well know."
"Purpose is much easier to see in the past than the present or future, I find," says Lady Laudine.
"Indeed, and even then it's easy to create a chain purpose where there was mere continuity," adds Lady Morgne.
Elder Germaine looks at them as if they'd said "I find the concepts of 'night' and 'day' implausible," but doesn't directly reply to their words. "The storm blew your sister into the harbor and has not abated. We avoid the lagoon, and the southern forest. It's not safe."
"Not safe?" Vere inquires. "How so?"
"Since the port was destroyed, desperate people have lived in the woods. More desperate than usual. We help any who come to our door, but some of the people are not looking for us to help them."
He waves around the building. "This used to be a plantation, but that is an enterprise that relies on having a way to market your crops. We tried to grow enough food to help the city folks, but it's going to take someone establishing more control in the city for that to be effective." He sighs. "I expect that a number of the people who should be helping us are instead falling under the influence of The Mountain."
He looks more worried by that thought than it seems to warrant. "And the Bellumites are also an issue."
Vere frowns slightly. "I am aware that there have been problems between Bellum and Asir in the past," he says, "Although I do not know the details. And what do you mean by 'the influence of The Mountain'?"
"Bellum has a valid causus belli against us. When Huon left and destroyed the town, some of the more aggressive of the survivors overran the Bellum embassy and killed the ambassador. The rival faction's ambassador was already in town and immediately declared war and departed. They have sent several raids, but there's not enough left of the government of Asirria for them to fight a full war with.
"The Mountain is the home of a cult, and she and her followers have become... dangerous since the city was destroyed. It's thought that the leader of the cult changed, but they are too secretive for anyone to know for sure."
Elder Germain sips his soup. "What is the news of Amber? It seems to be fading so much more slowly than I expected it to."
Vere nods. "That is so," he says. "Xanadu and Paris are the new centers of Reality, along with Rebma, which did not fall with Amber. Amber ... fades. It is sad, but a bittersweet sadness, since a new Creation awaits those who leave her." His attention seems not to be fully on the conversation, as though he is considering other matters while talking. "King Random rules in Xanadu, King Corwin rules in Paris, and Queen Celina rules in Rebma."
Vere frowns slightly. "What else can you tell us of this cult? I do not know that I have heard of them before. Do they have a name for themselves?"
Germaine nods. "The Querents, they call themselves, or the Questioners of the Oracle. They are not an official part of the Church Established, which perished with Asir."
He looks around the room at the people calmly eating dinner. "Apocalyptic disasters radicalize those so inclined. It is as Elder Scale foretold."
Vere smiles very thinly. "It is my impression that those inclined toward radicalization find excuse for it, apocalypse or no. And those who simply wish to get on with their lives as best they may do so in the aftermath of such disasters." He allows his gaze to follow that of Elder Germaine, regarding the peaceful dining room, before returning to Germaine. "I should probably visit the Querents before I leave, to report back to the King. Before I do so, however, I would ask if you or your people have any needs that are not being met by the life you have found. Are you content and fulfilled in this place?"
"Oh dear, you will make an interesting dinner companion," he says, dabbing at his mouth with a napkin. "In my experience, many who, if they were exposed to privation or duress, would radicalize do not, simply because there is no incenting factor. It's similar to poverty. Look at these people. If that woman did not get food to eat, she might steal it, to feed her children. When adequate food is provided, she has no incentive to steal. Likewise, the simple path of the zealot is a more compelling call to a person who feels they have lost much, or been victimized."
He sighs. "It may be different in other places, but it is hard for me to imagine. You have so many advantages in your path to knowledge, young Vere. A long enough lifespan to study being not the least among those gifts."
Vere nods. "I take your point," he says, "But I shall have to collect more evidence before I can concede it. The vast majority of the poor do not turn to crime, and the majority of the oppressed do not become radicals. I would concede that environmental factors will cause such seed to flourish, where an easy life would cause them to be stillborn. But correlation is not causation."
"Indeed. If you do a study, I would be pleased to accept a copy of it for our archives." He looks at the entire party. "I have arranged rooms for your party. I hope you will stay and recover yourselves."
Vere glances at his companions, reading their body language before answering. How are they reacting to the conversation and the offer?
Lynnette takes his glance as an invitation to speak. "A generous offer, Elder, but one we can hardly do justice to. Two of our party were separated from us in the storm, and we must find them and, if they are in need, aid them before we do more than rest for the night."
Ywain nods his agreement. "We don't even know if they are on these shores."
Vere nods as well. "We shall gratefully accept the offer of rest for the night," he says. "But we must depart at first light to find our comrades. I trust that when things are less unsettled I shall have a chance to return for a more leisurely discussion. I have always found my conversations with you to be most ... interesting."
"Your invitation from long ago is always open," says the elder. "Is there aught you need this e'en? I am afraid that working farmers go to bed with the sunset, but there are a few books in my study if you or your party wish to stay up reading."
"We has a rough voyage," Vere replies with a small smile. "Rest in a comfortable place shall be a great boon. And we thank you for the meal and welcome."
Once ears stop ringing from the thunderclap, the end of Robin's exultant "WooooHoooo!" is somewhat dampened by well, the damp. Splashing mightily, the girl hauls herself within range of the mounted knight and begins her own soggy Patternwork. Gently, gently so as to not conflict with Vere's path, Robin uses the splash of the waves hitting her face as a visual break to hopefully stutter-step them all out of there and to calmer seas.
OOC: In Range, since there’s no ship with you, basically means “holding on to Eckford’s haunches” or “mounting up behind Ophiuchus".
Robin drapes herself behind Ophiuchus; mounting may be too elegant a description for her sodden flop across Eckford’s haunches.
The flashes of lightning and the tremendous booming are enough to give Robin the visual breaks she needs, or they do as long as she doesn't edit the storm out. There's no sign of The Psyche.
Awwww.... Vere.... Robin has a moment of regret as she desperately misses Her Man. And dreads the apology coming. Even though she knows Vere understands her nature implicitly, she wanted to ride the storm with him so very much. Dung!
Then she turns to the business at hand. Yes, editing the storm out is definitely the first thing on her list. Poor Eckford!
Waves become smaller and bluer, less churny. The booming rolls further and further away. The lightning is fun though. Robin keeps the dark skies but the strikes become more and more diffuse and spidery, eventually fading to brilliant webs of cloud to cloud displays.
And Xanadu-ward? Easy enough for the thunder to start echoing the King's drumming. After all, all roads lead to Xanadu these days.
Before Robin can make this change, but after the storm calms enough for communication, Ophiuchus turns back to Robin and shouts "I have to take us under! Eckford is too tired to swim above the water any longer! Hold your breath, in case it's not breathable!"
Robin gulps in awkwardly. One would think she'd be better at this by now.
With that, Eckford noses down into the water, and Robin quickly finds herself submerged in a peaceful, quiet sea. The water above her and the light are still flashing irregularly, but the sounds are different—more muted.
This would almost be pretty, Robin thinks, if she wasn't underwater! The Ranger forces herself to be still and good luggage for the struggling seahorse and knight. But she's still too charged to be "peaceful."
Ophiuchus turns around. "Breathable!" he says. It sounds bizarrely loud, after the sudden submergence. He is clearly guiding Eckford to alight on a strangely regular column that juts up from the sea floor.
Robin nods her understanding. As quietly and with as much control as she can manage, the girl goes into her routine of gasping, hacking, wheezing and not-drowing! spasms as she convinces her reluctant mind and instinctive body to adapt to the new situation. By the time Eckford's circling in for his landing, Robin's got it under control enough to be a snotty, mortified mess. She really prefers to do that when people aren't watching. Bleah.
She distracts herself by checking out the... landing platform?
It's flat. In the dim reflecting light, it somehow glows or glints. It's hard to tell, but it might be some sort of metal. Robin can see, crusted over with growth, that there's something that might've been a hatchway at the top. As she looks at it, the spire looks like it might be artificial.
Eckford reaches the top and Ophiuchus hops off. "He's going to need to rest. And ideally, eat, if we can find him some food." From the muted sounds his boots make, the floor is definitely metal. In the dimness of the landing platform, Robin sees several others, some distance away.
Robin nods as she slings herself off as well, giving Eckford a grateful pat once she's found her feet.
Remembering what Eckford and Abford (poor Abford) ate when she and Ophiuchus returned from their hunt, Robin gestures down the far side of the column, tweaking things to her desire. "I think there's something growing wild over there. I can get it while you see to the tack?"
Ophiuchus nods. "Very well." From where Robin looks, she can see that this column is joined to another by a bridge. It's probably 30 feet further down.
Assuming this is agreeable, Robin bobbles over in that direction. She keeps an eye and ear out as she goes, hoping the underwater... city? is abandoned, not just unkempt.
Robin finds what she is looking for and, with her bare hands, rips it from the side of the tower. Beneath the plant the metal is shiny, even in the gloom.
Hunh. Robin experiences a moment of water-air confusion as she does not successfully blow a fluff of air at her bangs. Verde... bleah.
A stream of water is what she blows, and it hits the bangs, but it's not air.
Robin snorts and rolls her head in irritation, a gesture she obviously learned from her Uncle Morgenstern.
Robin makes her way back to Ophiuchus and Eckford bearing sea-horse food.
"Looks like we're on some kind of overgrown city. Do you have any knowings, ideas or just plain legends about a metal city underwater?" She ask the knight as she slowly and carefully feeds the steed. (No foundering.)
He thinks. "When we had visitors, we often entertained bards and wandering minstrels. I can tell you a dozen tales of metal cities populated by fiery demons, or underwater cities whose people interbreed with fish, or cities that have been destroyed. I only recall one song with all those things at once.
"The silver towers have drowned, under a sea of blood. How many miles to Abbeylon? None, I say, and all. The silver towers have drowned."
Ophiuchus has an excellent tenor/baritone voice and could make a living as a singer, if he were not a knight.
"But this is no sea of blood, so I don't know if it's the same, or just a reflection of that place."
"Ahhhhh," Robin says, repressing a sudden urge to jump out of contact with the tower, "I know... similar tales. Great, just great."
"Sir Ophiuchus, may I ask a boon of you?" Robin says formally. "The tales of silver towers, whether pure or reflections, are the stories of my Uncle Corwin. I am... unfortunately biased with regards to my Uncle." Her tone of voice clearly says 'I hate his guts.' "However, in these latter days, we are necessarily allies and it would be... less than optimal if I were to allow my bias to blind me to opportunities to... heal divides or... make a clear assessment of our situation." She fights the words out through both gritted teeth and a strong desire to mantle. Not at Ophiuchus but at the situation.
"I have a great respect for your wisdom and acuity. Would you be able to lend those to our cause in the immediate future?" 'Since Vere isn't here to help me think,' she adds sadly in her own mind.
"I owe you a debt beyond repaying, Sir Robin. We all do. Any service I can do you, I will do gladly." He bows slightly from the neck, in a gesture that would look to more courtly Amberites a bit old-fashioned.
"And we will need to rest here for a bit in any case, so I would hear of your Uncle Corum. His name reminds me of a long-ago King..."
"I and my Family know him as 'Corwin,' she pronounces carefully, "but he has gone by many names and his... Influence stretches far into all the Realms."
Sighing, Robin settles herself. "I truly do not know him well, or at all," she concedes. "I have only lived with the stories, the warnings and the... consequences of his actions."
Taking a deep breath, she starts. "Save one, Corwin is the oldest known surviving son of The First King, Oberon. And like his father he is a being of great passions -- he fights mightily, roisters mightily, lives and sings mightily and is under no illusions regarding his own humility whatsoever." Robin lips curl in an ironic twitch. "While the Uncle I know has never shown any desire or talent in the sorcerous arts -- preferring steel, guile and stubbornness to solve his quandaries -- I know that some notable reflections of him do. I believe the term 'Sorcerous King' has been bandied about in his wake.
Corwin has lived many adventurous -- and fractious -- centuries doing both great good and great evil as is his (and indeed, all of our's) way. It is from these centuries that the tales of Silver Towers arose. My Uncle's music from that time is full of sad longing and musings upon Lost Avalon. It was also during these centuries that the enmity between my Uncle and my Father crystalized. My Father is... much younger than Corwin. And of an entirely different mindset than my Uncle, preferring to build and defend than to..." Robin's lips press sharply together. And she shakes herself back to her story.
"Yeah, anyway. I don't remember what the triggering incident was, but Corwin came under censure from King Oberon and The King removed his Wardenship of Arden, the great Green bastion of Eternal Forest that surrounds Amber... which Corwin loved dearly. And awarded it to my Father. The transition was... ugly, and fraught with peril for my Father. I... we still find occasional scars from Prince Corwin's," Robin twists the words angrily, "'little surprises for those ‘trespassed' in his rightful realm."
The Ranger takes a moment to gather herself and continues,
"Regardless, a few centuries ago, a blow from one of his rival brothers struck him down, causing Corwin to lose all sense of himself. During that time... perhaps... he wizened. And came to see the world beyond his own desires. At the very least, he was, at length, able to put aside his..." Robin spits it out, "ambition to come to the greater aid of Amber." Despite her attempts to distance herself from those events with a telltaler's voice, Robin's eyes narrow and she mantles slightly. Her eyes dart over to Ophiuchus, "But not before," she grits out, "he attacked us.
"My Father was triumphant in that attack, but... the unpleasantness between them continued and Prince Corwin cursed my Father with all the power of an enraged Lord of Order. Not that my Father needed any more of Corwin's curses to... Well, anyway..." Robin waves that away.
"Not only did my Uncle's curses hamper one of Amber's most stalwart defenders, they also opened the pathway for our enemies to breach us. And as we were fighting our last most desperate battle, He returned to turn the tides. With the army and weapons that he had brought to, yes -- attack us again... Damn him."
Robin stops there as she's getting more worked up than she wants to be while sitting on a... Silver Tower.
He nods and looks glum. "All too familiar, Sir Robin, to tales from my day. The wars and murders over similar matters were what led my wife and her cousins to separate the lands.
"Would you kill him, if you could do so without being found out?"
"No.” Robin response is immediate, definite and melancholy.
"Though I hate his guts, my Uncle is a firmament of the Realms. His death and his loss would do unimaginable damage to all that is Real. Furthermore, he is the King of Paris. And though I am... skittish about Paris, I would never do to that Realm what was done to Amber. So no, no I wouldn't kill him. In fact, I would guard his life with my own. But... bleah." Robin rolls her eyes and manages to not stick out her tongue.
He nods. "A dilemma. He sounds thoroughly unworthy, and yet you are his ally. You do not even seem to be able to avoid him. I do not know how best to advise you," he adds. "I can say that I am glad your times are not so inclined to war and murder as our time was." If Ophiuchus recalls that Robin didn't actually ask for advice, he's ignoring that detail.
"I can see that you are not completely satisfied with the old saw about 'what cannot be cured must be endured.' You are more proactive than that counsel allows one to be."
Robin snorts softly at that. Genteelly spoken.
"So, to turn the question back on you, how would you like you relations with your perfidious Uncle to be?"
Robin looks at Ophiuchus with blank eyes and an even more blank mind, before she bursts into amazed laughter. "Ahhhhh, one would think I'd get used to that." She chuckles a little more before settling down.
"Pray forgive me, Sir Ophiuchus. This is not the first time I have received such advice for similar difficulties. There is something in my nature that blinds itself to the future. I... hunh..." With some difficulty, Robin pulls her thoughts away from analyzing her own behavior and to the actual question.
"What would I like relations with my Uncle to be?" She wonders.
"Cordial and distant, I guess...." Is the best she can come up with.
Ophiuchus says, "It's probably a city-dweller's trait, which is why it seems so odd to you. In a city, one looks at what one has, what one wants, and plans a path between the two. When one lives in the wild, one takes advantage of what one finds. If the current space isn't adequate, one moves on." He looks over at her.
Robin nods thoughtfully.
"Another way to think of it is tactical versus strategic thinking. As a knight, this should have been drilled into you. You can be a peerless peer on the battlefield, but if you are not choosing how to get to the right battlefield, the war may not be winnable."
Robin blushes and drops her gaze. Yes, she remembers her Father's lessons on logistics and choosing one’s field. She just wasn't very good at it.
He strokes Eckford's flank. "It's easy to be cordial and distant, if you are a forest nomad. You just move on if the current place isn't adequate. As vassals to the King, you and your Uncle are likely to be in contact, and he would, in most circumstances, be senior. Those are the encounters you should prepare for, work out tactics for."
He smiles. "And if he is the King of Paris, plan for very low-key, invisible-to-others victories, like 'I didn't even want to tell him off'."
"My consort and her cousin were once at odds, but time has erased all that."
"Hmmmm,” Robin is quiet for a while.
"Thank you -- very much, Sir. You have given me much to think on. It is true that I have felt myself... trapped by these new times. Facing situations I have no understanding of."
She chuckles grimly. "And this is not the first time my lack of strategic vision has been noted. It's just that planning life like a battle seems so... wrong. And sad..."
"But you are also right. Time -- and familiarity -- does seem to be easing my ire." This time her chuckle is real. "I have another Uncle whom I despise. And quite by accident, I found myself rifling through his bedroom drawers. He certainly seemed more... of a person and less of an overwhelming monster after that!" She grins.
"Soooo," Robin brushes her trousers off and changing the subject, "strategically speaking, should we explore our surroundings or wait for the trouble to come to us?" She says with a sparkle in her eye.
The knight smiles at her. "Strategically speaking, I have no idea. But my personal preference is to go looking for trouble, Sir Robin. I pray you, lead on."
"Ah, a man after my own heart." Robin grins.
After taking a moment to determine the best course of action for Eckford, either taking the seahorse with or leaving him here, Robin leads Ophiuchus in a search for a way into the architecture on which they stand.
Ophiuchus pulls a lantern from the saddlebags of Eckford. It's a collapsible one and apparently it’s powered by some sort of bioluminescence. It's very bright and directional. "Only the one of these, I'm afraid," he says.
Robin shrugs and lets Ophiuchus carry the lantern. After all he knows how to use it and take care of it.
They swim down in the lantern's beam, a tight spiral towards the base of the bunched towers they landed upon. As they go down, the coral growths become smaller, then intermittent, then gone. The tower is, true to its historic name, silver, and it gleams as if it were freshly polished. It reflects the light all around, and Robin can see that this underwater ruin was once the highest point of the region. There are other buildings, in worse shape than the towers, but none are actually reachable without considerable digging.
At base of the tower, aside what may well have been a giant parade ground for troops, there is a great silver double door. It stands partially ajar, as if something or someone dragged it open recently. Dragged, or perhaps, pushed.
Robin chuckles. "Well, that looks like trouble." She whispers gleefully.
"Okay, me first then you with the lantern."
Robin looks away from the light for a few moments, letting her eyes adjust and taking in how sounds and currents bring sense of surroundings. She then draws her sword and goes in the door low and fast. (Investigation, hah! That's for... smarter folks.)
Ophiuchus follows with the lantern, sending the beam ahead of him as he comes in. Most of the surfaces are silver and highly reflective. The light hits a crystal structure and spreads through the wide entrance hall, giving a slight hint of the opulence and riches of the lords of these towers, whose mighty constructions are now buried on the sea floor and invisible to most eyes.
Robin sees signs of some sort of catastrophe here. Not only are the furnishings in disarray, there are what look to be signs of battle: broken weapons, slashes and dings in the walls, arrows-- arrows that wouldn't have flown underwater.
Hmmmmm, Robin's brows furrow as she takes in the arrows...
More careful examination reveals that the art of the place, or such of it as survived, was bas relief in hammered silver, and that some of it has been obliterated in place, as if someone wanted to erase the history of the tower. This is most pronounced on the door at the far end of the entrance hall.
The door is 10 feet tall and bound in silver, and that silver is hammered nearly flat, but traces of older scenes remain.
The door is ever so slightly ajar.
Well, lighting the place up has probably significantly lessened any chance of surprise -- if there is even anyone still here.
Robin strides toward the door, careful of ambushes from the dark corners or jumbled furnishings.
Once there, the Ranger slowly pushes the door open with her sword tip, trusting that Ophiuchus has her back.
He's behind her, and the light is sent around the room beyond the door. It's huge-- hundreds of yards long and scores wide. The ceiling is out of sight above. The first thing Robin notices is that there seems to be some sort of dais on the far side of the room, with what might be a throne upon it.
The second thing Robin notices is the the dias has a half-dozen skeletons arrayed around it, their bones picked clean and glistening white in the reflected silvery light.
"Oooooo," Robin's delighted grin is white in the darkness. "A classic!
"Hmmmm... given my Uncle's propensities, I think we're probably looking more at an Undead King thing than Giant Lurker thing. But let's not overlook stooping potential regardless." She points up at the darkness overhead. Besides," she says stepping slowly into the room, "Giant Lurkers tend to prefer messy nests to tableaus."
"Hmm. No chance it's just long-dead bodies then? Because that sounds better than either of the things you mention."
"My..." what's the leadershiply word for 'best guess' again? "...ah, operating hypothesis is that we're looking at the former owners of those arrows back there. Guess they found what they were looking for." She says with grim cheer. "So where is it? Where is it?"
"It's a long, difficult way to come to rob a sunken castle. They had to come searching for something..." He pauses and looks at the coffin lid. "Or someone."
He follows her and shines his light around, including up. The ceiling seems distant, but there does seem to be stairs up on either side of the tower, leading towards it. On the dias is a seat, or perhaps a throne. In front of it, there is a coffin, with a coffin lid beside it.
As Robin and Ophiuchus move into the room, Robin notices that where their movement has stirred up the sea-floor reveals a huge delicate tracery on the floor of the giant ballroom.
Robin gestures for Ophiuchus to hold up a bit and cover her, while she crouches to the floor and wipes away more of the sediment. Is the tracery inlaid therein partciularly... Patterny?
It has all the signs of being patterny except there's no red lightning zapping down to kill you all. And the glowing. It doesn't have the glowing.
Robin stands, shakes the sediment from her hand, then wipes her (wet) hand on her (wet) pants unconsciously. "Yep, yep, yep. Definitely traces of Family here.
"Sooooo, I'm thinking probably yeah, 'someone'; given that my Uncle has returned after a very long absence and been... incredibly active since then.
"Therefore who were the searchers and what were they looking for - other than an unfortunate end. Guess it's time to play with coffins and bones." Robin gives Ophiuchus a fey little grin and strides toward the tableau on the dais to investigate. Again, she assumes that the Knight will take the boring guarding-of-the-back bits while she gets the fun playing-with-the-dead bits.
Robin approaches the dias and sees that there is a hole in front of the throne where the coffin or sarcophagus should fit. She notes the bodies are all ancient, with tattered remains of cloth and the odd flash of metal near them. It's unclear what killed them, but it looks like at least some of them have had their ribcages broken open. Nothing looks gnawed on, which Robin would expect.
The sarcophagus is larger than necessary, and seems to be made of a thick black stone. As Robin approaches she sees three large runes on the lid.
Robin tilts her head at the runes, and wrinkles her nose. Writing? Dung, she'd sooooo much rather have a monster.
A sigh ripples through the Ranger as she suddenly and desperately misses Vere. Drowned ruins, ancient writing to puzzle over, dead to talk to, a Trump of her rat-bas... relevant Uncle. He would have such a good time here. And he's warm and cute too! Dung.
Ophiuchus stops a bit behind her. He gasps. The runes read "laguz - isa - raido".
Robin rolls her eyes over to Ophiuchus. "Pllllleeeeassse tell me it's a clue to something I can kill." She shakes her head as she hears her tone of voice sliding dangerously close to a whine. Clearing her throat, Robin continues, "What do these hint to you, Sir?" She waves a hand toward the writin'.
"They tell me that my liege lord, Prince Lir of Tir fo Thuinn, lies dead and was buried in this castle." He looks at the bodies around the sarcophagus. "They tell me that someone has opened his grave."
Ophiuchus' voice is short and clipped, as if he is restraining some emotion. He looks as if he'd welcome all the skeletons rising up, for the relief of a straight-up fight.
"Ah," Robin's fey mood slides away like the sun behind a cloud and she puts a comraderly hand on Ophiuchus' shoulder. "It's a hard thing to lose a liege. You have my deepest sympathies, Sir." She nods, Knight to Knight, with sorrow and sympathy in her eyes.
Thinking that action is just the remedy for this, Robin continues. "Well, we shall revise our operating theory from the delightful prospect of butchering an undead Shadow of my favorite Uncle to the tracking down of and reeking bloody vengeance upon those who would dare such a thing."
And though she is unfamiliar with the nature of this place, Robin is still a tracker non-parallel and she starts to cast around for tracks and clues in the silt and debris around the open tomb.
Ophiuchus sighs. "I had assumed he was gone. You did not mention him, and you would have. He did not stride lightly on the earth."
As she looks at the skeletons, Robin thinks there was only one group of robbers: they have similar gear and are equally blasted. Nearby is something odd. It's what looks like a magical circle of some kind grown from coral on the dais itself. The silt here is especially disturbed.
Ophiuchus looks in the sarcophagus. "Belagamon is not here."
Robin looks up from the circle. "My cousin, Conner, currently bears a named blade for Rebma, though I'mmmm...afraid I don't remember the sword's name. But I was under the impression that its former wielder was named... Cneve, I think. Could that be Belagamon?"
Ophiuchus looks puzzled. "Such a blade, it can only be borne by one blood-bound to the city and the Queen. Who was this Cneve? Would he open the tomb of the Grand Prince of Tir fo Thuinn? He always wore it, and it reflected the stars of his father's kingdom, even in the deepest parts of the great city.
"Could Cneve be a false name, or a title?"
"I believe there was some talk of blood-binding and both Conner and Celina being kind of young for it. But you know," Robin shrugs, "they were committed and no one could gainsay that it wasn't needed. Though.... I don't know, I suppose I am too much of the open sky to really understand what they are up to.
"As who or what Cneve was, I don't know. But I think I remember some talk of Conner taking the sword from a tomb himself.... but I'm not sure." Robin shakes her head in uncertainty.
Robin knows the look on Ophiuchus's face. In a Ranger, it would mean, 'I think I need to look up that man and have a go at him'. Rangers aren't subtle.
"Ahhh, I mean that I think Conner took it from Cneve's tomb. Which is a name, I believe." Robin clarifies; just so Ophiuchus is pointed in the right direction. While she thinks Ophiuchus' sword work is fine, Conner. Smiles, cousin, knives. Best that the Knight doesn't get himself too set on tangling with Family in that way.
Ophiuchus nods, absently.
"And what do you make of this?" Robin gestures to the coral circle and the disturbed silt around it.
Ophiuchus looks at the coral circle. "Something was buried here. Can you tell if it has magics about it?"
"Well, I've never been the most sorcerously sensitive of my kin, but I can try."
Robin raises a finger to her lips in a shh gesture, tips her head to the side and Listens. Her eyes wander blindly as she focus on the chords and rhythms, background noise and rustling of life, sifting through all of it to see if there is something added or wrong around the throne room and the circle in particular.
Robin isn't sure if it's training, talent, or just plain luck, but she feels she can tell a little bit about the cairn. The best Robin can tell, someone made a stone cairn by knocking stones off the walls. It would've been just about big enough for a body. None of the damage done to make the cairn has been repaired, but the stones are worn enough that it wasn't a recent making. It might have been a long time ago, depending on how many times this crypt has been disturbed.
She doesn't detect any magic, but the magics that she can detect with The Pattern are not subtle.
Her eyes focus and she straightens. "Well, there's nothing big and explosive on it. And I think this one is a 'someone' too. Otherwise..." she shakes her head, "I can't tell. Wanna dig it up?" Robin finishes with more enthusiasm than manners.
Ophiuchus looks at the mound of stones on the floor. "We can move the stones, but it looks like it collapsed. Maybe someone pulled the body from it." He begins moving rocks from the wide end.
Robin pitches in with a will, but keeps her ears and her senses open for surprises.
After a few moments, he finds the edge of a wide sheet of fabric. It's well-made, but faded. There's a design around the edge of it, some sort of geometric border.
Ophiuchus looks at the cloth. "It's a shroud. This was a burial. I don't get understand, Sir Robin. This is clearly a throne room for some great civilization. But my Lord’s outer sepulcher is here and open, and someone else was buried and then that body is now gone. I feel as if something wrong had happened here, but I can't tell what."
"Hunh." Robin misfluffs her bangs with an underwater breath and shakes her head. "I... see too many paths here to even make an 'operating hypothesis.'" She shrugs.
"Okay, several very wise people have mentioned that strategically when I'm in this situation I should gather information and then collaborate with more informed individuals. Which means, bleah, talking to folk." Robin smiles wryly to Ophiuchus.
"Soooo, I suggest we take a quick look round here," Robin gestures to the whole room including the dark vaulted ceiling above, "for relevant intel. Scan the rest of the city for anything that jumps out. Get back to Eckford and I'll see about shortcuts to experts. How does that sound?"
Ophiuchus nods. "Aye, I'll see to Eckford. I'll bring him down here, so we're not so far split up. If you hear my screaming my fool head off, come running." He grins as he says the last.
Ophiuchus takes a few steps towards the door, leaving Robin in the darkness by the sarcophagus. He stops short and looks at the light. "Can't very well leave you without this. Let me try something..."
Robin wasn't panicking, no sir, she was cool. Fiona and Vere would be proud. But she does breathe a little easier when the light walks back over.
He comes back and sets the lantern on the dias, pointed back towards the door. "I can get out with that rigged like that. Bring the lantern out when you're done, we'll be outside."
"That'll work," Robin nods.
Unless Robin has objections, Ophiuchus departs.
After waiting a suitable time for any fool head screaming [and assuming she doesn't hear any], Robin turns back to the cairn to retrieve as large a sample of the burial cloth as she can. Experts might be able to tell something about it from composition, the border pattern, decay rates, sympathetic resonance, whatever -- all that stuff she tends to rush through.
Once she's got that bundled away, Robin picks up the lamp and makes a search of the entire throne room including climbing one of the upward winding staircases. While the Ranger's search pattern isn't exactly cursory, she is relying more on her intuition than on a detailed examination of the area.
The cloth is old and fragile. It will need to be treated carefully or it will disintegrate.
Robin climbs the stair, noting the delicate silver and black arches and filigree everywhere. This was a rich land, and this tower was raised with great skill. The stair winds upward, eventually leading to a wide balcony far above the dias below. It may be fifty or sixty feet down, and her lantern doesn't reach it. It doesn't reach the ceiling either.
Silver and black, Robin thinks, silver and black. Echoes of her Uncle are everywhere. And yet she doesn't understand how Lir's body fits into it. Robin snorts to herself, this is what she gets for skipping Family conferences...
In the darkness below, Robin thinks she hears something. Footsteps, perhaps. Maybe the sound of steel against leather.
For a moment Robin's heart races and a grin splits her face in anticpation - undead Uncle time? But then, she remembers - she's all the way up here, with the only light source in the room. There will be no sudden, sneaky stooping from her, darn it.
Instead, Robin sets the lantern down on the balcony floor and quietly steps a short way away from it. (Hopefully to somewhere the nearby architecture - balustrade or arches - obscures her figure.) Then she calls down, "Hello?"
No one replies, but as Robin stares into the darkness, she thinks she sees a source of light. Someone is walking on the great room's floor, and their every step raises sparks. She finds herself, for a brief instant, unable to move.
Robin can see him clearly, them, although the distance seems immense. Merlin! Her cousin walks the path of the Great Pattern. Robin feels her blood answering and the resistance is... if not real, at least sympathetic. He fights his way through the first veil and Robin can see that he stopped.
"What?", he says his voice both the merest whisper and completely clear. "You cannot be real, ghost of the pattern, I cannot stop!"
"Merlin, I am sorry you chose to disobey my wishes." The other man is easier to see, now. Tall, gaunt, and armed. Literally and figuratively armed. Robin has never seen Benedict with two arms, but she does now.
Merlin stares at Benedict's blade and licks his lips. He draws his sword without stepping forward. Benedict takes 3 steps back. He doesn't seem to be paying attention to the lines of the pattern at all.
Suddenly Merlin cries out. "Father! Help Me!"
Robin's instant paralysis fades and she can move again. The confrontation is fifty or sixty feet below her.
Robin's mind jitters in several directions at once, though her body only moves in one -- down. The call for help from a cousin -- any cousin -- pulls her into action. Grabbing up the lantern, over the balcony rail she goes, swimming/falling as quickly as she can.
Despite that, in the dark, watery, eerie chamber Robin's thoughts float behind her darting form like a fall of drifting feathers.
"Oh, so that's what a hard point in the universe feels like."
"You know, when Brita tried this she got stuck in a place that only Trump could get her out of. Hope that don't happen here."
"Kinda like the little weirdo, even if he squicks at me and Vere. Wow, did he totally win the 'worst parents' contest. Poor bastard."
"Yeah, falling slowly through water toward Benedict. Great idea, Robin."
"Goddamn that arrows won't work here..."
"Heh. Don't think Merlin could get a more not-Father helper than me."
"Are we THERE yet? Stupid slow world..."
Robin lands, tucks and rolls to her feet, and is between Merlin and Benedict all in one smooth move. The blade in her hand is covered in elaborate tracery and feels more natural in her hand than any sword ever has, as if it is an extension not of her arm but of her will.
Merlin’s voice comes from behind her. "I can't stop, Father! I must press on. Stay between us, I beg of you!"
Benedict raises his sword in salute. "Is this your choice Corwin, or is this still Carol? You don't have to act out his impulses. I will fight you, whichever one you are."
Another cloud of thoughts fluffs through Robin's mind at Benedict's (?) words: memories of Uncle Ugly, worry that she saw 'Merlin' stop in his walk, 'Carol'?, the thrill of the Sword at her will, the fear of facing Benedict over crossed blades and more and more and more. But Robin's words are still drifting behind her and she's already chosen.
With a wry tick to her lips and a shrug of one shoulder, Robin raises her own blade in salute.
Merlin is moving again, and suddenly so is Benedict. Robin is good at swordplay, maybe great. Certainly her only competition is from family members, but Benedict is the best swordsman anywhere. Robin watches him and spends far too long figuring out where he’s going and what he's doing and when her brain finally locks in, it's too late, she needed to start responding with her blade a full second ago.
And she looks down and her sword has been moving into position without her thought, blocking and deflecting the blow in a way that reminds her of nothing so much as Uncle Corwin, or Eric, or even Caine fighting, but at full-speed, not the way they'd slow down if they were fighting someone not of their class.
It's amazing, and exhilarating, and she feels the pattern inside her reacting to the pattern in the sword. She must protect the pattern and the walker. Her steps and her rhythm and even her footwork are a merger of her desires and will and the pattern written in her bones. Benedict makes several more passes, and her feet and the blade move faster than she can think, but always to the right place. It's as if she is dancing with her oldest Uncle, across the pattern. She doesn't stop to think about the pattern she's walking across, but it can't be beneath them, or they'd both have been destroyed by now.
The fight is like a pattern-walk itself. There is nothing but the relentless beating of the attack, the defense, and the dance around the man inside the red sparks. It's physical agony and a stretch of her skills and abilities, but an amazing fight in any case. Robin feels as if she's been given the best lesson Swordmaster Benedict has ever given anyone, and also feels a certain regret that she's not sure how much of what she's seen she can retain without the pattern-blade. Indeed, the thought of relinquishing the blade and its duty to protect the pattern seems wrong to her. She should keep it, and protect the pattern. Her blood calls her to do so.
Robin feels... something. As if her fire-lizards had been worried about something, and then ceased to be. Someone else's emotion. She hears a voice, not hers, exactly, but not not-hers. "He's at the Final Veil, you can stop any time."
Benedict comes to an abrupt stop, his sword returning to the salute position. "Agreed." He transfers his sword to his left hand and his right arm somehow retracts or collapses upon itself as, if his arm stump is drawing it back in. Shortly he is back to his single-armed self.
Benedict steps forward and disappears as if he had never been in the room at all. The red sparks disappear and Robin collapses to her hands and knees, as worn and tired as if she'd just passed the Final Veil herself. The lantern, unheeded since Robin jumped down, lies beside her.
From the doorway, Robin hears a voice. "Sir Robin? Are you alright in here?"
A dry cough is Robin's first answer. Then she wets her lips and croaks out "Yep."
With a happy sigh, Robin rolls over from her hands and knees to lie flat on her back, breathing heavily. She doesn't have her Uncle's (or even Vere's) stamina and she is just plain tuckered out.
As she lies there breathing and not-sweating in the watery room, she prays mightily that her muscles will remember something - anything! - of that! And the Pattern! Oooo, the connections, the will, the... dance! Robin struggles to integrate it all as quickly as she can before she loses it. But she suspects that mostly what she's doing is lying on the floor staring up into the darkness with a big goofy grin on her face.
It's hard to say what she will retain. If it was a vision, it was a vision that exercised her full body. Her wrist aches where she held the blade against Benedict's attacks. Her heart is still slowing to its normal pulse, and the room is still huge and mostly dark.
Ophiuchus comes over to where Robin lies. "You didn't answer my calls, and then the light started swinging crazily. I assumed either you'd fallen or you'd triggered a magical trap..."
"Heh." Robin laughs dryly. "Yes to both. (pant) But it's okay. (pant) This sort of thing happens to me. (pant) And I am well." There's an unfortunate amount of croon in the last word.
"Ah, well. Back to work." Robin sits up with a muffled groan. “Is Eckford nearby?"
[OOC - Assuming he is and the firelizards can be recalled from their fishing expeditions]
Robin takes a few moments to snuggle and stroke her fabulous underwater-flying-firebreathing friends -- oh, they are such good learners!
They are quite happy that you've returned, and do not want you to go away again. Also, the shrimp here are tasty, but their shells are hard.
Then, she mentally reviews the Trumps in her case. Everything is going to get wet anyway, but she wants to limit the time the case is open to as little as possible.
She hums as she thinks: Father? Nope, busy and in a non-flexible environment. Benedict? Hah! Though he might be tangentially interested, this is not a life or death situation. Fionnnnnaaa -- possibly, probably very interested and helpful, but her environment doesn't strike Robin as a good match for Eckford. Bleys? Ewwww, but given that Robin has no idea what he's up to, he might have the most flexibility of environment. And he might be more central to communication hubs....
Awwww, yuck. With a grumpy sigh, Robin realizes that she's more inclined to go with the unknown potential than the surer sub-optimal. 'That explains a lot', she thinks to herself as she draws out the beaded pouch that holds her Trump case.
"I'm going to contact one of my Uncles via a Family magic and see if he can transport us somewhere closer to Xanadu or others who bear knowledge regarding this..." she waves a hand at the room, tomb, etc. As she opens the case, she mutters, "'Cause I'm pretty sure this place has just done what it wanted to with us..."
Robin opens the case, withdraws Bleys' Trump and closes the case as quickly as she can. Probably won't make a difference to the overall wetness issue but every little bit helps.
Looking at the laughing red and orange figure on the card, Robin quickly wipes away her grimace and concentrates on the man whose underwear drawer she riffled and who spoke to her on the balcony over wine.
"Sir?" she thinks, loudly and unhandily.
Bleys appears smoothly and quickly, and he appears to be in bright sunlight. "Robin!" he says, seeming genuinely happy to hear from her. "Please, Uncle or even just Bleys. Immortals can't stand on formalities forever. Is this a social call, or may I help you in some way?" Unless Robin is wrong, he's near to or on the water. She can practically smell the salt spray.
Robin's lips tick in a not-quite-smile at the thought of a social call. Yeah, that's gonna happen. Well, maybe someday. Immortals right?
"Hello, Uncle. I have two things on my mind actually. One, I am in the company of a certain Sir Ophiuchus and his aquatic mount and have promised them passage to Rebma. However, our party became separated during a recent... Shadowclasm. And I'm to rendezvous with Vere and the rest of our group in Xanadu. Would you happen to be near the waters of Xanadu?" Her mind adds, 'because Eckford, the most awesome seahorse in the universe, isn't good for a land-based stable.'
"Secondly, I'mmmm standing on top of something that's probably of interest to the Family. It's a drowned city of silver towers with a Very Interesting Tracerie on the floor of the throne room. In addition, Ophiuchus says that the opened tomb in the same throne room probably once contained the body of his liege, Lir." Robin shrugs one shoulder; it's all fun and games to her but seems like the kind of stuff she should be reporting.
He grins. "That's a truly remarkable report, Robin. I'm far from the center, myself, investigating how Yg manifests in a world that has no surface, but a report of Shadowclasms, drowned towers of Silver, Knights old enough to be an affine of Lir, and a tomb in a dead pattern chamber are all good reasons to delay that investigation.
"If I come to you, we can investigate further, and if you and your knight need to take Eckford to Xanadu or even Rebma, we can arrange it."
Investigate further? Robin's nose wrinkles. Ah, well.
"Sir Ophiuchus and his companions are under my personal protection and I should connect with Vere as soon as possible. We were separated under... trying circumstances. If those caveats are acceptable to you than yes, I can bring you here." Robin's not overjoyed but she understands the necessity of it. Maybe she can shell some shrimp for the firelizards while answering questions and watching investigation. Bleah.
Bleys nods. "Of course. I am coming to help you, not interfere with your mission or investigations. If I can lend you my expertise for the good of the family, then so be it." He smiles. "And I am pleased that you called upon me. I was fond of your Mother."
Bleys reaches out his hand for Robin to pull him though.
Robin's lips tick at that last. He's doing that snake thing again; pokey, poke, poke. Ah well... what did Jerod call it? Sparring. Or perhaps, if Robin wasn't so private and prickly, she might even see it as an invitation to learn more about her mother from someone who doesn't disapprove of her as much as her Father does. Either way, Robin could stand to learn more: both about sparring and about her mother. The bait is effective. And the reassurance valid, so...
"Very well." Robin extends her hand and brings Bleys through to the sunken city of silver.
Once in his bedroom Vere opens his Third Eye and closely examines the entire room for any signs of magic. Then he examines it again with more mundane means, searching for anything unusual.
Assuming that it is nothing but a simple bedroom he will sit on the bed and bring out his father's Trump. He concentrates upon it until he makes contact.
"Father, it is Vere."
Gerard is sitting in his chair on the balcony of his chamber at Xanadu. "Vere. How are you? What news?" Gerard is, as always, a solid presence in the Trump connection once he's accepted it.
"Father." Vere smiles, and his pleasure at seeing his father comes strongly over the link. "I am well. I hope that you and mother are both in good health and spirits?" His father probably is not sensitive enough to pick up that Vere has questions to ask, but is deferring them until the proper formalities are completed.
"Aye, all are as well as can be expected here. Your ma and I are doing fine; Vialle seems stable; Marius continues recovering. Garrett's gone to Paris and I think Jerod's off with Raven in Gateway dealing with trouble there on royal orders. What news of the world from your end?" Gerard is hard to read through a Trump, not because he's mysterious and brooding like Corwin, but because he's so solid, like a rock. Even so, Vere can tell from the small details of his expression as well as the sense of him through to Trump that Gerard is anxious to hear what's going on with him.
"Robin and I were on a mission together. We succeeded, but were parted during the aftermath of that success." Vere smiles slightly, as though there is a joke embedded somewhere in that statement. "I am not concerned about her, but I did wonder if you might have heard anything from or about her recently?"
"Nothing yet, though I can ask if Julian's heard from her. She'd call him first," Gerard says.
Vere shakes his head. "No need. I would not wish him to think I lack faith in her."
He continues, "Currently I am on Asir Island, which appears to be locked behind a permanent storm front of some kind. The Paresh are here, and I am currently guesting with them. I wanted to inquire whether the King currently has any expressed policy towards either the Paresh or Asir that I should be aware of. There is also some sort of cult on the mountain here, calling themselves the Questioners of the Oracle. I am trying to decide whether I want to investigate them further, or if I should ignore them and continue seeking Robin. Does the name mean anything to you?"
"I don't know that name off the top of my head. Sounds more up the redheads' alley," Gerard replies.
Turning to the other question: "Random's got more to worry about right now--in general, not in the specific at the moment--than a cult that left Amber before he took the throne. Unless there's something specific that you think he ought to have a policy about. I can ask him if there is." He feels as though he might be ready to roll right into the throne room to get an answer.
Vere smiles. "No, that is sufficient. I did not wish to depart and find later that there was a royal decree regarding this place of which I was unaware. The unending storm appears to be the result of something Solange did during an earlier visit to the island. I had considered trying to rectify it, but have decided not to delay my current mission."
He thinks a moment, then adds, "When you next see the king please mention the Questioners and the Paresh to him. Other members of the Family might have pertinent data regarding them."
Conner spends some time before his departure touching base with the various spies, magicians, and Tritons under his remit to remind them of their tasks and see that they have instructions to carry on on the tasks they were given. Once he feels reasonably certain that the Queendom will not collapse for a few days at least (allow 1 day to a decade for this), Conner calls for a bag to be packed for him with provisions for the journey to Paris.
As his sister has taken the Seaward Route he will go landward and take ship from Paris to the Land of Peace. It will let him check in with Corwin and Flora on the Moire situation and check up on that statue/not statue in the place in-between realms.
After a two day climb up the stairs inside the cave, Conner finds himself pushing aside the vegetation that both screens and signifies the Paris end of the Failla-Bionin. He is noticed by a watcher, who recognizes him, and is offered a horse to ride to the palace. The palace is magnificent and open to the air, which is full of chestnut blossoms.
Conner is escorted to the gardens, where he finds Corwin and Flora with a small circle of courtiers. With him, is Garrett, who steps over to intercept Conner. "Well met, Cousin. I didn't expect to see you here." The boy smiles, and Conner sees, perhaps, more maturity in his bearing than he had when last they met. Perhaps it's merely confidence.
Corwin waits for the pair to approach his pavilion. Conner can see croquet mallets and other gaming materials behind the King.
"The surprise is mutual but it is a welcome one." Conner smiles back and offers him a hand clasp. To give them a little time to talk, Conner walks unhurriedly towards the waiting monarch and Aunt. "What brought you to Paris?" Conner inquires.
"I'm following a path to Gateway. Jerod needs some supplies imported and I'm supposed to seek them out and bring them to Port Thule," Garrett explains. "Dad thinks it's a good and relatively low-risk job to teach me how to do things. He said something about 'training wheels' and I had to ask him what he meant."
Conner chuckles. "Not much call for bicycles in Amber though they could become popular here. I expect skateboarding in Xanadu." Conner smiles. "Well, we might be able to help each other. I too have come to Paris to take ship into Shadow on a fact finding mission for Queen Celina."
Garrett nods. "I have a ship. What facts are you trying to find? If we're going to the same places, we could go together. It might save you some time."
"Even if it doesn't the company would be welcome." Conner admits. "My destination is the Land of Peace. The last time I was there a link between the Marids of that place and Rebma was implied that I did not full appreciate at the time. I want to dig into that a little deeper. Where is on your itinerary?"
Garett looks genuinely pleased. "I'm to go into shadow and gather certain trade goods and bring them to Jerod in Gateway. Since it's the furtherest place from Amber and Paris, Gateway is likely on the way. If you come along, we can probably shift shadow more effectively, so we could get there faster. I have a ship being outfitted at Le Havre."
The Prince turns and glances at Corwin. "You'd better greet our Uncle, I don't want him to think we're ignoring him."
Conner bows to Corwin and Flora as is proper for their station and smiles broadly. "Majesty, Highness. It is a pleasure to once again be in Paris. Queen Celina sends her warmest regards to you both."
Flora, for all that she is in theory the junior of the elder royals present, both by age and protocol, steps forward to give Conner an auntly embrace. "It's good to see you, Conner."
Conner returns the embrace warmly. "The feeling is mutual, my Aunt."
When she releases Conner, Corwin offers a firm clasp. "Welcome to Paris. We thank you for bringing us our daughter's regards, and send them in return when next you see her." The formal greeting having been completed, Corwin lets his tone fall back to normality. "You're welcome to join our game. Or perhaps you've brought matters of state that cannot be delayed for leisure."
Corwin doesn't sound as if that would bother him very much.
"I have been sent forth seeking information on behalf of Rebma and I would seek your counsel on these matters." Conner admits. "There is also news from cousin Brennan that I believe you both would find of interest."
"Well, let's all go inside, then," Corwin says, unfussed and undisappointed. He leads the way back to the castle, explaining to his non-royal companions that duties of state call. If Florimel is pouting a little, well, nobody likes to work when there's playing to be done.
Corwin stops to send for Folly, as well, so she can join them.
Soon enough, they're all settled in Corwin's comfortable study, drinks in hand, and ready to discuss business. "So, Conner, tell us your news and Brennan's, and--I assume you've had Garrett's news from him, so we'll move straight on to the questions on which Celina is seeking counsel after that, unless there's anything else that needs to come first."
Conner nods in agreement and takes a sip of his drink to give him time to order his thoughts. "Just as a preface, the tale Brennan told was a long and somewhat convoluted one so please ask for clarification if my summary is unclear. Following a trail from Rebma, Brennan traveled to Uncle Benedict's Avalon. Once there Brennan agreed to scout some of the islands in the area and took on the guise of a wandering mercenary. Skipping ahead, Brennan found himself at a siege of a strategically important mountain keep fighting off a mercenary force backed by sorcery and he managed to capture one of the sorcerers." Conner sips his drink again.
"In Brennan's words," Conner drops into the light trance that aids his recall and when he speaks again it is with Brennan's speech patterns, "His name was Cameleopardis Findanus, of a tribe called the Maghee, who claim descent from Lir's Castellan. Lir himself, it is written, originally raised the Silver Towers. When he departed to fight with his kin against an army of fish demons, he was slain, and the Maghee people succeeded him. Later, they claim to have been instrumental in the defeat of the Witch-King, sinking their own island and destroying the Silver Towers."
Conner comes back to himself and takes another sip. "This Cameleopardis was part of an expedition to this sunken city and was taken to a place there where he saw visions. He saw the Protector and the Witch-King fighting amongst a glowing tracery that lit up the room. He blacked out and when he awoke, a woman was on a Sapphire Throne. Before the throne, the Protector fought against the Witch King's blade until it severed the Protector's arm.
"Then that vision disappeared except for the woman. She named herself Dara, of the lineage of Lir, and bade Cameleopardis to sleep. When he woke, a Priestess of Lir would give him instructions. He slept and when he awoke, a woman was there and she bade him to raise a fleet and attack the keep that Brennan defended. The Maghee wizard identified this 'priestess' as Moire."
Conner stops there for reactions and questions.
Garrett is looking at Conner like he's not quite sure what he's hearing but finds it fascinating. Florimel is looking at Corwin as if she expects him to have something to say about this story, possibly quite a lot, and it's probably not going to be happy. Corwin, as always, is hard to read, but Conner's best guess is somewhere between disturbed and disconcerted.
"That last part sounds quite a bit like the business with the silver arm and Tir, during the war," is what he finally comes up with. "I got the arm on Tir after severing it from a ghost of Benedict, and later it was severed from him by what some people said was a ghost of me. After it had done something important, I should add. And Dara was involved in that scenario, in both directions. But Moire wasn't."
"I thought the whole story had the feel of Tir's visions." Conner nods. "Which makes it all the stranger if Moire and Cameleopardis somehow found their way to Tir and stranger still that they found each other there. Unfortunately, the wizard is no longer available for clarification. He was enspelled to prevent him from speaking of this matter and the breaking of that spell caused him to age unnaturally fast." Conner shakes his head and takes a long sip of his drink. "Brennan is continuing his pose as a mercenary hoping to find more about Moire's plans and whereabouts. Amongst other things, I'm trying to figure out if this link between Avalon, Rebma and Tir is an actual path that can be traveled and if so is it an opportunity to circle behind Moire or another front that needs to be watched and guarded?"
Folly enters the study in time to hear that last bit. "Ah, Conner -- you've been talking to Brennan, I see. I don't know if this will answer your question completely, but here's what I've pieced together so far...." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small sketchbook, already opened to a doodle that shows the names of Pattern realms, arranged in a rough circle and connected pairwise by arrows: Xanadu -- Tir -- Avalon -- Rebma -- Paris, with a lighter arrow (with a question mark over it) connecting Xanadu and Paris. Amber is pencilled in near Avalon, with an alternate path in dotted arrows connecting it to Tir and Rebma.
The space around the diagram is FILLED with other writing in smaller, hastier text -- some crossed out, some filled with abbreviations or code that make it difficult to read. A lot of what Conner can make out seems to be names of people, including a number of family members. Benedict and Corwin in particular have a lot of difficult- to-decipher scribbling around them.
To Corwin, Folly offers a polite bow and says, "Sorry it took me so long to get here -- I was ensconced in an obscure part of the library, and I'm afraid your messenger had rather a time of it trying to track me down." Her eyes are shining, as though perhaps she found something interesting in her research -- or it could just be the glow of exertion from her brisk walk to get here. She takes a seat beside Garrett, whispers a fond greeting to him, and then looks to see what questions Conner has about her diagram, or what she knows of Brennan's story, or anything else.
Florimel greets Folly with a wave but doesn’t interfere in the discussion. Corwin gets up to get Folly a drink, while Garrett grins at Folly and peers over at the diagram, waiting for Connor's question.
"Benedict has spoken of Avalon as guarding the back way to Tir," Folly offers. She looks at Garrett. "You were in the search party after Vialle went missing, right? Did your path take you through or near Avalon? I seem to recall your father saying you all had run into Benedict along the way."
Garrett delves into the recesses of his memories. "He said we were in the mythical Isle of Apples, but I think he called it Avalon later. We climbed up Dworkin's Thumb and met Benedict--and Dworkin--there. And from there we went to Benedict's castle, and after dinner somewhere that was--part of Tir? But the Grove instead of the city. My father and Benedict were talking about the Ring Road and making fun of Bleys and his higher maths. I didn't know Benedict had a sense of humor until then."
He remembers that Corwin and Florimel are in the room as well as Connor and Folly, and shrugs, a bit apologetically.
Folly gives him an encouraging smile; it's all good information (including that last bit that he may have intended as a bit of a joke).
"And we went back to Xanadu on Gerard's Trump instead of by riding," Garrett closes out the story.
"Well, that is as definitive as we are going to get." Conner muses. "It still doesn't explain how this Cameleopardis took an underwater route from Avalon and ended up in Tir or a Tir-like place." Conner sits back in his chair. "The ring road is starting to feel like a cloverleaf."
Folly nods. "I'm working on a theory about that. But this isn't the first time something like that has happened, right? It isn't even the first time something has happened like that underwater. Did Brennan tell you what happened when they tried to remove the gheas from Cameleopardis?"
Some interested parties don’t seem to know the answer to this question so Folly thinks she’s going to have to tell them before the day is over.
To Garrett, she adds, "And what color was the sky at Dworkin's Thumb? I've been there -- or at least to a Dworkin's Thumb -- but it was on the other side of Ygg."
Garrett takes a moment to recall what it was like. "Normal color--well, roughly the same sort of color we'd get in Amber. It wasn't stormy or anything. I don't think we were in Chaos unless Benedict has another castle called Avalon there."
"...or the topology of the universe has gotten more complicated than we understand," Folly says. "Which I wouldn't necessarily rule out, but it probably makes more sense that Dworkin has quite literally left his thumb-prints all over creation. It's like the dad joke of which all others are but shadows."
To the room at large, she says, "I think I mentioned to Corwin when I told him what I knew of the Maghee wizard's story that we had reason to believe he might be un-stuck in time. Brennan suspected his mind might have been tampered with in some way; he recalled awaking and meeting this priestess person, but he was not able to recall her the way he could recall and recognize Dara. When he saw a picture of Moire, he allowed as to how it could have been her, maybe, but it was all a bit fuzzy.
"So Brennan called in a local... I dunno, hedge witch, or something... to see if she could detect and remove whatever glamour might have been placed on the Maghee. She warned that there might be side-effects, including disrupting other spells that might have been placed on him. But she tried it, and...." Folly frowns. "The poor guy aged right in front of our eyes, perhaps centuries in a matter of minutes. As though perhaps something that had been keeping him alive for all this time was suddenly taken away. I might have been inclined to believe that his long nap between seeing Dara and meeting this priestess-that-might-have-been-Moire was some kind of centuries-long stasis, except that in his conversation with Dara, she was specifically interested in finding allies to help her bring down the new kingdom of the Sorceror-King Corwin." Folly hesitates, clearly puzzling over something. "Which I had thought must mean this place, but now I'm not so sure." She looks at Conner to see if he has any more details or insights to add.
Conner nods along clearly having the heard the tale. "I wish Brennan had not been so adamant about hiding his abilities. That outcome might have been avoided." Conner sighs. "As for the tricks with time, it is quite possible that the order in which Cameleopardis met these ladies was not the order in which they met him. So many echoes from the distant past and futures that may or may not yet come to pass." Conner drains the last of his drink. "I still don't know what to make of most of it."
Garrett, who hadn't heard any of this, is drinking it all in.
"I don't know entirely what to make of it either," Corwin admits, "and I was involved with the arm business. But I think that Conner's point about time being out of order for certain people is true and makes everything more complicated. If they were some sort of Tir-ghost or out-of-time experience, it makes me wonder where the other halves were in Dara's timeline, or Moire's. Because they have to be in the past."
"Do they?" Folly asks. It's not that she's disagreeing, precisely, but she's curious to hear Corwin's reasoning.
Conner squelches the impulse to answer for Corwin and instead waits to see what his Uncle has to say.
"Certainly for Moire. Moire's not a Lord of Chaos. She doesn't reverse time. And it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Dara now that she's taken the Pattern," Corwin explains. "And with Camelopardis—that is his name?—aged out, it cannot be in the future."
"Well, it cannot be in his future, I agree," Folly counters, "but I'm less certain about the other two. I take your point about the need for the right sort of power to generate an effect like that, but -- judging from the story of you and Benedict and the arm -- a time loop doesn't necessarily have to be generated by the people within it. I mean, otherwise---" she turns to Conner "---who would we have to suppose was responsible for that weirdness with your sister and Huon in Rebma?"
Though addressed to Conner, it's clear the question is open to anyone who wants to comment.
Conner's answer to that one is an eloquent shrug.
Flora has been listening all along, and finally she injects a comment. "If I understand these things correctly, brother, from what you've said about the silver arm Benedict had, the two events were parallel but not identical on both ends of that event. So there's no guarantee that what Cameleopardis told Brennan will be what happens, or has happened, with Moire or Dara. Is that correct?"
There's a slow nod from Corwin.
"That," says Flora, "may also complicate things somewhat."
"That about sums it up, doesn't it?" Conner sighs. Turning to Folly Conner says, "When we spoke of the weirdness with Brita and Huon with my Mother, she described it as the type of time distortions associated with Tir but that the Rebman Pattern had not exhibited such behavior before. It implies that whatever happened to Tir's Pattern to make it the way it is may be happening in Rebma. Mother was most disturbed by that conjecture."
Folly chews her lip for a moment, thinking. "I don't suppose there would be any good way to know the timing of Brita's experience relative to the Tir cycle, would there? Unless it's somehow visible from Rebma too, which I didn't think it was." She frowns. "Although I'm not sure which is the more disturbing conjecture -- that whatever happened to Tir's pattern might be happening to other patterns, or that the weirdnesses of Tir are somehow getting stronger so that they can resonate in other places -- other Pattern realms, even -- when it's visible."
To Flora, she says, "And I'm not sure what to make of that, either. How were the scenes different, if I may ask?"
It's Corwin who answers the question at the end. "I saw part of the second scene from outside the door. Benedict and Dara were there, and so was Martin, who didn't appear when I got the arm in Tir. I physically couldn't get into the chamber. I don't know what was keeping me out other than the universe refusing to let me destroy it in a fit of spatiotemporal paradox." His shrug is eloquent. "And I don't like the idea that whatever happened to Tir is spreading. I'm not sure that should be possible."
"If Fiona doesn't know, nobody knows," Flora opines, sounding less than pleased at the idea.
"It sounds like I need to add her to my list of people to talk to sooner rather than later," Folly says, "although I think I still might have a bit of research to finish up here first."
Folly regards her uncle with an appraising look. "Corwin, not counting that business with the arm, have you -- to your knowledge -- ever been displaced in time?"
"But I wasn't displaced in time," Corwin answers. "I mean, I don't think that was me. It was like a distorted mirror of me. And if that's what you mean by displaced in time, not to mention space, well, it's not the first time I've been up to Tir. Not to mention that I think Dad was interfering there, because the arm was useful against Brand--that was the important bit that happened between me getting the arm for Ben and Ben losing it to not-me. I've never had anything else like that happen--
"I mean waking up in Greenwood with my memories shot after Brand had tried to have me electroshocked into permanent crazy was like being displaced in time, but I don't think that's what you're looking for." He glances here at Flora, who shrugs and shakes her head. She doesn't want to talk about that, clearly.
"No, that's not quite what I was getting at," Folly agrees, "although it would not particularly surprise me if your visits to Tir or your father's meddling turned out to be relevant to what I'm working on.
"I was in the library trying to find out more about the ancient history of your brand new city, and I was struck by a couple of things. First, it hadn't occurred to me to mention it before, because I didn't realize it might be significant, but in Cameleopardis's story he referred to the person he witnessed dueling the Protector over the Pattern interchangeably as 'The Sorceror-King', 'Corwin', and 'Carol the Magnificent'---" Folly closes her eyes a moment, remembering the conversation, and amends, "...'Carol le Magne'. Which turns out to be the name of the ancient founder of this city. Whose descendant Clothilde married off a daughter to a merchant of Amber." For Conner's benefit, she nods toward her sketchbook, still in his hands. It may take a moment to find among her scribbled notes, but there near 'Avalon' is Benedict's name in a partial family tree showing his descent from Cymnea... and hers from Clothilde.
"...And it occurred to me," Folly continues, turning her attention back to Corwin, "that given all the other evidence of time-weirdness we've seen, it was not beyond the realm of possibility that you might accidentally be the ancestor of your own big brother." The look on her face conveys that she thinks this is simultaneously totally insane and completely reasonable.
"Patterns repeating themselves." Conner murmurs as he looks over Folly's sketchbook. Conner unconsciously drops his hand to Halosydne's hilt and remembers the image of a young Rebman queen begging her Cneve for help. Lost in that thought, Conner doesn't say anything more.
Garrett, who has been sitting here quietly absorbing the lessons of the elders, openly gapes at Folly. Florimel's response is restricted to a raised eyebrow or two.
Corwin just laughs. "Not that I know of. But I think Grayswandir would protect me from actually being sent back in time, or certainly I'd try to use Grayswandir to protect me. I have in the past, when the Moonriders have tried to send me away to keep me from defending Jones Falls.
"Also, I've had a lot of names while traveling, but Charlemagne isn't one of them. If I were going to pick a major figure in Earth-French history, maybe William the Ninth of Aquitaine. I don't want to be Charlemagne."
"Would Benedict?" Folly asks. "From what I found in the library here, the Carol that founded this place was described as having driven out and then protected the city from foul and inhuman barbarians. I'm afraid I don't know enough of your Earth-French history to know their Charlemagne, though."
"The Charlemagne of Shadow Earth was a brilliant military mind and primarily known for the Empire he built by military conquest." Conner comments. "So that is not incompatible but hardly conclusive."
"He did lose that ugly business in La Chanson de Roland, if the legends are true. I can't see why Benedict would want anything to do with that," Florimel says, as if that's obvious.
Conner is about to remark that no one wants anything to do with the ugly parts of their lives but there is no way to way that without it sounding like a jab at Flora's recent loss. Conner remains silent and nods his head.
"By legend and what we know of history, Charlemagne's court spent a lot of time sponsoring an intellectual flowering described as a Renaissance," Corwin counters. "That sounds more like me than Ben. Though Charlemagne wasn't a bard himself. Just a sponsor of them. I don't intend to have my empire blessed by any gods, though. Just the Unicorn."
"Speaking of long histories, are there any mentions of Osric and Finndo among the history you've been researching." Conner asks Folly. "It has been conjectured that I am following in Cneve's footsteps to some degree but Rebma's archivist was spirited away by Jerod and I am forced to look to other sources for information."
"No, nothing save the speculation that our Maghee wizard may have been descended of Finndo or one of his shadows," Folly replies. "And I'm afraid I don't know anything about Cneve's history or relationship to the family, except that... his death was what got Amber involved in Rebma's Triton War, maybe...?" She looks to Conner, and to Corwin and Flora, for confirmation or more information.
"Cneve was--" Corwin's brow wrinkles here in thought "--Osric's son? Finndo's? Anyway, long before my time. Ben and Dworkin are really the only survivors of those days. I've always wondered if that didn't have something to do with 'dying for the good of Amber' but it's not the sort of thing I'd ask Ben.”
Florimel shakes her head in the negative, but Garrett speaks up. "I think Cambina may have looked into that."
Folly's eyes widen. "Do you know what prompted her interest, or if she was working with anyone else on it?" She blinks, then adds gently, "Is this related to her trip up the stairs?"
She looks to Conner to see if he has more to add about either Cneve or Cambina.
Garrett shakes his head. "Just some things Nestor said that I probably wasn’t supposed to hear. Maybe Brennan will know something." He reddens a little, and hastens to add, "I mean, just because he was likely to know what she was working on."
"If Brennan had any information on Cneve that seemed relevant, I would think he'd have mentioned it during his time in Rebma." Conner observes. "Still, asking the direct question might be worth it when next I speak with him." Conner shrugs. "As for Cneve, the information I have is limited. He was Osric's son and he wielded the Pattern Blade I now bear thought it was named Belagamon then. It is unclear how he came to bear the sword or why he took up arms for Rebma against the Tritons. During that fighting, it is said that Cneve fell in battle. Osric and Finndo then joined the fight to revenge themselves on those that killed Osric's son. They were driven back into the Kelp Beds of Nedra. A peace was struck where the borders between the Dragon and Rebma were fixed with both sides agreeing not to encroach on the other. A portion of the sons of the Dragon were given to Rebma in perpetuity was servants, those we know as Tritons. The peace was sworn and sealed by the the sword and jewel, crown and scepter. Cneve was buried with his blade in a tomb in a place lost to antiquity until Khela found it."
Conner purses his lips. "When I asked Khela why such a valuable blade would be buried in a tomb rather than passed to another, she said that Cneve did not expect to stay dead. No body was found in the tomb."
Folly arches an eyebrow at that last. "Speaking of cross-shadow legends," she says, mostly to Corwin and Flora, "how does that one strike you?"
Corwin and Florimel look at each other. "My tomb was empty for a long time," he finally says. "But I wasn't ever in it. We never had a body for Dad when Eric thought he was dead, or for Ben when he'd been missing for a decade or three."
"But we did have one for Caine," Florimel points out gently.
"He was a special case," Corwin says, but he's nodding in agreement. "So yes, it's possible. But it involves foresight and ruthlessness. If you're suggesting people come back to life, I don't think that's how it works."
"The legend of Cneve sounded Arthurian to me." Conner comments. "Though when I asked if he was meant to return during Rebma's greatest need, Khela did not recognize the reference. But if we follow that legend out, Arthur was taken to Avalon after the war and here we have a path from Rebma to Avalon. There is a plausible symmetry."
Florimel ponders this for a moment, and finally says, "It's a mythic archetype of Earth. There's more than one legend of the same type. There's also Bran the Blessed and Frederick Barbarossa. All of those legends were in place before I ever arrived there. If there's a mythic archetype, Cneve could be the origin. But--" and here she pauses to look at Folly and Conner "--none of them ever actually came back, you know."
"True." Conner acknowledges. "But there is always an unspoken 'yet' at the end of such tales." Conner shrugs. "With so many things thought lost to antiquity showing up on our collective doorsteps, I suppose I'm inclined to see them everywhere."
Folly nods her agreement to that last. "And unfortunately, with the recent speculations about what the Klybesians have been up to, I'm inclined to think of all the possible ways one could give the seeming of coming back. It's interesting that Cneve seemed to expect that, though." She frowns. "Was life-after-death part of any of the religious teachings of that time? Church of the Unicorn, or the Rebman equivalent?"
"Life after death was never a part of the Unicorn's teachings," Corwin says, shaking his head in the negative. "Not that I've ever heard of."
Florimel is also shaking her head. "Nor to my knowledge."
(Garrett is still sitting quietly, absorbing the knowledge of his elders like a sponge.)
Folly taps her bottom lip, thinking. "We had a... doomsday cult sort of thing, the Paresh, in Amber while the rest of you were off fighting the war in Chaos. But they were predicting the end of the world, not its rebirth -- although their predicted doomsday ended up being pretty close to when the Xanadu pattern was drawn, if I've counted things correctly." She frowns. "It was some kind of Chaosian beastie they were fighting as part of that Triton war he got killed in? Maybe he expected to be eaten and re-spawned, somehow...? Except that seems less likely if he'd taken the Pattern." She's obviously very unsure about that particular bit of Rebman history, and looks to Conner and her elders for clarification or additional insights.
"If he'd taken the Pattern that makes no sense. And while I can't speak to what his blade did to Chaos beasties, mine burns them to ashes with the power of the Pattern. I wouldn't expect to die at all in a fight with a lord of Chaos. I didn't when it was Borel--but I wasn't interested in a fair fight at the time, and maybe Cneve was." Corwin's tone makes it clear what he thinks of people who follow Queensbury rules in war with Chaos: not much.
"Well then, I may be just about out of guesses as to what Cneve was thinking." Folly looks to Conner. "You bear his blade now -- do you have it with you?" Although she does not immediately add 'and may I see it?', Conner can probably hear that in her undertones.
Conner rises and turns so that there is no mistaking the sword on his hip. He draws the blade slowly and presents to Folly holding it on his palms. "Her name is Halosydne now." Conner introduces. "May I ask why you wish to see her?"
"Actually, what I really want to do is listen to her," Folly says with a lopsided sort of grin. "I'm trying to build a sort of... mental model of the relationships among Pattern realms. And since resonance is the model that makes the most sense to me, I'm looking for clues in the way things sound. I have no idea whether there will be any new useful information detectable in the sound, but the opportunity to at least try it seems too good to pass up."
If Conner is amenable to letting her try it, she will repeat the experiment she did with Grayswandir; she'll be listening for similarities and differences in the swords' inherent tones, as well as any differences in how they interact with the Paris surroundings: for example, does Halosydne seem at all less consonant with Paris than did the sword that scribed the Paris pattern?
"By all means, Folly. I am curious what are you are able to discern with your musician's ear." Conner ascents. If Folly wishes to take the sword herself, Conner will let her.
She does so, gently and with obvious respect -- and a bit of awe -- toward the sword. She suspends it lightly from the hilt, point down, and taps the blade lightly with her fingernail, ringing it like a chime.
She closes her eyes to listen.
Where Xanadu was a rock song, and Paris was chamber music with an impressionistic flair, Rebma is fugues and canons of the fugues and canons with a consort of strings: viols and lutes. There's something missing, though, and Folly can't quite put her finger on what it is. She can tell that it's missing, though. It's an ache in the song where something used to be. Or perhaps a sense that some instrument in the ensemble is missing and the absence renders the song lesser, though not wrong.
Conner can feel the rhythm of the song as Folly strikes it, but this is not his gift and he cannot hear the entire tune. (Neither, he suspects, can Corwin, though he’s clearly interested in the procedure.)
Conner cocks his head to one side and leans in a little. His right hand swings side to side and up and down like a conductor keeping the beat. "What do you hear, Folly?"
Folly's eyes are now tightly closed, and the rest of her face is scrunched in concentration. The fingers of her free hand move, too, but not in a conducting motion; it's like she's looking for the shape of a melodic line to add to some invisible score in the air before her.
"There's... something.... I can't quite tell if it's foundational, or some countermelody in the middle range, or what, but it's like there's a line missing. Or an instrument."
She opens her eyes again and offers the blade back to Conner with a murmur of thanks. She then looks at each of the assembled in turn to see if they heard it too. She cocks an eyebrow when her eyes meet Garrett's: he may not have her depth of musical training, but he is his father's son and has some of his traits. It's possible he's intuited something about the missing bit even if he doesn't have the vocabulary to define it precisely.
Garrett looks at her mournfully and shakes his head.
Corwin's just waiting for her and Conner to report back their findings, so his attention is on Conner now that Folly has spoken.
Conner also shakes his head in the negative. "I could feel the rhythm of whatever you were doing." Conner swings his right head in more passage of the beat. "But I could only catch snatches of the tune. Just enough to hear that is it beautiful and somehow sad."
Folly nods. "It's like it's mourning for something that's lost. My first guess would be Moins, or maybe Lir -- whoever made Rebma's Pattern, or called for the sword to be made. But it could be something else, I suppose. I wonder if the sword Bleys bears has a similar hole in its tune? Corwin's didn't." Mostly to the elders, she asks, "As far as we know, has Tir always had the same monarch?"
This question is a bit over Florimel's head and she shrugs, also looking at Corwin for his answer. Which is: "So far as I know, yes, but I wouldn't take it as a hundred percent proven. That may be time whereof memory runneth not for Benedict, never mind me.
"Now you have me wondering what would happen if we gave duelling a go on the lawn. Are you up to that, Conner?" Corwin raises his eyebrows. "In love and lightness, of course, in accordance with family rules. And then Folly could listen to the blades again afterwards."
"...Because maybe what Conner's blade misses is a little blood on it?" Folly asks with raised brows, though her eyes are twinkling. Despite the faint glimmer of misgivings that this will all end horribly wrong, she is visibly delighted at the prospect of this plan. She herself had considered asking Corwin if maybe pretty-please he would challenge Bleys to a duel just so she could listen, but concluded that would be overstepping her bounds. Plus, 'because I want to hear the beat frequencies of your swords banging together' sounds a little dirty even for on-purpose flirting. (With Corwin, anyway.)
"I accept." Conner smiles. "One only improves by practice with those more skilled after all and I have had little opportunity to spar in the open air of late. Besides, how could a redhead turn down a metaphysical experiment?"
"That was the answer I'd hoped for." Corwin rises and gestures them all outside. Florimel follows, though she drops back with instructions for the servants, and Garrett keeps close on Corwin's heels.
"For science!" Folly says with a gleeful grin at Conner. "But maybe let's try to avoid any dissections." She moves to follow the others, but pauses to give Conner's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Luck," she says.
"Thank you." Conner replies. "I'll need it."
There's a nearby open lawn that may have been used for croquet or other genteel so-called sports in the past. A small crowd is starting to gather as Corwin and Conner prepare for the duel: mostly senior people and those known to the royals like Aunt Felicity, Sir Lancelot, Sir Firumbras, and the Roths. One fellow shows up with a valise. Conner and Folly think he might be a doctor.
Corwin has stripped off his jacket and is limbering up. "To first blood, or would you rather simply do an exercise in parries?"
Conner also takes off his jacket, folds it carefully and places it to the side. "To first blood," Conner agrees with the likelihood that it will be his own blood an unspoken and assumed fact. Conner knows that any advantage Halosydne would grant him will be countered by Grayswandir. That brings it down to skill. Conner merely hopes to acquit himself well before his defeat.
Conner does a little light stretching of his own before crossing over to stand across the lawn from Corwin. When His Majesty is ready, Conner draws his sword slowly to allow the assembled guests to get a good look before the action begins. Conner salutes Corwin with his blade and sinks down into a fencing crouch.
Conner intends to fight very defensively until he has a measure of Corwin's speed and style. Then, if given the chance, he will try probing attacks here and there in an attempt to feint Corwin out of position and score a hit.
"Folly, you'll be our referee," Corwin says, "since you're obliged to pay close attention anyway. Garrett, you should assist if Folly is otherwise occupied."
Garrett nods. "Yes, Uncle Corwin." After a moment, as Corwin is moving into his own guard position, Garrett adds, "I don't expect either of you need me to say this, but sorcery should be out of bounds for this exercise." Maybe he doesn't need to say it but it clearly seems like a reasonable precaution for a duel between the Sorcerer King and a redhead.
Conner stands in a Pattern realm holding a Pattern blade facing one holding a Pattern blade. Attempting sorcery is about the last thing on Conner's mind. Still, one never knows what a King is capable of in His realm especially one with a penchant for pulling out surprises.
Corwin, meanwhile, has raised his blade. "En garde!" And he presses the attack. It's quickly obvious to Conner that Corwin is his superior with the blade and he could go on like this for a while. There's a legend that went around the castle during the interregnum about Corwin having dueled one of his brothers for twenty-four hours. Conner doesn't think that was necessarily a lie.
It's not that Corwin is pushing too hard here, either. He's good, but so is Conner, and while Corwin could finish this pretty quickly, there's clearly no intention to do so. Instead the blades ring as Conner parries Corwin's blows. With the strength of Paris behind them, or at least it seems that way, Conner can feel the rattle all the way up his arm when Corwin strikes and Conner blocks. They move up and down the lawn, Corwin driving Conner backwards and then letting up on the press so Conner can push him back down the grass and they can stay on the field.
Folly watches closely and listens even more closely, sometimes moving a few steps up or down the lawn to hear from a different angle, or squatting down to lay her palm against the ground as if she expects the earth itself to serve as some sort of amplifier. She is paying particular attention to how the sounds -- the songs -- of the two blades play off one another and the space around them. Just as two tones at very near frequencies produce audible beats as they alternately reinforce and cancel one another, so the sounds of these two blades together may make some underlying tones more prominent -- their inherent Patterniness, for example -- and also combine to produce new sounds that weren't in either blade alone. She's also curious whether Paris itself seems to amplify one blade more than the other, or otherwise modify or interact with what she's hearing; and how the fighting rhythm of each combatant compares with the songs she hears from their blades.
In addition to the sounds themselves, she's paying attention to what they evoke, be that a place or a mood or an attitude. Is there something inherently discordant or inherently harmonious about two Pattern blades coming together (or at least, about these two coming together)? Given the natures and owners of the blades, she's half-expecting it to sound like Celina, or perhaps Avalon which now lies between Rebma and Tir.
Folly is probably wishing about now that Bleys were here, because while there are definitely some harmonics and discordancies, it's hard to tell what might be the Paris effects and what's just the two blades. Also, while Folly's no swordswoman, or at least not one on the order of a Prince of Amber raised to it the way Conner and Corwin were, it's apparent to her that Corwin is the superior duelist.
The blades don't seem to be horribly discordant, but Folly has a sense that they're not really meant to do what they're doing right now. The music's not wrong, exactly, just ... not right.
There's nothing that particularly reminds her of Avalon in this music.
And although it may be rather a long-shot, she's trying to gain more insight into what's missing from the song of the Rebman blade.
She has no immediate insights on that point.
Conner is content to keep fencing back and forth until Folly gives some indication she has heard what she needs to or until Corwin chooses to end this fight. He will try an occasional move to disarm his uncle mainly to see how Corwin counters or avoids it.
Conner is a good fighter. A really good fighter. Even among his cousins, he's not a weak duelist, and certainly among mundanes, he's superior. It takes something on the order of a Triton to really beat him. (Well, except for the whole Triton oath thing.)
Conner's pretty sure Corwin could tangle with a Triton and make the Triton sorry. He's fast, he's strong, he's got orders of magnitude of endurance on Conner and he's incredibly difficult to read. He's not being rude about it, by any means, but Conner is aware Corwin could end this pretty much any time. The disarm attempts Conner makes are good and solid, but the strength Corwin brings to bear in return keep his blade in hand when he doesn't just outright dodge them, which he mostly doesn't because that's not the point of the exercise.
Like Conner, Corwin is waiting for Folly to decide she’s done before he ends things.
The crowd is just enjoying the duel. Conner and Folly can hear the murmurs of discussion from the knot of onlookers.
Folly has a long and thorough listen, followed by a long and thorough look; after all, a pair of lovely and skilled duelists is its own sort of entertainment even without the accompanying sounds.
Once she has the sounds (and some of the visuals) firmly etched in her memory, she moves to where she thinks she should be visible at least peripherally to both men and raises her hand above her head in a thumbs-up. Beneath her gown, she toes at the hem of her linen underdress, ready to sacrifice the bottom several inches for a bandage, if needed.
Corwin was waiting for the signal; when Folly issues it, he stops playing around. He's not going for a kill, but he stops letting Conner beat him aside so easily on parries and he's advancing aggressively instead of giving ground. Soon enough Conner finds himself backed to the edge of the lawn, and Corwin touches him on the arm, enough for crimson to blossom on his sleeve, but not enough to be a serious injury. Corwin retreats at once.
It is a testament to Corwin's skill and the keenness of Grayswandir that Conner's doesn't realize he's injured until Corwin retreats. Conner drives Halosydne into the ground and claps his free hand over the wound.
"Hold," Folly calls, and continues in a clear voice that carries to the onlookers: "Both combatants acquitted themselves well, but the victory is Corwin's."
The presumed doctor rushes up to check on Conner's injury, if permitted.
Folly also moves toward them; given their positions on the field, she reaches Corwin first, but makes sure Conner can also see her well enough to follow what she says, softly: "Given recent events, perhaps we should keep control of any shed blood."
Corwin nods to Folly. He gestures Alice to him and says, "See that the doctor's bandages are properly disposed of." She nods and moves to assist the doctor as he tends to Conner's wounds.
Conner allows the doctor to minister to his wound and gives direction if at any point the work is not up to Conner's standard. "Most instructive, Majesty." Conner smiles at his Uncle. "My thanks for the lesson."
"My thanks for the exercise. I enjoy a spar with a skilled opponent." Corwin bows. One of the onlookers--Lance--has brought Corwin a cloth to clean his blade with before he sheathes it. Corwin salutes Conner and begins to work on the sword so he can put it away.
The doctor's work is fine by Conner's standard; the touch was with the point and not a slicing strike, so no stitches will be needed, merely a bandage, which will require the removal of his shirt but nothing more serious.
The crowd begins to disperse, but Lance, Alice, and her husband Bill remain as long as the doctor is working on Conner. Garrett also remains, but he's family, and there may be more family discussion afoot.
Once the wound is seen to and his shirt is replaced, Conner retrieves his own sword and brings out a cloth to remove any stray bits of dirt before sheathing her. Conner approaches Folly and asks, "So did you enjoy the concert?"
"It was very interesting," she replies, "but I'm not quite sure what to make of what I heard. It's like the blades were not quite meant to be doing what they were doing. But I don't know whether that speaks to some underlying relationship between the places those blades represent -- that Tir and Rebma, or Paris and Rebma, were not meant to be fighting -- or that they were meant for a different, more intentional sort of fighting."
She frowns thoughtfully. "I suppose, as blades of Pattern, they're really meant to defend against Chaos. But I don't know if it's more than that."
Alice has sent for a fresh shirt for Conner and, under Corwin's direction, the group moves toward the study. Garrett is listening eagerly but he has nothing to offer.
Corwin says, "I didn't notice anything particular about the exchange of blows. I wouldn't want to do more than spar in lightness against Conner with these blades, or with Bleys. You know what happens to them when you strike a Chaosian with them, don't you?" he asks Conner.
Garrett waits for the answer, hungry for knowledge.
"As I understand it the Chaosian in question catches fire." Conner replies. "I am unaware if such use affects the sword or its wielder in any way though."
"Does it feel, or sound, any different than hitting a non-Chaosian opponent?" Folly adds to Conner's implicit question.
"It depends on the being. I've had some that Greyswandir cut through like butter as it set their blood aflame. Others, not so much," Corwin says. "I haven't done any methodical examination, though. I'm not sure Bleys has either. If Brand had had Werewindle, he would have tried it, though I think his attention span would have run out too quickly with that kind of project. Not creative enough," he adds by way of explanation. "I was wondering whether you'd had a chance to try it yet, or to fight with a triton."
"I am happy to report that I have yet to draw my sword in anger." Conner replies. "So I do not have any information to share on that score. Halosydne here is know to the Tritons as the PaxBlade and is one of the tokens of the peace treaty between the Dragon of Nedra and Rebma. While I have no doubt that she is potent against the Tritons, I shudder to think at what bonds might be broken if I were to slay a Triton with it."
"Depends on whether it tried to kill you first, I should think," Corwin says, sounding momentarily flippant. But Conner and Folly, if they look closely at him, can see that he's not entirely joking.
Garrett, who has been listening to this conversation with interest, asks, "What are you going to do if you go get attacked by a Triton, Conner?"
"Most likely kill it," Conner admits, "and hope that any fallout is diplomatic rather than metaphysical in nature. After all, I can make a pretty good argument that any Triton that attacked me was not keeping the peace." Conner smiles thinly. "The equation would change a little if I knew the Triton personally of course. There are some I respect enough to attempt to subdue rather than kill if only to get some answers as to why they would turn on me."
"If the blade burns them, you'll have an easy time. If not," Corwin says, making the obvious point, "it won't be so easy. I imagine that Celina will understand either way. I can't imagine it's so easy, though, or else someone would have fallen on the Paxblade at some time."
Florimel, who has been keeping up all this time, agrees. "During the Libertist business, for sure."
"What Libertist business?" Garrett asks.
"I believe," Folly answers, "Florimel is referring to a movement in Rebma some time ago calling for the Tritons to be freed. It was effectively quashed when Moire very publicly executed at least one of their leaders. I heard a bit about it from your brother, who was rather good friends with some of the Libertists -- including their executed leader." There is a gentleness in Folly's tone that Garrett may recognize as signalling a large and deliberate understatement. "It's not clear to me how much of Moire's opposition to the movement was metaphysical versus purely political."
Garrett give a single nod that Folly recognizes.
"That was after my time," Corwin says, "so I can't say. But if she had any basic understanding of what she was dealing with, and understood the difference having Llewella's daughter involved made, it may have been both--if," he adds, not entirely missing the undercurrents in the room, "an incorrectly informed one."
Florimel nods her agreement with Corwin, an entirely different gesture to the one Garrett just made. "Llewella might know, but I'm not sure I'd ask her." Her tone makes it clear she thinks there's more than a breach of etiquette at risk.
Folly nods, acknowledging what Florimel said and not-said. "And speaking of people who would know: before Moire left Rebma, I did rather promise to pay her a visit, assuming my reply ever got to her. If that ever comes to pass, it's gonna be the most metal tea-time smalltalk ever."
"I would happily pour the tea and serve kelp-point sandwiches to witness that." Conner chuckles. "Her Majesty Queen Vialle spoke to me of the Libertist movement once. She made it sound more political than anything else with a healthy dose of fear of what a freed Triton might do mixed in there." Conner scratches at his arm just above the bandage. "I also spoke to Her Majesty Queen Khela about how she came into possession of the Paxblade. She gave the impression that all of the clues that lead her there were to be found in the Shells rather than in Rebma proper. All it takes for something to be lost to Rebman history is the one Archivist that knows a tale to fall silent. We are already running into that limitation as we delve into Rebma's past."
"To fall silent or be silenced?" Florimel asks.
Conner smiles in appreciation. "Precisely, my Aunt. Gaps in Rebman history track with sudden vacancies in the Archivist staff. No doubt this is why Jerod spirited away the archivist Carina when he had the opportunity lest she become a casualty of history."
"Wise of him, because the lady is in a position to know too much." Florimel smiles thinly.
Corwin speaks up. "Of course she would be welcome here. And safe."
"Don't be ridiculous, brother," Florimel answers. "Moire ran through this city and we still don't know how she got away. I have a much better sense of the distaff half of this city than you, for all that you spend your share of time among the women, and I can tell you that your protections for Carina would be inadequate. If you sealed her up inside your own library, Carina could still end up dead. Or have you forgotten the lesson of my son so easily?"
For once, Corwin decides that discretion might be the better part of valor, and shuts up.
"Martin has made mention that for a skilled practitioner of such things, mirrors can be used as we use trumps -- not just for communication, but sometimes also for travel." Folly's tone is gentle but a bit grim; they all know what else Moire seems to have done with her mirror skills where Lucas is concerned. "And this city is... very shiny." She gives a wry smile. "It's how I would try to find her, if I had a mind to." Something in her tone suggests she already has at least half a mind to.
"I believe Celina looked into Moire's movements among the mirror makers of Paris." Conner comments. "I never heard the full details though."
"Celina and Merlin found the mirror she appears to have left by," Corwin says. "One of her agents had it prepared. I can find the list of mirrorwrights and show you the one who made it. But she did capture the agent, who is still in our custody. What was her name?" Corwin turns to Florimel, whom he seems to think will remember it.
Florimel's eyes shine and the corners of her mouth turn up in a way that worries Folly and Conner. "Her name is Bend," she says.
Conner's answering smile is equal parts relief that Flora's expression is not aimed at him and satisfaction that it is aimed at Bend. "Ah, yes. How is my fourth-least favorite Rebman?" Conner asks. "Has she proven any more cooperative since I've seen her last?"
Folly looks like she might have a question of her own, but she's very interested in the answer to Conner's question, first. She reflexively fingers her trump case through the folds of her gown.
"She's not very cooperative, but I believe she knows how Moire escaped Rebma. Her lack of cooperation centers on that point." Florimel looks at Corwin. "With your permission, brother, we could take her for a trip and see if there's any way we can convince her as we travel. That is--" she turns back to Conner and Folly "--if you two are interested."
Conner's smile grows wider. "An outing with a favorite Aunt? I can think of nothing better."
Folly leans in, clearly interested, but more cautiously so. "What sort of trip did you have in mind?" she asks. "And which of us are the good cop and bad cop? Because, y'know...." With a wry smile, she gestures at Conner: "Diplomat with a sword could go either way."
Garrett doesn't quite stifle a laugh. "I imagine our Aunt can be quite the 'bad cop' if she needs to, if Dad's stories are true. No offense meant, Aunt Florimel."
Florimel inclines her head gracefully, as if Garrett has paid her a compliment.
"Sometimes you get more with a kind word and a sword than just a kind word." Conner misquoted with a smile. "What did you have in mind, my Aunt? What would be our itinerary?"
Florimel smiles. "The former Queen is, despite her charms," she says and looks at Corwin. Corwin doesn't bother to blush. "Rather old for games. This agent of hers is younger. I would expect the story you tell to be along the lines of 'My dearest Aunt is humoring our efforts to interrogate you, because she is angry and may have already conjured a pack of Wolfhounds to throw you to if she doesn't get what she wants. You should tell us quickly while you've still got all your limbs.'" She looks over the emerald green frames of her glasses. "I think you two need to be 'Good'."
Corwin nods. "It's the only option she'd believe."
She looks at him coolly. "I know of a little shadow where we can take her. The land is rocky and barren, and the sea is the only source of food. The water is breathable, barely, and every gasp feels like you are breathing in a thousand tiny knives. No one lives there, and there's really nothing to do but slowly rot away. We can take her there."
Garrett pales slightly. Either she just made that up or she really is 'quite the bad cop'.
Corwin looks at his sister. "Well, that sounds worse than a steak dinner, but better than Greenwood Hospital. At least Bend can't meet up with Klybesians on a deserted island."
Conner swings his head to one side and then to the another as if weighing the idea.
Folly frowns, thoughtfully, and looks at Conner. "You've had run-ins with Bend before, I believe. Do you think that sort of approach would work with her, or is it too much like her own bag of tricks? Depending on whether she herself was more of an intimidator or a negotiator, she may have her own skills to defend against it. Either way, I... might have something else to try first."
"I interacted primarily with Lord Montage during my time in Rebma." Conner admits. "However, from my brief interaction with Bend in the Bastille, I think she has a healthy fear of what a powerful woman could have done to her." He graces his Aunt with a smile.
To Corwin, she adds, "A while ago, while Moire was still in Rebma, I wrote a reply to a message from her. I believe Random was going to give it to you to pass along to her. Do you recall if it was ever sent?"
"It should have been," Corwin answers Folly. He elaborates, "Moire and I were in regular diplomatic contact until things fell apart. It would have gone by diplomatic pouch. I'd have to have it looked into to be certain and to know when it would have arrived."
Conner turns to Folly. "What message did you send and how do you think it could help us now?" Conner inquires.
"Moire had invited me to visit her in Rebma, and I told her that although I had some pressing personal business to attend to first, I looked forward to making the arrangements once that was concluded. Which was secret code for 'gotta go find my mum and tell her she's about to be a gram, and then also have that baby because even I have enough self-preservation instinct not to go to Rebma while pregnant with the queen's great-grandchild'." Folly smiles wryly.
She continues, "If this Bend was a close aide to Moire, there's a reasonable chance she knows about that exchange. So, y'know, maybe before we try torture, we could go the diplomatic route of, 'Hi, I was supposed to visit Moire, and I know some of the circumstances have changed in the meantime but she's still my husband's grandmother and I'd like to talk to her, do you have any suggestions how I might reach her?'"
"I think if you're going to do that, you should consider breaking her out," says Corwin. Florimel starts to sputter indignantly, but Corwin overrides her. "That's your way of being good cop. She's not going to believe anything you tell her, Flora. She's not a complete idiot. But Martin's wife? Maybe. I don't think Garrett should be involved in this one, though."
Corwin looks to Folly and Conner to see what they think.
"That definitely has potential," Folly agrees. "And yeah, Garrett, you should probably not be one of the direct players in this one -- both for political reasons and because I might need you as an escape route in case things go pear-shaped. That is, if you don't mind my continuing to hang on to that card I made for your father that I haven't had a chance to give him yet." She taps her trump case through her pocket.
"You keep it," Garrett answers. "Martin would kill me otherwise." He says it like he's kidding.
To Conner, Folly says, "If there's already a bit of animosity between you and Bend, I'm thinking perhaps I should make the initial contact myself -- and then after that, my usual approach is 'wing it', but I'm open to suggestions. What do you think?"
The fingers of Conner's right hand twitch like he's doing math on an invisible slate. "I am...." Conner pauses, "skeptical." He finishes at last. "I can't think that Bend would view you getting involved as anything but a power play to put your daughter on the throne of Rebma. It is what most Rebman noble ladies would do in your position after all." Conner opines. "So you are going to have spin one hell of a tale to either convince Bend that you really just want a quiet chat or that an alliance with you benefits Moire in the short term if not the long. Otherwise, we are back to betting on Bend's desire for freedom or better treatment being stronger than her loyalty to Moire."
"Well, to my advantage," Folly says with a wry smile, "that 'hell of a tale' I will have to spin is the actual truth. My main goal, truly, is to talk with Moire, and I'd rather keep any children of mine far from sitting any thrones if I can help it. I figure it's at least worth a shot, and at worst it doesn't work and we're back to Horror Holidays with Auntie Florimel." She inclines her head respectfully, despite the humor in her tone at that last, to her aunt.
To Conner, she continues, "Or at least I hope that's the 'at worst'. I suppose it's also possible it works and I accidentally find myself in some sort of weird hostage situation -- which is why I'm being careful about escape routes."
"I have the ability to watch you from a distance so we can build another layer of redundancy into your contingencies." Conner offers. "But let's return to your plans. Let's assume for the moment that you manage to convince Bend of your sincerity and you find yourself either with Moire's location or being brought before her. What do you intend to do then?"
Florimel speaks before Folly can reply to Conner.
She looks as if she's having to explain gravity to a puppy. "Before you answer, Folly, consider this. Moire will naturally want to take you in and protect you and help you in any way possible, because taking up her great-granddaughter's cause against her daughter allows her to effectively return to the throne while papering over her own treason.
"Bend will see the advantage of your line, to her mistress. Your concern should be if her ties to her Queen are weak, and her remembrance of the harm done her family by your husband are strong."
"You'll have to at least hint at either the possibility that you might be manipulatable by a woman with hundreds of years of experience doing exactly that in a court that makes Amber's look transparent and open, or you'll need to be manipulatable."
Corwin clears his throat. "'My child is Morganthe's granddaughter' is a risky approach, but might draw her out. If that's what you want to do."
Folly is silent for a long moment, thinking, before she replies, "Unfortunately, what I want most is not actually possible -- namely, to have a conversation with Moire that is personal rather than political. But everything personal between us is already deeply, horribly political, and I haven't even met her yet." Her tone sounds almost wistful, but there is a flicker of hotter emotion behind her eyes.
More evenly, she continues, "I want to try to get a sense of her plans and motivations; I hold out hope, however faint, that now that her own daughter sits the throne of Rebma she is somewhat less likely to try to take it back herself." She doesn't add, 'or try to maneuver someone else onto it,' but it's not hard to hear between the lines. "I would dearly love to have an honest talk about Rebman metaphysics with her, but I hold out even less hope on that score."
Folly holds out her hands, palms up, in a gesture that encompasses everyone present. "Those are my personal goals. But I am also a member of this family, and moreover I know that I am only making these plans with your help. With Paris's help. So we should also discuss: IF -- a very big if, I know -- I were somehow able to make contact with Moire, even meet her in person, what would you want to see happen next?"
"Her brought to justice for the murder of my son," Florimel says, and that silences the rest of the room for a moment.
Garrett, perhaps surprisingly, is the one to pipe up next. "I think my father will have an opinion on this. I don't want to commit him without speaking to him, though." Which diplomatically kicks the can down the road bit.
When next Conner can catch Garrett's eye, Conner nods his head slightly in approval and a blink-and-you-missed it hint of smile passes over Conner's face.
He's hard to read, but Folly suspects Corwin is grateful for it. (Conner would not be surprised by this either, but for slightly different reasons.) "How soon do you need your answer, Folly? Because I'd like to talk to Celina, privately, before making a decision."
Conner waits for Folly's answer before saying anything further.
"We have some time," Folly says. "I mean, it's not like Bend is going anywhere soon, right? And I did want to talk to-- to Random first. I know what his answer was before, but that was when Moire was still queen." She hesitates, then adds, "And I should probably warn my husband."
"Prudent." Conner nods. Conner looks as though he was going to say more. His eyes flick towards his Aunt and he remains silent.
"Well, that's it, then," Corwin says, clearly ready to put a cap on that subject. "I think privacy might be in order for us to make our various trump contacts with the rest of the family. Shall we reconvene later for dinner?"
"Sounds like a plan," Folly agrees. "Give my love to Celina."
"I will," Corwin assures her.
Ambrose leads Signy into another chamber where the code wheels are. They're stored on stands not unlike the rotating bases for maps. There are perhaps a half dozen of them, all made of metal and covered in strange symbols that Ambrose explains are Uxmali glyphs. He takes one and shows Signy how they work, physically, in the sense of how the rotations link the Uxmali glyphs.
Then he shows her a fairly simple glyph structure and unwinds it for her, which takes some time. Then he shows her a complicated page, where it's not immediately clear to Signy how one glyph ends and another starts, and says, "This is one of my father's simpler pages, or, rather, a copy of it. You can see how we need the code wheels to decipher his writings even though Brennan and I are native speakers."
Signy watches Ambrose work, watching and asking a couple of questions but mostly just letting him speak. Once done, she looks more at one of the wheels, examining it with a jeweler's loop though not yet touching it, studying the mechanism up close.
[Any thoughts on the material that it's made out of? Can she see the innards of it?]
The mechanisms are hidden. To see how the inner mechanisms work, Signy is going to have to disassemble one of them. Materials appear to be some kind of bronze-type metal, but without the sort of corrosion she might expect, possibly due to sorcerous influence.
[What about the glyphs? Inlaid, stamped, etched, or other?]
[I had to think about how to describe this but I have a very specific visual in mind and they’re actually sort of like the type balls in an IBM Selectric.
The rotations are all horizontal—not that Signy can tell that natively but Ambrose shows her and the way he’s holding it makes the rotations horizontal.]
After studying the wheel for a couple of minutes, she glances up at Ambrose.
"Where does the sorcery fit in on these? Clearly they're not all mechanical...."
"Part of the magic is in the preservation, which wasn't initially clear to me. It's one of the things that's failing. You can't keep sorcerously preserved things near a Pattern for too long, and in any case the preservation enchantments were designed specifically for Uxmal, which no longer exists."
Ambrose probably ought to sound more upset about it than he does.
"The other major sorcery on the globes is complicated and possibly not repeatable, though I suspect it's transferable from one globe to another. I think they're--not sentient, exactly, but--they seem to have some way of limiting the number of glyphs based on the set of interlocking patterns. They're still complicated, and difficult to use for a non-native speaker if not outright impossible, and there are multiple meanings that work with some of the glyphs, possibly because my father wrote things with two meanings. Or more. He was like that. But in any case, there's some sort of intentionality there, if that makes sense."
Signy frowns at this.
"How 'close' are we to a Pattern right now, though? Could we move them closer to Ygg, and make them last longer? And are they sensitive to Sorcery? I may need to take one apart, but before considering that I'd like to probe it a bit that way if you think it would be OK?"
"I don't understand the theory exactly, but we're obviously within the broad influence of Patterns or we'd be on the far side of Ygg. There's definitely a nearer field of influence for each of the Patterns, though, in which there's much less flexibility of, well, sorcery, or at least in Amber there was. And that's the circumstance that seems to be so degrading to the code wheels," Ambrose explains. "We could try moving them closer to Ygg, but for storage, Fiona's lab seemed the best place to put them.
"And," he adds, "while it doesn't technically require sorcery to use them, I think they might be, as you say, 'sensitive', to it."
Signy shakes her head distractedly. "No, here's probably best for now," she says in a quieter tone of voice. "What happens when they start to break down? Do they give the wrong answers, or just stop working altogether?"
She pays partial attention to Ambrose, as she easily brings up her Third Eye, simply looking at the device for a moment.
"There's a certain grinding in the gears, is I suppose the best way to surprise it. None of them have failed to the extent that they don't work physically, and the translations make sense, which if they were failing on a sorcerous level, they certainly shouldn't--" here, Ambrose trails off, as if he's considering some unspoken question. "At least they shouldn't as far as I know."
What Signy sees in terms of magical patterns with her Third Eye can best be described as fractal geometry of the non-Euclidean variety. No Lovecraftian beasties in them, though: if the code wheel is an affine, and it might be, it's not hostile.
Signy's look alternates between appraising and impressed. "These are incredible. And Brand came up with these all by himself?"
She gazes at them with her Third Eye for a moment longer, noting the details and allowing herself to be caught up in the sheer wonder.
She slowly extends her sight down into the device, looking at the structure internally [is there anything there, cogs or gears, or is it all done with Sorcery?], before cradling the wheel with her fingertips and raising it up just past her eyes. Her fingertips lightly brush the surface of the wheel without disturbing the hold of the device, as she sings softly to the device of metals and forges and castings, and listening for its song in return.
The sight, so often unclear or misleading, shows a mixture of gears and cogs and magical bindings and tensions. The device is remarkably well composed and internally elegant.
"Careful!", Ambrose warns. "These are delicately balanced. Adding either additional entropy or stasis will likely cause them to become unstable!" He pauses. "My father was trying to keep these things secret from both his family in Amber and his allies in Chaos."
Signy nods slowly. "Has anyone been able to figure out anything about how they're put together?"
Ambrose shakes his head in the negative. "I'm the one who's worked with them the most. Brennan has also used them, but I don't think he's tried to do more. They were my father's creation and so far as I know, we're the only two of the blood besides him to try to use them." After a moment he reconsiders. "Bleys and Fiona may have used them as well, and Fiona has had access to them, but I don't know how thoroughly they've delved into them. My father's relationship with them was complicated; we'll have to ask our aunt ourselves."
Signy winces slightly, thinking about having to talk with her aunt so soon after annoying her in their last conversation.
She spins one of the wheels, watching the interplay of the forces through her Third Eye as she forms various glyphs at random and without direction, then again while thinking of different words, images and concepts.
"I do wonder what my father would make of these, though."
[Anything standing out to her from her crafting skill?]
Signy is able to spin it at random in ways that make no sense and observe the mechanism, but without a basic knowledge of the language, it's hard for her to tell what she's getting when she tries to form glyphs with the wheel.
What is immediately obvious to her through watching the code wheel is that it would take a crafter of her caliber, one familiar with sorcery and craftsmanship, and possible Pattern as well, to build something like this. If her father could make the physical object--and he could, easily--it's not clear to her that he had the sorcerous knowledge to make an object work this way. Unless he's been lying to her about that for all these years, he doesn't have the sorcery for it.
Signy slowly releases her Third Eye as she puts the device back down, before looking at Ambrose.
"How long would it take to learn a little of this language? I could make the device, I think, but without that I don't know that I'd ever be able to make it work, at least not correctly."
"I don't know, exactly. I've never taught it to anyone, spoken or written, and the written language was something I learned as a child. It will take some time, but this is why I'm here: to teach you," Ambrose says. "Uxmali is not a dead language, exactly, but the number of competent speakers and readers is very small. Mostly my father's immediate family, and not in the half-blood either. You'll be the first one of our cousins to learn it.
"I assume you’re a quick learner," he adds with a bit of a smile. "It runs in the family."
Signy smiles distractedly, starting to go through the project in a little more detail. "Will the time here be sufficient, or would we want to find another Shadow where time moves faster for that?"
She gives Ambrose a quizzical look. "And does our Aunt have a forge that I could use to start experimenting with making the physical structures?"
"Your Aunt has a forge but it's not usually present in this location, although I can arrange for that to happen." How Fiona joined them in the room without being noticed or overheard is a bit of a question, but perhaps Fiona is just like that in her own place. "And it will take some time for you to learn Uxmali, but I can give you a head start, if you like. You'll be risking a bit of a headache, but it beats the old-fashioned way that involves years of speech and writing practice. Don't you think, Ambrose?"
Ambrose says, "I've had some--direct lessons--from Grandmother. The knowledge is useful. The headache will last, however."
If Signy is surprised at Fiona's sudden entrance, she hides it extremely well.
She notes Ambrose's endorsement, before looking back at her Aunt. "I think in this case the ability to bypass a few years of language lessons is probably worth risking it," she says simply. "If you are willing to help me...us with this, I am more than grateful."
She pauses, and looks back and forth at the two of them for a moment. "What's the best way to begin?"
"Oh, nothing in particular, other than that we should sit down. Ambrose, you've done this before with Mother, haven't you? You can assist with the spheres. Are all of them here?"
Ambrose nods, and says, "All seventeen. Though only the one is presently in need of repairs."
Fiona opens a lab drawer and produces some paper and brushes and pens of a sort that Signy might expect to see used for painting or perhaps calligraphy, to the extent that she's familiar with the art from Tomat's teaching.
"Now let me show you the basic glyphs," and thus Fiona begins.
After what seems like a couple of hours of discussion, with Ambrose's assistance, Signy feels as though she has mastered the first and simplest of the code wheels, the one she has been speaking with Ambrose about.
Without windows, though, there's no way to discern how much time has actually passed.
Signy sits back, rubbing the back of her neck absently.
"That...didn't seem too bad?" she offers the two of them. "I think I've got this first one straight. Mostly."
She brushes a lock of hair back behind her ear, exposing a healthy smudge of ink from previous attempts at coralling the wayward lock during their session.
"Does the next wheel in the sequence build off the first? How do they all hang together?"
"The vocabulary and the structure of the glyphs becomes more complex, but they're not in a specific interlocking sequence, if that's what you mean." Ambrose is clearly the expert here; Fiona has let him do a surprising amount of the talking. He looks a bit droopy about the edges, as if he's done more of it than Signy recalls. Possibly he has; it takes her a moment to realize that Ambrose is speaking to her in a language that isn't Thari.
He's speaking in Uxmali.
Signy's eyes narrow slightly as she takes in his condition, though she doesn't say anything just yet. "So the complexities add wheels?" she responds back, making a conscious effort to stay in the language.
She shakes her head, and works her way through the response again. "So the wheels. Add complexity. Depth?"
Better, but it's going to take a lot of practice to get it right.
"What otherness could Uxmali be used for, besides reading Brandpapers."
She winces slightly. Maybe better was a bit hasty.
"Your vocabulary is improving," Ambrose says, in what passes for liquidity in the harsh language of Uxmal. "But you don't have the trick of structuring your sentences yet." There's a way of phrasing that he has that Signy knows she can't duplicate just yet. It occurs to her after a moment that he's centering certain words in the sentences, just as certain sigils are centered in glyphs.
You could build up complicated sentences that way. Very complicated paragraph sentences. Expressed in very complicated glyphs.
It's Fiona who answers the actual question. "Directly, not so much. It's a good language for certain sorcerous applications and you might find it broadly useful for creating spell structures. It'll give you some new insights into your creative skills. How is your head? We should eat and drink, if you're up to it, and then you should rest for a while."
Signy can't quite control the brief look of disappointment at an end being called to the session. The low growl from her stomach was probably just a subconscious response to Fiona's words, as is the nagging feeling of pressure somewhere behind her eyes.
"Do you have any of Brand's papers here, or anything that I could use to practice on?"
She sneaks an involuntary glance around, on the off chance that there's a table of food nearby.
But just a brief snack. Not that she's hungry.
"I have some simple things you can use to test your ability to translate," Ambrose says. "After we eat, though. Or at least have some chocolate." There's what looks like a coffee set on the table nearby. Signy doesn't remember it being there before she started her lesson. It smells delicious.
Ambrose is already moving to pour some chocolate for them from the pot.
Fiona holds up a hand. "I'll fetch us something to eat. Both of you should sit down, though. This is hard work. Do you have any specific preferences, Signy, or will anything hearty do?"
Signy pulls over chairs for all three of them before dropping into it a bit quicker than she may have liked. "Anything hearty."
Gratefully she accepts the cup that Ambrose pours for her, but manages to wait until the other two have a chance to seat themselves with cups before drinking a huge mouthful of the melted chocolate, not noticing the heat.
"This wasn't really all that different than working with my Father -- how much time actually passed," she asks. "After the first year apprenticed to him it took a couple of days to notice that we hadn't really had a break, though."
Of course, the Dvarts would have had a table full of food for when she or Weyland did notice that they could use food. Maybe she just missed the servants that brought the drink here.
"Proper study is taxing, and I find it harder now that I am initiated into the mysteries of the Pattern. Energy is expended both suppressing the self and re-writing it. True knowledge is like a fever, one is resistant to it in small doses and succumbs to larger onslaughts."
Ambrose looks solemnly over the top of his steaming chocolate. "It is always worthwhile, and the skill of learning is a precious and hard-won thing. Few in Chaos value it."
Fiona walks back into the room, carrying a try with a small feast on it. She couldn't possibly have prepared it in the moments she was gone, so perhaps she does have servants somewhere after all.
Signy nods. "I imagine that it's much like how the iron feels after it's been hammered out and tempered."
She pauses for a moment, while Fiona puts the tray down. She manages to restrain herself while Ambrose and Fiona serve themselves, before quickly balancing an improbable amount of food on the small plate herself.
"Though learning is much like creation. True creation changes the craftswoman as much as the object being created."
Ambrose waits until Signy has taken a share to fill his own plate.
"There will be more if you're still hungry," Fiona advises, "so eat your fill." From the looks of her plate, she plans to. How a little woman can pack that much food away is a bit of a mystery.
She continues, having heard Signy's last question: "How do you account for the changes in yourself when you create, given that you're of the blood of Amber and initiated into the mystery of the Pattern? Do you think the solidification of your reality makes any difference?" She holds a finger up to silence Ambrose; this is Signy's question to answer.
After Ambrose fills a plate with whatever he chooses, Signy deftly leans over and refills her plate, though neither of them remember seeing her eat as much as she clearly did.
She doesn't eat right away, however, putting the plate next to her on a small table before unsheathing a small, functional dagger.
"The act of creating is often an act of discovery. I wanted to create a dagger, so I made this. But I did not picture this when I made it. I wanted to create something functional, something that would simply serve a simple purpose, and this is what I got. I didn't picture it, but when I was done it was there."
She leans back, focusing on the dagger. "Nothing really changed with me, that I know of. Yet, when I tried to make something Real for the Queen, and failed, I changed. I grew, I learned. I changed. And even if I had succeeded, the end result would have been the same, I think. When creating, the creation often speaks as much of the one that creates it as the one that views it."
"Reality," Fiona says, "is decidedly more difficult to tamper with than most anything else." She, too, is consuming far more food than her birdlike size would seem to require, or even allow. "A tool you make will travel with you easily, Signy. But something real, something with the Pattern invested in it, has a particular essence. Just as it's difficult to impossible for someone else to change you, it's difficult to make something Real, to invest some of our own Reality in it, as it were. When you think of it that way, it's not surprising that making something Real changes the maker."
Signy considers Fiona's statement while she finishes a mouthful of food.
"Yeees," she says slowly. "But even if you're not trying to make something Real, making things reveals things about the creator. A sword I made when I was mad at my father looked much different than one I made for a client, or because I was trying to learn a new technique. It was...uglier. Meaner. Even if it was as well-crafted as any I had made, there was something of me in it."
She idly pushes some of the food around on the plate, playing with it a little bit while she considers her next words.
"Every act of creation still requires you to invest something of yourself in it, whether you will it or no."
"There's a difference between that kind of investment, and the growth that comes with it, and change as we discuss it in sorcery," Fiona replies, not at all fussed by Signy's disagreement. (Perhaps to Ambrose's surprise.) "Your essence remains the same, particularly now that you've taken the Pattern. We do evolve, but slowly, and from deep roots. But change comes from us, and isn't imposed from the outside, the way we change objects and beings, particularly from Shadow.
"Changing beings of Chaos is different, of course, but that's what becoming a Lord and taking affines means: you control what they are."
Signy sits back, thinking. "Then maybe I'm not able to answer this question fully yet. I have attempted to make something Real, and it has changed me and given me a deeper understanding of some of the ways that I have failed to understand Reality. But it may be that until I have actually succeeded that I won't be able to fully answer this."
She thinks a bit more, before idly noting "I would be curious to know what my father says about this, given that he has made the Pattern blades, or perhaps what someone that can create a Trump thinks of this."
Ambrose, perhaps more out of a desire to change the subject before Fiona gets annoyed about the fact that she can't make trumps than personal curiosity, asks, "Do you think he'd give an honest answer? And if so, to whom?"
Signy's eyes harden slightly, and her mouth curves in a hard smile. "There's honest, and there's honest. He would never tell you an outright lie, but there may be some convenient...omissions."
Ambrose makes a face that says he recognizes that technique.
She pauses, and recalls her surroundings before continuing.
"I think he would be very candid in saying that there is a price, but the details of what needs to be paid or the full implications of the costs may not be as obvious."
Her smile becomes slightly more bitter again. "I don't know that there's anyone that I ever saw my father consider a peer, to be honest. Possibly Madoc, but I was a little busy to be overly observant of how they related. Certainly never anyone from the Family, other than a brief parlay with Brennan while I was laying siege to his Tower."
"My brother can channel our father's div--imperiousness when he wishes," Ambrose says. Like Signy, Ambrose appears to reconsider his words about halfway through the sentence.
Signy gives a knowing nod to Ambrose as he speaks. There's a lot of shared heritages in this Family, it appears.
Fiona is smirking at both of them, but not unkindly. "Nobody expects a full accounting of a price for something like a Pattern blade. I can't see any way the maker would know the price. The part that's paid to the maker, yes. But that's only a small part of wielding it." She turns to Signy. "They make all sorts of assumptions about the price your mother paid for the axe. Of course you wouldn't know the actual bargain, particularly not if you were part of it, but there's no reason to suspect it was as simple as people want to make it out to be."
Signy sighs softly, looking at Fiona. "Do you know anything about her relationship with my father? After she left, it wasn't something that was wise to bring up."
She pauses, before adding quietly, "Though there were some times....."
Fiona nods. "Bleys and I found out about you and your brother through Uncle Madoc, actually. After Ambrose's father failed to destroy Martin and the pattern, it became important to prevent him from finding any other children.
"Madoc is actually close to your father, which says something as it is quite difficult to be on good terms with that Uncle." Fiona looks over at Ambrose. "You may correctly assume that Bleys and I know the difficulties that you have with your Uncles and have long vowed not to be as difficult as ours were." Ambrose can only nod.
"In any case, the story as I understand it was that your mother changed the deal, perhaps because she found that being married and living with your father was not the thing she had hoped it would be.
"Your father apparently decided that one full-time daughter was better than nothing, and kept you to raise himself, over your mother's objections.
"If that sounds biased towards your father, it's because I only know Uncle Madoc's version and I can't ask your mother. Oh, I strongly suggest that you do not ask Vere to arrange for you to do so."
Signy nods slowly, the axe forgotten for the moment.
"If you know ...Uncle Madoc, do you know why he would be interested in me as a bride" she asks in a quiet voice.
Ambrose looks at Fiona, as if waiting for some signal to answer or defer. Apparently he receives it, because he speaks up. "An alliance with Weyland would gain him nothing from his nominal Chaosian allies, except perhaps Grandmother, who is always a special case."
Fiona raises an eyebrow at that, but there's a quirk of a wry smile at one corner of her mouth.
"It almost looks as if he's shoring up power against most of them. And without turning directly to Amber, as it were, in an act of open treachery to his Chaosian heritage. You're a sorceress as well, so you'd make a fit consort. He might need the power after he spent so much of his on making Aisling. Saeth," Ambrose concludes, correcting himself.
"Marriage alliances," Fiona adds, "are not made on personal charm. Unless you're Oberon, or Mother, in which case you do what you want."
Signy nods slowly, hoping that her eyes haven't glazed over in bewilderment at having to think about Chaosian politics now as well, before deciding to move back to perhaps safer ground.
"Was the axe bound to a Pattern?"
Signy mentally runs through the list quickly. Uncle Corwin had the sword for Tir. A sword for Rebma, but that was lost maybe? Bleys has one. And Patterns in Tir, Amber, Rebma plus the one for Grandfather Dworkin.
[OOC: I'm assuming that this is covered in Cambina's book, but if not we can simply snip the thought at Rebma.]
"It doesn't seem likely that marriage would be a price that someone from the Family would pay for a normal weapon, even one crafted by him."
Fiona looks at Signy for a moment. "No, the form of the protector-weapon is traditionally a sword, and the shadows cannot lie to make it other than what it has to be. Besides, those weapons are controlled by the Kings and Queens of those realms, not your father."
Ambrose continues. "Do not assume that the trade was merely two-sided. It need not be. And recall, also, that your father is old enough that he is likely to know things that no living being does. Perhaps your mother's deal was with the Klybesians, and they traded her favor to your father for something else."
Signy looks slightly unhappy at that.
"I've asked Brother Tomat, but he professes to know nothing of the deals that brought him to be my tutor."
She pauses, before looking at Ambrose.
"Do you think he's being truthful?"
Inwardly she winces that she's even entertaining this thought.
"He'd have every reason not to be," Ambrose replies, "but--" and he trails off thoughtfully, "On the other hand, if the Klybesians really do run an inter-shadow espionage service, they might keep their field operatives ignorant of significant information. What do you think, Aunt Fiona?"
"I think," Fiona says, "that if you want an answer, Signy, you can always give him to me and I'll get it out of him."
Signy blinks, nonplussed, at her Aunt's offer. Failing to think of a response to that, she looks away for a moment.
"I'll...maybe. He's with Queen Celina right now, so maybe she's getting a better read on him."
She pauses before steering the conversation back to the reason they're sitting in the lab of their Aunt in the first place. "What do you think the next steps for these should be," she asks them both, nodding her head towards one of the wheels. "Is there more to learn? Just practice?"
"You've had some very basic grammar lessons," Fiona says, "and as I'm sure Ambrose is too polite to tell you in so many words, you've got a child's grasp of Uxmali. It's enough to make a start on a simple wheel, but the complex wheels are still far beyond your capacity. But a combination of tutoring and work should bring you up to speed for some of the more complicated wheels over time."
Ambrose flushes slightly at Fiona's statement. "The glyphs are like a form of poetry. It takes practice with the language to work out their meaning, both from the complexity and from the allusions, which will be difficult for someone who knows little of Uxmal to comprehend. If it weren't for my father's papers, I think those of us who know it would be content to see the language die off now that Uxmal is destroyed."
Edan dreams fitfully of the hamaaj, endlessly pursuing him through a wildly changing landscape of fire and water and sand. He knows, and does not know how he knows, that if it catches him, he will be forced to marry it.
He wakes in a cold sweat, minutes before dawn.
Edan can see in the pre-dawn light through his open window, that Skander is sitting outside, and there are a number of saddlebags on the ground beside him. It's possible that the household is awake and keeping silent on his behalf.
It's got to be the spices, Edan thinks groggily as he pushes himself to a sitting position. I haven't eaten that mix in a while. Yes, that must be it. He groans and stands, checks to make sure Kyauta and his kit are with him, and moves to the window.
"What time is it?" he calls down to Skander. "Has anyone gone ahead?"
Skander waves as he sees Edan. "It is the hour of the eagles, Master. And it is well that your enemies are not here already, for your forces are strung out between towns and temples and the street in front of this place." He looks back at the street. "Haytham has gone to the temple to keep them from all converging back here. He did not know if you wished to meet them in the house of the Merciful One or someplace more martial."
"So many?" A little of the color drains from Edan's face. "So soon? I assume he thought there were too many for the Dey's residence." He sighs. "I will be ready in a moment. We will ride to the temple, and then lead them to the Dey-evi." He looks back down to Skander. "If we wait too long, word will spread and the throng will be too numerous to leave. When we meet the others, go and see how many horses we will have. Look to see how more you can find if we are short. I know horses are scarce, but do what you can. I only found a dozen, I hope more were brought with the others. It is the horses that will determine how many go with us."
Skander squints up at Edan. "Any who ride will not be here for a week or more. Assuming they can find feed and stablage along the way. The impoverished lands in the cold north, some of them still ride. It's not a skill the youth of today even desire to learn."
The desert fighter pauses. "Some claim that the Merciful One showed us how to make our own conveyance so that we did not overburden his creations. I am not so sure. He did not teach us to make mechanical khlea.
"There are a dozen brothers now, but Haytham has sent the call out to three score and ten. The ones across the continent are not expected."
Edan relaxes a bit. "That's not unreasonable. We may not need extra horses after all," he says. "Give me just a moment." He gathers his things together, not expecting to come back, makes himself presentable enough to address a crowd, and then goes downstairs.
"Let us see who has answered the call," he says to Skander, and leads them both towards the temple.
A score and half again of the brethren are at the temple of the merciful one. All are men Edan rode with, although they are by no means all the men from those days.
Just being in the presence of the Sultan makes them stand taller.
They’re not as fit for fighting as when Edan left them, but they are as awe-struck as the people he left behind. It may be too many for Edan to charm, as he did the six in his room. Some would as leif be released from their vow.
It is good enough. "I know you. All of you. And you remember me. When I left to seek my father's homeland, you all stood on the brink of a new world, a new age. Freedom. Peace. You have made your dream a reality, and I rejoice with you."
He pauses. "I have been to the lands of my father and returned. There are worlds out there, worlds that none of you have seen. My father's father has passed on, and old enemies of his kingdom have risen to take advantage of it. I am my father's son, and I would take up my sword to defend the lands of my father and his brothers.
"I need men who would ride with me. Many of you, perhaps most of you, are content with this world you have made. But there are some of you I know who would see more. I need men who would ride with me again. Fight with me. Bleed with me. Rally to my cause, and I will show you worlds beyond your imagining. Help me defend my family's lands against those who would see them destroyed."
Six identical knives thrust up into the air in unison, along with a ragged yell, "the Sultan, the Sultan, the Sultan!". Following Edan's lieutenants, others are also waving weapons. Of the nearly two-score men who have answered the call, none seem to be unwilling to join with Edan and go wherever he will.
There may be other people in the temple, who were there to pray or study or meditate this morning. To them, this is a throwback to a less peaceful time in The Land of Peace. To Edan, this is what the temple of The Merciful One has often been.
"Let us move on to the House of the Dey of Longtides," Edan says to the group. "You can all decide for yourselves whether you want to leave from there. It will be a long time before you could return, so think carefully before you decide."
Edan leads a parade, or a march at least, through the city. People watch with interest, and in some cases with fear. Children and dogs follow after, interested in the excitement.
The House of Longtides is, remarkably, clean and open. Some of Haytham's household are there, and gardeners are ripping out the long-dead plants from the garden. It's not functional, but it's no longer abandoned-looking. The staff may not have slept.
Haytham nods as he sees this. As he is a magistrate of the town, it may be of his doing.
"We need to get the horses from the stables," Edan tells Haytham, "and get them ready." He turns to the crowd, then, and says, "I thank you for coming to this place for nothing more than the mention of my name. I have only so many horses, and we will find more as we travel. But here is the time and place to choose; if you would ride with me, come forward. If you would remain here, go, and know that I will love you none the less. We are all brothers."
Haytham relays the message to one of his servants, and the woman leaves the room.
The six captains walk directly across the room and stand with Edan. The rest of the group starts to move when a a voice calls out from the back. Deep and rusty, it sounds as if it has no desire to speak.
"My Sultan, if you take us all, then what will become of the holy places and right thinking of the great territory of the Merciful One, this land which we made into a Land of Peace? I have taken no responsibilities, but some of our brothers have families they will not want to have fall back to the old ways, and some are responsible for entire towns.
"I am free to follow you to any heaven or hell, but what becomes of this town without Haytham?"
Haytham looks uncomfortable, but not less determined.
"Each man has free choice," Edan says. "I would not deny that to any of you, including Haytham. It is the message that endures, not the man that utters it." He turns to Haytham. "You have someone, I hope, who works under you? Who would carry on if you were gone?"
Haytham is thin-lipped. "I do, Lord. My brother-in-law is an excellent scholar of Law and held court for me yesterday when you arrived. I once hoped he would not succeed me for a long time, but the call of the Merciful One comes when it will and not when a man will have it. I am content."
Skander speaks up. "We are not all assembled. Some have far to travel, even across the continent. Some fight the heathen peoples to the north of the sea of wine. You could leave word, my Sultan, for them, to keep and preserve the lands for your return, howe'er long it shall be."
"Leave them a sign or a token and a message and they will do their duty."
Edan nods. "I shall prepare such a message, and leave it here." He grins at his group of six. "And then there were thirty. Get everything organized, while I perform a bit of sorcery for the message. Also, if there are supplies to get us on our way that will not cause disruption, bring them. There will be no lack of this as we travel, but we have to be already traveling before I find them."
Haytham goes off to speak to someone, perhaps his brother-in-law. Edan's Amber heritage allows him to listen in. "Ibix, the Sultan leaves his last words to the faithful here, in this place. Make it a shrine to the Mighty One, and tell all how he chose this place to leave them with their final instructions. When he returns, no matter how long it may be, he will expect them to have been followed, to the letter."
"It shall be done, Haytham. And you will be missed." The two men embrace and Haytham returns to his fellow captains as they make preparations. They divide up the men into squadrons of six men. It seems to be going smoothly.
Once everyone is together, Edan helps to get them mounted or at least mobile; if there aren't thirty horses available, several of the riders will have to ride double until they get moving.
The first order of business is getting supplies and/or more horses; Edan will almost immediately begin shifting Shadow as they head out. A cache of supplies and weapons near an oasis sounds like the perfect solution, and that is what he will be aiming for before the ride starts in earnest. The overall plan is to test the abilities of these men and gather more on the way to Xanadu, but there's no point in stressing them until everyone is outfitted.
The shadows shift, the sands grow darker and coarser, the moon becomes reddish and shrinks in size, and the horses learn the rhythm of a long day's ride. The desert is still with you, but the nights are not as cold nor are the days as hot.
The scorpions, however have gotten larger. The men have taken to hunting them for practice.
Recruiting men on the way is on the order of support corps; there isn't need for many, considering the small number of initial troops, but it will serve as the beginning of the support corps and ortas: medical, logistics, food, hostlers, sappers, etc. As mercenaries, and this offer is for the other troops as well, an initial bonus followed by regular pay. Edan decides he carries enough funds to pay everyone, but does go through the symbolic gesture of receiving his own pay with the troops.
This initial group is company-sized, so that's what we'll call it. Ten companies would be an orta, or battalion. Each company would break down into five-man groups plus one support person, so tents would be organized that way. For the moment, the original six followers will be the sergeants for the rest. Edan is aiming to outfit each soldier with a quality horse, a single-shot long rifle (preferably bolt-action rather than a musket), and he will introduce them to the bayonet, which should be new to most of them. A short bow for backup, a short yatagan sword or axe, their own jambiyah. Ottoman Janissaries had something called an Abus gun, which was like a short howitzer; Edan will replace that with a horse-drawn mortar for the company. Whether he manages all that at the start, that's what he's aiming for.
Each rider will be fully responsible for everything in his kit, and that goes especially for the horse and rifle. Edan knows his skill with the horse, and he's looking to impart that on the company. That means the training will be brutal. He expects the first few days to be something of a shock, but Edan will train alongside them the entire way. They will eventually learn (or remember) how to shoot and fight from horseback, how to handle nearly any terrain a horse can navigate, and how to properly care for their mount. This is the most vital skill they can learn, so it gets the most work.
At rest, he tells them of Amber, of Xanadu, of many of the worlds he's seen. He tells them some about Family. He tells them of the Gheneshi and the Klybesians, whom they will face. He tells them of the Order of the Lamp, and the organization he wants to build. He tells them of the larger Chaosi war that took place during their own war with the hamaaj.
All in all, it's less men than he wanted to start, but it is a beginning. Quality over quantity, after all, and it's not bad for a tenday's work.
The crew trains and organizes and learns as Edan lays out the regimen. They do not spend much time talking about the past, either before or after his Sultanate and departure. They seem happier with guns than with bows.
The new recruits do not worship The Merciful One. How does Edan want to deal with that? Also, how does he want to deal with religious life for his core corps?
Edan's take on this is that the Order of the Lamp was created as a secular organization, and it will remain so. Each man is responsible for the state of his own soul, and he makes it clear from the start that he will not officially censure anyone's practicing religion.
Privately, he will observe that the majority of the force follows the Merciful One and the Way of Peace, and that the close-knit day-to-day exposure of the infidels will bring about new converts with time and patience. He will privately share this observation with those who aren't farsighted enough to see the same. He also makes it clear that they are going to Xanadu, where the Faithful are certainly not a majority, but those who have settled there are tolerated.
While those who pray with him take the message back, there does seem to be at least something of a division. It is not actively affecting training or morale, but there are clearly two kinds of brothers.
Decisions have to be made, and you have to live with the consequences. The alternative would be worse. Edan resolves to keep an eye on it and intervene if anything escalates.
Xanadu is easily reachable via the coast, or Edan could prolong the ride. What is his intention?
That depends on how much time remains. It's been three or four days since he rode to the Land of Peace, and there was a tenday before they would have to be back in Xanadu. If there is time remaining, he will continue with the drills and slowly move up the coast until they reach the City of Muses.
There is time, and time can be manipulated to some degree. Edan has his men [OOC: are any of Edan's brothers actually sisters?] as drilled as he can get them in a ten-day when they arrive. His scouts return to him as they ride up the coast. They've spotted a city, flying the Red Unicorn banner from the castle above the lagoon. They may not have been spotted yet, but they will be soon. The city obviously lives by the sea, and the troop will be visible where they are.
There's a significant river crossing to be made before they can ride to the city. The men wish to know how he wishes to accomplish it. They propose building rafts, but have little local knowledge.
[ooc: Considering Edan's drawn from desert tribes where the women fight as fiercely as the men, I had assumed there were going to be sisters. He certainly won't turn them away, but I don't know how many would have answered the call.]
[OOC: Let it be so. And let's retroactively make Skander a woman.]
Edan tries to remember if there's a detour from this direction. He does remember being poled across when he's come to Xanadu by himself, and is a little disheartened he didn't remember that for this trip. "There should be rafts built already to handle traffic from this direction," he tells them. "I may have to send word ahead."
This plan is thus:
1. ride to where there's a natural ford, if he remembers one.
Edan remembers the river running into a tropical forest. It is not well-mapped.
2. send word ahead to have rafts ready for them, if they ride to a predetermined point.
He could arrange for Michelle to do so, but how would he send the message?
3. go ahead and give the order to build rafts, if there's no other option.
If he gives the order, they will do so...
Skander looks at the water. "Sending to the city for rafts is an excellent idea, Master. Unless you would like to evaluate how we would overcome this obstacle if we were on campaign and not heading into a friendly city.
"I do not think we are a large enough army to build bridges for ourselves, but we could build a boat and tow a line across, then cross when the tide was balancing the flow of the river."
Edan sighs. He sighs because he remembers the headache he had on Le Soliel, and that was farther out than here. "There is another way, and it's faster," he tells Skander. "Get everyone dismounted to lead their horses and in single file. I am guessing what I do will last an hour or so, plenty of time, but be ready to follow me across."
When the company is arranged to his satisfaction, he commands Kyauta to go ahead and warn Michelle of their arrival.
Kyauta departs with alacrity.
Then, with Aramsham's reins in hand, he draws heat from the brackish water to create a wide path of ice.
The brothers and sisters of the order are suitably impressed, and ride quickly across the ice bridge. Some have literally never seen ice, and need to have it explained to them. They call it anti-steam.
Skander wants to know if that is a spell that can be learned, or if they should only expect it to work when the Sultan so directs?
Once the riders are all gathered back together, he tells her, "I...don't know. It is one thing that we must find out. There are those with the talent, but I am told it is passed down through families. If such talent exists in our group, I will teach what I can."
She nods. It's unclear if she's disappointed or relieved.
Kyauta returns. "They prepare," he tells Edan.
[OOC: Where to? The center of the city, the king’s high-way, the outlying estates?]
That question has a complex and political answer -- Edan doesn't know what's going on in the city at the moment. Also, the upcoming competition is sort of a debutante ball for the Order of the Lamp, and it would merely detract from the Order's impact if they appeared earlier. Advance notice has been given; he leads the company to where construction should be going on at the outlying estates.
Edan and his troop arrive at the estate site and find that the work is well along. There are well-built corrals for horses, with large permanent stables under construction, with dwelling-places staked out but not currently being worked.
Michelle has the entire staff greet them as they ride up. The grooms help the Knights off their horses, and Edan quickly identifies the horsemasters who are giving them orders. They are also sizing up the horses. Michelle also has both medical staff and cooking staff at the ready. The medical staff goes back to the temporary housing when they see that no one is injured.
"Well met, Commander!," she says. Her voice caries quite well over the noise. "Do your riders require food?" While she is all business, she also has a smile and seems happy to see Edan.
"Food and rest," Edan says, dismounting. "I have given them a proper workout. Well met yourself, Michelle." He turns to the company and raises his voice. "This is Michelle, Seneschal of the Order of the Lamp. Mark her well! She holds the responsibility of this place, and here she speaks with my Voice."
Then he turns again and tells her, "Most of these horses, they are enchanted. The time will come that my Sorcery will wear off of them, and they will be less than they were. We will need horses. If none can be found, I will have to enchant them again. We have a few more weeks."
She nods. "I have the best I could buy from any stable not the King's already, and his majesty has granted you the signal favor of sending an expedition to his Brother King of Paris to purchase horses in that distant land. I do not know when your Cousin will return with them, but I believe the King was solving several of his problems at once. He has also loaned us a stablemaster to help us get started. I do not think he intends to stay, so we will need to find a master. If your troupe has one, that would be helpful.
"Otherwise the construction is underway as you outlined. The stables will be ready before the housing, but men can be housed elsewhere more easily than warhorses.
"And of course, there is considerable interest in town about what it is we are doing here. There are ambitious young men of the town, of high breeding and low, who are wondering if they can gain renound with a fighting force and advance themselves thusly. You may find social events full of them for the next while.
"Oh, and Lady Somners sends her love and asks you to keep your incipient army out of her forests without sending word to her." Michelle smiles. "There was a time when I would've been the one sending her messages instead of receiving them." She brushes her hair out of her eyes and continues. "I suggested that you two should discuss such things in person."
She seems to have covered the highlights of this operation and the city. Her staff seems to be taking care of anything that is needed, including feeding the brethren.
Edan smiles. "You are most competent. My sister rued your leaving, I am sure." He pauses a moment. "I have five men we picked up for support on the way, any of them might function as a temporary or permanent stable master. Rotate them under Random's master to see who has the knack for leading, and I will pick a replacement when he is ready to leave.
"Similarly, we will rotate the Sergeant-at-Arms position amongst the brothers and sisters. The lead ones first." He names the...five? "We will see who is best suited to take responsibility of the rifles while in Xanadu, even if they don't function here. Guns and ammunition are to be treated like money in a bank - under custody and tracked. Find a temporary place for an armory until the building is ready."
[ooc: I've got Haytham, Skander, Slim, Abd al-Malik, and Khulum, am I missing someone?]
[OOC: Don’t think so. I might’ve gotten confused when there were six knives, but now I realize that one was the original/for you.]
"I had hoped there would be local interest in the Order. We shall not turn them away." He thinks about that for a moment. "What we don't want is for the younger sons of ex-Amber nobility to wander in with heavy armor and a century-old family sword and expect privilege. This is a fighting force, and not yet a political one. I will draft the necessary information about the Order - the motto, who I am, what abilities we would prize, and so on. Information that you could spread through the social channels here. At least it would spread the word that the rewards and renown would be merit-based.
"And Family...I have several to speak to, and I think my sister would be the first. I owe her a conversation, in any case. Let us get things organized here, and then I will go to meet her, neh?"
She nods once, briefly, as he makes his points and gives directions. "I have runners who can take word to your family as needed. I have an appointment with the Lord Mayor for breakfast, if you have any needs of him before the ball.
"I've told the potential knights that you were the first and final arbiter of who joined the Order, and that it was a fighting force. There are still interested parties, some of whom look as if they can fight. I can go see about the weapons. Your sister... familiarized me with the care of firearms."
"Nothing yet with Ash. Before I go meet Paige, I want to help get the riders settled and find out where they're going. How long until the ball? Unless I use Sorcery, I am not prepared for it, and these clothes will send the wrong message."
Michelle nods. "The last problem I can solve with the magic of a tailor. Scarlett has clothes at the ready at her club, and we can get you looking the part in time for the ball, which is tomorrow night. Paige is, of course, invited to the ball, but you could speak with her before or after if you do not wish to discuss matters with her during the festivities."
A familiar man comes up and Michelle introduces him. "Stable master Donovan, graciously loaned to us from the King's own stables." He seems very confident and not at all shy around belted knights.
"Master Donovan," Edan says. "I am gratified that you were willing to assist us in getting started. I am sure Michelle has already seen to your needs, but it must be said; if there is anything I can do to assist, you have but to ask. Especially if you were thinking of a breeding and training program for future stock - it has long been an interest of mine."
Donovan bows, slowly. He's grinning. "When last we spoke, my Lord, I asked you if you intended to breed Aramsham, to continue the line of his sire Flameheart. You mentioned that you did, and I admit I took this assignment to work on that project." He looks at the corral. "There's much to do, and much improvement to be made. When your cousin Prince Garrett returns, he can tell you what other lines he thinks should be bred into this core stock." He grins, fondly. "He has opinions."
Edan smiles back. "Opinions are good. I'll need them. Please do not be too disappointed when these horses you see lose their quality."
Donovan nods. "I've seen the effect before, my Lord."
To his seneschal, [Edan] adds, "If Paige is coming to the ball, then that saves me a trip. I can wait, and there is much to do here. If for some reason she does not attend, I will go to her after."
Michelle tilts her head just a few degrees. "I expect that Lady Somners will be exactly sixteen and a half minutes late. She is extremely precise in her tardiness. The ball should be ideal. Perhaps even the dance floor if you wish a place that is both public and private."
Edan nods. "As long as dancing is involved, you know. I generally try to arrive on time, which is more boring."
She smiles. "More importantly, it is less likely to make you the center of all attention. You may wish to reconsider in this case, as you do want to be that center." She looks at the field, and gets a worried look on her face. "Excuse me, my lord. I need to attend to the cooks."
He calls over his lieutenants and introduces them. "As you can see, things are not finished," he tells them. "Let us get everyone organized and see where quarters have been set up. No, you will not have to strike camp here."
Khulum looks around. "Lovely weather. Hot and wet here. I like the climate although I wish it were less humid for the horses' sake. We can sleep under the stars if need be."
Edan calls a local messenger to him from the staff, or finds one if one is not immediately available, to pen a note to Random. In it, he details what the Dey of Longtides left as a message for them.
Of course, if there's not a local runner with the capability to deliver a message to the castle, Edan will need to go himself.
Donovan offers a rider, as he has to send to the castle's stables for some supplies anyway. If Edan needs anything in particular from the stables, he will arrange it.
Edan finds that acceptable. Unless Random wants to talk to him, the idea is to share a particularly important bit of information with someone who sits at the hub of the Family information network.
With that, his immediate agenda is done; if there is time, the next item would be preparing himself, and his riders, for the ball and the exhibition.
Donovan comments on the horses. He suggests that any fancy riding be done on Aramsham, as the others will not be impressive. He can provide well-trained horses, but not more than a handful, if Edan wishes to have his leadership ride in. He can also find someone to help drill the soldiers if there is to be formation marching.
Michelle can also find assistance if the any of the troops need to learn to dance, although she suggests that such lessons will need heavy chaperonage.
The officer of the Order want to know what is expected of them and the fighters, and what exactly they are doing in this place, other than being temped to desert...
That last prompts a smile from Edan. "We are going to train and gain recruits until our force is of a size to have a hope of taking on our targets. That will take a while, and in the meantime this," he indicates the area around them, "is the beginning. The Order of the Lamp, created with the blessing of the King of Xanadu and Amber, my father's brother, is being built from the ground up. Built as we want and need it. As Xanadu is already forming as a place of high learning and society, we shall need an event to introduce ourselves, which is being planned."
Reactions amongst the 5 officers are mixed. Khulum seems to wish they could get on with the killing, but Haytham seems to like high learning and society.
Skander nods. "We serve at the pleasure of the Sultan, my Sultan. We may have to train some of the men in how to act in such a society. We will need your direction on how you wish us to be taken by your uncle's subjects. Are we fierce desert warriors, sophisticated men and women of learning, or do you have some other vision for how we are to be seen?" She seems undaunted by either prospect.
"We're going to be seen as raw barbarians no matter what front we put forth," Edan says. "I don't think our mercantile brethren who have preceded us have done much to change that view. But we can alter Xhandavian thinking. Remember Suleman and the early days of the empire in the tales? There were knights then, men and women who were soldiers but would also excel at some other field. Many other societies have their own version: the Hwarang, the Samurai, the poet-warrior. That is what I would encourage in the Order."
Khulum snorts. "Sadly, Haytham's expertise in the law of the land we are no longer in will not be much help."
Haytham looks up. "I am not the expert in the law that you were, brother. After all, I only know it from the judging side." This makes the others laugh.
Skander says "We'll try for mystery and romance for the time being. We'll have to dazzle them with our scholarship after we read up on it..."
Edan's smile grows wider. "It will get easier," he says. "Now, this ball. You remember what I told you about Paris, yes? They will be coming, and they were talking of a friendly competition afterward. We must dazzle them with our charm and impress them with our skill. The finest of our riders will need to prepare for demonstration riding, perhaps even a race." He pauses. "I think jousting would be beyond us."
Haytham frowns. "If we are to show off horsemanship and impress them, we may need more magics than we have going for us. I saw the look on that stable-master's face. He knows we are unpracticed.
Slim looks at the men. "I'd take my chances on impressing with swordplay or archery. We are amazing warriors, in that tale, not horsemen."
Skander nods. "I recall, my Sultan, the awe in the eyes of everyone who ever saw you dance."
Edan nods. "There are those here who are better," he says, "but it is a thing I will be doing at the ball. I can teach some of the basics to those who wish to learn, but there really isn't enough time. There will be a steep learning curve for everyone, and you had better let the company know. Once this...thing...is over, there will be more time to address training properly." He pauses. "Swordplay and archery, yes. I think we can shift a competition that direction. But are the tribesmen as unpracticed in this as they are at riding?"
Slim responds, slowly. "If there are rifles, we have those of the tribe who excel, my Sultan. Some who could even build a steam-cannon."
Abs-Al-Malik looks up. "Khulum and I have various well-honed acrobatic skills that would translate well into thrown knives and such. It is not particularly martial-looking, but it has applications in real warfare.
Khulum nods. "If such is appropriate, but I hope we are not here for mere minstrelsy. My Sultan, is it true that the infidel known as The Slave of God is here, and holds a position of trust in your Uncle's court? One of my men has that from a groom."
Skander and Haytham look up. Apparently, Abdallah is remembered by the tribe.
Edan blinks. "First...I do not know if rifles work here. Knowing my uncle, I would say they do not."
Slim looks disappointed.
"The Slave of God. Yes, I remember him. We traded words- and a few blows- when I first came to this place. I did not know he held a position in the government. Who is he?"
Thulium's wide face looks grim. "Call it a position at court, I suppose. They say he serves the royal prince as swords master."
That's met with a raised eyebrow. "It doesn't surprise me," Edan says. "He was very, very good with a sword. There are others - coastal dwellers, mainly - who were a-sail when the black rains came and ended up on these shores. The town has taken them in, and we will have to learn how to coexist with them." He suppresses a sigh. "I, too, was not happy to learn that they were here when I first arrived. I had to grow past my anger. It helped that there were bigger problems to deal with."
Slim nods. "A warm night upon fertile soil under the stars. We did not hope to live so well when we went to war with the city dwellers, and here it is just how things are. Between the sea, the rivers, and the forest, this is a lucky country. And I do not believe in luck."
Edan smiles, a little. "The luck is where the King of Xanadu found this place and made it his, if you want to call it that. And his father before him finding a land called Amber, in the same way. The Klybesians, I would say they are partly motivated by jealousy over the king's abilities. And the Moonriders, they are an old enemy of Oberon, Random's father."
Slim looks oddly at that story. "The Merciful One has provided your family with great gifts and also powerful enemies, My Sultan, but at least you were also provided with us to protect you."
Edan grins. "That's my luck, not Random's. I consider it superior." He looks around. "I will prepare for a dance, then. Ask around, find the skills of the riders under you, see if there are other things that can impress our hosts. I will be back and forth between now and tonight, if I am needed."
They nod and take his comment as a dismissal.
Only Slim lingers. "Master, I am troubled. May I question you?"
Edan nods. It wasn't as if he didn't expect that at some point. "Come, walk with me."
Slim nods and falls in step with the Sultan. "Master, I followed because I recalled my youth. I followed you then, because you and I both burned for justice and fair play, and to save those we could from the city people, who killed us with bombs and killed their own by forgetting to be mindful of the Merciful One.
"When you left, it was all... different. I might have been different before you left, but it always seemed the change happened with your departure. We still won, but that was because there was no one left to lose to. Each city did differently, but many just traded their old oligarchs for our brothers, and went about their way. Some may never have even tried to live by the laws of mindfulness. and the virtues of submission to the mercy of the one who created us all.
"All the time, the victories that were barely 'not-failures', the divisions amongst the faithful, all that... It disappeared when you spake, at Haytham's.
"I willed it to be as it was before. And I am mindful of the enemies of your father and his brother, of whom you spoke.
"But I look at the water here, and the city of lights so close by, and I feel urges--not to protect them, but to join them. To abandon my brethren and my oath to protect the city in order to help build the city.
"No option feels right, Master. I do not belong to the city, but I feel I am not the pure youth who rallied to your banner of yore, nor even the aging one who followed your lead out of the Da'ar es Salaam.
"I am not flesh, nor fowl. How can I follow the will of the Merciful One in a place like this, rich beyond all dreams of the Land of Peace, when his name is not even known? Doubts stir in me and I wish clarity. Is it possible to regain that, or is it a victim of my unfortunate increase in perspective?"
Slim walks along with Edan, letting his Master respond to that as he will.
Edan sighs. "I knew it was to be a question of faith, though I did not know what words would come. When I spoke of how difficult this task would be, I did not mean it to be a trial strictly of the body. This," he indicates the city, "this is only the beginning. When we came here from the Dar-es Salaam, when I didn't have your minds occupied with horsemanship, did you look at the world pass around you? Really look at it?"
Slim stops for a moment and tilts his head, then continues to walk. "It's a question, Master, to which the answer is almost always 'I did not'. I saw lands I had never seen before, and Plants and stars not visible in the Land of Peace, nor anywhere scholars from our shores have been, except those who tell of leaving it. I have never seen anything like the city below the waterfall, there. It is the first time I have felt the call of a place.
"Master, If this is the beginning, where does it lead? Will the people we will be at the end of this trail be worthy of the Mercy we have been taught to revere?"
"It is not an easy path, to hold your faith when all around you is different," Edan says. There is a taste of ashes in his mouth, thinking of how his own journey ended.
"The faith is within you, here," poking Slim in the chest. "I think it is as you said, that your change of perspective makes you lose sight of it. But you must keep it, for even our own world will change by the time you return. Keep the words and the ideas they describe. Hold it close within you, for you will have to teach others when you return. Who holds the faith will have to start at the beginning." His expression falls, then, and he adds, "Remember how things were. I have heard the talk. When I left, the afriti were the ex-angels who inhabited the land close to the Land of Peace, and the hamaaj were demons of Chaos who invaded from far away. I was hated and feared. Then the black rains came, and I left. The afriti and the hamaaj were equated together in the minds of men, and they've made me some kind of a saint. It will be changed even more when- if- you return.
"I am..." he stops. "There are billions of worlds out there, Slim. I am one of a blessed few who are able to travel through them, between them. I am heartened by the knowledge that our religion, or reflections thereof, are in many of them. But there are many more that are not. It may be that you are meant to carry the word to these places." Another pause. "Or perhaps not. It is a great burden to carry, and you may decide to lay down that burden in Xanadu. If you have the strength to carry the faith within these many lands of the infidel, I know you will be worthy of the Merciful One's rewards. And if you are not, who am I to judge you? It is a peace you will make between you and God. In this place, I will not interfere. It is a property of this land to draw the intelligent, the artistic, the motivated to itself. It is a clean, fresh place, ready to build upon. I can tell you, if you do decide to go native, there are ancient enemies that are ready to undo all the good works you might make. Be prepared to defend it before you build upon it."
"Nothing worth having is not also worth fighting for. I feel I do not know my own strength, nor my own weakness. The field is so much bigger than I can comprehend. What is a billion, in terms we can feel? It's like finding which grain of sand in the deep desert has your name engraved upon it. What are the billion billions required to put me in the world with you?
"I used to think that was 'purpose', but now I am not sure. Is there such a thing as purpose? How can I have one and the million billion other people of a billion other worlds not?"
He picks up a stone and throws it into the river, where it sinks. "That is what my troubling thoughts are like, Master."
So be it.
"Oh, I believe in purpose." Edan is silent for a long while after that, as he brings the power of Pattern before him and holds it in his mind like (in his case) a white, burning star. It amazes and humbles him how close the memory of that trial in Tir-na Nog'th remains: the terror, the herculean effort, the conflagration that was his body, the final triumph only to fall, totally exhausted, towards the sea. That trial awoke the power within him, and he brings that power of the Pattern to him fully before he speaks.
"A man is only responsible for his own life, or what he can ken," he says. "Your perspective is off. You are not the searcher; you are the grain of sand. You are here because I required you to be. I needed you, and I sifted through those billions of grains to bring you here, because I thought- I knew- you would be up to the task."
Edan waits a moment before he continues, to let it sink in how little of a choice his lieutenant had, to see how Slim reacts to the power of the Pattern around him. "I could have found another Slim, another grain of sand that just did whatever I said and came along. But I left you all free will; I prefer it to be that way. If you want to leave, that is how it will be. But I would ask that you learn what I have to teach you, first. When you do, you will make a much more informed decision. Perhaps your heart will join your head when you do."
Then he waits, pretty confident he knows what the next question will be.
Brita walks into the bar. She glances around, sniffing slightly as if at the décor and then beelines for Raven's table. "Captain," she says as she sits down.
Raven nods in greeting. "Good to see you," she answers. "I was thinking I should come find you, actually. Don't suppose you're done with the other thing you were doing?"
A glance around the bar will reveal a figure sitting at a corner table, working his way through a meal and a large mug of something very strong and with a lot of calories. It would appear that cousin Jerod is keeping an eye on other things, though he does notice Brita's arrival, as well as whether anyone else notices her arrival.
Brita nods to Raven's question. "I Have finished my Task. Is Your Merchant still keeping you Running?" she tilts her head towards the corner.
Raven snorts. "Aye, I suppose you could say that. Been looking for some extra friends. Speaking of - where'd yours get off to?"
"Who Knows. He was In My Hair Enough during my Task, but Eventually got Bored, I guess," Brita does not roll her eyes although she does glance around the room. "Can I Help You Search for a while?"
"Aye, I wouldn't mind some help. Supposed to be some mages around here that might be helpful for us, but I can't say as how I'm the best person to go poking around magic things." Raven glances towards the table in the corner and tilts her head towards their own table slightly.
His meal finished with impeccable timing, Jerod pulls a few coins from his purse and drops them onto the table as he rises, adjusting his belt before heading over to Raven's table.
"How goes Uncle duty?" Jerod asks to Brita quietly after sitting himself down.
Brita rolls her eyes. "If I Ever Turn into An Uncle, Please just Run Me Through with a Sword. I think They Must have a Class in 'Being Annoying to the Younger Generation.' He Did have some Interesting Musings on my Painting, Though. How are Your Dealings Progressing?"
Jerod pauses momentarily, looking at his nordic cousin with an expression that screams "so many responses, so little time" before saying. "You may rest assured that should you become an Uncle, I will not hesitate to end your misery." with a slight smile.
Raven snorts, but it's quiet.
"My dealings are proceeding." he says, continuing a quiet tone. "I'll find out soon enough if the Lord here is going to listen to my alter-ego on how to deal with Dexamene or have me arrested for treason. If you see meteors come crashing down from the sky, you may assume the latter.
"The good captain decided to pursue a line of thought on local hedge mages, see if there are any options to be obtained, so I decided to stay in the background for a bit to see how things work. This might be more up your alley though. My knowledge of Sorcery is limited to how to shut it off if possible."
"And I'm guessing that's going to cause a stir," Raven agrees dryly. "Which we might want to stay away from until we figure out if we need the meteors or not." She looks at Brita. "Want to help me find out if they're really angry or why, or if that was just soldiers talking?"
"Certainly!" Brita responds. "My Knowledge of Sorcery is Minimal compared to Some of My Kin, But I Can Stir Up Trouble with the Best of Them. What is Your Approach, Captain? I will Follow Your Lead."
"I've been working the idea that I'm new in town and in need of some friends," Raven answers. "Don't see as how that'd be a terrible way to start. Just need to figure out who's magical and might be interested in being friendly first. And if they're not interested in being friends - well, then we find out what's got them angry instead."
Brita nods and surveys the room, counting heads. "One way to Make Friends in a Bar is to Buy A Round," she notes. "Could it be Pay Day for the Good Captain?" she asks Jerod.
"Clearly the only reason she likes me is because of my money belt." Jerod says to Raven drily as he looks at Brita, pulling a pouch from a cloak pocket and putting it on the table for Raven. Even at a cursory glance, the pouch is stuff sufficiently that one can afford quite a lot in this establishment.
"That should cover what you need to make some impressions. If we need to go more impressive, we can arrange for gemstones. Takes a little more effort though and I don't want to be too noticeable if you get my drift."
Brita bats her eyes at Jerod and says in a perky little voice (albeit softly), "Certainly, Sugar Pop!" then she grins mischievously. She turns to Raven, "So, Captain. What do You Wish to Do with Your Windfall?"
Raven does a pretty credible job of looking like a captain on payday - very, very credible. Still, she gives Brita an amused glance and a snort. "This'll more than do to start. I'd say it's time to buy a round and see who cares about who bought it." She eyes Jerod. "You may want to vanish, or at least be less... here. Ain't a good captain out there that'll get too relaxed with the boss around."
"Call if you need me." Jerod says, nodding once to Brita before departing. He will arrange to take up a temporary post close by the establishment, so that if things start to go wonky he can decide if he wants to get involved.
Jerod departs and stays within earshot (for large enough shots) and waits for things to go pear-shaped. He remains ready for trouble, from any direction it may choose to manifest itself. He's an equal opportunity opportunist after all...
Brita watches Jerod leave and then turns to Raven with a big grin. She raises a hand and lets out a whistle, ostensibly to attract a bar maid's attention, and calls out "A Bottle of Your Finest Wine for the Good Captain Beam and Myself - We are Celebrating!!"
Raven nods and adds, "Aye!"
In a lower voice, she adds to Brita, "We'll buy a round after this." She snorts and pokes the bag with a finger. "Just not the finest. Ain't that much in here."
The woman comes over and brings a bottle of wine with her. "Sounds like you got get news," she says with a smile. The wine is pretty good, although it has a strange, almost metallic aftertaste.
Brita chews on the wine a bit, swallows, and then gives a snort herself. "Not My Style," she notes. "I'm more of a Mead Woman, Myself. I'll Let You Order the Next Round."
"Ales here, but can't say as how it hurts to try something new," Raven answers. She smiles at the barmaid. "Is 'got paid' good news? What's this stuff called, anyway?"
She smiles. "Honey, getting' paid is always good news." She leans down. "If you're looking to gamble on the game, I'll show you how to get through the back door."
"Oooo! A Game!" Brita's eyes are practically glowing as she grins a Conner-Watt smile at Raven.
Raven grins. "Aye, lead the way."
And because Raven knows exactly how these things work, she picks out a reasonable amount for the barmaid's time and effort. As soon as there's a decent chance to do so without being obvious to everyone else, she'll pass it over. (Unless she wants it that obvious, of course...)
The woman takes it with a smile and says “Don't bet on Hat-hatul. He's on a losing streak."
She leads them to a door in the back, and nods at the man who opens it. "I'll be back after they get the match going."
The doorman turns out to be a big guy. Not big like the weir, but a good head above the average Gatwegan. "Evening folks, welcome to the Pit. House rules all bets come though me. Main match starts in a quarter watch. Hat-hatul, the champion, taking on Slagfirth the Finn. If you want my advice, you should put your money of Hat-hatul. He looks like a winner." His smile is clearly that of a bookie -- the house wins no matter who else does. "Or you could take a longshot bet on a number. Payout is very high if you win..."
Behind the doorman is, literally, a pit. It looks similar to a courtyard-sized amphitheater, and the central "stage" is divided up in to concentric circles and spokes, like a dart board. There are two elevated chairs on either end of the pit.
People are sitting at tables around the pit. They're in small groups and it's clear that there's a rivalry between the fans and supporters of Hat-hatul and those of Slagfirth. The two competitors have not yet taken the field.
"What do you think?" Raven asks Brita. "How lucky do we feel?"
"With a Name like Slagfirth, he Has to be an Underdog. Let's bet on Him to make him Feel Better," Brita grins. She moves to get a pit-side spot between the two factions.
"Done and done," Raven says, with a snort of amusement. "This on Slagfirth, if you please." She hands over her best guess at a reasonable bet and then follows Brita. She's curious about just what, exactly, they're betting on...
The doorman takes their wager and has them led to a table which overlooks the ring. "Your man is on in the third card."
A man appears in a flash in the center of the ring. It might've been flash powder or perhaps some brief magic. Lights shine on him and his voice is very loud.
"Welcome, welcome," says the MC, "Thirdsday Night is the night for the Bird Game. You can all see the board, you've bet on the board. If the bird craps in your square, why then you win! Someone has lucky number 3, someone always has lucky number three...
"But, it's not a game of luck, my magian friends, no no. Because the board is surmounted by two competitors, who will try to control the bird. If the bird comes to them, they win, and so does anyone who bet on them! Some of you will be winners tonight!"
"From the Ironbound, the challenger, that clever mage, Slagfirth the Northerner!" There is some applause, but most people seem more intent on drinking, Some of them are drinking heavily, and almost all are smoking. There's a mostly-clean ashtray at the table, and it smells of something sweet, not acrid.
"The champion, returning for his third consecutive defense, Hat-Hatul!" Hat-Hatul gets more applause than the challenger, but it is a Thirdsday, so the crowd is somewhat sparse.
"We'll give you all time to place last-minute wagers and order another round while we bring out the bird. Enjoy the match!"
The MC walks away and two assistants bring out a cage, perhaps 8 feet tall and covered with a blanket. Inside it are two very large feet.
Your waitress comes back. "You folks need another round? It gets sorta busy here during the match..." It doesn't look like it does get too busy, but perhaps the owners told her to say that.
Brita smiles at the waitress. "An Ale for me, please. Also - Can you Tell me about The Bird we are betting on." She tilts her head towards the pit. "And Is it Always the Same Game?"
"Aye, and another for me," Raven says. "Is anyone allowed to compete, or is there a roster?"
"On a Thirdsday? Anyone can, long as you're willing to try to control the bird's mind. You have to win a weeknight to be invited to the tournament of champions.
"Still, I heard they've got a real champion-style bird for tonight. An emuraptor, from deep jungle. Noisy thing.
"If you're gonna compete, you need to know the final escape. If one of the competitors is about to lose, they can try to make the bird attack the other. If he gets too mauled to continue, he loses.
"Would you like me to get you signed up for a match?"
"Let me See whether it Looks Entertaining first and I will let you Know," Brita responds.
Raven nods. "What the lady said. Ain't of a mind to make a fool of myself at a game I've never seen. Anybody playing ever get killed, or is it safer than it sounds?"
The waitress smiles, although it's somewhat forced. "If the other magician has the bird attack, yes. Emuraptors are dangerous, and some of 'em are just mean. The biggest danger is when the competitors are closely matched in skill. The finals are where people put side bets on maulings."
Brita has nothing further. She will watch both factions as we wait for the fight, opening her third eye to scan the crowd and field.
Raven snorts. "Aye, that's what I thought. Just because I'm wondering - the birds stick around long enough to get names from the crowd, or are they trash or somebody's fancy dinner pretty fast?"
She nods. "Some of 'em. Sometimes. The weak ones, well, their heads explode. You can place a side-bet on that, but I wouldn't. Not tonight. Luckily nobody wants to eat the head. We try to keep the strong ones around. For tournaments and special events."
Once her curiosity on that point is satisfied, Raven will also sit back to watch the crowd and the match.
The bird is in place, and they remove the cage walls. It still has a blindfold on, but seems otherwise unrestrained. It's hard to imagine this bird flying, because it's heavyset and its legs look to be all muscle. It's easy to imagine it leaping from the pit to the rafters and from there down into the crowd to kill every person in the place. From the wicked looking beak to the cruel talons, it's hard to imagine a bird being any more murderous.
Someone at the next table says "I'm gonna change my bet to the bird." Her whole table laughs, but the bird looks anything but safe.
The two magicians who come forward to challenge the game look as if they hadn't expected quite this much of a bird.
The opposing wizards are on opposite ends of the room. They each have a slightly elevated chair, more on the order of "bar stool" than "life guard stand", and they are holding their hands in front of them.
In a voice that seems magically amplified, the announcer introduces them, and hurries out of the ring. The blindfold is removed from the bird, and it's free in the ring.
Its squawk shakes the table, and it seems pleased with the concern it has raised in the crowd. The bird wanders over to a basket of raw meat, and begins tearing into it. The table next to Brita and Raven has a side bet on a long chase, so they're excited about it.
Slagfirth stands on his chair and shouts something at the bird. It's unclear if he's casting a spell or just trying to get its attention.
It occurs to both Brita and Raven that as pattern initiates they have the power to determine certain actions to be probable. It would be possible to fix this game, and almost certainly untraceably.
Brita is Absolutely Positive that This Bird is Female - look at how she Ignores the Squawking of the wizard to tend to what is Important. She wonders how long the bird has been mistreated - malnourished and without Pure Water to drink to make for more Agressive entertainment. Brita will Watch to see if the Wizards begin to mistreat the bird.
Hard to say. Clearly it was chained and blindfolded and is not free to roam in whatever environment such a creature normally does, but it doesn't seem to have any scars that would indicate recent mistreatment at human hands. And this mind-control doesn't seem kind, either.
Raven - having strong feelings on the subject of cheating at a game where she's not using her own money and (at the moment) only cares about the outcome because she should probably look like she does - is much more interested in the crowd and what they view as appropriate encouragement of the players and the bird.
There seems to be some sort of magical net to prevent the patrons from flinging bottles at the contestants, so it's mostly words. Given the state of the tables and barstools, it looks as if the bar regularly has fights, which may be over the proceedings below. In fact, they may get more interesting than the match, if the wizards don't get on with things.
Slagfirth looks surprised when the Emuraptor doesn't start moving towards him. And states his spell or challenge again, louder and more slowly.
The bird picks at something in her feathers. And someone in the crowd 'boos' the wizards.
Brita laughs loud - a typical Asgardian laugh. She calls out to Slagfirth, "Ask Her Nicely and Maybe She'll Listen." And Brita is sure that will be the case....
Raven eyes her, smiling in a bemused way. "You do realize," she says dryly, "that that's the one we bet on, aye? Or are we changing that to the bird now?"
"Just Seeing if he is Moldable - If he Listens, He Wins. If Not, He is a Fool," Brita notes with a shrug.
Raven snorts. "Pretty sure there's easier ways to court him, if that's what you're after," she says, still smiling. "Is saying it slower and louder if it don't work the first time something that's supposed to work in magic?"
Slagfirth hears Brita and looks annoyed. He casts a spell that causes a glob of stinky purple goo to fling at their table. It turns on the barrier is two way, as the goo dissolves upon reaching the edge of the ring. Slagfirth's lack of appreciation of hecklers is clear and he returns to concentrating on the Emuraptor.
Hat-Hatul laughs, and begins crooning towards the bird. It looks at him, and takes a step in his direction.
Brita notes to Raven, "Saying it Slower and Louder works as Well in Magic as in Talking to Anyone who Can't Understand Your Language." To Slagfirth she calls, "See - a Little Respect for the Queen of Birds Could gain You the Prize!"
Slagfirth stops, and what he says is amplified just like MC's was. "Wait your turn, I can only deal with one shrieking bird at a time!" A number of nearby partisans laugh at his comment.
He does something which causes a bright flash of light between the raptor and Hat-Hatul. The bird steps back towards Slagfirth.
"Oooo! I Like This one - he Has Gumption, taking on a Goddess!" Brita notes to Raven. Back to Slagfirth, she says with her more amplified Goddess voice, "Show us Better Parlor Tricks, Magician, or you Might Lose it All." She is certain that the projection of her Voice from center field towards Slagfirth will cause the bird to startle and jump a foot towards Hat-Hatul. Not enough of a leap to make it easy for Hat-Hatul to take over, but enough to lose Slagfirth the step advantage. "He Needs to Work for This Win," she notes to Raven. "It Will make the House Favorite's Loss easier to Bear." And she Feels that Slagfirth has enough in him to prevail against her gentle teasing as well as the House Pets.
Raven snorts in amusement. "I wonder if the house allows side bets? 'Number of times a player lets somebody distract him' might be a fun one."
"The lady's got a point," she calls to the ring.
The unfortunate part about being a Prince, Jerod muses, working his way through a large piece of sugar candy purchased from a local vendor, is you can't really have full size meals when you're trying to be inconspicuous amongst the Shadows. The sheer volume of food that a Prince can tuck into even during a routine sit-down is sufficient to give a regular person pause, not to mention if you need to load up on energy prior to getting into something where a bit of extra work maybe involved. A serious give-away if you're not careful and your enemies are wondering about Amberites on the loose.
Good thing he can eat on the ship, he thinks with a slight smile. With luck, the Weir won't be too put out that he ate one of their sheep for breakfast, though he's pretty sure they will completely disagree with the whole cooking part of the process.
He stops at a street corner as the last of the candy is consumed, looking ahead to his destination at the castle. His expression does not change in the slightest, the slightly bemused look of a merchant looking to complete an expected deal, but the mindset shifts, aware that he is walking into the lion's den. That the others on the ship and amongst his merry band are warned and ready is a single piece of data filtering in the background, the movement of the crowd, signs of surveillance, guards, threats and portents galore...all the preparations are completed as best can be done - now comes the time to see what life really has in store.
He shifts his belt slightly, settling the sword more comfortably, letting the cloak fall just right to allow for freer movement, before continuing forward to the castle and his appointment.
Jerod is let in, smartly, by the guard. The man is expecting him, and seems to want to ask questions, but keeps his face impassive. Jerod is led to a small room off the main hallway and is asked to wait.
The room is well but sparsely furnished, with two chairs and a small table between them.
After they have left Celina Ossian asks Silhouette "Have you walked up the Faiella-Bionin? Because if you haven't, I suggest we start with that."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "No, I have not. Most of my travel here has been through Trump." She extends her hand, "I put myself in your hands."
Ossian takes her hand, and they leave the city. On the way up Ossian tells Silhouette about all the strange things that have happened along the stairway. Although he is an excellent storyteller she might get the feeling that he exaggerates a bit.
GMs? I guess they need to stay the night in that creepy cave. Does anything happen on the way up?
Both Silhouette and Ossian have creepy dreams but nobody gets a manifestation. The night passes otherwise without incident. Ossian and Silhouette have the option of a brief summary check-in with Corwin or possibly threading with Folly and/or Conner (given OOC time constraints). What would Ossian and Sil like to do?
I'm fine with summary... Olof, anything you'd like to do? Summary and then off to the Green?
Summary sounds great. Does Corwin have anything to say? Any advice on raising armies in Shadow?
Yeah, Corwin has quite a bit of technical advice about how to do it. Both in terms of using the Pattern to actually raise an army and in using the Shadows to lie for you to get a better presentation. Ossian has more experience with the Pattern, which is still not a lot, but Sil could also make a creditable military leader. Neither of them is going to be great with it, not yet, and Corwin can only tell, not show, in Paris.
But you've got to start somewhere.
When Ossian and Silhouette are done with Corwin, Ossian asks "I guess we are still going with a smaller number of warriors? I wonder if we could find people keen on getting revenge on the monks?"
"They've undoubtedly harmed people in their time," Silhouette nods. "Hatred is a wonderful motivator."
She considers this for a moment, "Can your use of Pattern find people of such inclinations?"
"I don't know. We could walk to areas where they are likely to be found, I guess. Of course, that is also areas close to the monks..."
"Then I suggest we be wary," Silhouette says, smiling. She seems to be enjoying this - although, it's difficult to tell when/if she enjoys much of anything.
"Can I lend you my Power with this Walk... or is it a solitary endeavor?"
"We can take turns. In the beginning you can help by doing some of the less subtle work." Ossian says.
"That will be good practice for you. And I will be less exhausted. When it gets more subtle, I guess I will have to take a bigger part of the shifting. Besides, you are better at taking care of any sorcery we encounter."
"I'll let you choose where we stop for the evening," Silhouette says with a wry grin. "I suspect my choices will be too spartan for your liking."
She pauses, thinking. "Shall we locate some transportation? Be it animal or mechanical?"
"Ah. I always preferred the animals. But mechanical is good, considering where we're going. " He holds out an arm. "Not yellow," he adds.
Silhouette takes his hand, lacing their fingers together. "Yes. If the mechanical fails us, we can always find something decidedly more... equine."
She glances ahead of them, letting her newly acquired instincts to guide them forward.
Ossian squeezes her hand and smiles. "Don't forget smells. And sounds"
What vehicle does she find?
Silhouette leads them away from the bustle of the city into a more rural environment. The seasons shift slightly from late summer to autumn - the world turning from greens to dull orange and reds over time. The buildings thin out until they are more sporadic and distant. Wheat and corn fields become more prevalent, eventually hidden behind thin lines of wind-break trees. The road itself remains the solitary constant, paved and smooth, allowing for a leisurely walk.
As they round a corner, they find an old open-back, six wheeler - some kind of military truck converted to more domestic means. It's the kind of vehicle that could be driven into the ground a hundred times and still have life left in it. Ugly as sin, but reliable. Crates of various goods line the tarp-covered back.
Silhouette breathes out slowly. "If I'm correct, the keys should be somewhere under the front seat."
Ossian nods. "Practical." He brushes away the worst dirt from both the driver and the passenger seat with his hand, and locates the keys. "Shall I drive, while you bring us closer to the monks?"
"That'd probably be for the best," she says, climbing up into the passenger's side. "Are we headed somewhere specific, or simply seeking them out?"
"We want to miss them with only a little bit, remember. To find their enemies. Our to-be allies." Ossian says, before he starts the car he kneels down and feels the ground.
"See if you can change the road first. Concrete. Softer than here, with a tinge of cobalt."
Silhouette nods, "Of course." She concentrates on the upcoming road, changing the consistency of the tarmac. The painted lines also change, shifting from deep yellow to an umber. A slight smile curls her lips, "This is a profound experience."
Ossian grins. "Just for the exercise, I will make some changes too. See if you can see what I do? We do not want to work in different directions in a tight spot."
Then the road signs start to change, from very stylized to more detailed symbols.
It takes Silhouette a moment to readjust her conceptualizations, but soon enough the signs begin to incorporate Latin symbols and words into their descriptions.
"Do all changes need to be this subtle, or can then be far more profound? Or does that cause disruptions?"
"You can make larger changes. But as Bleys would say: Then you probably change more than one variable at a time. Which is dangerous."
"It is of course a matter of style too. I go for precision. " Ossian says.
Precision is Silhouette's bread and butter, so this suits her quite well. She keeps adjusting Shadow slowly, surely, guiding them toward their goal - to find a realm close to the Enemies of their Enemy.
Finally, up ahead, the shape of a vehicle comes into view. The first they've encountered on the road since they began.
Silhouette relaxes her thoughts, letting the world become one with them.
For Silhouette, the following would drive her Shadow-walk:
(1) The Klybesians at large and as a whole. People who have been harmed in someway by their operations. However, she'd want somewhere close to Greenwood, if at all possible - since that's the ultimate goal.
Ossian will try to guide them close to Greenwood, but not quite there.
(2) Silhouette hopes for a regimented organization/culture who are looking for a 'savior' from the oppressive Klybesians... the Second Coming to lift them out of darkness.
Ossian and Silhouette take a while to work out how to do the travel and shadow-walk thing. It's easier for one of them to drive (mostly Ossian, apparently) and the other to shadow navigate. Several days of transit along roads leads them to an increasingly dry and windy set of Shadows where they can see handsome train tracks and elegant automobiles driven by olive-skinned men and women. Silhouette thinks they might have some form of internal combustion, but it may also be a magitech hybrid.
There are Klybesian symbols on the buildings, and Ossian thinks they may have arrived.
"So now we have to find the rebels. First some risk assessment, I guess. I see no guns, but they should be here. Sorcery?"
"It is definitely a possibility," Silhouette says. "I would require a closer look at their machinery to determine that, however. I believe that would be worth the time."
Silhouette executes a simple experiment, and then another. It takes longer than she expected, but eventually she comes to an inescapable conclusion. Something has affected the magic of this shadow. It is drained or diverted or tied up somehow. Or else it was artificially high before and that prop has been removed.
For a people who look as if they are handy in a war, they don't seem to actually have an army, and the civic authorities seem to be related to the local centers of worship.
Silhouette pinches the bridge of her nose, feeling drained from the experience. "The shadow has been altered in a fashion I cannot determine, but the normal flow of magic is... disrupted. A most unpleasant sensation."
She turns to her companion, "That may be our key to this realm. Perhaps as liberators. Offering them access to their old ways."
Ossian nods "We can provide them with ways of getting to their oppressors. What could disrupt the flow of magic? Is it concentrated somewhere?
"That sounds dangerous." he adds with a grin, as if it was something positive.
Silhouette shakes her head, "As the effect is so diffused and wide-reaching, it would be next to impossible for me to determine a centralized locus. I do know of methods of suppressing or channeling mana, but in a more limited area. Obviously, our Adversary has acquired some method to do so on a grand scale."
She glances out the window, observing the world and its people. "If we could unshackle them from this, I suspect they would be exceedingly grateful. I suggest we find a leader or religious authority. They may be able to assist us to that end."
Her eyes scan the buildings for any architecture that would suggest a civic or religious center.
"Maybe the non-official religion." Ossian says. "The Klybesians are likely running the main churches. But let's have a look."
Ossian leads them around a corner. There is a big church. How Klybesian does it look?
Not at all like the churches either Silhouette or Ossian has seen in Paris or in Abford. The design of those has generally been cruciform with tall roofs, a single tower, and in the case of older, larger Parisian churches, reinforcing buttresses. This building is shorter, appears to be more of a square or rectangle than a cross, and instead of a single tower, has two domed towers at corners on the front.
However, there are symbols in front of the temple and some of them remind Ossian of the Klybesians. The building is busy and seems to be the seat of government, the town square, and a schoolyard all wrapped into one.
There is a young priest or functionary of some sort near the door. He doesn't look like a monk.
"He looks like a candidate for conversation... and conversion, perhaps," Silhouette says. "I defer to you, though. Your personality is generally less...off-putting... than mine."
"I am not sure all our cousins would agree." Ossian says with a grin. "But I will try. This church might be a bit too tied to the government, so I will try to be careful. Also, look at those two symbols. Very close to ones I saw in their monastery."
Ossian, with experience of architecture and stone work, tries to see if the temple has been added to, or if all the design is original. (For instance - were those symbols there from the beginning?)
Silhouette follows his gaze, examining and memorizing the symbols. She is also learned in architectural language and symbology, However, her specialization is more in military application, so her observations lean more toward recent improvements and alterations, rather than social aspects.
It looks to Ossian and Silhouette as though the building went through an upgrade of some kind a while ago: long enough that the new work and decorations has had time to age in, to lose the fresh newness and need a bit of a touchup. Perhaps a decade or more. Some of the carvings date from that recent upgrade, but many are original to the building. Others may have been smoothed over or removed from the building.
Silhouette might guess that in the aftermath of a war, someone redecorated the building in the style of the victors, which was close enough to the style of the defeated that they didn't need to tear the whole building down to make the point, just alter things to suit the taste of the victors.
"The Laws of Progress have been employed here," she says, trying to hide the respect in her voice. She may have matured her philosophies regarding the Grand Design, but cannot help but appreciate observing their principles practiced. "I suspect that these people will have hidden old relics or items from prior to their defeat somewhere inside. If we see signs of the silent rebellion, we'll have found our allies."
Ossian nods. "This is a good place. Shall we be 'honest' and tell them we are travellers from afar, curious about their customs and traditions?"
"I believe that would be the best opinion," Silhouette says, ascending the steps. "I am sure they will be interested in sharing their history with us. And from there, we can determine if there is more to be had from them."
Ossian approaches the young man with his best smile. He tries to intuit good greeting customs as well as he can. "Good day, sir. As we are from a place far from here, we are curious about this temple. Or is it a temple?"
Silhouette remains at Ossian's side, deferring to him, as if she is a subordinate or mate. She studies the young man, silently, watching for taletell signs of nervousness or falsehood.
He seems confused for a moment, then pleased to see them. "Oh, Northers! This is a place of meditation and study. More a school than a temple. I am merely an initiate, but our chief scholar is from your northlands. Our shores are open to all who who are peaceful, and all who attend to their duty to the Merciful One.
"If you are here for the Abbot’s lecture on photovoltaics, it’s not until mid-afternoon..."
"Photovoltaics?" Ossian says raising an eyebrow. "Sounds interesting. Maybe we will attend. What is the name of your knowledgeable abbot?"
Silhouette can't help but perk up. Such glorious words are like oxygen to her. She waits for Ossian's question to be answered before commenting.
"Father Turnip," the acolyte says confidently. "We are lucky to have him. He comes from a monkastary in the Northlands, and is an amazing teacher. I have learned so much of mercy from him, myself."
Silhouette pauses, blinking. "A most unfortunate name for a wiseman. I do hope it is an issue of transliteration." She forces a smile, "I look forward to gaining Knowledge from him."
The acolyte looks confused. “I may have mispronounced it. Foreign names are not my area of expertise. Where are you from? You should see Brother Sayyid if you wish to reserve seats for the lecture. We welcome all, but have limited seating."
"We have been many places, but I come from a little place at the river Ab." Ossian says with a smile "We have been investigating old customs in different places. For comparison. Do you know of anyone here well versed in old, even outdated traditions here?"
Silhouette smiles warmly at the young man, "Indeed. We're interested in the progression and evolution of your traditions. We're both scholars of history. True history. Thank you for offering this chance at Illumination, my friend."
He nods. "Of course! Our mission is to educate. There are so many who have much to learn about Mercy and the Source of all Mercy. We are lucky to have so many opportunities here. But there are no scholars of ancient history here, my friend, there is too much to learn from the new to pay attention to the past."
Ossian smiles "Of course. Will we see you at the lecture?"
Silhouette nods lightly, "Yes. Progress before Past. This is wisdom."
I think the lecture would be fine to go to. Angry young students are a good recruiting base. Maybe we should be going to the harbour, to see who they trade with.
If there's some time, I think a beer hall and/or coffee shop would be a good place to frequent... as those usually host people with open opinions.
[OOC: There are no beer halls. The People do not drink. Other than that, you all can choose from your many options…]
So on to some kind of coffee shop then, Ossian will still want to pass by the harbour too. (He wants to see if they trade with anyone suspicious.)
Hey, they find a coffee shop nearby to the harbor. They can sit and talk to people and watch the harbor.
The people here are deferential to the authorities; there's not a lot of unrest. The monastics are new, but are accepted by the religious leaders, and they seem very learned in the Way of the Merciful One. There are a few who are not so free in their praise, but they seem more guarded. They seem to recall the glory days of the living Sultan, before he ascended into heaven.
Ossian would like to ask someone of the more reserved people about the Living Sultan. He is curious, and it could be a good starting point.
Maybe this coffee shop is the wrong place to find angry young men.
Silhouette stays at his side, demure and soft-spoken, as she assists him in striking up a conversation. She knows young men are usually more open around a beautiful woman, trying to impress her.
Ossian tries to talk with a group of the less praising men. He will start innocently looking for stories about the living Sultan under the pretense of collecting stories.
His mother was a great Noble of the Hamaaj who converted to worship of the Merciful One and his father was the last of the Old Gods from Before the Merciful One came to the bring Peace to the Lands. The Sultan, though many feats of skill and military prowess rose to rule a small kingdom of the nomads of the deepest desert, at the center of the world. By his magics, cunning, and military prowess he first united the desert, then swept through the nearby cities, re-consecrating them to the service of the Merciful One, who in their shallowness and frivolousness, they had forgotten.
He saved all the lands - faithful, heathen, and apostate from the black sands, and also locked out his Mother's people, the hamaaj, so that they could not corrupt the corruptible again. He was acknowledged Sultan by the will of the people, but he chose not to stay and rule. That he left to men of the deep desert.
Then he went to his father's kingdom, in a land none may find save by his grace, to continue the fight.
It is said he will return, some day, to judge us all in the name of the Merciful One.
When asked about the Sultan's war record, it is very specific, and while the young men were not there, everyone seems to believe it is factual and relative current. Not more than a generation ago.
Ossian listens with interest. A slow realisation comes to him. "What kind of magic did the Sultan wield?" he asks. He starts to sketch something in his sketch book while listening. If Silhouette looks it is a picture of cousin Edan.
Silhouette's eyes widen slightly at the picture, the connections being made. She remains silent, but it's obvious she has met their strange cousin.
The men of the coffeeshop sort of grin at each other. "There are tales that he had uncanny abilities, but the main magic he wielded was his ability to inspire men to feats of riding and military might that the unbelievers of the coastal regions could not match."
Another of the men. "The children's tales call him a fire magician, and suggest that he learned such from the evil Magian Fire Worshippers of the deep desert, before slaying all who would not convert to follow the Merciful One."
No one in the shop seems to think that that description sounds less than merciful...
Silhouette glances over at Ossian to see if he might recognize this. Turning to the speaker, "And worship of the Merciful One... does it remain mandatory on threat of death, even to this day?"
Ossian gives her a short nod, and waits to hear their answer.
The man looks at his coffee. "You will have to ask a jurist. I have not heard of a trial anywhere for heresy, apostasy, or schism, not for years."
The man who told the fire magician story looks less certain. "The new jurists they have at the temple school might be good to talk to. They come from the frontier, so they're closer to the heathens."
Silhouette nods lightly, "I see. We'd heard that there may be Troubles soon, Hopefully, such claims are unfounded. Perhaps, the jurist knows more." She pauses, lowering her voice. "Is he agreeable, this jurist? Open to those who wish Enlightenment, yet remember the old ways?"
Ossian smiles "Is this a new war you are fighting?"
The man looks down. "No one wants war, but there are some things that are worse. And no one trusts the Eastern Lords not to get everyone involved in their mess. The North isn't a new war, it's not civilized enough to have a war, and it's not valuable enough to civilize. Nobody much as been successful at that. Apparently the scholars that arrived are from there, though. I don't know what it is about the Land of Peace. Our fiercest theological impulses come from the inhospitable desert and the equally unwelcoming ice fields."
"Sounds very strange indeed." Ossian says with a smile "Maybe hardship makes you more pious. When did the scholars first arrive?"
The man nods. "Living daily with the fear of massacre at the hands of savages who do not even acknowledge the mercy all around them makes one more pious, I suspect. At least, for the survivors. The scholars have been communicating with the Alcalde and she invited them to visit some years ago. That went so well that they sent full-time scribes and scholars to her court."
Silhouette casts a glance over at Ossian, raising a brow -- wondering if he's heard this term before.
Ossian shakes his head just slightly.
"Have they ever spoken of expanding this conflict?" she says to the man. "Or warned of other people beyond their realms?"
Ossian stays quiet.
The man takes some time to reply, as if he's trying to remember such a thing. "Not that I have heard. The ones who give grand speeches are scientists and inventors, and seem most interested in making our lives better. Their theologians are quieter. However, they do not come to this cafá, so their political and metaphysical positions are unknown.
"A pity," he adds, grinning. "Such leads to a lively cut and thrust of argument and opinion in the square."
"There are open debates in the square?" Ossian asks. "Sounds fun."
"Indeed. A rousing debate can provide much insight into one's society," Silhouette says, sipping her spiced tea. She pauses, weighing the next words.
"May I ask... and feel free to dismiss this inquiry... but have they actually made your lives better? Or do you still yearn for the Old Ways? Despite the benefits of Progress, the Past can hold greater, more sacred truths that should not be forgotten."
He snorts. "I was a child when the Sultanate marched in from the deep desert and removed the corrupt and decadent Amir of Gathium. It was for the good of all, except perhaps those who had been perverting the teachings of The Merciful One. The city welcomed them as liberators.
"The new clerics are of the same tradition as the Sultanate, and teach us the wisdom of his ways."
Ossian frowns and looks at Silhouette. He will ask no further questions for the time being.
Silhouette bows her head, "Wisdom is the finest wine." Although she smiles at the man, she covertly glances around the table, studying the faces. While the elders might think this way, perhaps the youth did not.
This is one of the younger men in the room.
[OOC: To give you a bit of history that the locals will have trouble explaining in these terms, there was a long-term civil war going on in this shadow between the urban coastal people (who had advanced to petroleum based society, including early airplanes) and the desert nomads, who were horsemen with great skill at swords and a somewhat difficult alliance with the efreet.
The Black Road War came to the shadow, smashed the city-people, and most everyone else united behind the nomads, who were pretty generous in peace, if they didn't cut your head off.
Oh, and Edan was the leader of the desert nomads.]
The religion of this place doesn't sound at all like the Klybesians, but there are clearly Klybesians here. Perhaps they're being sneaky.
Silhouette turns to Ossian, "Do you think we shall have time to listen to the debates? I do enjoy vigorous rhetoric. Seems a shame to miss it while we are here."
Ossian nods. "I hope so."
"We would not miss them for the world," Silhouette says, smiling. "Thank you for your candor today. It is most refreshing."
When Silhouette and Ossian have left the cafe, he takes her arm. "Seems we have no rebellion to start here. Edan wouldn't approve of that either, I guess."
Silhouette chuckles faintly, "One never knows, dear cousin. Even the dimmest ember can start a fire given the opportunity." She waits on the sidewalk, allowing the street to clear so they might cross. "As for Edan, I suspect he'd be most pleased to know his influence resides here."
The street heads northward, eventually splitting into a traffic circle. The central island is dominated by a raised fountain, where a small crowd is beginning to form. Vendors offer food and drink to the assembly, competing loudly for attention.
"Shall we join the throng? Or shall we move forward with our search in Shadow?"
"I am pretty sure the Klybesians are here. I'd like to find out what they are doing. Let's go to the lecture for starters.
"If we want fighters, maybe we should go to the desert an play on our kinship with Edan?"
"We are here for a Purpose," Silhouette says. "Otherwise, I doubt the Pattern would have guided our journey to this Shadow. I do wish Edan were here. He might offer us further Insight"
She heads across the traffic circle and joins the swelling crowd. "I wonder if this is a public affair. If so, we might want to lend our voices to the discourse. At the very least, we'd attract attention. Be it positive or negative, I do not know."
"Let's do the lecture. I can try making a sketch of Edan later. Maybe it is easy in this place. Although we will have to be careful what we say on Trump with the Klybesians around."
Silhouette cocks her head, "Can they listen in or detect your Trump use?" she asks in a quiet voice.
Realizing she's attracted the attention of a stall owner, she orders two shawarma analogs from them - the spiced meat and vegetables vaguely familiar. She hands one to Ossian, "Exactly how powerful are these people?".
Ossian shrugs. "I do not know. They do seem to know a bit too much about Trumps for my liking. And about me."
He takes the roll, and chews "Frog." he adds "Or some lizard. Quite nice.
"I have learned that I should be careful what I say on the Trumps. That Caine just might have a hand with the Klybesians makes it even more so."
Sessile nods at the road ahead. "The camp we heard about is just over the bend, Sir Walker. They'll be plenty of Maghees and others here, as it's their horse fair. If you'd been a few weeks later, they'd've split up back into traveling groups."
While Brennan has discarded the mannerisms of the Walker persona, he still hasn't given them his actual name, so they have nothing other than that to call him. Whether they suspect he has another name or not-- surely they must-- doesn't concern him unless they act on it. Referring to him as "Sir" Anything is still discouraged, though. Strenuously discouraged.
When they round the bend, Brennan gives the whole camp a brief glance through the Third Eye, but mostly out of a sense of habit. He expects nothing from it, and on the assumption that's what he gets, he proceeds to spend some time amiably strolling the fairgrounds, seeing who is selling, who is buying, and what is changing hands. Even better than rumors, that should tell the way the wind is blowing.
But primarily, he keeps his eyes open for who has power, money, or political influence among the Maghee-- someone who might be a member of the Council of Sons of Ghee. He's also keeping his eyes open for Maghee wizards, which will probably be more difficult. Anyone with a crest that looks like it bears descent from Cameleopardis' own giraffe's head device would be a start. Failing anything better, fortune teller's booth with the least traffic, the least ostentatious advertising (preferably none), the one people almost avoid. The one that's not here to make money.
For what it is worth, he lets the Shadows lie for him. For now.
Horses are changing hands! And occasionally wagons, and food, and maybe some things behind closed doors. There's music and apparently horse racing will happen after the sun goes down (but before it gets dark).
He sees giraffes' heads everywhere. It's a motif. It's hard to tell who is important and who isn't.
He does have luck finding a fortune teller who doesn't seem to be very busy. The man is sitting on the steps of a caravan, reading. No one approaches him.
Brennan strolls up to the man, and invites himself to sit down with him.
"Slow day, it looks like," he muses, before going directly to the business he has in mind. "My associate and I," Brennan nods at Cledwyn, because while they are in detente and perhaps moving toward entente, probably neither would yet describe the other as a friend, "are in something of a dilemma. We have a large task before us, with many possible paths forward but no good way to sift the good options from the bad. My family has a tradition, in such circumstances, of casting fortunes... or having the fortunes cast for us, if we can find a reader more interested in the truth of his vision than the flattery of his patrons. Will you read the cards for us?" he asks. "A good classical six-card spread, I hope, as my Grandfather would have done."
"Cross my palm with silver, sir, and six cards you shall have, after the fashion of your elders." The man looks up, showing he is one-eyed, and smiles at Walker. Walker doesn't recognize him. "They call me Ramjollock," he says.
"An auspicious name for the occasion," Brennan says.
[Assuming Walker pays Ramjollock.]
Ramjollock gathers his cards and shuffles them thoroughly, then lets Walker cut them. He is, after all, paying. Then he lays out the cards.
Brennan does indeed pay him, but when the man begins to shuffle his cards, Brennan catches his wrist gently and presses his own Fortune deck into Ramjollock's hands. "No. Use these," he says with a grim smile. "Family heirlooms. They remind me of my grandfather, too." The deck contains Fortune cards only-- all the Trumps, face cards, location cards, non-Trump sketches and so forth have been removed.
While Ramjollock is casting the cards, Brennan silently tells the Shadows to stop lying for him.
Overlooking the Diamond
The Dragon (reversed)
The Griffin (reversed)
The King (reversed)
The Lion (sideways)
"Interesting," Brennan says. "The immediate task before us is arranging a meeting with the Council of the Sons of Ghee and such sages and wise men as may be among them, but perhaps the cards are focused on the larger task behind it." He speaks to Sessile and Cledwyn as much as to Ramjollock as he runs though the cards.
"The Eagle: I'll flatter myself, but the path that brings me here has been a path of relentless logic and strategy, of understanding the strategy of another. This tells me that the strategy has been good... so far. Or perhaps... it represents a past friend. The Diamond," he taps the card, "is often infuriating but in this case, I choose to take it as helpful advice, that something I need is closer than I suspect, right now. We'll come back to this one," he says looking at Ramjollock. "The Dragon, reversed in the future..." He looks back at Cledwyn and taps both the Eagle and the Dragon together, "If my suspicions are correct and I disrupt someone's strategy, they are going to be powerfully angry. But we're here to prove I'm correct, and I don't want to bias our investigation, so I'm hesitant to say more right now. But those seem straightforward.
"The Griffin, reversed... as the virtue," he shakes his head slightly. "I don't understand this. There is an act of cowardice in the past of this reading, but as a virtue..." he shakes his head again, puzzled. "And the fault, the King, reversed-- tyranny. It could be argued that my opposite number places their desires above all else, but this is too flattering to me," he says, rejecting the interpretation. "I don't understand that entire pairing, but I do not like it.
"And finally, the Fate: Physical strength or physical weakness. All things considered, I could take that as encouraging, if I understood how the current situation could turn on physical strength rather than strategy.
"So," he turns back to Ramjollock, "I would be pleased to hear your interpretation, especially of the Virtue and Fault. But I am inclined to take a literal approach to the Present," he taps the card again, decisively, and looks piercingly into the man's eyes as he asks another question: "Are you that Diamond, Ramjollock, that I am in danger of overlooking? Can you take us in private to the Council of the Sons?"
He takes out Cameleopardis' torque-- he was not wearing it, only keeping it under his cloak-- and places it on the table next to the Eagle card of the past.
Ramjollock does not answer the question immediately. Instead he looks at Brennan and says, "Knowing nothing about you and the path you have taken to arrive, I cannot speak to the past and present you propose. But in the field of reading the cards, we sometimes use an alternative interpretation: the second row is the parties to the current conflict. In which case we might say that one party is a coward, or acting out of fear, and the other party is acting out of tyrannical desires. Who these parties are may not be who you think they are."
He places a hand on the torc. "I can take this to the Council of the Sons. Who should I say wishes to meet with them?"
"I'm familiar with that style of interpretation," Brennan says, "although I would not prefer to cast myself in either of those roles. As you say, who those parties are is not always obvious." He begins to gather the cards. As he reaches the Dragon, reversed, he pauses, and considers. "If these," the virtue and fault, "are viewed as the competitors, then this," the future, "might be a strategy or a tool in one of their arsenals, or a resource to be used," he muses almost to himself. "And reversal sometimes indicates a descendant... or by extension descendants." He pauses again, then taps the fate card speculatively, but does not elaborate.
He nods to Ramjollock when the man touches the torc, giving permission to take it. "Tell them Walker seeks audience, though I doubt the name will mean anything. So tell them also that I bear a message from Cameleopardis, and let that torc bear witness of it, for it belonged to him. And tell them that we come requesting their assistance, but that I believe it will be to their benefit as well."
Brennan leaves space for Sessile or, especially, Cledwyn to add any comments they might wish.
No, they're letting Brennan handle all that.
Wondering just what kind of fire they've jumped into, no doubt.
"I will see what I can do for you," says Ramjollock. He takes the torc and puts it away in what Brennan suspects is the bag where he carries his cards. "Look for a messenger from me."
"I will look upon it as a kindness. Thank you Ramjollock," he says.
Brennan will need to arrange somewhere to stay and so on and so forth, at least tentatively. Since this is a horse fair, that could be "under a blanket on the side of a hill" or whatever. Ramjollock did not set a deadline for getting back to him. Also while he can always pull probable supplies out here, it's easier for Brennan to find things where they are sold, as it were, and many things can be found at the fair. Especially including drinking and fighting if Brennan is inclined to amuse himself with either of those.
It is much easier to conjure coin and have that remain hidden, than to conjure tents or whatever else might pass for lodgings, and Brennan still tends not to display obvious power in broad daylight, as it were. Five hundred years of conditioning dies hard. If this is a large enough fair-- and it seems to be-- there should be someone selling or renting lodgings of some sort. Brennan aims for those, in a fairly low-key mode.
There are no regular lodgings in the sense of buildings. This is a horse fair, and possibly not in the same location every time, so there are none. Brennan can pay rent on a good position, as it were, and he can upgrade the saddle roll and any tent he has for something more comfortable. Similarly, he can supply himself and his comrades with food, both fresh for local consumption, and preserved for travelling.
He'll do that, then-- a reasonably good patch of ground and an upgrade from what they are all collectively carrying to something suitable for three-- no, four people, in case for some reason they should need to entertain someone.
Brennan does watch the fights, but does not try to participate. Mostly, he is evaluating the Maghee as potential... soldiers might be the right word, but so might warriors.
The Maghee definitely have a martial bent; Brennan suspects they would make a group of raiders or reivers. His sense of them is that they'd do well on special tactics like that but trying to get them into a regular standing military unit, even at a level of technology they understood (like pikes; they could do pikes), would go pretty badly. They're too quarrelsome and individualistic for integration into regular units.
So noted-- something in a shield wall with swords or spears was about the most he'd expect from the milieu in general, and pikes are just an elaboration on that.
A boy finds Brennan in the evening, as the trading has waned in favor of drinking and, well, fighting. For those who aren't sleeping on the hill. "You're Walker? Ramjollock says to come with me to meet some people," he tells Brennan.
Brennan gathers Sessile and Cledwyn to go with him. His only special preparations are to make sure his Trumps are properly back in their pack, his KCOR ring is still in his pouch, and the signal dagger remains in do-not-disturb position.
In the evening, one of the Maghee boys of the sort that have been running all over the fair approaches Brennan. On confirming that he is in fact "Walker", the lad says he comes from Ramjollock and hands Brennan a sketch showing two cards (the Griffin and the King) as proof of identity. He asks Brennan to follow him.
As far as Sessile and Cledwin are concerned, this approach doesn't seem suspicious.
Brennan shows his own Lion card to the boy by way of establishing his identity, and does indeed follow.
Sessile and Cledwin follow along out of the immediate sphere of the fairgrounds. Not into the middle of nowhere but more along the lines of "we'd like a little privacy here" or maybe "these people are of questionable luck and we don't want them too close at night". Perhaps a quarter-mile past the edge of the fair, with the lights still in view, they're met by Ramjollock and a group of masked men (presumably all men, though they could be women in the mix with the darkness). The masks are, to Brennan's eye, ceremonial and ancient, and while they conceal the identity of the wearers, they're not designed for that purpose.
[OOC: If you've read any Holdstock, think of the Hollowing masks and you're on the right track.]
"We are the Council of the Sons," says one of the men (definitely a man from the voice). "Who are you, man called Walker, and by what rite do you seek the Sons?"
[May also be "by what right?"]
As Brennan begins to see where they're going, he signals Cledwyn and Sessile to be alert... although they probably already are.
There is almost nothing that Brennan likes about this set-up-- in a few short moments he's gone from a comfortable, well-lit tent to somewhere dark, semi-abandoned, surrounded and out-numbered by mask-wearing interrogators. He's seen subtler set ups in the seedier parts of New Hong Vegas, of all places. He strongly considers conjuring a version of the mask he wore to the Coronation Masque and affixing it before he lowers his hood, but that's just petty. Futile, too, since Ramjollock and the messenger boy have already seen his face. He settles for keeping the hood of his cloak drawn, just to maintain the pretense of psychological parity.
He also takes a long, hard look at the gathering through Astral Vision-- he is looking for signs of Reality or Substance, because who knows what sort of green-haired agent Moire may have among them. Ramjollock and the boy are not excepted. Also, how big is this gathering, roughly? Has Ramjollock acquired a mask, or is he still bare-faced?
"I'm a long way from home," Brennan says, "come by right of recent friendship with the man called Cameleopardis, and bearing a message. I trust your man gave you his token as proof. Who among this Council knew him?"
There are nine masked figures, not including the boy and Ramjollock, who remains unmasked. With the Astral sight, it is clear that these are magicians, even Sorcerers, of some power, though not beyond that which Brennan might expect in Benedict's realm if he meant to test himself against a sorcerously backed tribe. The colors painted on the masks appear much brighter to his Sight, as if they are Real in some way (the symbols as much as the masks themselves).
How fascinating. How absolutely fascinating.
Brennan wasn't intending or even trying to bypass the masks, but now he knows that if and when he does, he's going to have to work for it. These are not a trusting people. These may be a paranoid people. Which is not out of line with their post-Corwin diaspora history as he understands it. It is also not out of line with a cult... which is not the most quieting thought he has had in the last several weeks.
Brennan still has Cameleopardis' prayer book and has surely read it with reasonable care by now-- he's had it for weeks. Are these masks, or some reasonable centuries-old antecedent, mentioned therein or (based on that limited knowledge) some relatively new innovation? Also, what kind of symbols are they, roughly speaking? Geometric designs? Facial or animal motifs? Script of some sort? Something else?
The masks are ancient and mentioned in the prayerbooks. They're masks of office. Skogen is probably not a real name, but a title associated with the mask he's wearing. The symbols are shown in the prayerbooks, but they're more stylized in those illustrations, as if made by an illustrator or illuminator who hadn't necessarily seen the masks themselves. They are vital and primitive on the masks. Some of the symbols are abstract -- Brennan can't necessarily figure out what they are from the masks, to the extent that he can see them -- and some are animal or plant motifs. They are brightly colored, Brennan thinks, or would be so in the daylight.
Brennan's mind is put somewhat at ease by this. As much as it is possible for Brennan's mind ever to be at ease.
Ramjollock might be a magician but hasn't got the strength for any but the thinnest of sorcery. The boy is just a boy. If there are geasa or commands on any of them, they're operating through the masks.
"I know the legends of Camelopard's, though I have only seen him from a distance. I recognize the torc as his. You may call me Skogen, Walker." The speaker steps forward: he's a man, definitely, from sound of voice and build. "That you return his torc to this company means that his story has come to an end. Will you tell us of his fate?"
Assuming he hasn't taken off that mask, Brennan doesn't draw back the hood. But he does hold out a hand in greeting. "Well met, Skogen."
Skogen takes Brennan's hand firmly. He's clearly of the old school and is checking it for hidden daggers.
"And I will," Brennan says. "The telling is complex and, once told, you may very rightly question it. But I do not come empty-handed. I may have the means to provide some credibility." Brennan puts enough emphasis on 'may' to convey some uncertainty. "And so I must ask also: Are there members of the Wise among your company?"
"Yes," replies another man, one who has not introduced himself. "although that term is not a Ghee term and our ways are not always as those of other tribes. Continue, and tell us what you know."
Brennan locks eyes with the new speaker, and holds the gaze just long enough to make clear that he has decided to speak rather than been commanded to speak.
"Good," he says. "I met Cameleopardis on the field of battle he with his army and me with mine, earlier this season. The armies fought around us, and mine had the better of it. In the first true battle between the forces, things went poorly for he and his, and I took him captive. The battle ended but the siege continued, so I took him to a safe place and questioned him.
"He was not what I expected, and I will be frank: Though he was an enemy and I was not well-disposed to him, I grew to like him and even to respect him. I would prefer to believe that the reverse was also true. And so we spoke not just of the recent battle, and of ransoms and terms and surrenders, but of his past. He told me that he had led an expedition to Maghdeburg and the Silver Towers, under the sea. Something was odd in the telling of this, for he made the fall of the Silver Towers seem more recent than it really was. But I let him tell his tale, alternating of adventure and mishap, until the place was reached-- not just Maghdeburg, but the throne room itself.
"At that point, he saw terrifying and confusing visions of the Sorcerer-King and of the Protector, and lost his senses. When he came to himself, he found himself confronted by a woman on the throne. They conversed, he saw more visions, and she put him to sleep. When he woke, he was confronted by a different woman, claiming to be a priestess of Lir, who bade him command her forces and enter into the same battle where I met him and captured him. Naturally, I asked for a description of the woman, but curiously he could not give one. Initially, he did not even seem to find that strange, and only when I pressed him on it did he come to believe that he was under a geas of some sort, and consented-- no, resolved and collaborated-- to break it.
"It was at length broken by a woman in the employ of the army I fought with, whereupon Cameleopardis' memory was returned and he was able to identify the woman. However, the magics keeping him alive were also shattered. If I understand things, he started his journey to Maghdeburg a very long time ago, and slept from that day until the day he was woken by this self-proclaimed priestess. He aged before my eyes. We spoke, and he swore vengeance on this priestess for manipulating him, but he died of old age shortly thereafter. I mourn him and deeply regret his passing, for I feel we might have come to be friends.
He takes out the letter that Cameleopardis dictated, and against his more manipulative instincts it is unaltered and unedited, but it is wax-sealed with a borrowed, almost generic signet from Trippel's stocks, and with the imprint of Cameleopardis' own torque. He does not hand it over. "I have a letter, but he aged so quickly that his hands could not hold the quill. The writing in the letter is mine, but the words are his. He described the device I drew inside."
He bids Sessile to step forward, and hands him the letter to hold.
"This letter contains the name of the one who used him, and declares her anathema. But unless he dictated a coded message, there is no proof.
He bids Cledwyn also to step forward.
"This man is called Cledwyn. He was my captain before the siege, and a traitor and saboteur during and after. When the siege was ended, I tracked him down. I have reason to believe that he has been manipulated in the same way, by the same person, and that now his memories of the event are clouded. He has come to believe that this may be true, and he comes here willingly." Brennan pauses for Cledwyn to nod or signal agreement in some way. "I have not offered either of these men the details of my suspicions. Again, I could offer nothing more than accusations and suspicions.
"Instead, I offer you each to the other in the hopes that you will add evidence and weight to the contents of this letter, which we can unseal afterwards. Or," in a somewhat lower and more ironic register, "I will have a great deal of reconsidering to do.
"The question is: Will you help this man regain his memories and his clarity?"
At the end of the long explanation, Sessile has offered the letter to Ramjollock, who has taken it and handed it to Skogen, who has it in hand but has not yet opened it. Cledwyn is also standing between Brennan and the Sons, who have been watching and listening with extreme interest.
"We must confer before answering your question, Walker, if you will wait a few moments?"
Brennan favors Sessile with an irate expression-- he gave him the letter to hold not to pass around. If he'd wanted Skogen to have it, he'd have given it to Skogen. But it occurs to Brennan that even though the script is in his hand, Cameleopardis might have done something to it to prove its authenticity, so he lets it pass... mostly.
"On your honor that the contents remain un-read, we will wait," Brennan says, with a gentle clarification that 'unseal afterwards' is not a suggestion, but a requirement. "I would have Cledwyn convinced as well." Brennan is not completely inflexible-- if one wants to read it and another helps Cledwyn and they promise not to communicate, Brennan will take them at their word.
"We will not read it," Skogen clarifies, and passes the letter back to Sessile for good measure. "Let us confer," he says to the brethren, and they pull back into a knot to discuss the matter.
As they wait, he turns to Sessile and Cledwyn and asks, "Last minute thoughts, observations, concerns?"
"Do you think I'm going to die?" Cledwyn asks after a moment. He's obviously aware that his case is somewhat different to Cameoleopardis', but it's a horrible thought, aging out and turning to dust while Brennan and the rest watch.
Brennan gives that due consideration, although he's already given it some private thought.
"I don't think so," he says, at length. "You have any reason to believe you're a relic of another age, or that magic is keeping you alive, like Cameleopardis?" He gives Cledwyn a good moment to answer that even though he personally thinks it is not the case.
Cledwyn shakes his head.
"I think that's what did it-- when the geasa were broken, they were all broken, not just the mental block. We can ask the Sons when they're done with their little conclave over there-- they're the experts."
He looks relieved. Sessile's mostly interested in that question theoretically. He doesn't exactly seem to think this is mumbo-jumbo but it seems like more ceremony and bother than the situation probably merits, as it were.
Assuming Cledwyn and Sessile have nothing more, they'll wait for the Sons to come back with their comments. If they are in favor of helping (although Brennan doubts it will be that simple) Brennan will make sure they don't proceed too quickly-- he will make sure that either he or Cledwyn can raise Cledwyn's concerns.
After perhaps five minutes of debate and discussion, some of which sounds rather debate-y for all that it's not in Thari and Brennan doesn't understand all of it, the Sons return to Brennan. "If Cledwyn is willing, we will attempt this," Skogen says. He turns to Cledwyn. "Are you willing?"
"I'm not going to age out like Cameleopardis, right?" Cledwyn asks.
Skogen answers honestly: "I can't promise that, and certainly not without examining you magically. But we have no reason to expect it to happen either."
"Perhaps a compromise," Brennan suggests, "if either of these are feasible: Move cautiously, and tell Cledwyn what to expect through the process." Those might not actually be feasible, and so Brennan is content to let them handle this as they see best, unless they and Cledwyn come to complete loggerheads.
Skogen's mask is a study in impassivity. "Very well. We will examine you and tell you what we find before proceeding. You will be consulted before anything is acted upon."
"Might as well," says Cledwyn. "It's what I came for. Go ahead!" He stands stiff and tense, anticipating something bad happening.
If/when they start, Brennan watches the process through the Third Eye, passively. If at all possible, he positions himself such that both Cledwyn and some or all of the Sons are in his field of view, and he is interested in the two following things: First, during the process, does Cledwyn's aura start to change-- particularly, does any dormant true Sorcery begin to show? Second, if he can tell, who among the Sons are working this counterspell, which of them are tasked with watching Brennan and-- because he shares the same sneaky-genes as Fiona-- are any of them working against this effort?
They speak only in their local creole dialect during the spell: a mix of Thari and something else that no self-respecting God would answer to (or at least Smoking Mirror wouldn't have). It is, however, powerful enough to connect to and interact with the spells on Cledwyn.
To Brennan's third eye, it is a mere lightshow, although he thinks he can tell what's new and what’s the old spell by colors.
"Two there are," says Skoggen. "One spell which cloaks your remembrance of meetings with your master. Another which keeps you from remembering his face.
"We can remove both."
It doesn't seem like Cledwyn is about to get killed by suddenly rearing true Sorcery, so Brennan has no motive to interfere. He continues to observe through the Third Eye out of native caution and, to be honest, professional curiosity. You never know when some obscure bit of local knowledge will come in handy.
Can he make out enough of the creole to tell who or what they're calling on? Lir, he would expect. If it's Moire, he's really got a problem....
There's absolutely a syllable that might've been 'Lir'. Or maybe 'Tir'. -ir in any case...
Brennan's opinion, if asked, is that they proceed, and if order is important that they get to the face first so that a description can be given or a sketch can be made.
The spell takes time, and preparations, as shadow magics are wont to do. They offer Brennan a chair, and eventually begins. The spell is cast in silence, and mostly on a liquid. Eventually they tell Cledwyn to drink it.
He does, and he gets a puzzled look on his face. Eventually he looks at the wizards and at Brennan and says "They must've blocked it, because it doesn't make sense.
"The admiral's a young man, the face I saw was old, and had a beard. He looked a proper ancient sea captain."
Cledwyn says "I'll make a sketch, but I want to know what happened."
Skogen nods. "It will be hours before the next potion is ready. You have time."
Cledwyn takes a sketchpad and pencils from his pouch and turns to a clean page. Brennan notices that both he and Sessile are on prior pages, but Cledwyn flips past those quickly.
The sketch rapidly comes to life under the spy's deft hands. He looks older, and he didn't have a beard, but other than that, it's the spitting image of Montage, who Martin killed in Amber some years ago.
Brennan stares at the page, allows himself a small private smile, then lets Sessile and Skogen see the sketch if they wish. "This man is known to me," is all he says on that subject. Brennan lets Skogen get to his casting with his fellows if he so desires, but not before he asks a pertinent question: "How long will his memories last? Is this permanent?"
"We don't know," Skogen replies, mater-of-factly. "We have never negated this spell before. His memories may fade, it may be like a story he has been told that he thinks he remembers, or he may keep and expand upon it. Magic with memories is not precise."
Brennan scowls a thoughtful scowl-- Montage and whoever he had do this for them probably had greater confidence than Skogen just expressed.
Then he answers Cledwyn: "I'm not sure what kind of an answer you're looking for, but your Admiral is not who he appears to be. I know this man. He has at least two very good reasons to conceal his identity here as he works--" Again the small, quiet smile, "--and I expect he has his own magicians to do what was done to you."
Cledwyn's mouth tightens in anger, but he doesn't say anything.
Then he looks at Cledwin's sketchbook and says, "Let me see that." He is not overlty upset or threatening, but neither was that a request. "Any of these get delivered or shown to anyone since you hired me?"
Cledwyn takes a moment to figure out that Brennan is discussing his sketches. It breaks his focus on his anger. "No. It's just a thing I do. Some people play chess. I sketch."
"I want you to do two things, Cledwyn. I want you to make another sketch of that man, because I need one of my own and because the act will attach it more firmly in your mind. And start writing down everything you can think of about what just happened to you-- the memories you just regained, every detail. The emotions you have, the thoughts you have, every detail, for the same reason, to fix it in your mind. And then first thing tomorrow morning, you do it again. That's the first thing," Brennan says.
He motions that Cledwyn should start this right now.
"The second is, I want you to let me see that sketchbook, because you may have seen something-- or someone-- and captured it without even knowing it was important. And then, I don't know how their next spell is going to work, but I'm going to tell you some things to try to... pay attention to, or focus on, for lack of a better word. Your sketchbook may help. Or it may not, but I don't want your sketchbook be another diamond, overlooked."
Assuming he started the sketching or the writing, Brennan gives him some time to think that over and, hopefully, decide that it makes sense and give him the book.
Cledwyn doesn't need any time to decide, and turns over the book to Brennan and begins at his appointed task.
The sketchbook goes back to the sea voyage and has many of the people they met along the way. The brothers, Crisp, 'Walker', local nobles in several of the towns. Finally Mayness, Balen and Trippel. Based on her portrait Balen should sue him for caricature assassination. Walker looks stronger and tougher in each of the portraits.
What did she do, turn you down? Brennan almost asks. Humor and sarcasm are unlikely to save the day, here, so silence remains the better part of wit.
Brennan leafs through the sketches carefully, generally spending more time on the people not already familiar to him, but always putting his fingers on each page when he turns them. His intent is not to smudge (indeed, if there's a chance of that, he takes care not to) but just out of excessive caution, remembering Benedict's revelation that non-Family can draw Trumps.
"No help, unfortunately," Brennan says. "So I'll say what I was going to say anyway. When the wizards unlock the rest of your memories, I don't just want you to focus on this Admiral, this man who calls himself Stratum. If you can, I want you to focus on everyone who was around him, all the members of his court, all his advisers. But especially his mother, War-Leader Syke. Everything-- her looks, her clothes, her gestures, her jewelry, everything. You can ask questions if you've got them, but most I'll want to answer after the wizards do what they do, not before."
"I'll start making notes now, and see how they compare to after the next round of treatment."
Brennan claps the man's shoulder in reassurance. "I'll leave you to it. Sessile, you need to stay here, stay in sight with that letter, and keep it to yourself. They've said we have hours to go, yet so I'm going to go take a walk, think this new little wrinkle over, and bring us back something to eat. I'll be back shortly, but under no circumstances-- no circumstances-- should you start without me."
Brennan makes his way from the gathering of the Sons to somewhere more private-- probably back to the tent they've rented if nothing better comes to mind-- so he can make a Trump call to Folly.
She comes quickly to life on the card. She is sitting at a desk that looks Parisian in style (as does her dress), and she's holding a silver fountain pen that looks as though it could double as an impromptu weapon if needed. Without preamble, she says, "I was just about to--- Oh, hello, Brennan! What can I do for you?"
Brennan is wearing the same travelling outfit he has been for the past several of their conversations, but it's less travel worn, less dusty. His bearing is different as well, much closer to his normal presence than the more subdued body language he'd been using, too. His voice is still pitched somewhat low, probably to make sure he's not overheard from outside the tent he's in.
Most importantly, though, he's smiling. It is a finely understated smile, the very opposite of his uncle's Bleysing bright smile, but it is definitely a smile. A self-satisfied and somewhat malicious one.
"I have news," he says, "and a challenge: You will never guess who is here in Avalon. Go ahead. Guess."
It's a rhetorical flourish, of course-- he doesn't force her to guess. He does pass the sketch of Montage through the connection, though to answer his own question.
The frown she gives the sketch falls somewhere between confusion and consternation. "Er... unstuck in time, or zombie infestation?" she ventures. She tilts the sketch this way and that, perhaps trying to decide if the subject looks zombie-ish.
"Don't know," Brennan says. "I haven't put eyes on him. I'll be brief, but let me sketch out what's happened for context: The siege of Montparnasse is over, in the Mountain's favor. I'm gone from there, and tracked down the assassin for reasons that were..." he shrugs, "about three parts wrath, one part professional loose end-tying. I had the distinct impression that one of enemy captains'd had his mind tampered with, and a hunch told me the assassin, Cledwin, might be in the same boat. Shortening a long story even more, I caught him, gave him reason to think his mind is not his own, and we're with a faction of local Maghee wizards having it undone. The image of Montage is the first gold we've struck, but I'm hoping we'll get more.
"So I haven't set eyes on him, yet, and I'm not sure what's going on. But I knew you both needed to know and.... well, far be it from me to question anyone's professionalism, but alongside zombies and time paradoxes, I didn't want to discard more prosaic solutions. Such as I-didn't-see-the-body, or an older brother or maybe a father."
Folly looks like she might have thoughts on one or more of those, but instead she says, "Well, here's something else possibly relevant to your concerns: The closest known kin of your zombie is, shall we say, a long-term guest of the state here. We were just discussing that -- and by 'we', I also mean Conner, who may be interested in your story as well, if that's okay?" She is already rising from the desk; she collects several small folded pieces of paper and drops them into her pocket, and then heads for Conner's guest room, not far away.
"Conner? I had no idea he was there. Can we bring-- ah, I see you are ahead of me," Brennan says, as she heads in Conner's direction."
She taps on the door and, without quite waiting for an answer, says, "Hey, look what just came in by metaphysical airmail? You might want to join our conference call." She slides the sketch under the door.
Conner looks up for the book he is idly thumbing through and starts towards the door at the knock on the door. He picks up the sketch slipped under the door and immediately opens the door. "You have my attention, Cousin." Conner smiles at her. "Please come in and make yourself comfortable." He holds out his hand for Folly to take and gestures with his free hands towards a pair of stuffed chairs in the corner of the room.
"It's Brennan," Folly says by way of further explanation, "trying to track down who might've tampered with the mind of an assassin sent to help take down Montparnasse, and so far -- as I understand it -- that sketch is the first clue or useful memory to come out of the... un-tampering." She settles into one of the chairs and takes Conner's offered hand to let Brennan fill in the rest (or correct what she got wrong).
"Good to see you again, Conner," Brennan says. "And yes, that's about right." Brennan proceeds to bring Conner up to date with a near word for word recitation of the thought process that led from Cameleopardis, to the enemy captain Jellicoe, to Cledwyn. "I got lucky," he finishes up. "I recognize Montage. In a few hours, we're going to try again with something a little more comprehensive. I'm hoping to coax a picture of the former Queen out of him. Considering he was last seen dead, I judged this to be interesting enough to let people know, and hopefully get some updated information on the rest of the court."
Conner shifts his gaze to the sketch again. "The likeness is uncanny but it looks a little old to be Montage himself." He opines. "What updated information were you looking for?"
"I'm aware of the perceived age difference," Brennan says, "but he's still remarkably spry for someone supposedly dead.
"As for information, he's taking orders from someone, and I'm fairly sure this person is local-- the cover story is that "the Admiral, Stratum," is the son of "War-Leader Syke," and everyone I've run up against who's had contact with Stratum has had their minds scrambled: false memories of faces and details, and a strong enough geas to keep them from questioning it. The geas isn't strong enough to hold up to forceful outside questioning, but the memory block is. Now, my operating theory-- and I have some local capital staked on this-- is that Syke is Moire. If so, I'm still ahead of their game. But Montage, there, was a surprise. So since you've been in Rebma both more recently and a lot longer than I have, I'm looking for a list of likely alternates. People, likely female, that Montage would consent to at least appear to defer to in a theater like this. Senior members of Moire's court not currently in Rebma, even if we have assurances that they're not working for Moire. And remember, some of these people I might not recognize if I sat down to supper with them. I still have Folly's sketches of Moire, Dara and Moins, but think of this as an insurance policy-- once we more comprehensively remove that block, having a wider pool of candidates might be useful." Brennan says.
"And what's this I hear about Bend?"
"She's being held here as an accessory to helping-Moire-escape- after-Lucas's-death," Folly offers in answer to that last question. "We--" she gestures to indicate herself and Conner "--haven't spoken to her yet; those who have, think she probably knows where Moire is or at least how to contact her. There's been some disagreement about exactly what to do about that. And I think we'll need to revisit the question depending on what you find out on your end."
She leaves it to Conner to address the questions about Moire's court, since her own knowledge is pretty limited; but she adds, "You know, as we weigh the evidence we should also consider whether Somebody Else wearing Montage's face is a more likely scenario than Zombie Montage. Although I suppose a near shadow is also a possibility."
"So is the more prosaic explanation of an older sibling or family member with a strong resemblance." Conner puts in. "Though if such a person exists, he was not known at Court. I would have noticed a montage of Montage." Conner chuckles. "So as to Rebman females and their whereabouts the most likely candidate is Loreena. She was allowed free movement in the City in hopes that she would lead us to other agitators but she slipped our net and is currently off our sonar. After that the non-Moire possibilities drop off pretty sharply. Rilsa has self-exiled herself to the Seaward Shells and expressed her neutrality. Valeria is in Xanadu so far as I know. No doubt she claims to be the ambassador for the true Queen in Exile or some such. Bend as you know is here. As for the male branch of Montage's family tree, Lamell is still in the city but he is older than the man in the picture. I'd have to nose around Rebma to find out more on that front."
"Interesting," Brennan says. "All of that, very interesting. Valeria, I think I know. Loreena, Rilsa, I don't think I do. Neither of them were at Celina's coronation, were they? Assuming this Lamell shares no special resemblance to Montage, can I trouble you for descriptions-- or better, sketches-- of Loreena and Rilsa? You left someone out, though," Brennan says, and not happily. "Meg. Any word from her or about her?"
"I haven't heard anything for quite some time -- but then, we've been rather deliberately out of the loop," Folly says.
"Last I heard of Meg, she was here in Paris." Conner supplies. "But as she was not called into Family council, I do not know if she is still here or not." Conner frowns slightly at that. "As for Loreena and Rilsa, you would not have met them during your time in Rebma. Rilsa was absent and Loreena was deliberately snubbing the Queen by not engaging at Court. I am not my sister but I can sketch a good likeness. A moment." Conner leaves the connection just long enough to fetch a few sheets of paper and a charcoal stick. He takes Folly's hand again and sketches with the free hand as they talk.
"As for Moire, I am more convinced than ever she is in this region. All my fuss over the rest of her court-in-exile is just precautionary. I don't believe this Admiral's appearance is coincidence, whatever the full story is. Where precisely... well, that's still the rub. But I'm getting closer," Brennan says.
Folly casts a glance at Conner's sketch out of professional curiosity, then returns her full focus to Brennan. "Since we've been pondering the same question here, it's worth asking you, too: If you do find her, what next? What's your play, and what's your goal?"
Court is done. It has been a day of many emotions and evaluations. Celina waits until after the dinner hour to journey to see her Aunt Llewella.
The route to Llewella's chambers is meditative this time. Celina walks the Gallery of Heroes within the palace. She spends time with the art there examining the faces and absorbing the cultural memory of the pieces.
She spends no time with work that she knows was done decades after the individuals were dead. She wants the immediate art of the living. Celina feels the comfort of connecting with the faces of the past.
When she arrives at Llewella's chambers, she scratches at the entry.
Llewella's maid answers the door and leads her in to her mistress' parlor. "You know, as Queen, you need not knock. How may I serve your majesty?"
Celina puts a hand across her mouth to help smother a laugh at the idea of sashaying into any room in the palace without a care. The laugh slips through anyhow. She shakes her head at Llewella. "I'll consider your suggestion."
Celina makes herself comfortable and moves closer to Llewella. "So I want to make a proposal to you. In addition to everything else you already help with, I'd like tutoring in as many Pattern skills as I might get if I was free to wander the universe. Even given that we stand within the Pattern here and so Pattern cannot be manipulated in the travel sense of it, there must be a lot you can share of how such things are best done."
Celina goes on, "And in addition, I want to see Moins and hear her voice. I have an idea how to do that and it requires your assistance, probably against all tradition. So I'm here to talk you into it." Celina flutters her eyelashes at her aunt in a faux-seductive style.
Llewella pushes her hair back, behind her shoulders. "That's quite a proposal. I notice that all the benefit from it flows from me to you. I will, at no charge at all, offer the advice that your majesty should work on her saleswomanship."
She stands. "I can make no promises about the second part, but as a teacher of pattern tricks, you should understand that I am self-taught. As the saying goes, I am from a large family of only children. My nearest peers disliked me because my mother came between their mother and the King, Eric's lot disliked me because my existence complicated his wife's Rebman ambitions, and there were other factors at play as well.
"I can show you what I know, but I have no store of family lore."
Celina nods, "Your lore then is a hundred times more dear to me because it is not family lore... and because you are willing and because Rebma will be stronger for it." Celina faux-sighs, "Oh, pearls, there I go again with the weak saleswomanship. You are so right, I shall have to devise a stern program for myself."
Celina looks up directly into Llewella's eyes, "It shall go forward then as you wish, in times of your choosing, and we shall become as Sisters of Pattern. While it appears to others that I am an only child and so are you, we shall have a calling on each other that only sisters know. The Grace of the Throne will reward you as I can when I can, and as secretly as you may wish and I can manage.
"The future, Llewella, is all or nothing with me," Celina opens this wound for her aunt to see. Her breath and words ripple with the love for the City she shall defend forever. "I choose all in your case. Which actually explains the second part of what I shall ask of you. I promise I shall not think less of you if you refuse me this."
Celina pauses, not with trepidation, but in order to let Llewella give her a sign to go on in a matter most serious.
"You shall not think less of me if I refuse the first, I hope. I am old, and complex, and contrary, and I do things or do not do things for my own reasons, which I do not explain."
She lowers her head, "Ask the second part."
Celina came with the words arranged in her head, but still she nibbles her lip now. "Yes."
Celina does a small summary of the hours she has dedicated to the history, the archives, and the galleries of art from the Moins period. Then she goes on, "I have failed repeatedly to gather any mirror images of Moins. It is to gain a sense of Moins that I come to you. Pattern is the Binding of our place and our blood here and it is Her Pattern. There are some very moving works of Art; some excellent songs of tribute to her rule and beauty, but I desire a personal touch with Moins and you have that. It is my thought that you could make a sending of those memories. Either conjure them in a mirror, and let me see her alive from your memory, or more directly I could open my mind and let you in to mirror those memories in me. I do realize the potential for harm to me, but I accept the risk."
Llewella looks at Celina for a long moment, and then does something Celina has never seen her do before. She pulls a cigarette from a box on a table and lights it.
Celina watches each detail as if her aunt had just pulled a cobra from the tiny box.
"Never open your mind to her." She takes a long, slow draw on the cigarette, letting the mechanical tasks of smoking occupy a few seconds. "I suppose you have to know, so I'll have to come up with a way to show you. I don't trust mirrors where she’s involved, so I'm going to have to think of something.
"You're not going to be happy with what you see, but I suppose since you asked me, you surmised as much."
Celina sets aside the idea she needs to tell her aunt that the Queen does not yet deserve to be happy. She cannot help but cock her head with honest curiosity and nod. "I put this off a long time. Partly my respect for you. Partly a young, complex, contrary idea I needed to try and Order myself the lonely way. I regret neither of those decisions but I am dogged by a surfeit of surmise on this journey."
Celina takes a step into the dark, "Moins is not dead then? I have to admit I'm shocked. I had been convinced by my failures she was."
"Dead and Alive impose a binary on a situation that may be more like a spectrum, or even a three dimensional space.
"If you're asking if Moins can ever come back, I think she can't, not in any meaningful way. If you're asking if she's alive, that's more complicated." Llewella hesitates.
"What do you know about why Mirrors work for us?"
Celina finds the idea of Life, Death, and Chaos an intriguing base to a pyramid that includes Necessity as Will and Order as Time. "I believed Moins had made a sacrifice of some sort. I did not think she was coming back." Celina adds, "Mother told me that mirrors are not as they appear. They include volume and Order in compression. Time inside a mirror is slower? And we rework the Order and Volume by Will."
"Mother did something. Something beyond us, something beyond any of us, to try to damp down the lunacy of her sister in Tir-na N'ogth. It was like the creation of the Queen's High Way—a benison on us all. It ended and sealed the war of Genesh, but she never returned. And after that, mirrors spoke to us, and we could teach our children.
"What we do with Mirrors is a trick, or a side-effect. They're for fighting the Moonriders."
Celina says nothing for a long time. Her thoughts fly through many previous conversations. Sometimes, she has to stop, evaluate a lie or an assumption, and then begin another path through everything she's learned. "I only know the Moonriders from conversations others have shared."
Celina sets aside some questions for later, but asks, "You believe Moins put all of herself into a Blessing that sealed off Tir? So there are many side effects from that event, including the Power of Mirrors. I've heard stories about haunted mirrors and time slips. But with Cambina's death and the return of the Moonriders to oppose us, are we looking at a complete reversal of the Moins event? Perhaps Moins did not intend to return from her sacrifice. Then again, the Queen of Air and Darkness is not quite bound now either. So are mirrors traps for those who step through time?"
Llewella turns to her, her hair following a second later in the water. The look on her face is not a happy one. "I wish to Lir I knew. Right now, it's kind of a bluff, or maybe we're hoping Benedict figure it out and tell us just in time."
The princess pauses. "If Mother returns, there will be war, if I have to start it myself."
Celina swallows hard on the bloodless cut of those words. There are some pains just as powerful as the Pattern. "Tell me about this war, for I would be your ally if I can."
Llewella bites her lower lip, as if holding something back. "The most likely cause of the war will be if she possesses you and takes over your body. Mother ... had more Chaos in her than father and she was pitiless. Your mother was ... more willing to negotiate, and keep peace. There was a reason there was a binding to end the first war. Mother was not blameless. Nor was she easy to live with."
Well. So Moins was a bigger threat than the Dame of Tritons as far as Llewella was concerned. The Dame and Moire had kept their oaths. Moins lived by a more rapacious code.
Celina clears her throat. "Well. I'd not be much of an ally if that came to pass. So I object to it." Celina moves to Llewella and takes her hands as carefully as she would any wild creature. "I'm so sorry you have had to carry this so long by yourself. My scars do not compare to yours."
She looks directly at her while she rubs her thumbs along Llewella's beautiful fingers. "However, consider that this is a very practical Pattern we stand upon. Pitiless and Practical. If the Pattern is so like Moins, indeed it has no love of her. And as Moins sacrificed to bind Air and Darkness, she may have also tried to Eat that Pattern and it was too much Other for her. Or the two are still locked in combat. It all makes me think of Saeth and that this manifestation of Air and Darkness coming upon us now is not the Maker of Tir, but a severed Childe that has escaped a prison that holds her mother still. In which case Moins is bound as well. That fits things so much better."
Llewella doesn’t look convinced.
Celina chews her lips and than adds, "There is hope in this. Strange Hope, but more than I had before this conversation. Knowing Moins better explains some of the peculiar Order of the City. I feel Brennan should know that any Air and Darkness may be a Childe." But even as she says that she realizes Llewella has reasons the redheads are not confidants. Clarissa?
The Queen peers at Llewella, leaning closer, "I still think it is better for me to know Moins than not. If taking my body would be a key move of Her aggression. Having some first hand memories of Her from you would set my careful pickets against Her. Better I show the Pattern how much more Ordered I am as I woo it to our side." She adds with dark humor, "Also, it would help you better know your Queen, so that you could account just when to start the Llewella War."
"Don't you dare name it after me. I'm no Lir." Llewella's cigarette seems, improbably, to not be any shorter, for all that she's been smoking. Or perhaps it's a new one, replaced too smoothly to notice. "I need time to think. You've been warned, so I'm fine with going ahead. But I need to figure out how to make this work and be safe."
The princess looks up. "You should ask the archivists to tell you all they know about the interregnum between Moins and Moire. While it's true that Moire had control over the archives, she might not have purged that period too badly."
Celina looks away from the familiar watery swirls in the cigarette gases and nods at her Aunt. "I should. I shall. What parts of Rebma went 'grabby hands' while you and Moire worked out The Throne Compromise?"
She shakes her head. "I was too young. I was kept out, by Father. Moire did most of that work herself, convincing others that she was the Princess IN the castle and therefore the Queen OF the castle.
"Few people were saints, and many tried to better themselves. Moire punished the egregious, except where she promoted them."
"Of course," Celina nods, thinking it is only what Llewella has said of Moins. Pitiless. Practical. "Please come see me when you have resolved how you wish to proceed. I shall have another history breakfast with the senior archivists. Soon. Thank you again for your essential point of view." Celina knows Llewella will find a way to make this work because that is what she does so well.
With a tiny bow and a gentle smile, Celina works a graceful exit. She really thinks she likes Llewella. So darn flexible. She hopes to Lir she never sees that much tragedy.
And before she settles to other business, she finds a page on her way through the palace and sends notice to the Archives. The five senior archivists will join her for breakfast on the morrow. Songs and stories are the agenda.
Another page is sent to start the cascade of messages that will bring Lady Clarifee ap Ruadan, Lady of the Jeweled Kilts, to talk to her late tonight in secret. Time to check on whether Clarifee did insert an agent. Past time to fill her in on Klybesian Monks and put a target on them.
The pages depart, and the parties will meet her as expected.
Celina gathers three pages as she moves quickly from Court to her own rooms. She is late for her own lunch and requested Tomat join her. She wanted to change and hopes he is cautiously tardy so she can shed the formal gown.
She sorts messages from Court business and trade factions to Seaward. Makes a mental note to Trump the Regent of Amber tomorrow. Then handing off five messages to Page Cere, she adds, "These are all yes. Take them to Lord Angh."
She nods to the guards at her chamber doors and stops---- sorts the chits into two groups, she hands one off to Page Frillis. "These are nos. Take them to Lady Clarifee."
Celina smiles at the last page, Her current Favorite, "Page Gwedd, come and help me change. I have company for lunch." She pushes the heavy metal door aside, ordering the guards to close it again as she bulls the chamber water aside. Pulling Gwedd in her wake, she makes straight into her sleeping chamber and strips. "Please, the heptabeaded blue from Clency. And the Silhouette shroud. Thank you."
Celina gestures at the wall and forces a mirror to form from the water. She scowls at her hair. "I look as frigid as glass with this hair. I don't have time to change it." She grabs an oilstick from her dressing table and limns her arms and thighs with a nice pearly scented cedar.
Shortly then Gwedd holds and helps with the squibs on the short metal gown. Celina decides once she tries the shroud that it is too casual and will spoil the first half of the meeting with Tomat. She thanks Gwedd after handing it back to her.
"Now, Gwedd. Take your ease on the couch in here." Celina smiles at the sudden frozen expression on the girl's face. She adds, "When you see the little mirror on the wall vanish? Come into the parlor apologizing for falling asleep. I'll want the interruption, so I'll be ending the magic holding the water flat, so that is your cue."
She squeezes Gwedd's shoulder. "You should look flustered or stiffly poker faced, your choice. Are we good?"
The calculations whizzing behind Gwedd's eyes are wonderful to see. Celina waits.
"Of course, your majesty." Gwedd nods once, in flattering imitation of Celina's habit.
Celina slide steps away, closes the bedroom door, and awaits Tomat. She starts to fill a plate as the food has been sitting a while and she's really hungry. Pearls, some days she is nothing but hungry and sad.
Tomat appears exactly at the appointed hour, escorted by guards (human, not Triton, for he does not rank that honor). He has not quite become accustomed to the dress of Rebma. The surface men are more modest where their bodies are concerned than Rebmans, and, Celina may suppose, the Klybesians more modest than many surface-dwellers. The tight trousers that would give him freedom of movement are there, but he is still wearing a robe that covers all of his chest and arms, and inhibits his movements as he enters the room.
"Your Majesty," he says, and bows as deeply and quickly as the water permits. "Thank you for your kind invitation. How may I assist you?”
"I wanted to thank you for all you shared with Ossian and Silhouette," Celina says as she turns to him from the food. "I needed them to feel better about their tasks, to settle into the roles, and you were the best way to do that. I know it was awkward. You did very well in trying circumstances. Your counsel is excellent.
"Please, eat something and keep me company," She gestures to the copious food. She runs a look over his long robe. "I can put a robe on if you prefer that." She gestures off-hand at her glittering vest-gown that hangs to mid-thighs but hints everything beneath it.
It's not that Tomat isn't aware of Celina's state of (un)dress but he's not, er, overly aware of it, either. (And not just in the way easily detectable by too-tight Rebman trousers, either.) It's more that he's easily capable of paying attention to her eyes and mouth and not her body. His own nudity is uncomfortable, but hers apparently is not so much.
"Thank you," he says, and it's not clear which of the several things Celina has said that he's thanking her for. "It was my pleasure to assist Your Majesty." Tomat comes over to join her where the food is set up and takes some small amount of things that Celina considers "easy" food for surfacers. He's been in Rebma long enough to learn how to eat but not long enough to adapt much more than that.
Tomat waits for Celina to settle with her own plate before seating himself wherever he's supposed to be.
Celina lets him pick out which of the three places there are for him to sit. None of them are bad choices. And she's bet herself that he isn't going to pick the lounging three-seater. "So now it is my turn to do something for you. It seems to me that you would like a job and station to keep the brain sharp while Signy is away making the Universe a more interesting place."
She licks her fingers and swoops some colorful foods onto her plate before walking back to stand near to Tomat. "There are a number of positions that a foreigner might enjoy in our city. Some of them would be boring for you though." Celina enjoys his discipline and how he focuses on her eyes and mouth. He is such a brainy character.
"You might like something more challenging. Varying degrees of difficulty and perhaps some degree of social friction from our residents?" Celina puts a relatively clean finger to the edge of her plate. "One. I would apprentice you to the Archive where you could memorize as much of the history of Rebma as you can carry away."
She gently touches the plate with a second finger. "Two. I would apprentice you to the most wily and canny sorcerer of the city. Anything he taught you while you were here would be golden. To be fair, he might not like it, but I think someone who has given the Thumb bite to the Klybesian Monks deserves to learn as much as possible in order to defend that decision, long term." Celina nods at Tomat with a raised eyebrow and lets her eyes speak of her respect for her guest.
She touches the useful plate a third time. "Three. I need an heir sooner rather than later. I would tuck you into my bedchambers and we could have an exploration adventure."
Tomat's eyes bulge a little with shock at that last option. "Your majesty may not know that I was a celibate. I doubt I should satisfy your majesty's requirements in that area. You honor me greatly," and here he swallows, "but I would hate to return your hospitality by disappointing you.
"But if your majesty commands, I cannot but serve."
Celina listens closely and nods.
There's a long beat while he pauses. "In an ideal world I should love to learn more of sorcery, to exchange what I know with another of my brethren--and sistren--but in my heart I would learn of Rebma. Either in the archives or by serving your majesty as scribe or some other office. Such knowledge is precious and rare, and even though I will not sell or give it to the Klybesians, I would rather the risk of its loss be diminished by learning it myself."
"That is a worthy ambition. I think it can be arranged. I am meeting soon with the Archive. It will ripple tradition to have a man study with them, but they also serve. I shall invite you to the meeting."
"Thank you, your majesty," Tomat replies. He's still a little unnerved by that last question, Celina suspects.
Celina moves and sits facing him. "The other options could be for the future." Celina speaks more slowly, "It could be months or years before Signy returns, the shadows lend strange meaning to time. Do you love her, Tomat? I would think you know your heart and would not want her to leave without telling her, but I'm not privy to what has passed between you. She will look the same when she comes back."
Tomat nods slowly to some of what Celina is saying, but it's hard to be clear which part he's agreeing with. "I understand that she's like her mother, and perhaps her father, and holds what the Order thinks of as the secrets of perfection. That she's immortal unless killed, and unlikely to be killed." He pauses for a moment to find the next few words. "I am her loyal servant and would not try to bind her. I understand now that I can never be trusted by some in the royal family. I would not see her under suspicion more than she already is."
"Yet she is not under suspicion of the Queen of Rebma, and neither are you. And here you are for the time being. Some of the family may be wary of you elsewhere, but you could make a new start here," Celina says. "Perhaps 'bind' is not the right word, while 'loyal' is a good start. I'm pleased to see you have thought about it some. You are a thoughtful man."
Celina sets her plate down. "If you are putting aside those parts of the past that hold you back now, I can aid you again if I assist to remove your doubts about what you may satisfy. You are not afraid of learning new things. You've been celibate. You do not wish to offend me, of course. I appreciate your humility. On the other hand, the Archivists are teachers of many things. We know a cure for celibacy in Rebma." Celina has a twinkle in her eye.
Tomat is outright flushing now. "I am at your majesty's command in this matter, and if you advise me to improve my skills, I can but obey." He neck-bows to Celina, perhaps because he's having a hard time not being awkward. "Then I will go among the archivists, and learn what will serve your majesty well and, should you ask it of me, perform any research for the Crown or your person."
(He realises that he made the unintentional pun after it's out of his mouth; Celina can tell this because the flush darkens.)
"Tomat, I've made you uncomfortable. Please excuse me." Celina keeps her body language gender neutral. "Let me explain that I want Signy to be happy and have a better life than the strife with her father. If as I suspect, you might be part of that happiness, consideration for all your cooperation compels me to offer you knowledge that also benefits Signy, especially if it meets your goals. Perhaps the shorter version of my ideas is this, in making Rebma stronger, allowing for more joy in the Family is part of my goals." Celina adds, "Unless you are telling me you do not feel that way about Signy."
"I'm not--with all due respect, your majesty, I'm not denying that I care very deeply for Signy, but I understand that I am not an acceptable suitor for her. Nor do I have any reason to believe she sees me as more than one of her counsellors. I wouldn't presume--I was her father's hired man from the Order, you see. And Signy doesn't trust her father, even though I think she trusts me for the most part, and your family doesn't trust an ex-Order man--so I don't see any hope for any more than the friendship she and I already have. So your offer of teaching is gracious," Tomat says, his smile wavering a bit, "but I don't expect to put it to use. Not with her in any case."
Celina studies Tomat for several seconds. She approves he did not fall into the offer of bedroom privileges, for as she suspects, Signy is his obvious star. She finds his attitude about his suitability for recreation--- unimaginative. Men really should learn to think in three dimensions. "Well, then I'm interfering with your intentions and plans. I will leave things to your discretion, and if you decide differently at some point, you may seek me out. There's no reason this conversation ever goes further than our ears. My offer regards the Archives, is of course, still valid. I think you would enjoy the experience. Tomorrow then? I'll send a page for you when the Archivists are summoned. We are going to talk about the historic period in Rebma right after Moins perished."
It is with some gratitude that Tomat retreats from the subject of gratifying his hostess. He, too, smiles, though with far more nerves than Celina is wearing. "Your majesty is very gracious and kind. And generous. I will be pleased to research any matter that would suit your agenda, and will make myself available for this meeting." He does not say that he has nothing better to do, even though that is true in both the diplomatic and practical senses.
And after a while, when lunch is properly enjoyed and Celina has made enough small talk for Tomat to regain himself. She reminds him as she walks him to the door. "You can also make a point of becoming friends with Red Claws. I'd like your perspective on him. He seems to have a more practical view of his time in Rebma, but I don't want to trust only my local observers. I appreciate your time."
"I am your majesty's servant," Tomat replies. He bows, difficult but not impossible in the waters of Rebma. "Thank you." And, having been dismissed, he is on his way.
Celina wishes she had the luxury of Conner at her side. He'd certainly be just as interested in this as she is. And in thinking also of Jerod, she changes the venue from the Crystal Garden she usually sees the Archivist in to the Throne Room itself. Where better to speak of Moins and not-Moins?
The summons goes out to the Archive. All staff required to attend the Queen, first watch after mid day meal. She sends a page for Tomat and asks that he be early.
In the throne room waiting is herself on the Sapphire Throne and Orseas drifting large behind and above her. She has the Scepter in her lap. She is wearing nothing else but the Scepter. Her hair is braided around and around the crown of her head like a kraken tentacle and there are sapphires pinned there like dewy suckers.
The guards have instructions to pass thru her guests with shell trumpet blasts as if this were a full court session.
When Tomat arrives, she gives him moments to adjust to the drama, then assigns him to sit the lowest step below the throne on her right side. (If he has contrived some sort of oiled paper or note taking medium like wax tablets, she tells him to put them away.)
He does so.
When the Archivists arrive, she gestures to the mid and closer steps where only the Queen's favorites may sit.
The senior archivists come and arrange themselves according to station on the dais first, then the juniors lower, and the apprentices, lowest yet. There are many of the apprentices, and they surround Tomat, looking on him as something of an interloper, though not with extreme hostility. There's clearly a bit of wonder that a silly man has been allowed into what is obviously about an important meeting. Some, Celina guesses, think he is here because he is a gentleman of the chamber, as it were. The senior archivists are a bit more suspicious but a bit less concerned; it's not like a man could be doing anything important or relevant to their work, after all. (He's not an Amberite.)
Once they have settled themselves, Celina launches into her personal recollection of the Battle of the Foreign Prince. Telling of how Khela and allies arrived and relieved the City of Rebma from assault by a Outlander Army with Magics.
There is lots of Death and Destruction and plenty of foreshadowing. Perhaps a sliver of Destiny. No Dream. She never names Huon, that is for other stories. But Caine, Robin, Jerod, Conner, Brennan, Khela, herself, and of course, the absent Moire do figure in the recounting. She stops once the Foreign Prince is locked up. There is nothing of Pattern in her story.
Celina is well-observed by the archivists, and it's quite likely that they are incorporating her words into the tapestry of Rebman history.
Celina looks to the Archivists once she's done. "And now I'd like to hear all the accounts and histories from the last official acts of Queen Moins to the Crowning of Moire. I understand those stories are better than the one I just told. No one leaves until I have them all."
The oldest woman in the room bows. "Much of what we know is allegorical, or comes from secondary sources. Much of it contradicts itself and some of it only I am old enough to remember. Those songs have not been sung since I heard my mistress Archivist Calypso recite them to Prince Martin. It is possible that Senior Archivist Carina knew more, but the Lady of the Sandy Seafloor is not present." She pauses. "Your majesty may wish to allow us to send for food and drink, for we may not be able to finish your task if we do not have sustenance."
"I agree, food and drink will be arriving shortly, let us be comfortable and hale," Celina responds.
The language of the archives from this period is archaic, and there are often several versions of the same stories. The historians start with the great tales of the war against the Tritons, and how they broke the old peace and how Rebma's allies were slow to to answer the call, and how Rebma fought the minions of the Dragon by herself, despite the road and the promise of her allies. Each of her Sister Cities is detailed: Paris is lost, Tir-na n'Goth is mad, Amber fights the Ganeshi, and Rebma stands alone. Moins is amazing, a power of the Universe unto herself, and where she is, the foe fall. The song details traitors: families and lords who have made their own peace with the Dragon, living yoked lives subject to the whim of Chaos-spawn. Those names are unfamiliar to Celina, and the song suggests that that is the Queen's doing.
The Death of Moins is the next topic. It is a grim tale that focuses on her uncanny ability to win wars and the great loss her people suffer in her fall. The song suggests that her enemies rejoice at the news, and gather to attack, like sharks sensing blood. But her daughter is ready for the task and the enemies suffer a humiliating defeat on the seafloor plains, putting paid to their assaults for the campaign season.
The Princess is to be crowned, and the city is hopeful, in a way it had not been before the Stand of Princess Mera. Mera was making magical and spiritual preparations to become the Queen when something went awry and she was killed mysteriously.
Celina pays close attention when this unfamiliar name arrives. Mera.
The city returned to dread. The campaign season would start again in a few months, and they had no war leader. Princess Moire sent her sister Llewella to her father's castle for safety and began working to arrange a marriage of her daughter to King Oberon of Amber.
The city rallied behind her, and she was made Queen by a grateful people.
The main songs include battle songs which name which families sent troops to which battle and who fell where. It is detailed. What the archivist says after they finish is that there are fragments of other songs, which suggest a more complex history. Most of them are lost. The archivists share what they have, which are personal, and often need to have the characters pointed out. Moins is the Narwhale, Moire is a hammerhead. Lir is a flying fish.
Celina asks, "Mera is the...?" If there is no song with symbols of Mera, Celina just nods. Celina wonders aloud if there are ways to repair the fragments of the oral history.
Mera was a daughter of Moins, and elder to Moire, so the songs tell. Her songs are little remembered outside the archive because she died before achieving the mystery of the Queendom. The best way to repair those fragments is to ask those who were present. Which is not very many still living.
If Celina is watching Tomat, he has been listening and clearly retaining a lot, but not reacting much. Here, he frowns visibly.
Apparently there were a number of simultaneous deaths in the archivist corps not long after Moire came to power, so it's suspected that some archives are lost forever.
The songs are good and the Queen seems pleased. Celina again calls for food and drink. If it is obvious that the elders are tired, she may suggest a nap, in an adjoining chamber of the court. Celina will commend the staff for their scholarly duty.
Once everyone is rested, Celina reconvenes and asks if Avalon was an ally of Rebma during this time. She wishes to hear the fragments for the legends of Lir and anything further on Mera.
And Celina will also ask if there have been any messages to the Archives from the long absent Lady of the Sandy Seafloor.
There are no messages presently. Were Prince Jerod here, messages to him might be expected, the archivists explain gently. It is suggested that Prince Jerod may have had a hand in her removal lest there be any more unforeseen forgetting in the archives.
Everybody looks very serious about that.
There is some elaboration about the songs and stories of Mera from the archivists. The lack of detail about her death is deliberate, Celina intuits. A lack of detail that matches the lack of detail in Khela's death.
Celina looks into the faces of her Archivists, young and old. "Well, it seems to me, that sharing out the history of the Archive through all staff is a great way to discourage assassinations of the Archivists. If former rulers mandated that only certain tales could be shared, I rescind that mandate. I don't want to good reason to eliminate my elder or younger library staff. In fact, I'm going to assign a Triton to the Archive. You will not be able to command him, but he will be there specifically to protect my history staff. If anyone does not feel safe, or feels they are being followed or harassed, I want to hear about it. Any other suggestions about the integrity of our history?"
She does not look at Tomat.
Tomat, who is obediently waiting his turn and has been drinking in what he's been hearing with extreme interest, keeps his mouth shut.
"If your majesty were willing to offer to train more archivists," one of the juniors suggests, a bit nervously. She is, Celina thinks, one of the older juniors: not quite old enough to be a leader, but a woman who has spent long enough in the archive to have learned its ways.
Celina nods to young Lowri and looks at all their faces, "I am very willing to see more Archivists trained. I shall make it known there will be openings and training." Celina wants to stand up and go sit with them on the stairs. She wants to touch them and feel connected. But it is not time yet, so she gives them her heart instead. "Here is what must happen. Before we induct new Archivists, we must heal the old wounds in the Archive. There is nothing more valuable to exploration than remembering where you have walked and why you set out in the first place. Sadly, time previous to me has weakened our History. I want you remaining to be real sisters and healers of the History we have. I want you to share with each other. I want Rebma to share with you. I shall see you trained to be diplomats to the noble families of Rebma. There will be things I do not share with all of Rebma until I know the time is right. But the Archive shall be stronger and more protected and honored."
Celina looks to the Eldest, "When you have made strides to be a new fellowship, the new inductees will learn of this new path and less of the worldly machinations that have hurt you. The sooner the better."
Now she looks at Tomat. "This man, Tomat, is honored adviser to a Cousin. He too, is an Archivist from a long Tradition among the surface world." She looks back to her Archivists, mostly keeping her attention on the Eldest. "Learn from him of how secrets and histories are kept and protected in his former Order. And teach him of Rebma as a novice to your art. In particular, his former Tradition might have desires for knowledge from Rebma and I would have you learn all you can of the Signs of this Tradition so that you are wise if approached and may warn Me. This is very Important."
It has been clear that the archivists have been wondering what this man has been doing here during this discussion, and the news that he will be working among them, with them, sets them all atwitter, or at least the underwater equivalent.
Tomat looks to Celina for permission to rise and speak before they can say anything.
Celina points at him to gain the attention of the Archivists with the physical move and nods her head.
Tomat rises. "I am Tomat, formerly of the Klybesian Order, now adviser to Lady Signy, daughter of Deirdre. It is an honor to be offered a place among you. As Her Majesty has commanded, I will teach you of the lore of the Order, and of how they will seek knowledge from you, as you teach me of the lore of Rebma. I know it is unusual for a man to be sent to the archives, but there were no sisters in the archives where I was taught, so there will be much to learn for all of us. I am grateful for the opportunity to study with you." He bows, first to the elders above him, and then to the ladies below.
There isn't any muttering or commentary from the archivists, because they are well disciplined, but Celina doesn't need them to say anything. She can tell they are all aflutter anyway, even though they're waiting for Celina to speak.
"Understand," Celina turns her words directly to the Eldest Archivist, "that the Klybesians are considered Rebma's enemies until proven differently by this Court's Justice. It is a coup for Rebma to have insight into this coming confrontation, and Tomat is not under coercion to offer to train. I believe my archive has been marred by the previous politics played with history and look to not repeat those mistakes. If there is something you would have to enrich my desires, speak of it now."
Having given the Eldest a graceful chance to support young Lowri's request, or reach for her own short list of necessities. Celina gives the Eldest an honest encouraging smile.
"We serve at the pleasure of the Queen," the archivists, led by their seniors, pronounce in something like unison, a bit ragged with the first two words but falling together by the time the sentence ends, they have achieved a proper chorus.
Having heard the correct response, Tomat adds, "I serve at the pleasure of the Queen."
The Eldest adds, "In due time, we shall ask for more sisters to join us, Your Majesty." She may be willing to accept Tomat, but she's not willing to have any more men in the archives than she has to. "The confrontation you speak of may require special considerations. Once we have spoken with Archivist-Trainee Tomat, we will have a better idea of what support we will need to defend the archives."
"The Queen is pleased with that plan. Let us talk more often. Matters are already moving." Celina thanks the Eldest and invites them all to refresh and dine with her before they leave for other duties.
Celina will send a report of this change to her senior staffers and Llewella. She will also personally choose the Triton Nereus to be assigned as Watch Captain for the Archivists with additional advice from the senior Tritons of the watch as to how best to give the Library a zone of safety through every full day.
Then she will send for Lamell.
Lamell arrives in due (short) time and presents himself. "How may I serve the Sapphire today?"
Celina offers Lamell refreshments. "How much do you know about mirrorcraft, Lamell. And how much do you want to know?"
"I know what all sorcerers know: mirrors are powerful and dangerous; they are a kind of magic that runs parallel to sorcery but does not touch it; they are generally an art of the ladies of the Court. I'll spare the laundry list of legends but rumor has it they are useful for communication and spying and even passing over long distances if the mirrors are of the right quality.
"And of course I would like to learn more about them. All about them." Lamell smiles as if that's a given. "What, might I ask, is the price of the lessons?"
"Politics and prominence for you, I think, though only if things go very wrong," responds the Queen. "Discretion, which is why I'm talking to you, should make the price more reasonable. If Jerod were in touch, I would be talking to him, but I think he would approve me speaking to you about this. The price of lessons is holding the Queen's secrets and life in your hands."
Lamell has to think about that. After a moment, he asks Celina, "You do understand, Your Majesty, that I am closely associated with the previous regime through Prince Jerod, and that many will assume my loyalty is to Rilsa or Moire and not to you, and advise you accordingly?" The question of whether she believes in his loyalty, or how she plans to bind it beyond Prince Jerod's goodwill, is hovering just behind the one he asked.
"Rilsa is someone I respect. Jerod is someone I respect. Therefore, you are someone I respect," Celina says firmly. "It is not every man of Rebma that I would speak of mirrors to. I'd be worried I was setting him on a path to a quick death or an attrition of a thousand bites of fear or envy were it found out his gifts." Celina nods at Lamell once. "If your loyalty to Jerod or Rilsa is a higher importance to you, than we have had a nice chat and I hold no measure against your wishes. What many assume about you holds no sway with me, Lamell. What you assume about me intrigues me."
"I think you are the Queen of Rebma and a Princess of Amber, or Paris, these days, which amounts to the same thing. That makes you infinitely interesting, and infinitely dangerous." Lamell offers Celina a neck-bow. "I don't think that learning about mirrors, or Your Majesty's secrets, will place my loyalty to either Prince Jerod or his mother in danger, any more than my loyalty to one of them endangers my loyalty to the other.
"I also think it's very clever of you to bind a sorcerer of my caliber to your party in this way. Whether it proves to be wise is something neither of us will know until the tides have turned dozens of times." Another neck-bow makes this mild insolence a compliment.
"Let me suggest some things I believe in--- to return your kindness," Celina says. "First, I want you as an ally, not bound but perhaps by your choices. Second, I do not want harm to come to Rilsa or Jerod, as I may have suggested but want to be clearly understood, so you are right about that. Third, and perhaps least wisely, I do not want my mother killed by whatever schemes and prophecies she follows. I feel that there are those in Rebma who might act on Moire's behalf without understanding her motives and plans. And the shortest most direct of these would be harming my court."
Celina moves closer to Lamell, "And in this, I think you can help me most of all in return for what I share. So if I am not wise, you have fair reason to turn me down." She smiles at him, clearly she wants him to have time to consider.
Lamell notices her move, but does not react. He doesn't move back at all, but he does lower his voice slightly. It's still a respectable baritone, but a much quieter one than before. "Majesty, when you hear tales of the great wisdom and practical knowledge of magicians, know that that is the story told by old magicians--Men who were once so young and brash that they decided to learn how to take the universe apart for their own benefit, who took the shortcut to the only power they saw open to them in a world where they could be husbands or soldiers or perhaps useless to their families. Know that in their hearts all of these men at one time or another chose a shortcut to power that suited them. I am no different from my brethren, except that I am more successful, or perhaps do a better job promoting my skills.
"Thus, wisdom is not a thing for me to judge. I have seen the great waves wash over this city so often that I know how to ride them, and that is at best a skill."
Celina looks him in the eyes and lets him finish.
"I need no time to consider, for the reasons I just outlined. Let us say that I agree to the terms."
The queen nods once. "Walk with me."
She does not take his hand, but leads off and quits the throne room. They pass through the uncommon corridors and then deeper down into the palace. Celina is watchful that she sees familiar faces in the guards as she nears her destination. Finally she stops at a metal door and pauses the alarm spell she set on the lock. She notes it needs a refresh. The city eats sorcery. She swings the door in and enters waving Lamell forward.
Celina gestures to the broken glass floor and the shrouded mirror centered in this room. "This remaining mirror was crafted by my mother. Passage from here through it could threaten my Family" (she does not say which part of it), "and I think the mystery of the broken mirrors and the protection of the city from the whole mirror needs a crafty hand." She looks at Lamell. "And of course, it could be a route back into the palace. I don't want that to happen. This would be your duty. Warding the back door."
Lamell pulls out a piece resembling a jeweler's loupe and takes to examining it with an enthusiasm that suggests he's wanted to do this for quite some time. The examination provokes a lot of hmphs and mmms. "Not that I don't have a number of ideas of my own about how to go about this," he says as he continues his inspection, "but what in particular do you think I should be looking for, Your Majesty?"
Celina responds, "Did the accessory mirrors all break at once? Are there lingering traces of intent, blood, or sorcery here? Are there sorceries buried in the surviving mirror? Is the relationship of this room special to the palace? If the Queen is going to keep the surviving mirror active and usable, what is the sorcerous way to trap others who try to use it? And any traces of the last people to use this room, before Conner and I?"
Lamell has gone into work mode. His form of address remains the same, but his tone is distracted. "It will take some time to answer one of those questions, Your Majesty, never mind all of them. And if--" he turns to look at Celina "--the rumors of the royal gifts are true, I may not be able to answer them definitively. Which of those questions is most important? Presumably the one about trapping the back door; if so that may obliterate the traces of anyone who has tried to sneak in, if that's what you're looking for. Or anyone who's tried to sneak out."
"My curiosity is not worth the life of a single palace defender," Celina responds. "It is to make Rebma secure that I accepted the throne."
Disappointment tinges her next words, "Trap it so that only I and you may use it. We will deal with what else follows."
"I'll see what I can find out before I trap the mirror, Your Majesty." Which is the best hope Lamell seems to have for Celina, and he's aware it's not the answer she wanted. "Any method of trapping the mirror that excludes you from the trap will require either your participation or some sort of sympathetic token, such as hair or fingernails, woven into the spell. Does Your Majesty have a strong preference as to which method I use?"
"I always prefer participation," Celina nods once. "I'll give the guards orders and you can study as you like. I'll be prepared to assist you then when you say." Celina looks at the shrapnel patterns of shards on the floor. "And Lamell, in this instance your curiosity is not worth your life. Take what time you need to be very safe."
"I'll be careful, Your Majesty. If anything happens to me, tell Prince Jerod that this was my decision." Lamell turns back to Celina and gives her a neck-bow before returning to his work.
Celina wakes very early from a painful dream of lying in Khela's arms.
But there was something there. She works coils of TaKhi exercises for a while in her suite without any lights on. Once sufficiently relaxed, she sand scrubs and then meditates on the Pattern.
Yes. Something neglected. Celina dresses for the day and leaves for the Airy Chamber, where she sorts the Trump deck and studies Caine's card for some minutes.
He looked amused. Was he waiting for the call? Celina brings her will to bear and communes with the coolness there, so like still water. "Caine?"
"This is Queen Celina, do you have time to talk?"
Caine's face is crisp and his beard and hair are blowing slightly in the wind. "Of course," he says. "A moment..." He makes a gesture and might be walking somewhere. It's hard to see anything behind him, the trump seems to be focused solely on his face, perhaps even on his smile. "Sorry for the delay. Now, what can Amber do for Rebma?"
"Trade is picking up here," Celina responds, "and I was wondering if there were goods you needed, or things you would like from the Seaward. And generally checking in to assure you we are well." She does not put any emphasis on this that might suggest Amber is not what is was and requires assistance of this sort.
Caine frowns. "We do not yet prosper, but the restarting of our trade routes has helped those who are left. Our routes to Rebma are long and expensive, through Random and Corwin on the one hand, Tir on another, and through perfidious Gateway on the third.
"I am perfectly content to let our merchants and your shells determine what is profitable and what is not, holding the royal power at one remove from the risks and rewards of commerce.
"However, a shipment of the caviar that Dem Harga'rel used to save for me would not be unwelcome." His smile, as he says this, seems very precise.
"Can Amber help her sister city in some way? Dry clothes, perhaps?"
Celina finds this so witty on so many levels that she has to put a hand over her mouth as she laughs. She realizes it is not the same in Amber, and indeed here in the Airy Chamber, for laughing does not bubble and she does not need to conceal her mouth. She gathers herself and smooths the laugh into a royal smile, perhaps a bit large. "Dry clothes are welcome when I visit. Alas, they do wilt so when passed over to us."
Celina goes on, "We can provide caviar, I shall remark it to my Ladies and egg slippers will be set aside. It shall be sent with good medicines your people may want, or even fashions to pick up their spirits, a jeweled tanga or thirty. If you approve of how trade stands then we are also content here."
Celina provides, "I have not heard much of Gateway, but their Trade still runs here. Have they stopped trade with you or are they taxing it anew instead? I thought they might be stronger partners to Amber with recent events. If they Vex you, I would like to know of it."
Caine's face darkens, as if a cloud had passed in front of the sun. "Gateway attempted to murder Marius and, with his blood, Rebma's pattern.
"The King has sent Jerod to deal with them. He should have warned you. If it goes badly, and it might, you may expect an influx of refugees from the Seaward. And you should at least be informed when the attack upon your city is answered by the family."
The light clears somewhat. "I shall mention his oversight to him."
Celina stares into the light, "I hope you allow my words were not meant to mislead you. I did hear that Jerod was on task to make Gateway a better place, but I do not know the status of that mission, so I was concerned you were seeing fallout from some Gateway event I had not heard about. Is Marius recuperating in Amber or Xanadu? This I have not been told."
He brightens. "Ah, I am pleased. I did not think his majesty would forget such a detail, especially when you were attacked by them as well. Marius is in Xanadu. All I know is that Jerod has finally shipped out and may even be in Gateway by now. I suspect that he will try peaceful methods and when they betray him, he will unleash unpeaceful methods.
"I can send a message to Marius, if you wish."
"Thank you. Please let him know he is welcome to visit Rebma, if this fits in with his duties." Celina folds her hands, considering a different subject, "The Klybesians are becoming more active. I'm sharing in case it has not reached your ear, but Jerod ran out of carrots with them. But his stick was big enough to close down the operation that was taking samples from Master Reid. Reid's body is returned to Xanadu. The Monks were involved in setting Marius up also, it appears. Ossian and Silhouette are now investigating where else the Cult of Monks may be hiding. I would wish you might assist them if they call at need."
Caine is his usual unreadable self. "I would do so even had you not called, Majesty. The King has informed me of the return of Reid. I think he intends to bury him in Amber, but he is having trouble finding close kin to confirm his decision with." Caine looks away for a moment. "Is there aught else? There are matters I need to take care of in Amber, and I cannot delay them indefinitely for the pleasure of your conversation."
"Thank you for the time," Celina responds sincerely. "Remember we are here if you need us."
[response, if any]
And Celina puts her hand over the image to gently close out the contact. She thinks for a moment, and then slowly slides Caine's card back into the middle of the deck. She puts the deck on the nearby glass table. After a moment, she realizes she is still staring at it as if waiting patiently for it to do acrobatic tricks.
But then again, amusements are so hard to come by in Rebma.
Celina gathers the cards up and seals them in their warded case. She ends the lights as she leaves for other business.
As Celina closes off her Trump contact with Caine, she gets the niggle of an incoming Trump contact.
Celina is surprised, she takes a moment to center her mind and breathe deeply.
"It's your father; I'm in Paris and I have news."
Celina relaxes only a mite. "Yes, I hear." She wills a connection.
He's standing in his private study in Paris; his secretary is open, the desk flipped out, and his trump case is on it.
"I hope all is well with you. Conner, Folly, and Garrett are visiting here and I have news that we should talk about. Is there any news from Rebma, particularly emergency news?"
Celina runs through the kinds of things she thinks Corwin will believe an emergency. No. She's not going to have THAT conversation. "We improve by handspans, Father. But the large questions remain. No emergencies. It is good to get news from you. And I was just wondering about Conner. I do hope that Folly and Garret are well. No news from Merlin?"
Corwin answers the most important part first. "Nothing recent from Merlin, though I mean to talk to him after I talk to you, unless you'd rather speak with him yourself. He'd be happy to hear from you. And depending on how things go in the conversation Garrett is having with his father, and the one Random and I are going to have when that one is over, it may be time to call him home anyway. Any problems with Huon, while I'm thinking of family concerns?"
"Huon is being accommodating, certainly by his oath," Celina responds. "He's not that impressed with the ladies of Rebma so far. He is polite to me." She smiles. "So far our local politics are all equally interested in his potentials. He's fine with that. I'm actually looking forward to dealing with various heads of house telling me he is corrupting their daughters."
"My experience with Rebma is that it generally works the other way around," Corwin realizes how that sounds and hastily adds, "with all due respect to the ladies, who can take care of themselves. In any case, as long as he's not making trouble and you and Llew have him under control, we'll consider him dealt with."
He continues, "You know we have Bend in custody here. Conner and Folly are considering taking her out of Paris in the hopes that a trip will secure some cooperation from her. Some sort of good cop-bad cop thing, with them being the good cops and your Aunt Florimel being the bad cop. They hope she'll let on something about where Moire went."
Celina borrows his phrasing, "With all due respect to Aunt Florimel, Bend is made of hard times. She'll know a change in situ means something and letting on anything about Moire just seals her fate. She'll hold on to the last that Moire has a plan and Bend will be rewarded for waiting for it. Wouldn't you?"
And that wasn't helpful, Celina ponders. "It seems to me, Folly alone would have a better chance of talking to Bend 'through the bars', and asking Bend for advice about how Folly fits into the succession as Martin's paired one. During that conversation, Bend might try to woo Folly to making a plea with you for some latitude, based on how helpful Bend can be and how 'clueless' Folly might be about Moire's full plans and Folly trying to make any political headway without Martin around to 'back her up'. Do you see what I mean? Bend would be very willing to think she could advantage over Folly, but not so over Florimel."
Last modified: 31 January 2016
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.