Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Hannah tucks the trump back into her very slim bag, and picks up the latest summary of her scientific gleanings for her father. These she packs away in a document tube. She ties back her hair and changes into riding pants. Then, it is off to the stables to retrieve Misae for the ride into the forest.
Misae is anxious to be out of the stables. Her tail is hooked and she's less patient than usual with the stablehands who saddle her up. Once she's ready and Hannah is mounted, she starts to move forward.
Hannah notes that Aramsham's stall is empty, as is Morgenstern's. Most of the horses here now are not anyone's in particular's.
The day is more than half gone, between the trips up and down the hill and the time in the clinic. There's still plenty of time to get to the ranger encampment, but probably not back, at least not while it's light.
Once Misae is warmed up, Hannah lets her gallop just as fast as she pleases wherever it's open enough. Hannah's not too worried about staying overnight in the woods. She does keep an eye out hoping not to overrun a patrol or watch-post.
Misae warms up on the climb to the top of the ridge, and gallops along the cliffside and through the verges of the forest towards the encampment. She seems almost disappointed when Hannah pulls her up short at the ford that marks the edge of the compound. There are sentries, but they seem relaxed. The rangers here will take Misae to their paddock and direct Hannah to her father.
He's helping some men who are learning basic survival in Broceliande; the properties of local herbs, the animals, and such. The group consists of mostly young men of the various tribes brought here over the past few months, and also seems to have a few strangers. Hannah isn't sure where the sharp-nosed men wiith the curly hair came from, but they weren't here the last time she visited.
Her father hands the class over to a woman Hannah hasn't met, and comes to greet her.
"Hello, daughter." He looks her up and down.
"Hello Papa. It seems poor Misae isn't getting enough exercise. She's not happy. I was thinking I should leave her with you and take back a more retiring creature. You're still looking... well." She smiles, forcing it through her continued discomfort at her father's youthful appearance.
Hannah can't disguise her feeling about her father from her father. "Still looking at my outward appearance? At least I did not go back to before my voice deepened, or you would not have recognized me at all. But, if you considered me as a forest, not a tree, you would not be surprised by renewal. You do know how old your Cousin Paige is, I take it?"
She rolls her eyes at him. "Paige is not my daddy. I'll acclimate. Give me a few years. By then, my child will be calling you grandfather. That ought to ease my mind."
He nods. "Quite right. Paige would make a horrible father. So many people we have met who are not as they seem, and you expect us to be so? Have you started on your project yet, or do you intend to wait until the last minute?"
Hannah makes a face. "I started. I worked at it. I thought about it. I've decided not to carry on with it. I feel the risks to the universe outweigh your life. Sorry Papa." She means the last, but it changes nothing. She pulls the tube holding her papers off her shoulder and offers it to him. "Not that it has to mean your life. That's your choice."
The rangers continue to ignore the father and daughter, but there is plenty of activity around them. Hannah spots Brooke amongst Rangers, trying to look inconspicuous. She and her brother are likely up to something.
Estimaza clears his throat and replies. "It's unlike you to give up so quickly, especially when you've got forty-nine and a bit years left on the time you asked me. Tell me what you worked at and what your thoughts were. I at least should have the advantage of whatever work you did on the matter."
"I don't know that you should, but that's what's in the tube." She is distracted from the matter at hand though, and gives her father a suspicious look. "Did you give Brook and Leif a mission?"
He puts his hand out for the tube. "Other than 'don't get killed'? Not particularly. You should take a look at 'em sometime. I think they're still somewhat magically connected to whatever made them grow so fast. They're nearly done being children, at least physically."
"I'm taking a look at them right now, and they're up to something. I don't know that you can ever shake the magic of your ancestors completely. I mean, I've spirit walked here... right up here somewhere," she motions. "Why? I mean, really, it's not the same, but sometimes I just feel compelled to do it."
Hannah shrugs, and looks away from the children, back at her father and the tube. "I really do believe you'd have to endanger the universe to answer your question, Papa."
Estimaza shakes his head. "The universe is large, and our place in it small, even when we are more than we once knew. What are all our lives and loves and events to a mountain? The mountains are there, regardless. And across a million, million shadows, what do our actions in one do to the mountain in all those worlds?
"So you have some theory and some knowledge. How is it, in your mind, that I can do worse than could others who died on the Pattern of Amber? What of Pinnobello, who died in such a way, who was rumored to be descended from Oberon The King on both his mother's and father's side?"
Hannah smiles slowly. "How you simplify it and how busy you've been. I didn't know that about Pinnobello. What of him? He's dead, on the Pattern. Rumors are rumors, who knows what the truth was? Anyway, I hold you to a higher standard than just 'not doing worse' than others have." He gets a pointed look. Clearly she's heard something like that from him in the past herself.
"Again, I think it would be bad for the King, and that means bad for Xanadu, and that means bad for the ordered end of the universe, if you were to die on the thing. I think it would be opening a trunk of trouble for you to do the science work to try to figure out if or why you might die doing it. Perhaps a bigger mess even than just trying it and dying. I'm not going to play around and put you off six months. My baby might be born by then, not to mention it's just dishonest."
He snorts. "You'll have your child by then. You're already trying to mother me, which shows a distinct lack of respect for your elders. I hope that your children are less willful than mine were, but I see no reason to expect it."
She sticks her tongue out at him.
"Will your children be able to walk the pattern? Yours and the desert warrior's?"
She shrugs unhappily. "I don't know. Will you wait long enough to find out if knowing the answer changes my mind?"
Es-ti-ma-za shrugs back. It's not clear if he's mocking her or answering. "I have no fear of death, but I am curious about too many other things in this world to seek it immediately. Ask me again when things here are settled. If they become routine, I might have a new answer.
"You seem very distracted, my child. Did you come all the way from the castle just to tell me you were giving up on the project you undertook for me, or was there something else?"
Hannah catches Brooke looking up and following her eyes, finds Leif, 20 feet in the overhanging tree canopy, heading for the forest side boundary of the camp.
Hannah continues to watch the children, only glancing at her father. "Oh, just wanted to make sure you knew I was pregnant before it becomes obvious. That was my secondary purpose. Just being pregnant is distracting. I'm suddenly worried I'll have a child who climbs trees trying to be like their cousin and ends up with a broken neck."
Estimaza nods. "I knew. I have been trying to help the Warden become at one with it. She sometimes finds it easier to take out her issues on others, if she thinks them stronger than herself. It's someone foolish, because she is so often wrong about who might be stronger than she is. Her son, well, he thinks he should die annually to bring renewal to the forest. So far he hasn't but he expects to."
She forces her attention off Leif and back to her father. "And Firedancer says there is a war coming. I don't want to give birth on the edges of a battlefield. So I'm thinking of trying to find a fast place, but part of me wants to be here, let this community be part of the pregnancy. My feelings are conflicted on just about everything right now."
He reaches out and takes her hand and pets it. "Growing up is discovering that every choice has a cost, even if that cost is that the choice is no longer available. You were born in the Blue Earth, but I could not keep you there after your mother was not with me. You would not be yourself if not raised by the community. This tribe is a young one, mixed of so many traditions that know nothing of each other. Danu's children are different from Ponca. They care so much about knowing their place because of their gender. Some of them are adapting to our ways, but some will not listen except to a woman. The community here needs you as much as you need it for your child. Or children. Twins do run in your family."
Hannah's eyes get wide, but then she laughs. "Well, whatever will be will be on that score. As to people ignoring men because they're men, I do sympathize, papa. It is hard to get someone to hear reason when they believe your very gender makes you incapable of it. It will take a generation for everyone to begin to settle in, I expect. In the meantime, what's the structure Paige has them working under? Are there consequences for ignoring a superior based on gender?"
Estimaza's young eyes twinkle. "It takes three generations to change a people. Change is made by the middle aged, against the wishes of the old, for the benefit of the young. When the children who were too young to know the difference are the elders, the and only then has the old way truly passed into 'the time whereof the memory of man runneth not'. This is true for good and bad changes, of course.
"We do not have a military culture, unlike the Danu. We have our own stubborn ways that need their own generations to pass to change, so I try to guide rather than lead, and it's clear that I am favored by your cousin, which helps. I could break some of them, teach them an example, but the example would not be of what I wish our combined tribe to be."
"In my way, I try to help the Ponca and the Danu through what is a difficult re-birth. They need enough structure to have something to connect to when the world moves around them faster than their eyes can see. If you wish to be a wise-woman here, helping anchor people, that is what needs doing. That can start with you and your child."
"And stories, hm. We will have to think of some. And what will be most needful up here, if fighting passes this way?"
He takes a cigarette from a pouch at his waist, and offers one to Hannah. "Fighting? I'd want horses, and the plains to ride them on, but that's not how we'd fight and it's not the only way I've fought. We need cohesion most, and discipline, and medical supplies, in that order. But those are guesses, based on no real idea of what we would be fighting, for how long, and to what end.
"There are a few Rangers here from the Old Country, and they tell of years spent fighting monsters from the Black Road, which turned from policing a few stray things to a running battle against an increasingly organized army. Some of them remember fighting for one of your uncles against another of them.
"Tell me more of who we would be fighting, and why."
With a farewell wave to their cousin Edan, Robin and Vere, along with the chirruping fair of fire lizards, continue along the trail towards Prince Julian.
The ride is uneventful, though Vere and particularly Robin begin to see Ranger sign early on. Cadence and whistle-sign mark where they pass lookouts, so that their arrival in camp is anticipated. Other than that, there are no rangers, and no large wildlife in the area. Robin catches hints of old smoke on the wind now and again: someone set a fire at some point, but she guesses it's out now. There's no sign of fleeing creatures.
Robin smiles and relaxes as the Ranger sign becomes noticeable. She slides into old trail protocols easily. And with a playful grin, does not point them out right away to Vere. Knowing how much her Love enjoys a good social puzzle, she'll let him observe and deduce -- only pointing out things with a glance or a tilt of the head if it seems he's missed them.
Vere is quiet and observant, adding the hints he picks up to his slowly increasing knowledge of Cadence and other Ranger communications.
The Ranger trail is clearly marked. It's not one that would be found easily by anyone who didn't know what they were looking for. Robin knows that this must be a forward camp from the New Post, or Brita's Watch, as some of the Rangers have taken to calling it. There will be a source of water, defenses (more and less obvious), and all the other things needful for a camp of this sort: a war camp.
Once they get closer to the camp, Robin gets less playful and more focused on hostile territory protocols -- still not explaining everything to Vere as though he were a child. But more like leading with examples, like he did when he helped her dance at the Masquerade.
With a short burst of birdsong-Cadence, Robin lets the camp know that herself, one "safe" and three "allied wilds" are on approach.
Vere nods slightly to himself when Robin whistles.
After Robin's whistle to notify the camp of the approach, there's a response to tell her to approach freely. The camp is on a war footing, but clearly not in immediate perceived danger of attack from the intonation of the Cadence and the trail sign. The firelizards are making interrogatory noises as Robin and Vere approach the camp, reacting to things they observe that may or may not be clear to the humans.
Entry to the camp from this side will involve fording the river, which protects the camp on three sides. To Robin's eyes, a safe fording point is marked.
Robin points out the ford to Vere, then urges her mount forward. While Robin is reasonably alert, she is also comfortable and relaxed with the environment.
As they enter the camp, Robin is all smiles. She acknowledges the Rangers she knows without interrupting their duties. She heads for the corral without really even thinking about it. To her, this is so much better than a confusing room full of people and things that she doesn't understand the purpose of. Here everything is laid out according to usefulness & need: and so marvelously compact, each Ranger able to gather and disappear with their own gear, leaving nothing behind.
Dismounting, Robin casts her eyes around for the camp lead.
Vere allows Robin to take the lead as they enter the camp. He is watching everything, without seeming to pay attention to anything in particular.
Morgenstern is (nominally) contained in a second corral nearby. The rest of the horses are happy to avoid that end of the corral.
Once Robin and Vere have put their horses away, Needle appears at her side. "Robin," he says, by ay of acknowledgement, and he nods at Vere. "The Warden is in camp and will see you when you're ready." Needle is aware of the firelizards, but doesn't seem overly concerned about them. They are exploring the nearby parts of the camp with interest; the rangers close by are keeping eyes on them but doing nothing to disturb or provoke the potentially dangerous wild creatures.
The Warden's camp tent is visible from the corral. The moment is at hand.
"Thank you, Needle." Robin murmurs, reluctance lining her shoulders. "We'll be there shortly."
Vere returns Needle's nod.
She delays for just one more moment to slip Morgenstern an apple and a fond thump on the side, if he will allow either. And while Robin knows better than most that her father and Morgenstern are two very different beings, she can't help but note carefully how Morgenstern responds to her attentions.
Morgenstern's tail thwaps a little less lazily when she approaches, and he takes the apple. He does not bite Robin's fingers.
Vere watches Morgenstern with a small smile on his face, but he does not approach unless Morgenstern acknowledges him first.
Morgenstern does not deign to notice Vere.
With a smile for the inquisitive lizards, the girl sends her hopes to them that they will keep out of trouble but to stay out outside while she gets chewed out by her bronze.
Then casting a glance at Vere for strength, Robin sighs and straightens her shoulders. Tipping her head to invite Vere to accompany her, she turns and plods toward her Father's tent, every inch the ashamed teen.
Vere nods at Robin when she looks at him, then follows her quietly.
Once there, she claps reluctantly for admittance.
"Enter," Julian says. His tent is much as Robin remembers it, but some things have changed. The tapestries and rugs are new, the furniture has been scarred, and Julian's arms are kept close by, even when his armor is on the block. There is a firelilly on one of the tables, kept far enough from anything but the table it sits on to prevent an explosion.
When Robin and Vere open the flap, the firelizards rush in, and fly at once toward the firelilly. So much for staying outside while she deals with her father.
"Oh, no-no-no-no!" Robin's words come out in a rush as she makes a grab for Peep and Ooot, trusting that Vere can handle Chirrup. "That's his!" She squawks, while her heart reminds the little ones that we do not eat other people's food when it's on the table. Unless, of course, it's offered to us. Which this hasn't been. Eeeeep! Robin flushes with embarrassment.
Vere chirps to the firelizard and interposes between it and the firelilly.
It's going to take more than gentle suggestion to keep the firelizards away from the firelilly. Something like physically removing the firelilly, which is Julian's move in this particular ballet. The lizards are rather intent on getting to the lilly, and Peep chirps angrily at Robin between bouts of chittering at Julian, her tail lashing not unlike a frustrated cat. She can sense a similar fury from the others.
[Vere will actually have to catch hold of Chirrup to stop him from going after the firelilly.]
[He does so.]
While the other two are holding the firelizards, Julian puts a hurricane lamp glass over the firelilly. "That's interesting. I hadn't expected that reaction. Ask them if they think it's thread."
At the word 'thread', the firelizards collectively panic, struggling to break free and get aloft. Their mental mood has shifted dramatically towards Danger! and Attack! They are looking for something that frightens them which they need to kill.
At first Robin is taken aback by the panicking, scrabbling firelizards in her arms. But then, she recognizes the reaction - from deep personal experience.
Dropping to the floor of the tent in a comfortable sitting sprawl, Robin hugs her loved ones tight and begins crooning comfortingly. She sends out waves and waves of 'You are loved. You are not alone. There is no danger.' Just like her little anchors do for her, when the blackness or the panic overwhelms her.
Watching carefully to be sure that the firelizard he holds doesn't start to breathe fire Vere settles next to Robin, so Chirrup will feel included in the calming sounds and emotions.
While Robin and Vere attempt to reassure the terrified firelizards, Julian finishes putting the firelilly away. He remains interposed between the lizards and the flower.
The firelizards, after the initial burst of panic, react well to Robin's attempt to calm them. Whatever stimulus they sensed from Julian seems to have been withdrawn, and the countereffect of Robin's raw, wordless, affection and reassurance pacifies them. They are still frightened after a moment--the concept behind the word Julian used must have been awful to them--but they're no longer blindly lashing out.
"I believe you should escort your friends outside," Julian says, in a perfectly neutral voice, once he's satisfied that they're not going to eat the firelilly or wreck the tent. "I mistook their capacities and I won't make that mistake again."
Vere nods to Julian as he stands and assists Robin in getting the fair out of the tent. Once outside he will turn slowly so Chirrup can see the clear skies all around them.
Robin shoots a sympathetic look to her father and nods as Vere assists her up. She's not really in a word-place right now as she keeps up the waves of reassurance to the little ones. Once outside, she follows Vere's example of letting Peep and Ooot see the sky. Nothing bad is coming, nothing bad is here.
It takes a few minutes, but the firelizards, particularly once they're outside and can see the sky, stop panicking. They are still afraid, then confused, and then finally reassured between Robin's efforts and Vere's assistance, and presumably the lack of further alarm on Julian's part.
Julian appears in the flap of his tent after a minute or two and remains visible long enough for Vere and Robin to see him without attracting undue attention from the firelizards. Once he's sure they've seen him, he closes the flap and appears to be waiting within.
Robin turns sad eyes to Vere. "I was hoping you could help with the talking, but... guess not. But please?"
If Vere agrees, Robin will slowly and carefully transfer Peep and Ooot to his shoulders and arms. The fact that there is someone else in this world that she can trust with them is a miracle beyond words to her. And Robin expresses her joy in that Miracle with a quick warm kiss. Then she takes a moment to reassure the little ones and ask them to please, please stay with warm, nummy, mate-friend for a moment.
Then she steps back. "Okay -- Brita, Hannah, Edan. Did anyone else have messages for him?" She nervously straightens her clothes as she struggles to remember.
Vere accepts the lizards, tilting his hear to look at Robin in slight puzzlement. When she speaks and steps back he growls quietly deep in his throat, then with a look at the fire lizard he stops. "I do wish to assist," he says. "Are you sure they are not recovered enough to find calmness in hunting in the near forest?" He smiles then and shakes his head. "I defer to your better knowledge of them, of course, and if you think they need attention I shall stay with them."
Some of the Rangers are keeping an eye on the situation in a way that suggests they know better than to help a beastmaster with her beasts, but nobody is interfering or saying anything.
When Vere growls, Robin bumps his jaw gently with the top of her head, followed with a nuzzle behind his ear. Canine for 'it's okay.' "Oh, my Love...." Smiling, she takes Vere's hands in hers. Subtly, but not so subtly that she knows Vere won't see and understand it, Robin makes a Cadence gesture requesting privacy from those around them.
She pauses for a moment, letting the words swirl around in her head until they start to clump together into some sort of presentable meaning.
"It... makes me nervous when you say things like that, my Love. I think... you may still underestimate how very wonderful, and much, and... powerful you are. When you were talking with Edan... my Love, my Vere - you are a Great Power. A baby one, true. With shaking legs and still wet from the shell." Robin runs fond fingers through the colored lock of Vere's hair. "But still, a Power."
Vere chuckles at Robin's description of him and ducks his head a little closer to hers when she runs her fingers through the reminder of his walk, and his love.
"And it's... wrong to give that Power or the responsibility for that Power to anyone else. Ever. I know you are starting to understand what you are. I hear those words from you. And I know it's terrifying to know that one holds the power to create and destroy worlds in one's flawed and stumbling hands." Robin rains kisses on Vere's wonderful gentle fingers. "But, but only you can truly know where those flaws are. And only you can truly know where your strengths are as well. Only you can know how best to apply... all that you are to any problem. That knowledge, those skills -- no one else is capable of choosing what is best for you. And given the immense power you are, no one else ever, ever should. Not your Father, not the King and not me.
"When I ask you to help me -- I ask you to bring all of that to me. Not to just do what I say." She shakes her head. "Never to just do what I say. My Vere..." she breathes his name out in wonder, "is not a tool for me to use as I will. But a magnificent partner, who discovers amazing answers where I only see trouble." She chuckles, "I will always love 'He's in. Close the trap, Oberon.'. Brilliant, just brilliant. I could never have done that. Indeed, only Vere could have. And only when he's not just doing what Robin wants.
"Sooo... my problem -- which I'm not explaining well -- is that I told the little darlings to stay outside last time and they didn't. My problem is that the little darlings are empaths: keyed to me and innately tied to my father. And my father and I are about to get very emotional. And it's going to slop over to my little loves." Robin rubs Peep's eyeridge in concern. "I... don't want to hurt them, but this must be done. And I'm asking -- can you help shield them from what's coming, my Love?"
Robin looks to Vere with great green eyes.
"You explain most wonderfully, my love," Vere says quietly. "Never believe that you are not powerful with words yourself. You are. I thank you for what you say of me. You make me believe in myself in a way I have never done before. And I understand your concern for the little ones now. You are correct, if they were outside and felt distress from you they would come to your aid, no matter what. Even as I would, if I could feel it and not comprehend the reasons for it."
He tilts his head to one side. "Do you think that if I take them hunting in the woods around here that will serve to distract them, so long as I stay with them?"
"You could?" she nods, not completely convinced. "But the camp is on a war-standing and we know there are Dragons about. Take someone familiar with the area with you?" She suggests.
"Or maaaayyybbbe music? The little ones respond amazingly to your melodies." She smiles, alight with the memory of firelizard song rising over the Falls of Xanadu. "And it might help Dad and me too..."
Vere laughs quietly. "How can I resist an appeal to my vanity over my music?" he says in a teasing voice. "Agreed, then. I shall sit here with the little ones and we shall make music together, where you can hear us."
"Thank you, my Love." She leans forward for a deep kiss, before reluctantly turning back toward the tent.
Assuming no one has any objections, she'll enter.
Julian is waiting inside for her, with the firelilly still inside its hurricane lamp.
"I didn't expect your firelizards to panic at the mention of thread. They're more sensitive, and less--" he takes a half-pause on the right word "--abstract in their considerations than I expected. I hope they're settled now, and won't decide threadfall is imminent. Nor that this--" he looks at the flaming flower "--is either a threat, or a consumable."
"Vere is seeing to them now. They should remain calmer. I wasn't expecting them to react so strongly either. They're still surprising me, though they've gotten much better. Despite what just happened." She finishes a little shamefacedly.
"Bonded animals can be difficult to control until one is used to controlling them." Julian says this with the weight and finality of experience. "I expect creatures from that section of shadow to have a strong reaction to the concept of Thread--it was what the larger dragons, like Jovian's, were bred to destroy--but they didn't seem to understand the concept of Thread other than in the most concrete form. They seemed to think I was warning them of an imminent attack." He shook his head. "Perhaps later we'll be able to determine why they attacked the firelilly. In the meantime, I will take your report."
“Yessir.” Robin nods.
“Firstly, Edan extends his regrets and his offer of recompense. It seems that following the sextant unexpectedly took his trail across Arden and to a meeting with a portion of The Dragon. He didn’t anticipate that, but felt he shouldn’t deviate once it became apparent what was happening. He’s aware that the course wasn’t in your agreement and would like to... make it up to you.” Robin finishes awkwardly as she runs out of formal language.
“Secondly, Hannah would like to talk with you sooner rather than later. When she and I first spoke, I took it upon myself to give her the same message you had me deliver to Solange, regarding our maternal history. I have no direct evidence but I think Hannah might want to talk about that.” She shrugs.
“Thirdly – I can’t quite remember. I think that Brita would enjoy the chance to chat with you. I don’t have any memories of it being urgent or critical, just...” Robin trails off. She doesn’t like how unreliable her memory has become.
“Oh, and Brennan would like to poke his nose into Things.” That’s about all she cares to relay of that.
“Aisling’s progeny Saeth has left it... her abode in Madoc and is suspected of making her way toward the Ordered Realms with the intent to explore exotic new lands – no harmful intent is expected at this time. Other than that, no new relatives have popped out of the underbrush since you were last in Xanadu. The Queen’s status seems to have remained the same. Xanadu continues to be built up,” Robin’s lips definitely press in distaste, “but basic amenities are going in at a rapid rate. Still volatile though.” She shakes her head.
“My own standing within the Family seems to have stabilized at Less Than Favorable, But With No Outstanding Quarrels or Disturbances.” Robin shrugs again, that’s probably as good as she’s going to get. Robin’s eyes flicker off briefly as she checks the jackdaw’s nest of her mind for other thoughts. As nothing becomes immediately apparent, she nods her conclusion to the Warden.
"Your comments about your cousins are duly noted. Any of them who wish to contact me and have access to Trumps may use them to call on me. Edan I will deal with separately. The Saeth matter is--interesting--" is the word Julian settles on in the abstract "--but unless she chooses to come here, is not a Ranger concern." There's a for now attached to that that leaves Saeth on the periphery of Julian's long list of troubles. "As for your standing, is that your estimate of your standing with Random, Corwin, your aunts and uncles, or your cousins, or some nebulous estimate of them all?"
Nebulous? Robin stifles a wince. Her father calling her instincts 'nebulous'? Yep, he's mad - she realizes with a sinking stomach. But fair, always fair.
"Nebulous estimate." She admits. "Do you require more detail?"
“I do,” Julian says simply.
Robin nods and takes a moment to organize her scattered thoughts.
"The King and I have reached an understanding. He has welcomed me to remain in Xanadu. He is aware of my... limitations and has placed no expectations on me other than 'get better' and stay available in case I need you.
"Uncle Gerard has welcomed me into his family, though I think he finds me more work than he expected.
"Relations are... strained with Uncle Caine right now. And it's probably best if we don't interact for a while.
"I am mostly unfamiliar with Aunt Llewella or Queen Celina but do not believe there is any animosity there.
"I am... unaware of my standing with King Corwin or Aunt Florimel." There's a long pause. "But my... a-aversion to Paris remains strong, so I don't anticipate in direct conflict in the immediate future.
"Uncle Benedict and I are strangers to one another. I'm not aware of any difficulty. The same is true of Aunt Fiona.
"I think Uncle Bleys finds me more amusing than dangerous. I, myself, do not... enjoy his company. Yet.
"Of my cousins, I am close to and fond of Vere, of course. I consider Brita, Ossian, Silhouette, Brij, Prince Garrett and Reid, my friends. I check in on Tatter, Sage and Breeze regularly and whenever I meet Leif and Brooke, good times follow.
"Hannah and I are cordial. I have not spoken to Solange since her banishment. I have proven capable of working with Prince Jerod, Edan, Folly, Lily, Paige, Raven and Max without too much fuss.
"I stay out of Martin's path.
"Something Brita said makes me think that Conner might be angry with me, but I have no direct evidence of that. And Brennan and I are... quite upset with one another, but have agreed to not do anything drastic until we've both cooled down.
"I have met Lalal, Britomartis and Arianrhod. I don't think any of them are impressed with me. I have not met Fur or Fang, but assume..." she raises a sad eyebrow to her father.
"I have also not met Meg, Ambrose, Fletcher, Signy, Merlin, Marius, Saeth or Solace. And am unaware of any intentions on any of their parts.
"I have not met Dara, Chantico, Artemis or Calliste either. But if I do, I will call for immediate back-up before engaging. Same with Cleph."
Robin stops for a moment, searches her mind, then winces. With a deep gulp, she pushes on. "I am... unaware of my standing w-with Jovian..." That's about as much as she can get out. "And I don't if know Santeri is aware of me..."
Oh, Dung. There it is. In the fire now.
"You have a good grasp of the extent of the family as it is currently known, at least." Julian gives Robin a long moment to either compose herself or prepare herself for whatever's coming next, depending on how she chooses to parse it.
Robin nods. At least she got that bit right. As the pause lengthens, the girl uses the time the exact way her father is allowing: compose, prepare.
Then he changes the subject, or chooses his own ground to charge from. "Nobody expects you to know all the quarrels family members you have not yet met have decided to take up with you. I am more concerned with the opinions of those you have offended. Particularly by your decision not to attend the late family meeting."
Robin winces as she nods again. “The King spoke to me about that. I believe I have made amends to him for my...” she searches for a word, “disrespect.
“But he also expressed concern for your standing. Which I admit, hadn’t occurred to me, sir.” Robin blushes as she drops her eyes. “He explained to me that I had made you look like a packmaster who couldn’t control his runners. In front of Corwin.” She winces again.
Then looks up at her father. “That was not my intention. And will not happen again. I... thought that telling Vere and Brita and Brij that I could not come was sufficient. In the future, if you or the King have expectations of me that I cannot meet, I will tell you or him.... Or Uncle Gerard.”
Okay, that was the unbelievably hard part that she had prepared for. Now comes the unbelievably black part she doesn’t know what to do with. Mindful of the firelizards outside, Robin takes her own long moment to breathe evenly, think happy thoughts and hold the blackness at bay.
“It... was not the family meeting or Corwin’s hospitality that I could not attend. It was P-paris that I... could not enter.” Robin stops there to calm the nerves.
Julian inclines his head. "Go on."
Robin presses her lips together as she tries to figure out how to minimize the coming trauma. Her poor little anchors and Vere struggling with them outside. What can she do? For a moment, Robin is paralyzed with indecision. But she must 'go on.' Therefore, she must find a way to do so.
Robin takes several deep breaths and closes her eyes. Somehow, it seems easier to start when she can't see her father or the metaphorical chasm in front of her. Mindful of her fair outside, Robin mentally hugs them: drawing strength from their love and their clarity. And tries to find some fortitude for the situation. It's like having a bandage ripped off and clearing a mouse skull out of a plugged digestive tract.
"On the R-road, I was... subjected to what Vere calls 'visions.' Iiiiiii'm having trouble distinguishing those... they still feel like experiences to me; even though there's no corroborating evidence. Vere and Brennan have helped me start disentangling... J-jovian, Garrett, Venesch... You too, sir.
"But...." Robin takes a deep breath, brushes her hair back from her forehead and mentally runs at it, "an extended... event involved-Paris-murder-regicide-fire-destruction...d-death." Don't stop there! Don’t stop there - eyes on the prize: the explanation.
"I-was-afraid-that Paris... and me would trigger either catastrophic events or I would suffer a major breakdown in front of Family. Bad, bad. So I hid.
"That wasn't the best answer, sir." She reopens her eyes to look at Julian. "But it wasn't the worse one, either." Robin's breathing heavily, but there's only a flicker of blackness behind her eyes. She landed it. Maybe she is getting better after all.
"As a practical matter, your ability to cause major metaphysical damage in Paris is extremely limited, especially with the counterweight of the entire rest of the family. Personal difficulty seems more likely." Julian's pause between that and the next sentence is nearly infinitesimal but enough for Robin to notice. "And the wish to avoid it is understandable. But--" another momentary pause "--in terms of presentation to the family, failure to appear at a royal command, at a family meeting, with no explanation, is not significantly better.
"Which does not, I am aware, address the issue to hand. The Black Road presents particular difficulties. I would not have sent you had I not believed you equal to the task. Clearly I underestimated the dangers." He pauses, actually, more than another instant, there. "I wonder if my sister would take you to Chaos, so you could learn the difference between what is real and what is unreal," he muses, "and if so, whether that would be sufficient to undo the effects of the Road."
Robin pauses herself, keeping her breathing even: Vere, firelizards, Father - she must keep it together, keep it calm. Like a campfire, contained and warming, with the occasional pop and spark of emotion drifting off into the night. Great Green, this was hard! That Dad had managed this for so long was just another testament to his strength.
When she's ready, she nods. "I have made it clear to the King and to what Family I could, that I have bound my Destiny to this Family. I will not follow the paths of Huon or Chantico or my mother. I am... difficult. And uncivilized. But not an enemy. It is my belief that, at least among my cousins, this is becoming understood. But I know that I will have to work harder on it; come further out into the meadow. I now understand that it is unreasonable to expect the Family to accept me when they do not know me or what skills I bring to the hunt."
She sighs, "Which means there will probably be more... presentation accidents that I will have to muddle through. I have to accept that." Robin hopes Julian can too.
"With regards to the Road," surprisingly, this bit is easier, if harder to articulate, "the day you sent me on that mission was one of the proudest of my life, sir. I underestimated the danger as well. And got myself... injured. I..." A spark of wry humor drifts up out of Robin's fire. "If I work on not wallowing in guilt that I failed you, sir. Will you help me by not blaming yourself for events beyond your foreseeing or ability to control?"
Robin rushes on past that little emotion leak. "Chaos sounds intriguing, sir. But I am concerned about your lack of support here. I'm also concerned that my... damaged identity-integration would make me more susceptible to... uh, dispersal?" Robin finishes awkwardly. Stupid words.
"I believe Fiona would be able to assess your difficulty in that regard. In any case, it's clear that your situation cannot be allowed to continue." Julian gestures to Robin to seat herself in one of the camp chairs. "I believe it is time for you to deal with that." He waits until she is settled into her seat to take his own. "Either through confronting matters in Chaos or by walking the Pattern at the center of the universe."
It's lucky that Robin has seated herself. Her father's mention of the Pattern at the center of the universe sends a startled flash through the girl. At first, she tries to repress the surge of surprise and fear. But no, campfire. Just a surprise pop and shift of the wood. Let the fire flare, then settle, sparks flow upward in a pretty dancing display -- nothing else. No danger, no worry. But it takes a moment.
Robin chuffs a little to clear her throat before speaking again "I would be very interested in Princess Fiona's assessment. Shortly after the King's return to Amber, I did assay the Pattern. But the technique and results were... unusual. I don't know if it assisted in breaking my initial... lassitude or not."
Plus there's the additional bonus that Vere would love to spend time with Fiona. She smiles unconsciously at the thought of Her Sorcerer and his ever-curious mind.
"But I am still very concerned about your status here, sir."
Julian shakes his head. "All is well here, or as well as it can be under the circumstances. Having said that, if Vere wished to stay and learn the ways of the Rangers--which seems wise under the circumstances--while you were working with Fiona, I would welcome his assistance."
"That is.... well-advised." Robin says as she purses her lips in thought. "Of course, it would be up to Vere. How would you like to proceed?"
"Do you prefer to speak with Fiona or Vere first?" Julian's hawk-sharp eyes don't leave Robin; he's taking in both her verbal answer and her physical reactions, as if she were a hawk or a hound whose cues were necessarily silent, or at least not given in words.
Robin shifts in her seat a little. She's never been comfortable with close scrutiny, but allows that it's warranted. And probably something she's going to have to get used to.
As rationally as she can, Robin weighs the options before declaring, "Princess Fiona. It seems wise to see if she is able, available and willing to assist before planning further."
Anticipating that her father is probably going to say something like 'Go on' or some other version of 'talk more', Robin cocks her head as she gathers more fluffy loose thoughts to herself.
"Considerations for that conversation include... well, Vere and I have decided to do things together for a while." A quick fond smile dashes across her face, hinting at the depth of joy she feels at no longer being alone.
"He wants to..." Robin searches for the word, "succor me and help with the healing process. I know that he is... unhappy" (manfully working through a sulk) "not being here for this conversation." (Which is why Robin invited him even though her father clearly wanted to speak to just her.)
"Despite that, he and I both understand that we need to remain... not dependent on one another. I don't know..." Robin cocks her head and her brow furrows as she deals with this new kind of relationship. Eventually she looks up at Julian. "I can't speak to his druthers on this."
Julian arches a familiar eyebrow. "If you mean to leave my sister hanging on the question of your paramour's desires, I suggest you be certain of the young man first. There's no guarantee she'll offer him an opportunity to join him." The tone in which Julian says this suggests to Robin that he suspects the opposite. "But if you wish to speak with her first, I'll get my cards." He rises from his seat to fetch te deck of trumps from his camp desk.
"You'll also need to decide," he adds, "whether you mean to take your firelizards with you, if Fiona permits."
Robin waits until her father's back is turned before raising her own eyebrow. Okay, now he's just being fussy.
"If Princess Fiona allows, I would very much like to take the firelizards. The bond is still pretty new." She fights to keep the 'duh' out of her voice. After all, Julian's bond with Morgenstern allows for more leeway than hers does.
"And I am certain of the 'young man.' I just can't read his mind and I don't tell him what to do." Robin bites off her words. There's a slow simmer of sulking teen building in her and just about anything she wants to say will be... bad.
"Then you'd best make sure they're ready to travel, because my experience is that Fiona does not like to dawdle." Julian shuffles out a card from the deck stored in one of his camp tables and opens a connection to his sister.
"Fiona? It is Julian. My daughter Robin has a particular problem that I believe you're best equipped of our siblings to solve." Julian pauses for a moment while Fiona speaks to him, then shakes his head. "I believe Robin is in the best position to explain the nature of her problem." He reaches toward Robin to draw her into the contact.
Robin stands and takes a deep breath to clear all the grumpy teen out of her mood. Then she calmly takes her Father's hand and with only a little bit of a mental wince - stupid cards! - she enters the contact.
Julian takes Robin's hand and draws her into the contact.
Fiona feels like a giant cat: very large, and very predatorial, though not hostile or hungry to Robin's senses. She is standing on a tower turret in a shadow whose stars Robin doesn't recognize. Her red hair flickers a little in a wind that Robin cannot feel. "Hello, niece," Fiona says, and her voice is clear but there's a sense of power in the contact that Robin could only describe as huge. "I understand there is something you'd like to talk to me about."
"Hello, aunt," Robin nods in response. For a moment Robin blinks, intimidated by the sheer... Fionaness before her. But Robin knows better than to show fear to a predator and the girl's sense of humor comes to her rescue as one corner of Robin's mouth ticks in a wry smile. Great; a giant cat and her a bird. "Yes, Father recommended that I ask your advice regarding an... injury I took during the Black Road War." Another pause as Robin scouts out her path through the dark. It's definitely getting easier the more she does it.
"I was actually on... I mean, I believe I was on - or maybe near... Gaah." Or maybe not. Deep breath, try again.
"I think I was on the Black Road during Patternfall. I may have fallen into enemy hands. My m-mentation was compromised. I... things happened that I can't corroborate. Vere says I had visions, but I can't distinguish between th-those and other portions of my life. Since the R-road retreated, I have been... I find it difficult to... act with reason if something reminds me too strongly..." Robin sighs. "I also didn't stutter or stammer before.
"Oh. And Brennan says there's an egg-shaped hole in my Astral Being. Or something like that." Robin's brow furrows as she tries to remember the sorcerous gobbelity-gook.
Fiona has been listening politely, but without real interest, to Robin's complaints. At least until she mentions Brennan's name. "Did he really?" she says. "I'll have to ask him for a technical description. Come here, so I can take a look." She extends her hand to Robin.
"That's very... kind of you, Princess." Kind is a word that will work in this situation, isn't it?
"I have a support network nearby that I'm loath to leave behind: three firelizards empathically tied to myself and Vere. Is it alright if I bring them along?"
"You may, if they're close by. Did Brennan know about them and were they linked to you when he saw what he saw?" Before Robin can answer, she says, "Bring them through and we'll discuss it then. Julian, you do bring me interesting puzzles."
Julian bows slightly; his expression, to the extent that Robin can see it, does not change.
Since the Princess is speaking, Robin just nods her affirmative to the question.
Once the Princess is no longer speaking, Robin purses her lips and delivers a quick 'No emergency. To me now.' whistle. Robin tries to make the sound not too piercing or disruptive, but something that will let Vere and the Firelizards know that she would like them with her, preferably on her person, as soon as possible. Luckily, a week of non-verbal travel is handy for that kind of thing.
Vere croons softly to the fair to distract them from Robin's departure as he walks over to a tree, and sits with his back against the trunk, facing the Lord Warden's tent. He begins building a melody of wordless music, chirps, and whistles, encouraging the firelizards to join in.
Although a number of rangers were present outside Julian's tent for the brouhaha with the firelizards, none of them seem to have taken notice of the conversation. Vere, who is aware of such things, has almost certainly noticed, or perhaps intuited, that they were present to assist Julian should things go wrong, and that Robin's presence and/or actions set them, if not at ease, at least reduced their immediate concern about the firelizard frenzy.
Needle, who was waiting and/or doing something close by, moves to join Vere. "Is there anything I can help you with?" he asks.
Vere croons a moment longer, and then drops out of the music to say softly to Needle, "They are bonded to Robin, and can sense her moods, without understanding subtleties or abstracts. We need to keep them calm and distracted while she speaks with the Warden."
Needle nods his understanding, completing it with, "Yes, your Lordship," which is clearly about the best term he can come up with for a non-Prince non-Ranger. "Do you think you might do better to take them away from the immediate vicinity? Perhaps a distraction, like a hunt, would keep their minds off whatever Robin and the Warden have to say to one another." His tone is strictly neutral in an I'm-not-speculating-about-that way.
"I had thought of that," Vere answers quietly as the firelizards continue to sing to one another, "But consideration led me to conclude not. Primus, Robin thought that hearing the music in the background might serve to help her remain calm. Secundus, as far as I can tell their bond grows no less with distance, and they can teleport. So if I took them far away, and they suddenly decided to return to 'defend' her, I would be the only one the distance would hinder. And Tertius, I myself am loath to be so far from Robin, and might not keep my own spirit calm if I were away, which would make keeping them calm all the more difficult."
Vere considers Needle. "Do you play or sing?" he asks. "And could you find me a small hand drum of some kind here in the camp?"
"I can find you a drum, and maybe a couple of people who can play. I sing," Needle confesses, "But I doubt I know your songs. If you'll hold by a bit, I'll see what I can do for you." He moves off into the camp, whistling and gesturing to get the attention of some of the Rangers, who move to join him.
The firelizards are watching Vere with interest, but keep eyeing the tent as if they're thinking about it, or perhaps getting some feedback from Robin inside of it. There's no immediate sign of how things are going, other than a sort of lashing tail and hovering that Vere reads as nerves.
Vere whistles to draw the attention of the firelizards, and then begins to sing to them. It's a wordless song, designed to complement their own natural songs and draw them into singing along with him. A cheerful song equally composed of contented companionship, rest, and affection.
Needle hurries off to find players and a bodhran for Vere while he begins to sing. Vere gets the sense that he has the attention of the firelizards, but they are not joining in his song and they are not approaching him. Their attention, he feels, must be at least partially elsewhere, presumably with Robin. But they do not seem hostile to or disturbed by his actions, at least. He cannot tell from their behavior what's happening inside the tent, though.
Vere begins to throw firelizard chirps into the song, based on his observations of them, trying to encourage them to join in.
The firelizards flit about restlessly and don't seem to be very interested in his song. Instead they are chirping and peeping at each other in some form of reptilian conversation. They don't seem to be approaching the tent, or considering doing so, yet.
A ranger comes up to Vere and seems to be waiting for a break in his song. She's carrying a bodhran, or something very like one.
Vere comes to a natural ending of the song and smiles at the ranger. "They are ignoring me, I fear. Perhaps I should find a nest of field mice somewhere close by. Food might catch their attention more than music."
The ranger may have been assigned to Vere, because she appears to be waiting for his instructions. "Catching live prey near camp might not be wise. We'd need to make sure they weren't--you know. Do they need live prey or will they eat recent kill, as long as it's fresh? Cooked's not a problem. I can that easy."
The firelizards are definitely agitated, and are clearly talking to each other about something. Their tones are anxious, and their tails are twitchy.
"They like entrails," Vere replies, watching the firelizards carefully. "Could you bring some. Quickly?"
He chirps once more, and says, "Eat? Food? Eat?"
The Ranger dashes off into the camp at Vere's request.
Meanwhile, the firelizards are outright arguing. Peep hisses at Ooot and Chirrup, and Chirrup snaps back at her, earning a hiss from Ooot. It looks like one or more of them might be considering taking flight from the way their wings flutter.
Vere hisses, mimicking exactly the sound that Peep and Ooot made, but louder. He's trying to get their attention off each other and Robin and onto himself.
The ranger is already coming back with fresh offal in hand; perhaps they were close enough to the mews to be able to get some immediately. She offers it to Vere at once, looking to him for direction if he means her to do something with it.
Vere accepts it and nods his thanks, not taking his attention off the firelizards.
Meanwhile, the firelizards are still arguing among themselves, but they are well aware of the offal: they intermittently tilt their heads toward the source of the smell and visibly inhale the scent. That hasn't seemed to stop the row, nor the attention they're paying to whatever signals they're sensing that Vere cannot.
Other than by means of the offal, Vere isn’t really on their radar right now.
Vere tosses a bit of meat towards the firelizards.
The offal seems to get their attention, though they now appear to be squabbling over who gets the best bits. Ooot moves in and Peep tells him in no uncertain terms to back off, and starts flying n a circle over the little tidbit to enforce her dominance.
Vere nods to himself. Good, the food has their attention. He'll begin throwing other small bits, one at a time, and thrown to different places so they have to move to get them. Make it a game for them, of who can get the food first, but then throwing another piece before the last one is completely devoured so that it doesn't become nothing more than a series of fights.
Another ranger shows up with a fiddle in hand. "You were looking for a musician?" he asks Vere.
"Yes," Vere says. "Thank you. I am Vere." He nods towards the firelizards. "We need to keep their attention off their mistress, so that they do not become concerned and disturb her and the ranger." He tosses another piece of offal to the firelizards. "I am going to whistle the songs they sing when they are content. Follow along. We want music that is soothing."
If the ranger appears to understand what Vere is asking then he will begin the song, continuing to slowly throw the meat to the firelizards until it is all gone.
"Rosin." The Ranger nods to Vere's instruction and waits for Vere to start whistle before setting the fiddle to his chin and listening for a place to join in.
The firelizards are now intent on their dinner (yummy yummy dinner!) and while still snappish, particularly about who gets the choicest pieces--and what makes them choice is not always entirely apparent to Vere, though some of it makes sense to him as a hunter--they're much calmer than they were before. They don't seem nearly as likely to Vere to have a tantrum and swarm Julian's tent.
When Vere has whistled a couple of measures, Rosin sets the bow to the strings and follows along as best he can, making a bit of a proper tune out of it as they go.
Vere nods encouragement to Rosin, and continues to sing wordlessly as he tosses meat to the firelizards, turning it into a game now, making them leap and fly for the pieces. Once the meat is all gone he will wipe his hands off on the grass, and take up the drum, beating a quiet accompaniment to the tune he and Rosin are creating.
Rosin keeps going while Vere takes up the drum, accommodating Vere's momentary distraction while he cleans his hands and takes up the bodhran. Other Rangers have drifted in and they take up the rhythm with a slow clap of the hands; someone produces a wind instrument that produces a melodic interplay.
The firelizards are attentive to the efforts of the musicians and willing to be entertained for the moment, but they're still not ready to join in. Part of their attention is elsewhere.
Now that the firelizards have eaten Vere begins to lead the Rangers in a quieter direction, turning the music into a soothing lullaby designed to calm the firelizards. He's judging the skills of the other musicians carefully, and playing to their musical strengths while covering for any weaknesses. The goal is music that invokes a sense of lethargic peace and contentment.
The firelizards are sated, somewhat, by their dinner, and Vere intuits that they are also calmed somewhat by the musical effects of Vere's tune, as followed by the Ranger musicians. (Rosin is the best, but none of them are bad. They're competent and workmanlike and used to collaborating, Vere imagines.) But they are, Vere knows, receiving outside stimulus; they do not seem likely to, say, take a post-prandial nap.
That's good enough for now. Vere gives the musicians encouraging nods, and continues playing.
The firelizards continue to be somewhat twitchy. There's not any noise coming from the tent; the Rangers who have gathered to play for the firelizards would surely have noticed it if there were. (Vere has the distinct sense that they're there to play but a little gossip is certainly an extra encouragement.)
Vere keeps the music going, and while he doesn't let his attention drift from the firelizards he begins to amuse himself by analysing the personalities and relationships of the Rangers from their clothing, movements, music, and various subtle physical cues most people would not notice, much less be able to interpret.
Vere has a number of interesting guesses about which Rangers are friends, lovers, leaders, followers, etc., by the time the firelizards all collectively look about for something that they don’t seem to be finding, but has them anxious.
Vere instantly switches the music from a comforting lullaby to a more upbeat, happy rhythm. He's not trying to influence the firelizards at this point, just to provide a background that will help keep them calm through whatever is going on with Robin.
The firelizards suddenly perk up and get very excited, and may be about to go for the tent. Everyone looks to Vere for a lead. He is the one who's supposed to know how to deal with the things.
[NOOOOOO MOMMY DON’T LEAVE US!]
Vere sets the drum aside and stands. Music is no longer important if the emotions inside the tent have reached the point of upsetting or interesting the firelizards this much.
He approaches them, saying, "She wants you to wait out here," in a firm but gentle voice, hoping that the emotions behind the words will reach them.
For a moment, the lizards seem to relax a bit, but then they rise to alert, ready to raise wing and fly. Whatever is exciting them is apparently beyond Vere's ability to soothe longer than momentarily.
Vere watches, trying not to let his tension show in his posture.
The firelizards stop squabbling and make a trumpeting noise, which echoes as they pop out of existence. The Rangers stop playing and start looking around; those who weren't playing draw weapons, in case this represents some kind of threat. Others look to Vere for an explanation.
"They have gone to Robin," Vere says in explanation as he strides quickly to Julian's tent. "Thank you for your assistance."
When he reaches the tent he will open the flap and look in before entering, to see what is going on, and to give Julian and Robin a chance to tell him not to enter if they do not want him to join thrm.
The three firelizards appear in the tent, all landing on Robin as if they'd materialized there. (They did.) Julian doesn't seem disturbed by this; there's no wavering in his concentration at all. The firelizards are chattering at Robin now, and seem confused by and anxious about everything that's happening, and worried about the big predator that's beckoning at Robin, offering a hand.
"Come through," Fiona says.
Robin jumps a little as the firelizards appear. She's never been under them when they've done that before. But quickly, a proud smile flits across the girl's lips. They're wonderful, yes they are. And while yes, they have every right to be worried about the big predator, Robin bolsters the confidence of everyone involved - they will manage, they always do.
"Father? Would you be kind enough to send Vere through when he arrives?" Because he will, shortly. Robin has no doubt of that. But she's also not one to delay Fiona, so she reaches her hand through the Trump toward the Princess. Eeeeewwwww, bleah, stoopid cards and their stoopid colors.
Julian starts to say something, and Fiona says, "Don't worry, I have everything under control," and pulls Robin and the firelizards through.
Fiona brings Robin and the firelizards through to the tower top, where it is a bit windier than Robin might have expected. The firelizards scatter momentarily, riding the currents around Robin and the edges of the tower. Fiona looks at Robin for a moment before reaching to pick up some piece of equipment that Robin thinks is related to a sextant. "Let me finish my observations and then we'll go down and have a look at you. I told Julian not to send Vere on for a while. Don't depend on a man, niece; it lets the side down and in any case they rarely do anything but disappoint you."
Looking around, Robin can see that she's at the top of a tall tower in something like a castle or a military (of some sort) complex. The level and type of technology and magic isn't immediately evident, but the size of the place suggests either they have one or the other or a lot of labor to build the place alone.
Robin's brow raises at the turn of events. For a moment, fear spikes through her: has she just walked into the niece-box like Aisling did? But the fear is also tangled with a bit of well... anger. The Princess agreed that Vere could come and now he's not here. And while she *is* Fiona and being high-handed comes with the territory, but together means together, even if the Princess disapproves. Soooo...
"Certainly." She says with a bow. "How far away would you like me to be before I shadowshift? So as not to disturb your observations?"
"Oh, no, that won't be necessary just yet." Fiona appears to be taking some kind of measurement, perhaps of the stars, with the instrument. She has pockets in her skirt; once her eyes are adjusted to the darkness, Robin can see the one of them has a notepad, spiral bound, and what looks like ballpoint pens. "First I'll have a look at you with the Third Eye. After that, we'll worry about shifting shadow. If you've got some sort of astral damage, it may well be visible without you exercising the family gift. Have you walked the Pattern since whatever you think happened on the Black Road happened?"
Robin blinks. Okay, she's obviously off-topic somehow. Again.
Carefully, the girl weighs how much she wants the Princess' advice versus how much she wants to behave like a two-year-old. The conclusion Robin reaches is that it will probably be easier to explain a mis-communication/understanding to Vere than it would be to survive/repair a temper tantrum thrown at Fiona. So she calms her ass down.
"Yes." Robin confirms, but has to clarify. "I Walked... on top of the broken one under Amber Castle. But my path didn't match the inscription in the floor; even accounting for the damage."
Fiona pauses in scribbling notes down on her little spiral-bound pad to look at Robin. "You can walk the Pattern with your mind, but you have damage of such astral significance that Brennan noted it. Whatever's wrong with you is exceedingly unusual. Assuming your Pattern imprint itself hasn't been damaged, and I'm not sure how that would have happened, unless it was an artifact of the Black Road damage and you weren't remade at the end when Dad and Dworkin remade the universe." Fiona says this casually, as if remaking the universe weren't that big of a deal. "Out of curiosity, where did you spend the very end of the war? Or at least the bit when the shadowstorm hit you?"
'Weren't remade'? What!? Does that mean that other folk were remade? Robin's eyes grow distant as thoughts even weirder than she's used to bounce around in her head.
When she answers, it's somewhat distractedly. "I thought I was on the Black Road for the last part of the war. I didn't experience a 'shadowstorm.' I only heard about it later when I got back."
"Then you did experience it. It's probably what distressed you so, if you were further down the road toward Ygg and the ways of the Lords of Chaos: the ones who still exist, or deign to deal with Ordered taint." Fiona's very matter-of-fact about all this. She's still scribbling in her notebook; the conversation doesn't seem to distract from her work, or vice versa. "If you were a Pattern initiate before the war, you shouldn't have been remade. Only those things that are insufficiently real were remade. You shouldn't be one of them.
"Your case," she adds, "is looking more and more intriguing."
The firelizards are riding the currents of wind here. They're less afraid of Fiona in person (her physical presence is less imposing than her psychic presence) but they're still wary of her, plus Robin doesn't like her.
Robin blinks a little as Fiona's thoughts leap and bound before her. She's tracking, but it is tricky.
"I was a Pattern initiate before the War." She confirms. That's one concern off her plate, though she's still a little worried about Vere. But surely Brita was in the same boat and Fiona wouldn't let anything happen to Brita, right? So probably Vere enjoyed the same privilege or protection or whatever. Robin puts that worry away.
"But when I... recovered afterward, I was only a day or so's ride out of Arden. And the couple-of-days-old corpse of my horse lay near me." Yep, Robin's hard on horses - they're just not sturdy enough, as a species. Besides, they're not nearly as awesome as firelizards. Robin sends a wave of wary reassurance to her little flying friends.
If the firelizards could speak Thari, the combination of feelings Robing is getting back from them would come out as something like wheeeee! and are you sure?, the latter about Fiona.
"So something happened to you that was strong enough to drain the life force from your horse. Interesting." Fiona makes another few notes in her notebook, flips it shut, and slides the pen she was writing with into the spiral. Then she drops the lot in the pocket of her gown. "Or there was a time distortion that killed it and didn't kill you." She frowns a little. "Were you the kind of hungry or thirsty that you should be after long enough for your horse to die? Or do you remember?"
"I remember. I was stiff and hungry, but not overwhelmingly thirsty. And while there wasn't a lot of the horse left, it didn't appear to have died of age. Though I..." swallow, "experienced at least one extreme t-time dilation during the e-vents."
Robin distracts herself by wishing she could join her friends on the air currents. And being happy for them that they can enjoy themselves so.
"Time dilation on the Black Road is to be expected. I don't think on this side of Ygg you should have had formal reversal, but there's no reason to expect a projection of Chaos to have a one-to-one time parallel with the ordered lands outside it," Fiona explains. "What did the horse die of?"
"I couldn't tell." Robin replies, "Scavengers had been at the corpse for a quite a while. Though I was unmolested when I awoke. I elected not to remain in the vicinity so that things stayed that way."
The corner of Fiona's mouth quirks up. "Wise," she offers, with some slight approval. Robin wouldn't be surprised if that's the most approval she ever offers. "Let's go downstairs--if your friends can come indoors?--and get you settled. You're likely to be here for a little while while I sort out your problem and consult with Brennan: important in case you have an evolving condition." She opens a trap door in the floor of the tower top, waiting to step down the ladder inside until she hears Robin's opinon of the firelizards being inside.
"My friends can manage the inside as long as it's not too constrictive, fragile or flammable. Nearby windows would be a plus." Funnily enough, that's pretty much Robin's definition of a manageable indoors as well.
If all of that is okay with Fiona, Robin calls her friends to her arms and will follow Fiona down the ladder/stairs beneath the trap door.
Fiona gestures them down into what appears to be about a 10' tall chamber that's probably some kind of library. "Don't worry. It should be all fireproofed," she tells Robin. "There are some issues with local shadow conditions." She leaves the roof trap-door open for the firelizards.
"Now, apart from examining you with the Third Eye, do you bave any idea of what sort of tests Brennan did on you? I'd like to try them on my own first, before I talk to him, so that his comments won't influence my results." She points to a chair, presumably so Robin will sit down in it. "And yes, I am already looking at you with the Third Eye, before you ask."
With a smile, Robin waves to her little flamethrowers. They are certainly welcome to come, go, ride the winds, whatever they like. She's okay.
The miniature dragon creatures all find bookshelves or light fixtures to land on. Chirrup sits on a candelabra, his snout close enough to the candle's flame to displace it. He doesn't seem to notice.
"I don't believe Brennan ran any other kinds of test. His time was limited and he seemed to be being very careful regarding transparency." She smiles wryly at her Aunt. "Thank you for letting me know."
Robin takes one of the quiet concealed court-breaths that Castor taught her as well. She still doesn't like being looked at, but she can at least not shy away.
Fiona nods, perhaps having already performed her preliminary inspection of Robin's astral self. "I'm going to make a few preparations, but only to make it easier to see what might be happening. These candles won't do anything more than obscure your vision a bit."
Fiona lights three candles, which produce a green-tinged glow. They smoke quite a bit and Robin does notice that the room has dimmed noticably. Her fire-lizard friends continue to perch above her and begin to croon slowly to each other.
Fiona pulls a glass lens from a shelf and sets it in a stand, directly between herself and Robin.
"There's definitely a history of something happening here, but it doesn't seem to include ongoing damage. Can you remember exactly what Brennan told you? I'll call him in a moment, but I want to look at it while you describe it to me."
Robin nods as well, of course she can remember what Brennan told her. As she thinks back, like many of her cousins, she takes on Brennan as she saw that night: the so-subtle slump of grief and exhaustion hidden beneath rigid self-discipline and anger, the cold mask of his face - eyes glittering with... something. When she speaks, it's with Brennan's cold and clipped diction.
"Before, when I Looked at you, I saw something. More precisely, the lack of something."
There's a pause, and Robin's expression shifts as 'Brennan' hides something. "For lack of a better phrasing, something... made a nest of your soul. I didn't see what it was. I saw no remains of it-- and believe me, I sought for them-- except what was moved aside to make room for it. So to speak. I've never seen anything like it, or heard of anything like it. You now know everything I know about it.
"I'd guess this happened at the far end of the Black Road. I would ordinarily guess that something of Chaos was there, but I saw no trace of Chaos, so... I don't know. You now know everything I conjecture." Briefly 'Brennan's' cold mask lets a look of concern leak through. "I will give whatever advice I can, now and in the future, but right now, I have none. Other than: Find it."
After that, Robin's body shifts back to her own posture and her nose wrinkles. "Uhhh, we were pretty mad at one another at the time." She offers.
Fiona looks mildly amused to hear Robin's Brennan impression. Or perhaps she just looks like that all the time. "Soul is an emotionally charged word, one that I avoid. People have their own definitions of it that may not be compatible with each other. My preliminary theory, based on Brennan's analysis, is that something used you to survive patternfall. Then it ran away. If the Aisling hadn't been with us at the Fixed Place, I'd've guessed it was her."
A small croon of interest escapes Robin's lips. That make so much sense! Robin figures she would make an excellent reality-storm bomb-shelter. And she certainly likes that image better than a nest. With something growing in it. Eeewwww.
[Fiona] puts down her lens, and the smoke seems to clear as if on command.
"I'll call Brennan now and see what I more I can elicit from him that was not part of your splendid recitation. I expect I shall want to pull you in momentarily, so please do not wander off."
Robin nods. That's a good call in an active sorceress' lair. So instead, she looks around to her now less-flamable friends to make sure they're okay.
Fiona opens a drawer in a side table and pulls out a sketch of Brennan. He looks younger in it. Much younger. She concentrates on the image.
The contact comes quickly and easily, as though he were waiting for the contact... although from his surprised expression, perhaps he was waiting for someone else. Or perhaps he simply didn't expect Fiona to have a Trump of him. In any case, the surprise vanishes quickly.
After a moment, Fiona speaks. "Brennan, it's Fiona. Are you free to talk for a moment? Julian set me to investigate a matter about which you have some knowledge. I can call back if now is inopportune."
Brennan glances reflexively at the door he just barred, to make sure it is still secure. "I'll have to keep my voice down," he says quietly, although he suspects that Fiona could hear him if he just thought very loudly through the Trump connection. "But I can talk, yes." His frown as he puts down the book he was thumbing and making notes of is his normal thoughtful, distracted expression, not the scowl of actual irritation. He almost says more, but settles for, "How can I help?"
Fiona nods, briefly. "I'll be brief. I understand that some time ago you performed an inspection of Julian's daughter Robin for magical influences, at her request. Julian and Robin are asking me to look into the same matter. What did you see and what was your interpretation of what you saw? If you wish to look again, Robin is with me."
That is precisely what Brennan expected to hear; he remembers that day with a sick clarity, and his game face is on even before Fiona tells him what she wants.
"Yes, I did," he says. "She was in some distress at the time even to talk about her difficulties. Skipping the background, what I did was Look at her Astral body. What I saw was a distortion, where something had deformed the Astral anatomy, forming a pocket. Or in more metaphorical terms... a cyst, from her perspective, or perhaps a chrysalis or a nest from the perspective of whatever used to be there."
Brennan pauses to think about what order to say things in for best efficiency. "I detected no sign of Chaos, and I looked very hard for it-- by its nature, such a thing could not be stable, and as it wasn't healing, it would have to have been growing. I'd have brought her to you immediately if that were the case. To the contrary, it seemed what was there was Ordered. So my prognosis is stasis: it won't heal on its own but shouldn't deteriorate, either. My advice was to find whatever it was, for obvious reasons.
"I am hesitant to do what I did through this medium, but if you think it's safe, then yes, I'd like to re-examine her. It's the best way to see if there's been any change. Then, since I've had some months to think about this, I can offer up my speculations. Such as they are," he says.
The woman in question is doing her best not to squirm in her seat, but her natural antsyness is definitely evident. Stay calm, stay calm, she tells herself. The sorcerers need clean readings if they are to help.
"It's not an easy task, but since the third eye is passive, it will cause no damage to your person. Don't try to use sorcerous principles through a trump contact; it is ... unpleasant."
"I had no intention of it," Brennan murmurs. "By all means, let's proceed."
Robin continues to look around the room, not so much analyzing things as storing them away for future reference.
Fiona reaches out and takes Robin's hand, bringing her into the trump contact. Fiona's hand is smooth like a river rock, but not without strength.
Robin takes Fiona's hand in her own work-calloused one. Though there has been a manicure in Robin's near past, a troll-hunt and a week in the woods have pretty much done it in.
"Cousin," Brennan says. He still has his game face on, but the game is less suppressed-Family-hostility and more professional-concerned-physician.
Wherever Brennan is, it would seem to be a similar setting to Amber itself. There are rough stone walls in the background, whatever the light source is flickers like fire, and he's been working at a wooden table taking notes from a written folio. Brennan himself is as nondescript as he can make himself. His hair is cut short to make the red less noticeable, and he's got three solid days of scruff on his face, the better to be shaved or grown out as need be. There's a layer of road dust or battlefield grit on him, too, that he hasn't had a chance to wash away adding years to his apparent age.
Robin is a complete contrast to her surroundings. In a room of stone and study, Robin is a living, vital thing; dirty, yes - with leaves and twigs in her hair, a smudge of... something over one eyebrow, her leathers worn and comfortable. But her fine hair fluffs and floats in the drafts caused by the movements of the little gold firelizard on her shoulder. And even at her most cautious, her eyes and expression shift with curiosity, her head tilts and her shoulders tense against the urge to bounce or rock.
Oh, and she really doesn't like Trumps.
"Brennan, if you would take a look..."
It's difficult for Brennan to see with his third eye but it is, as Fiona said, possible. Brennan does not see any decay from what he remembers of his last look.
It might be the case that there are more connections across the hollow space then there were when he last looked. Or that could just be interference.
In a voice that might be Skiaza's, but is definitely Fiona's Brennan gets a private message. Tell her the truth, but simplified. And try not to frighten her. My immediate disnosis is "shell shocked" or what they call 'Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder' in more long-winded cultures.
Brennan has no idea how to make a response to that without saying something with his mouth that both of them could hear, so he doesn't even bother to try. It's some moments before he replies anyway. When he does, he says, "The good news is, no degradation. It's no worse than it was when I last Looked. Still no trace of Chaos. Bad news," and here he hesitates slightly out of slight uncertainty, "it's either no better, or so little improved I can't quite tell."
Robin nods, relief evident in her eyes. 'Not worse,' is good enough in her book.
"How do you feel? Better, worse, same?" he asks.
"Better," she says. "I've been talking." Her lips tick in wry humor. See? She's not ignoring his advice. "I sound like an idiot, when the stuttering kicks in or when I say something that in the open air is obviously... not right. And I hate appearing weak in front of Family, but..." she shrugs one shoulder awkwardly, "I'm not tail-spinning anymore."
Then realizing he's probably looking for information of a more physical nature, Robin tacks. "When confronting the situation, the stuttering is lessening. As is the sensation of blacking out. But not quickly or to a great degree. I still haven't pushed to unconsciousness. Ummm, I haven't recovered or clarified any additional memories. And I'm still skittish as hell. Anything else I should be looking for?"
Brennan glances at Fiona-- there's no way the speculations on the cause aren't going to be disturbing.
"The fact that you have mastery over the pattern and the shadows is a good sign. I'm going to let you out of the conversation, so that anything Brennan has to say or do sorcerously doesn't disturb your fire-lizards. I'll let you know what we think when he gets back to his business in Benedict's shadow."
"Cousin," he says, "I've kept this between us so far. Should you need to talk about it without... widening that circle, don't hesitate."
Robin nods gravely. She knows what this is costing Brennan. "Thank you." A quick grateful smile breaks out, lighting up her face before she nods her farewell and lets go of both Fiona's hand and the Trump contact.
Brennan hears the following silent speech: Seems to be adjusting to the damage rather than healing it. Somewhat like Gerard. What do you think? Please speculate freely.
Fiona turns to Robin. "Just a few more questions, I think, then I'll be able to tell you something more. Now, Is there any difficulty shifting or affecting probability?"
"I think someone should examine her while she's trying to conjure or manipulate probability," [Brennan] says.
"None that I've noticed." Robin confirms. An unconscious frown darts across her face at all the... well, bad shifting and manipulation she's witnessed or participated in lately.
Fiona nods. "Do you have any experience with using Trumps for divination?"
Robin shakes her head as her nose twitches slightly in distaste. Stoopid cards. Ah, well - what did she expect.
She hands Robin a deck of cards. "Just shuffle these cards while I observe you. We may not even have to cast them at all, they're just a focus. You know the old saying 'the shadows lie for me'? It's not just about blending in and being seen as human by whatever standards are locally current, it's also about how we subconsciously manipulate probability all the time. That's what I'm going to watch you do."
Robin nods her understanding as a corner of her mouth ticks in amusement. Fiona just said it so much better than she ever has; no wonder Vere wants her as a teacher.
"This will work better if you're talking. Tell my anything you want about that day, start anywhere that you're comfortable with."
"Heh." A grim laugh escapes the girl. "I'm not 'comfortable' with any of it, but I'll try."
"Adjusting rather than healing is very much what I expected. That she's asking for help says much, though. It's armchair psychology, but I told her to seek out whatever it was in part to prove to herself that she can have power over it. And I'd hesitate to say it outright, but it should probably be found without Vere." Brennan's affect is notably sour at that-- he knows exactly how he'd have felt about anyone telling him what Cambina could or could not assist him with, or vice-versa.
"As for what it is, I'm selective about the coincidences in which I believe. There are easier targets than one of us to choose for a host or a carrier. I have to believe Robin possessed some necessary qualities that could not be found anywhere else, and that were needed at that time and place. So, she was Real, deep in Shadow if not into the Courts, during the rebirth of the universe. An excellent way to survive that rebirth or to facilitate one's own rebirth at the same time.
"It's also possible this is something that was placed-- an egg, an acorn, a seed crystal if we're still thinking of a living thing-- rather than a creature. Which makes me want to narrow down the list of possible agents, but isn't really enough to do so. Except, I know there was an episode of temporal non-linearity. That could have happened on its own if she were deep enough into Chaos, but I would have expected her to subconsciously avoid that sort of thing. It put me in mind of stories I've heard of Tir-na... and she was asking about the Moonriders at the time.
"I don't know where it is, or where she was, but is it possible she was anywhere near Ghenesh? Or its agents?" Brennan asks?
Fiona nods at appropriate times. Or perhaps she doesn't actually nod, but Brennan knows she virtually did. Or perhaps there is a simultaneous nod in her physical and his mental space.. Brennan expects that if he thought on it too long, he'd get a headache. On the road? Gheneshi are creatures of Order, twisted though they are. If they were there, it would be as spies, like Robin. If I were more ruthless, I'd put her upon The Pattern and let it fix the damage or break her. Since I am not, I will try to find a way to gauge the state of her and see if she can do more self-repair prior to that measure. She breathes deeply and seems to be concentrating on speaking to him, as if it were a struggle. Is there anything else I should know about her situation?
"Unless she's holding back about her symptoms, no, you have all my knowledge. Symptoms, by the way, are her doubts about her own reality, a generally bad case of nerves and skittishness-- to which an uncharitable cousin might add a case of questionable impulse control-- and extreme difficulty in talking about the event that caused it all. The point of near blackouts." Brennan thinks, reviewing the conversations at several months remove. A thought strikes him.
"I gave the Moonriders as my hypothesis with the most explanatory power: they are creatures of Order as you say, they have some mobility although less than ours, their peculiar relationship with time may have given them-- at least one of them-- advance warning of the rebirth event. I recall now that she mentioned a throne and a crown, which she touched. If she can be helped to recall either with enough clarity to sketch them, that may be useful. To me, for personal reasons, as well as to her." Brennan lets out a long exhalation.
"I'm-- " Brennan rapidly swaps out whatever word he was going to use, "--concerned for her, Aunt. But don't tell her I said that.
"I am, by the way, where you think. I owe you a call at a more convenient time. Soon, I hope."
She'll be fine. We survive things, and get stronger. She frowns, mentally, perhaps thinking of Gerard. I will help her.
Robin pauses for a moment as the thoughts starting to swirl and align in her head. When her natural twitchiness kicks in, she lets her hands play with and manipulate the pasteboard rectangles she holds; not thinking of them so much as 'Trumps' or even cards, just as 'fiddling-with things.'
"I was glad to get out of Arden." Robin starts with an ironic smile, "The mood there was foul after the battle before Kolvir. Corwin back - with riflemen, Random freed, Eric dead," Robin doesn't sound at all sad about that last one. "We knew we weren't safe." Her eyes dart to Fiona, then away.
"So when the mission came up - and what a mission! - I jumped at it. I was sooooo stoked." She smiles fondly at her past self's youthful enthusiasm. "My father dispatched me down the Road... to scout. He warned me that the mission needed an Initiate of our Heritage to survive it, but that he couldn't send my brothers with me. They were more concerned with their home shadows than with Amber and Arden." A nose wrinkle indicates what she thinks of that.
"I rode beside it for a while. It was... not a thing of Death but a thing of Not-Life." Her brows furrow as she struggles to put impressions into words. "I crossed over the grasping grass into a... world tunnel, I guess. It was... leaching. Color, breathe, life, will, joy - all being d-drained away. I remember riding through a cloud of mist. Worse, much worse. Avoid the mist."
Robin stops for a moment, her eyes moving as she recalls other vistas from her memory.
"I rode for... a while." She shrugs one shoulder. "Then I saw a figure." Robin's eyes narrow in suspicion. "I don't like her. She is me, except more like I am now than I was then. I'm not the Shadow, you are." Robin speaks her thoughts out loud, though she is still fairly oriented as to where she is. Her last phrase is illustrative, not literal.
Robin's eyes focus on Fiona. "My father, Brennan, yourself, the Unicorn and the Pattern have all since assured me that I am who I once was." She smiles bitterly. "When I think of t-this, I cannot m-maintain that assurance."
Fiona looks through her lens at the playing cards. It's hard to tell what she's doing. She's sitting cross-legged at her table with a notepad in front of her. "There are literally dozens of cases of people who were too real for the black rain to erase and re-make as the shock-wave ran from the Pattern to the Courts, starting with me. I was at the edge of it and I can tell you I wasn't destroyed. Meg and Hannah and Reid and my daughter Brita were all unprotected in shadow when the rains came. Mathematically, they couldn't have survived: they had to be re-written, but I don't see any evidence."
Fiona writes something down on her notepad. "Maybe Silhouette. I wonder if she didn't really die, but then Dad wrote her back in when he re-wrote the pattern. It would explain some things.
"You were in a different circumstance. You were already in Chaos when the rain came, so there was nothing to anchor you to for the infinitesimal moment between dissolution and recreation. It's possible that everything you experienced was actually in your head, and was invented by your mind to explain the experience of primal chaos. Much like a person in a sensory deprivation tank experiences things that aren't there, the mind may have needed to make something up to hang on to.
"So that's speculation. Tell me more of why you question myself, Brennan, your father, the Unicorn, and the inanimate pattern? What do you think we're all missing?"
Robin's brow furrows as she considers it. "Iiiii think I still question because I seem so different. There's such a large break between what I was. And what I am now. It's not... innocence lost or any rubbish like that. I wasn't an innocent when I departed. And I certainly act as childlishly now as I did then. It's... this sense... fear? Anxiety, maybe? Uncertainty? Like I've had the world ripped out of my talons and I can't..." Robin makes an odd-grasping motion with the hands holding the cards.
"An-nd part of the world that was ripped away w-was my s-sense of self." She presses her lips together in irritation at the stutter but continues. "I... it's hard to h-hold on to my i-dentity. B-bad for a Pattern-wielder."
"I don't think that you, Brennan, my father, the Unicorn and the Pattern are wrong. I just c-can't maintain the surety. I can't believe it always."
Fiona nods. "If I understand correctly, you've experienced something I've only heard described. You were, for some small time, a Lord of the Living Void, set free of all restraints and all connections that anchor reality. If this is so, then what you did was anchor yourself to reality when it might have slipped away from you.
"It's what would've happened, briefly, to everyone if Brand had not failed. That you survived it is an impressive feat."
She looks up from her notepad, apparently having written all the notes she means to write. "Do you know how Corwin fixed his memory?"
Robin nods somewhat distractedly. She's still taking in what Fiona said earlier.
"I heard that he walked the Pattern. But..." she focuses a little more on Fiona, "I've already done that. Kind of. And while it was awesome, I'm not in a rush to do it again. Especially not so soon after the last time." Walking the Pattern is no joke, and Robin's taking it seriously.
"But what you said earlier, about being a Lord of the Living Void," Robin can't help the small smile that lights her eyes. "I... like that. Maybe too much. But it's certainly a... palatable explanation."
Robin starts working it through as her eyes wander off; not so much talking to Fiona as letting her hear her thoughts.
"Of course, the thing about being blown outside of time and causality is the once you do that, you can't really crawl back in. Words like "for some small time" or "briefly" only define the linear time perception of something that's... still completely existent." Robin gestures with the cards again, trying to encompass an infinity.
"Regardless though, crawling back into a linear existence would explain the senses of unreality and confinement I've been subjected to." Robin nods, "Of course, the trick is staying in a linear existence when your perceptions keep... blossoming outside of it." Robin scrunches up her nose in distaste and shakes her head rapidly. Stay away from that - that way lies madness.
"It might be helpful though to think of my... insecurities as the result of me trying to adapt back to my Family and Place. Which I want to - I very much want to. Being a Lord of the Living Void is bad, bad for a Lord of Order. Especially for one as... young as me." Robin smiles ironically at the time descriptor as she glances back to the Princess.
Fiona nods. "I mentioned Corwin because the pattern was helpful to his recovery. I suspect it would be for you as well. Without it, well, then we're looking at coping strategies as you wait to see how you naturally recover. It took Corwin centuries to get his memory back, but only half a decade to regrow his burnt out eyes."
She looks up, and seems concerned. "You've either broken bones or known those with them. Sometimes all it takes is time and stillness to repair. Sometimes the bone must be set."
Robin meets Fiona eyes with an ironic grin. "Guinea-pig for Gerard? I"m game for that." She nods with wry humor.
"Furthermore," she sighs as she leans back in the chair. "I'm not sure we have time for stillness and repair. I know the King doesn't think so. And I suspect my cousins would be less than gracious about me checking out -- again -- for another mental health holiday."
"I just... Walking the Pattern is hard, Aunt." She's not whining, just stating fact. "I've already survived it twice, yes. But... it would hit the Family hard, very hard if I failed."
Fiona nods, solemnly, watching Robin as a cat watches a bird. "There are two tests in walking the pattern. The first is, will it accept you? You know it will. The second is, do you have the will to walk it? You should. If you do not, you would be considered one of the last casualties of the war, killed by my brother. It is my advice to you that you not fail."
Robin can't help but laugh at that last. What other advice is there?
Despite Fiona's unnerving stare - so like her brother's (what is it they are seeing?), Robin considers. Brand's last casualty, huh? Instead of his first. The girl finds wry humor in that as well.
She leans back to think, trying to ignore the big cat in the room. She walked the Pattern (or whatever) in Amber because she was desperate to find her Father in the face of Random's sudden appearance. Is she any less desperate to find herself in the face of Random's reign? Less desperate perhaps but no less committed.
And then there's Ver... no. Robin stops herself there. One never, never walks the Pattern for anyone else. In the all-or-nothing game, it's all about oneself. And isn't that what she and Fiona have been talking about; the lack of self focus?
One side of Robin's lips ticks. Is she really considering regaining her youthful arrogance? On the one hand, it'd be nice to face the universe without.. nervousness once more. On the other, she comes from a parent of who was unacceptably arrogant, would she be the same if she was returned to her strength?
Robin's head cocks to the side as she continues dancing along her thought paths. Well, she didn't before her... accident, so why should she now? Her eyes drift off as Robin remembers the Ranger she was, instead of the girl she's becoming.
Full of conviction, Robin's green eyes refocus on her Aunt. "Yeah, okay. Let's do this thing."
Fiona nods. "Very well." She pulls out a trump, one of someplace that Robin doesn't recognize, exactly, but might be in Arden. It may be in the deep green. It's akin to the Grove of the Unicorn, somehow.
"We will need to assure that your affines do not interfere. It would not be safe for them."
Robin nods, a resigned cast to her eyes. She knew that. Devoted, flying friends and the Pattern? Badness.
"I'll need to know where they are. So that I can go there from center." There's no doubt in her voice that she will reach the center. But her promise to not leave her friends is weighing heavily upon her.
"Peep?" Robin puts down the cards and pulls the firelizard off her shoulder into a cuddle. "Ooot? Chirrup?" She calls her other friends down into the cuddle pile.
Robin opens her mouth to speak. Then closes it as she realizes that the words would just complicate the matter anyway. Instead she nuzzles the gold firelizard fondly. Robin is sad because she has to be apart from her friends. She is going to become better, stronger. But the firelizards can't come. Just like Robin can't fly. Robin doesn't want to leave them, but even with as brave and smart and wonderful as the firelizards, they are some Robin things that they just can't do. She will be back afterward; strong and happy to see them. And there will be presents.
Peep peeps. Robin gets the feeling that she intends to keep the other two in line. Like a bossy older sister. Or something.
Robin laughs warmly and nuzzles Peep again. What a good strong friend she is. Robin would expect no less from her little queen. The boys get strokes too and told to be good and listen to Peep.
"Guest quarters here are austere, but serviceable, for friends of the tower." Fiona stands and leads Robin to a sparsely decorated room. Its main feature is a chair and a small bookshelf, but there's also a cot in the corner. The chair is set for reading, and is backed by a window that will let in light most of the day.
The princess seems at home in the bare room. "Can you convince your affines to stay here? So that they can be your anchor to return to? If not, I would suggest a place you are already familiar with."
Considering that the bookshelf is more than Robin would need, she has no problems with the 'austerity' herself. Though 'friend of the tower'? Really? 'Not-food of the tower' seems more likely. But who is she to contradict the tower's master, so she nods politely at Fiona's comment.
Robin nods, "This will be fine. They will stay here. And I'm already familiar enough with this place to return to it." She escorts her little fair in. "Thank you," she adds.
Getting the firelizards settled, having fun with in and out of the window for everyone and generally saying good-bye takes a few more minutes. Then Robin turns to Fiona and says, "I'm ready."
Fiona reaches out for Robin's hand. She pulls a card from her deck. "Primal, I think, would be most appropriate. Come along, Robin," she says, stepping forward from the austere room to a shallow, sunlit cave entrance.
As anything Primal is most appropriate for Robin, she nods, takes Fiona’s hand and steps from the man-made cave to the Oberon/Dworkin-made cave.
Robin blinks in the light of the perfect sun hanging low in the eastern sky. Inside the cave smells of predators: lions and eagles. Outside the breeze is fresh and the grass sward is very green. A few steps from the cave entrance is a vast, flat stone laid in the meadow. Upon it is the Pattern. It glows slightly, even in the daylight.
“Ooooooo.” A delighted, fascinated croon escapes the girl as she takes in the landscape before her. Finally! A Pattern not in a city. Or in a dungeon. Robin hoped such a thing existed.
Fiona looks around, as if expecting to see someone here. "I suspect that both Wixer and Dworkin will be here shortly once you start. I shall speak to them. Don't let that, or anything, distract you."
The start of the Pattern lies before Robin, ready to unthinkingly destroy her if she missteps, or to remake her, perhaps, whole.
Heh. Best kind of challenge. Robin steps forward, stretching as she does. A warm smile lights her face. A week in the woods with Vere is probably the absolutely best Pattern-preparation she could have. A brief laugh escapes the girl as she wonders what color hair she will emerge with. Probably not purple. A brief thought of pants darts through her mind and Robin realizes that she is, indeed, becoming distracted.
At the start of the Pattern, just before the fateful step, Robin stops and focuses on the challenge before her. Her lips spread in a feral smile and her eyes begin to spark with the joy of the hunt. Inside her, once again, her raptor nature rises fierce and focused. This time not on the Pattern within her, but on the Pattern in front of her. As she steps forward, that fierce stormhawk cry bursts from her lips and Robin is on the Pattern.
The sparks start nearly immediately, as she lifts her trailing foot and places it back down in front. Always along the lines. They fly off her feet and legs like white-hot, tiny firelizards and disappear into air at the end of their arcs.
It's no harder than her last walk, of the pattern-of-the-mind. It's no easier, but it seems, somehow different. More concrete. More like she is a part of something than that something is a part of her. The sparks reach her calves, now, and are quickly above her knees. Robin presses on, her body and that part of her concentration needed to stay on the lines dedicated to that task. The sparks look more and more like firelizards, with wings and fat bellies. Robin executes a tricky part in the switchbacks approaching the Grand Curve and she grunts. "Chirrup?" replies the bronze lizard. Except he's white and electric. He's perched on Vic's shoulder.
"This is your demon-ritual, then? This is what marks you as not human? You were always so desperate to be one of us, but here you are making yourself more like one of them. If you do this, you'll be more like them. Corwin. Eric. Bleys." He lifts the arm that Chirrup is perched on, and the dragonette nuzzles his ear. "Will he even know you? Do you remember, though? Once you said you'd rather die than be like them." He holds out his hand.
Vere arrives at the tent to see Julian shuffling a card back into his Trump deck and Robin and the firelizards gone. He looks up at Vere's arrival and gestures him in, waiting until the flap is closed to speak again. "Robin has gone to Fiona, to be examined for whatever is distressing her. Fiona closed the connection once Robin was through, so I believe you were not invited." He closes the box and turns his attention to Vere.
"Which is just as well, as I believe we have some matters to discuss regarding Robin's conduct."
"Yes, sir," Vere says, voice and face impassive. Julian has not asked him to sit, so he remains standing.
Julian is also still standing; once he puts the cards away, he settles in a camp chair and gestures to Vere to join him. The firelilly is close by under its hurricane lamp.
“Vere. What can you tell me," Julian asks, "about Robin's agreement, or discussion, or what you will, with King Random, on the topic of her role and duty in this family, and particularly as regards her absence at the family council in Paris some time ago?"
Vere takes a seat. "Nothing directly as regards the latter, sir," he answers carefully. "I am under the impression that she discussed the matter of her non-attendance at the Paris meeting with the king before my return to Xanadu. When I did return, the two of us discussed Robin's occasional lapses in communication with the king, and its origin in her Black Road experience, with an emphasis on her failure to follow through on a task she had been given due to her losing track of time, and a brief mention of the Paris situation. We suggested that until Robin has recovered from the effects of whatever happened to her it would be advantageous for the two of us to continue operating together. I have a focus that Robin currently lacks, and she acts as a balance to my tendency to over analyze situations before taking action. His majesty agreed to this, with the stipulation that if he needs to send us on separate missions for the good of the realm he will of course do so."
"I'll have to have a word with him about that." Julian dismisses the King with those words, and turns his attention back to something more important. "Do you believe that Robin requires that kind of support on a full-time basis? How will that serve her in terms of dealing with family in the long term, in your opinion? She's going to have enough difficulty with the firelizards in due time."
Vere tilts his head to one side and pauses a moment before answering. "I cannot answer that question with complete certainty," he says, "As I did not know her before the Black Road, and do not know how much she has changed. But my sense of the situation is that she does not truthfully require my support. We overstated the case to the King, to ensure that he would accept our request. I believe that I can ease Robin's interactions with the Family, and smooth her dealings with them, and hopefully she will learn more diplomacy from me than she currently bothers to use."
He smiles very slightly. "But Robin is clever, even if she seldom bothers to use that cleverness in a political manner. Without my presence she would still learn to deal with the Family, given time and reason."
He shrugs slightly. "That latter is the key, I think. With our abilities and longevity, it is hard for someone still young to see a reason to do something we dislike, without sufficient incentive."
Julian arches an eyebrow in a manner Vere has come to recognize. "Give yourself a few more centuries of dealing with the family. I imagine you'll learn the reasons." He offers Vere a thin smile. "I have clearly made an error in the raising of Robin. I thought that she could manage well enough in court for her needs. Now the need has increased and her ability to manage herself has decreased. I do not intend for her to be so weak that she cannot deal with her kindred without an aid. The firelizards are one thing: she's linked to them now, for good and ill--and there will be plenty of both. But you--" Julian focuses on Vere with a certain intensity "--are a separate matter."
Vere blinks, once, and shows no other emotion. His voice is flat as he replies, "The possibility that I am a hindrance to her recovery has occurred to me. I do not believe it to be the case. I believe that we are aiding one another, and that I can be an aid to her recovery, rather than a crutch that she will grow to rely upon. However, I also recognize that I may be too close to the situation to make an unbiased judgement upon this matter."
"There are some in our family who might prefer a companion who is more biddable than she otherwise would be for reasons of dependency. If I believed you were one such, we would be having a very different discussion." Julian doesn't hasten to reassure Vere with these words; he doesn't hasten to reassure anyone, Vere suspects.
Vere nods once, an almost imperceptibly small movement.
In what appears to be a change of subject, Julian asks, "Have you and your father discussed our sister, Robin's mother?"
"Not in any detail," Vere replies.
Julian frowns. "She was--very headstrong and very powerful. Dad tried to control her, to no avail, and the tightness of the control he exerted meant that when she went wild, she went very wild. There's some very ugly history in the Isles--or was--from those days. Random is too young to recall much of this, but many of your other aunts and uncles are not.
"The point is that her mother had to exercise self-restraint, and failed, and it killed her. Solange has had the same problem, and now she's banished for defying Random in a foolhardy and provocative way. And Robin failed to turn up at the family meeting, without leave. Robin is perceived as weak, unreliable, and the daughter of her defiant mother, who came close to destroying shadows in her greed. Whatever happened to her on the Black Road, Fiona will find a way to mend the metaphysics." He pauses there to fix Vere with his gaze again. "But equally bad, in its own way, will be her dependence on anyone else to rein in what much of the rest of the family will perceive as her willfulness."
Vere leans forward, his gaze not leaving Julian's. "Are you more concerned with actual dependence, or the appearance of dependence?"
"Both," says Julian with a trace of impatience. "If you appear strong, you're less likely to be provoked. If you are strong, you can withstand whatever attacks and provocations are thrown your way. Dependence is a weakness and Robin should neither be weak nor be seen to be so: particularly because of the heritage she carries. And consider the feelings the rest of the family has about Brand's sons before you tell me that no longer matters. They have been accepted, but not with a wholly open heart."
Vere nods. "I merely wished to ascertain the exact nature of your concerns. Before I address the issue, may I ask if this conversation is intended to give me an opportunity to assuage your concerns, or whether you have already made up your mind about this matter and are leading up to telling me what you have decided?"
Julian sits back, slightly, and the trace of a smile appears around the corners of his mouth. "Far be it from me to disabuse you of that notion. Having said that, the exercise would be useful either way. In any case, it is no longer my sense of the matter that is at issue. Until and unless Fiona returns her here directly, Robin is in Fiona's care. Her opinion of Robin's stability is, therefore, of the most immediate concern."
"Ah," Vere says. He considers that for a moment. "What I have seen of Aunt Fiona leads me to believe that if there is any external cause for Robin's condition she is the best chance available to us to remedy it. Is that your analysis as well, my lord uncle?"
"I would not have sent Robin to her if I believed otherwise. Of our surviving sorcerers, my sister is the most experienced and competent, and least untrustworthy." Julian says this last as if it's a compliment rather than an insult. He turns his hawk eyes on Vere. "You say if there is any external cause. Do you harbor doubt on this point?"
Vere considers for a few moments before answering. "I did not know Robin before her experiences on the Black Road, so I cannot tell how much she has changed, and I have no evidence for how the damage to her came about. I can imagine ways in which the damage could have exacerbated previously existing tendencies, rather than being a reaction to the stress of her experiences." Vere shrugs slightly. "I am expert in spinning theories, Uncle. I can always come up with new and more exotic possibilites. Fo example, Robin's mental difficulties could be caused by some sort of psychic parasite implanted in her mind by a Lord of Chaos."
Julian's eyebrows arch slightly and he looks down his long, aristocratic nose at Vere. "I'm not particularly concerned about that possibility," he allows. "If that were the case, Fiona is certainly the most capable of dealing with it.
"In the meantime, while Fiona is dealing with Robin, and the matter of her health is out of our control, have you decided what you shall be doing?"
"I had not considered it," Vere answers. "I was not expecting to be separated from Robin, and thus have not yet made any definite plans. The king has no pressing assignment for me, although I am certain he could find work for a nephew with time on his hands. There was also the matter of learning more of the life Robin had led, among the Rangers. This was something she had planned on showing me, although I would not presume to request such a thing on my own without encouragement from the Lord Warden."
Julian considers that, giving Vere a slow once-over as if evaluating him, or deciding whether he'd be tasty or worthy of being hunted. "There would be," he says after a moment, "no especial rank and privilege associated with being a Ranger here. Those are the conditions under which Robin was raised among the Rangers."
Vere nods. "Understood," he says. "And I would of course abide by whatever restrictions you see fit to impose within your domain regarding the use of Pattern and Sorcery."
"We have never had a sorcerer among the Rangers in my years as Warden," Julian muses. "But Chaosi are viewed with suspicion and I suspect sorcery would be perceived as an extension of Chaos, or the Green, if it weren't passed off as a royal gift. We took the brunt of the Black Road here, and that when we were thin after Bleys and Corwin invaded. Pattern is a different matter, though it's best used quietly. Though excessive use of either in Arcadia risks drawing draconic attention, or that of the goddesses. I tell you from hard-won personal knowledge that you do not wish to deal with them."
Julian rises from the camp chair and moves to what is clearly some sort of portable cabinet, which he opens. It's a liquor cabinet.
"I led the Brotherhood of the Stag against the creatures of the Black Forest in the Isles," Vere says. "I well remember the fear and hatred that anything reminiscent of Chaos can engender." He remains sitting, watching Julian.
Julian finishes getting out two tumblers and a decanter of whiskey. He pours a couple of fingers into each of the glasses before putting the decanter away and bringing the glasses back to where Vere is sitting. He offers Vere one before sitting back in his own chair.
"Your experience with the Brotherhood will serve you well among the Rangers. Not perfectly, as many of our customs are different, but close enough that you will find it easier to integrate than some of our recruits who came from the city, or the Navy, during the late war. And a Ranger with your skills will be useful against incursions of the Green."
"The Green," Vere says. "I have heard the term, and a few stories of the sort of things it can do. I have also received the impression that it is related to the Dragon. But I confess that I am vague on the details."
"The Green is the name we give to that Real power that emanates from the Dragon of Arcadia. The goddesses of Arcadia and their assorted godling offspring also use it. Those of that descent line are--" Julian pauses and considers his words carefully "--vulnerable to its control. Many of them are drawn to Arcadia and have served as Rangers in the past, but in the current conflict, their affinity for Arcadia is little use to us.
"It's difficult for us to track all of them, though. My son fathered many children in certain of his guises. Nor is ancestral descent from the dragon the only possible manner in which she can achieve control. I believe those of us of royal descent are protected, especially once we have taken the Pattern."
Vere takes a thoughtful sip of the whiskey. "My understanding is that the Dragon is a Lord of Chaos trapped when the Pattern was created and Order was imposed on the Universe. She can neither be freed nor killed without destroying Arden. Is that correct?" A thought occurs to him, "Oh, and I am making the assumption that Robin has already told you what Edan told us about meeting her avatar. I should not make that assumption."
"She delivered a message from Edan; however, any additional perspective you have to offer on the matter would be welcome." Julian takes a drink of his own whiskey, and leaves room for Vere to speak.
"He said that he took a sextant from the Moonriders, which led him to the Dragon. She sleeps, or so at least her avatar, or something claiming to be her avatar, told him. They had tea." Vere smiles slightly. "A logical thing to do when meeting a Great Power, in my opinion. They had conversation, but my impression is that neither revealed very much." He tilts his head slightly. "Edan did say that she offered an alliance, but he found her terms inconvenient. He also said that as he was leaving he heard from her attendants that the White Rider was coming, which he assumed meant yourself."
"That is a name they use for me. I have not encountered the Dragon of late, or we should probably not be having this discussion. My business with the Dragon does not involve its tea-consuming avatars." If Julian's tone were any drier, it would have sucked the liquid from his glass, leaving alcohol dust in its wake. "The Dragon's terms would certainly be inconvenient. He was wise to refuse her. She wears a fair face, but beneath it lies a violent and inhuman horror. One even more inhuman than we ourselves are."
To this, Julian raises his glass and drains it to the dregs.
Vere nods, frowning thoughtfully. "Then either her attendants were mistaken, someone was impersonating you, or they were intentionally decieving Edan. Where Chaos is concerned, I confess that I am at a loss to understand motivation sufficiently to estimate probabilities."
Julian sets his empty glass on the table between himself and Vere. "The Dragon is, as we have been saying, a creature of Chaos. Discerning the details of its thinking, or those of its attendants, is probably beyond us. I do not believe any bound servitor of the Dragon would lie to it. I'm not certain it's even possible," he muses. "The Dragon can wear its own like a glove."
Vere considers this for a few moments before venturing, "The time I spent studying at Madoc led me to believe that even he, who is quite possibly the most Ordered of the Chaos Lords, did not quite understand the distinction we make between possessions, servants, and parts of ourselves."
"Perhaps that is the case, or perhaps the Dragon is merely possessive of its treasures, whether creatures or objects." Julian seems indifferent to which of the particular problems with reality the Dragon. Or perhaps it's simply time to change the subject to something he considers more important. "Do you have any further questions before you join the service of the Rangers?"
Vere tilts his head to one side. "What, exactly, am I comitting to?" he asks. "Is there an oath? Am I obligated to some period of service? If so, then my prior oaths to my father and the king will require me to notify them beforehand."
Julian ponders. "The term of your service to the Rangers can be at will, or at the King's pleasure if you'd rather. That was what we said when Dad assigned any of us to Arden in the old days, and I believe in the traditions. I'll take your word that you will obey Ranger orders while you're in service without a public oath. You're not taking charge of a post or anything that requires official notice. Your position will be, in fact, more like Robin's. If you acquire seniority and trust, it will be in the manner she did: by leading and behaving in a trustworthy manner.
"If you need to speak with Random or Gerard, I have my Trumps."
"I have one of Father," Vere says. "With your permission, I will contact him about this now." He smiles slightly. "Unless Father thinks otherwise, I do not see any reason to bother the King over this matter."
Unless Julian has anything to say at this point, Vere will take out his trump of Gerard and regard it. "Father, it is Vere," he says.
Gerard is sitting in his chair on what appears to Vere to be the balcony of his chamber in the castle in Xanadu. "Aye?" he asks. "Vere, how d'ye fare? How is Robin?"
"We fare well, Father," Vere responds. "The half-troll is dead, and we went from that task to speak with Uncle Julian. I am with him now. Robin has gone from here to consult with Aunt Fiona, and until she returns I thought to serve a while with the Rangers, to learn more of her way of life. The Lord Warden is agreeable, but I thought it best to inform you."
A bit of Gerard's confusion and concern come through the contact. "Aye, I'll be glad to know where ye are, and I'm sure yer work will be good. Is Robin getting worse, that she needed Fiona? That's a strong medicine for any ill."
"Not getting worse," Vere replies. "But not getting better, either. We neither of us wished to just let matters lie, when the underlying cause is still not understood."
"It's good that she's getting help, then." Something of Gerard's care and conflicted feelings continues to leak through until he marshals himself and cuts it off. "If anyone can sort out what happened to her, it'll be Fiona. And I see no harm from you working with Julian, but stay away from the dragons. And I know you've sworn oath not to dally with women, and wouldn't anyhow, but be wary of strange wenches from the forest wearing nothing but leaves and vines who want to be your friend. They're worse than the wenches who get sailors on shore leave drunk and take their last penny."
"I shall take care, Father," Vere replies fondly. "Give Mother my love."
"I'll do that. Let us know what happens with Robin. Yer ma and I do worry about her." Gerard won't offer the indignity of saying he worries about Vere, but that shines through the connection as well.
Not long after Robin and Vere leave him, Edan brings some leaves and branches together to feed the sputtering remains of the flame that encircles and defines his Gate. Amazingly, as the fire grows and leaps under his hands, there is no smoke; either it is part of the spell he's cast, or some unknown skill he has with fire, or both. When he is satisfied with the results, he places a binding of peace over the mind of his horse, a gesture of his hand over the steed's eyes, checks that Kyauta has a good perch on his shoulder, then steps into the Gate.
It is like, and yet unlike, his experiences with Trump. There is a blue-green halo all around them, probably having to do with their destination, and the transport is much faster than all the time spent concentrating on the cards. He is in Arden, then the next moment he is in the Blue Earth and the tree is at his back.
Kneeling, Edan places his hand on the ground, palm down, and recites a half-remembered couplet that comes to his mind. He sends his awareness around the edges of the Gate he just used, exerts his will, and lets the whole thing contract and collapse. He keeps going, his concentration pure as any spell he's cast, until the Gateway is closed, the connection broken and unusable. Without looking, he knows that the space he created in Arden has fragmented and flared into nothingness.
And then he smiles, for his theory is sound, his knowledge expanded, and he can only but build upon it. Space is not his favorite Principle, but this effort is a smashing success. Standing, he checks the Tree with the Third Eye, and mounts his horse, trying to remember if he had ever met this commander of grackleflints that Fiona mentioned.
The tree doesn't move, but Edan feels as if he's being watched. In the Blue World, that's entirely possible.
General Emil would only be familiar if Edan had spent significantly more time with Queen Clarissa than he has.
After some head-scratching and navel-gazing, Edan decides the best course would be to head in the general direction of Clarissa. Even better, since the Shadow that Random described to him in in that general direction, Edan will stop there first. If he's very lucky, he might even run into some grackleflints there and be shunted up the bueracratic ladder.
Edan does spare the occasional glance towards Kyauta, allowing his affine to work through whatever thought processes it might have, if it wants to discuss the meeting with Robin and Vere.
Edan heads out. The blue world is a good starting place, and soon Edan finds himself needing the little tricks of pattern and sorcery that his father has taught him to deal with the environment of Chaos. The sky is starting to splinter, as if there are different parts that are out of phase, and the trees shimmer, but the land is still relatively normal this close to the border tree.
Edan comes across a battlefield. There is a single oak tree at the edge, denuded of leaves as if in winter. Perhaps it is winter, here. Tangled in the branches of the tree are several men. All are bleeding, and none are moving. They don't seem to be weighing down the branches at all. As Edan gets closer, he sees that they have chalk-white skin, no hair, and bone spurs (either natural or artificial) on their elbows. At least one of them is obviously dead, his shoulder cleaved as if by an axe. The others may be as well.
Sitting on the tree branch is a raven. It has an eyeball in its beak.
It couldn't have been that long of a time since the battle, if there's still eyeballs for ravens to pick at. Edan approaches carefullly, more out of caution for his horse than anything else - Aramsham wouldn't have shied from the smell of blood or death, but he doesn't know how this horse would react...and he's already been warned about how spirited this steed can be.
So he urges the horse closer, close enough to be at an easy talking distance from the raven. "Do you speak?"
It swallows the eyeball, whole, and hops from foot to foot.
After a moment. "Not generally with my mouth full. You're late if you came for the battle. You need to be more prompt if you wish the juicy bits."
"I just ate, thank you." He cocks his head at the bird. "Not wanting to begrudge you your windfall, here, but I was hoping to meet up with these, er, men while they were still breathing. Who fought them?"
The bird looks at Edan with one eye and turns his head slowly, switching eyes. "These aren't men. They're grackleflints, of the Brass Legion. They belong to Clarissa the Queen, and no other Lord of Chaos would have them.
"They crossed Dulle Griet. Or at least they crossed her path." It shakes its feathers. "I heard a good one, recently, Lord. I can teach you wisdom if you let me peck out your eye."
Dulle Griet? That's a new one, Edan thinks, but it's not the top question he wants to address. "That's a completely different kind of wisdom, and I wouldn't care to learn it," he says. "How about you tell me in exchange for me not pecking out your eye. Or maybe there's some other payment we can negotiate on that doesn't involve pecking."
The bird squawks and flies to a higher branch. "Can't blame a carrion bird for trying, can you? What payment do you offer?"
"I am a proficient sorceror and artist, have stories of Amber, and can generally walk to most any place or any thing I desire," Edan says. "Also a pleasant singing voice. And, well, limited time, to be fair. Does any of that appeal to you?"
The crow caws in agreement. "I would take a song. A song from your childhood. Children's songs are usually the most bloody, in exchange for wisdom. I am a fair bird; I will strike a fair bargain."
Edan racks his brain, thinking of many songs he had heard in his life, short as it may be compared to others; but seeing the bird before him, it reminds him of a poem sung to him many times as a child. He clears his throat, and in a clear voice he sings*:
I am thinking of that raven, still!
The one crossing the ravines of Yush
and their golden, sun-burnt fields-
And the scalpel of its wings,
from the pallid, papery veil of the skies,
cropped out an arch-bridge, leaning uneven-
to the sides.
Then, the blunt edge of its dried gorge,
addressed the aged mountain beside.
And his words,
still echo in the rock-strong wits
of the bored mounts around-
ever since mystified...
(*Ahmad Shamlou: (The Raven, 1975))
"Not bad," replies the crow. "You should change it to be about a crow, though. Ravens have ugly voices, almost as bad a grackle."
Edan feels somewhat odd, as if he's forgotten something.
"What wisdom did you want of me, Child of Amber?"
"Did you not have some specific wisdom that you wished to communicate?" Edan asks. Meanwhile, he checks off a mental list: astride a horse, has Kyauta with him, the sextant is still with him, the Fire Gate to Arden has been dismantled, on his way to find the Trumps...
Have I forgotten something in the rush after encountering the Dragon? he asks Kyauta.
Surely not, Great Lord!
The crow coughs apologetically, "I was thinking of 'don't give your eye to a carrion bird for wisdom unless you know what you're getting', but you already knew that one. In any case, I said I'd be fair, and so I shall. Your passage is marked and there are those following your progress. You walk into a maw, mind the teeth and the tongue." The bird stretches his wings and starts to circle away from Edan.
"Wait, lots of people follow my progress," Edan calls out. Not that he expects to strike gold here, but anything would help. "Who is it?"
The crow circles, crossing the multi-colored sky. He's not out of range of a thrown stone, but he's clearly not interested in being too close to Edan. "Oh, you are interesting to many, many. The brighter lights drown the lesser. Dulle Griet, affine to the Duke of Borel herself, has an eye on you. She watches your passing through lands that hostile to your very self and wonders at your purpose."
Edan processes this, and nods once in understanding. It is better than expected. And the name sounds vaguely familiar, some painting or other he glanced at in Antwerp in that shadow he and his father visited. It's time to get moving, not that his talent for shifting Shadow will help here. "Well, I am a Lord of Chaos. That's what they say, anyway. Maybe I'm waiting for her to get too close so I can add her distinctiveness to my own. Or maybe I'm looking for new..." How did his father say it? "...digs."
The bird laughs. "You think you could defeat m- my Lady? and her friends Chantico and her patron-mother the Duchess of Borel? You are brave, oh Ordered Lord of Chaotic things, but ignorant. But you are amusing and I have no real quarrel with you. I hope the digs you seek are not your grave." The bird flaps higher and higher and disappears into a cloud. Edan thinks it may be lingering there, to see what he does.
While he's moving, Edan affords himself a moment of regret that he doesn't have Aramsham here. He does examine the grackleflint bodies more closely to see just what killed them as he passes by.
It looks like it was cut open with a kitchen knife.
Oho. Edan pulls on the reins to make his horse do a little turn and jump, following the crow's progress. He smiles. "That would depend entirely on what y... what your Lady does. Maybe, I'm just passing through," he says, heedless of whether the crow can hear him now. He suspects it can. "Maybe, I mean no harm and we just happened to cross paths. Sometimes it's better to just leave things be."
But, as he paws through his clothes for an appropriate item to serve as a brand (so much harder to do, here, with no Shadow manipulation to give him exactly what he wants), Edan is frowning; if Chantico is near, she might want a rematch. Even if the Dulle Griet doesn't make an appearance, in crow form or Her own, there is no doubt the word will be given. He doubts Chantico would want to see him again so soon, but there's no telling how long she's had to recuperate.
Finding a long wand, he strikes it against his hand, setting the tip alight; then he waves it in a complicated pattern over the remains of the grackleflints, taking a full minute of movement and chanting. Then he holds the brand high as he urges his little entourage onward.
The trail is clear and white. It manifests as a white smoke trail in the direction the Edan was riding. The grackleflint bodies, perhaps disturbed by the crow and perhaps by the sorcery, begin to float along the same trail Edan takes.
His borrowed horse snorts, nervously, and the sky wheels from dark to light in a moment.
If Edan was a horse, he would snort, too. If he's seen this change in the sky before, on his last visit, he'll be less nervous about it. But either way, he brings up his Third Eye to make sure nothing untoward is about to happen.
Mark where that crow went into the clouds, Kyauta. If something dives out at us, I need some warning to react.
Yes, My Lord
Edan scans the landscape. Most things show some sorcerous footprint, but it's minimal. Edan notes that to his third eye the very air sparkles, as if sorcerous energy was spontaneously being created and instantly snuffed out all the time. It's not visible to the nonmagical eyes, but there is definitely an unusual magical quality to this place.
The grackleflints continue to steadily drift in the direction of the arrow.
It does appear that Edan has covered his back, at least. The floating bodies are strange, and a little disconcerting, but may be some kind of intrinsic property. He urges the horse onward, following the trail as it reveals itself.
Edan rides for an unknowable time, and he's convinced he's sliding through shadow, as if natural shadow paths had devolved into something more like shadow tides. The sky starts to change faster, and splits into more distinct bands of dark and light. The lessons Bleys drilled into Edan long ago about how to survive here and what Edan has learned more practically since then come into play.
It's easy to handle either with Chaos-based Sorcery or with Pattern.
Eventually, Edan spots what may be the destination of the floating Grackleflints: an impossibly tall mountain in the distance. Or perhaps it's closer than he thinks. It's hard to trust anything like depth perception here.
Two grackleflints ride towards Edan, each mounted on a white horse-like creature. Their mounts have extra joints on their legs and the same kind of spikes at the elbows that the dead soldiers have.
The ride towards Edan, their weapons undrawn and their pace unhurried. They will intercept Edan's course long before he reaches the mountain.
Completely expected, and a better reception than it could have been. Edan drops the torch, which hits the ground and improbably keeps burning; otherwise, he also keeps his weapons undrawn.
The other grackleflints he's met haven't spoken, so he'll make the first conversational gambit. If his welcome committee stops at an easy distance, he'll hold up his hands and say, "Your friends here, they ran into the Dulle Griet. I believe I crossed her path, too. She may still have an eye on me. Us."
"What is your name and purpose here?" Their words are, like the grackleflints themselves, colorless and dull. Edan detects no curiosity, no purpose, and no warmth in the rider's voice. It is as if it were programmed to say those words.
He tenses in the saddle. A little. That kind of colorless, lifeless response is enough to put one's teeth on edge. "I am Edan, son...affine of Bleys, affine of Clarissa. I seek a General Emil of the grackleflints. I wish to speak with him, or get directions if I must seek him elsewhere."
"Follow", says the same rider, and turns his horse around. The other rider waits for Edan.
Edan arrives at a ... camp, or something like a camp. There is a paddock and there are some tents. In the distance, Edan sees a large number of armored grackleflints, standing at attention, unmoving.
The flap to the nearest tent opens and another grackleflint walks out. He has the same hollow eye sockets at the others, but a much more human manner. He walks as if he is walking, not as if he's running a "walk" command. He's wearing, incongruously, a tuxedo, with a red bow-tie and cummerbund. With a hat and sunglasses, he could pass in The Land of Peace, at least in the cities.
"I thought I smelled horseflesh," say the man, or man-like thing. "I am Emil. You are Bleys's son? Your father and grandmother have long been good friends of the Bronze Legions. Don't worry, I'm not biased against breeders, not like some of the Lords. The ways of a Ways are the Ways, I always say. What brings you to the mountain?"
It's easy to imagine him in a club, smoking a pipe and reading the Times. It's difficult to imagine him commanding the greatest army in all Chaosdom.
Edan has trouble keeping himself from staring back and forth between Emil and the unmoving bronze ranks. "It is good that there is amity. I would hope to continue that trend. I am actually here at the behest of Random, King of Amber and Xanadu." He tilts his head a little. "You are not at all like the others I have met. I would hazard a guess that you are no stranger to the Shadows."
He nods, looking over the horse. "Not your regular mount, I take it?" He reaches out and pets the animal. It's wary, but not scared.
"My father was a shadow, or the Spirit of one. He was broken many years ago, but gave his children many gifts. My brothers are young, and haven't learned as much as I have. Once they return to the mountain, they start their next life with more experience."
He looks at the young man from the Land of Peace. "Now, then young fellah, what can the Legions or I do for Oberon and Random? Or would you prefer to speak of it over a glass of wine?"
Edan nods and dismounts - slowly enough not to cause a stir from anyone, if guards are nearby. "I would, that. Thank you. As you guessed, this is not my regular mount, and he is very spirited. Do you have someone to attend to him as we talk? I could do so myself, if it is an imposition."
He nods. "I'll summon a centurion. As your mount is a creature of order, it probably needs to stay somewhat close to you." The officer comes over, and Emil gives him instructions. If the centurion were a person, he'd seem young. He's not the automaton that the soldiers were.
Emil pulls a camp table and two folding chairs from the tent. He sets them up facing the mountain where Edan can watch the new groom handle his horse. The centurion seems good at it, for someone who may never have seen a horse before.
Another grackleflint arrives with a bottle and two glasses. Emil pours them both and sets the tray down on the table. He takes a glass. "To Queen Clarissa," he proposes.
"To Grandmother," Edan says with real fondness, and allows Emil to decide whether the glasses are too fragile to clink together. "I traveled with her, not long ago. It was the first time we had met, person to person. It was both pleasant and terrifying." He takes a sip, still new to the appreciation of wine, and tries to identify the flavors.
The glasses are not too delicate for a light clink. The wine tastes spectacular, but Edan's only references to the flavors of it are not tastes at all. It tastes of 'Boom' and 'Prickle', with undertones of the color 'Orange'.
"Alas," he continues, "I do not think she is in any way involved with this trip. This has to do with Random, and a recent visit he had made out in this direction."
He smiles, wistfully. "I think she would be pleased to be described as 'pleasant and terrifying.' She and I have had many adventures together. I introduced her to her grandfather, and yours, a long time ago. The day we freed the Legions and killed my father." Emil drinks a healthy swig of his wine.
"But you're not here to reminisce with an old warrior. Tell me more of the new King."
Edan fails to hide his disappointment, as every bit of that sounds like something he would like to hear. But he knows enough to sense a change in topic. "Random is...a Prince of Amber. He is the youngest of his siblings, and looks it, but despite that he is intelligent and matchless in his guile. He has a fondness for music, and his kingdom will draw music and art and culture from all places to it as part of its greatness." He pauses. "I do not engage in hyperbole, though it may sound so. There was a place I learned of in my travels, called Vienna. It followed the same model, and became the hub of culture and music in its world. I think the same will happen for Random."
He drinks again, as much for effect as from talking, and says, "But you may have heard of him already, and much closer to here. He essayed a rescue attempt to free Brand from a tower, before it was known...well, before it was known that wasn't such a good idea. During the attempt, he lost his personal effects. He was most unhappy with this. He has asked me to find and retrieve them."
Emil's laugh is something of a bark; short and explosive. It fits him. "That one? I heard about him. He led a troop of my legion on a merry chase and sent them back to the mountain. Do you know what you're looking for? I do know he left behind a gun and put a sword in Scitalis' eye."
Edan tries not to wince. "I do not think that he would want the sword. There was another thing he lost - a pack of cards."
Emil shakes his head. "I haven't heard. I'll send for the centurion who led the defenses at the Princess' Tower. It was very odd, that part of the war. We were supposed to keep it a secret from the Queen that we were working for the Princess, but I think she knew, even if she didn't want to know."
A grackleflint comes up to Emil, although no obvious bidding on the General's part. "Oh, Radu. Please send to the quartermaster for anything found during the defense of the Princess' Tower and request that Stanis come to my pavillion." He smiles as the other grackleflint nods.
Turning back to Edan, he says "What do these cards look like? I've heard that the King of Xanadu was a gambler, but cards are hardly worth the effort, no? I can have a deck made and sent to him if he can't get one in his desmesne."
Edan smiles, a little. "This one was an ancient deck of tarot, and some of the cards were painted to resemble family. It has sentimental value to him, I believe. Or perhaps he was just looking to keep me out of trouble for a while - I do tend to cause a stir wherever I go. Sometimes."
Emil pouts, and for a moment, it's possible to forget that he's making human facial expressions without really having a face. "I may not be able to help you cut your task short. Let's see what Stan has to say."
It's just after this that a grackleflint comes up to the pavillion. 'Yes, Emil? Is there something urgent?" He sounds quite annoyed.
"Ah, Stannis. Come, meet the Commander's grandson. Edan Bleyson, this is my younger and more angry brother, Stannis Grackleflint, the Air Marshal of the Brass Legions."
The grackleflint starts, and bows at the neck towards Edan.
Edan matches the newcomer's bow at the neck, from where he sits. "Marshal. I am honored."
Stannis completely drops the impatience he showed with Emil. "Air Marshal, your highness. I would not wish to be confused with a Moonrider."
"Edan is looking for a deck of magical cards that his King dropped when he assaulted the Princess' tower. You were in command there, as I recall."
"Yes, He led us on quite a chase. It took three of your kind to send us all back to the mountain. We had his trump deck, but only for a short time. We were ambushed near a monastery and they took the Hastatus carrying it. When he returned to the mountain, he'd been robbed."
Another grackleflint arrives and opens a box, which has a stained sword and a handgun in it. Emil dismisses him and offers the contents to Edan.
Emil finishes his drink. "You''ll be looking for the Klybesians, if you want your trumps back."
"I see." Edan finishes what's left of his, as well. He doesn't hide his relief that the the grackleflints know what Trumps are, as it saves him a lot of worry for dropping family secrets. "Thank you. I have heard the name, here and there, but I must confess I do not know anything in detail. They style themselves as a monastic order, yes? Do you know anything about them?"
Emil snorts. "A fair bit. We're of interest to them, because we can follow people through shadows. They'd like to have that power, or more of it. What they really want is your control over shadow travels. Or it's what this group of them want. They're an old sect, and have been many things at different times."
Stannis hasn't moved. It's hard to tell where he's looking, with his featureless face. "Even at the same time. Do not assume you know what all of them want or would do even if you know one." Emil nods. "True of any group, one would think."
"Even family," Edan says, his voice a good deal more dry than the wine. "Personally, and fortunately, I am not so hard to read. My loyalty lies with Amber and Xanadu, Random's new realm. With Random. With my father. With Family. This does not preclude me from being a friend to the Bronze Legions." He pauses, thinking about it, and then nods. "Yes. If there is a need, and it does not cross the vows I have already mentioned, you have but to ask. As you say, your relationship with my immediate family goes a long way back. Someday, an I live long enough, perhaps I would be more use to you."
"The Legion has few friends, out here, which is suprising as we are good friends to have. Speak my name to any Legionnaire if you need aid."
[Edan] folds his hands in his lap. "Well. As you say. Finding any random Klybesian, that might not be so helpful. Do you know of a particular sect, a particular individual, that I might seek in order to find the Trumps?"
Stannis starts. "No, not any random Monk. They are strongly ordered. They'd pass it along. You'll have to find their main research temple. You'll need to find one of their officers, perhaps the Turcopolier. He travels extensively. We hear of him in many places."
Edan frowns, but only for a second. "Now, that title I have heard before. A mounted archer," he says. "No doubt, his duties range far beyond that job. I shall search for him." He rises, and bows. "Thank you. My visit has been most pleasant."
Stannis bows in return. "We know him as master of the mercenary companies, and high-ranking in the order. We have met on and off the field. He has a talent for making strong armies from mercenaries that seem less than ideal."
Emil also rises and bows. "You may find other ways to the Ways of the Klybes, but the soldiers are likely to point you at the soldierly method. My best wishes to your Kings and your sire."
"Thank you. I shall pass that along. Fare well, until we meet again," Edan says as he collects his horse and takes his leave.
A few hours later the three cousins gather in a small room. Ossian has found a shiny steel breastplate, and a heavier sword than he usually carries. He also has a bow and a quiver full of arrows. This is the first time Jerod sees Ossian wearing any kind of armor.
Ossian gives Raven two trumps, one of uncle Corwin and one of a sunny beach. "I will sadly need them back afterwards. " he says, and opens his sketch book. The sketch shows an oddly shaped rock at the foot of a hill. "Anything before we leave?" he says.
Raven accepts the cards gingerly and tucks them away in an inside pocket of her coat. The good captain looks ready to board a ship, complete with a sword that looks like someone might have used the hilt as a club against something hard at some point. "You'll get them back," she answers. "I think I got everything."
"Ok. Get close, and I'll push you through." Ossian says concentrating on the sketch. When the contact opens he lets Jerod through first, and then Raven, before coming himself.
The three cousins are in a valley between high grass-covered hills. No humans are in sight.
"I'll move us a bit closer" Ossian says, striding off northwards. Jerod can sense Ossian's careful shifting of shadow as they walk. As they enter a small forest on the side of one of the hills Ossian turns to Jerod: "We are now rather close to the shadow of the Klybesians. I think it is your turn now."
Raven follows along, looking around with clear curiosity.
Jerod keeps moving silently for a distance before coming upon a trio of horses tied up near a set of low-lying shrubs. From a saddlebag on one of the larger ones he collects a bottle and a thick crystal glass. He then rummages around further, pulling out a leather satchel and looking at it for a moment. "Get comfortable. It'll take a few minutes." he says. He busies himself making a small fire before settling down before it and pouring himself a drink. It is downed in one smooth motion as the bottle is moved to one side, within easy reach of anyone inclined to get some.
Closing his eyes, he breathes for a moment before summoning the Pattern to his mind, letting it fill his awareness, before opening his eyes. Everywhere he looks, he focuses, letting the Pattern touch it, seeing the Shadow before him, feeling its nature, the vibration of life dictated by rules and laws bound by probability. He watches it, seeing it all through the veils of the Pattern, cementing it in his consciousness, letting the ebb and flow of this place move within him, while slowly, carefully, imposing his will upon the substrate of Shadow.
After what seems like an eternity to him, he opens the satchel and looks inside. He pulls a ring from the satchel, silver with a large ruby and he stares at it. One of his father's rings, he let the feelings seep out from within himself, entering into the Pattern connection with the Shadow. For a moment it is hard to maintain the connection and his gaze narrows considerably, using the feelings that come to fore for strength, for focus.
As he places the ring on the ground in front of the fire, he lets the emotion enter into the connection proper, the loss of home and rule, of order and good conduct, a loss replaced by abandon and the fear that faltering laws and order bring. This he pushes into the Shadow around him, letting it ripple outwards as his hand reaches into the satchel.
A cloth comes forth next, an intricate pattern that Ossian would recognize is from Rebma. Jerod looks at it carefully, letting the emotion of security fill him for just a moment before reliving the attack by the Triton, remembering the pain of his ribs, the bitter acrid taste of blood. The loss of faith in security and home pushes out now into the link, to be followed by the fear of the outsider, the malevolence that comes from that which is outside, which cannot be stopped or controlled or bargained with. He pushes this into the Shadow as he lets the cloth fall into the fire, the smoke of its passing wafting into the air, spreading itself upon the wind.
Another draw from the satchel, this time a graven image, brilliant blue and green colours reflecting the sunshine, an image of a fountain set in an idyllic glade, a woman facing away from the viewer, looking outwards to the mountains in the distance. Jerod looks at it for a long moment, remembering when he handed this to Cambina in Paris, a life time ago. He places it carefully onto the ground beside the ring, letting the loss of hope fill his mind, followed immediately by the rage, ice cold and unyielding, a living thing that cares not for mercy or pity or reason. A cold, relentless force...a power of itself that gives focus and clarity upon the execution of its terrible purpose.
Another draw, the final one, and Jerod is looking upon the letter. The letter for Reid, written after Jerod's meeting with Random, in another life, when Jerod had promised he would make the King's wishes known to Reid should he find him, to let Reid "make things right". He looks at the letter, the wax seal of his ring, the careful script of the address...and he places the letter into the fire, letting the ash waft into the air, as vengeance fills the link, vengeance against all those who had wronged him...and those who kept him from helping Family.
The crack of his knuckles, squeezing of his fist, bring him back to the forest and the fire and he lets the link fade, lowering the Pattern and taking a long breath. Another drink follows the breath and he says, mostly to himself. "Better get something to eat.", and another drink.
He picks up the ring and the small plaque, placing them back in the satchel and looks at Ossian. "It's done. The rules have been adjusted...the Shadow will manifest our foreboding for us." he says, climbing slowly to his feet.
A bolt of lighting strikes a distant tree, from the mostly clear sky. It is, Ossian knows, directly between his kinsmen and the Klybesians. Seconds later, thunder rumbles across the evening plains. The night is cool and seems inclined to become colder.
Ossian nods. "That's really impressive, Jerod. Do we want horses."
Jerod motions to the trio of horses, one of which he pulled the satchel from. "Not unless we're getting company." He returns to the larger one, putting the satchel back into the saddle bag and pulling out a wrapped package that upon opening contains travel rations of smoked meats and cheese, which Jerod proceeds to consume with considerable efficiency.
"I'm thinking that should be enough for now...it'll get some people's attention without terrifying everyone into a defensive posture. Unless you've got a suggestion in which case I'd be happy to consider it. I had considered letting a vampire loose but it would take too long to set up the shadow linkage for one to find their way here."
Raven gives the horses a resigned look - the look of a man who grew up in the docks and has spent infinitely more time on a ship than in a saddle. "If we were planning to be here for a bit, I'd say rats," she observes. "Ain't nothing less restful than dealing with rats for days, and all of a sudden they up and disappear."
"The case for horses is that the Klybesians have less time to prepare for our arrival, as we travel faster. The case against - they will probably be intrigued by the quest of how we managed to walk here." Ossian says "Oh, I could do mean things with rats, but let's keep that in reserve."
"I'd rather they be less prepared. But we'll keep the rats in mind though." Jerod replies, concentrating for a few moments, allowing for future probabilities to appear, delicate hooks to await the hanging of just the right amount of fate upon them to trigger the arrival of some very unwelcome guests.
"Let's be off. Time to get what we came here for."
The landscape is bleak and the clouds glower overhead, threatening to storm without doing so. The wild heath looks to be a no-man's land. It is only as the riders approach the monastery on the cliffside that they even begin to see signs of human life. There are cleared trees, and a valiant attempt to wrest crops and livelihood from the sullen soil seems to be an exercise in futility. The weather varies between too warm by day down to far too cold in the evening. The light seems to wash out every bit of color and life, leaving a greyness that looks as if it has long known that it underlies everything, but which has waited for everything bright and alive to die.
The Klybesians' compound fits this place. No one would come here, willingly. It is an information fortress.
The gates are ahead. They surely have seen the three riders approaching up the mountain.
"We need to get someone ranking high enough out here." Ossian says to the others. "I do not think entering that fortress is wise."
Jerod looks over the compound, studying it and the land around it, sifting it for the feel of reality as well as the taint of sorcery.
"What are your colours?" he asks, the question directed to both Ossian and Raven. They can see he begins to rummage through one of his saddle bags.
Raven blinks. "Eh? Ain't sure I got any."
"Welcome to being a Lord of Amber." Jerod says to Raven, riffling through one saddle bag, pulling out two banners and a collapsed pole made from segmented wooden sections of hardened wood. "You'll come up with some eventually. They're good for impressing the hired help and intimidating the outliers." and he pauses to verify the two he has in hand, nodding.
Ossian smiles. "I have suggestions."
"Huh." Raven looks like she's considering all of that.
"For me: Electric blue, the shade of Amber 's sky on a clear day at the end of winter just after sunrise as seen through the window in Lucas' study. And white as the petals of the Arden Starflower."
Jerod goes over to Ossian's horse and riffles through one of the bags on his horse before pulling out a banner that exactly matches the color scheme described, along with another segmented banner pole.
"You'll want to put that up." Jerod says, handing it to Ossian before moving off a few yards and posting the two banners he has. The first uses the colours and markings of Xanadu, the heraldry for a royal emissary on official business. The second is styled in Jerod's colors and contains heraldic markings for both Xanadu and Amber. It also contains, prominently, the markings that denote a Prince.
"They'll be able to see these." Jerod says, getting back on his horse. "We'll see how quickly they respond, and more importantly, who they send out. If we don't get anything in about an hour's time, I'll see about having a meteor impact at the horizon's edge. The explosion won't be a problem for us, but I'm sure they'll get the hint real fast.
"It'll be your show." he says to Ossian. "I'll be in the background watching things."
Raven nods agreement to that.
Within ten minutes the gate opens and a man rides out, slowly. He's dressed in modern earth clothing, and has a leather jacket that looks like it can stop both the fierce wind and an errant dagger. "Lords and Princes of Amber, I am Brother Mago. I greet you in the name of the Saint Pastoral Chapterhouse of the Order of Klybes. Your coming was not unexpected. Please, come in. The weather is unseasonal." His tone of voice is calm, but not friendly.
The entrance to which he leads the group is different from the one Ossian came in by. There is evidence of some higher technology in play. It's quite possible that they used this entrance just to allow Ossian to see the difference.
"You must be tired. Rooms have been prepared."
Ossian grins. "Your hospitality is commendable. However, you are mistaken. We are not tired, and will not be staying for long. Bring us to Hannibal, or another of your leaders."
Jerod is silent as Ossian goes through the introductions, watching all around him, and feeling for the disturbance in Order that sorcery brings. He tweaks a string here or there in the threads of probability, adjusting just in case a meteor really is needed. He'd prefer not to have one though...things gets too messy.
Raven likewise keeps her mouth shut, studying this Brother Mago, his clothes, and the fortress. She keeps her arms crossed, looking unfriendly; she'd try for intimidating, but she's always thought that's harder to pull off when you know you're not the meanest person in the room. If the overall effect is that of a lesser Naval officer backing up his captain at a tense negotiation with the enemy, well...
"Doctor Chew has been summoned. He will not be long. He has been authorized to discuss matters with you." The monk looks at Ossian. "Since you are here, and certainly aware of our role as information brokers, you may wish to conduct personal business with us as a side affair.
"We learn many things. Please consider, " he says, turning to Jerod, "anything you may wish to learn from us, and what you might be willing to offer us."
He smiles and looks at Raven. "Or indeed, anything you would wish to have us keep silent."
Perhaps it is the time Jerod spent with the Pattern in his mind, the immersion of Reality that hardens oneself against the vagaries of Shadow and those who are part of it, that sharpens their personality and defines who they truly are...but there is a look that the monk will see...that Raven and Ossian will see...a look that few see...behind the face of Court and politics and bland conversation concealing threats and promises....there is something...more. Jerod hears the monk and his words, but his own calculations are far ahead...so far ahead...and for the briefest moment there is a flash of that, of an intellect concealed from view, hidden from those that might be apprised of it's true nature. That flash is all that is needed to know that the Order of Klybes has nothing that Jerod wants, or that they could offer that would come close to what Jerod might possess.
There is something else as well, something that is suppressed after a moment, something that says that perhaps it is better that the monks do not possess anything he might truly desire...for the thought might occur to those who consider it...that Jerod might decide to simply take it instead...and crack this world asunder in the process without regard to the consequence.
But the moment passes, the "something" fades and Jerod remains silent, watchful...and waiting.
Ossian just shakes his head. "We will talk with the doctor."
The monk nods. "The rooms behind you are for your use." He makes a gesture at three identical looking doors along the north wall. "You may also tour our sculpture garden and public library. Speak to any brother if you wish anything. Dr. Chew will be with you as soon as possible."
"I do like sculpture, and I don't like waiting. " Ossian says looking at his cousins. "Shall we?"
"Keep your eyes open." Jerod replies.
"Fine by me," Raven agrees.
The sculpture garden is large and the sculptures lean towards the monumental. Amid the many images of monks, there are some more modern works. In one niche there is a a conical statue of a mountain, looking much like Kolvir. There are climbers on it, and they seem to become increasingly happy as they ascend. The ones at the top have wings. There is a bench across from it.
Ossian looks closely at this sculpture, as it shares some elements with the Sundering Monument. He sits down on the bench to see what perspective that would give him. He looks at Jerod, raising an eyebrow.
Jerod looks at it only briefly. "Moonriders." he muses.
It is indeed similar to the Sundering Monument, with subtle changes. Its title plate is labelled "After Amber". It's likely a reaction piece to Ossian's work. Or an interpretation. Given the materials and what Ossian can tell from the style, it might well have been made in Amber and brought here. Not by anyone who was working publicly in the city, or else Ossian would know of it, but someone knew his work and made this.
At a distance from this is a statue entitled 'Lir'. It is more like a diorama than a statue and it looks like Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa. It has a bench across from it as well.
Jerod looks at it the way a Rebman would look at it, visualizing the three dimensional space of the wave the way that surfacers rarely can, seeing beyond just the surface effects. But the moment lasts only long enough to imprint the statue for future reference before Jerod returns to the here and now.
The layers of the statue do go deeper than are strictly necessary, as if part of the goal is a study of the lower forces. It seems more imaginative than accurate at those levels.
A monk approaches Raven, and hands the captain a piece of paper.
Raven eyes the monk warily as she accepts the piece of paper. She doesn't make any attempt to conceal the note - anyone sufficiently curious to do so could easily read over her shoulder - she just reads it silently.
It says "We are, in addition to sellers of secrets, keepers of secrets. We know one of yours, and we wish to discuss matters with you. It need not be here, it need not be now. You may contact the Brotherhood at a later date, if you wish. We are not unfriendly."
It is sealed with the Wax 'K' seal of the order.
Raven says, "Huh," at the piece of paper, and then wads it up and shoves it in the pocket of her coat, where an awful lot of things seem to end up. "Guess that ain't a surprise. They fancy they've got some secret of mine and want to talk about it at some point. Can't imagine what." She snorts. "Ain't like my Navy career's ups and downs are hard to find out."
"They may be referring to your heritage." Jerod replies, after the monk has departed. "The monks have tendrils in a number of places."
A man enters the garden. He's not dressed as the other monks, but in more form-fitting clothes. He's still covered from head to foot, but he looks more modern than anyone in the castle has to date. He wears a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles.
He bows. "Welcome back, Lord Ossian. Prince Jerod, Captain Raven, I know you by reputation. You are welcome to this chapter-house. I am Dr. Hannibal Chew. I am told you came to see me?"
Jerod continues his watchfulness and his silence, letting Ossian take the lead.
Raven likewise defers to Ossian to handle the conversation.
"Not you in person " Ossian says" We are here, sent by King Random, to bring home the body of Lord Reid, and to relieve you of the woman in your custody. Papillon."
He nods, agreeably. "Then you are here to treat with us. I will send for chairs, and wine if you wish it. We have taken excellent care of each and I am sure we can determine appropriate compensation for our efforts."
Jerod remains silent, but he begins to adjust probabilities, sifting for changes, nudging the gloom. Part of him digs deeper as well, for storms and lightning and hail, and worse if needed.
Ossian does not smile. "The King does not offer any compensation. " he says with a certain hardness in his voice.
Raven glances around the area, curious to see if the conversation is being watched by anyone she can see.
"A pity," replies Dr. Chew. "Perhaps your Lordships," he says, emphasizing the title, "would wish to provide us a private endowment as a token of friendship for our efforts on your departed cousin's behalf?" He is not smiling. "It would expedite matters."
Jerod stop sifting now, and instead starts shoving. Weather worsening, the shifting of earth deep beneath the surface, preparing to release itself in a massive tremor when he but nudges it forward.
He digs for the kernel of the shadow that lets magic work here and finds it, ready to snuff it out the instant that it is needed.
And all the while, at the edge of his rage, lurks something much worse...
"How many have sent to them, to my people?" Marissa asks, her ghost on the edge of his consciousness. "Is it not the destination of the unrepentant, the incorrigible."
Jerod does not answer, focusing on his rage and the shifting, setting the triggers, pushing the world to his will's vision.
A vision of pale skin flitters across his mind's eye. "Must they always have the chance to redeem themselves, to do what you see to be right? The horde awaits those who are irredeemable...is that not the way?"
"Everyone has a chance." Jerod thinks. "You had a chance."
"You gave me that chance." she whispers, the incisors barely visible, blood red eyes staring through him. "And I thanked you for my death."
"I do not want your thanks."
"But you have it anyway. And for that, you have also my home. You know you can do it. Open a path to the darkness. Let them through. The storm on the horizon...the horde that knows you, the Prince who loved she who was named Death in their tongue...."
"I did not love Death. Just you..."
"The horde will not care...they will only care for your rage and sorrow. It will lead them to the irredeemable, those who deserve no mercy. You could be the one who leads them." her ghost muses. "The phrase your father taught you...the one to fear for it is so easy for you to take on the mantle. What was it?"
"A pale horse appears, whose rider is Death, and Hades follows him. Death was granted a fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and with the beasts of the earth." Jerod replies.
"The horde are those beasts...it is fitting." Marissa whispers, as she fades from view.
Jerod is silent in his mind...waiting...
Raven eyes Dr. Chew and amuses herself by trying to decide if he's asking for "compensation" for himself or for the organization at a whole. She finally settles on the organization; most people are more than willing to get rid of a dead body, she's found, so there must be something bigger.
Jerod feels the probabilities shift and move and things are ready at his choice.
Raven thinks they are being observed, perhaps by a team of observers.
Ossian does not smile either. "We know that you are wise enough to give us the body and the girl without the need for any reward. Our memories are long."
Chew looks disappointed. "Of course. My superiors may not be as wise as I am, but I will try to persuade them. If you will excuse me, I will have to discuss matters with them. If you reconsider, you may talk to any brother." He bows, in the Klybesian fashion and makes to leave.
Jerod decides it is time to provide Chew with something by which to "persuade" his superiors. He focuses, shifts a probability, then another, and waits for the few seconds before meteor airbursts over the fortress, high enough to do no damage, but low enough for the air to shudder with the explosion that will emanate from it. Enough for one to realize what a closer burst would do, or a ground strike.
And still he watches silently...sifting for the magic presence, ready to shut it off should it flare.
Dr. Chew watches it burst. "I shall remind them of that, as well, your lordships." He leaves the three alone in the garden, except for the watchers.
Ossian glances at Jerod with a smile.
Raven tenses, glancing up, and then nods slightly to herself. Right. Probably Jerod. "So is it normal for them to be watching us all the time?" she asks lowly.
"I would be surprised if they didn't." Ossian says.
Jerod watches Chew depart, then motions for Ossian and Raven to approach.
"Chew is on Martin's bad side. He's got an interest in our family, our blood it seems. This doesn't bode well and I doubt they're going to release either Reid's body or the girl. We may need to be out of here fast and I may need to crack this shadow in half." he says quietly. "How fast can you get a trump open if the world is coming down around our ears?" looking at Ossian.
Ossian eyes gleam. "It is not instant. But less than a minute. I can contact someone and hold it open. I think the Klybesians will notice that I have my mind elsewhere though."
"Can't promise I'm fast," Raven offers, "but I ain't the one doing the talking, either. It may be kind of obvious, though."
"Be ready to open it then." Jerod says to Ossian. "Get yourself and Raven through if things are going to hell. And make sure that Random knows about Chew." and looks at Raven. "Cover him so he's got time."
Raven nods. "Will do."
"Give me the beach Trump. " Ossian tells Raven, with more authority than Jerod has heard him use.
The sun is setting, and the cold wind is a harbinger of poor weather, probably of Jerod's doing. The monks are fewer in the gardens now, until eventually there is only one by the gates, waiting in his thin robe for the monastery's guests to come in.
"Time to up the ante." Jerod says, mostly to himself. "Don't want to give them time to think too much."
He sifts more, delving more into Shadow and decides the probabilities are good for the earth to shift, plates to adjust to relieve stresses deep underground. Not enough to bring down buildings...yet. But enough to rattle walls and knock things from shelves.
The ground rocks as Jerod intended. In the distance, a promontory not unlike the one they are standing on shifts during its own aftershocks and collapses.
"Are you all right, my Lords?" asks the monk at the garden gate.
Ossian concentrate on the Trump to open it. "Stay close to me. " he says grimly.
Raven moves to block the monk's view of Ossian, casually, and says, "Aye." She's looking at the monk when she says it, but she's acknowledging Ossian as well.
"How long do you want to give Chew?" Jerod asks Ossian, weighing options. "If he thinks he's in a bad way, he may be deciding to make a run for it."
"Do you want to capture him, or just kill him? Capture is more risky, I think."
"I want a threat eliminated and the Klybesians to know that pissing us off is a really bad idea." Jerod replies.
"If that gets us Chew...more or less intact, that'll be icing."
"Got a question," Raven says. "Do we think he's the leader here, or just the guy what got the short straw to come out and talk to us? If he ain't anybody important except that he pissed off the Prince, might as well just kill him and be done with it."
"It might be both." Jerod says. "He's been around too much I think to be a flunky. Probability and realities tend to collide with us because of our nature. I'd guess Chew is involved because he knows Amberites well, but that's a guess. That he was involved with Folly and Martin means there's more here than just a bunch of monks wanting to trade info."
He looks at Ossian. "Your show, your call."
Ossian nods. "I agree that he is not a normal flunky at least. I'm not happy with abandoning Reid's body though."
"Assuming we don't manage to bring this place down around our ears," Raven suggests, "ain't a reason we can't look for him once we're done with Chew. Is there? Maybe one of the monks will be willing to help then."
"I agree." Jerod says. "We can dig it out of the rubble if it's here. And I'm reasonably certain there will be few survivors if the sky starts falling on them."
"Ok." Ossian says "Do it..."
"Find cover." Jerod says, reaching down into Shadow to find the point where magic has its origin for this place.
Ordinarily he would just turn it off, adjusting the probabilities to keep it in that state long enough for stuff to work.
Now, he's not in the mood to be...generous. Now he reach for it, finds it, and with the Pattern summoned if needed, he proceeds to separate it from this Shadow. He wants no magic for the monks before he begins with tearing the fortress down around their ears.
Jerod's work should stifle shadow magics of this shadow, but foreign magics and Sorcery cannot be so easily affected. He spends moments working at it and it should be next to impossible to use regular magics in the monastery and grounds.
Ossian is quiet, concentrating to open the beach Trump. "Tell me what happens. Pinch my arm if you need to get out really quick." he whispers.
Raven nods. "Aye, I will. But we should try that getting under cover thing. Whatever's going to happen ain't likely to help what you're doing." She takes a quick glance around. "Back up some. Gonna have to squeeze in with that wave thing."
Jerod filters more, sifting, checking. "Magic will no longer work. External sorcery only." he says, his expression a little distant.
He reaches out again, this time downward, inward. He is meticulous now, focused to a fault...the effect to be produced absolutely precise. One shock of the earth...short, sharp, powerful.
Focused precisely to cause very selective damage in the monastery...leaving the promontory upon which he stands totally unaffected, leaving the entrance there standing untouched, but collapsing any other one.
And within the monastery, the fissure in the floor that will result from the earth-shock will cross the length of it...and the toxin fumes from the beneath the earth (without lava) will boil up to all the chambers within the structure.
Not fast enough to overwhelm all the inhabitants without warning...but enough to hurt them and weaken them if they escape. Those that choose to be idle inside the monastery, Jerod is certain, will not do well at all.
"We're about to have guests." Jerod says. "I've decided the interior of the monastery is going to become uninhabitable for a time."
The ground shakes and the monastery is damaged. A side entrance and the southern facade collapse, and Jerod thinks he observes a slightly green cloud in the evening gloom.
The brother at the remaining door runs inside and stumbles backwards, coughing.
No one comes out.
"If you want to live, come here." Jerod calls to the brother.
Ossian is quiet. Is the Trump opening?
Raven watches the monk to see whether he's going to be sensible or whether he's going to need to be pulled out of the doorway.
Ossian has made trump contact and could easily pass people through or pull them after himself. The Monk staggers towards Jerod. "What's happening here?" he asks.
The gas is settling but not dispersing.
"A response is happening. Your man Chew decided not to heed the wisdom of experience and thought defiance of Amber would be acceptable now that Oberon is dead. His Majesty Random thinks that is most unwise." Jerod replies to the Monk. "How many people are in the monastery? Answer quickly, unless you want to be the only survivor."
Jerod makes adjustments, allowing for future probabilities to develop that would permit new breaches to develop to vent the gas, but does not yet initiate them. He wishes to know if this Monk will cooperate, or if he is obstinate enough to condemn his comrades.
Ossian smiles. "I am ready."
"The monk at the door might want to live," Raven says quietly to Ossian. "So far, anyway." She deliberately moves to put herself between the monk and Ossian, as well; no harm in being careful.
"People? A dozen, usually." He steps forward towards Jerod, then pitches forward onto his face in the dirt. Perhaps he was overcome by the gas.
Jerod trips the triggers, working to ensure that the gas will vent and dissipate, and checks the Monk to determine his state. "Time to see about what's inside."
Ossian still keep focused on the Trump. " I will keep the Trump open. Good work, Jerod."
The monk is breathing, and should recover if kept in a warm place. He's got a nasty bump on his lip from falling, but it doesn't look debilitating.
It starts to rain, further washing the remnants of the gas away from the outside of the monastery.
Jerod drags him to an area sheltered from the rain and props him up. He then checks on the remaining entrance, noting for the level of gas to determine how long he can operate inside.
"The work isn't done til we get your friend back and find Reid." Jerod says. "Time for gas masks I think."
Ossian nods."Let's check inside. Then I can close our escape door, and be more effective here."
Raven joins Jerod near the entrance, although she stays back a little. "Where are we looking for these masks?"
The gas has dissipated quickly, and while the chapter house smells unpleasant, it's not harmful. There may be pockets of gas in the cellar or near the fissure that are dangerous, though.
Jerod digs through a pocket, comes out with a tiny vial of liquid. He shakes it and then opens it, wiping some of it on the back of his hand.
"It's reactive." he says. "It will respond to the toxicity in the air, changing color to show it's dangerous. If we need masks, we can find them. I have no doubt the monks were more resourceful than even they will realize.
"Time to go looking. Be mindful that any monks still functional are not likely to be in a pleasant mood."
Ossian smiles. He keep the Trump contact open, sightseeing stumbling after Jerod and Raven.
"Aye?" Raven says dryly. "Can't imagine why. Ain't like something tried to kill them or anything." She snorts and heads inside.
The room is dimly lit by a chandelier overhead. Most of the candles are extinguished, although some sputter along, glowing red stumps, providing scant light to the entrance chamber. Hurricane lanterns beside the door are unlit as well. The building creaks, perhaps settling from the recent underground shift.
The hall is lined with paintings, probably centuries old, and covered with generations of candle soot. It would take a team of curators months or years to clean them. The entire monastery could hold three score monks. There's only evidence that a dozen or so rooms are occupied, and only one table in the common dining room seems to have general use. A few chairs are knocked over in here, and also in what looks like it might be a prayer study room and library. At the end of the hall, there's a door to what is very likely to be an office.
There's no one inside the monastery.
The rooms receives cursory inspections, sufficient to verify that there are no threats, before proceeding to the office. Jerod however is more concerned about "home turf" and as such makes no noise while walking, moving heel to toe as he steps, the spear loose in his grip as needed.
Raven follows a little distance behind, checking to make sure no one gets any wise ideas to stick their nose out after Jerod passes. She tries to move as quietly as possible as well - but she's drawn no weapon as of yet.
No one and nothing intercepts either Jerod or Raven as they approach the office.
Once the door is opened, Jerod takes in the contents at a glance. The room has either been lightly ransacked or the occupants left in a hurry. The bookshelves have gaps where materials have been removed, and the chairs have been pushed back to the edge of the room. Jerod notes a basin of water and a number of cloths wadded next to it. Perhaps there was some sort of makeshift gas protection available to some of the monks. It looks like the carpet covered most of the cracks in this room.
There's no obvious rooms or exits that Jerod hasn't checked, and yet there are no monks.
A quick search of the room should suffice to find the exit that they used. Jerod proceeds with all due efficiency...checking for anything out of place, drafts, scrape marks, etc.
"Need to see what they might have departed with." Jerod says. "They took stuff with them...which means they don't want us seeing it. Either it's valuable to use against us, or its something that we'd kill them for possessing. Probably both."
"I'm going to check out that library, then," Raven answers. "Ain't seeing anywhere else likely for them to keep valuables other than here and there, unless they was storing stuff in the furniture and the like. Holler if you need me."
She heads for the room in question to give it a similar inspection.
The library looks intact, with books lining the shelves. For the most part, the books are hand-copied, large, and leather-bound, although there are some which seem more advanced. Those are printed and bound with thinner covers. A sample Raven picks up has engineering data in it: tables of trigonometric functions, simple physical formulae, constant values, and such.
Two books that Raven finds are related to this monatery. One is "The Kybeasian Rule". There are many copies of it. The other is a history of this monastery. It mentions a vault and burials, but indicates that it's in the nearby hills.
Raven grabs a few random copies of "The Kybeasian Rule" and compares a few random pages within them to see if all the books are likely the same or not - basically making sure that it's some sort of standard text that each monk would have and not, say, a multi-volume history or something.
Each book is a hand-copied original, with a unique name of the copyist and birth and death dates and the name of the same burial plot in the nearby hills.
That done, she'll take history of the monastery and one of the copies of the other and head back in Jerod's direction.
Jerod searches the room methodically. The monks didn't have time to take everything, and left ledgers and the minutia of decades or more of presence here. Jerod finds eleven names listed as active brothers.
There are records of foodstuffs and materials of two sorts: those bought locally and those brought here. The latest volumes are gone, and it would take some time to pore over the entire remaining set. The record does show frequent guests although Jerod doesn't recognize any of the names, even though he knows, for instance, that Ossian was recently a visitor. Nor is there any sign of Reid's name.
The shelves conceal a niche, which was not exactly concealed but was not in plain sight. There's dust in it, and it was disturbed lately.
There's nothing obvious here to explain why the Monks picked this place to have an outpost.
Jerod lets the Pattern filter in his mind, seeing if there is something to this place that makes it naturally likely to be a connection point, a place where those who are real are more likely to arrive. Or if there has been a recent disturbance for reality.
Jerod detects no natural or obviously created shadow-paths in the room Whatever happened here was "normal" insofar as things Jerod could detect with Pattern. He also knows he's suppressed most shadow-magic, leaving him with only a limited selection of ways out of the room.
Raven returns, carrying books.
"Looks like they keep the bodies across the way," Raven states, tapping one of the books. "Don't seem like anything's missing except what I just took. Thought they might be an interesting read to somebody."
Ossian drops the Trump connection and looks around. Is this the place he came to last time, or another one?
While Ossian wasn't in this room, it looks the same, except for the great cracks in the floor and the rubble from the collapse.
Jerod nods, making one final check of the room for the proverbial secret exit. He knows of a few ways to get out of a building without magic...exits, trumps and Pattern. The latter two do not bode well. "If there's nothing here, we'll see if that maybe a more fruitful search."
There is a cellar under the kitchens. They find one man there. He may have been asleep when the gas seeped up. He's young, probably still a novice, or a kitchen helper. He's wearing an apron. He's still unconscious.
Ossian ties the boy up with a rope, and checks that he lies as comfortably as possible.
"They had a reception room overaller there. I think we should check it out. " (Ossian wants to check the room where he did his first negotiation with the monks. The room with the trap door in the floor.)
It's over by the collapsed entrance. The three of them can probably dig it out in short order. Other than the collapse, it looks as Ossian remembers it.
Time to dig stuff out, and Jerod gets to it.
Raven likewise sets to digging; she has worked on collapsed piles of rubble before, judging by the tenor of her occasional muttered curse.
"It had a trap door in the floor. I might be interesting to know what was beneath it. " Ossian says, as he also starts digging stuff out.
The trap door is easily found, and is broken like every other thing in this room. The door is very thick, perhaps to soundproof the room, but that wasn't enough to prevent destruction.
The trapdoor lets into a cell, currently unoccupied. The fall isn't far enough to hurt anyone. Beyond the cell is a passageway, perhaps leading to cellars. Beyond the passageway is darkness.
"Oh, damn. " Ossian says. "This looks intriguing and dangerous. I vote for going in."
"Ain't a reason not to," Raven agrees. "Unless what you was doing made it so it'll collapse on us, of course." That's to Jerod. "We'll want some of those lamps."
"It shouldn't." Jerod says, making sure that lamps are available for illumination. "Let's go."
The cellars are not evenly lined up under the monastery, but head away from the cliff's edge. There is a little collection of cells at the end, but it's unclear if they are prison cells or rooms for monks. The walls are damp and the passage looks hand-hewn. If it runs straight, it will pass very close to the cemetery.
There are some more offices down here, and some storage rooms, but it seems different from the rest of the structure. Older, for one thing.
Ossian studies the stonework. Can he deduce the tech level and architectural style?
"Jerod. Would you notice if this passage leads to another shadow? "Ossian asks
"Unless it was exceptionally well placed, yes." Jerod says. "It was a specialty of mine, sniffing out cracks in reality. A change in shadow would have to be very subtle to go unnoticed. Not impossible mind you, just difficult.
"This appears to head close to the cemetary. They might have underground crypts, maybe where Reid is. If they are heading that way, they might be slower as a group. Let's see if we're faster. Be mindful of gas pockets."
"Book I found said something about a vault," Raven comments. "This don't look like a vault, but maybe we can get there from here?"
The walls are hand-hewn and the edges are reasonably straight and precise, so it could've been hewn with modern tools. It doesn't look like miners' work, and it's too narrow to have been a mine that was finished, unless the walls were filled in. Someone went to some effort to make it appear like an above-ground corridor.
The book Raven mentioned covers a long enough time period for that to have been accomplished even with primitive tools.
Jerod doesn't immediately detect any natural shadowpaths, but the tunnel goes some distance into darkness.
If there is a shadow path, it could be hard to detect. One thing Jerod has seen is that many shadow paths are directional, which is to say you can walk east 100 paces and stay in the shadow, but if you turn and walk west 100 paces, you may find yourself very far from home. Jerod can certainly notice when he transits, but not if he doesn't change places.
"Lamp time." Jerod says, making sure to have ample illumination before they proceed.
Ossian lights his lamp as well. "I wonder how many of them escaped this way."
"Only the ones fast enough to get here before the room fell in," Raven answers dryly. "Don't seem like there were many of them living here at all. I was more wondering if they kept the new monks down here or prisoners..."
The lamps are bright, and the reflectors and works seem to be machine-made. The tunnel is finished with plaster all the way down, with almost no decoration along it. It runs for a good distance even beyond the lights range, and the cells run out after the first hundred yards. Even so, this place could house many more than the dozen or so advertised.
The tunnel is nearly empty as they continue down it. The floor is smooth enough to roll things along, and the passage is flat. At about half the distance to the hills and the graveyard, there is a small door marked "maintenance". It doesn't look to have been opened recently, but it's hard to tell.
Jerod makes no sounds as he travels the tunnel, listening carefully for faint echoes. The floor demands attention for marks, dust or lack thereof, evidence of movement, numbers and tracings for movement of heavy goods.
Ossian smiles. "Stay clear, I'll open it."
Jerod nods, moving off to one side, close enough to help but out of an immediate firing line.
Raven takes the other side of the door, setting her lamp down and to the side for the moment.
The door opens easily, and the closet is full of cleaning supplies. It is quite cluttered, but it does seem as if there is a path to the back that is clear. Jerod thinks that there might be a shadow path around here somewhere, but it could as easily be back down the main passage as through the jackets hanging at the back of the closet.
"Something..." Jerod says, before he does a check for the back of the closet, looking for a door or hatch, seeing if there is a passage out from here to the path itself.
Ossian grins. "Where do we think this will lead us? Gateway?"
"Is that likely?" Raven asks.
At the back, behind a sheet of what looks like modern plywood, is a stair that goes up to a pile of rubble and down to another transverse passageway. Jerod thinks the shadow path is below, if it exists. He can't tell if anyone had walked it recently, but it would make for a clean escape.
Of course the graveyard in the hills would as well.
"Can't tell." Jerod says. "We'd have to travel it. If someone travelled it, then we'd have to pick up a trail on the far side. Not easy to do. Not impossible, but not easy. Have to mess with the Shadow at the other end, force a dip in the fabric to bring them to us. That can get messy."
He turns back. "Let's check the vaults first, see what's up there. We can double back for this. I'd suggest we pick up the pace a bit."
"Sounds reasonable." Ossian says and starts further down the corridor. "Your wouldn't be able to detect who made the party, would you?"
"Only if I took time and if they were unique." Jerod says. "We leave footprints...the trace of who we are can be found if we're careful about sifting Shadow for it and the person leaving the trace is not careful. Each of us shifts Shadow according to our personality...we imprint Shadow by our nature....so that can be detected but it's difficult. If this is a regular shadow path, then anyone can traverse it if they know how...they wouldn't enough of a trace to find for me. Maybe Fiona or Bleys could detect it."
"Is it likely they could come back that way?" Raven asks as she follows. "Can't see how we'll be gone that long, but if it is, it ain't going to hurt anything to stick a bucket in front of the door."
"Shadows paths can go both ways." Jerod says. "It's not a bad idea."
With the door suitably blocked by janitorial supplies, the trio head down the smooth, poorly-lit corridor at a faster pace. They're well past any lingering gas pockets and the corridor is very plain. While there's no evidence of it, anything (including doors, cave entrances, or zombie hordes) could be behind the neat, white plastered walls.
After about a quarter of a watch, there's a light ahead. It's a harsh, yellow light, as if from an incandescent bulb or a carbon arc. It doesn't have the warm glow of oil or candles. It soon frames itself into a doorway.
Jerod checks for a shift that might have occurred, sifting his memory of the outpost's shadow feel when he suppressed the magic content vs now to see if there is a variant, any changes. Artificial light leads to technology and guns and those are generally bad unless Jerod is the one who has them.
An examination of the doorway (look, sound) is also in order.
Ossian frowns. "Let's not forget Reid."
Jerod detects no signs of a shift, it seems they have somewhat modern technology ahead that they don't use in their monastery.
The harsh light of the doorway leads into the harsh light of a wide underground room. It looks to be a combination morgue and embalming center. There are a number of cabinets that could contain fresh bodies.
The room is cold, but that could just be the signs and portents that Jerod raised. It seems this room may have been gloomy without any help.
There are signs that whoever was here last left in a hurry. Chairs are overturned, items are not put away.
"Search." Jerod says. "Reid...and anything else. They were searching for something I think. We need to know what."
And he proceeds to search. He is methodical and thorough and leaves nothing to chance.
Raven's search methods are somewhat less methodical than Jerod's, but no less thorough; one might think she'd tossed a room for information before. She starts on the other side of the room, though, so she's not coming along immediately behind him.
Jerod's side of the room contains file cabinets full of the names of dead monks, who have been buried here for centuries. The early entries are of burials, but soon monk's bones began to be used to construct "the chapel", although it doesn't say exactly where. The rest of their bodies were made into plaster, which was used for repairs throughout the complex.
The handwriting changes a number of times, but about 75 years ago it changes drastically, and the records become more precise and less frequent. There's a file for Reid. He is in a temporary tomb below ground while a suitable place is being prepared.
Raven's side of the room contains the physical and chemical compounds of the mortuary. It all seems unnecesarily fussy to Raven. There seem to be more than enough fake body parts to make a saint 50 feet tall with 9 heads, if the monks were so inclined.
Ossian's wall has a set of corpse-shelves that look to have modern refrigeration keeping them cool and a stairway up.
It's pretty clear that the exodus happened from the back room to the stairs up. That's also where Reid's body is supposed to be.
Ossian takes a quick look at the refrigerated shelves. If there are any bodies he wants to take a quick look at them. Are they monks?
They are currently empty. They seem to have a secondary function that involves heating, somehow.
"I suggest we move on. "he says." And we take a few of those files. I'd like to have a look at the handwriting."
Jerod, having memorized the file contents passes the file to Ossian. "Reid." is all he says, making a notation for the "chapel" in his memory, for future reference.
"We need to backtrack. See if we missed anything. That Shadow path is likely where they took him if they've still got the body."
"And not up there?" Raven asks, gesturing towards the stairs. "You think they would have taken him back to that closet? I mean, I ain't going to argue that they look to be a little chummy with the dead here, but if I'm running because a place is coming down, I ain't grabbing a body on the way out. Ruins make a perfectly good grave for just about anybody. Or thing."
"We follow up for Reid's tomb." Jerod says. "If he's there, we get him back. I've got a bad feeling...and I don't like bad feelings. They usually happen right before things go to hell."
Raven snorts. "You ain't the only one. Ain't been through many paths in places I didn't expect to find them that didn't lead to trouble." She scowls. "That well-hidden usually means it's worse than most."
She heads for the stairs.
Ossian follows. He carries the Trump in his left hand to be able to open a connection quickly.
The stairs lead up and reach a short passage. Off the passage is a room that is not where the Klybesians once showed Ossian Reid's tomb. If this is a temporary storage place, then it's unclear what they might've been planning for a more permanent grave. Nonetheless this room is the one mentioned in the file. There are more chambers further down the corridor.
The sarcophagus is marked with a number and there is a sketch, clearly of Reid, on a music stand by the door. It would take many men to lift the lid, or any Amberite. Behind it, and throughout the room, this chamber's walls are lined with the preserved bones of people. There are rows of femurs climbing the walls like ladders, arm-bones wired to hands to hold torches, and decorative patterns of skulls attached to the ceiling. In one corner, the skeleton of a sword-bearing young child is fully complete, and has had additional bones attached at the back in the shape of wings.
There is no sign of recent travel to this particular chamber, although the stairs behind the three Amberites do continue further up towards daylight.
"Where are the sorcerers when we need them? "Ossian asks, looking at the sarcophagus " Let's open that and see what remains."
Jerod goes over the sarcophagus but does not open it immediately, checking instead for triggers and other issues, having already decided that any such traps are likely to fail when activated. "The sketch." he says. "Is it viable for use?"
Raven spends a minute eyeing the bones all around, and then comments, "I hope he's not already on the wall... Ain't got the first clue how we'd find him if he is..."
The sketch is not a trump, but it was clearly executed by Reid or a student of his. Or a good copyist.
Jerod finds no traps, but investigation of the great stone box suggests that it has been opened and closed more than once.
Jerod looks over the lid and decides he's not in the mood to try to flip it off by himself, which would be reckless and messy. "Ossian." he says, moving to one end and preparing to lift. "Carefully. Anything bad happens, let it drop straight down and jump back."
"If you need another hand, say so. Which way are you coming off?" Raven asks, and as soon as she's got an answer, she moves to the other side - clearly making sure she's out of the way. And that she can see what's going on.
Ossian takes his place on the other side of the sarcophagus. "Be prepared to kill things if needed."
And with that, it's "lift and heave"...and Jerod's guessing he's taking most of the weight if it's very heavy. Raven's also in position so it's time to open up the magic box and see what's inside.
Jerod and Ossian lift and heave in concert, removing the stone lid and revealing a simple box, perhaps of pine or other soft wood. It has no lid. The outer sarcophagus lid makes a dull, echoing klang as the two Amberites set it down.
Inside the lidless inner coffin lies Reid. If he weren't not breathing, he could easily be asleep. He looks unharmed. He's holding something in his hands. It looks like jewelry.
Jerod looks Reid over momentarily, cautious as always but knowing that if something is available to be looked at...someone's going to look at it. So he carefully removes whatever it is and takes a look at it, making sure that it is visible to everyone for viewing.
Ossian examines Reid closely. Is this the real Reid?
Then he looks at Jerod' find.
Raven takes a moment to step to the doorway and look both directions, just to make sure they haven't immediately gotten anyone's attention with the noise, and then moves to look at the jewelry as well.
It's some sort of prayer beads, with letters engraved on each. They are old shapes, although not as old a Reid. The letters on them spell out a message. "Sir Reid of Amber, KCHU son of Pastoral, GCHU. Returned by Goddess' Grace."
Looking more closely at Reid's body, it's possible they took tissue and blood samples.
"Bastards" Ossian says. "I guess it would be best if we found those samples also. Do we know if it is possible to grow anything dangerous from that amount of tissue?"
"Martin blew a hospital into smithereens because of blood samples taken from Folly." Jerod says, looking over the beads carefully. "Guess which doctor made a running escape? I'd suggest we tear this place apart but I'd guess that the samples and notes concerning that will be the things we won't find. Samples like that have no value except as weapons against us, so us finding them would be tantamount to admitting you're trying to harm us."
He pulls up the Pattern and takes a look at the beads through the reality filter that Pattern imposes, looking to see if there anything unusual about it (age, materials, magic).
The beads are neither alive, nor so imprinted by the living as to have magical properties. They are worn, as if they have been used for a long time. The letters on them were re-carved recently.
"The book mentioned vaults, if we've got ourselves into that part of their place here," Raven comments. "May be worth it to see if we can find where they'd store that stuff, see if we can tell how many samples they was keeping around here."
There are multiple chambers beyond Reid's. The next one uses all skulls, the one beyond it seems to be built mostly of ribcages. The most likely place they have to store such things would be back in the lab/morgue at the bottom of the stairs.
"Shall we double back, and search the lab once more? " Ossian asks. He also takes the sketch an puts it in his sketch book. " I wonder if it would be possible to track body parts with the help of Trumps."
"An interesting idea." Jerod says. "Not sure if it's feasible though. Trumps are connections to people. Not sure how much you'd want to try a trump call to a liver or a pint of blood.
"First though, I think we get Reid out of here. Then we check the lab. I'd say we trump him through to another location. Someone may or may not have to go through depending on where that is. Once that's done, then lab, then that path I think. I'll be sure to bring down some wrath on this place to make it disappear permanently before we go down the path."
"Why send him to a place and not to a person?" Raven asks. She's clearly curious, not questioning the suggestion itself.
"We'd have to send him to another person if we trump him." Jerod says. "I keep forgetting stuff. You've never used trumps before have you?"
"My place Trumps are not suitable for dumping an Amber body in without a guard." Ossian says "Either one of us go there or we Trump someone."
"Been through one," Raven answers after a moment's thought. "Got contacted by a sketch, which I guess is the same thing...? And had how to use them explained."
Jerod nods, noting both sets of comments. "Random." he says finally. "He'll want to know we've got the body, and Xanadu is the one place it would be safe to keep it. Even in death, we can warp reality."
Ossian nods. "He might not like it, but it's still wise." Unless his cousins protest Ossian pulls out his Trump deck and calls Random.
"I seriously doubt he's going to like anything we've got to say about this." Jerod offers, but does not protest about the call.
"At least then we won't be the only ones," Raven says dryly. She also doesn't protest the call.
Ossian tries to Trump Random
"It's Ossian. I have some news, and a body."
Random grunts, nods, and sits up. He's shirtless and in bad. He holds up a finger to Ossian. "Bide."
He turns his head somewhat, and Ossian can see the bedroom behind him. It's tastefully made up, and very traditionally feminine. The King speaks to someone Ossian can't see. "Go find Gilt and tell him I need him here. Discreetly. Go." After a moment, he turns back to Ossian.
"I should be glad it's only one body. Assuming the body isn't a surprise, hand it through and tell me the news."
Ossian lifts Reid's body an hands it to Random. "We talked with a representative of the monks, a Dr. Hannibal Chew, whom I have met before. Jerod recognised his name as someone Martin and Folly had an unpleasant encounter with, and we decided that negotiation was not an option."
"Jerod is quite an artist, you know. A comet and an earthquake with poisonous gas. Although the color was rather cliche. This Klybesian monastery is no more. "
"But, the monks seem to have fled along an underground shadow path, and they have taken samples from Reid's body."
After having taken his leave of the Bronze Legion, and given Kyauta instructions to look for the Dulle Griet (if she has decided to hang around), Edan sets his path towards the Shadow of Bellum.
"Father has told me of this place," he says to Kyauta. "I have not seen it. I understand from him that the politics are often tense." He sighs. "Would that I had thought to go find my horse first, but it is out of the way. I still do not know if Aramsham has made it to Xanadu."
Kyauta is eager to help his master. Shall I eat a riding beast for you, Great Lord? With enough mass, I can replace your horse.
Edan ponders a moment, then slumps. "No. That won't be necessary. I want to check on Aramsham, I still should be talking to my sister, the King should learn what happened to his Trumps, I want to check on Hannah, and I need a good starting place to head towards Bellum. It is time to return to Xanadu." And he kicks his horse forward and begins to shift Shadow in that direction.
Edan rides, picking those elements he wishes to emphasize. The leaves get fatter, then turn a darker green. The day becomes hotter and more humid, and suddenly the light matches that of Brocéliande. The price of the light is that the soil has become looser and the trees smaller. Edan focuses, again on small details.
The stallion crosses a hillock and Edan comes across a finch on a bare twig, just as he planned. The pieces come together one by one: the light, the air, the sky, the sounds and smells of the forest, the distant smell of the sea and the way the horse kicks dirt up.
Edan passes into a clearing and the last change completes. Edan has reached Brocéliande, the greatwoods of Xanadu. Paige's rangers patrol here, including Hannah's father. Or the forest could be skirted if Edan wishes to ride directly to the King.
Time may have passed, but it's hard to say how long.
This takes much less pondering; Edan rides into Brocéliande, fairly confident that he would be recognized. Also the road, like every other, should lead directly to Xanadu and be a quicker path.
There are no roads in Brocéliande, because it is not traversed by men. The paths are those of hart and hind--natural breaks where they have pushed through to a watering hole or a hidden spot where they rest.
Edan's course takes him through the verge and towards the water. A few times he spots signs that men have been here, but the marks are minimal. The forest is too large and sparsely populated to make it likely that Edan will encounter a patrol, but eventually he comes across two Rangers at the fording spot leading towards the castle. They recognize Edan, but do not stop him.
[Edan can talk to them, if he wishes...]
Edan and the horse he's riding eventually reach the cliffside path that leads from the top to what Random has called "The Ledge Precarious" upon which the castle sits, overlooking the fledgling city of Xanadu.
He reaches the stables just as the sun is setting.
The first thing Edan does is find one of the grooms, and he turns in the horse he's riding. If the groom doesn't already recognize this stallion, Edan will explain how he was lent the horse for an extended ride, and tell how it behaved, etc. In general, the report is a good one. Second, he asks about Aramsham and whether he's arrived at either Xanadu or Amber.
The groom takes the report diligently. He seems somewhat in awe of Edan and doesn't ask any questions.
Aramsham hears Edan's voice and announces himself. He sounds anxious, but not angry.
Donovan, the stablemaster, comes out of the stalls. "Good evening, my Lord. Are you changing horses, or should we send word to the Castle that you have returned?"
Edan smiles at Donovan. He immediately begins walking towards Aramsham's stall, knowing the stablemaster would understand. "You are the one I was supposed to bring the stallion to. Yes, please, send word to the castle, I will be there shortly. Your horse was willful, as promised, but performed well. I took him farther afield than I expected."
Donovan nods at a stableboy, who runs out of the stable towards the castle. "Good. We try to train horses to take your family to the places only you can go. He'll be useful to the castle."
Aramsham sees Edan approaching and makes clear his disappointment with how long it has been since he was dismissed.
Donovan walks towards the stall as well. "Still, he's not of the quality of your Aramsham. Have you considered letting us breed him?"
Edan nods. "The short answer is yes. Flameheart is his sire, and his dam is from the Land of Peace. We could discuss the details when I am here for a longer time, yes?"
Without letting things get too late, Edan takes his leave and heads up towards the castle. Again, if it is not too late, he finds a page and asks to find out if Random is available to see him; if not, then he will try again the next morning.
Edan is directed to a dimly lit, smoky room in the basement, where Random sits at a table with what is effectively his government. Ash is up from Xanadu City, Soren, Gilt Winter, and Brij are sitting around a green felt table playing cards. The biggest stacks of tokens are in front of Brij and Random. It's a friendly game, but there's definitely some competition going on in the room.
"Welcome back, " says Random. "No news until you've played a hand."
Gilt gets up. "Anyone else need a drink? Lord Edan, you may take my seat. I'm sure the King will bankroll you."
"Story of my life," replies Random, pushing a pile of his chips in front of the vacant seat.
Edan only hesitates a second. "Very well, thank you," he says as he slides into the offered seat, and well aware of the double entendre of his next words. "What game are we playing?"
"Poker," replies Random. "A friendly game of skill where you attempt to form the rarest hand of five cards from a series of seven, with some private to you, some shared and concealed, and some public."
Brij leans over to him. "The game is learning what everyone else has, based on how they act. We're playing a variant called 'Texorami Hold 'em', which is from my home shadow. Random gave up on 'strip poker' because he kept losing, so we're playing for money."
Random grins at Brij, "hard to keep my mind on the game, if I'm also playing cards." He then explains the rules to Edan.
Gilt prepares drinks for himself and anyone else who wants one.
Edan nods his understanding of the basic rules and the structure of the card deck. It doesn't take him long to ask for a drink, after figuring out that every player is watching every other player for 'tells', and sips from it often to help hide his expressions. Not the most 'water' sensitive of the players, this one, and he knows that's a disadvantage. He ignores the urge to use Sorcery to alter this. If there's smoking at the table, he's completely unaffected by it, and in fact bums a cigarette of his own. Starting out, he'll play conservatively, more for learning the game than to express his betting impulses.
The first few rounds are easy, and it's clear to Edan that while everyone at the table can play, Brij and Random are best. The game of tells and misdirection doesn't completely eliminate of the game of chance, but it's not far from it.
Edan's experiments lead him to roughly break even, while Ash and Soren are less successful.
After a few more rounds, it's down to Brij, Random, and Edan. Brij holds the most chips, followed by Random, then Edan.
Brij takes the dealer's button and looks up at Random, who nods.
"Last Hand. Dealer's choice: Reverse Texorami Hold'em. You don't look at your cards, you hold them on your forehead so that we can see them. Otherwise it's the same."
Edan gets his two cards and the other two hold their cards as described. Random's hand beats Brij's but about 53% of the possible hands Edan might have beat Random.
Brij is betting pretty aggressively. Random is hard to read.
Fifty-three percent is better than a coin flip. Edan starts betting aggressively on this hand, raising Brij on each of her moves until he's committed at least half of his chips; mostly, he wants to see if Random stays in. What he does next depends on how far Random's willing to bet.
Brij matches Edan as they run up to the point where Edan has committed half of his stack.
Brij stares hard at Random's forehead. "Very well, I can see you have no intention of folding." Random shrugs and drinks his beer. Without turning, she says "Edan, I'll go all in if you do. It's the last hand. I want to see what we've got."
"As you say." Edan shrugs and pushes his chips forward into the pot, interested himself in seeing how it will end.
"I'd drop out, but that would spoil Brij's fun", says Random.
Random mimes placing his cards face up on the table. "On three. One, two. ... three!"
Edan: Death Reversed (stasis)
Brij: The Satyr (indulgence)
Random: Knowledge (truth)
Random drums a quick tattoo on the table, grinning. "A pleasure playing with you all. Gilt, fresh drinks for everyone who wants one. Edan, welcome back. What news on the Rialto?"
Brij snorts. "Ah, well, I thought I had a chance. Random, you don't have a Rialto."
Random grins. "Ash, take care of that."
"I'm not serving at the pleasure of the King until I get that drink, your majesty," replies the Lord Mayor of Xanadu, shaking his head.
Random turns to Edan as the room settles down from the game's excitement.
"Had I Father's panache, I might have added these to the pot on the last hand." Edan removes Random's gun and sword from his robes and lays them on the table. "I found out about the grackleflints that chased you. They had your Trumps, too, but they were waylaid. They say the Klybesians have the deck now."
Random nods, once. His lips are very tight. The rest of the room stops being nearly so merry and the lights dim as if on command or in response to the King's mood. He blows his hair out of eyes, but it promptly settles there again.
The king takes the gun, checks the chamber for bullets, and begins working the action and inspecting the state of it. He's clearly competent with the gun, as well as safe. He looks at Soren. "Oil."
Soren nods, and gets up to get him some,
The King returns his attention to Edan. "We'll get back to them. First tell me about the gakle-things."
Edan sits back and folds his hands; if his speech is slower or more measured, it's his attempt not to create any misunderstandings with his words. He tries his best to be completely honest. "You have seen them, you have fought them. The grackleflints, also known as the Bronze Legion, are an army loyal to Clarissa. They were used to guard Brand when Fiona and Father kept him in the tower, and I don't think Grandmother officially was supposed to know about that. I was amiable and polite, and was treated so in return, I think because of who I am. The rank-and-file of their army, they seem to me to lack...something. Initiative. Intelligence. That spark that you would see in a man. But their leaders, they do, and that was who I approached. I was prepared to negotiate for the deck, but their general, named Emil, summoned the one in charge of the tower when you came. He brought these.
"He said, ah..." Edan pauses to remember. "'Yes, He led us on quite a chase. It took three of your kind to send us all back to the mountain. We had his trump deck, but only for a short time. We were ambushed near a monastery and they took the Hastatus carrying it. When he returned to the mountain, he'd been robbed.' The mountain is where their dead return, as I personally observed this. There they are supposedly, ah, reborn? Recreated? Their lives are cyclical, if I understand it right. They remember their past."
Random takes the oil from Soren and thanks him. He cleans and oils the gun with an expert's touch. "As my forefather and forebrother before me, I am officially against guns in my city. Killing someone needs to be personal."
He puts the gun away and works on the sword. "I hope their pet monster doesn't hold grudges. I smacked him with a big rock and he joined the floating dead. So, that was Clarissa's army, as borrowed by Fi and Bleys for Brandsitting. Interesting that they didn't use them again against Eric or during Patternfall, you know? I wonder what that means..."
He looks around quickly. "I have three of your cousins on a mission of rough diplomacy to the Klybesians as we speak. The acquisitive little bastards have Reid's body."
Brij puts her drink down. "Lovely."
Random nods and grabs a chair. He swings it around backwards and straddles it at the table. "OK, unofficial royal cabinet is in session, all present breveted to temporary members. What do we do about these meddlesome priests?"
Edan is, by Amber precedent, the senior advisor present by rank.
He doesn't hesitate. "Emil mentioned factions. The grackleflints interest them, because they can track through Shadow. The Klybesians want this, or at least some of them do. They want what we have, ultimately, the power over Shadow. We will do what we can to deny them this, neh? It would be a hard, long road to confront them directly, for their shield is secrecy and their weapon is knowledge." He clears his throat. "Knowledge is why I am here. I do not yet have the thing you want. How bad do you want it? I have a name- the Turcopolier, the head of their mercenary companies. I can keep going, but I wanted to know how hard you want me to push.
"Also, I don't know nearly enough about them to be effective. I have heard whispers and rumors of the Klybesians. The Paresh. Bellum. Asir. How are they connected, if at all?"
Brij looks up. "I'm new here. But you just described a secretive organization that exists across shadows and collects intelligence on us. It's got some sort of religious tie, which means there's some objective that we can't rationally deal with. If we find the set that's bugging us, even if we just smash it, we'll only splinter it. I've got no idea what to do. Maybe thrashing them will help."
Soren shrugs. "I've got nothing." Ash also passes.
Gilt looks up. "They were tied up with Vere and Jerod and someone investigated their place in Amber. Princess Fiona, as I recall. Lucas had dealings with them in Asir, his man said. Also, Signy's tutor was one of them."
Random nods. "Yeah, I remember that. Where's the tutor?"
Soren takes the sword from Random, who seems to be done with it. "Rebma. It might be quicker to have you send someone for him than if we do," he adds.
Random nods. "Right, anything else?"
Kyril sighs. "One thing. Is there any danger to Solly?"
Edan was nodding along with Brij's assessment, but stops. "From the monks? If it takes three of us to go and force them to give up cousin Reid's body, it says much of them. I hope the body is still there when they go, for it sounds to me that the Klybesians have little respect for us. They had to know we would come, so it argues they have no fear, that they have planned for it. Following that logic, if we embody their objectives, there is a danger to all of us." Edan suddenly wonders if that's a new height of paranoia, even for him.
Random nods. "So, here's the thing. It's possible for you to be someone's nemesis and them not to be your nemesis back. Happens all the time.
"Huey and Bleys", Brij interrupts.
"Yeah, Huon and Bleys, for instance," replies Random. "Bleys was all "What? I didn't care, I just did what Dad told me to do. I haven't thought about him in centuries." and Huon was totally batshit about taking his revenge. Unequal opposition. They're like our enemies' little brother.
"Anyway, they're not like Moonriders or Dara or anything really bad, but they'll sneak up on us and they'll certainly kick us while we're down, and we don't leave bodies or trumps with them. On the other hand, we can probably intimidate them into spilling what they know about our real enemies.
"So, yeah, we probably need to send someone to find Solange, because we're not as easy about letting the kids go play in traffic as Dad was. I'll figure out who after I ask a few questions."
[OOC: And unless there's a PC jumping up and down to do this, it may be a 'send a bunch of inactive PCs on a snark hunt time. I'm sure I have some railway shares here somewhere..]
He looks across the room. "Edan, how busy are you? I need someone to go to Rebma and interview Brother Whatsisface the tutor and see what we can learn."
Edan, realizing the Trump mission has just been postponed or cancelled, nods. "I serve at the pleasure of the King." His expression falls, then, as he realizes just where he's going, and what he has to do when he comes back.
"I...at some point, I have to go apologize to Julian. It would be better in person. I crossed Arden without his leave." A pause. "That is the other thing I have come to report. The sextant I stole from the Moonriders, it led straight to the Dragon of Arcadia. I had tea with one of her...avatars, I guess you could say. She denied involvement."
Random nods. "I can take care of Julian. You were on my business and he and I have this working relationship where we ignore things that would cause us to come into conflict if they can be ignored. 'That which the King did not see did not happen.'
"So if you need to, do so, but don't seek him out and don't offer it up if he decides to let the matter pass." Random pauses. "That's just family advice, not kingly instructions."
Edan nods in affirmation. This is advice that makes things easy.
Random changes the subject. "OK, you're my closest expert on that Dragon. What, if anything, should we do about the Dragon? Send her more tea?"
"If I'm your expert, you're in trouble. It was a complex thing, that meeting. And I am mindful of what Julian would say, amongst others. Not the least of whom, my sister."
He recounts the conversation, perhaps not word for word, but the gist of it. "...When all is said and done, what Arcadia wants is the twins. She stormed Castle Amber for them. She claimed that She's known them for years, and they would eventually return to Her out of their own free will. It is as good an explanation for their accelerated growth as any. She admitted they are the strongest candidates to continue the godhood. I think giving her what She wants would be a tremendous mistake. Not to mention, Adonis sacrificed himself in part to prevent that from happening." He drains his drink, realizing now why people drink alcohol; near-invisible blue flames blow out of his mouth as he sighs.
"I couldn't even finish a recap with Paige on the subject, distractions aside. Rage through a Trump connection gives me a headache. Two easy questions did come to the fore when I spoke with the Dragon, though: Why is the Grove of the Unicorn where it is? And who are 'my sister's children' who serve in Rebma?"
Random tugs on his hair. "Yeah. OK, first: You know this isn't red, right? Mysteries of the Eternal Cosmos are answered by the department of your Dad and Aunt. Second? You'll meet them in Remba, and you've confirmed a suspicion long-held. There's a dragon in the forest near Rebma and it has children. Some of them are in Rebma, serving K- Celina. You'll recognize them when you see them: They're men from the waist up and fish from the waist down. And thirty feet long, all muscle. And they don't talk. They just sorta lurk at you."
Brij nods. "I hadn't connected them to the Dragon. I wonder if they have intermediate goddesses like Arden."
Random looks at her. "No reason they couldn't, so they probably do. We should avoid them."
The king turns back to Edan. "Do those answers help? How did the question come up?"
"The meet and greet started with an exchange of stories," Edan says. "I chose Huon's march towards Rebma as mine, as it seemed a neutral subject and threatening her didn't really help the conversation. She also claimed to be out of touch with the rest of the universe. She spoke of Finndo...said that Osric took up arms in the cause of their mother, and Finndo stayed out of the civil war that followed. They were allowed to take tasks for, ah, the good of Amber, afterward. 'That was why my grandson Adonis Adonai was suffered to live,' she said."
"That's quite a logical jump," replied Random. "'The Cautionary Tales of Prince Osric and Prince Finndo' were staples of a young Prince's education in Dad's castle, and he never had to tell any of them himself. Connection to Adonis is sorta ... unclear to me. Did you get a read on how 'A' leads to 'B'? And before you ask, I am following my own advice and asking a redhead.
"Anyway, I'm sure I don't quite get it, but I have learned not to have tea with a dragon, other than my wife."
Brij smiles at Edan. "Will you be staying long Edan? Should we send word to Hannah that you're here?"
Edan smiles slightly. "She may be busy. If she is around and would see me, then yes. Otherwise, I will write her a note before heading to Rebma. I will return soon, after all." He turns to the king and adds, "As for Adonis, I was hoping you could shed more light on that story. The impression I got was that of the clearing of onus. That the children of Finndo and Arcadia, the goddesses, they were unacceptable. If Finndo's sacrifice redeemed them in some way, that would carry over to Adonis." He makes a face. "I know. It's thin, very thin."
Random grunts. "... I'll take that under advisement, and see if I can come up with a different answer."
For all its splendors, Paris is built on bones and ashes. Its glittering streets rest upon the backs of the long Dead. Refined towers held high by tombs and charnel pits. A grand city rising ever-upward from a foundation of its discarded lives. Plenty upon loss. Music upon silence. Light upon darkness.
But even here, in the moldering shadows, beauty persists - albeit of a more macabre nature. Yellowing skulls decorate the walls, fleshless bones cut and shaped into form and function. Generations upon generations crafted into exquisite tableaus, stories within stories, memories within memories. The forgotten history of Paris, waiting to be rediscovered.
Here, a phoenix walks amongst ghosts. Sun-touched fingers caress polished skulls as she drifts through the gloom. Silhouette can almost hear the whispers behind the silent mouths, see the souls behind the empty eyes. There are ghoulish wonders here, calling to her, urging her deeper into Paris's dead heart. Tantalizing treats hidden around every corner, waiting behind every iron door.
They remind her that she is more comfortable with the Dead. They are stripped bare of their secrets, and offer only Truth. And, at this moment, Truth she what she desires most.
She pauses before a grotto shrine - devoted to a blinded maiden. Small devotional candles burn, offering peaceful repose and contemplation, casting the shadowy world in orange light. Painted words at the statute's porcelain feet are long since faded, yet offer peace.
Silhouette continues her silent reflection, even when she hears the soft footsteps on bone-dust behind her.
The tread on the floor of stone and bone is heavy enough that it must be Paris' king; a woman's foot, particularly her mother's, would step more lightly. He comes to a halt behind and well away from her, giving her enough time to compose herself and/or be aware that he's no footpad to attack her.
"Welcome to Paris, again," says King Corwin. "I trust your journey was uneventful."
Silhouette curtsies; a hand flourishing her dress. "My King." A thankful smile colors her features. "An enjoyable trip, to be sure. I am glad to be above the waves once again. Thank you again for your invitation.
"I pray it hasn't been too costly for you. All your limbs are intact, at the very least," she chuckles.
"I am still the King," Corwin points out mildly. He doesn't add that Flora knows which side her bread is buttered on, but he hardly has to. "I've arranged for a meeting between you and my sister. I suggest very strongly that you keep in mind that she sincerely believes her daughter to be dead. If she's wrong, and she may be, she's a victim here as much as you: her consort murdered and as far as she knows, her child too. Someone lied to her and you. You should keep that in mind."
"Of course," Silhouette says. "I can fully appreciate the difficulty in casting off firm beliefs. It is a lesson I've been learning a great deal of late." A deep breath to calm her, "Thank you for this opportunity. I shall not squander it."
She slides her hand through the candle flames, back and forth, collecting a thin layer of oily soot. After dipping her finger into the shadowy pool, she draws two arching lines on her cheek, interconnected. Corwin might recognize it as a Herakleotikon hamma - a symbol of peace and healing.
With a nod, she joins him. "And you, my King. How do you fare?"
Whatever comment Corwin has about Silhouette's symbolism goes unspoken. Instead he answers her question. "I'm keeping up with the Joneses, or at least with Random and Caine, and probably staying ahead of the latter. There are some royal decrees in the works that may make for bad blood, though. Not family blood," Corwin adds, "just discontent in the city. The occasional unpopular measure is necessary to keep the city going, as Dad always used to say."
Silhouette smiles faintly as she walks beside him, "One must always have enemies, and stirring up the waters is the easiest way to find them. Might I ask what decrees you are instating? Of the Kingdoms, I find this one of particular interest." Her words are genuine, as if a pupil seeking a mentor.
"I find it necessary to trace the origins of the religious houses of the city. Some of them may have to be banned."
Corwin seems to be aware that this sort of law may require explanation. "Enemies of the realm are using one or more of the religious houses to get a foothold in Paris. Reid is dead, and an attempt was made on his life here before he left. I want to know who made it, and why."
Silhouette nods solemnly, "Ah yes. Reid. Very sad. I'd hoped to join Ossian in the search for him, but matters in Rebma took longer than expected." She sighs deeply. Although having trucked in Death for so long, it has become... wearying to her. "Do you suspect the monks of St. Ninian are being used as a front for this incursion?
"And would Lady Dara be involved?" The name poisons her tongue.
Corwin looks askance at Silhouette's tone, but doesn't question it. What he says is, "Not to my knowledge, though Dara has fingers in more pies than even I originally suspected. If she had some peripheral involvement in this, I wouldn't be surprised. I don't think she's the prime mover behind whatever scheme Reid stumbled onto before he died, though. I still can't get a good read on how tightly the Ninian monks here are really tied into the Klybesians, not to mention the lot in Abford--and how tightly those are tied to the Klybesians. Or the bunch that left Amber and went out to Asir Island. But I'm beginning to understand why Dad simply banished the lot."
"You may wish to attack their coin-purses. Removal of tax exemptions may allow you to better see where their true support is coming from," Silhouette says. "A slow process, but effective. Also subtle, thus distancing you from reprisals of the Citizenry.
"Is there any possible connection between Reid's death and my brother's?" Silhouette inquires. "Both were killed while investigating possible threats to our Family's interests. Possibly a coincidence, but those are few and far between, yes?"
Corwin waves his hand and shakes his head in the negative. "There's no reason to suspect Lucas' murder was anything other than what it appears to have been, which has no connection to any of the religious at all. And they have no exemptions, and never have. Charity proper here is distributed through the Crown and the Church, such as it is, of the Holy Unicorn, Notre Dame de Paris. The operations of other faiths is questionable at best as it is. But if they're Klybesians, they're not here for the money, and finding their money will tell us nothing. They have it, but their ambitions lie somewhere else."
Silhouette nods, taking this in. "Forgive me. I am unaware Paris's political structure. What power could they hope to obtain, should they infiltrate religious society? Does the Church hold more power than the Crown? Indeed, are they separate entities? And could you turn the houses against one another? Doctrine against doctrine, as it were?"
Corwin looks at her quizzically in a way that suggests to Silhouette that she's asked the wrong question. "How much do you know about the Klybesians? If you've kicked around the Shadow trade routes, you ought to know them. If you've sold weapons, you've probably even traded with them, or one of their fronts."
Silhouette shakes her head ruefully, "Unfortunately, if I've encountered them, it was through another agency. My travels through Shadow were random, quite literally at the whim of the tides. This inhibited my service to the Grand Design tremendously." As they turn a corner in the tunnel, she nods. "If you might Illuminate me to their Ways, I might recall a similar encounter."
Corwin shrugs. "I'm sure you've dealt with them in one form or another. They're involved in many of the different faiths of Shadow. Conflicting doctrine isn't a particular concern of theirs." His smile is wry as he gestures Silhouette through an arch. "One way or another, all the chapter houses of the various religions they’ve commandeered report to their central command, and they use the information to--do some things that we don't entirely understand. Part of it is keeping track of us and our descendants."
Silhouette mulls this over for a moment. She worries her lip, "Blood magick, perhaps? One technique for utilizing powerful blood - such as ours - would be to keep tabs on its source. Huon displayed an amazing ability with his blood, for example. Those abilities would be desirable. Or a study in eugenics? Manipulating our bloodline towards a certain end. I'm not familiar with their cross-Shadow capabilities, but placing certain genetics strains - as it were - in our path couldn't be too difficult.
"Considering the number of bastards amongst us, such encounters could be more common than not."
As Silhouette considers her answer, Corwin watches her. "Magic or technology--and in some places there's hardly any difference--is doubly dangerous with our blood. As far as I know, nobody has broken any shadows over that kind of interference with us, yet." The caveat is important, if Corwin's tone is any indication. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if they did manipulate our bloodlines to produce children. But I expect they also stir the pot with any children of our bloodline left unprotected." He leaves that item hanging.
Brennan blinks in the sunlight of the forest grove. It has a large pool with an overhanging rock formation that are amazingly familiar to him. Despite the doings of the day, the clearing is peaceful.
Brennan throws the grove a highly accusatory glance. He has always wondered about this place... or the Real place of which he expects this to be a Shadow or a reflection. If Amber had a path out to it, he's always expected that Xanadu and Paris and the others would, as well. Tir-na Nog'th, always the possible exception, maybe, maybe not, maybe only at the full moon, or the new. But Rebma's would have to account for the air-water boundary.
His accusing glance turns slowly to the overhanging rock, and the pool.
This is likely more important than the details of the battle in the distance.
Brennan has as much experience with non-Family modes of travel as any in his generation, and substantially more than most. He brings his senses, his entire being, in tune with the Pattern written in his blood, and expands his awareness as much as he can. He recalls the feel of it when the Eater slipped his grasp and escaped into the Faiella-Bionin, and the interplay of power differentials he's learned to sense along the Great Road, and even the eddies and whirls of his own passing through Shadow under his own power. Brennan does not spare his attention on the grove as a whole, but it is the pool of water that bears the pointed end of his scrutiny. Is there, or could there be, a path under that pool that leads somewhere else?
He follows this up with a careful examination of the place with Astral vision as well, just in case, but it is the Pattern technique he's invested so much time in developing, that he expects to bear any fruit that can be borne.
And finally, he is alert, not just for the signs of a passage, but also signs that something has recently passed this area, especially in the metaphysical sense.
In the shallow end of the pool, Brennan sees a single cloven hoof print. Other than that, the glade and the pool have no more magical or mystical properties than any other pretty, sunny glen on a mountainside. There's no sign of anyone else in the grove and the only sign that anyone ever has been here is that there is a broken and rusted metal bolt clamped to the rock by the exit to the cave.
Maybe that's just to help the royal family find their way back in.
Brennan eyes the metal bolt with deep suspicion, too: People don't put bolts in rocks as markers. People splash paint, carve signs, tie branches, notch bark, and so forth to make markers. People put bolts in rocks to hold things in place, and people break bolts to get them free. Assuming there are no fresh tracks near the bolt, though, whatever was kept here and subsequently freed hasn't been here for a long time.
He's inclined to stay and investigate, but if this place were more than a shadow or a reflection, he'd feel it and see it. So he turns his attention to the immediate task at hand: Seeing what's what out in those woods. He's spent too much time in Rebma recently to limit himself to a two dimensional perspective, so his immediate thought is to scout from up in the trees if he can. Their sentries probably won't be looking up, especially if they're sailors by nature, and it'll be damn difficult for them to track him back to the grove through the trees.
He makes his life easier, and his scouting more effective, with a working of Gravity: He doesn't reduce his mass, per se, but he does prevent his mass from affecting the tree limbs and branches he traverses. This will keep the branches from sagging and swaying as he passes, and will give him far more avenues of travel. In principle, if the woods are thick enough, he could walk across the treetops like a highway-- he doesn't, obviously, as he'd have no sightlines down to the forest floor and would be utterly exposed from above. But in principle, he could.
He's also worried about whatever beasts the Corsairs are using in those woods. The last thing he needs is for them to smell him and given alarm. That's fixed with a remarkably simple working of Entropy that prevents his scent from diffusing. After a moment he changes the effect so that his scent diffuses straight upward rather than collect in a finger-thick bubble of sweat around him.
So prepared, Brennan moves through the middle height of the trees with all careful speed back in the direction of the battle.
From his vantage point on amid the pine needles, Brennan can see both the castle and the Corsairs. He gets a good estimate of their numbers and positions. They aren't exactly settling in for a long siege just yet--they have bedrolls but haven't set up anything more than a primitive camp. Numerically, they've got enough troops to keep the castle bottled up, but not enough to take it. Not unless the walls come down.
There are two interesting factors behind their lines. The first is that the officers seem to be corsairs like the soldiers, except for one who wears long robes that look inpractical for either sea-travel or fighting. The second is a small contingent of what look like naturally armored elephants. If they got amongst a bogged-down cavalry or any infantry, they'd do a lot of damage. They are the source of the beast smells and sounds Brennan heard.
The man in the robes is supervising something around the hole they dug. It looks like they're filling it with water by the bucketful.
Brennan mulls that over while surveying the scene. Water is tricky stuff, and if you're subtle about it, you can turn it into a hell of a weapon against stone and earthworks, as the Eater may some day come to learn. But this isn't quite how Brennan would go about it, unless their grand plan involves elephants spraying water from their trunks at the keep. Which, no, is not what Brennan thinks is going on.
He could, he reckons, wait for an opportunity and just shoot at the wizard-looking fellow. If it weren't a wizard, just an important general, he'd probably risk it, but the distance, the difficulty of the shot, the unknown capabilities of his adversary... he decides against it.
But he's not willing to just wait around out here to see what happens. He could have done that from the keep. He looks around (moving around, if necessary) for a sentry who might have wandered a little too far from the base camp, just a little bit out of sight. A pair will do, if he can't find a single one, but no more than a pair. From what he's seen, he doubts they're seriously worried about lone infiltrators; rather, they're probably worried about relief forces coming from off the mountain if they're worried about anything much in particular.
His rough idea is to circle around and/or above an isolated sentry or two, and drop down silently behind. If he can find a single one, he'll drop down behind and incapacitate him with something in the carotid hold family. If there's two, it will be dicey-- he'll have to pick his moment carefully and kill one quickly and silently, moving to the second before either can make much noise. But he does have the advantage of stealth, surprise, height, and a few centuries of experience.
If all that works, he can worry about transporting the captive a little farther away for a quiet game of Twenty Questions And A Knife.
All that works, perhaps too well. Brennan leaves one guard bubbling up his own blood and the second terrified man is dragged away. Brennan's own spell makes the dragging hard, but it is not something Brennan can't overcome. Brennan, his newfound sentry friend, and (optionally) his knife are ready for a chat in an out of the way bit of forest. The (currently) living sentry seems, in the late evening's light, to be quite young and quite scared.
Brennan doesn't clean his hands of blood before incapacitating the second sentry and dragging him off. Brennan keeps the young sentry as disoriented and confused as possible on the trip back to a safer, quieter locale, by the simple means of whacking his head on passing trees as they go by. Not enough to do serious damage, just enough to keep him from gathering his courage up enough to keep quiet later.
When he deems they're far enough away, Brennan braces him against a tree with his forearm, the young man's feet dangling a few inches off the ground to keep him from finding footing or leverage.
"Today's your lucky day," he hisses, still in Walker's voice. "You got a chance to keep breathin' in and out. Tell me who's the pointy-hat, where's he from, what's he doing with that water in the pit, and you can walk away." He eases the pressure of his forearm enough for the man to draw breath and give an answer, which for his sake better not be, "I dunno guv."
And Brennan actually means that bit about walking away, although not in the sense the sentry might expect.
"The wizard? He's a Maghee." The boy makes an effort to spit, but is apparently scared spitless.
Brennan Brandson, leader of men, takes solace in his ability to scare the spit out of a raw recruit.
But the wizard being a Maghee is probably news in itself, as Trip hadn't thought they were allied with the corsairs. But apparently, at least some of them are. What does Brennan know about the Maghees? Specifically, are they a group currently native to this particular island? Because Brennan's been tripping over them since they made landfall.
They're the gypsies of the islands. Magh is a legendary island that sank, ages ago. Or perhaps Magh was a defeated goddess. Or the valiant opponents of the Witch-King, He Who Must Not Be Named (Corwin). The people have become travelers. They're not well-thought-of, and often the first people who are looked to when a crime is committed.
Back to the matter at hand, though, he cuffs the sentry enough to get his attention, and holds the knife where he can see it-- pointed right at his eye. "Focus," he growls. "What's he doing with the water and the pit?"
The boy's eyes focus on the knife's point. He's breathing hard, but not unable to respond. "They don't tell us much, but he's got a monster. It's gonna bring down the walls. He's the one who hired us."
Two more pieces of useful information. Thus, the carrot, not the stick: Walker withdraws the knife a few inches and although he does not waver, he does laugh, "You bunch, taking orders from the Maghees now? Hah!" He gives the boy a chance to contradict that, but that's not his main focus... yet.
"Aside from those things with the snouts, you reckon? Got a name, this beastie?" Now that he's got the boy talking, Walker squeezes him for all the information he can about this great creature, looking for any or all of the following: Name, description, where it's kept, why it needs a personal swimming pool, etc.
Grunt sentry probably doesn't know much, but he probably is tapped into the camp rumor mill-- everyone is, in a situation like that. When they reach the limits of the kid's own knowledge, Walker will shift to rumors (if necessary) by asking broader questions, like, has anyone seen this thing used before, or is this the first time?
The boy hasn't seen it, but he was witness when the big draft animals were conjured. It's why he's afraid of the Maghee. This time the boy manages to spit properly. All he knows is that the thing is supposed to burrow under the walls, and it's supposed to be slow. Somebody said it was what brought down the Argent Towers, but nobody believes that. Just that it could've.
So, the hedge wizard has some skills. Also useful to know, and explains how they got those other critters on site without Trip knowing about it, and even how they're going to unleash... whatever it is they're going to unleash... without anyone knowing about it either. Brennan is still closer to curiosity than dread on that spectrum. It's unlikely a hedge wizard could summon anything that would provoke dread in him without a lot of help.
Although, there is still Moire to consider as potential "help."
Brennan figures he's gotten everything the boy can usefully tell him at this point, and he's promised to let him go. So, he withdraws the knife even farther and stops pinning the boy quite so aggressively against the tree. "Don't do nothin' stupid," he says. "You're near clear."
He takes the boy a short distance along a path that is-- superficially-- in the direction of his camp. Brennan's senses are aware at that superficial level and beyond. He pays attention to every detail of their route, including the tracks that the boy cannot sense which they are leaving over rocky, hard-scrabble ground. "You have done service to a better cause than you know, this day." He takes a sudden turn around an immense tree trunk, and strong-arms the boy with him, and they face a strong, swift-running stream that has no right being anywhere near Montparnasse, and whose roar neither had heard until just that moment. "I bid you, go," he says, pitching the boy headlong into the foamy water. "Go and take the blessing of Brennan Brandson and find a long life of peace and contentment such as does not exist in Avalon."
He watches the river carry the boy westward to what he hopes will be a better, if initially wetter life, then turns and retraces his fresh path back to Avalon and Montparnasse.
It is very easy for Brennan to move between worlds here. He' suspects that Avalon is bigger than Amber's world, but it's still near the shadow boundaries at the extremes. The boy splutters something into the water and disappears into the torrent. Brennan finds himself alone in the woods. There are sentries about, but no one has found his first victim nor missed his second.
Brennan trots carefully back to his point of departure, then moves stealthily back to the remains of his first victim and spends a few moments hiding the body-- it is extremely likely that there is a convenient hollow tree or natural shelter nearby where Brennan can move the body to at least keep it out of plain sight. Nothing more is required.
As he does that, ideas bubble and percolate in the back of his mind. He is in that mental state where an overall goal is accreting a constellation of pre-conditions and sub-goals about it; unfinished, incomplete sub-plans are wriggling around, trying to link and mesh with each other in his mental landscape. He doesn't have a full plan yet, but he's near the point where he'll have enough to improvise around a few general themes. But he needs a little bit more information, first, so he takes to the trees again to complete his reconnaissance.
This time, he is looking for specific information:
Very roughly, how many of those elephant-like creatures are there? Ones, tens, hundreds?
There are more than a dozen, but not hundreds by any means. There may not be a score.
Also, very roughly, how are they kept? Who minds them? Are there teams of keepers? Are they chained, roped, tied to engines, walking freely?
They are in a makeshift corral that they could clearly and easily break out of. There are keepers with them, men who neither resemble Maghees nor nor Corsairs. They are small of stature and have elaborate mustaches, waxed into distinctive shapes. The keepers may be their riders, as they look like warriors. There is tack for the creatures, and it looks like it includes distance weapons. They seem to be a combination of a trampling machine and an elevated firing platform. They would be extremely vulnerable to boiling oil, but by the time they got close to the oil, they'd've already done a great deal of damage to the castle.
Brennan wonders idly if the handlers got summoned too, or if he just got played by that kid. Doesn't matter. The things are real, and the hedge wizard being a Maghee is too insulting for the kid to have been lying about.
In general, when Brennan returns to the keep with his Walker persona, he'll want to have enough general information that he, Balen, and Trippel can stage a quick raid to shake the Corsair force up. When he's got it, he'll be ready to head back.
If Brennan can come up with a way to spook the beasts, they'd stampede, and if he can aim it at the camp, they'd trample it. That might shake them up.
Brennan ponders all that for a bit, with rival plans competing in his mind, all variations on a theme of raising holy hell with those war elephants and capitalizing on it. As he rapidly considers his options, he reaches one ground truth of the situation: Once he sets things in motion, all sides are going to act, and act with high competence and confidence.
Trippel and Balen haven't missed a trick since the siege started. Brennan primed them to expect sabotage when he left: if he gets those things wild and woolly right now, they'll be launching a raid on that water pit again before the first trumpet fades in the air, and the Corsairs will reorganize and counter-attack before Brennan can even make it back to the glade without Sorcery, much less back and brief Balen and Trip about what's going on.
Does he want that?
Well, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, and it's karmically churlish to complain that your fellows are too competent. But, they don't yet know that a Maghee wizard is in charge. This seems like useful information, to them, to Benedict, and to Brennan personally. So it would be ideal if the wizard met with a brick to the back of the head instead of a sword to the lung.
The other broad option is to head back with his intelligence and cook up a coordinated raid on both the beasts and the wizard. Ordinarily, Brennan would worry about the timing and skill needed to do such a thing-- it isn't easy. In this case, though, he'd be splitting Trip's forces three ways-- raid against the beasts, raid against the wizard, and defense of the keep. And Brennan would want to be in all three places at once, which is a bit extreme even for a Sorcerer of his caliber. And it just adds time to everything. It doesn't help to come up with an audacious plan if the summoned thing is already summoned.
His thoughts are rapid, and he doesn't dither too long: He's going to engage the sabotage from here... carefully.
He shows the war-elephants to Skiaza and causes it to understand that it shall soon-- at Brennan's command and not before-- be feasting on one of them. That one of them, to start with: Brennan designates one at the edge of the corral, whose screams should hopefully send the rest stomping into the Corsair camp. After it feeds and sows chaos, it is to withdraw back into the woods.
But before Brennan gives the command, he himself withdraws as close as is prudent to the site where the wizard is monkeying around with the pit. He wants to be in a position to dash out and join whatever force Trippel sends out.
When all is ready, Brennan sends Skiaza out to feed, and waits to see the results, ready to shape them further.
"Yes, Great Lord," replies Skiaza. It flies off, looking like a cross between Robin's Fire Lizards and a Mosquito. Brennan cannot see his affine's attack, but it does the job remarkably well. First Brennan hears animal screams and noises, then the forest shakes like no mountain ever should. The beasts trumpet and there are men shouting and possibly something has caught on fire.
The beasts break through the forest into the open and are charging straight at the castle's side gate. Skiaza is still with them, although now he seems to be larger, and hairier. He trumpets and the beasts reply. They will casually destroy the sheltered dig as they go by, but it's unclear when they will stop or turn, or indeed if they can. Skiaza seems to have very selectively fed, and these animals are much less capable than they once were.
At first, Brennan is pleased.
Then, when he sees Skiaza leading them instead of having withdrawn, he begins to frown.
[OOC: technically, "driving" them rather than "leading" them, not that it matters for your command, but it does for my response...]
When he sees their trajectory intersecting the side gate, the frown turns to a scowl.
But if Skiaza has disobeyed, maybe he can try to use that disobedience.
Normally, when Brennan invokes the Godvoice effect, there is both an Astral and an Entropic component. The former serves to let Brennan's voice bleed over into the Astral where it can better resonate with-- for lack of a better term-- men's souls, while the later keeps his voice from fading into the distance. Now, Brennan does something similar, but much more specific. The Astral component carries his voice entirely into the Astral plane, and the Entropic prevents it from spreading out producing a tight beam-like cone of Astral-only sound focussed on Skiaza. The effect is as though Brennan is bellowing directly into whatever metaphysical part of Skiaza's new form passes as its soul:
"DRIVE THEM THAT WAY!!!"
All without any physical sound on the battlefield. If anyone sees him, it probably looks like Brennan is bellowing forcefully, but wordlessly.
It's a Hail Mary, but there's not much else he can think of.
The winged elephantine beast that is Skiaza lets out a shriek of terror, driving the beasts away from the gate. They'll probably hit the castle wall. The archers are filling them with arrows, which seems to only enrage them. They look to have very thick skin.
Skiaza calls out to Brennan astrally. "Great Lord! Save me!"
Brennan doesn't think the castle wall is in imminent danger of collapse, but he still has little time for his affine, which wasn't supposed to be where it is right now anyway. "Make a great noise, and withdraw," he sends back astrally. For good measure, he attempts a quick working to toughen Skiaza's substance for a bit, but at this range and the amount of time Brennan has to spare, it is critical that Skiaza actually withdraw while it has whatever effect it has.
When Skiaza makes the great noise, all eyes will probably be on it. At that time, Brennan wraps himself in the dead Corsair sentry's cloak puts on his helmet (if he had one) and starts moving toward the dig site.
The elephant-beast at the back of the pack trumpets loudly, which can't spook the other creatures any more than they're already spooked, but definitely gains the attention of all the watchers. A pair of wings sprout from the creature's back and break bloodily through the skin, followed by the rest of a winged creature. It is and isn't Skiaza, or more precisely it is the part of Skiaza that got melded with the beast and then ripped in two. Some of Skiaza was left behind, and some of the beast came with the re-born affine.
The creature, without Skiaza to lead it, collapses in a bloody, steaming heap on the ground.
The rest of the herd slams into the north-west tower of the keep. The wall stands, but the tower shakes visibly and it's possible that something was dislodged. Brennan, with his Amberite hearing, can hear screams inside the castle. Something may have fallen from the bulwarks.
Without a goad behind them, the animals continue to race off, away from the castle. It's unlikely that their riders will be able to gather them up in a short time period, and Skiaza seems to have damaged them. Other than the corpse, the field is empty.
Brennan sees that he's not the only one to take advantage of the crisis. The wizard is also sprinting towards the dig site. Brennan will get there first, but not by long.
Brennan can see that there's some sort of tank next to the dig site. Like a fish tank. It's opaque.
Brennan watches Skiaza's... evolutionary fusion... as dispassionately as he can. Based on the amount he told it to eat, he had been more than half expecting that to happen. It was a necessary risk, but that doesn't mean Brennan is happy about it.
This isn't the moment to worry about it, though. He's done what he wanted to do-- thrown the situation into total disarray by pre-empting whatever the Corsairs had planned with those war-beasts and disrupting everything that everyone else had going. Now it's time to simplify. He runs toward the dig site, but the dig isn't really his objective. That's just where he expected the wizard to be and when he sees that he's right, he allows himself an anticipatory grin.
Brennan runs the wizard down like a hungry wolf and ends-- he hopes-- with a tackle and a thoroughly unconscious wizard. Unconscious, not dead.
Brennan is ready to shut down any hedge-wizard activities with the Pattern, but Brennan himself takes no metaphysical actions of any kind unless the wizard starts.
The hedge wizard sees Brennan coming, naturally, and responds by stopping, lifting his wand-arm and pointing it at the barricade.
Brennan's going to hit him, but possibly not before he gets off a quick spell.
No, no, no.
No spells, especially not ones that will probably destroy that barricade and let loose whatever this guy thinks he's going to let loose.
Brennan hasn't gone through all this trouble just to have another summoned thing running rampant on the field.
As soon as the wand comes out, Brennan acts to neutralize it. A working of Matter changes the phase of the wand from wood to vapor in the man's hand, but it doesn't change its flammability. The twist of entropy provides the spark to set the vapor on fire. It'll probably look like some sleight of hand with flash powder gone wrong. But it should remove his little toy from the field and break his concentration.
Brennan is careful only to target the wand, not anything else in the area, and of course he follows through with the physical take-down.
He drops to the ground, covering his face. Perhaps the fire blinded him, or singed his large Maghee eyebrows. Brennan does not have any problem taking him out, on the ground. It's not very satisfactory, but it's successful. He finds himself lying on the ground next to the quite unconsious and slightly burned Sorcerer.
Brennan glances over at the dig site to take in any new details that might be apparent, but that is not his main focus.
Still the same over there. Tank of water sitting outside a pool of water, sitting behind a screen against archers.
Unless some summoned creature is at this very moment screebling out of the pit intent on eating someone's face, Brennan's focus is the Maghee mage.
In the chaos that he's wrought at the site, there must be a horse or a pack animal of some sort. He commandeers whatever he can find, picks the wizard up by the scruff of the neck and ties him across it, and heads back to the keep. If he really can't find an animal, he'll carry the wizard over his shoulders like a sack of bruised onions, perhaps with a twist of Gravity to lighten the burden. (It's been a long day.)
The corsairs are sailors, not dragoons. They have no mounts. Their mounted auxiliaries are now mourning the pile of elephant-like meat that is lying at the bottom of a cliff. [OCC: On top of a musical alpine nunnery which barely had a chance to sing two verses before being cruelly buried by an elephantalanche.]
When he's close enough to the keep that he's in more danger of being shot by the defenders than the attackers, he'll shed the stolen helmet and cloak so that they can see who is approaching, and let him in.
Brennan and his disarmed mage slip in through the sally-port and he dumps the man on a nearby haywagon. Balen is at the gate. "Do they have any more Elephant-beasts?" she asks, anxiously.
Walker dumps his captive on the ground like a rolled up carpet. "Doubt it," he says. "Ask this guy."
Walker gives her a minute to figure out where she wants the briefing-- and whether Trippel is required-- and allows himself to be conducted there. He keeps the Maghee prisoner fairly close, though. Close enough to make sure he doesn't get executed by some enthusiastic hothead. His story is artfully edited so as not to include his trip out through the caverns and into the grove (in case they include some non-family members.) Or any of his Sorcery. Or any of his Pattern work. Or Skiaza. It takes a lot less time to tell, that way, anyway.
"...and found a pair of bent clowns trying to be sentries." He shakes his head. "Killed one, to get the other talking. Had to show he was more afraid of me than this guy," he gestures to the Maghee wizard. "Said the Maghee was paying the whole crew, that he personally seen the guy presto those beasts outta thin air, that he was calling something else into that pit to burrow under your walls and bring them down. Don't know what," he says, forestalling the obvious question. "Nobody ain't seen the thing, but the beasts made believers."
Balen nods. "Someone else holds the Maghee's strings. They are an accursed people since their city sunk beneath the waves." She turns to a soldier. "Send for the Bailiff. We don't need this one opening a portal to let Elephant-beasts into the keep."
[Brennan] waits to see if there's a reaction to any of that before continuing, especially the corsairs working for a Maghee, or for either a Maghee to be in charge of a part of this invasion, or possibly for the Maghees to be driving the whole thing.
"Didn't know their plan, neither, but it's pretty well bent, now. No beasts, no boss, total chaos out there. We find out what's the deal with that pit from this guy, mop it up and they're done," he says. "How fared the keep?" he asks, while he swiftly updates a sand table or a map with the most recent information he has access to.
Balen's expression shifts to grim. "The beasts did more harm than it may have looked from the outside. They dislodged a cauldron of boiling pitch and it fell on some buildings. The fire is out, but there were casualties." She looks at the prisoner. "We have not lost fighting strength, but it is hard on some who lost their families."
Brennan has, in the course of his long life, seen what uncontrolled fire can do in pre-industrial settings. There is no need to fake sympathy on Walker's behalf.
"I think we'll want to use a truth drug on him. No sense wasting time on torture if we can get an answer quickly." She smiles, not very nicely, at Brennan. "It works better on those who are convinced of its efficiency. Wizards cultivate reputations for years to make these things work. If you have any doubts, please suppress them."
Walker shrugs in a way that Balen will be able to read into what she wants. "Best done quick, before they get their balance back." Walker is content to let Balen handle the initial questioning, if it is directed toward the immediate goal of figuring out what the mage was summoning and how to dispose of it, although Brennan is obviously paying careful, clinical attention behind the facade. If the conversation ranges toward more general concerns, like who he's working for and so forth, Walker will probably take a more active hand. Under no circumstances will he allow the mage to be killed.
The wizard offers to talk, in exchange for his parole, which Balen offers on the conditions that he A) forbear attacking this castle during this war, B) submit to the truth drug when speaking, and C) stay as a prisoner until he can be honorably released. The man is not thrilled about the truth drug, but submits quickly enough.
The creature in the tank is a Great Bobbit Worm, so called for the late Bobbit Maghee, who discovered them. (Like this (but bigger)).
If it gets out of its tank and into the pool, it will burrow until it reaches the castle, undermining the walls and eating anyone it can find. The corsairs know this and were to overturn the tank if the Maghee sorcerer didn't make it.
The Maghee himself is on a pilgrim quest, sent because he thought to question the wisdom of the High Priestess of Lir, who came out of sunken Maghdeburg and summoned the clan chief. He was lucky to escape with his life, and does not wish to encounter an avatar of divinity in priestly form again.
The combination of an Avalonian people with underwater/sunken island myths, summoning seabed creatures, following a priestess so powerful that the summoner considers her a direct avatar of Lir... that has Brennan's attention. He doesn't let any more of that attention show on Walker's face than strictly necessary.
Walker motions to confer with Balen in private, and starts with a shrug. "Your call if he walks," obviously, since it's her castle, but Walker has no especial problem if she trusts him to his word. "Might should parley with those boys out there, drag it out a day or so? Never get a better chance to compare his story to Crisp's and Mayness's." Brennan doubts they were much involved, and doesn't much yet care what Balen does to them even if they were. But it's enough of a pretext to keep him around long enough for Walker to question him, as well.
"Might could tell me who this Lir fella is, too," he mutter.
Balen picks that up.
"One of the Maghees' detestable and twisted mockeries of our gods, I think. We do not call upon the same gods as they do, no matter what they call them."
Walker nods; Brennan tucks the information away for future analysis.
She turns to a soldier. "Lock him in the tower. If they destroy it breaking in, then we will have been unable to secure his safety anywhere."
These people seem competent enough to keep him under an active guard even in the tower, but if not Walker will delicately remind them of that need.
She turns to Brennan, and looks to the ramparts. "So, they got something they can dump in that pool and it'll chew its way here. They think that ends it, which means it takes down the walls. I'm sorta against giving them too long to wander out to their pond and kick over the fishtank. And fixing that magically at this distance is beyond me. Let's just head up to the walls to see if it's already too late. Unless you want to go back out and see if you can do something about it."
Walker follows her up to the tower for the survey, briskly, and expands on his previous thought.
"If they already done it, we'll improvise, probably with pike and axes," but that's not very high on his list of fun activities. "If they ain't done it, they need a reason to keep not doing it while we talk to our new best friend. Say they get their pointy-hat back..." he squints at the sky "...at none? Gives us most of the day. Then we hand him over and build a big bonfire under that thing while they leave." Maybe throw in some carrots and potatoes, Brennan doesn't add.
"Think they'll respect a banner of parley? The rest is details."
She speaks as they reach the top of the tower. "Yep, that they will. What reason can we give them for leaving?" Balen looks out at the field, and is frustrated by the screen that blocks her vision of the tank.
"And given that they killed my father, knifed my brother, and sent assassins into our castle, why should we just let them go?"
Walker gives her a cold, hard look.
"You? I reckon your motive is keeping these walls upright. Unless you got some way of killing that worm thing?" Some way other than asking Walker nicely to do it for them. "Them? They're busted. They get to walk away with their wizard and mug some other keep. Problem ain't them walking away, it's them staying away. Figured you had something in mind when you offered him parole-- a certain ally you mentioned before, maybe, break his hands or whatever you break when you don't want him conjuring for a few days. Unless you're fixed to kill him anyway, make all that," he gestures to the activity outside the walls, "a little easier. I ain't care much if you do, but you're back to thinking about that thing out there and your how long these walls stand up against it.
"What are we trying to do, up here, Princess? Figure on how to get them to take a hike? Or figure on how to get rid of that thing in the pot so we can kill the rest of them?" And, unspoken: if it's Walker pulls off another miracle and deals with that thing, that's a favor on an entirely different level from the one they already owe him.
She sighs, impatiently. "We're doing several things. The Protector's best outcome for the Hill people is to have us intact as a fighting force that can relieve the coastal towns if the Corsairs try to keep them from coming to his defense, or at least threatening to do so. We may not move, but our ability to do so enables the coasters to have the ability to do so, which inhibits one of the routes the Protectors Enemies may take.
"However if these were the risk to the coasters, then hurting them would give our allies more options. It's difficult not to want to do so, given that they have bloodied us. That wizard isn't the top threat we have. If he was, they'd've packed up by now.
"So, I'm torn. You have the right of it, but it's difficult for a warrior not to fight and let the fighting resolve the matter."
She reaches the top of the wall and looks over at the shelter in front of the pool. She slams her palm into the cold stone of the crenelated stone wall. "I can't tell if there's any activity behind it or not. I don't see anything that says they've done the deed they threatened or not."
"Neither can I. We're gonna have to go down and parley just to find out, I reckon, so we can't screw around too long," Walker says.
He works the inside of his cheek for a bit, then says, "Back home, the Legates tended to take the long view, valued intel as much as force. Right twicked off the junior officers, some of 'em." Walker spits off the castle wall.
"Okay, you fight these clowns here, you fight these clowns on the coast, it balances out. Tell me about this Protector of yours-- Is he like the Legates? He value the information we can beat out of that wizard about their tactics, numbers, strategy? You got a way to get it to him? If yeah, that says cut a deal. You get more than they do."
She looks frustrated, but not argumentative. "The Wizard's been paroled. Our best option would be to turn him, probably based on how unhappy his patron would be if he returned having failed. An approach like 'we're the only ones who can protect you' ought to work. Although we'll want to send him to the Protector. Nobody wants a Maghee around here.
"Anyway, yes. But if my brother doesn't go, then they'll suspect we are weak. You should go talk to him, I've got an idea that might help me see beyond that shield, but it's fiddly magic."
"Ah, you want it all." Walker acknowledges that obvious fact: She wants to run the table by sending the wizard back to Benedict, killing or pinning all the Corsairs, and keeping their castle as intact as it still is. Walker doesn't think she's going to get it without his help, and Brennan isn't yet convinced it's worth blowing Walker's cover. The Walker persona is a lot more valuable intact, and for Moire to know that any family member other than Lilly is stomping around in Avalon will just make his life harder. "But that leaves you at dealing with the worm-thing, don't it? I'll think on it while I see your brother." He takes care not to sound too enthusiastic or hopeful about that.
Brennan proceeds to find Trippel, whom he is mildly surprised is still alive, much less conscious. Surviving a serious knife wound from a scion of Amber is as much toughness as any mortal should ask for. When he finds him, assuming he's alone, Walker assumes that his brief has made its way to him and just asks, "How you holdin' up?"
"Made it this far," he says grimly. "Plan to make it farther. I hear the elephants weren't their only plan of attack. Good work if you stampeded them. If they were to magically breach the perimeter, those beasts would've played havoc inside the walls."
"They was supposed to head the other way," Walker says. It's no more an apology than his interest in Trippel's health is an apology. "Dunno what you've heard, but even after we nabbed their wizard they still got a means to breach." He goes on to describe the information from the Maghee succinctly but completely: the burrowing bobbitt worm that will collapse the walls, the tank, the instructions to the remaining force, and especially that business about the priestess of Lir, as well as the terms of parole Balen promised.
"...which leaves everyone in a Warmuthi Stand-off, far as I can see it. If those boys want their wizard back, we might could persuade 'em to just walk away. Only way to make that stick is if you got allies coming. Balen wants to run the table, though-- defeat the corsairs in detail, be free to relieve the coast, ship this wizard back to your Protector fella, all of it. Which means doing something about that thing they got summoned." Walker shrugs as if to say that he'd take the deal and live to fight another day.
"I got some thoughts on that, none of 'em good. First, if we parley and betray, or somehow get that tank knocked over on land, maybe a crew of halberds and axes could pin it in place and hack it apart." Maybe. "Second, if it don't move too fast while digging, a crew could maybe dig like hell and expose it when it passes." Walker looks extremely skeptical. "Third, oil. How much we got left? We got any that burns on wet hide? That thing's a sea critter, probably ain't like fire very much."
"'Course, I ain't fixin' to try any of those out under enemy fire. We'd have to control the field."
Tripppel nods. "They got a decent siege going, but we're well set to sit one out. They've got a worm, but we've got their wizard." He sighs. "I've seen that screen. Nothing behind it is going to do any damage to the walls unless it explodes under them or it becomes bigger or it spawns a hundred of these worm-things.
"So we assume it does one of those. So, we need to get rid of it. I've got an idea for how to get them to leave if we parley, but it requires us to make the tank invisible, or disappear, or hide it from their sight. Maybe the wizard would do that, for refuge or money, like Balen thought."
He stands and winces. "I'm going to need this tied up tight enough to go out there if this is going to work. My sister won't love it, but I'm willing to go for a 'good enough' win by getting them the hell away from here. Stalemate favors our friends in Avalon.
"Will you be my spokesman and negotiator?"
"Ah. You may have guessed that I ain't from here," Walker says, "which don't give me a lot a local knowledge to negotiate off." And, Walker being the man who prided himself on pitching a superior officer off the wall he was building, he is not an obvious choice for negotiations. "I'd be more useful in the field, I reckon," he shrugs, "But I can give it a shot.
"Why don't you tell me what you're thinkin' and what your goal is?"
Trippel nods. He's clearly more seriously injured than he's letting on, but he's not willing to show it, even to Walker. "We'd all prefer to fight, but that's not the best course now. I am injured, Balen is needed for magical support, and you are competent and will not be a risk to the kingdom if we win. The goal is that they leave and do not come within sight of the castle again. If they are hesitant, we may want to threaten to turn their Bobbit Worm upon them, or on their ship."
Walker gives the dealing-with-officers shrug.
"All right. You're sending out someone ain't from here and ain't know much about your sister's magics," he says, "but all right. Balen promised that Maghee parole, and wants to send him back to your Protector for further questioning. I'll aim high, but you got any problem with the obvious trade that we keep him here and squeeze and release? If you got allies coming to relieve any time soon, now's the time to tell me since that's the right amount of time to keep him."
Trippel shrugs, managing not to wince. Perhaps he's getting better.
"No one's coming, it's up to us. Given that they scaled the walls of this castle to assassinate my father, I'm also sending someone I can risk losing. Being the lord of the castle makes a man make difficult choices, but I'm not going to try to say otherwise. It's obvious and if you had to guess at my motives it might cloud your efforts on our behalf."
No one of Walker's supposed rank would expect an officer not to sacrifice him, nor would they particularly like to be reminded of it. Walker doesn't smile-- or worse, thank him for his honesty-- but he doesn't frown too much, either.
"I mostly don't care what deal you make as long as they leave. If they want the mage back, he's free to go to them. Same with my sister and her man. Don't offer that, but don't turn 'em down. We won't promise not to attack their flank if they attack our allies in Methryn's Port, but we won't hunt 'em if they don't go after us our ours."
"Noted, all. Proposal: All sides live to fight another day, even each other."
"Done and done. Lir speed you on your way and uphold you in your work."
Brennan's preparations are simple:
First, grab something that will serve as a personal token or identifier from the Maghee. Not that he has much choice, but it will be in his best interest to cooperate with that and volunteer a ring or some other personal keepsake lest Walker in his haste just decide to take a finger or a hand. Brennan is just paranoid enough that whatever the Maghee gives him, he's scan astrally once out of sight to make sure he's not carrying a trap.
The Maghee's prayerbook is personal and well-known to his crew, and will show that he is present in the castle.
It's not a trap, but it is old. Each page is a waterproof sheet. Lir is extensively mentioned. It's written in Thari, which is the language of Avalon.
Well, that's going to be a keeper. Brennan flips through it to see if it's a bound and complete book in the sense of a Bible or a Koran, or if it also serves as a journal or diary. Either way, he's going to be reading this in detail, later.
The Maghee is happy to let you have it. If you have any questions about Lir, he'd be happy to witness to you. Lir is the guiding principle of his life.
The book seems to be a compendium of anecdotes from the lives of saints and Gods. Lir seems both ancient and immediate in the stories Brennan sees while browsing through it
Second, he needs to look the part, and so although it might possibly have slipped in the chaos and confusion of the last day, Brennan continues to let the Shadows lie for him. He's been at home in the guise of the weatherbeaten wanderer for long enough that the Shadows don't have much work to do. He does specifically wear a cap or a helm that will take attention away from his red hair.
Brennan is outfitted with a flag of truce, a fresh mount, and whatever (non-royal) escort he wants to take with him. The sally port is opened and the deceptively calm field stands between him and the sea raiders turned besiegers.
Walker selects as his escort a squad of about five men. Walker and the flag-bearer have battleaxes, although they're fixed to the horses, not dawn. Walker doesn't expect these sorts of folk to be too terribly squeamish or to go unarmed even at truce talks. The others have pike and will trail Walker and the flag-bearer by a substantial amount. They will not be part of the negotiations unless Walker ends up negotiating with the Worm.
Assuming that the Corsair forces don't simply attack, Walker will make a reasonable pace toward the dig site, which is where he expects the negotiations to take place. Assuming a similar party meets him, his first words are, "You in charge, now?"
The corsairs send a party of men to intercept Walker's party before they get to the dig site. There is a circle of men who are probably sailors. The officers, or at least the well-dressed men who don't look like they work for a living, are at the front.
The man, a large, barrel-chested fellow with extremely long arms, nods. "I am Captain Jellicoe of The Gazellicorn. I have always been in charge of the ship and the crew. What, Sir, is your name?"
Walker plants himself firmly, standing as though his mass holds the ground down rather than the other way around. Captain Walker," he says, although obviously a captain of a different sort.
"Seems you misplaced something," he takes the prayer book out of his coat pocket and holds it up for Jellicoe to see, but not to take. "Like that Maghee boy we got sittin' up in our prison." He affects to look about the field for a moment, squinting through the grand mess he's made of everything. When he doesn't find what he's supposedly looking for, he gives a perfectly humorless smile that never touches his eyes. "Like those snouty beasts he rustled up, turned to raven-feed at the bottom of that cliff. Reckon those are gonna be hard to replace."
Even the false smile vanishes, leaving only cold eyes and an angry scowl that could break hulls.
"How much more you willing to lose?"
Walker studies the man's face and stance carefully, and if he gets the impression that Walker may wish to be able to pick him out on the field of battle, if it comes to that, then Jellicoe is a man of at least average perception and sensitivity.
"My brothers and I sail under the Corsair flag. We risk our lives when we choose, but not when there is no hope of profit. What ransom do you want for the boy?"
"Too early for that. Let's talk about the plans for the pit and the pot over there," he says. "Let's do it over there," meaning, by the dig site itself. Walker's expression hasn't changed in the slightest, and he neither gestures to it nor glances at it. His icepick eyes are fixed on Jellicoe's, looking for the recognition that, no, the Corsairs aren't going to draw the inside straight here, and delay long enough to bring the walls down.
Captain Jellicoe grunts. "Let's talk right here, where no one can do anything anyone regrets with that pot. But if you really want it, we might be willing to trade it for the Maghee. Unless he's dead. Then you can start dickering on buying us off."
"It ain't the pot we want, just that you ain't got it to hold over us when we're done here. Build a big bonfire and cook the whole thing down for a day suits us." Walker considers, then says, "Way I see it, you got a busted flush: Prince is still in command, your snouts are gone, your pointy-hat's singing like a swallow. All you got's a thing in a pot. Damage the walls if you want, you ain't got the snouts to rampage through it after and you ain't gonna have us wait around to let you do it-- we'll take our chances on killing every last one of you today."
Walker makes no obvious movement, but the sound of his knuckles popping is audible even from inside his gauntlets. Or maybe it's his vertebrae making that noise when he shrugs and stretches his neck.
"There ain't no profit in that for no one. Or we watch you cook that thing down for a day, and then watch you walk away and go bother someone else. You can keep the pot." What they might expect to do in it is left to the crude imaginations of sea bandits.
Walker waits for the counter-offer.
[OOC: That's Brennan's high fire opening offer, to generously let everyone live to fight another day and they can keep their pot to p!ss in if they want it. To aid in not dragging this out with line-by-line dialogue, Walker will obviously listen to their counter-offer if they feel slighted. If their counter-offer is reasonable enough, he'll strongly consider taking it back to Trippel for consideration or even conjuring it on the sly if they can be talked into something portable like gemstones. He'll even offer them the ivory from the elephants if they really want it. He does not tell them that SkiazNout is likely to eat them for their troubles. Note that Brennan is not above conjuring additional resources into Mont Parnasse's vaults-- within reason-- under the pretext that Maibock may not have disclosed all the assets even to his children.
[He'll also consider giving them the nameless Maghee if they can work out a way to ensure that they won't be back tomorrow trying the same stunt. If Balen has some way to guarantee that-- a draught that will keep him asleep for a fortnight, a binding geas (even if temporary) that Balen can verify, magically gluing his mouth and eyes shut, anything along those lines that Balen thinks will work-- Brennan will consider that viable.
[He will probably *not* consent to both of those, though, because he doesn't think Trippel will go for it, and Balen definitely won't.
[Finally, a key part of this is verifying the thing in the pot and dragging that out for a day so he can have some quality time with his new best friend up there in the tower. That's just common sense for the battlefield situation and for Brennan's private agenda, so that's a hard, non-negotiable point. That means Balen can't glue his mouth shut until then, either.]
Jellicoe looks at him for a long moment, considering. "Wondered if the Prince would get back. We still have the most ancient of siege methods to us, in that we have an armed force that can starve you out of your mountain castle. But that takes time, and we can get back to sea faster if we strike a deal.
"Fifty Thousand Gold Protectors would convince us withdraw from this conflict."
Walker oh-so-politely turns his head before he spits on the ground, while Brennan works probabilities in the background.
"You had any faith in your ancient methods, you wouldn't've brung the Maghee boy and you wouldn't've asked me what I'd take for ransom. Your best end game here is you tied up all season before you get anything. Worst case is we kill you all first." Walker gives a significant look around him indicating that he thinks this is quite plausible given their performance thus far.
"Take your pointy hat and you can go run your racket three, four times somewhere else. 'Cept we got your wizard boy upstairs, don't we? Thirty five large for your mage-- and certain gaurantees-- leaves you room to profit from the boy."
It becomes likely that, during the course of the negotiations, the ravens whirling over the fresh elephant meat at the bottom of the cliff move to wheel over the Corsair encampment, and that a few of them will set on the Corsair banners and start pecking at and eating them. Only the Corsair banners.
Brennan is not subtle in his omens.
"You need to sell him to his people. We don't really want him that bad." The man spits, probably from thinking too long about Maghees.
And Walker is not a euphemism for Travelling Salesman, so that's not going to happen either.
They'll loan the mage the money for his ransom, but they won't pay it. They sort of like that idea, actually. And they don't want you to set it too low. They'd take a deal where you paid them 10,000, and the mage's ransom was 10,000, so the net result was just that they got 10K from the Mage. They'll sell you the worm, or they'll take it away with them.
Walker's grin is an evil grin, befitting the ruthless mercenary that he is-- having the Maghee pay his own ransom is a cruel twist on the basic idea that this whole boondoggle has been a colossal draw. After some amount of dickering over how much to punish the Maghee, Walker considers the deal done.
He explains that it may take some time to sell this to the Royal Family, who are of course eager to kill them all, although thinking of this as the sale of a weapon may make that medicine go down easier. And of course, some additional time to ensure that the Maghee will not return to trouble them again. But, all things considered, Walker intends to have the Maghee back in time for them to break camp and depart that day.
Walker heads back to the keep with an agenda that runs like this:
First, break the news to Trippel who is more likely to accept it at face value than Balen. Especially when "give us 50,000 in gold," got haggled down to "give us small change and take our weapon." If Trippel has a particular distaste for any of his neighbors, he will be happy to pass that along to Jellicoe, suitably phrased.
Second, break the news to Balen as a fait accompli and get her working on a short term insurance policy.
Third, take charge of the interrogation under the pretext that Trippel and Balen probably have better things to do. He insists the interrogation be done in private, just Walker and the Maghee, and he'll cash in one of several favors they owe him to make that happen if necessary.
But there are two things Walker needs to do before that starts.
Thus, fourth, he wants to read that religious text that he took from the Maghee. As quickly as Brennan reads, though, he hasn't got the time to do a truly in depth reading before going to interrogate the Maghee. He will content himself, for the moment, with a surface reading, paying some attention to the following things:
- "This Lir fellow," as Walker would put it. Who is it, what is it,
where did it come from?
- Traces of Rebma influence, overt or covert-- not just references to Rebma, but to green-haired people, things that sound like Tritons, magic mirrors, etc
- The origins of the Maghee, and any connections to any Rebman-inspired elements above.
The book is divided into two sections, divided by the fall of the Silver Towers. Lir is a promethean figure, teaching the warrior's arts to many. He came from beyond everything to raise the Silver Towers. He left with an army to help his godly kin in their war with giant fish demons. The Maghee were his sucessors, prior the coming of the witch-king. They descend from his castellan. This section is full of parables and war advice. Lir was very good
The diaspora section tells of the Maghee clan from the fall of the towers to the era of the Protector. The book has many authors, some of whose style is more opaque than others.
Apparently no one likes them.
And suddenly, the outlines of the puzzle resolve themselves, and take on firm, straight borders. The relations of the rest of the pieces to each other aren't yet clear-- or it wouldn't be a puzzle-- but the major figures are now known: Lir, Corwin, Benedict, the Silver Towers, a Pattern, thinly disguised Tritons. Moire's role is still, to be fair, in some doubt and the Fair Folk remain troublingly enigmatic, but now Brennan feels as though he's found ground to stand on.
Lir must have been an uncle lost to the mists of time, or perhaps a cousin, from the time of Osric, Finndo and Cneve who joined the party in Rebma when the Tritons attacked. Could it have been a shadow or an echo? Of course. But it probably wasn't-- past a certain point, coincidences gather their own momentum and continue under their own power. And it doesn't matter. What matters is that there is a pre-existing mythological structure whereby an army was led away to what was obviously Rebma, there presumably to find glory under Lir's command... and an already existing group of disaffected, even more landless than usual warriors, supposedly descended of him, hardened in Benedict's personal crucible... and a high priestess from a sunken city calling out their chieftain.
All of which is more than simply suggestive, but not yet enough to be actionable.
And so Brennan makes sure the door to his quarters are still barred before attending the fifth piece of his agenda-- shuffling out his deck of Trumps, drawing out a relatively new one, and concentrating on it. If Folly answers with the traditional question, he answers, "It's your favorite cousin," in a very low murmur. Hopefully it will carry through to Folly who is more versed in Trump operations than he is, and hopefully it will signify that he is at risk of being overheard.
Having satisfactorily concluded their conversation with Dear Old Dad, Fletcher suggests some refreshments to Folly and Martin while they wait for Brennan to call. Realizing that he should be ready to travel when Brennan calls, Fletcher also sends someone for the gear he would prefer to take with him.
Folly returns Benedict's card to Martin and runs a hand through her hair. "Yes, since we're all here, and awake, shall we send for...." She squints toward the heavy curtains covering the window, realizes she really has no idea what time of day or night it is, and so settles on, "...food?"
To Fletcher, she adds, "I'm interested in your take on this place -- Avalon, I mean -- if you're up for talking about it."
Fletcher replies, "Even if I do go with Brennan, I'll be back soon. I'm still interested in taking a walk downstairs. It seems a bit odd to me that on a metaphysical level this place is so similar to the Amber I remember, but so different in the physical world. I've heard no man is an island, but this island sure is Dad."
"Do it afterwards," Martin suggests. "If Brennan needs you, he's going to need you fresh. Either that or he's going to need a quick trump out, in which case it won't matter." He looks profoundly not happy with the entire situation, which is his right: it's some ungodly hour of the morning, he's been summoned from his bed to deal with a crisis, and there's nothing useful for him to do. Not to mention nobody for him to vent at. And his daughter--the younger one--isn't around to soothe his temper.
"This is your first time visiting Avalon, then?" Folly asks Fletcher. "I know you were away from Amber for a long time -- do you know if this place even existed yet, when you left?" As she speaks she gestures the men toward seats near the low fire. She settles with Martin onto a blanket-covered couch and wraps an arm lightly, soothingly around his shoulders.
"The answer to that question is apparently both 'yes' and 'no.' I'm led to believe that in the reality I experienced this place didn't exist yet, at least not as it is today. However, it also seems that if a place is going to have a Pattern that the future existence of that Pattern primes the place. I'm not sure what a 'Future Home of the Pattern" would like to an outside observer. It might only be noticeable to the family. How often does the family visit? As charming as it is, I imagine Paris and Xanadu are more comfortable."
Martin looks at Folly for some sort of confirmation, and says, "Talk to Paige and Reid, I think. I'd say Cambina, but she's gone now." Folly can sense the tension in Martin at that particular point. "Apparently they found what might be the place that was going to become Xanadu. Proto-Xanadu, I guess. But nobody imagines Xanadu is ancient. It didn't come pre-loaded with ancient history."
"Unlike Paris," Folly interjects in a no-seriously-what-is-UP-with-that sort of tone.
"And wasn't Avalon Corwin's place before it was Benedict's? I seem to remember hearing that from Merle when he was telling me all his Dad's stories. He confuses things occasionally, but I don't think he was confused on that one."
"Wait---" Folly blinks. "THAT'S the 'sorceror king'?"
She may have more questions, but they'll have to wait 'til she recovers from a sudden bout of giddy laughter.
Fletcher shrugs. "That fits. Growing up, I remember some pretty insufferable behavior. The castle was not always entirely pleasant when Eric and Corwin were both in residence." Fletcher silently ponders the relative levels of animosity in the Corwin-Eric dynamic and the Benedict-Emerald dynamic, but quickly decides to move on. "I suppose it's possible that, if one with sufficient awareness stumbled upon a 'Proto' realm as you call it he or she might decide to hang around a while and see what's up and generate some history. It could also be the luck of the draw. Dad was vague on the details of how he picked this spot. I wonder if the geometry of the Faeilla-Bionin was a factor."
"Don't look at me," Martin says and pulls out a few strands of his hair. "Blond, not red. That's why I'd say ask Paige. Or Reid, who's not a redhead but seems to have his own share of 'sufficient awareness'.
"Do we even know how old this is? I couldn't tell you for sure on my end. I know Avalon was here when I was a boy, but I'm not sure about the Pattern. I didn't know how to tell for a long time." Martin adds, for Fletcher's benefit, "I left Rebma after I walked the Pattern and didn't come back to Amber until the very end of the war."
Fletcher grins. "If it comes down to it, we may not have mignonette trees on Avalon, but I'm sure we could find some red dye if that's the only way to learn about these things." He continues, "If I recall correctly your departure from Rebma was within the last couple hundred years, correct? If so, I believe the Pattern was probably already here by that time."
"And given the nature of this place, you think it's your father's design, even if history suggests Corwin was here first," Folly says, then adds as if it's a continuation of that thought, "Is your father still much as you remember him, personality-wise, from when you were a young man?"
"Mostly. He seems to wince less without my mother or Granddad around to criticize him. In retrospect that may be why he enjoys his privacy so much. I guess that absence makes him feel a bit more responsible too. Still this?" Fletcher gestures to the fortress around them, "takes his inscrutability to new heights. Obviously it's not as flashy as Amber, or Paris. I wonder if it's more purpose-built."
"Even by your father's own description it would seem to be," Folly says. "A testbed for warfare scenarios rather than a land to be governed. But -- forgive me for asking if this is too personal a question, but would you be willing to describe a bit what life was like in Amber, and in your father's household, when you were a boy? I'm afraid the histories are a bit vague on that era. I don't even know whether your father's marriage and your birth came before or after the mess with Faiella, and Corwin." Although the question is mild, Folly is watching Fletcher's face to see if he betrays any visceral reaction to those names or that time. Martin, who knows her very well, might sense that she's latched onto the germ of an idea and is carefully probing it out.
Martin's eyes narrow here, as if perhaps he's caught on to what Folly is thinking, or maybe having some thoughts of his own along related lines.
Fletcher does react with sadness and perhaps a bit of horror at mention of Faiella, but quickly covers it. "I am somewhat older than Caine, but younger than Corwin. Imagine being an only child, but having grown siblings who were already trying to compete with you. That's the sort of thing Caine faced, and apparently Corwin before him. It impacted Court life, though it seems to me that the family's influence at Court has grown as the family grew. There were more nobles families and social institutions that held influence than seem to be in evidence in Xanadu. Why do you ask?"
"Well," Folly replies slowly, as if she's sifting ideas and carefully choosing her words, "although your father is, as you say, generally inscrutable, I can well imagine that historically there's little love lost between him and Corwin, given the bits I know about the politics of that time. It's interesting to me that in all the infinitude of Shadow, he should choose to make his realm in a place that used to be Corwin's. I found myself wondering if the ancient history of Corwin's brand-new Paris was somehow tied to the history, or the what-might-have-been, of this place. Which made me wonder which of them -- if either -- drew the Pattern here. Certainly this realm seems consistent with your father as he is now -- but I was curious if he had always been thus, or if scores of mortal lifetimes tending the former realm of his first enemy had made him thus."
Fletcher nods. "I wondered the same thing, actually. I don't think Corwin was quite his first enemy though. Regardless, I think this location was selected because of the neighborhood. Or at least the neighbors. I hear Xanadu is just two doors down. I haven't thought of a good way to test the strength of Avalon's link to Corwin. What have you heard about Dad's problems with Corwin?"
Martin gives Folly a look, but he's keeping his mouth shut on this one for the moment. There's a long list to choose from.
Folly returns the look; she'll share her thoughts, but he will need to fill in some important details -- particularly in stories that aren't necessarily hers to tell. To Fletcher, she says, "Speculation and hearsay, mostly, for my part. The histories speak of bitter partisan rivalries during those times, although generally they don't call out Oberon's children -- only the merchant families and other members of the court that supported them. In recent centuries, of course, they were both absent from Amber: your father here, and Corwin lost and presumed dead in Shadow. But when they returned... well. There was that bit with the mechanical arm and Greyswandir, for one. Have you heard about that?"
Fletcher is surprised. "I have not heard that one. Based upon the context I can only guess that Dad had a prosthetic arm and came to blows with Corwin? House rivalries rarely involved direct combat of Princes in my day. Was this at the same battle with the assault rifles?"
"It was about that time but not like that." Martin is shaking his head a little at some part of the implication. "Ben had already lost his arm. Corwin went up to Tir and had some fight with one of the ghosts up there. He came back with the arm attached to him, business end first, at dawn. Ben liked it because it seemed to have some useful properties and he decided to wear it, which seemed like a weird decision but makes more sense now." Martin gestures around him at the castle, in case his meaning isn't clear.
"A bunch of stuff happened--I think Ben used it to win a fight sometime when they otherwise couldn't--and then there was a second fight, later, in Amber, while Dara was present, which was a detail of the business on Tir, and it was cut off him and vanished. Basically the other end of the Tir fight with Corwin, distorted by some massive bit of temporal sorcery funneled through two places with Patterns, which I didn't even know you could do. I'm betting it was our grandfather's work."
Fletcher whistles. "Wow, that sounds like an expensive prosthetic to lose. What happened to it? Let me guess. It disappeared into Tir. Its a shame, one would think such a device could be a useful weapons against the Moonriders." In his mind he's running the odds of whether the arm went backward or forward in time. "Does anyone know what the fight was about?"
"From the retellings I've heard," Folly says, "it seemed to be about Dara and her role in Amber." She hesitates, as if considering and rejecting several options for what to say next, finally settling on, "Possibly they had differing opinions on how much to trust her." She exchanges another look with Martin; clearly she knows, or expects him to know, more details, but is unsure what -- or perhaps how much -- to share.
Martin shakes his head in the negative. "When I say it was the other end of the fight in Tir, I mean we watched Corwin's blade--no Corwin attached--duel Ben. If Ben could see Corwin, we couldn't. And he'd've had Corwin too, but for the fact that Corwin wasn't there. Between what I saw and what I heard from Merlin afterward, which was what Corwin had to say to him about it, it looks like a giant circular sorcery. Temporal and spatial displacement: a Moonrider kind of thing, almost."
Folly suspects he's not glossing over the Dara bit so much as considering it less important than the circular nature of the Corwin and Ben conflict over the arm.
While Fletcher is digesting that, Folly says to him, "I asked whether your father seemed much changed since you knew him years ago, but I suppose that's another question -- does Corwin?" It's not clear whether it is directly related to the Moonrider comment or not.
Fletcher thinks for a moment. "Corwin is somewhat different, but then it's good to be king. Of something anyway. Getting to the top and being at the top require two different mind sets though, so I suppose that much at least is natural. I think Eric's death may have had an effect on him too though. Or maybe it's just having so many younger people to deal with. I wonder about that circular sorcery. It may yield clues about the past, or possibly the future. Which Dara was it? My niece?"
Martin steps in to answer that one, since he's more familiar with the genealogical data and the Daras than Folly. "I'd be careful about calling any of Ben's descendants on that side of the family 'yours'. They're picky about possessive pronouns." Moving on to actually answering the question, he continues, "We're talking about Dara the younger; the elder Dara doesn't exist any longer. I don't know who the resulting offspring were for sure, but I think her last reproduction was--" Martin makes a face and settles on the least gross term he can think of "--fissile."
"You know... like... whole-body meiosis," Folly adds, as if that makes Martin's point perfectly clear. Then she turns Fletcher's earlier question back to him: "What have your impressions been about the problems, if any, between your father and Corwin?"
Folly pauses in her breakfast preparations to glance out the kitchen window at her husband and daughter, playing in the surf. Lark, it seemed, had finally got the hang of scrambling up onto her little surfboard by herself and riding the last gentle 30 or 40 feet of tide onto the shore. Martin, meanwhile, stood hip-deep in the water like a sentry, probably to keep Lark from venturing farther out to try her luck in the big waves... or possibly to deter any threats to his child -- be they human, jellyfish, great white shark, or triton -- with a swift punch to the face.
Folly smiles and moves to set the table. There hadn't really been much call for punching anyone in the face since they'd come to Lauderville. Equal parts surfers and scholars, with a vibrant and diverse music scene, abundant opportunities for intellectual pursuits, and beautiful warm beachy weather, it had been the perfect place to settle down for a while and figure out how to be a family. In this environment, Martin was even starting to seem... relaxed, almost. Folly had made progress on Trumps, and on harmonic metaphysics. And Lark, their little water-baby, really seemed to be thriving.
A delighted shriek draws Folly's attention back to the window: Out in the water, Martin is apparently satisfying Lark's need for bigger thrills by tossing her over and over again up into the air -- not as high as he could, nor nearly as high as she probably wants to go, but there are other people around and the adorable toddler proto-surfer has already drawn more than enough attention without launching her to impossible heights.
Folly is suddenly struck by how much Lark resembles each of her grandparents. From Brij, she has that perfect awareness of her own body in space, combined with Random's love of heights and speed -- or anything that feels like flying. Her deep and instinctual love of being in the water could only have come from Martin's maternal line. And from Huon.... Well. There Folly can only speculate, but at times Lark certainly elevated Getting Her Own Way to an art form.
Folly busies herself moving waffles and bacon and eggs from the stove to the table, and dirty dishes from the counter to the sink. As the last pan goes in to soak, she hears footfalls on the wide wooden porch. "Who's ready for breakfast?" she asks through the screen door without turning to look.
"Two very hungry swimmers. None of whom are caterpillars, regardless of how many pears, plums, and strawberries they claim to have eaten," Martin announces, to a giggle from Lark. He pushes the screen door open; somehow it doesn't squeak when he does it, despite the fact that it seems to for anyone else. They've already dried off most of the way and removed most of the sand, minimizing the dripping and the tracking of dirt inside the house. Martin's shorts are stll wet, though, and so is Lark's suit.
He brings her over for a kiss from Folly and then steals one for himself. "Something smells good. You want me to clean her up or shall we eat on the porch?" Lark is wiggling and squirming and ready to be put down so she can run around some more, but Martin has an iron grip and isn't exactly a novice at dealing with antsy toddlers. To Folly's maternal eyes, Lark looks like she'll run around some more and fall asleep about halfway through breakfast if they leave her be. (Assuming she doesn't get completely cranky and refuse to sleep, in which case tears will be the order of the day.)
"Oh, let's go ahead and eat now, while the food's still warm." After that, Folly thinks, if it's not naptime it will be bathtime -- which at least will help cheer Lark up if she does get cranky.
She cuts a waffle into quarters and hands Lark a piece to eat with her fingers while she and Martin are loading up their own plates to carry outside. "How's the water this morning? The beach seems a little quieter than usual -- or maybe it just seems that way because I've spent the last hour in the house where there are no little noisemakers running around...." She grins at her daughter, then at Martin. "I got some good painting done."
"I'm not entirely averse to enforcing quiet when I need to. But I didn't have to today." Martin jerks a thumb at their waffle-consuming child, who is mostly engaged in inhaling down the food Folly just provided. She's her father's daughter in the food-consuming arena: she eats everything put in front of her, which is a lot for a growing child.
Lark's father is engaged in heaping a plate of his own as high as it will go. "Really? Which one?" His tone his curious, but not hostile. Martin is generally interested in metaphysics in a more practical matter, leaving theory to Folly, but of course his experience with Trumps is such that he considers them a practical threat. He's never been enthusiastic about having Lark in a house with a trump studio, but after long enough for Lark to start eating solid food, he's relaxed a little about Folly's artwork.
"I played for a while with an experimental piece" -- which Martin knows almost certainly involved the contraption, like a cross between a seismograph and a small harpsichord, that Folly has rigged up in the back corner of her studio to visualize harmonic interactions -- "and then I worked on the one of Xanadu." Folly's tone is mild and conversational, intentionally so, but Martin can probably detect a faint note of yearning behind that last word.
Because she is who she is, and because she's extraordinarily sensitive to Martin's moods, Folly can read the exhalation of breath as the thing that would have been a sigh from a more expressive man. Instead of rehearsing his concerns on the matter, which Folly is well aware of (Martin would be just as happy not to expose their child to their family until he's had a chance to teach her at least three martial arts as well as swords and projectile weapons), he nods, once. "How's that one coming? And did you come up with anything useful on the experiment?"
"It's close -- very close, I think," Folly says in answer to the first question. "I have to keep reminding myself to concentrate on the feel, and on the fundamentals that won't change, since who knows what all the surface details look like now? They could have that tram up and running by now, for all we know...."
She picks up her laden plate and a stack of cups, leaving Martin to manage his own plate and the beverage pitchers, and heads for the porch. As they get things situated on the table, and once Lark is occupied with a second piece of waffle, she continues, "The experiment was... interesting. Really interesting," which Martin hears as 'exciting, but you might not like it'. "I'm definitely making... some kind of progress, anyway. Once she goes down for her nap, I'll show you."
Martin doesn't say that Folly has just guaranteed that Lark will be awake all day, but his longsuffering expression suggests he's thinking it. By the time he has things set to bring outside, he’s already decided to pass over experimental matters to his preference: the practical. "Dad needs to have a proper courtyard set up for reception, the way they did in Amber. That would solve the problem of depiction as well as safety." There's an inherent conundrum in making a trump of a place they're not present in; it's harder to make a portrait when the subject isn't available, even if they're as intimately connected as Folly is to Xanadu.
A photograph would have helped, but Folly isn't sure most of the cameras she's ever seen would work in Xanadu. Certainly nothing as advanced as the one in the mobile phone she has here in Lauderville. (Martin refuses to carry one. They're trackable in-shadow and not particularly useful outside, and if he needs one, he'll just find one to borrow. Nobody but Folly needs to call him, and she has a better method.)
Folly nods at Martin's comments. "He told me the spot he wanted to use, before we left. From the vantage I'm using, you're looking toward the high part of the mountain, so you can see the---" She lifts her fork and traces the shape of the peak, and the way it blends into the castle, there in the air between them. "That, and the color of the sky, I think are pretty solid. But when I'm a little closer to finishing it off it might be worth calling whoever's-still-in-Xanadu and asking them to go stand there for a few minutes while I update my sketches." She takes a bite of waffle, chews, swallows, and then muses, "Maybe Ossian, if he's there. It would be interesting to hear his perspective on what he sees."
After another bite, she asks a question she has not bothered to ask for quite some time -- probably not since they settled in Lauderville. "What's our timeline, do you think?"
"Don't have one yet." Martin's ideal timeline is a lot longer than Folly could bear, but his associations are different. Between neat bites of his own dinner, he asks, "Do we really need to set one yet? I mean for the long-term, not for long enough to get a view for a Trump."
Lark has grown suddenly quiet and attentive, as if she can tell her parents are talking about something important. Or maybe she just doesn't want her breakfast, or she's finally run out of energy. (Unlikely; she is her father's daughter.)
Folly can't quite stifle a smile at her daughter, who may only manage to speak a handful of consistently recognizable words, but clearly understands much more. "I'm torn," she says after a moment. "On the one hand, I think we've got a great thing here and I'm loath to give that up until we absolutely have to. On the other...."
She casts another fond glance at Lark. "We promised your father no more than six months, and I sorta-kinda promised my mother something similar. I know it probably hasn't been that long there, even if it's been rather longer for us, but I see how much our baby has grown up and it makes me think maybe it's time to start thinking about it."
Between bites of waffle and bacon, Martin shrugs. "Might be time to think about a visit. It's too soon to go back and stay, though. She needs to be older before we do that." He casts a sideways glance at Lark, whose pause in inhaling her own breakfast is noticeable to him, too. "Eat your waffles, kiddo, or somebody will eat them for you. And it's not the hungry children in New Hong Vegas, either."
Back to Folly: "Probably when she's ready for school. That's the point when we'd need to consider it anyway. For medical reasons."
Folly cocks her head; she can think of several things he might mean by that last. What she says is, "Medical reasons besides 'because otherwise your father and my mother would kill us', you mean?"
"I was thinking more about mandatory medical care that's required for school. We can fix some of that, but after the trouble we had at the hospital that one time, I think it'd be easier to move on. It wouldn't have to be Dad's--" he carefully avoids using the name, even if Folly doesn't "--but it would need to be somewhere that either accepted homeschooling or didn't have vaccination requirements for things she'll never catch anyway."
Folly nods. "It's an interesting balance, isn't it? I wouldn't want to homeschool exclusively because I think she could use the socialization -- and not just with college-aged surfers, either. But then we're looking for someplace that's neither so advanced that it wants to test her at the molecular level before she enrolls in school, nor so backward that it has funny ideas about what she ought to be learning to be ready for the real world. But," she adds as she reaches for more bacon, "we do have a while yet before we have to figure it out. I agree we should think about a visit to the grandparents, though. Or invite them here, if I didn't think the metaphysical stress might tempt other visitor out of the woodwork and onto our doorstep."
If Martin had glasses, he'd be peering over them. "Visits home are one thing. The grandparents, on either side, are not invited here. The point of a secret bolthole is that it's secret. I might be willing to tell one person--not our parents--where we are so we could get help in if we needed it and couldn't Trump for it ourselves. But I'm not interested in running Martin and Folly's Surfing B&B and, by the way, let's look at the Royal Rugrat." He pokes a fork with a piece of waffle on the end at Lark. "That's you, kiddo." He turns back to Folly. "And we will be if anyone knows where we are. The metaphysical risks of the three of us are enough for me."
"Good points," Folly agrees, then adds, not quite as a non sequitur, "When's the last time you heard from Merlin? We were going to invite him out once we got settled." She leaves it to Martin to answer the unspoken question of how he feels about Merlin being the person who knows where they are in case of emergencies.
Martin has to stop and think about that. "I've talked to him a couple of times, mostly in the general-keeping-tabs sense. I think he's still up to his eyeballs in whatever he's supposed to be doing, so I don't know if he can take a break and come out here." He takes another bite of waffly goodness while doing some waffling of his own. "I don't mind having him here, but I'm not convinced he'd know what to do with a small person, if you know what I mean." Another pause. "He was an only child."
"Who Merlin?" Lark asks. She's been quiet and probably hoping that her parents would keep having this fascinating conversation while continuing to ignore her presence, but apparently the name of Merlin is enough to get her to break her silence.
Folly hesitates, trying to form a reasonable answer in a context Lark will understand. After a moment, she says, "Merlin is your cousin," which is both true enough and has the right connotations: though she has no personal experience with such things, Lark does have a storybook or two that involves strange relatives from faraway places coming for a visit. "Your daddy has known him since he was just a little baby, but he's not little anymore." She hesitates again before adding the most important bit: "I don't think he knows how to surf."
"I can't say I ever taught him to surf," Martin confirms.
"I teach him," Lark announces proudly.
Martin gives Folly the look that says _your child_. "Anyway," he tells Lark, "Merlin is busy with his own things to do, just like your dad does sound for the band and plays bass and your mom sings and plays and paints pictures. And he may too busy to come visit because he has things to do."
Lark eyes her father shrewdly. "Does that mean we go visit gamma and gampa?"
"Do you think that sounds like a good idea?" Folly asks her daughter; her tone is mild, but Martin might catch the glint of suppressed amusement in her eyes. She wants to hear Lark's reasons, whichever way she answers, and not merely agreement or disagreement -- otherwise she would simply have asked "Do you want to?"
Martin has his poker face on, but Folly doesn't need to read him to know that he really dislikes this line of discussion. Still, he doesn't interfere, just concentrates on polishing off his breakfast.
Lark looks shrewdly at her parents, each in turn. "Daphne says her grandpa gave her woofie when he came."
Over Lark's head, Martin mouths "woofie?"
One of Folly's brows twitches almost imperceptibly upward: 'woofie' is a new one to her, too. But she hazards a guess: "A dog?"
"No, mama, woofie. Like stuffie." The amount of adolescent put-uponness the words carry bodes ill for the next fifteen or twenty or thirty years.
"A stuffed dog, then. Well, you'll be lucky if your grandfather gives you a stuffie. All he got me was a card." Martin grins, a bit less than pleasantly, and throws things back to Folly. "Maybe we should consider a meeting on neutral ground. And if Merlin's busy, I'd trust Jerod to be our backup."
"Certainly -- if you could get him to take the call," Folly says; in her experience, Jerod has seemed almost as paranoid about Trumps as Martin himself, and she's certain he lacks the sensitivity to work out who's calling without answering first.
"What did you have in mind for 'neutral ground'?" she asks.
"One of the big trade shadows. Like Heerat. But not Heerat, for obvious reasons. But somewhere with low to middling tech, ideally Amber or Xanadu--or Paris, I guess--reachable by direct shadowpaths. And somewhere not too difficult to get to." Martin's face falls into a pondering sort of half-scowl. "Have you got a Trump of this place ready? If you don't have one, how long would it take you to make one? In case you need a holdout--not that I think you will, but better to have all our options covered."
He glances at Lark again, as much to see how much of the conversation he's trying to keep unspoken and over her head she's following as to indicate the reason for the holdout.
"I do have a local Trump," Folly says. "And one of Xanadu." And Martin should have one of Amber; she doesn't say that out loud, but he can still follow that she's thinking of all the places on his list they could reach most quickly. She chews at her lower lip, and then adds, "We did rather promise them a naming ceremony."
Lark is still watching with intense curiosity. Martin's expression doesn't flicker, but it wouldn't.
"It's a little late for that, considering that there's a name. Two, at least." Whatever else Martin has to say on that front is either not in front of Lark, or not with his outside voice. "I'm not willing to have milestones on other people's schedules for reasons of politics. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I say we do a meeting and see how that goes, and consider what we want to do after that."
Folly nods, once (it's easy to guess where she picked up that particular habit). To Lark, she says, "If you're done with your breakfast, it's time for your bath." The conversation isn't over, but perhaps parts of it are best put on hold until there's no longer a curious toddler listening in.
Martin says, "Which means it's naptime for little Larks who have finished their breakfasts."
Lark pouts. Apparently she thought her fascination with the conversation, which had persisted past when she'd finished the waffles she was eating, had gone unnoticed. Martin rises and swings her up onto his shoulders. "Come on with you and let's have a non-salty bath."
If Folly is meant to say anything in response, she may be too distracted by the sense of an incoming trump call.
"Yes, and I'll just take this call, shall I?" Folly says, not quite in reply. She pulls her phone out of her pocket and presses it to her ear though it did not obviously ring and she didn't press any buttons on it. The fingers of her other hand close around the steak knife she was using to cut up Lark's waffles, a precautionary measure she may not even be conscious of taking.
"Hullo...." she says, and squints as though she is peering into a dark room that is only slowly coming into light and focus. "...Brennan?" She blinks, and on the other end of the trump Brennan feels something like the psychich equivalent of someone throwing a door open in greeting after peeking out the barest crack to see who was there. Noting the low murmur of his voice, she asks, "Are you safe?"
"Yep," he says, still speaking very softly. "Got news. And maybe a project."
Then he evidently realizes that Folly is holding an electronic device in the hand that isn't holding a knife, so she's probably not in Avalon any more. "Been two or three days, I reckon. Castle got seiged, siege got busted," he doesn't bother to say by who, "Corsairs gonna go mug someone else. That ain't news. Caught myself a wizard working for them, a Maghee. That's news. Curious folk, the Maghee. Landless. Hated. Worship a fella named Lir they say raised the Silver Towers before leaving to fight a bunch of fish-demons with the rest of his Family. Says his high priestess called out a clan chief, giving instructions."
Brennan holds up the prayer book for Folly to take, if she wants it. If she takes it, as a professional, he's curious if she puts down the phone or the knife.
"We got him for a few more hours, figured on asking him some questions."
Want to help?
Martin is getting Lark ready to go since Folly seems to have accepted the call, but he's paying attention, definitely. So is Lark.
Folly blinks as she takes that all in. "Well," she says after a moment. "It's been rather longer than two or three days for us." She stands and begins stacking some of the empty plates together, ostensibly to get them ready to carry back to the kitchen -- but in doing so she shifts her position just so, so that Brennan can catch a glimpse over her shoulder of Martin holding a sandy, sun-streaked toddler, and she can accept the book out of Lark's direct line of sight. (She relinquishes the knife, rather than the phone, to do so.)
"Martin," she asks, casually, "when you were growing up was there such a thing as a 'high priestess of Lir' in Rebma?"
Brennan's only display of surprise is to incline his head slightly-- he knows more than well enough not to comment with any names, so he chooses not to comment at all. But it's obvious to Folly that he's re-assessing the situation as she'd intended.
Martin looks up from where he's been taking away the last of the waffles--waffles she was playing with rather than eating, to the detriment of clean hands, face, and hair--from Lark. "We didn't have any of those, properly, when I was growing up. Religion was more of a triton thing than something the royal house was involved in," he tells Folly.
"Innnnteresting," Folly says, and repeats for Brennan's benefit, "Sounds like religion was mostly a Triton thing in Rebma. I'd bet what you've got there is a sect whose origins predate Lir-worship by the Tritons. I don't recognize the reference to the 'Silver Towers', though -- do you?"
Brennan seems genuinely surprised that Folly hasn't heard of the Silver Towers, so he recites, softly:
"'Beyond the River of the Blessed, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Avalon. Our swords were shattered in our hands and we hung our shields on the oak tree. The silver towers were fallen, into a sea of blood. How many miles to Avalon? None, I say, and all. The silver towers are fallen.' That happened around the time of the end of the Witch-King," he says, waiting to see if she recognizes that reference. He has absolutely no intention of saying Corwin's name aloud, so instead he'll fish out an old Corwin-head coin from a pocket and pass that through.
"Agreed, though, this probably ain't that. Cult just begging to be commandeered, though. Gets better, too-- this priestess came out of a sunken city." He lets that register, then adds, "Not the one you're thinking of, not by name. Place called Maghdeburg. But that's too much to be chance. Who do we know from a sunken city could use a ready made band of warriors marching off to a promised land? But it ain't actionable. Not yet."
"That," says Martin, who is only under the constraints of the little pitcher with big ears who's listening, says, "is a Corwin reference. I remember that from Merle."
Folly nods at Martin's comment. "Yeah, Brennan just quoted me a folk song I learned as a girl, except the towers were 'mighty' instead of 'silver' and the name of the city wasn't Avalon -- but it makes some other things make sense."
To Brennan, she says, "So, this high priestess wasn't this Maghee fellow's regular high priestess at his local temple, or whatever -- she just came rising out of this sunken city of Maghdeburg to call out a local clan chief to... what? Make war against the Protector's lands and people?" She hesitates, piecing together memories that for her are quite a bit older than for Brennan. "And didn't you say that wossname, the aura-reading chick that called you out, also swore by Lir? Did she turn out to be working with the Maghee guy?"
"Good memory," Brennan murmurs. "No, they're clean, far as I can reckon-- her and her brother. I asked about that-- different cult, I'm thinking," although he clearly has a pin in that memory as well. "And if this whole deal's just to make war against the Protector, then I'm wasting my time and yours. If that priestess is who I think, though, then she knows where the Road is, and where it goes. That'd change things," he understates.
"I'm about to go my own round of twenty questions with the Maghee. Having you over my shoulder helps two ways: I can draw on yours and his knowledge, first, and second, if this is what I reckon then I got no fast way to get it back to The Man. But you do, and it won't be hearsay."
Brennan is still too cagey to mention names. Trumps may be secure, but he's a little too distracted to make sure no one is listening at the door.
Martin is paying a lot of attention to this discussion. So is Lark, and she's aware her parents are ignoring her. Folly can see out of the corner of her eye that Lark is winding up for a huge tantrum. Martin finshes detaching her from the chair and makes to carry her in for her bath, with a questioning eyebrow sent Folly's way in case he's needed.
"I'm in," Folly says, and makes a gesture toward Martin that he reads as, 'Take her on in, I'll catch up in a minute.' "Logistically, it will probably make the most sense for me to call you back, unless you're looking to tip your magical one-card hand to the Maghee, if you know what I mean. I won't be able to hear his answers unless you pull him into the call, of course, but I suspect I'll be able to intuit a lot of it from your follow-up comments and questions."
Brennan looks skeptical until Folly points out that Brennan probably doesn't want to head into the questioning holding a card. "Good point," he says. "I'll wait for the call. I only have him for a few hours more, though. Pass the book back if you can."
Folly does so, and says, "It shouldn't be more than a few minutes on my end, and possibly even fewer on yours. Talk to you soon."
Brennan considers heading into the Maghee's prison and waiting for the call from Folly, but decides against it-- he doesn't want to show up and wait, he doesn't want to start without her, and he doesn't want to receive the Trump call while he's actually in the Maghee's presence. And the only preparations he can think of are simple: Bring paper and a pen for the ostensible purpose of keeping notes but the real purpose of writing down salient responses if Folly is having trouble reading lips.
Having a brief amount of time to kill, Brennan kills it with the prayer book.
He is after two things: What exactly do the Maghee think happened when the Silver Towers fell? And do the Maghee have a tradition of priestess-avatars of Lir coming forth from this sunken Maghdeburg of theirs? He'll be content if he gets the first-- it should be easy enough to flip to that section and just read. The second is dicey since hints might be anywhere in the book, but you never know, maybe such a thing played a role in the fall of the Silver Towers.
There are three different versions of the fall of the Silver Towers. They contradict each other in important details. One chapter seems to be allegorical and names the towers for the virtues of civilization that have fallen as people have turned away from the true path of Lir.
Other than that, the two narratives suggest that the towers were captured by the Sorcerer King who enslaved the people and caused them to weep and rend their clothes under his cruel yoke and a second coming of Lir, who drove out the Sorcerer King and pulled down the towers. The scripture contains prophecies that the Silver Towers will be rebuilt and rise again to protect the Children of Lir and lead them into a new age of prosperity.
It doesn't mention priestesses at all. In fact, Brennan can't find a single reference to a woman in the book anywhere.
Soon after his call with Fiona comes to a close, Brennan feels the gentle stirring of another trump contact.
Brennan is flipping through the Maghee's prayer book and making notes when Folly calls, although he doesn't seem to have made very many. Possibly the wait just wasn't that long. He looks up at an angle through the contact, smiles briefly and says quietly, "Ready when you are. If you're having trouble following the conversation, I've got paper and a pen to take notes with so you can see them." Although Brennan rather suspects that they won't be needed, he does tend to come prepared. As he stands, he also tucks a pair of leather gloves into his belt.
For a moment, Brennan may feel Folly regarding him through the trump in appraisal -- taking in his posture and bearing, his attire, his expression, his movement. Whatever she learns from this, she seems quite pleased by it.
"I'm ready," she says. "We should be free of interruptions from my end for at least a little while." Brennan can see that she has moved from a porch overlooking a beach to a room that might almost be an office if it didn't have so many musical instruments in it.
Brennan nods, and hands the prayer book back to Folly, so she can flip through it and refer to it unseen while Brennan gets on with the interrogation.
With that, he makes his way briskly to the tower where they've stashed the prisoner. When he gets there, he enters the room, and surveys the scene-- Guards? Furnishings in the room? Restraints? Condition of the prisoner?-- before saying or doing anything.
The prisoner is in what seems to be a combination family chapel and library. As Brennan enters, he's looks up from a stack of books. Open in front of him is some sort of history of the island, with an emphasis on the mountain people. The room is well-appointed and there are no guards, no restraints, and the furniture is overstuffed leather. It's hardly a prison cell at all.
If Folly's view through the trump catches the aspects of the room that are most chapel-like, she'll take a moment to try to pick out any religious iconography or interesting motifs. Otherwise, she's quiet and listening as Brennan begins his interrogation of the Maghee.
The religious iconography centers around spears and horses.
"Ah, Captain Walker, these are a fascinating people. Are you familiar with them, beyond the current conflict?"
There is no possible way Brennan would stand for being interrogated by his own prisoner. Walker, however, has a very slightly higher tolerance for it, if only because he might get more out of the Maghee by playing good cop to what had been Balen's bad cop.
"These ain't my people," he says. "I ain't signed up to fight a war, neither, I'm just here after a job that went real bad at the end. What I hear, though, these folks ain't think much of you. Neither do those boys outside. They all just call you 'the Maghee.' What's your name?"
Brennan glances at the spines of the books he's reading, so he can return to them later if he needs to, or at least the subjects.
The books are bound folio-style, with no spines. They look to be hand-copied instead of printed.
The Maghee seems unsurprised. "Forgive me for not introducing myself sooner, I was rushed in our initial meeting, as you may remember. My name is Cameloeopardis Maghee. Our people are not loved. It is difficult to be the children of a diaspora."
Cameloeopardis? Apparently even the Maghees' mothers don't love them if they're naming their sons after giraffes, Brennan thinks.
Walker grunts at the memory. "Nothin' personal, I just ain't want these walls fallin' down till I'm done and gone. I reckon that gives these boys a pretty good reason not to like you, though." He gestures with a free hand to taken in, nebulously, everyone in the castle walls.
Then, "Diaspora. That means... you're lost? Looking for home?" Walker intentionally misunderstands the word somewhat.
"Ooh," Folly says, "he might volunteer it, but if not I'd be interested in his take on how his homeland fell and any legends about how his people might return to it, or gain a new one. And whether it seems weird to him that anyone -- like that high priestess of his -- might actually live in a sunken city beneath the waves." She experiments with shifting her view through the trump a bit, so that she can see the Maghee in addition to Brennan.
[OOC: Seeing both is not easy. Either Brennan has to sit beside the Maghee or he needs a "mirror of truth" or somesuch.]
The Maghee nods. He may have been a teacher, sometime in his life. "An interesting word, 'Disapora.' It means 'those who have been sewn throughout'. Do you know of the Fire Climax Pine Tree? The seeds can only germinate in a fire, thus assuring the species survival by creating new growth in burned-out areas. It's quite interesting. We call it 'the Disapora Pine' becuase it is so like us. Our home is gone, Walker.
"It's a story the Maghee tell of themselves."
Walker seems perhaps more interested in this than he ought to be. And he will take advantage of the Maghee's presumed pedantry as best he can.
"Gone can mean a lot of things," Walker says. "Occupied. Destroyed. Can't get there from here." Which, all things considered, might be an odd comment from a mercenary soldier like Walker. "Occupied means you can take it back. Destroyed means you can rebuild. Bringin' down these walls gonna help with those?"
He shrugs. "If Lir so wills, then perhaps it will. But Maghdeberg is on a sunken island, and the silver towers were, occupied and then destroyed in the final assault on the Sorcerer-King. We proudly sacrificed our home in that noble fight, but the aftermath of the war was not kind to those most victimized by it."
"I reckon if anybody could raise up a sunken island, it'd be a god. But I ain't never noticed the gods pay any much attention when you really need them." Walker punctuates his bitterness with an act of desecration-- he spits on the floor of the chapel library.
Go ahead, try to convert me, he thinks.
Folly may not be able to hear Brennan's thoughts through the Trump, but she reads his intent well enough; she blows out a breath, not quite a laugh, at his in-character goading of the Maghee.
"How'd your island sink?" he asks, although he sounds as though he can guess the rough outline of the answer-- the Sorcerer-King did it. Or at least caught the blame.
"I'm having trouble getting eyes on him to read his answers," Folly says softly through the trump. "If he says anything surprising, or interesting, you might want to jot down a note or two."
"Sinking it was our greatest achievement. We cut the land from beneath the Sorcerer's feet. It took our sorcerers a score of years and a bargain with the Fae to make it happen. He could not rebuild our towers against us." He smiles. "We are proud of our ancestors, but it ushered in an era of continual war. It was not until the Protector's Pax that anyone in this land felt safe, and then only those he was not oppressing directly."
Walker manages to scowl and smile at the same time, as though the Maghee managed to make his own point for him about the fickleness of the gods. "Sank your own island? Impressive, I suppose, but that's a rather Tartanian victory, you ask me." Walker turns to look out the window of the tower and let Folly get her eyes on the prisoner. The gesture gives him a moment to think, as well-- the Fae interest him quite a bit, but unless one of them is masquerading as a High Priestess of Lir, they're beside the point of this conversation.
Folly sees a man in what look like stereotypical monks' robes. He's middle aged, but fit, and looks like he's no stranger to physical activity.
"Better," Folly says.
Then, as though the thought just struck him, he asks, "Wait, though, ain't that where your Priestess came from?"
"And did they even have Priestesses in the city before it sank?" Folly adds to Brennan.
"When we brought down our towers, we brought down half of Avalon with it. The island was much larger then. It was home to a great forest, and when it sunk, the forest went underwater as well. Those with the magical skills to breathe underwater can visit both, as long as they keep their wits with them. It is an easy place to get dangerously lost."
Walker looks back over his shoulder with some skepticism. "Wouldn't you just be able to swim upwards?" he asks. He knows the Rebman answer to that one. Does the Maghee?
"In the forest? Then you're lost and tangled in the kelp and you may run into monsters. At least on the floor, you can be sure one direction is safe from attack."
When he gets the answer, he turns back to look out the window, trusting Folly to give him any visual information he might need. In fact, if he thinks Walker isn't watching, the reactions might be more genuine. "Your priestess caste-- they went along with this? They helped?"
Folly is, in fact, watching very closely to see if the Maghee's face shows any particular reaction, especially at reference to the 'priestess caste'.
The prisoner nods. It's clear to both Folly and Brennan that he doesn't quite agree with Brennan's characterization, but isn't going to argue too much.
After a moment, he replies. "They did. The priests and priestess were different then. I'd've been a priest in those days, or I wouldn't have been a magician. Lir was more sparing with his gifts, before the Towers fell."
"...And that makes me wonder about the possible sources of 'Lir's gifts'," says Folly, who caught enough of that through lip-reading to get the gist. "Too bad Brita's not there to... y'know, sniff him."
No conclusive Rebma, though Brennan mouths, still looking out the window.
Walker doesn't seem too impressed with the idea of being caught in kelp, but maybe that's because he's never actually been caught in such a forest. "And this is something people do, breathe water in a sunken city." It's not quite a question. "This is something you've done?" That is. "Why? Pilgrimage?"
The Maghee smiles. "Not I, soldier. I am not religious. No, I was a seeker after esoteric knowledge when I entered the sunken city. Some of my kin wanted to go, doubtless to recover the great treasures of the clan, but they needed to breathe water, so that needed a mage. I had my own needs, so I went with them.
"My kinsmen did not survive, and I was taken prisoner. It is good for me that the spell to breathe water is so very, very simple."
"You were captured?" Walker asks. Brennan is moderately surprised at that, too. "So you're saying people... live there in this sunken city? This I gotta hear about. Why'd you go? What's this place like?" Unremarked upon is the terribly cyclical nature of the Maghee's existence, bouncing from one failed expedition to another, always ending up captured and, presumably, escaping.
Walker continues to divide his attention between the window and the Maghee, giving Folly as much opportunity to keep her eyes on him as possible without looking artificial.
Through the trump, Folly looks as though she may have had a question or two to add herself, but the bit about being captured takes her rather by surprise, too. She peers through the connection and over Brennan's shoulder to try to read the Maghee's response.
The Maghee nods. "I was captured twice, before this. We always knew some of our magical creations might have survived. Some of them were hardy, and some would have had no need to breathe. But it was not these who captured me. There is some part of an army there, men who fled from a battle in some distant place, who breathed water with no magics. They were surviving well, netting fish and establishing strongpoints. They'd fled the deep monsters of the forest and come to this edge. They told of kingdoms on the far side of the forest where people lived undersea as if it were land and where women ruled over men. It was like a fairy tale."
He waves his hands, trying to encompass the whole of the island and the ocean and failing. "They were going to the city, which they had seen as they exited what they called 'the accursed city'. I was spared to be their guide. I did not tell them I had never dared to venture into it before. They were reasonably kind, for soldiers. I gave them no trouble.
"No, that was all the doing of Lir's Chosen." He pauses, to see if Walker has questions.
That makes almost no sense compared to Brennan's model of how things work. Rebma-- because that's obviously what he's talking about-- and Avalon should be connected along the Faiella-Bionin, not some arbitrary meander through an undersea kelp forest. They *are* connected along the Faiella-Bionin, Brennan proved it. And that kelp forest, in relation to Rebma, sounds like Nedra. Having it also be the remnants of a surface-Avalonian forest is... troubling for the timeline. But not as troubling as the recollection that Nedra has a Dragon associated with it.
He lets some of that confusion register on Walker's face.
"So these deserters that took you captive, they was on the run from the accursed city on their way to *your* sunken city, Maghdeburg-- and this kelp forest between them is what used to be the forest on land?" That wasn't entirely for Folly's benefit. There were just enough loose pronouns in there that he wanted to clarify and try to fix the geography in his head. He lets the Maghee correct him if he got anything wrong, then lets him proceed.
The shaggy-haired wizard shakes his head. "No, I misstated. I speak Thari poorly. They called the forest accursed, because it was full of monsters that chased them out. They did swear about the city, because it bested them in war, but the edge of the forest was where they were when they sighted Maghdeburg. I do not think they intended to enter Madghdeburg when they entered the forest, but once they were run off, it seemed a good enough goal."
Walker nods his understanding and gestures for him to continue.
"They were loud and whatever denizens of the city we came across chose to avoid us rather than confront us. I would have investigated the towers, but I was in no position to insist. I was curious to see the palace, so I did not protest at all.
"The palace was a ruin, but we were not the first to approach, not by centuries. The opulence of the Sorcerer-King had long been stolen or drowned. 'The treasure is below', their Captain said. We were looking for a way downwards.
"I was the one who found the way to open the throne room door. The room was huge, perhaps a thousand feet across, and we had entered from above, behind the throne. What a throne! Carved from a single giant sapphire, it was both the apex of the decadence of the King, and so bulky as to defy thievery. As soon as I saw it, I was struck by a vision. I saw the floor of the throne room light up in great spirals of light, centered on a man, following them along the floor. Sparks flew from his feet where they touched the line.
"'Do you see that, Captain?', I asked and he said nothing, or at least to me. Something was happening to him and his men, but my eyes were glued to the man. He was struggling, and the sparks threatened to engulf him.
"I know it was a vision, and not reality, because the next thing I saw was the Sorcerer-King, Karol Le Magne in our tongue. Corwin. He was in front of the man, with his sword raised. He was fighting the Protector, who was not even in Avalon at the same time as the Sorcerer-King."
Folly has been watching the tale-telling closely through the trump, but that really gets her attention. She leans forward, wide-eyed.
"They all disappeared behind the sparks and I passed out and fell to the ground next to the throne.
"When I woke up, she was on the throne and the floor was no longer blazing."
He reaches for a tankard of water and drinks half of it down.
In the back of his mind, Brennan makes a promise to himself to somehow, someday, plague Brooke, Leif, Jasmine and the rest of the youngsters similarly.
Walker takes out a pewter hip flask with the characteristic wolf and hawk motif of Reme pressed into it. Perhaps it was once fine, but now, it's mostly been beat to hell. Walker takes a pull from it out of good faith, before offering it to the Maghee to steady himself. It's got something in it that's technically brandy, but isn't now, never was, and won't ever be fine. But it's drinkable.
He makes sure to take it back with a murmured, "All I got left to remember," comment.
Once the Maghee looks ready to proceed, he says, "If that was a vision, that mean you know what comes next is real?"
"Have we gotten a physical description of this priestess-woman yet?" Folly says. "I've got some sketches you can show him to try to rule out anyone we know. Not active ones, just pictures." She's pulling a small box from her pocket and thumbing it open one-handed as she speaks; she retrieves three cards by touch and offers them face-down to Brennan through the contact.
The Maghee takes the flask and drinks the brandylike liquid. Of all the things he may be, averse to alcohol is not one of them. His enjoyment is clear, and he thanks Walker for the refreshment. "She was sitting on the throne, tall and thin like a reed, and dark. She was paying no attention to me, but instead to the rune-carved sword, held by no hand, at her throat. She spoke, addressing the phantom swordsman as 'Corwin', and I saw that the Protector stood on her far side. The protector clashed with the invisible assassin, or at least with his sorcerous blade.
"The Protector's blade had changed hands, and his free hand shot forward and fixed itself upon some unseen target. The two blades parried one another, locked, pressed, their points moving toward the ceiling. The Protector's right hand continued to tighten. Suddenly, the Sorcerer-King's blade was free, and moving past the other. It struck a terrific blow to the Protector's right arm, severing it cleanly.
"Then the Protector turned and dropped to one knee. He clutched at the stump of his arm, and I watched as it regrew from the stump like smoke from a fire. The severed arm hung in the air near the floating sword. It was moving away from the Protector and descending, as was the blade. When both reached the floor, they did not strike it but passed on through, vanishing from sight. When I looked for the Protector again, he was enveloped in smoke, and gone when the smoke cleared.
"Before I had time to regain my wits, the enthroned woman spoke to me. 'My name is Dara. What did you seek here, if not your death?'"
There are a lot of responses that bubble up immediately to Brennan's consciousness: 'Was the arm mechanical?' is one. 'That's no Priestess of Lir, that's my insane cousin!' is another. And, 'I wonder where the arm went if it wasn't mechanical?' (And his mind immediately answers him, 'In the basement of this place, probably.')
Absolutely none of those things is appropriate for Walker to say, though.
"Well, what did you say, man?"
While he's distracted by his telling, Brennan takes the sketches from Folly if he can do it surreptitiously.
"And unfortunately, if it really was Dara, she could have looked like anyone," Folly says, frowning.
The sketch handoff goes smoothly. The Maghee is quite wrapped up in his storytelling.
If Brennan glances at the sketches, he sees that they are vividly colored in an art nouveau style: the images are stylized but still recognizable as their subjects -- Moins, Moire, and Dara. Something about the layout or decoration of the Moire card gives a faint sense of unease; the Dara card, even moreso -- there is even a hint of a skull-and-crossbones shape hidden in the negative space of the background swirls. Brennan might guess that their primary purpose is as a teaching aid.
"I was too stunned not to be honest, Captain. 'My past, Lady,' I said. 'Here my ancestors overthrew the sorcerer-King Corwin, at great cost.' She became quite excited when I mentioned Corwin, and claimed to be of the house and lineage of Lir, the great patron of the Maghees. She told me many mysteries of the home of the gods, and the lives of Lir and Corwin and the Protector." He pauses, and drinks the last of the drink Walker handed him.
"She was here researching the Sorcerer-King as well, for he has returned. When she stated her intent to destroy him and bring down his new kingdom, I naturally offered my aid. She said I would receive my instructions shortly, and that I should sleep, and that a priestess of Lir would tell me her bidding. Her magics made me sleep then and there.
"And so it was. Through I know not what magics, when I awoke Lady Dara was gone, but another woman was tending to me. 'Are you Lir's Priestess?' I asked her, and she said she was. She ordered me to take command of her ships and attack Methrin's Isle. It was not until I left the sea that I began to doubt my experiences. I am not usually so ... revolutionary.
"Which brings us to the present, Captain. I fully intend to stay on this Island until I die, for I fear that the sea will not appreciate my change of heart."
"I ain't so sure it does," Walker says, "and there's a lot in that story that ain't make sense about the Protector and the Sorcerer-King. But before we get to that, I want you to look at these, tell me what you think."
The Maghee is about to interrupt, but quiets at Walker's last request, merely nodding at the delay of the former subject.
He arranges them where Folly can see them, then puts them on the table in a stack face down. When the prisoner turns them face up, they will do so in the order of Moins, Moire, and finally Dara.
The Maghee deals them out, the first two upright and the last turned 90 degrees.
"There are so many ways to read a spread of three. Virtue, Fault, Fate is one. Past, Present and Future is another. The cause, the case, and the conclusion in some descriptions.
"In one deck, these could be The Creator, The Defender, and The Usurper. Or in another, The Empress, The High Priestess, and Justice.
He points to Dara. "She is Dara, a goddess of Amber, of whom I have spoken. On the other end," he says, pointing to Moins," is Lir's wife, Dido, in whose service he died. She is Elyssa, the Blessed. The Dido. You can read much of her, and their eternal love that went beyond even the bounds of death in the book of my people that I gave you." He smiles.
He pauses on Moire's picture, his confidence from before abandons him. "I ... This one I know, but I do not know why. Who is she?"
Brennan makes a mental note to research Moire's paternity.
"I was hoping you'd tell me," Walker says. "But I know more now than I did. A seer woman told me they was the only hope I had of getting back home from here. She ain't sound so hopeful when she came out of it, though. But now I know where one is-- or was, anyways," he taps the image of Dara, "and this one's name," he taps the image of Moins, or as the Maghee called her, the Dido. "I ain't have time to read your book, much, but maybe it'll tell me where she's at, too.
"That leaves this one," he taps the Moire card. "What's it mean, you know her but you ain't know why? You met her but ain't remember it?" Walker seems to decide that's the case and presses it a little, trying to jog his memory: "What else comes to mind, looking at her? A time, a place? Some other people? By God, if she's the Present, she could be my best hope!" There is increasing urgency in Walker's voice as he continues, slipping further into the dialect from his putative homeland.
Folly, smirking through the contact at Brennan's strategy, says, "Probably not that 'Priestess of Lir', then, although perhaps it's possible she was among the ships he brought to Methryn's Isle. I don't really see what she'd have to gain from being part of this attack though -- what either of them would gain, for that matter, if Dara's stated aim is to bring down Corwin. Unless this was some sort of test-case: win against Benedict, or at least against his Optimized War Shadow, and you know a win against Corwin will be easy by comparison." She shakes her head, not fully satisfied with that explanation.
"Do we know where this sunken city is relative to where the known path
seaward hits land?" Folly asks. "From his story, it almost sounds like
he ended up on the skyward side, you know?"
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.
Signy spends a few last hours at the smithy, making sure that
everything is set to keep running in her absence. She double-checks
that the smiths have a good grasp on the method for mixing the gems in
with the metals, and that the apprentices are progressing towards
their journeyman status.
She sits with both Tomat and Red Fox Claws briefly, passing along the
Queen's invitation to train with the Archivists and Guard respectively.
Once those last loose ends are tied up, she makes her way back to the
Castle to search out Ambrose for the next steps.
Ambrose has prepared the things he'll require and is ready to travel,
at least the early parts of the way. "I considered Trumping Fiona as a
shortcut and decided it was probably easier for us to just cross
through Shadow. There's no reason we can't come out of the water at
the far end of the Seawards, cross landward, and then just ride for
Fiona's lab. She's likely to be distracted by us from whatever she's
doing, or distract us from what we're doing, neither of which seems
wise." He flashes a smile at Signy. "Unless you feel strongly
Signy returns Ambrose's smile and nudges at the pack that sits at her
feet. "I'm pretty much ready for whatever." Her clothes are well worn,
albeit in good repair, and a plain sword with a leather-wrapped hilt
is belted to her hip.
"I'm fine with travelling through Shadow to the lab -- our Aunt won't
be upset if we visit somewhat unannounced?"
"I have an invitation to return as needed to work with the code
wheels," Ambrose says. "But I will send her a relatively non-intrusive
message once we're out of Rebma so she knows we're both coming and
why. I assume that even if we precede her that you'll treat her tower
with respect, if only because of the potential consequences of
angering our aunt." Ambrose grins to soften any sting Signy might feel
from his jest.
Signy looks a little concerned. "I've already had a couple of episodes
with Uncle Caine. Is she like him?"
She worries over that thought for a moment.
He starts to answer but....
"I did have one thing here I was hoping you might help me with, before
we left. I attempted to craft something for the Queen. It didn't turn
out the way I'd intended, but it's proven to be beyond my ability to
She sighs deeply.
"It's sitting in the middle of a fire in one of my forges. I've got a
couple of apprentices that are keeping the fires stoked as hot as they
can be made to go, but at this point I don't have much hope that this
will actually do anything."
She shifts slightly, the only outward sign of discomfort at this topic.
"Since it was made for Family, I've kept it fairly quiet from the
other smiths, and was planning on going past there on our way out of
town to take it and leave it with the Queen while we were out, but
maybe you might have some thoughts....."
She trails off indecisively.
"I would be honored to examine it for you. If it was made for Family,"
and Ambrose says this in a way that suggests he means more than _made
for_ there, "it may require certain additional efforts to destroy. If
worst comes to worst, we can take it with us. Fiona will have
something that can break it. And if she doesn't, Bleys will." That, at
least, he is confident of.
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.
Signy spends a few last hours at the smithy, making sure that
everything is set to keep running in her absence. She double-checks
that the smiths have a good grasp on the method for mixing the gems in
with the metals, and that the apprentices are progressing towards
their journeyman status.
She sits with both Tomat and Red Fox Claws briefly, passing along the
Queen's invitation to train with the Archivists and Guard respectively.
Once those last loose ends are tied up, she makes her way back to the
Castle to search out Ambrose for the next steps.
Ambrose has prepared the things he'll require and is ready to travel,
at least the early parts of the way. "I considered Trumping Fiona as a
shortcut and decided it was probably easier for us to just cross
through Shadow. There's no reason we can't come out of the water at
the far end of the Seawards, cross landward, and then just ride for
Fiona's lab. She's likely to be distracted by us from whatever she's
doing, or distract us from what we're doing, neither of which seems
wise." He flashes a smile at Signy. "Unless you feel strongly
Signy returns Ambrose's smile and nudges at the pack that sits at her
feet. "I'm pretty much ready for whatever." Her clothes are well worn,
albeit in good repair, and a plain sword with a leather-wrapped hilt
is belted to her hip.
"I'm fine with travelling through Shadow to the lab -- our Aunt won't
be upset if we visit somewhat unannounced?"
"I have an invitation to return as needed to work with the code
wheels," Ambrose says. "But I will send her a relatively non-intrusive
message once we're out of Rebma so she knows we're both coming and
why. I assume that even if we precede her that you'll treat her tower
with respect, if only because of the potential consequences of
angering our aunt." Ambrose grins to soften any sting Signy might feel
from his jest.
Signy looks a little concerned. "I've already had a couple of episodes
with Uncle Caine. Is she like him?"
She worries over that thought for a moment.
He starts to answer but....
"I did have one thing here I was hoping you might help me with, before
we left. I attempted to craft something for the Queen. It didn't turn
out the way I'd intended, but it's proven to be beyond my ability to
She sighs deeply.
"It's sitting in the middle of a fire in one of my forges. I've got a
couple of apprentices that are keeping the fires stoked as hot as they
can be made to go, but at this point I don't have much hope that this
will actually do anything."
She shifts slightly, the only outward sign of discomfort at this topic.
"Since it was made for Family, I've kept it fairly quiet from the
other smiths, and was planning on going past there on our way out of
town to take it and leave it with the Queen while we were out, but
maybe you might have some thoughts....."
She trails off indecisively.
"I would be honored to examine it for you. If it was made for Family,"
and Ambrose says this in a way that suggests he means more than _made
for_ there, "it may require certain additional efforts to destroy. If
worst comes to worst, we can take it with us. Fiona will have
something that can break it. And if she doesn't, Bleys will." That, at
least, he is confident of.
Signy spends a few last hours at the smithy, making sure that everything is set to keep running in her absence. She double-checks that the smiths have a good grasp on the method for mixing the gems in with the metals, and that the apprentices are progressing towards their journeyman status.
She sits with both Tomat and Red Fox Claws briefly, passing along the Queen's invitation to train with the Archivists and Guard respectively.
Once those last loose ends are tied up, she makes her way back to the Castle to search out Ambrose for the next steps.
Ambrose has prepared the things he'll require and is ready to travel, at least the early parts of the way. "I considered Trumping Fiona as a shortcut and decided it was probably easier for us to just cross through Shadow. There's no reason we can't come out of the water at the far end of the Seawards, cross landward, and then just ride for Fiona's lab. She's likely to be distracted by us from whatever she's doing, or distract us from what we're doing, neither of which seems wise." He flashes a smile at Signy. "Unless you feel strongly otherwise?"
Signy returns Ambrose's smile and nudges at the pack that sits at her feet. "I'm pretty much ready for whatever." Her clothes are well worn, albeit in good repair, and a plain sword with a leather-wrapped hilt is belted to her hip.
"I'm fine with travelling through Shadow to the lab -- our Aunt won't be upset if we visit somewhat unannounced?"
"I have an invitation to return as needed to work with the code wheels," Ambrose says. "But I will send her a relatively non-intrusive message once we're out of Rebma so she knows we're both coming and why. I assume that even if we precede her that you'll treat her tower with respect, if only because of the potential consequences of angering our aunt." Ambrose grins to soften any sting Signy might feel from his jest.
Signy looks a little concerned. "I've already had a couple of episodes with Uncle Caine. Is she like him?"
She worries over that thought for a moment.
He starts to answer but....
"I did have one thing here I was hoping you might help me with, before we left. I attempted to craft something for the Queen. It didn't turn out the way I'd intended, but it's proven to be beyond my ability to unmake it."
She sighs deeply.
"It's sitting in the middle of a fire in one of my forges. I've got a couple of apprentices that are keeping the fires stoked as hot as they can be made to go, but at this point I don't have much hope that this will actually do anything."
She shifts slightly, the only outward sign of discomfort at this topic.
"Since it was made for Family, I've kept it fairly quiet from the other smiths, and was planning on going past there on our way out of town to take it and leave it with the Queen while we were out, but maybe you might have some thoughts....."
She trails off indecisively.
"I would be honored to examine it for you. If it was made for Family," and Ambrose says this in a way that suggests he means more than _made for_ there, "it may require certain additional efforts to destroy. If worst comes to worst, we can take it with us. Fiona will have something that can break it. And if she doesn't, Bleys will." That, at least, he is confident of.
"I thought I would see you off, cousins." Ambrose smiles at Conner and Brita.
"I have studied little of the forest, although it is visible from the altitude of the castle and parts of the city. Even if it is related to Arden, it must need be quite different without our Uncle's wardening."
He looks across at the black smear across the horizon, distinct from the low, smooth sea-floor that is the highway for Rebma's trading empire. Closer investigation might allow an observer to see motion as the kelp sways in the tides, but not from here.
"It is the home of the Sons of the Dragon, that I know. They are impressive beings." He pauses and seems sad.
"I wish I had a sealed Trump to give you, in case you need a quick way out of the great forest."
Brita smiles and pulls out a palm sized shell, "I Have a Trump of the Fire Gate. We Will Use it If we Need to Return Quickly." She gives Ambrose a hug, "We Will go to Mother's Lab When I Return."
"Nedra is uncharted territory in more ways than one." Conner comments. "I rather wish I had taken the time to learn Mabrahoring in my youth. I find that gap in my knowledge more and more vexing as I deal with the Sons of the Dragon." Conner looks to Ambrose. "Thank you for your concern Cousin. If you happen to see part of the forest erupt in green flame or something similar, feel free to come to the rescue." He grins.
"I'll do that," Ambrose says. He omits the shaking of hands that they'd do on the surface, as it does nothing but disturb the water in Rebma.
Brita, not one for long goodbyes, turns to Conner and says, "Shall We?" she pushes off and begins a slow backstroke towards the forest, still looking back to watch what Ambrose and Conner do.
Conner raises his hand to Ambrose in farewell and swims off after his sister.
Ambrose waits for some time while the two of them move off, watching them swim away into the distance, before turning back to the interior of the castle.
Conner speeds up his swimming to catch up to his sister. "Brennan reported an area of the kelp beds where he found traces of Huon's troops entering it. I though we would start there."
Brita makes a noise of understanding. She continues to occasionally roll over in swimming, to watch around them .. and back. "Why would Uncle Huon's Troops Enter the Kelp Forest? Where they Fleeing You and Trying to Hide? This was not done Before the Battle, was it?"
"After." Conner confirms. "There was much blind retreat from the battle including into areas where the breathable water ends." Conner pauses for a moment. "The incursion into the kelp forest is mildly troubling because part of the pact with the Dragon and her Sons is that Rebma should not expand towards the kelp forest. We don't want this disturbance to be taken as an attempt to do that. Nor ours for that matter."
Brita glances to Conner. "A Way to Ensure That would be to Announce our Visit, but To Whom would we Announce It?" She shakes her head, negating her own suggestion with, "No, Perhaps we can go in as Cleanup - Searching for Further Sign of These Deserters to Eliminate any Further Threat to the Sons of The Dragon or Watery Rebma. Of course, The Dragon probably does Not Need help in Eliminating Threats."
"The sons of the Dragon refer to this sword as the Paxblade, a sign of the peace." Conner replies. "I am hoping that will be token enough. Even the Tritons from the kelp forest recruited into Khela's army appeared to respect it rather than fear it. I hope the Dragon will see that way rather than as a threat."
Brita wonders aloud, "It seems Strange that Waving around a Blade would denote Peace, but Hopefully Their Respect will Suffice." Her shrug is verbal in the watery environment.
"There is much about the Tritons and their Mother that is counter-intuitive. If I am understanding the metaphysics of things, they are Chaos frozen into a Ordered form by the Pattern. So rituals and rules that don't conform to our logic sounds about right to me." Conner opines.
Brita makes an accepting noise in response to that logic. "What do You Think we will Find? Or Hope to find? Will They Deign to Speak to Us or Hide?" she asks as they near the swaying kelp.
The kelp is constantly in motion, and the boundary is clearly demarcated--there is kelp-forest and there is not-kelp forest. There are trails and it looks as if they exist both on the ocean floor and further up. It looks dark and uninviting, and it would be easy to get lost 5 feet within the kelp beds. The sea teems with life near and in the forest.
There is a small building on the last hill before the forest starts. It looks to be a Rebman outpost of some sort. If there are any occupants, they are quiet.
"Do we go in High or Low?," Brita asks as she examines the waving fronds. "I would Think maybe Low to Reduce One avenue of Potential Ah...pproach."
"Low." Conner replies. "I think this may be one of the few cases where getting lost in the forest is likely the best course of action. Though before that happens I want to see if we can find any trace of the deserters that Brennan told me about. Let's investigate this little outpost first though, hmmm? If there is the equivalent of the Rangers down here I would know of it." Conner starts swimming towards the structure.
The outbuilding is small, too small for a triton to enter. That seems intentional. It's all stone construction and someone has made efforts to keep sea-life from growing on it. It's empty, but it looks like it's been occupied within the last few months. Inside are two sleeping nets, what proves to be a medicine cabinet, some preserved foodstuffs, and weapons (spears and tridents).
There's a wax sheet that looks like some sort of talley sheet. It's hard to tell if it's for observations of Tritons or for games of darts.
Brita follows Conner into the building. [Does it look like older construction or newer?] "It seems Odd that this is Not Triton Sized. The Recent Queens of Watery Rebma would Not have an Outpost Designed for Only Humans, would they?" she asks Conner as she pokes around in the cabinets. "But it also does not seem Plausible that this could have been Built without Their Knowledge," she adds.
"You don't get a barracuda to guard the spawning grounds." Conner remarks. "If this is an outpost to watch for Triton activity at the edges of Ndera, you would not want Tritons as part of the observation post for fear of divided loyalty and if you fear the unbound Tritons of Nedra then you want a hardened building they can't enter for protection." Conner pokes about the medicine cabinet and foodstuffs idly. "This outpost has likely not been a priority for some time. No sign they left in a hurry but no sign of complete abandonment either. Recalled to join the fighting perhaps."
"Unbound Tritons." Brita repeats with a nod. "Those We seek. If those that Ran came through here and One or Two were Watching, would They Follow or Report? I would Follow." [Are there any obvious scents in the water in the enclosed space of the building?]
There aren't, which probably means it's been at least weeks if not months since people were here.
[While we are asking questions, where is this outpost relative to where Brennan said he found evidence of people fleeing into Nedra?]
The output is near where Brennan saw the evidence.
"From what I have seen I suspect they would cower and then report." Conner replies with a shrug. "Well there seems little to be gained here. Let's head to the edge of the kelp bed and see if the paths made by the troops are still visible."
Brita nods in agreement and gestures to Conner to lead the way. She swims after him towards the kelp and searches the area for obvious and perhaps non-obvious points of entry.
The obvious points of entry are obvious. They look like game trails. Above, the paths shift and change. Arden would be far more dangerous if the trees swayed as the great kelp does. Still, Brita and Conner begin to see blazes on rocks and at the bases of some of the great trunks of the massive kelp plants.
Someone has been here. Someone who wanted to be able to get around, at least in the fringes of the forest.
"Nice of Them to Leave a Trail," Brita notes. "Shall we Follow the Rabbit?" she asks Conner as she points to the marked trail.
Conner pauses for a moment then shrugs. "I was going to substitute the Rebman aphorism for going down the rabbit hole but I seem to have not learned that one. I shall have to ask Celina when we return. Yes, let's see where this leads. To nothing interesting would actually be the preferred discovery but I doubt they or we are that lucky."
The blaze-marks lead between a quarter and half-league into the kelp forest to a clearing. Brita is sure she could retrace her steps, but that not everyone who enters could. It reminds her of Arden, in that.
The clearing is seems to have started as a natural one and been enlarged. At the far end, there is a circle of the wide-leaved kelp plants, woven together into to some sort of living hut. That involves some clever engineering, or botany. It's unlikely that lost soldiers did that on their own.
Brita can smell humans nearby.
"Company," Brita notes to Conner, "of a Non-Water Variety." She moves forward to examine the hut.
"Most curious." Conner floats forward with Brita to examine the hut while keeping an eye out for the inhabitants. "I expected to find nothing but remains rather than an encampment."
The hut is constructed of carefully woven living kelp, of the wide-leafed variety. It's dark inside, even darker than the forest, and the place seems abandoned. There is some sort of a table at the back end, with the darkened remnants of a couple of Rebman light-globes on it. On the table is a hand carved statue of a triton and the skeleton of a fish.
It doesn't look like a dwelling place.
Brita acknowledges Conner's comments with a nod. She moves back out of the hut and wanders around it, trying to determine which direction the human scent is coming from.
She steps out of the building and into the relative light of the glade. Brita finds the scent trail quickly once she's away from the building. It leads to someone in the leaves, perhaps 20 feet into the water above them, watching the clearing. There are two of them, and they're reasonably quiet, for humans. Brita's best guess is that they're Rebmans, but somehow not like the city-Rebmans.
Brita turns back to the door of the hut with her back to the viewers as Conner comes out and smiles as she says, "Your Can Talk the Birds from the Trees, Brother. Think your Gilded Tongue will be Needed in This Wood." The last is not a question.
Conner turns from his contemplation of the hut's contents and swims out to join his sister. "Have you found flying fish in the kelp beds, Brita?" Conner replies. "Or do we have guests?"
"Guests," Brita nods behind and above her. "Two." She cocks her head to the side and frowns as she notes softly. "I am Not Certain of Their Origin. It Seems Rebman, but Not at the Same Time."
Conner sees them as well, once Brita points them out. They have a good vantage on the door, but aren't moving.
Brita cocks her head at her brother. "Should we Invite them Down?"
Conner looks up to where the Rebmans watch them. "Fair currents to you." He calls out to them. "Is this place yours?"
A voice comes down from the kelp nest. "The shrine belongs to the Goddess. Who are you and why do you come here, in violation of the age-old compact?"
"Others have disturbed the peace of the kelp before us. Refugees from a battle that sought safety within the boundaries of Nedra that knew nothing of the compact or the potential consequences for breaking it. We seek to assure that they have not damaged the peace." Conner replies. "As for who we are," Conner steps from behind Brita and moves one hand to draw attention to Halosydne's hilt. "I am Conner, scion of Amber, Duke of Rebma, bearer of the PaxBlade and appointed Warden of Nedra by the Queen of Rebma. This is my sister, Brita, scion of Amber, Goddess of Asgard, and She Who Keeps Water Pure. Who are you?" Conner asks in return.
The voices come down thinly from the kelp, sounding very different from Conner's assured and measured tones.
"W-We have been granted asylum! You are not in Rebma, and have no authority over us!"
"The others were dealt with!"
"Shh, Don't t--"
They sound like children, or perhaps teenagers, quarreling. It's bravado speaking, but they are both quite afraid of a Duke of Rebma.
Brita gets the feeling that they'll bolt if they feel threatened.
Brita notes in a quiet voice that will still carry, "We need Knowledgeable Guides, Brother. Someone who could Show Us the Right Way through this Vast Forest. Someone who Might know the Best Routes, the Fastest Routes, and Someone who Knows All of Import. Such a One would be a Boon to A New Warden - a Good First Ally." Conner can tell she's trying to sound cajoling, although the tone is still hard for her to master.
The voice Brita has tentatively identified as "the girl" replies. "We will take you to a dragon's nest. There's one not far from here."
The "boy" looks out at them, his dark green skin acting as natural camouflage in the kelp strands. "As long as you don't kill anyone, you'll be safe."
Conner smiles at them. "That sounds most acceptable." He soothes. "How have you two come to live here in Nedra?" He asks.
"We have No Need to Kill Anyone," Brita concurs. She cocks her head to the side and asks, "Are You Siblings like My Brother and I?"
The girl slips out from behind a leaf, but is still a good 20 feet up. She's dressed in what is probably pounded kelp clothing and doesn't seem to have ever known a comb. She may be 15, but seems could be younger.
"I'm called Freedom, my brother is Peace," she takes a breath. "We were born here."
"Fur and Fang," Brita notes quietly to her Brother.
Conner turns to Brita and let his confusion show on his face for an instant before turning back to Freedom and Peace. "Lovely names. I hope that you live up to them." Conner grins. "Were your parents born here too?" He asks.
"Y-yes. Are you coming? The path isn't along the floor."
Brita looks at Conner with a smile, "Follow the Brooke and Leif," she says with a gesture to the children before swimming up and preparing to follow.
"Very well. Lead on, neighbors." Conner swims up and prepares to follow them as well.
The two children swim back into the darkness quickly, It takes a moment, but it's clear that they are navigating by sending swirls of water back and forth at each other. It remind Brita of Ranger codes, but better suited for underwater movement.
Once Brita and Conner get adjusted to the gloom, it's actually pretty easy to predict where the trails will be and to notice what the equivalent of tracking is in the water. For a while the trails are quite narrow, and suddenly the become quite wide, as if made for sea creatures, not people.
After a long swim, they come to another clearing, this one lit by a glowing stone. There are two adults in the clearing, working on the sea floor, tending to some sort of crop. Like the children, they are dressed in kelp clothing. They wave Conner and Brita over.
Brita has attempted to garner clues as to the meaning behind the watery cadence, but refrains from trying to mimic it. When they reach the clearing, she lets Conner take the lead, hanging back slightly as they approach the adults and keeping an eye on the children.
Conner treats them to a smile that somehow sparkles even in the light on the glowing stone. "Good day good people. Freedom and Peace were good enough to guide us to this place. I am Conner and this is my sister, Brita." Conner stops there to let them finish the introduction if they choose. He drifts towards the farmers but keeps his distance for the moment.
The woman performs a Rebman bow. "Well met, Brita, Conner. I am Unity and my husband is called Love."
The children swim down beside the adults, behind their legs. "Mamma, he said he was a duck!"
"Duke," corrects Freedom, swatting her brother.
"Duke," the boy repeats, rubbing his head.
Love's eyebrows go up and both of them seem more reserved.
Unity makes a calming hand gesture towards her husband. "We are all guests of the Dragon, and have no titles here." She is still smiling, but it seems a diplomatic thing.
Conner appreciates a good diplomatic smile. "Your children speak the truth." Conner smiles back. "I hold a title in Rebma but as you say that means little here. I have come to make sure the peace between Rebma and the Dragon is maintained. Soldiers fleeing from a recent battle have entered the kelp forest. I wished to be certain that this was not seen as an act of aggression by the Dragon and to offer them a passage home if they wish it. You children kindly offered to guide us to a dragon's nest." He explains. "May I ask how you came to live here within Nedra?"
Brita returns the bow in greeting but says nothing as Conner leads the discussion. She looks to the kelp for evidence of other paths out of the clearing.
Brita sees several other paths from the clearing. Some are wide and some are narrow enough that only a child could pass. The kelp is not as solid as the trees of Arden, so it is both easier and more difficult to create a path through.
The children slide to the side of their parents, to get a better, closer look at Brita and Conner. Brita again sees flashes of some sort of water-cadence.
Unity nods. "An acolyte will be along later, who can discuss matters of state with you. As to why we are here, the Dragon and her sons have, at times, offered refuge to humans fleeing the dangers of Rebma. Our parents were refugees. We have seen the warriors of which you spoke. Some we thought would be good citizens of the forest. The Dragon and her sons decide."
"So long as those warriors that stay do so of their own free will, then I have no reason to question their judgement or that of the Dragon." Conner replies. "Did you also see the sons of the Dragon that left the kelp forest to come to the aid of the Tritons of Rebma? They said they came from the kelplands."
"Yes, " Unity replies, heavily. "We heard. We look forward to a new page of history between the peoples for the city and the forest." It's clear to both Brita and Conner that she doesn't look forward to it at all.
Love sighs. "We're not looking to return, if you're here to bring us home. Not even sure if any of the city-born even want that now."
Brita is still intrigued by the water cadence, although she is listening to the adult discussion as well. She pulls a little on her heritage to see if she can chill a section of water between her hands to create a small ball of sluggish ice water.
Brita can. It melts if she stops concentrating on it. It feels pleasantly cool after the exertion of swimming out here.
"The New Queen Celina does Not Require Your return. This Appears to be Your Home now," Brita says. She makes another small ball of icy water and nudges it towards the children. She expects it to melt, but create a cool current by the time it reaches them.
Conner nods in agreement. "We are not here to bring you back but any who fled because of the deposed Queen Moire would be welcome to return if they wished." Conner pauses there to see their reaction if any to Rebma's change in governance.
The adults look relieved. The children less so. "We thank you, but we are happy here, as long as our hosts will have us."
A rush of water indicates that something large has swum up behind the pair from Amber. Unity stops abruptly and kneels, as does her husband and children. Without seeing him, Brita can tell by the smell that it is a Triton, or one of their kin.
"I know of no effort to change things, children," says a deep voice from the great creature. This Triton is smaller than several that Conner has seen, but is still a heavily muscled man with the lower body of a fish or eel. The large creature swims to the surface where he can face both Conner and Brita and Unity's family as well.
"Who has come to the Dragon's doman?" He doesn't sound hostile, but he doesn't sound tremendously friendly, either.
Brita also shifts slightly, putting herself almost protectively in front of the small family and facing the Triton. She does not kneel or bow, but awaits Conner's diplomatic tongue.
"I am Conner, son of Fiona, and bearer of the Paxblade. This is my sister, Brita." Conner introduces. He also does not kneel or bow. "Are you the acolyte the children told us about?"
The acolyte has a small number of facial tattoos, unlike some of the more elaborate ones Conner recalls on Tritons.
"I am. Are you here to see the Hierophant?" The two children look on, wide eyed.
Brita continues to let Conner lead their side of the conversation. He is so much better at it.
Conner smiles. "If the Hierophant will grant us audience, we would be honored." He replies easily. "Please lead us if you will."
"Of course," the fish-man says. "Follow me."
Conner waves a farewell to the family. "Thank you for your help. Be well."
Brita also bids her thanks with a head bow of farewell to the family.
The acolyte moves at a reasonable pace through the forest, moving stalks of the great kelp rather than going around them. He leaves a trail, but it only clear for moments before the forest rights itself. Brita thinks this would be a difficult place to fight in and a worse one to try to be a Ranger in.
After some distance, they arrive at a much larger clearing next to a cliffside. All up and down the cliffs are caves, and it's clear this is a residence of Tritons. "Follow closely, so that you do not get lost," their triton tells them.
He swims into the city and the crowd of tritons going about their business within. They attract some stares, but no one is in outright awe of them.
The largest, deepest cave entrance, down in the darkest part of the valley cut from the walls, is their destination. The temple is a tall affair, with columns running 50 feet to the domed roof. The columns are decorated like the stalks of seaweed and have perching bars on them for the tritons to rest on. There are glyphs everywhere, and some of them are in magical runes that are difficult to look at.
The acolyte nods. "I will inform the Hierophant of your arrival, Guarantor."
Before the Triton swims off Conner asks, "Does this temple have a name?"
He smiles apologetically. "Not in your languages."
The triton swims away leaving Brita and Conner temporarily alone in the outer parts of the temple.
"Guarantor." Conner echoes. "I don't even to seek new titles, they just find me." Conner chuckles. "What do you make of these runes, sister?" Conner asks. He takes a moment to open his Third Eye and examine the place with new senses.
Brita gives a short bark of laughter. "You do seem to pick up titles regularly. Pretty soon we will just have to call you 'Lord Conner, The End All, Be All'. The runes seem...odd," she agrees. She also hesitantly opens her Third Eye to see what is around them.
In the third eye's view, the runes twist into different spaces and shapes. The pillars are inscribed with words in Mabrahoring, the true language of Sorcery, and the native tongue of the Lords of the Courts of Chaos, or so the lore of sorcery teaches. It is the language that suppresses order and enforces will on raw Chaos. The inscriptions shine brightly and crisply in the air.
If this is the language of the Dragon and her sons, then she is a true Lord of Chaos.
The shapes of the runes and the dialect seem archaic and based on Principles of Sorcery that neither Conner nor Brita know. There's a religious style to them, as if they are prayers. "May He who prays/contemplates this sigil gain the blessing of ____ to do his duty to the Mother."
There's something about the runes that's similar to the facial tattoos of the Tritons, but it's not clear why they seem related.
The walls of the temple seem to prevent the third eye from showing details beyond this space, which indicates that it has been here long enough to impact the magical world.
Conner examines the structure in silence for a long moment. "You know Sister, I fully expected something this impressive and disturbing within Nedra. I just didn't expect to find it so close to the edge." Conner turns back to the runes again. "I am beginning to regret not convincing Ambrose to join us. Greater experience in Sorcery and languages than mine are needed here. Can you make any sense of it?"
"Other than the Religious Aspect, No." Brita shakes her head. She takes careful note of the most common symbols and ones that remind her of the tattoos with her artist's eye. "The Triton Tattoos May be Their Homage to These," she says with a wave of her hand at the pillars that causes a small wash of water to caress the nearest carvings, "Or a way to Carry the Magic Afield."
"I begin to wonder if every Triton in Rebma could call upon the power of their Mother were the Pattern not there to hinder things." Conner muses. "They could even be a necessary protection for a Chaotic being consigned to live long term in a Pattern realm. Perhaps I shall work up the courage to ask." Conner smiles at Brita.
The pair sense a movement in the water and a different Triton is at the door. Tritons do not age as humans do, not even as humans in Rebma. This triton isn't obviously old, but he has been through quite a bit. His upper torso is scarred and he's missing 2 fingers from his left hand. His fish-parts are similarly damaged and he's missing some scales.
"Hello, Pax bearer," he says, simply.
Conner idly wonders if this Triton was there at the war between the Dragon and Amber all those many years ago. "Hierophant." Conner nods to the Triton. "I have come to ensure that the peace between the Dragon and Rebma stands firm and perhaps to seek the wisdom of the Mother in these changing times."
Brita also nods a greeting to the triton, perhaps a little deeper than Conner's nod. She awaits the response.
"We welcome the enduring peace. The wisdom of our ancient and eternal mother is rewarding in both the seeking and the finding. I will do my best to impart what I can of it unto you. But on your first matter: on what terms does the City wish to interact with the Forest, in these, as you call them, 'changing times'?"
Brita is going to remain mostly quiet in these negotiations.
Conner considers for a moment. "As two sovereign realms that share a common border and perhaps common interests. In the past, the terms of interaction between City and Forest has been not to interact at least officially. Yet now I see that those of the City have sought refuge in the Forest and many from the Kelplands have joined their brothers in the City in recent days. What is the Forest's position on those that cross the borders?" Conner asks.
The Heirophant of the forest nods. He curls his tail around a large stalk of kelp that rises up into the darkness. "In numbers, and when acting in concert, the presence of your people disturbs the serenity of our mother. We wish neither your foresters nor your adventurers to enter this realm without permission.
"We have no objection to our citizens entering your realm, but we would support you if you had such concerns."
"It would be Difficult to Ensure No crossings of the Full Forest Border, but a Known Gate for Travelers could be Used as a Focal Point to Bring those that Pass Through," Brita suggests quietly.
"Part of me likes that idea if only because I want our Uncle Huon to build something large, heavy and symbolic." Conner replies with a smile. "Still, for all that we wish these borders respected, I don't think building along the edges would be taken favorably." Conner turns back to the Heirophant. "Have there been many 'adventurers' as you put it entering the Forest?" Conner asks.
The old fish-man listens gravely. "No, not many. Some merely used the forest to get further away from the city; they travelled quickly away. A few we had to expel. Some we did not find before they discovered that they were not suited to survival amongst the creatures of the forest. There are darker parts of the deep green sea that are more hostile towards encroachment, places where Thari never replaced Mabrahoring as the mode of speech.
"Those places prefer to have us as a buffer between themselves and you.
"The adventurers were for the most part fleeing the war. Even if we and our mother find them disturbing, we wish them no harm if they do not intend to stay."
"What must they Do If they Wish to Stay?" Brita asks.
The shrug of a Triton is a long gesture, involve a great deal of a very long body. "For the most part, convince me that it would be less just to expel them then to allow them to stay as well as convincing me that they will cause no harm."
He pauses. 'We don't often offer sanctuary, but we have yet to find that we have made a regrettable choice."
"Those fleeing the most recent conflict around Rebma are welcome to return without fear for their safety." Conner informs the Heirophant. "If I can be of assistance in clearing them from the Forest, I shall do so."
"I can Assist as well," Brita notes. "Are there Those You wish Gone still in The Forest?"
"A kind offer, I am sure. But hardly the precedent we wish to set. Nor do we want their fear of you to drive them deeper towards our wild brothers."
He pauses. "Are there specific individuals that you are hunting for, perhaps, that you wish to combine these missions?"
For a question basically asking if you have any ulterior motives in entering the forest, it is remarkably polite.
"All of the members of that army that we were hunting for we have caught." Conner replies. "But the people that Huon brought as part of his army come from places claimed by cousins of mine as their birth place and the fate of those people are of concern to them. My interest is only to facilitate their return to their homeland as courtesy to those cousins. If you would spread the message that the men of Abford and the Ponca can return in safety, it would be appreciated."
Conner turns his head to gaze at the glyphs of the Temple. "If may switch topics, Hierophant, I see that the Mother bestows may gifts upon Her sons. Is the gift of prophecy amongst them?"
The triton follows Conner's gaze. "The old language is the Mother's language. Prophecy is a rare grace, and a difficult burden for those who are so gifted, but it sometimes manifests in our people. There have been different manifestations over the long years. The most disturbing being those who seem to truly be partially unstuck in time.
"They make me question my dearly held belief in free will. Do you think there is such a thing, Lord Conner? Does it fit in your cosmology?"
"I do believe in free will as it happens, Hierophant," Conner replies. "but it also clear that some wills are freer than others. Sorcery, Pattern and other manifestations of what I think of as Real all seem to boil down to the impositions of one's will on the Universe including its inhabitants. Can I prove that my actions are not orchestrated by another? With my family's skill at manipulation, I am not sure that I can." Conner chuckles. "But it certainly feels to me that my choices are my own." Conner turns to Brita. "What do you think sister? Your time as a Goddess should lend you unique perspective to the topic."
"The Waters of Destiny flow Through All; although the Norn may Carve One's Destiny at the Base of Yggdrasil, Each can Affect that Carving - Diverting the Waters, Causing a Ripple Here or There that makes its way Back to Push the Hand Making the Carving in a Different Direction." Brita looks at the carvings, then shrugs and adds, "We can Choose to Make That Effect or just Let It Happen."
The Hierophant nods. "The illusion of free will is hard to accept and hard to disprove. One may always be argued to be predestined to believe in it." He shrugs. "Our theologians say we have freedom as a gift from the Mother, who embodies both total freedom and the imperative of order to create total stasis."
"But I ramble on. Forgive me, so few of my fellows are interested in discussing theology with me anymore. Did you wish me to find you a diviner?"
"Not exactly." Conner replies. "While I was on the battlefield before Rebma, a Son of the Dragon sought me out by name and spoke a prophecy about me that he said was a gift from the Mother. He gave his name as Amphiaraus, child of Oecles of the Second Temple. Can you tell me anything about this person?"
Brita awaits an answer.
"The Second Temple?" The Heirophant frowns. "'Amphiaraus' isn't a name, it means 'twice cursed'. What was the prophecy?"
Conner also frowns at the translation but does not comment. Conner takes a moment to concentrate and then speaks in the closest approximation to the Triton's cadence and timbre.
"I am Amphiaraus, child of Oecles of the Second Temple, I am granted visions by our Mother Dragon. Beware the Paxblade, Conner! It brings watery death by the Curse of Cneve. It thirsts for blood and prefers the taste of those you are close to."
"Hear me Amphiaraus, child of Oecles!" Conner calls. "Speak to me of your visions! What has the Dragon shown you of the Curse of Cneve?" He demands of the seer.
"The Dark Mother shows much to those with eyes to see, landcreature. You would be wise to heed the warning of the Second Temple, for your fate is dire. I see the bearer of the Paxblade dying in flames."
"Then you did not see me in this vision, did you?" Conner pressed. "Your vision showed you an indeterminate figure that bears the Paxblade burning."
"Mock my words if you will, but I saw you or your mirror image in flames with the blade in hand. Waste not what guidance the Mother shows, for it is a sign of her interest and mercy that such was sent at all to the split-tailed."
Conner drops from his light trance and looks to the Hierophant for his reaction.
The Heirophant is visibly upset, and his tail twitches in short, agitated motions.
"The Dark Mother is a heresy. You are kind to bring this matter to me, Paxwarden. I had no idea that the heretics had infiltrated our forces. It may be disregarded, except as a warning to be wary of the second temple's Titons. They may decide to make their own prophecy come true."
The great being intentionally calms his motions. "And on that note, I find I must take care of urgent business. I will have an honor escort assigned to help you return to your waters."
"Please, one more question before we go, Hierophant." Conner presses. "These heretics are among the Tritons now in Rebma. I would know want threat they pose. What is this cult of the Dark Mother? What are their aims?"
"Heresy and Prophecy. Could They be Related to the Paresh?" Brita asks Conner quietly.
"It does appear to be a leitmotif in the Universe lately." Conner murmurs back before returning his attention to the Heirophant.
The Hierophant stops. "Of course. It is not a thing we speak of. It is Heresy even in the Second Temple. In the dark days after our defeat, things were difficult in the forest. Some re-formed a cult from our ancient of days. They believe in blood sacrifice, and think our worship of Mother Dragon is corrupt, and our weakness the cause of the loss.
"They are not to be tolerated. If you suspect one of being sympathetic to their aims, tell a priest at the temple and it will be dealt with. Speaking of which, I must go."
He turns to depart.
"We thank you for your time Hierophant, and depart in peace." Conner nods to the Hierophant in farewell.
The Hierophant stops, waves a complex blessing towards them, and departs. Brita and Conner find themselves alone in the nave of the temple again, although it doesn't appear anyone is coming immediately to deal with them.
"Well, Blood Sacrifice doesn't Sound like the Paresh - they Seemed to be more Pacifists," Brita notes, "But they Could be Related. Religious Contention is High, though."
"When Thalia was kidnapped by Tritons, her assailants dressed her in a white robe." Conner comments. "I said at the time that it had the feel of something ritual. Now I feel sure of it."
Celina smiles and says, "Come in."
She sees Ambrose and gestures him to sponges or lounging couches shaped like powerful waves. "Can I get you anything to drink? I have questions about the finer points of Order and Time."
Today Celina is dressed casually, her briefs and shawl are of bronze metal beads, that have oxidized to a greenish color... apparently a desired result of the maker, since many metals do not seem to oxidized in Rebma waters.
Ambrose is one of those surface dwellers who is never going to adjust perfectly to Rebman ways. He maintains surfacer-type clothes in his colors, he won't shave his head, and while he's not openly rebellious, he doesn't natively accept female authority: he stops and thinks of what he might want instead of merely accepting what Celina offers him. Or maybe that's a consequence of being born a son of Amber.
"I am, as always, at your majesty's service." He settles on one of the lounging couches. "And while talking is thirsty work, I think I'd best not try to talk and drink at the same time. Order and stress, sequence and time. They take up one's attention."
Celina also elects to use a lounging couch, she has a small drink in hand. She stretches out and addresses Ambrose. "I continue to feel my way around the Pattern, seeking better understanding. It happens that some of that work got me to thinking about the Dragon in Arden---- the Triton Mother in Nedra, and how one might immobilize powerful, very willful, sentients using Order. Has this line of thought interested you? Do you have philosophy you could share? They both seem relatively unharmed and yet were constrained for many thousands of years. The Dam of Tritons perhaps much less so. I'm curious how it was managed."
"How much do you know about the half-giants?" Ambrose asks, sounding idle for all that Celina suspects the question isn't, entirely. "I've seen them. They're degraded as well. And as far as I know, they're not close to a Pattern, as we count these things."
Celina shakes her head in the negative fashion. "I don't. You aren't talking about Tritons. Something similar?"
He's struggling to get a little more comfortable on the couch, and finally comes to rest as he continues.
"As for how it was done, if it was, I've no clue. I have more theory than I have practical application, and I'm gaining more as I translate my father's papers, but still, it would take someone with our grandfather's knowledge to explain how to bind and maintain the bindings on powerful creatures like the half-giants, never mind the dragons."
"Ah, so Binding then is an Advanced Art of Pattern." Celina nods. "That makes sense indeed. So then I start to think of the Blood Curse in that way; a powerful spontaneous Binding. What can you tell me about the theory?"
"Theory tells me that binding something of that power is inherently a unique event. It would probably take a universal-level event to create such a binding," Ambrose explains. "On the order of inscribing a Pattern. Or the great storm at the end of the last war." He looks speculatively at Celina to see whether she knows what he means. "Given that we know of at least three events, assuming the half-giants were bound by a single event--which is speculative--and we know of at least five--no, six--Patterns, that's possible. It might also explain why the Tritons are bound to the Pattern blade."
Celina looks more serious. "Another way to say that is that the Tritons are bound until the Realm perishes. Which would suggest two things to me, both unknowable at this time, that Rebma's Pattern is fully healthy even without Moins, and that the Dam of Tritons was never asleep the way the Dragon was. Those assumptions disturb as much as provide Order." Celina gestures in the water sketching a large female figure. "What can you tell me about these half-giants? Where do they abide? What Realm do they seem to invest in? What relationship to the Family?"
Ambrose is nodding along with Celina's conclusions about the Tritons and the Rebman Pattern.
"The half-giants are far toward Ygg, where the shadows run wild. My father suggested they were a remnant of the universe that preceded Order. I could probably tell you where they are, but if you don't have a good sense of the natural flow of Shadow in that part of the universe, I don't know that you could find them. You'd be more likely to stumble across them by means of the natural attaction of Real beings," he explains.
"Ah," Celina looks intrigued and relieved in equal measure. "I know little about shadows that far from us. I was curious what sort of ties they might have as markers of other things I could explore." She taps her knee and sets aside the drink bulb.
"Ambrose, it is a long road and appears empty from a distance," Celina sighs and runs her fingers through her hair, knocking some of it out of place. "But certainly this road was never empty. Moins' secrets are well hidden----by more than time it seems to me. I wonder if Moire feared the Pattern so much that she destroyed certain messages or records." She realizes as soon as she's said it aloud that she isn't being sufficiently royal. She smiles at Ambrose. "Well, anyhow, thank you for coming to my call. Are you getting cooperation from the Archives in anything you need?"
"The archivists are helpful, yes. But the answer to the question of whether the records have been interfered with for political purposes is undoubtedly yes. My father destroyed records written in stone; how much simpler it would be to destroy records written only in the human mind." Ambrose says this very matter-of-factly. "It seems equally likely to me that the secrets were hidden so that only a worthy successor to Moins could wield the power. Moire may have deciphered the Jewel, but that doesn't mean she had anything else."
Celina is openly surprised and she pounces on that bit. "Really? You think her manipulation of the Jewel might be deeper than weather? Why?"
Ambrose shakes his head in the negative, a feat more difficult underwater than it is in the airy realms. "I don't think she did decipher it fully, but she clearly had mastered certain functions. That may be part of the test--a test, let us say, since we do not know for certain that Moins left such a test beyond the Pattern. It would fit what we know of our elders, if certain mastery were required to come into our fullest power, just as we walk the Pattern to come to--" he pauses, considers his words and settles on "--adulthood."
Celina sees the immediate similarity between what Moire needs from the jewel and what Celina feels the jewel means to Rebma. Moire and she are really not so far apart in many things.
Celina wrinkles her nose and sighs. She draws her knuckles back through her hair, leaving strands wandering free of the stylized look as curves slowly sway in the waters. "Caterpillars must be dogged in ritual right up until they are butterflies and decide the whole thing is a lark." She waves her hands lightly in the waters. "Your logic is good. Certainly Moins could not leave much behind, and just as well, to make sure the portents left were deep and challenging. I do understand that what might be preserving my reign right now is exactly what Moire cannot get from the stone."
Celina leans back and looks at the water pattern above. "I don't suppose your philosophy logic would include a way that a Family questor might more easily cross paths with Moire since she carries such a strong piece of Rebma's fate with her?" Celina speaks more directly, "In fact, forget Moire, it is the jewel that I need. Could a compass to it be built?"
Ambrose’s shrug leaves his hair swaying in the water in a slightly different set of directions to the ones that his headshake involved.
"Unknown. If what my father said was true, the Jewel of Judgement couldn't be hunted in that way, but I'm not convinced that, mirror or not, the Rebman Jewel would follow on. If it's a Real thing, it will distort shadow, and those distortion will draw other Reality toward it--assuming it's not hidden or protected by another Pattern--but that doesn't mean we have any way of picking that particular strain of reality apart from other sort of Reality that would draw us." Ambrose pauses there to be sure Celina is following him, and in case she isn't, he adds, "Like family members. Or maybe a Pattern blade, if one is out there loose."
"I have some experience with chasing Family and Pattern Blades. So you make a good case." Celina's response is upbeat. Ambrose has given her hope and that is no small commodity. "So if I can appeal to a Family member to quest for the Jewel, the chances of laying hands on it are much more likely than waiting Moire's schemes to show me the way. That is good news.
"Ambrose, I regret this advice did not occur to me sooner. What else can I do to make your stay here more meaningful?"
"There is, actually," Ambrose confesses, almost awkwardly. "I am engaged in a particular and complicated work that may require your assistance, and, I think, your royal judgement. Are you familiar at all with the native language of my home shadow, Uxmal? Or the complications required to translate it into Thari?"
"I think no one has had time to tell me about Uxmal except that there is a Family member there bent on destruction. I accept your word for this complication. Is it like unto the Chaosi math speech?" Celina is very interested.
It takes Ambrose a moment to process Chaosi math speech, but when he does, he nods, his lips pursed slightly. "Somewhat," he says, "but an order of magnitude more complicated. It's the native tongue of my father's favorite shadow, and my father recorded his papers in it. He expressed himself in poetic glyphs that require a code wheel to decipher. The code wheels are sufficiently complex that they experience accelerated entropy in the presence of a Pattern." He stops there, to be sure she's following the explanation.
Celina nods once. She looks even more interested, and leans forward. "So you cannot expect to finish your translations.... here.... if much time goes by? And how may I assist you?"
"I've conserved the code wheel in one of our Aunt Fiona's laboratories in Shadow, under conditions that retard any deterioration. But it would be to my advantage to have another code wheel created. I would need your permission, and probably your private advice, to bargain with one of my cousins for the task." Ambrose sounds vaguely apologetic as he says it. "I would be honoured if you offered your opinion of whether Silhouette or Signy would be better for the task."
"Ah, I see." Celina sits up and considers. "Well, it would be fascinating to see the two of them exchange ideas, but I believe that Silhouette will be resolving some matters for a time. She may be fully committed to other tasks. It is Signy who has the skills and experienced teacher that might more suit your named task. If you can interest her." Celina says the last in a way that suggests Ambrose will not have to work hard to get Signy to listen. "It is also good timing on your part. I'd welcome you advancing the Family's store of knowledge in matters the codewheel could reveal. It is also that Signy has set up a shop where her normal work might cover for other works that I would not want the general populace to see." And Celina meets Ambrose's eyes on that. He can see she means her license to him to do this involves his discretion regards actual progress and details from anyone but Signy and herself. Then she clarifies, "Even a failure would be instructive. This is Family business. Right?"
"It is family business of a nature that I cannot conceal from my brother, as he is intimately involved in all matters concerning our father." Ambrose is gently agreeable, but quite firm on this point. “And also the only trustworthy person who could use a code wheel."
By way of agreement, Celina nods and says, "And I look forward to seeing him back in Rebma soon. But may there have been something else you also needed?" Celina gives a very open look, a very reasonable invitation to push forward where he was hesitant to begin with. "Something more.... personal?"
Ambrose smiles at Celina and shakes his head--still a surfacer's trick--his red hair fluttering in the self-generated current. "Nothing at this time, but I am grateful for Your Majesty's concern."
In the slither-cool gloom, a shadow drifts with sacred purpose.
Even deep in this realm of water, the Ways of Earth and Fire are honored. Rise and fall of hand and arm represent Steel. The curl and sway of body mimic Flame. Combined, indivisible. Guided by Heart and Mind to fulfill Purpose and Shape the world. Her dress flows and glides with every motion, coiling around her in a sheer cloud of crimson shadows.
Before her Illumination, Silhouette's intricate kata would have been devoted to Draig Talamh. But now, the practiced movements possess new meanings; a self-discovery she is only beginning to understand. Familiar movements change, mutate, progress, adding to the pattern. In many ways, it represents slipping loose of her former shackles. Her liberation. Her rebirth.
It is only proper that the architect of that Rebirth should find her this way, lost in the beauty of flesh and movement. She distantly hears the Queen's secret arrival, and smiles to herself. There's no telling how long the woman has been there, watching. But, for Silhouette, that silent attention only fuels the fire of self-discovery.
"Welcome," Silhouette says, her voice husky and so-not-like her mechanical tones.
"I scraped at the door," Celina smiles, "but you were deep in the TaKhi. I don't know the forms, but it was a lovely song of Fire, yes?" Celina is standing quite near the door, which is closed behind her. She is dressed in sheer morning drapery, blue green with spatter patterns like crab shell. A black metal bead net cowls her hair and shoulders. "You look well. I found it was time to talk about you and I and the Realm. I hope you have time this morning. Orseas will see we are not disturbed."
Silhouette floats to a peaceful halt, smiling tenderly. "Of course, Celina. I shall always have time for you. Please join me for breakfast?" She gestures to the prepared table -- set for two. But her gaze remains on Celina, forest-shadow eyes blazing.
"And, to your question, yes. A Song of Fire and Steel. It is familiar to me, but I now hear it with a new heart." She pulls back a chair for Celina to sit, holding it.
Celina moves to the seat and digs into the finger jelly and eggs. She nods once to Silhouette. "Did the Pattern show you anything about your past that seems more important now?"
Silhouette sits across from her, choosing the sea urchin roe and dried seaweed. A shy smile, “A difficult question to answer, as I am still assessing the experience. But, it did reveal my folly over the last decades. My lack of vision. So many ghosts. So many.” She scoops the half-melted roe onto a piece of seaweed, taking a bite.
“Did you witness the Past during your Walk?”
Celina sighs. "Yes. Both times. The first it was largely from the Trench War, the hospitals, the dying." She looks at Silhouette, and moves deeper into the room. "The last time, it was my mother, taunting me. And indeed, it may have cost me more dearly than I know yet."
Silhouette nods, meeting the gaze with silent compassion. “You and I are mirrors, I think. Reflections of our mothers' past sins and future woes. Deny them as we like, we cannot help but be defined by their image.”
She reaches out to Celina, “Come. Tell me of your fear. This ‘cost’ of which you speak.”
Celina smiles and moves closer still. "Oh, that's now how it works with me, Dolphin. I was not dangling conversation bait. I am not ready to talk about that pain. I came to help you. Have you spoken to Huon? Do you have questions? If you are not ready to talk about it, that's quite all right. I am offering assistance, not looking for shoulder to cry on."
Silhouette accepts this, nodding. “Forgive me. The empathy of others remains foreign to me, let alone accepting their help.” A shy smile curls her lips, if only for a moment.
“I’ve spoken with Huon, and officially broken our Compact. He has settled into incarceration well. Too well, perhaps. You must treat him with caution. As much as I hoped otherwise, this tiger will not change his stripes. You must be prepared to put him down, if he becomes a threat.” The steel has returned to her voice.
Celina sits down on a sponge lounge. "Too well?" She leans into the sponge and watches her cousin. "I did not expect him to change. I cannot imagine he expected I would do so. Yet I sense he is an honorable man. If I were to find he was not as honorable as I hope... I agree that my reaction for the defense of the Realm would be merciless."
Celina invites Silhouette to comment by slightly raising her eyebrow and quirking her smile.
“Our peers employ Honor like an accoutrement,” Silhouette says. “And shed its gaudy cloak the moment it inhibits their exceptionalism. Huon is no different. He shall tolerate his imprisonment until it no longer suits his goals.”
She shakes her head, troubled. “But, as I am told, my naivety knows no bounds. And why I shall never fit into this Family."
"I shall disagree to the extent that honor among family holds value, else Random would have no reason to ask for oaths... And no call to have me show mercy to Huon. I do not know that his word would mean as much to lesser beings. You have found a protective current here, Dolphin."
Silhouette smiles gently, lazing against the sponge couch; a slender arm draped under her head. “When you speak my name, I feel renewed and that anything is possible. It is a welcome dream.”
A sad shrug dismisses this tenderness quickly. “But I must live in the Real.” She sits up, the steel returning to her eyes. “And that requires me to leave this sanctuary once again. I must speak to your father about his sister, Deirdre. And my mother. One final attempt at reconciliation. Otherwise, I may become a detriment to you.”
"Fine, then, you do what you have to do." Celina nods once. "But you are not a detriment to me or I would not have taken your oath." Celina seems to feel that is settled by her expression. "Rebma as a welcome dream... I find a realm offering such is a worthy work of a lifetime. Who told you that you would never fit into the Family?"
“Rebma is not my dream, Celina. You are. And the hope you instill within me,” she says, glancing away upon the admission.
Rather than expound upon this, Silhouette focuses on her companion’s question. “Each Elder I’ve encountered has expressed their disapproval of my viewpoints, in their own fashion. One even suggested I shall perish as a result of them, more than likely at familial hands. I have little evidence to contest his words.
"But, it is my very nature to question the status quo. If anything, my experience upon the Pattern only strengthened that belief."
A hollow laugh, “Do you still wish me to serve you, knowing this?”
"Dolphin, there is no going back. I took the steps I have knowing I cannot stop trying, and must keep moving." Celina laces her hands together. "We make a good pair. I was brought up to believe the system was more than fair. And that honor always won out over self interest. You can be that skeptic in my City without fear a Family member will kill you for it. They literally have to go through me first."
Silhouette smiles, “And that is why I love you.” A faint pause, as she catches herself. “My Queen,” she adds quickly.
She looks down, unable to meet Celina's gaze. “Do you know much of your Father? And his sister, Deirdre?”
Celina's skin is dark and shows no blush at Silhouette's slip of genuine ardor. But she is not wearing a court face. Her eyes are sad. Her thumb idly rubs her palm where someone might guess there is a memory of pain. So Celina takes the change of subject. "My father is known to me as generous when he does not understand me, less so when he thinks he does. His sister is more of a mystery and that is saying something. She protected Marius and she also kept Signy safe and dealt with Weyland, which I account brave. Deirdre pressed Brand to the edge of the Abyss, which is what led to her death as described to me. She was very capable." Celina adds, "Which seems to be true of all my Family. You included."
Silhouette nods, “Yes, that does make sense then. Aunt Llewella and I believe that Deirdre hid me in shadow, to protect me from King Eric. However, her subsequent capture prevented her from keeping me from harm.” She sighs deeply, “It also leaves one important question, which can only be answered by my mother.”
She tilts her head, noticing the sadness in her companion’s eyes. She does not press, only extends her hand to be taken or ignored. “Do you have a Trump for your Father? Maybe he can arrange a meeting. I would owe you both boons, of course.”
"I have no Trumps," Celina takes Dolphin's hand, "but Aunt Llewella will have a Trump of father. I shall ask to borrow it and introduce you. I can also pass you through to Corwin, and that will speed you along. Of course, he will arrange a visit. He likes doing favors for family. He is king."
Celina adds as if it is all part of the same conversation----- "I cannot lay with you, Dophin. I want it. I want to fortress you with protection and caring and become the person that will always shelter you. However, I have given my whole self to Rebma. Nothing else can divert me until I learn what I need to know or I die. I ask that you give me that time, for it will not be long as we count things."
Silhouette raises Celina’s hand to her warm lips, gracing it with a slight kiss. “Then we are of the same mind, Celina. I would not endanger you with distractions. Rebma must prevail. And you are Rebma. The Grand Design mys be upheld.” A deep frown echoes in her eyes. “Even if I desire otherwise.”
She nuzzles Celina’s hand with her cheek, finding the strength to smile. “And, as you say, we have time.”
"Well then, we can go together to ask Llewella her counsel and the Trump connection to Corwin. And while you are in Paris, do keep an eye out for the currents. If Moire is there I need to know." Celina caresses Silhouette's cheek and then makes ready to leave.
At the touch, Silhouette’s body arches like a pampered nurse shark. Reluctantly, she draws away. “Of course. I’ve been listening to the gossip prevalent amongst the noble population. As of yet, your Mother’s name remains a hushed subject.”
She rises and moves to her dressing area. Unashamed, she slips from her casual dress and selects something more appropriate for an audience with their aunt. “May I ask, what do you intend to do with your mother once she is captured?”
"I do not know that she will be captured. I do not require it. She stole something from Rebma and it must be returned. This is a separate matter from fleeing the throne. Her abandonment of the city I can abide. The theft I cannot. Since I am the Law, I do not expect to imprison her unless she makes conflict against Rebma."
Silhouette drapes herself in the dress and rejoins Celina, gesturing toward the door. “What did she steal? And how might I help you retrieve it? From your manner, I suspect it is a symbol of rulership?”
"It is." Celina says. Then she watches Dolphin dress. When her cousin is prepared to move from the chambers, Celina leads the way through galleries long and full of pages, and sometimes the way is complex and empty. But these are all public ways. A dark shadow follows, Silhouette probably recognizes Orseas trailing with a opaque expression.
As they walk, Silhouette remains a step behind Celina; her head down, as if a handmaiden or servant. Familiarity in public is dangerous, and she shall not attract sharks to them.
Despite the hour, Celina goes directly to Llewella's private suites in the palace. Celina comments, "Ah, the guard is here, so the Princess is here. Let's see if she is awake and open to company." She nods at the guard, giving them a chance to pause Celina's progress if they have instructions from Llewella.
The guard slips inside to announce The Queen to the Princess.
“If I might retrieve That Which is Lost, you have but to ask,” Silhouette says, taking advantage of the brief wait. “Blood befits me far better than fabrics.”
Celina looks briefly at Silhouette and shakes her head once in negative. The queen will not talk in this place on this subject.
A young woman opens the door. One of the castle pages, she is polished and unawed by royalty. The girl bows in the Rebma fashion.
"Your Highness. The princess will attend you and your cousin shortly, or if you would care to use her sitting room, she bids you welcome to it."
"Yes," Celina moves forward and allows them to be settled in the sitting room. Once the page leaves, Celina turns back to Silhouette. "I do appreciate your petition for a quest. And I am intending to use you in defense of the realm. However, you need to clear Family business as much as possible first in order to be of the most use to me, even to sending you into Shadow. And in that you need some lessons." Celina lowers her voice, "which many will be too busy to give you and I shall not stray far from these currents for now. If Brita were here, I'd say she would be best for such Shadow learning, but that may not be for a while, you see. Therefore, yes, I am pleased with your request, but no, I cannot send you on this task yet or ever depending on other matters. Understood? Each thing to our advantage in its own time."
Silhouette nods to this, “Understood, my Queen. The sooner I might deal with Mother, the better for all.” She tames her floating dress, “I am an artificer. I am trained in patience and to know my place in things.”
"And if I tasked you to find a missing noble, merely find them and report their location," Celina smiles, "How would you artifice a solution?"
“In the past, I’ve constructed hunter/seekers of various design for this purpose,” Silhouette says, and then adds. “Mechanika with rudimentary skills, including observation. Possessing materials to complete an Arcane Connection is preferable. For your needs, the schema would be less complex, as assassination devices are unnecessary.”
She smiles faintly, “If more direct observation is required, I would handle the search personally. Again, an Arcane Connection is advantageous, but not required.”
Celina nods, satisfied.
Llewella appears at the inner door, looking immaculate. "Pardon, Your Majesty. I was not expecting you." She nods to Silhouette. "I hope my attendants have taken good care of you?"
"They certainly have. Silhouette has decided to approach her mother again, and would like to talk to Corwin before she makes that journey. I thought the best way to facilitate that would be to borrow your Trump of Father. I have not spoken to him in a while and would like to ease her way to Paris. To that end, if you had advice regarding making a nice impression on the King, I'd welcome it." Celina smiles.
Silhouette remains silent, yet close to the Queen’s side. She provides her aunt with a cordial nod, in return.
Llewella nods. "As you wish," she opens a door. "I have a room this way for keeping them dry." A spiral stair ascends into the suite's interior.
[Assuming everyone goes with...]
"As to making a nice approach to Corwin, he plays as if he is affected mostly by female beauty and wiles, but in this case I would expect that his main goal is a quiet household. I'd stress that you don't want to upset things, and that you may need his help to mediate things, and you will play to the image he wishes to have played to.
"I'd also discourage you discussing vengance or justice so much as safety and risks to the family. He's traditional that way. He's likely not to want to be involved in a vendetta, but feels responsibility for Celina's safety.
"He's also practical. Don't be surprised if he wants something from Rebma in exchange. It's his way of seeing how serious you are."
A foot below the top of the staircase, the water ends in a bubble room. It's a pocket of air in the middle of the castle. The room has a fireplace, a bookshelf, a divan, and a seating arrangement. Near the top of the stairs are a pile of towels and handful of thick warm-looking robes.
"Also, don't call Corwin looking disheveled." Llewella wrings out her hair and begins to put it in a long, loose braid. When she has it started, she slides the robe over her traditional Rebman garb.
Celina listens and attends to Llewella closely, sometimes nodding. Once in the airy chamber, she removes her clothing and dries herself, still attentive to her aunt. Celina puts on a robe, folding and lapping the collar for a high neck effect, and tends her hair to appear slightly more fashionable in the Paris way. Luckily she had her hair put up this morning, as she recalls that unbound hair suggests a loose woman in Paris. "Silhouette, if you agree, I'll start the dialogue with Father and ask him to speak with you on Family matters that I wish to see acquire a degree of stability and resolution. Then it will be up to your own diplomacy. If I need say little more, then it will be well. If Corwin wants things of Rebma, I'll take those conversation points, if he wants something from you specifically I shall say nothing unless you ask for advice." She gives Llewella a hug before arranging herself between Llewella and Silhouette's side to make the Trump call.
Silhouette bows her head, “Of course, my Queen. I shall endeavor to attain the trust you put in me.” A slight smile, “Again, my thanks.”
She follows her peer’s measures, adding a robe and taming her hair into a simple bun.
And once everyone seems poised and ready... Celina takes the card Llewella offers (or simply touches it if Llewella starts the call herself, giving Silhouette a clue as to how these things work.....)
Having seen Trumps only a few times, Silhouette’s interest in them remains intent and reflective. She falls in with the two women, staying a step behind... as her lesser status demands.
Llewella opens the cards and quickly shuffles to Corwin's. His paper image stands tall, wearing his signature black and silver garb, with a silver rose closing the high collar at his neck. The princess concentrates on the card, willing the image into reality. "It's your sister in Rebma. I'm here with your daughter, who wants to speak to you. You really must get Random to give her a trump deck, she shouldn't need to come through me to talk to you."
Llewella reaches out and brings Celina into the contact. It comes to life for Celina almost immediately. Her father is lit by candles at the front of his great hall in Paris. It's a different silver rose clasp, but not very different from the one he wore centuries ago when the card was made. There are servants moving behind the table. 'Hello, Celina. You're looking well."
"And I will step out," Llewella says, removing herself from the card.
"When you join in," she says to Silhouette, "remember that I will be able to hear you, but not Corwin. If you want me to know something, you must say it so that I can hear as well."
Celina lightly squeezes Llewella's hand in thanks as her aunt removes herself from the psychic connection.
"Hello, Father, thank you. I am very well indeed. I wanted you to know I was well, and that Rebma prospers as my main focus. I hope if you have news of my brother, Merlin, you will share that. And in turn, I'd like to have your help in some policy pursuits I have here. I have accepted Silhouette into the Rebma Court, and she has walked the Grand Challenge and survived. As proven family, I want Silhouette to tidy up Family business with Aunt Florimel, who has been always kind to me, and stands strongly with you in Paris. Can you help arrange a meeting between Silhouette and Aunt Florimel, where it may be possible to settle the matter of blood ties or at a minimum, get some sort of safer compatible agreement to disagree? It seems dire and wasteful for these two to not be on speaking terms. They should be allies in the business of finding the truth." Celina motions with her free hand for Silhouette to touch the card she is focusing upon, knowing Dolphin will not hear or see Corwin's answer unless she is brought into the intimacy of the Trump.
Silhouette follows this silent instruction, lightly placing her fingers upon the Trump. She offers her companion a thankful smile.
Corwin acknowledges Silhouette's arrival with a nod. "Congratulations on surviving your Patternwalk," he says, before turning to Celina's request.
Silhouette offers him an almost shy smile, but remains quiet.
"I can facilitate a meeting, but if what you want is to make her admit Silhouette is her daughter, you can't force that. Flora's not above a little coquetry, but she's sincere in believing her own daughter is dead. And as you unfortunately know, Celina, parentage ascribed, even that firmly believed, is not certain. And surviving the Pattern only means Silhouette is family. It's not as if Dad's male descendants have been any more careful about where they sowed their wild oats than he was. More of us fathered unexpected children than I imagined possible when I was younger." He says this without any apparent concern or botheration about his own role in the surprise paternity sweepstakes.
"True and just, as you say," Celina returns a nod. "Rather I want Florimel and Silhouette to be able to discuss this apparent duplicity and make common cause to unraveling this thorn in the side of Family harmony. Because of the emotions involved, they could use a steady hand to facilitate. I thought you would understand, so I ask."
Silhouette nods, "Evidence may exist confirming that one of the Family took me, and hid me in Shadow. Not from my Mother, but from Prince Eric. I was then lost during the Interregnum. However, I have only the perspectives of other Family to rely upon. If she is willing, Mot..." She catches, and then corrects herself. "If Princess Florimel is willing to discuss the events with me, perhaps together we might establish what actually occurred. Whether or not that establishes my parentage remains to be seen, and is a secondary purpose."
"I'm willing to facilitate such a meeting, though I know roughly what Flora will have to say. I have discussed this business with her." Corwin waits for the surprise to sink in. "She wasn't present at the time of the assault on her daughter. She was shown a body, which she agrees does not under all circumstances count as conclusive proof." Corwin makes a face and his irritation is almost tactile to his daughter. "But you can understand that she'll require counterproof."
'Surprise' isn't exactly the word for Silhouette's reaction. New respect, perhaps. Corwin's actions strengthen her belief in his wisdom.
Corwin's attention swings to Silhouette. "Do you have any reason to believe you were hidden from Eric? Do you have any suspects for your kidnapping?"
A twinge of hesitation passes through Silhouette, echoing in her eyes. But Truth, she knows, holds more value than secrets. Besides, she would not insult her peer by trying to hide this from him. Of all people in the Family. "Yes. I believe it was your sister, Deirdre. And that you, uncle, are the lynchpin with regard to her actions. Eric desired control over my Mother, as she possessed knowledge regarding you. I believe he attempted to use me as a bargaining chip. However, Deirdre spirited me away before I could be delivered to him. Unfortunately, her subsequent incarceration left me trapped in Shadow -- the results, thereof, do not need to be discussed again. Nor do the tragic events of the War.
"The other suspect is Brand, as he shared similar motivations regarding my mother and yourself. That said, I find him an unlikely candidate. He remained free to fully carry out his plans. As such, I would have ended up in his custody, rather than lost to the Fates."
She drops her head, as if pained, "Whoever provided the body remains debatable. Both Deirdre and Eric could have utilized my apparent death to fulfill their goals."
Celina makes of point of showing her surprise at this reveal. It may pay for her Father to realize that Silhouette is being more forthcoming with him than she has so far been with Celina. Or this news about Deirdre is recent. She also watches closely for emotional changes in the flow from the card.
Corwin listens to Silhouette's theory without much in the way of reaction, which is not unusual in her experience of Trump contact with her father. It's hard to get a feel from him on how he's taking it, but Celina has every reason to suspect Corwin isn't excited by this rendition of events.
"That's all speculation." Corwin dismisses Silhouette's theories with a gesture. "It's tempting to settle on a version of events when you don't know what happened and you want to. Getting married to a single theory won't help you find out what happened if you're wrong." He says that as if he has personal experience with doing so. "But I'll run your theory by Flora."
Celina nods once. It fits his stance and is more than she expected. She waits. Silhouette is never dismissed so easily.
Silhouette nods, unfazed. "Indeed, uncle. However, without emperical evidence, I must rely upon rationalism. An initio, I must examine the most likely thread until it is proven or dismissed." A tender smile touches her lips. "It would also give some meaning to the tragedy. An aunt's kindness to a niece she did not know. But such things are... Extraneous, granted."
She resists the urge to touch Celina's hand; the steel returning. "Thank you, uncle. Hopefully, Mother can offer further Illumination. And please... Offer my apologies to her. I acted poorly at our last meeting."
"I'll tell her," Corwin agrees. "And if you have nothing else, there are some matters I'd like to discuss briefly with my daughter."
Silhouette bows her head, "Uncle."
Celina nods to Silhouette once. "You can find me later if you need to, Silhouette."
"Of course, my Queen," she replies, taking her leave.
[allowing Sil to withdraw...and making no muscle motion that responds to whatever direction Sil withdraws to..... Celina stays focused on the Trump image of her father....]
Celina waits and then gives it a moment more. She raises her eyebrows to her Father, King of Paris. "Yes, father? You are indeed well I hope?"
"Everything is fine here, as far as I know, though I'm not looking forward with the discussion I've just agreed to have with my sister." Corwin makes a bit of a face at that. "And on that note, would you like to explain to me at some point--not here where Silhouette can hear you, unless you've mastered the trick of trumping without speaking--exactly what that was about? She knows she's not going to get the answer she wants out of Flora, and certainly not in the immediate term, and I have no idea what she thinks Deirdre would have gotten out of massacring her parents. Unless she's going after Deirdre and Eric because they're safely dead, and have nobody to defend what's left of their reputations." Corwin seems dubious on that last point.
Celina nods once, as if she may agree with everything he's just said. "I do not think the matter has all the pieces present, and it shall not be resolved to satisfaction if the atmosphere of collecting pieces continues as it has been, so I am interfering a bit. There is common cause here. I hope it comes out well for you and I, but I shall understand if it is not high on your priorities. I do not put forward any theories as my own."
Celina pauses a beat, as if she is checking her peripheral vision to see if she is alone now. "If you may be so kind as to return me by Trump to my Aunt in Rebma, I am willing to come to you and offer whatever insight I may to your questions. In private as you wish. Or not." She smiles in a very accommodating fashion.
“Come through,” Corwin says, and takes her hand to bring her through into the great hall of the Louvre.
Celina reaches, touches the warm hand and follows through the prismatic currents dancing at the corners of her eyes. Once arrived, she stays focused on her father, gives him a warmer smile now. "Silhouette was Huon's protege, and his teaching was rough on her. While I do not hope that Florimel will change her mind, I think that between you and I we could salvage Sihouette to be a contributing member of the Family peace. And keeping in mind the things that You and Random have asked of me, I set myself the task of narrowing down the things Silhouette can do grossly wrong for the short term. In this, I hoped you would take an interest."
Celina pauses only a moment, "The business with Eric and Deidre, well, the young lady likes to speculate. She has a weakness for it. I do not think she has any understanding of either person, or any evidence."
There are guards in the Hall along with her father, and Corwin waves them off before they can approach close enough to hear. "This is my daughter, the Queen of Rebma. She won't be staying long." Then he turns his attention back to Celina and offers her his arm so they can walk the length of the hall: a trick that keeps them moving and a harder target for would-be eavesdroppers. "The allegations against Eric and Deirdre disturb me. Maybe nobody's told you how closely my end of the family is tied to Rebman politics. Eric courted the Rebmans for a long time--Jerod's mother is your half-sister, just as Martin's mother is--and Deirdre was also up to her lovely little ears in Rebman politics as well. I don't think Huon is tapping into that network necessarily, but Silhouette might be.”
Celina nods holding firmly to her father's arm, as these tidbits about Eric have been in the Rebman conversations she has had with the Archivists. Her close family in Rebma are often on her mind, even in Jerod's absence. The Dierdre connection has been glossed over and Celina will have more questions for her historians. "I expect it natural for Huon to try to connect with the undersea politics, perhaps even as a sympathizer with the memory of your sibs, since he will be our guest for a while. The surrender ceremony went well, by the way." Celina walks a few steps and adds, "I do not know where Silhouette might have gotten these allegations, and I feel she will not repeat them carelessly. This is Family business after all. But it is an example of how Volatile she can be even when accommodating." Celina looks straight into his eyes. "Was I wrong to think that you would be interested in seeing this kind of business put in a more stable condition? Can Florimel be helpful on this?"
"I don't know that she will be. She's not in a good way between Lucas' death and this coming up. With all due respect for your position, the Queen of Rebma doesn't have a lot of leverage with my sister right now."
Corwin turns his attention to something more interesting. "Tell me a bit more about how things sit with Huon. What are you doing with him, and do you think it'll keep him out of trouble? And where does Silhouette fit into that mess, as best you can tell, now that he's surrendered?"
Celina smiles and squeezes his arm softly, "Tell my aunt that I felt I owed her a favor, and that quelling the waves Silhouette can make is part of my respects to her, as I know I do not deserve any leverage from what I have suggested." Then she takes his lead and changes the subject, because she does not know that Corwin will pass any such message along. It does help them all to know how she is thinking and she can be generous in that.
Corwin is at least inclined to acknowledge her suggestion with a neck-bow.
"Huon made a good show of his surrender. He came to us from some troubles in Asir. He killed some people there that he thought had betrayed his trust? Followers of the Paresh." She makes the note a question, because she's not sure a Prince of Amber would really explain his motives much. So she leaves it an unknown to pass along.
"Bellum offered him sanctuary, yet Asir authorities decided it might be worth going to war with Bellum in order to pursue Huon there." Celina shakes her head as this doesn't add up to her idea of good politics.
"Conner made it worth while for Asir to withdraw their claim. And once Conner and Brita presented themselves to Huon, he made departure with them back to Rebma. He asked us to come escort him, and once there it seemed there was some work involved in extracting him safely, but ...." Celina makes a face as if she's seen a magic trick so simple she should know how it was done----yet it seems she does not.
Celina sketches a formal court sign in the air that means 'to begin'. "Huon arrived in Rebma, did very well with the surrender, and has been keeping his head mostly out of sight since. He has quarters befitting any royal of the Seaward and makes long conversation with the Archivists. My watch on him is light, as I do not wish to be insulting his word to work with us. He is master of the repairs and restoration to glory of the City downside. And really...." She just is quiet for a moment as she masters her voice a bit more...."I am glad I did not have to kill him."
"I don't like the way the Paresh keep turning up in things," Corwin mutters, before going on to other things. "What have you got in mind for him to do in terms of rebuilding? It's good that you didn't kill him, but I hope you've got a trustworthy family member or three to check his work. You wouldn't want to find out he's added even more secret passages than there already are in Castle Rebma." He grins humorlessly at Celina. "I almost got Eric that way, during the war. I wouldn't put it past Huon to make a hideyhole and walk the Pattern to get to it the way I did."
Celina looks at her father very directly, "I think Huon does not want Rebma to perish. He made a mistake. So now he shall try to impress me. And I plan to be at his shoulder often, letting him impress me." She notices his eyes are nearly as vivid a green as her own.
And goes on, ignoring the shiver between her shoulder blades, "And yes, I am blessed with several people who are willing to watch and measure his work. None of his architect authority includes the palace."
Since he mentions violence against a brother, she pauses, thinking how she wants to follow up on that. Nothing like giving your daughter mixed messages. She avoids smiling and sets a place holder in memory about what Moins may have done in the palace to make a room that cannot be entered except by Pattern. "Do you know that Dara and Chantico are working together? I do not want Moire added to that, the Triangle of Results would be far too bloody. Even so, I think the danger to Merlin is far too high."
Corwin almost stops and his voice is suddenly something that Celina might qualify as grim. "I'm not sure I did, no. How did you find out that Chantico--she's Brand's daughter, isn't she?--is working with Dara, and do we have any idea of what they're working on?”
Celina downplays her own fierceness when it comes to defending her brother. "Merlin allowed me to work with him in trying to catch a glimpse of Dara, taking her off-guard with scrying. It worked. But the Other Woman of sorcerous talents was there and interfered. Much later, I learned that the woman I did not know was Chantico. I cannot say what they intend, except our undoing. I doubt Dara has given up her intent to acquire Merlin and I oppose her with all my life. From what I hear, Chantico may be just as violent and willful. So my warning."
"I'll warn Merlin, if you haven't already." Corwin is outright scowling himself. "And if you find any evidence that Moire's in cahoots with the two of them, you send word at once: by trump, by messenger, any way you need to." He looks like he might be ready to strap on mighty Grayswandir and go after them himself, except that it probably wouldn't work or he would have already tried it. "Is there anything else of import?" Corwin clearly hopes not, from his expression. "Or should I send you back to Llewella?"
"There is nothing to add to my warning," Celina says. "I shall be in touch if I learn more. And be well, father."
"And you. Keep me posted on what you hear about Moire."
His trumps happen to be in his office, nearby; they find them and he trumps Llewella.
She steps back into the Trump exchange once Corwin arranges it and emerges in Rebma again, feeling safer and accomplished. She nods to Llewella. "Thank you."
Llewella has been waiting all this time. Her hair is mostly dry. "How did it go?" she asks Silhouette, as if she hadn't been standing right here and hearing Celina's and Silhouette's share of the conversation. Maybe that's Rebman politeness.
Silhouette remains impassive, "As well as can be expected. Only time will tell what shall come of it."
She smoothens her dress, "The Pattern. If one can seek their desires in Shadow, can one also utilize it to 'find' items they don't not possess full knowledge of, such as evidence of a crime?"
Llewella looks around the small room and smiles at Silhouette. "The problem with using the pattern that was is that one finds what one is looking for. A dozen of your very dedicated uncles and aunts spent years searching for Corwin or for some evidence that Eric had killed him. The pattern, which makes the shadows lie for you, cannot be trusted not to make the shadows lie to you.
"My best advice is not safe. You should go to Tir na' nOgth."
At the suggestion, Silhouette nods knowingly - as if she'd expected this. "Yes, the Ghost City's call persists. It is time I answered it."
She cocks her head, "Have you traveled there since its appearance above the New Amber? I know the King forbids entrance. But, if there is one thing I have learned about this Family, rules are meant to be... bent."
Llewella hesitates. "Whatever is up there is dangerous. Cambina was experienced, and had years of practice in the city. I won't advise you to go against the will of the King; you must choose that on your own. I'd say also try to find out more about Cambina, but that seems extremely dangerous. You may wish to talk to Queen Vialle. She is likely to intervene with Random if something goes wrong.
"Also, don't be foolish. Have a trump way out."
"I do not intend to fall, as my cousin did," Silhouette says with some certainty. "I am close to Vialle; although, I do not wish to cause a rift between her and Random. Still, she would be an excellent excuse for returning to Xanadu."
Llewella's look suggests that she may not think that Cambina intended to fall, either, but she doesn't press the point.
The princess pauses a second time, allowing her last utterance space to be absorbed. "Do you know that my brother was quite fond of his sister Dierdre? It would be wise, while in Paris, to publicly lean your suspicions towards the wrongdoings of Eric and the heroic, undercover, moves the Princess made to counter them."
"That would explain much," Silhouette nods. "I believe he stopped listening once his sister's name was mentioned. His feelings for her may cloud his judgment. I will need to stress her virtues far more, as well as her good intentions." A sad frown. "She was a tragic figure. I can use that to proper measure."
She cocks her head, "Do you know when she had Signy?"
Llewella shakes her head, absently. "We weren't close, and even had we been, no one officially admitted to having children. Things were different then. I often thought Caine called everyone by trump every few months to see if he could catch one of his sisters pregnant."
A soft chuckle escapes Silhouette. That did sound like Caine, to be sure.
"And don't forget, niece, that while Corwin has his weaknesses and blind spots, he's no fool, even if he lets you think he is. Don't overdo it, or you'll lose a potential friend."
Silhouette nods, "Of course. I respect him far too much to treat him unkindly. Or underestimate him. I've known many fools in my life. He is not amongst them."
Llewella smiles slightly, but adds an additional caveat. "That is the case, but there's more to him. He is a warrior nearly unmatched in all lands, and yet he is also a sorcerer. Think about how a man who cannot be beaten by force of arms decides to become a sorcerer king. We've all got..."
Noticing the pause, the young woman is about to inquire further when...
Llewella gets an unfocused look in her eyes and extends her hand.
Silhouette turns her head as Celina reappears, falling silent.
"Thank you, Aunt," Celina says to Llewella. She waits on the contact or conversation with Paris to seem ended.
Llewella nods once at her distant brother, and then turns to the young Queen.
Then the Queen relaxes a bit. Celina stretches and shakes tension out of her arms. "I think we did some good."
Silhouette folds her hands in front of her, smiling. "Truly? What makes you say so?"
Celina turns more fully to Silhouette. "First, my father and I had a productive conversation where we shared news, exchanged views, and decided to work together. We did not part in anger. This is a step up from previous dealings.
"Second, he agreed to assist you when I asked. I was not certain he would, and he was not pleased to be put in the position of granting me that favor. However, he agreed and it will go a long way to providing a moment in time when you can reach some respectful accommodation with Aunt Florimel, if that is possible." Celina pauses a beat, then goes on, "Take a lesson if you wish from my mistakes. I have blamed my father for things he never had control of. He was used ever before I was used."
Silhouette blushes at this, nodding. Being blinded by the Parent's sins - true or false - runs deep in the Amber blood.
Celina reaches and touches Silhouette's shoulder lightly, "Third, working together makes Rebma stronger than trying to make a path in the dark. I need Paris to consider me an ally that is dependable. By asking for a favor, and delivering news that Paris did not have, I don't just help you, I help everyone in this city. My father knows this." Then she adds, "I need you to do your best to make a diplomacy with Florimel. I would see you strike common cause even if you cannot agree on how yesterday drew us into today."
Llewella nods. "That would be best. In all fairness, I'd probably rip out the throat of any woman showing up pretending to be Khela."
Silhouette's hand covers Celina's. "I will not squander this boon, my Queen, and endeavor to bring Understanding between us." She smiles, first to Celina and then to Llewella. "You both have taught me much. I may not be of Rebman blood, but my heart is here."
A soft squeeze of the hand, and then she falls back - to a more reverent stance.
Celina adds this, "I told father that since we know Dara is or was working with Chantico, that I have a concern that Moire does not find common cause with those who want to pull down the Patterns. He agreed to watch and asked that we keep him advised about anything we learn about Moire's actions." Celina looks at Llewella and Silhouette. "That's something we would have done in any case. Silhouette, if you have a chance while in Paris, you could advise King Random of this likewise. I expect Corwin and Random are closer than Macy and Gimbel, however it makes further entry for you if I give you such a task. Questions? Comments?"
Silhouette bows her head, "Of course." An uncomfortable pause. "Might you share more information on this Dara and her possible intentions? Our aunt mentioned she is a shape-shifter and one of our true enemies. Would Moire ally herself with such a creature?" She taps her chin, adding, "And would we even know if Dara already walked amongst us?"
Llewella shrugs. "That you are secretly Dara is one of the leading theories amongst your more-paranoid elders. Within those that consider that, it's evenly split between those who think you ate Silhouette in the Chaosian way, those who think you suppressed your memories of yourself to become Silhouette, and those who think you took acting lessons in shadow.
"Myself, I believe none of these things. You are obviously not a Chaosian, and Dara is nothing if not a creature of her own kind."
Celina admires the way her Aunt has put all that, and marvels that her own comments were going to be so similar. Maybe things are getting better.
Celina adds, "My understanding of Dara's capabilities is limited. However, from what I do know, Dara could be you, Silhouette, but I would know, because of how strongly you are not she." Celina stares simply into Silhouette's eyes. "It would mean that the real Silhouette had been eaten by her and was playing a part of that essence for us. I agree with Llewella that this is not the case. However, for someone I know less than you.... I could be fooled by Dara. Such is her danger."
Silhouette smiles at Llewella, as if humbled by her words. "Thank you, Aunt. I'm pleased that I have not been someone's entree. Although, in truth, my question was more directed toward the Family in general. Or their associates. For all I know, I've met her and never realized." The grin curls at the corners. "There is a chaotic streak in many of my cousins, after all."
Celina grimly chuckles at this. No bubbles escape her mouth.
She taps her chin, thoughtful. "Perhaps, it is my antiquarian education lending me suspicions, but could Huon - the one now here - be a living Trojan Horse? He did deal with Chaos, this we know. And some of his actions have been erratic. And, he was wounded after his conflict here. A wounded prey might make for easy consumption." A slight shrug, "A villain 'surrendering' to carry out their plans under the enemy's nose is almost cliché."
"If you believed Huon was Dara, how would you prove or disprove it, Dolphin?" Celina asks.
"Unfortunately, my knowledge of Chaosian Shape-shifting and Huon's 'true' personality are limited. This makes an accurate assessment difficult," Silhouette says, humbled. "Observation is a key. Some face-dancers utilize magick to accomplish their goal. And magick can be detected, even when it is subtle. Also, someone that truly knows or knew our uncle might be able to detect slight personality 'errors.' It might benefit you to reintroduce him to his brother, Bleys, and observe the interaction.
"If only for the entertainment."
Celina only raises an eyebrow in amusement. She's sure Llewella will have a comment to that and she waits for it.
Llewella looks nonplussed. "Bear-baiting isn't a civilized sport, Silhouette. I knew him as well as any of us, except perhaps for Ysabeau, I can only be somewhat sure, because of the amount of time that passed.
"Although given what he did to Asir, the circumstantial evidence matches my recollections."
"Huon is already under observation," Celina adds. "From anything that has been said about Dara so far, she would not long put herself in a position of containment or apparent surrender. Like any Chaos Noble, she must dominate. Even if she has made acting and concealment an art, she would chafe, as if in manacles, in Huon's situation. We have eyes on Huon and I do not think Dara would like the idea of arriving to surrender and wait while we let our guard down. Not when she can devour an outlier officer and walk into the City as she pleases, to then devour some other citizen we are not watching and so on until there isn't even a trail we can follow. It isn't good tactics for her." She looks at her two advisers, and then asks Silhouette, "Your counters to my comments? We stop Dara by understanding and limiting her."
Silhouette nods, "While the practicality of your comment is sound, it impedes Dara's positioning within the Court for maximum efficiency. If she is here, it is not as a face-dancer; gathering nuggets of information. It is as a predator. Consuming a normal citizen would inhibit her progress toward establishing a striking position within the upper echelons. This, in turn, would offer more opportunities for exposure that she can ill-afford. Instead, she'd want to be as close to you or your inner circle as possible, while remaining invisible - maintaining balance between the Third and Sixth Laws."
Her stony gaze breaks, "Huon, following the invasion, lacked any feminine characteristics. Even at his most... vulnerable." She brushes her hair back, "So, unless Dara stuck subsequently, I doubt he is a suspect.
"So, if we are to presume Dara is amongst us, you must look to your intimates. But first, you must identify her Purpose. That is the key to finding her."
Llewella nods, looking pensive. "I don't know that she would have one here, which makes both her presence and her detection unlikely."
Celina nods once. She had the same thought.
Another pause. A shiver passes through her. "What of Vialle? I recall mention that her encounter in the Ghost City left her... changed."
Llewella brightens up. "For the better, I hope. She is better-remembered in Amber and Xanadu than she is in this city."
Celina gives Llewella a long look, then glances to Silhouette.
Silhouette nods, "She is a lovely woman. I miss her company." She does not press the issue further, allowing for this deflection.
"Will you say goodbye to Huon before you leave?" Celina asks Silhouette. "He may have messages for Paris you could carry to gather a favor from him later. I think we are done here."
"If it is your will, my Queen," Silhouette replies, shifting uneasily. "I will speak with him now."
She glances over at Llewella, "Unless you have anything further, Aunt, I shall take my leave."
Llewella coughs. "Your Majesty, I would not assume, based on what I know of my brothers and what I see in your cousin's demeanor, that she wishes to carry any further messages for Huon. Silhouette, if you don't want to speak to Huon, I will inform him of your departure."
Celina breaks out a huge smile and chuckle, stunningly inappropriate in Rebma, where the bubbles and/or turbulence of the head cavities is poor manners. "Thank you Aunt." Celina nods to Silhouette to agree with the suggestion and make it plain that Silhouette can choose her own relationship with Huon. "I shall have messages for Florimel and Alice and my father. It would be a favor if you can carry them for me. We'll talk later."
A hint of relief cracks Silhouette's stony exterior. She dips her head to Llewella, "Thank you for your eloquence, Aunt. Although I am at the Queen's service, it may be prudent for me to disassociate myself with Huon with some expedience. Particularly considering the trip I am about to take. My Mother already believes I am Huon's creation. A belief I hope to dispel."
She smiles at Celina, "That said, I shall protect whatever diplomatic materials you require me to transport with my life, my Queen."
Before the rest of the smiths come in, Signy carefully wraps the glove in clean cloths and makes her way from the smithy to the palace. She moves through hallways that are in the process of stirring to life for the day's business until she comes to the seneschal's office, where she knocks on the door and waits to be called in.
Once invited inside she lifts her hands slightly to emphasize the wrapped package, and asks if she might be able to see the queen briefly to give her the commission that she was asked to make for her. While in the office she unobtrusively takes in the office, looking for the box that the twins delivered.
[Assuming that Signy is sent along on her way -- if not, disregard the rest of this]
A young girl, perhaps just having had a huge growth spurt to her height, is directed to escort Signy. She is dressed as a page.
Signy moves briskly through the halls to where the seneschal directed her. Stopping at the doorway, she announces herself to the guards stationed at the door, and waits for the Queen to invite her in.
A guard returns from the chamber, opening the large metal door and motioning Signy to pass inside.
Once within, it is the familiar, breakfast arrangements to the room. A woman has just moved a sponge lounge into place near the queen. Celina is getting her hair set into an updo for day's business. Celina offers you food and simple chat while the hairdresser finishes her work.
Then the two women depart quickly.
Celina smiles more warmly. "Good morning. You've been busy for a while. What news?"
Signy sits quietly while the women do their work, but as they leave shifts in her seat as if suddenly not quite so comfortable. A fairly flat object wrapped in nondescript linens sits on her lap, while unconsciously her fingers twitch slightly as if poking and prodding at something.
"Very busy. We've earned our first royal charter, and started on a few small projects."
Her eyes look away, and focus on Celina's shoulders.
"I finished the piece you'd mentioned. It. Well. It looks like a piece for a queen should look, but I'd tried to make it more. It ended up being too.... It's just not enough...." Each time, her voice trails off at the end of the incomplete sentences. She's not sure what the appropriate way to finish the thought is. If she knew, then maybe the piece would actually be what it was supposed to, and not this malformed bundle of good intentions and failure.
"I don't know. I can't put it into words, but it isn't what I'd hoped it was."
Her fingers continue to make small motions, though they don't go near the bundle on her lap.
Celina measures the distraction and vulnerability of her guest. She stands and approaches. "So soon, I would have thought it could take months. And you did all that without having to make a template of my arm? How clever." She smiles again and slowly folds her legs upward, like an upsidedown surface flower unblooming. This leaves her seated tailor fashion in mid-water slowly settling downward next to Signy.
"And you are very disappointed. Yet there is nothing to say you cannot start again... or test a different approach... You have a talent and yet you must have been disappointed before. Why so disheartened?" Celina looks deeply into Signy's expression. And listens.
Celina's first words snap Signy out of her frustration for a moment.
"The sizing's not that hard. I've made enough swords that I can get the length and hilt right without needing to do more than see someone walk."
Her hands come to rest on the package, signaling an end to the momentary break in her mood.
"It seemed right. Things were building, and taking shape, and once it was done it...wasn't. I don't know what it is, I can't even put words to it. I make a sword that's too long or too short, I can see what the problem is. I can make another, and change the length. Here, I don't even know what's not right, just that it isn't."
Her tone changes, becoming harder. More bitter.
"But I do know one way to fix the problem."
"What fixes the problem if you do not know that it is not right?" Celina asks gently.
Signy finally looks Celina in the eyes again.
"You talk to someone that can show you where you've gone wrong. In this case, that happens to be my father."
Celina appears slightly surprised. "Well, let's not go there immediately. What I asked for was a token of Art and Beauty. I didn't expect something epic. Or priceless. Well, despite your feeling of wrongness. Who is to say I'm not satisfied by what you have done? May I see it?"
Signy sighs. Now that it's time to act, her hands stop their pantomime and move to the wrapped package and quickly flip the cloths on the top aside. Once removed and the glove is exposed, she scoops up the bundle from beneath and offers it up to the queen.
Once removed, the cloths were shown to have covered a gauntlet that should go up to about the middle of Celina's forearm. She notices that wile it may not fit as precisely as something that had been specifically measured and tailored, it should still fit well on her right hand. A tightly-woven mesh of coral colored chain links is shot through with veins of an almost electric blue, running in an intricate weave that is reminiscent of the Pattern. They come together on the back of the hand and run down into the fingers, where it looks like when a fist is made they will form some other sort of knotted design.
At first the fingertips shine and twinkle like the stars do at night, above the water, but as it moves closer to Celina when Signy raises it up out of her lap they resolve into a series of small diamonds that are somehow set into the fingertips.
Celina's smile grows larger for a moment, then fades. "Why that's beautiful! It is very like what I wanted, perhaps even more." Celina hesitates and then reaches and touches the gauntlet lightly. She pulls her hand back. "I'm afraid you'll want to unmake this beauty. Take heart in that you tried to do a mighty thing. This however, should not exist as it is. It would likely cause trouble."
Signy sighs, hearing her own fears and concerns being confirmed. "I'm glad the design pleases you. I'd worried during the making that I was too long removed from working like this, and that my vision wasn't true.
"I also wonder if it's this doubt that marred the work."
She lifts the glove and looks at it, though her eyes aren't focused on the object in front of her.
"There's nobody else in the Family that does this sort of work, other than my father?"
It's clear from the tone in her voice that she doesn't really expect any answer other than the obvious.
Celina looks down at the gauntlet. It is so beautiful and yet sad. Maybe Signy was thinking about the Queen too much when she made it. She looks back up at her cousin, searching for an answer. And then she does have one.
"Folly may be able to put you in touch with Dworkin, who has schooled most of the advanced creators of the Family," Celina says. "However, Folly is pregnant and I think she's gone off for some relax time to enjoy the experience. When she returns from shadow, she'd likely help you. That might be a year, but such time could be well spent on other projects."
Signy does brighten a little at this.
"He taught my father, do you think?"
She thinks it over a little further while she rewraps the gauntlet.
Celina nods once. "Yes, I expect he did."
"It would also give me some time to look into the Moonriders further. I may see if I can reach Paige and find out what happened to that chain we took from the Marshall."
She pauses, and gives Celina a look that looks like it might almost be mischievous. "I suppose I could also make something else for you since I fell a little short with my first attempt, also."
Celina laughs lightly, "Well, yes. That would be wonderful. I'm excited seeing what you can do .....when you fall short." She openly grins to remove any sting implied. "Why if we give you some encouragement, we might get a dazzling gauntlet that will be a trend setter and blot out any question of the Art you can bring to Rebma." More seriously she adds, "It was lovely, Signy, and so much I want to give the Court art to inspire a better outlook for tomorrow. If you are willing to try again, for something a bit less.... arcane, that would be gracious."
Signy nods. "I would be happy to try again." She gives a tentative smile in return to Celina. "It should be easier if all I need to bring to Rebma is Art."
She rises to her feet, the rewrapped gauntlet tucked under one of her arms. "I also wanted to let Silhouette know that if she wanted to, she was welcome to stop by and make use of the smithy as well, if she didn't already have a place of her own.
"Do you think she'd like that?" she asks, a little less sure sounding.
"Yes, I do," Celina answers with certainty. "I have asked Silhouette to play a less obvious part in the Court expectations. Publicly, she is a favored dressmaker, bringing another Art to the splendor of Rebma. However, I think she would like access to your Forge and skills on her own time and out of the public eye. I will send her a message you have suggested it. Thank you."
Signy gives Celina a grateful smile.
Celina moves close to whisper distance with Signy and says, "Let me know if you have any trouble destroying this. We will consult Others if it resists being returned to components and harmless materials." Celina hugs her Cousin.
Signy just nods, not trusting herself to speak. A thing that can't be destroyed would just be the proverbial icing on the cake.
Silently, she gets up and offers an almost-competent bow to the Queen before making her way back out of the rooms.
Signy keeps the gauntlet with her, but spends just enough time at the forge to make sure that things are running as smoothly as they can be. She starts the master smiths on crafting links for a pair of gauntlets, seaweed green, coral, and a deep blue tinged with green like the deeps of the sea, making sure they have the process down for when she's not around.
She decides to spend a couple of days in the Rebman libraries, reading up on all things Rebman she can get her hands on. History, mirror magic, Tritons. Industry. Agriculture. Social mores. Upon arriving at the castle, she is somewhat surprised to end up in a smaller room with just a few chairs and a small table.
She looks at the room in puzzlement before one of the archivists comes in and makes her introductions. It takes a few minutes to get used to, but soon Signy is seated next to her asking questions about the home of her new workshop almost at random. Eventually she narrows in and starts the archivist alternating between telling her the story of Rebma during the time of the Black Road and the Pattern blade.
After a time of listening and questioning, the lesson, or discussion, is interrupted by the arrival of a page leading Ambrose into the room where Signy is exploring the archives. He bows to Signy and to the archivist, only at the neck, because a waist bow is so much more difficult underwater. Still, the effect leaves his hair waving in the water.
"Lady Signy. I did not mean to interrupt, but at some point when you have time, I should like to speak with you privately on a matter of--" he pauses, considers what can be said in company, and settles on "--creation. At the forge."
Signy returns his bow at the neck while she traces through the family tree to place him. She thinks she's getting better at it, as it only takes her moments to place him.
She turns to the Archivist, and offers her a warm smile. "Thank you for your time -- it's been extremely informative. If you don't mind, however, I'd like to take a little break while I catch up with my cousin, and try to take in everything we talked about."
After the Archivist leaves, she turns back to Ambrose and nudges the recently-vacated chair over towards him slightly. "These 'Archivists' are an interesting way to pass information around. Much more interactive than a book, but hard to flip back and forth."
"Also a little too easy to edit, in my experience. Not here," Ambrose hastens to add. He settles on the vacant chair. "But it's a lot harder to edit stone marks in a temple wall. Unless you decide to destroy the shadow instead." He says this last with a quirk of a not-particularly-amused smile. "That's a long story of its own, although I may have a chance to tell it to you later. I come referred by our cousin Celina, and I have a commission I'd like to discuss, if you're available to make a thing.”
Signy manages to suppress an involuntary flinch at his words.
She briefly wonders if Celina made this suggestion before her...unfortunate first attempt at the gauntlets.
"I'm flattered that the Queen felt confident enough in my ability to point you my way. What is it that you're looking for?"
Hopefully, it's not a set of enchanted gauntlets.
Ambrose answers, talking with his hands a little to demonstrate what he's looking for as he goes. "The language of my home shadow, Uxmal, is extremely complicated and requires a magical device of some complexity to translate into Thari. The device, which is called a 'code wheel', is clearly magically mechanical because it experiences the sort of entropy normally expected of magical--and, I'm told, technologically complicated--devices when left too long in the presence of a Pattern. I'd have to take you into Shadow to show you one, but if you can create such a thing, would you be willing?"
Signy listens quietly, her eyes not giving much away.
It's away from a Pattern, and working with Sorcery, both of which are much more favorable than having to go back and try to craft something Pattern-based.
"That sounds...interesting. If you don't mind my asking, this isn't a general-use translation item, is it?"
Ambrose shakes his head in the negative, with attendant effects on his hair in the water. "Uxmali is a language of ideograms, which combine into glyphs. The code wheels don't technically translate the ideograms; they unwind the glyphs, which are almost impossible to interpret manually even to an experienced speaker. The glyphs would be like writing everything in Thari in algebraic quatrains in required geometric patterns.”
Signy nods, her hair unknowingly mirroring his.
"It's like going from bread back to its basic components like flour and water?"
She thinks on the problem for a moment longer.
"Is there anyone that makes these devices now? I'd be curious to know how long it's supposed to take to make one. Do you need to be in Uxmali to make them?"
"Uxmal. The shadow's name was Uxmal, and I'm not sure you can go back. There was a fight there, in which Power was used. As for making one, I think you'll have to at least learn the theoretical underpinnings of Uxmali to do it, and be somewhere similar. I don't know who made the original code wheels, but I've always assumed it was my father. My mother might know." Ambrose ponders the other question and comes up with: "I think it's more like desalinizing seawater. Salt and water is a natural state, and so is seawater. It takes a lot of effort to get from one to another."
Signy nods along with Ambrose, getting drawn further in in spite of her earlier reluctance.
"Who can teach the underpinnings? You?"
She sits back slightly, thinking about the problem further.
"So...why do you need more of them created, if you don't mind my asking? Are the ones you have breaking?"
"Some of them were held in a Pattern realm long enough to experience the advanced entropy associated with sorcerous and manufactured objects in such places. I don't know whether that's on a per-Pattern basis, but I won't chance it further. Also, now that my father is dead and Uxmal is fallen, there are a very few native speakers and a lot of my father's papers that require translation," Ambrose explains. "My father was supposedly Dworkin's most advanced student. We need to find out what's locked in those papers, and without the code wheel, it's difficult for even my brother and I to translate his work. Even teaching the language alone wouldn't be enough, though of course I'd be willing to teach you."
Signy gives a final nod.
"When can I go and see the wheels? That will give me a better idea of what we're working with."
She pauses for a second.
"Have you shown them to any other smiths?"
"Not that I know of." Ambrose pauses there. "I don't pretend to know the limit of my brother's skills, nor those of our aunts and uncles, but your opinion is the only one I've solicited on the matter of whether they can be recreated. As for when we can go and see them--that would be more of a matter of your schedule than mine. I wouldn't want to take you away from any duties you may have at court, and I'd like to confer with Celina before we leave."
Signy gives a quick flash of a smile. "Ten minutes to leave some instructions for some people, and I'd be ready to go meet with the Queen."
While Signy is completing her business with the archivists, Ambrose sends a message ahead to Celina by a page that he and Signy wish to speak with her at hear earliest convenience on that matter which Ambrose had previously broached to Celina regarding Signy. (It's phrased in a more flowery manner, but that's what he means.)
Celina dispatches three pages in response. One to acknowledge and then wait as Ambrose's escort. One to wait on and guide Signy's arrival. The third page goes to summon Lady Chas T'ara to breakfast tomorrow. If movers are going to be coming and going this much in her Court, Celina wants to chat more often with her Wise Ears.
Celina decides to meet Family in the Airy Chamber where her cousins are likely to be more comfortable. And for this she concedes she will need to wear more clothing. Air never holds heat the way water does. She adds a mental note to her schedule to do more exercises in the Airy Chamber, not just her own rooms. No point in getting so used to water that she is foreign to airside.
Celina has the chamber prepped with some heated stones and finds a glittering shrug that is a waterfall of tiny metal scales and drops from her shoulders all the way to the floor. She arrives early and fusses over the sideboard of foods. She finds herself looking long and deep into the black caviar. Passive and beautiful: so much like a thousand dark eyes watching her.
She removes the caviar from the tray and sends it back to the kitchens. Then she folds into an extended trance pose and combs the tension out of her body; muscle strands extending and contracting to her heartbeat as she works out from neck to toes.
After Ambrose leaves, Signy calls for a page. She sighs, and wonders how one would send a private missive in a place where you can't really have paper, pens and wax seals.
When the page shows up, Signy directs her to the smithy with some suggestions for the smiths for projects and direction, and a message to Brother Tomat requesting he continue working with the apprentices while she takes care of some other business.
Once that page repeats the message back to her, she sends her on her way, and then follows the page that shows up to guide her to the queen.
She slips into the room quietly, observing the Queen in her pose.
Celina stops her quiet rhythms a few moments after she hears Signy arrive. She stands and moves forward with a smile. "Come in, there is food. Ambrose should be here shortly."
Ambrose arrives not long after Signy, led by the page that Celina sent to him. He takes a moment to dry off in the airy chamber, with particular attention to his hair. He's carrying some sealed documents, prepared for underwater storage or at least passage. "Your Majesty," he says, by way of greeting, and bows, more formally or at least more easily, than he does anywhere else in Rebma.
Then he turns and adds, "Lady Signy," and also bows to her, but less deeply.
Celina nods to her guests. "Eat as you like and relax. Let me know what you need and how I can further your aims."
Ambrose takes a small plate: enough for politeness, but not so much that it will discourage discussion. He is, in the air, a precise eater with nicer manners than in the water. What clumsiness he has displayed in the past in Celina's presence is clearly only the awkwardness of the surface dweller in the watery realm. He makes polite conversation as he eats, but it's all superficial chatter of a sort suited to the table: no business, as the Queen has commanded.
Celina studies both her cousins to emulate and master the manners of air eating. It is a much more sensuous method and Celina rather likes it.
Signy also takes a small plate, and eats relatively quickly. Her manners are not nearly as polished as Ambrose's, though she manages a passable impression. Celina gets the impression that most of her meals are fairly quick and hurried affairs that probably don't involve much in the way of formal place-settings.
Once the meal is complete and the dishes set aside and removed, Ambrose broaches the subject that he and Signy have come to discuss. "Your Majesty, Lady Signy and I have spoken about the code wheel, and she is willing to look into the matter. For her to proceed further will require her to see one of the surviving code wheels, which are kept in Shadow because they degrade in the influence of a Pattern, being in part sorcerous constructs. Since we would have to take leave of your realm, we thought it wise to speak with you before making plans for departure, to obtain your leave and to be certain we were not interfering with other plans you might have."
Celina nods and looks pleased. "My plans would not be interfered with if you both have interesting journey and success. I shall miss you both and look forward to your return. You know, Rebma has some special properties when it comes to magic. It may be that Rebma will be kind to the wheels, moreso than other Patterns are."
Signy cocks her head slightly. "So...is Mirror magic a Sorcerous thing, or a Pattern thing?"
That may explain some of what went wrong with the gauntlet, at any rate.
"From everything that I know, Mirror art is a delicate Pattern compatible exercise." Celina shrugs. "But I am still testing that." She smiles at Ambrose. "So.... is it far you have to go? Shall I not expect you back this year?"
"It won't be difficult to get there, but the manner in which we return, and the speed of the return, will depend on our cousin's observations." Ambrose nods to Signy. "I don't believe this will be a simple project, if only because I'm going to have to teach our cousin Uxmali, but I don't know how it will be best completed: in one attempt, or, as seems more likely to me, by trial and error, some of which may be attempted in Rebma." He looks to Signy for confirmation on that point, to the extent that she can offer any without having seen the object she's meant to duplicate.
Celina watches them both to judge how they are meshing so far. It seems good to her.
Signy turns more serious, now that it's time to talk business.
"It depends how much sorcery is involved in making them. And how much taking apart is needed."
She frowns, slightly.
"Are the devices meant to come apart at all? Some things need to be broken to see how they are put together...."
Celina believes in omens, so she winces and then smothers it when Signy's words spark a blacker version of Rebma's survival. She waits Ambrose to respond.
"I've never taken one apart, so I wouldn't know," Ambrose confesses, with some slight reluctance. "They're very complicated, I do know that much. And because my father made them, and I've used them, I have a strong sense that they're extremely sorcery-intense. But it is just a sense, because they were in existence before I was born. Possibly before my brother was born, because he's familiar with their use also."
Celina's expression is in complete sympathy and not any sadness at this moment. She knows only too well what it means to have an intense mystery that must be solved at all costs. She holds a growing hope. Signy apparently has experience with taking things apart in order to make them anew.
Celina looks to Signy.
Signy shrugs, and doesn't seem that bothered.
"The most interesting projects are seldom, if ever, the easiest." The formal recitation sounds almost like a student repeating a lesson back for the benefit of a teacher.
She thinks for a moment, then looks at Ambrose. "Is there any tricks we could play with Shadow to help us? Find someplace that has similar devices that we could use to help us learn the new ones, or where decades pass in days here?"
Celina starts to say something in response. She's obviously puzzled, but she stops herself and looks to Ambrose. Now she looks worried.
"My sense is that we'll want to try to do it in a shadow close to Uxmal-that-was." The form Ambrose uses is a bit awkward but seems natural to him; perhaps it's a consequence of having a different native tongue, with different concepts of time and space. "One with similar conditions, because, knowing my father, the conditions will be key. Venturing too close to Chaos is risky, between Chantico, Dara, and Grandmother."
Celina looks transparently relieved with this answer. She nods once. "If possible, you could keep in touch with Brita during your absence. It would be a kindness for me to know that things are moving along, even if you are gone a long time."
"Of course, Your Majesty," Ambrose agrees at once. "To the extent that we can. Shadow is safer than it once was, but Chantico is still out there. As is Dara." Which is not an entirely pleasant thought if Ambrose's expression is any guide.
He looks to Signy to see whether she has any further questions.
Signy looks back over at the Queen. "My men are helping out at the smithy. I can vouch that they won't be any trouble, so would it be OK if they stay in Rebma in my absence?"
"It is indeed," Celina agrees easily. "In fact, I would not have you worry about their safety while you travel far. If you allow, they can train with my own guard and study with the Archivists." Celina toasts to them both and blesses the journey.
Celina could be asleep.
Instead she is awake and dances in her own quarters. She leaps and flourishes back to the floor in a spiral of her own current. She creates arches and axis changes in between her momentary touchdowns on the chill floor. Up again, she springs as sparks up from the Pattern, traces another veil, lives once again her terrible wonderful connection to the Pattern below the palace.
Lives once again her nightmare responsibility, but makes it something beautiful. Something whole. She dances the Pattern in three dimensions. Moves and never stops until she finds the center.
Meters and meters of dance, she creates joy around and around the center, gravity only a pale resistance that reminds her of the terrible weight of the Pattern. Moves through the last veil upside down now, because that is the most stressful creation yet for the ritual she orchestrates.
Finally the center. She sinks to the floor, thrilled and overheated and spent. She settles against the cold stone and reviews the past days. Here.... is peace. This tiny space of cool wet stone is hers for just this time. Her mind aches a bit. Good. Then it is working.
Lir!! She dearly misses Dolphin and Ambrose and Brita and Conner and Signy. Again alone.
News from the freshly appointed Trade Factors has returned from Seaward. No signs of Dara. No signs of Moire. Which lends weight to the idea that things will stay at the Center, where it matters.
The new gown from T'llanean is fun though the final blue of the crystals are not what she imagined. With Silhouette gone, Celina could stop spending so much time with Dressmakers and Fashion. There is less need for a cover story now. But it still is fun to do. And Silhouette will be back.
She sighs, thinking about the recent mirror exercise looking into the city's past. Failure. Again. And a deep headache that took a watch to overcome. She considers the consequences if she gives herself a stroke chasing at history. Or maybe it is supposed to feel like failure. She must believe that understanding the past means a better future. Maybe not. It matters that she try regardless. Never stop moving.
She sighs again because the floor is too cold now.
Today is the medal ceremony. She smiles. It has taken months to review all the various reports. Weeks of personally talking to commanders and men of the various brigades, to convince herself that the choices have merit and truth.
She's talked to neighborhood leaders and many constables. She's absorbed the hundreds of acts of bravery and cowardice during Huon's attack on the City. She has visited the families of the dead. Today finally she can recognize the living.
Soldiers. Scholars. Smiths. Children. She smiles remembering one particular child, Burann, who will get a medal from her today. He went back into a collapsing building and brought his gran out, her legs broken by stonefall.
Three hundred stories selected. A medal created; Courage During Terror. Three hundred (and families, of course) invited to dinner with the Queen after the ceremony.
Celina notes she has been on the floor too long. The stone captures heat from her and muscles warn her of impending constriction of blood flow. She slowly sits up and pushes her hair back over an ear.
Then she rises like a flower opening to the sun. She looks at the wheel clock. Nods once. She moves to the heated stone bed in the small tub and eases into it. She sand sponges the sweat and oil from her limbs. She hums a tune she's written to Rebma. True. The city is hardly her child. Much more her old mate and she the too-young wife. But she cannot resist the notion that giving a good morning song to the city is an appropriate ritual.
Wake up, dear heart, wake up.
A new day begins.
Your dreams make me smile.
Now imagine a new world starts.
Better than dreams.
She leaves the warmth of the tub and rings for assistance to get dressed. It's early, but they know her at this point. The good days are always early.
Once dressed and fed, Celina moves to the routine of day.
By mid-morning, almost all the routine is done and she gathers the necessary guard to drop in on Huon working in the City on the rebuild.
She sends one page ahead so that he knows she is coming. This isn't really a surprise inspection, after all. She wants him to brag a bit about progress and see how the crews react to her interest.
She has the guard captain halt the troop in the streets outside the work area. Cpt A'lon is permitted to escort her to Huon. The honor guards stay outside the construction area.
Celina smiles, looking at Huon's hands as she approaches. He's been handling stone himself. Good. "Good morning, Prince Huon. You look well. Please tell me how the work fares today."
Huon smiles back. "Your workers are excellent. Construction has some definite advantages when underwater. One who lives and works in such a place is at a tremendous advantage in tactical thinking than someone who has not the water-breathing habit.
"Just a few tritons can replace a dozen men lifting stones. We've concentrated on the Docks, since the return of commerce is the return of prosperity. I've sent messages to your spymaster about who has tried to bribe me to get their warehouses moved to the front of the queue. It's quite amusing how little they think I can be bought for.
Huon glances over at the makeshift table where his personal 'archivist'/'bodyguard'/'keeper' is sitting. "We should consider how we will reward those who restore the city. While the architects are mostly women, the laborers are mostly men. Some of them have never had a task this big to work on."
Celina smiles, "Your enthusiasm does you credit. I look forward to opening the Docks officially. It should also be a moment to recognize the dedication of your best workers of all races. Perhaps a carved stone of the names of the top three crews would be in order? You and I shall judge and it is permitted for the crews to know there is a contest." She allows him to point out the work in progress.
Huon is a methodical worker and also smart. He's allowing any Rebmans who wish to hire their own reconstructors to do so, as long as they do a portion of the city's infrastructure work.
It's not something Celina had either authorized or prohibited, but it has clearly been effective. The supplementary workers have allowed a lot of progress to take place.
She likes progress and clearly shows that.
When she is suitably briefed and has memorized several of the faces of the busiest Tritons and Rebman workers. She asks her uncle, "So I hope you are amused more than insulted by the bad bribing here. Are the families testing you? Or do they just like admiring your handsomeness from close quarters?"
He grins. "I know not the minds of Rebma's Great Women and their plans. I suspect that they remember Vialle and how she rose from a subject of pity to the Queen of Amber. She figures greatly in their myths about themselves. Apparently they all loved her, and everyone around them did not." He doesn't quite roll his eyes, but he doesn't quite not roll his eyes.
Celina tries not to look pained. She fails.
He looks up from his work in the city to the castle proper. "When can we work on the Southern Tower of the castle?"
"Here is a different but related question for you," Celina says. "The queen thinks the Southern Tower should stand as a monument to what happened here. A thousand years from now, it can remind this city that oaths keep stone safe and broken oaths will crumble a palace. Your thoughts?"
Huon smiles. "My thoughts, are freely given, for I serve at the pleasure of the Queen." His bow is courtly and precise. "You know why you would do such a thing, so I will suggest reasons you might choose not to. I think that leaving a construction site half-cleared where hallways end abruptly in sudden falls onto jagged edges is a way to have more casualties. Symbolically, it may come to indicate damage you cannot or choose not to heal. And from a practical perspective, one of the two entrances to the pattern chamber is under it.
"Psychologically, your people may be more happy with a 'see how little you hurt us' repair than a thousand year reminder."
Celina warms to the topic. She knew he could be courtly. She likes that Huon has a playful side. "Indeed, I'd like to have everything beautiful and whole through my entire life. Seamless. Sacred. That's easy. It is also false. It strikes me that Rebma should acknowledge scars and costs more than it needs the parental perspective of, "there see? everything all better. now go run and play."
Celina resists turning in the direction of the Pattern as she thinks about it. "And from a practical perspective, lots of debris on the entrance to the Pattern Chamber is not a bad thing." She goes on, "I see perhaps a garden, life springing up and making a comment on death. Beautiful metal grill work closes the hallways, but allows someone to look over a thriving city beyond the rubble." She smiles, "On the other hand, perhaps I think too much about scars." -----and death, she adds to herself.
She compliments Huon, "This is good progress, my uncle. And I'm glad that the leaders of the city are interested in bribing you. I am disappointed that they are so bad at it. While I agree that trade is important as you have said, I find that so much of the cleverness of these women is in taking shortcuts that bite." She looks at him frankly. "Have you bitten any of them?"
Huon nods in response to the complement. "I admit only to listening to their offers--their various and sundry offers, to learn what there is on offer here. I have no confessions of a personal nature that I feel obliged to make at this time, My Queen."
Last modified: 15 April 2014