Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
The ride from the steps to Castle Xanadu is uneventful, although as soon as the Castle is sighted, it's clear that it's more awake than usual at this hour. The road down from the castle is busy, and the staff seems to be hard at work.
Vere and Edan ride into the stable area and see the stablehands hard at work. Some are cleaning out stalls, while others are handling horses from the city below.
Stablemaster Donovan comes up as the hands are helping Vere and Edan with their mounts. He's sweating a bit, as if he's been exerting himself, and he's still waving stablehands and journeymen around as he speaks. "Prince Vere," he says with a nod. "Sir Edan, Well met! I was going to send a boy as soon as I could spare one. May we use your facilities to house some of the overflow from the gathering? We'll be full here when everyone comes in."
Vere blinks. "Gathering?" he asks.
"You may," Edan adds, "but remember that Aramsham can have a very foul attitude." He looks up wistfully towards the castle. "And I had the dance all planned out, too."
Donovan smiles. "Your dance goes as planned, Sir Edan. But the King has summoned a family conclave and has a public announcement to make on the morrow. You'll need to see Prince Gerard to get details." He leans closer to the two, conspiratorially, "My lords, Prince Garrett gave me instructions to tell those who did not know the reasoning of it.
"The Queen is with child."
"Ah," Vere says. He glances at Edan, then back at Donovan. "Such excellent news. I must congratulate the King. Do you know where he is right now?"
"Up in the clouds, I am sure," Edan adds.
Donovan looks confused. "No, my Lord, under the waters. Prince Garrett told me he had to visit her relatives, but would be back for Lord Edan's event." He looks down. "I'm sure you'll do better asking him or Prince Gerard, in the house. You may want to keep Aramsham below, my Lord. Morgenstern and Stripey will both be here within the day."
Vere frowns very slightly. "Thank you, Donovan," he says.
Edan nods along. "Now? He has to be there now? Well...please make the arrangements for my horse, if you would, something that solves your space problem and yet will provide as much comfort for Aramsham as possible." He turns to Vere and adds, "We could always Trump him."
"Not immediately, my Lord. Tonight would be soon enough." Donovan attempts to soothe Edan, without actually touching him.
"I must attend to the preparations," Edan tells Vere, "But I would like to be there when you discuss this with the King. I'd like to hear the whole story."
Vere leads Edan out of the stables as they talk.
Edan waits until they are out of earshot of everyone. "Will you be attending the event tonight?"
"I would have said not, before this announcement. I need to report to Caine, and see to the Ladies. But I see no point to traveling to Amber, only to return immediately. So unless some other event intervenes, I will be there." Vere pauses for a moment, then asks, "It is a presentation of your new order to the city, yes? And presumably to those of the Family who have arrived by tonight."
"Yes," Edan says. "I have forces slowly gathering outside Broceliande, but the Order itself is setting up on the outskirts of the city. It is absolutely necessary that we make a good introduction to the people and the Family." Edan smiles. "Random has arranged us a debutante ball of sorts. I hope my dress will be ready."
"Is there anything I can do to assist in this?" Vere asks.
The courtyard outside the stables is being swept, servants are cleaning the windows facing out of the castle, and wagons with goods are arriving from the town below. It's quite likely that someone has spotted the two Lords, but no one approaches.
"Normally I would say no," Edan says to Vere, "as I am sure my majordomo will have already handled all the details. But on the final dance... I have chosen the Echo Game, so that the Queen may enjoy it as much as any other observer. My men have seen me do this dance before, and can play the drum circle I will require, but still it has been a number of years. How good are you at throwing small objects, like coins, or beans?"
"Quite good," Vere answers seriously. "What do you have in mind?"
"The Echo Game is a seamless meld of dance and swordsmanship," Edan says. "I will dance in a clearing, surrounded by a ring of vertical drums. The circle of drummers sit beyond them. You would sit at one end of this ring with a bowl of coins. There are three parts to the dance: in the first part, you would need to bounce individual coins off one or more drums, and I would echo the pattern. In the second part, you would need to sling the coins out of the bowl so that they hit all the drums at once. That is where the dance starts in earnest. And at the end, you will have to fling the bowl at me as I hit the last of the drums."
Vere laughs. "It sounds like fun," he says with a smile. "Do we get an opportunity to practice beforehand, or do I have to do it right the first time?"
"Oh, definitely, we should practice," Edan says. "I'll get the drums set up at the Order. I need to hear what your bowl will sound like, in the air. Also, you are one of the people who will need to intervene if there is a wild throw." He pauses, remembering. "I practiced the dance itself many months in the desert. It is one of my favorites. Very dramatic, as you can imagine. The secret, of course, is the precise placement of the drums- after that, it's all a matter of timing and consistency and knowing where you are. In the second part of the dance, I hardly even notice the blindfold."
"It sounds fascinating," Vere responds. "Let me go to the palace now to make arrangements for a message to be sent to me as soon as the king is available. I should also look over my clothing here to make a choice in what to wear tonight, and speak to Caine to make my report and see if I can arrange for the Ladies to be brought here. Shall we make an appointment of a time to rehearse?"
"I...will rest," Edan says, chewing the words out slowly as if he hadn't said them in some time. "After I see how my engineers are planning to drag a gold star out of a lagoon." He smiles. "We will be ready when you are. Just stop by and we will practice. Ah...would you arrange to return the portrait?"
Vere takes the portrait. "My thanks to you again for your assistance. I will see you later today."
Edan makes his way back to the Order's compound. When he arrives, his plans are to sleep, but he starts by taking a few minutes to whip the place up into a frenzy. "Where are the riders practicing? Where are the plans from the engineers for the star? Where are the drums? Are we a knight-order, or a hotel?"
Smiling to himself, he's ready to handle any immediate problems, and warn the others of Vere's arrival, before he heads off to a nap.
Knights scramble and move to get out of his way, and to appear as if they have not just awoken.
Michelle comes up, tells him the answers to his first three questions, and hands him a folded piece of paper. "Lady Somers stopped by, Lord Edan. She gave me this for you."
The paper is scented and bears Paige's crest on the top. "If you haven't heard the news, call me immediately. And yes, the fact that I'm back means she is back as well. — P"
That brings a smile. "I will pen a reply and send a runner," he says to Michelle. "Thank you. Things look very well handled. For my part, my cousin Vere will come to practice with me later today. Please extend him every courtesy."
When he makes it to his quarters (or, at least, the quarters that have been set up for him), he finds paper and ink and pens a note under the Order's tughra:
"I am most pleased to hear you both are home and safe. I have heard- Vere and I were told as we came in."
He pauses then, and wonders if there isn't a better answer than a sleep-deprived run to Paige in the early morning, or messengers running back and forth all day. He holds Paige's letter above a candle for a moment, letting the fire mix with Paige's perfume. Hopefully, she will notice a nearby candle smoldering with a ribbon of smoke, and either light the candle or Trump him directly.
Shortly, Edan feels the mental push of a Trump contact.
"You’re lucky I noticed your candle trick. If the King didn't want everyone contacted, I'd be asleep somewhere, or in a long, long bath. We were completely wrong about where Solange was, by the way. And I cannot stand the smell of mechanical oil.
"Oh, and I am upset with you. You were going to throw a party and didn't invite me? Your own sister!"
Edan's look of surprise is almost comical, and completely genuine. "I am most ashamed," he says. "I guess Michelle assumed I would contact you myself, instead of sending some formal invitation through her. Which is a right and proper assumption, but I have been distracted ever since I arrived." He smiles and slumps. A little. "I was about to nap myself, so I don't kill anyone with a wild throw tonight. And yes. You must come to my thing."
She smiles, coyly. "I'm teasing. Michelle already invited me for you, but you could've trumped me. I'll be most pleased to come to your thing. I'm sure it will be amazing and talked about for years..."
"I do hope so. If it is not amazing it will still be talked about for years." A pause. "Hannah is back with you?"
She shakes her head, her red hair moving as if she was in Rebma. "She's back, but being her, she went down to that clinic in town. You should almost certainly send her an invitation yourself. Oh, and Ossian and Silhouette are also just back. You may want to delegate inviting people (other than Her, of course) to Gilt Winter, since they'll all go through him..."
Paige smiles. "She's looking radiant, and we were in a faster shadow, but you're not a father yet."
Edan nods. "Thank you, Sister. I will message Hannah and ask Sir Winter to help me with the others. I would have come to see you myself, but I have had a long night, and need to sleep a bit before tonight. Somewhere in between, Vere is coming to help me out with my dance." He shrugs and smiles. "I see how things are going to be in this town. Everything is already so complicated."
Paige lets her eyes smile for a moment, and Edan can see she's truly amused. "You sound like Robin, more than Edan. You can go live in a yurt, if that's what you want, but the city is alive, and you can't help but be swept into the dance."
She gets more serious. "It is like music, just like you'd expect from the King. If you can hear the music, you can feel the rhythms and learn how to thrive here, not just survive. It's going to be the difference between those who plant real roots here and those who merely pass through.
"You will save a dance for me, won't you, during one of the times you allow us peasants onto the dance floor?"
"You will steal the show, dear sister, and you know it."
She laughs, and is clearly pleased with the compliment. "Flatterer. You did learn a thing or two from Father, after all."
After the connection is broken, Edan will nap. When he wakes, he will send a runner to Winter to beg his indulgence in passing along invitations to Family. Another runner will be sent to Hannah, with a heartfelt flowery invitation in Edan's own hand.
After leaving Edan Vere returns to the palace. His first priority is finding an upper level member of the staff, preferably Random's steward or chamberlain, and impressing upon them that Vere absolutely must report to the king at the first opportunity. He will try to get an estimate of how long that might be.
Assuming that it isn't immediately, he will return the trump of himself to the trump room, and then turn to Caine's trump. He will touch it lightly and think, "Uncle." He won't push if Caine is not ready to take the call.
Caine takes the trump immediately. He is standing somewhere in the harbor area; Vere can see the masts of ships behind him. "Nephew! Our plans have been overtaken by royal events. You've heard the news of course?" Without waiting for confirmation, he continues. "Tell me what you learned."
"To use the word 'learned' when referring to Tir might be presumptuous on my part. I observed something, and certain conclusions can be drawn, but I hesitate at deciding which of them might be correct." Vere frowns very slightly. "I saw both of the ladies, and their champions. They were playing a game, and using people as the pieces. The game was not familiar to me. It used a grid inside an octagon, with a tower in the center." He pauses a moment, recalling the scene. "There was a knotted piece of rope in the tower. I do not know what that might have represented.
"Morgne was dressed in green and red, while Ophiuchus wore green and gold. Laudine bore a lion on a field of vert, Ywain a lion on a field azure. They were playing as partners, with the ladies concentrating on offense while their champions focused on defense. The goal seemed to be to take territory, although neither possessed a clear advantage that I could tell while I watched."
Vere shrugs very slightly. "Numerous interpretations could be given to such a vision. I hope you are much better at interpreting the visions of Tir than I am, Uncle."
Caine nods. "Often, the largest danger of Tir is assigning too much meaning, or assigning a second meaning to something perfectly meaningful on the face of it. This sounds much as you tell me your guests described the state of conflict between their kingdoms prior to their spell.
"What sounds different is that in your vision, they are driving forces, not pawns. When you return, you may want to subtly question them about their true role, all those years ago.
"Beyond your report, I'd also like your opinion, Prince Vere. What do you think it means?"
"I was struck by the same thing," Vere answers. "Though they had said that they were simply guarding the border from each other, in a stalemate designed to end the war between their respective courts, the vision seemed to imply that they were seeking to gain advantage over one another. It leads one to wonder whether they are still playing the game. Immortals, I understand, can think in very long terms."
Caine nods. "The advantage to us is that for a long game, they'll want to build up some trust. That should at least put them out of the immediate threat while we deal with more immanent ones.
"How do you wish to dispose of them, assuming both of our plans for the next day or so are altered to suit the pleasure of the King?" He smiles just a bit as he says 'dispose'.
It's probably nothing.
Vere does not react to the smile. "I would like to continue with the original plan," he says. "And settle them in Paris and Rebma. With the addition now that I tell Celina and Corwin what I saw in Tir." He tilts his head to one side, considering Caine. "With the change in plans, I wonder if you might arrange for them to come to Xanadu? It seems more efficient."
Caine shakes his head. "Too many unknowns, and we're about to have a conclave. We'll see if we can get it on the agenda. You should have a Royal answer within a day, so we have no need of rushing."
Vere nods. "Understood, Uncle. Is there anything else?"
Caine looks at him. "Just that you should get some sleep. Tir drains us more than a mere all-night binge would do. It is a difficult place, you did well, nephew."
Vere awakens around noon, in his bed in Xanadu. A page sticks his head in. "Good Den, M'Lord. His Highness, your father, has asked that you attend him when you awaken. Would you prefer to go down for Lunch or should I send for food for you?"
"I will attend upon my Father at once," Vere answers. "Have food sent to me there." And he will head for his father's chambers.
"Of course, your lordship," the page says.
Vere arrives before the foodstuffs, of course, and one of the household staff welcomes him to Gerard's suite. Apparently he's doing enough work right now that he has a functionary to send the less important people. Vere, however, isn't one of those, and he is ushered in to see Gerard at once.
"Vere," Gerard says, delighted, and rolls over to give him a clasp. "I gather you've had some wild adventures. Tell me all about them. I've been hearing from your cousin about his stories. Now it's your turn." He gestures to the other person in the living area he seems to have commandeered as an office-cum-meeting room.
"Garret," Vere says, walking over to is cousin and clasping his hand. "Well met, indeed. What have you been up to?"
Garrett grins widely and clasps Vere's hand with a strong grip. "Good to see you, Cousin," he replies. "Been up to the topmast on a merchantman out of one of the near Shadows, lately." And indeed, Vere would likely recognize the patterns of roughness on Garrett's hand as that of someone recently returned from service on a ship. He also appears a bit older, though no taller, with a heavier brow and more meat on his bones. "I'd been out testing my shadow skills until I got the call back. And you?" he asks, genuinely interested in hearing Vere's tales before his own.
Vere tilts his head to one side, considering. "It has been some little while," he says. "Since returning from my sojourn to Chaos with Merlin I have been working with Prince Julian and his rangers. That led to assisting Robin with a matter concerning some Ancient Powers, and Prince Caine sending me up to Tir to gather some information." He shakes his head. "I see now for myself that he Visions of Tir can be quite confusing."
"They always are," Gerard says. "Except when they're even more confusing. Caine said something about ladies and lords and chessboards and fountains, but I wasn't entirely clear on the lot of it and with Random away and this do of Edan's tonight, there's far too much to worry on for me to spend much thought on it. But I always have an ear for your stories.
"Jules says, by the by, that Robin will be coming in on his Trump." There's a bit of a mischievous twinkle in Gerard's eye as he says it. The work of regenting, even for this short period, seems to have infused him with energy somehow. Maybe he just likes being busy and useful.
Vere grins. "That will truly be excellent," he says. "I had promised to contact her as soon as possible after my walk to Tir, but I am sure she will understand the new situation makes that more difficult." He glances at Garrett then, and seems about to say something else, but then does not.
"New situation?" Garrett asks, quirking an eyebrow. "You mean Father's callback or something else?" He glances at Gerard as well and continues apologetically, "Forgive me. I've been out of touch for some time."
Vere nods. "The accompanying confusion and rush caused by the summons," he clarifies.
"Aye," Gerard agrees with Vere, "It's a lot of work all at once, arranging everything, but it's better to gather everyone and tell them at once instead of yelling at us all individually. That's how Dad did it. Probably going to be a lot more ale and wine drunk down this way though." He turns back to Garrett. "Why don't you tell Vere a bit about what you've been doing?"
"A lot of learning, mostly," Garrett replies, settling into a nearby chair and indicating Vere to do the same, if he chooses. "I reckon you must've heard I walked the Pattern some time ago. Since then, I spent some time in Paris and sailed to Gateway to deliver some trade goods for Jerod. Dad thought the trip would be a good, low-risk learning experience. And it was. But once I was done, I decided to try sailing further. I rather liked being out on the water. It was a good exercise in manipulation of the skies without the distractions you have in trying to shift on land. I sailed with a number of different crews, so that I could make my way back to familiar places eventually." Garrett realizes he's running on now and shortens the tale. "I was on the last leg of my journey home when I got the call from Dad to come back immediately."
Vere grins at him. "I have always preferred a small ship," he confides. "And now that I have learned how to 'find' the Psyche wherever I go in Shadow I expect to eventually sail between many worlds. If we ever find leisure I would be delighted to sail with you some day."
"Enjoy your time of leisure while you've got it. Family meetings mean Random's doling out more assignments and there'll be work aplenty for us all," Gerard advises. "Though perhaps you can sail together to whatever Random sends the both of you off to do."
"I would like that," Garrett says with a nod and a smile. "I enjoy learning new ways of interpreting the experience, especially from those who have gone through it recently.
"You mentioned Tir, though," Garrett continues more seriously, "and it reminded me of something. Do you know anything about the 'Ring Road'? It's something that came up during my expedition with Dad to rescue the Queen. Something about it being perhaps a back door into Tir, I think? I never had a chance to follow up on it."
Vere frowns slightly. "Direct connections between the realms with Patterns, is it not? The stairs to Tir and the stairs between Rebma and Paris are part of it, if I am remembering correctly. If it is a ring, then that implies each realm has a minimum of two connections."
"I thought Conner found a back way out of Rebma, which was how he and his lady of Gateway escaped from the Tritons. Maybe the two of you should talk to him," Gerard suggests. "This is a moment for giving information, and it's not like it was with Dad where we all hoarded and traded. Share it all out. It worked for us during the war."
Vere frowns very slightly at his father's words. "And yet there are still secrets," he observes. "Matters touching royalty or personal affairs."
"I reckon there always will be, to some extent," Garrett offers pragmatically. "Especially in the subjects you noted. But secrecy doesn't seem to be as ingrained in most of this generation as it was in the one before. We've been more inclined to cooperate." He glances at Gerard, "Often because we had to in hard times," he adds, acknowledging his uncle's point.
"All to the better. There's so much left broken and damaged--" he frowns at those words "--that we need everyone's wisdom and knowledge to heal. Even if I have to beat it out of some of them."
"We shall talk," Vere says to Garrett. "After the meeting tomorrow." He smiles slightly. "Assuming that we are not both sent out on missions for his majesty, of course."
"Of course," Garrett replies with a grin to both of Vere's points. He turns to Gerard. "So, Uncle," he begins, "I haven't had a chance to get the full rundown on things here. The town seems so much more - well, MORE - since I left. And what of the rest of the family? Has everyone else been afield as well?"
"Most of them, aye. I know Folly and Martin have gone off into shadow to see to their daughter. I hear there's been some trouble in Benedict's Avalon, which some of your cousins have been seeing to. And I know there have been some visitors to Rebma, as well, though I think Corwin knows more about what's happening there than I do. Plus Jerod's trip to Gateway to deal with the trouble there." Gerard's brow furrows; he clearly mislikes whatever he's heard about that business. Or it could just be misliking Gateway after what they did to Marius. "And Vere has his own tale to tell about what he and Robin have been up to."
But before Vere can get to that particular story, there's another knock on the suite door and another figure is ushered in to join them by the pages.
"Greetings one and all." Fletcher strides in, waving a salute to the assemblage. His frock coat might seem a bit rumpled from travel, but the knot in his tie is crisp and his scabbarded long sword is slung over his shoulder. "Lady Paige said I might find some of the family here. She tells me there's to be a meeting of the minds. What news? I was on a steamer in the subarctic regions off Bellum when she called. I hadn't been planning on returning so swiftly. Has duty called upon us all once again to face the the usual tide of crisis?" He smiles and looks about in search of liquid refreshments.
"Not yet," Garrett replies, waving his hand toward a bar in the corner where the liquid refreshments most likely reside. "I was just getting the full update on recent events myself, but the more immediate news is that the Queen is with child. I'm sure there's more to discuss at the meeting of the minds, but that's the first part." If the Prince has feelings one way or the other about this "first part," he's not showing them.
"I'd've thought whoever was made responsible for summoning you might have mentioned that fact, Fletcher," Gerard says, sounding mildly bumfuzzled, but it quickly passes. "But aye, the Queen is with child, and it's all hands on deck, both to celebrate and to speak of all our news. Tonight there's to be some sort of exhibition from the new order of knights that Random has settled on Edan's shoulders. And I think it's the family meeting in the morning where we'll find out what do to with them."
Vere also greets Fletcher and moves to fetch him a drink.
"It does strike one that calling a family conference to announce a pregnancy is a trifle extreme," Vere observes. "But perhaps this has spurred the king to take a more proactive stance towards matters." He shrugs slightly. "Or perhaps it is mere coincidence that this news occurs at the same time that a critical mass of news has moved the king to act."
The arrival of a vodka martini garners the thanks of a grateful Fletcher. Taking a sip, Fletcher replies. "If the King wants to celebrate, it is certainly his royal prerogative. Are these other 'matters' you mentioned likely to have reached a critical mass? I know I was looking into a matter of escalating tensions between two shadow nations, but there's always something of that sort going on somewhere. What's this new order of knights? It's Random’s third new order created since his coronation, isn't it? It sounds like things must have been going well, at least in recruiting."
"I think he means to send Edan's lot against the Moonriders. Or possibly use them as Home Guard against the Moonriders. Whichever Brennan's not doing with his lot. Card's for personal defense of the Crown." Gerard thinks about this and adds, "Like he expects to need it, still."
Fletcher nods, "You were in Amber for the first time the Moonriders came against us, weren't you? What actually happened there? I was warned there would be trouble back then, but was told to stay on mission."
Vere looks at his father expectantly. He'd very much like to hear this story.
Garrett, who had been fairly relaxed, shifts forward in his seat. He also wants to hear more.
"That was before I was born. I've heard the story a million times, of course. They showed up out of nowhere, in force, between the Castle and the City. Eric held the Castle, Caine evacuated the harbor and was sent to gather the fleet. They sacked the city for 3 days, but Caine got the fleet out, and a lot of refugees. Others went to Rebma, or to Arden. Rebma sent us some troops, but mostly they guarded the Faella-Bionin with Tritons to close up that avenue of escape.
"On Dad's orders, Benedict and Corwin held the pass into Arden at Jones Falls and Bleys and Dad rode in and smashed 'em into Ben. It was a meat grinder, they say. You couldn't go back or forward without stepping over bodies. All of the Moonriders either died or surrendered. All of 'em. Even the Marshall. They say it took a week to burn all the bodies, and the forest took a generation to regrow all the trees that had to be used for the burning."
Gerard looks around at the three youngsters. "But a birth isn't the celebration to be draggin' up old battles, even if there was nothing like it until Eric's defense of Amber. If you want more of the old stories, you'll want to ask the veterans, and most likely later in the day, or at least once the drinking and bragging has started."
"I've always tried to avoid drinking and bragging," Fletcher declares unironically as he crosses the room to replenish his empty glass. "Especially when I find I need to come up to speed on actual historical facts if I'm to be of any help in the current situation." He pauses to examine olives. "So thank you for the synopsis. I appear to have misestimated the chronology of the family tree. No offense was intended. I shall have to study up on all the newer relatives. Have any more been revealed since my last visit? I don't supposed anyone's actually compiled a catalog..." Fletcher take his seat once more.
Vere gazes into the distance as he observes, "That is exactly the sort of thing that Cambina would have been doing, were she here."
"Aye," Gerard agrees, pleasure dimming from his expression. He decides to shake it off. "D'ye know Captain Raven, Fletcher? I think he's the last of them to come out, though we'll be shaking them out of Shadow for some time if the last few years have been any guide. We don't know whose he is, but he's survived the Pattern, so he's one of us one way or another."
"That's new," Garrett notes. "I hadn't heard that Raven had walked."
He continues more seriously, "You bring up a good point though, Uncle. Something I've been concerned about for a while - the number of us undiscovered out there, perhaps even unknown to ourselves, like I was. Seems it'd be something of a liability, I would think. Not sure what's to be done about it, though." He shrugs slightly and glances around at the others in the room, inviting ideas.
Vere nods. "We have been told that producing too many offspring is bad for Reality, although I am still unclear about the reasons for that. But having members of the Family wandering around unknown is clearly not a good thing."
Fletcher leans forward, gesturing with his drink. "Oh, well, think of the universe as a bag made of lace, and before we get too exotic I mean cotton or silk lace. Now imagine each of us is an osmium ball bearing knocking around inside the bag. The wear and tear on the lace can get to be a bit much if the weight isn't distributed right. There's math, but we're more than just numbers. The analogy isn't perfect either because ball bearings don't radiate density beyond the normal gravity. But I think you get the idea. There's a certain cold-hearted logic that indicates that maybe rounding up any lost children and bringing them in to walk the Pattern isn't the healthiest thing for the universe. But they're family, and have the right to realize their potential." Fletcher realizes he might be starting to rant, and so ends with, "That's good news about Raven though."
Gerard acknowledges the comment about Raven with a nod; it is a good thing when any of the family survives a Patternwalk.
"It's easier on the universe if we're near a Pattern, but aye, that's the right of it. Too many of us in one place is hard on it. But it's more dangerous in other ways to have us on the loose and undefended, especially with as many enemies as we seem to have floating around just now. Moonriders and monks and everything else. You know times are hard when the Courts have moved too far down our enemies list."
Vere nods, his eyes fixed on something far away. "We shall see what the king plans on doing about this." His eyes snap back into focus and he looks around at everyone in the room. "Does anyone know when he will be returning? I have some small matters that I think I should bring to his attention before the family meeting."
Garrett shakes his head. "No. He was as vague as ever when I spoke with him. Just that he'd be back for the festivities."
"He told me he'd brook no disturbances before tonight's event, so my best advice to you is to catch him and Vialle at Edan's exhibition and get her to ask him for an appointment for you. You can never be sure with Random, but I reckon she's riding high in his favor right now." Gerard says this with a bit of an apologetic glance to Garrett, as if he feels he might somehow be slighting Anna by saying so. "Is it aught we can help you with?"
Vere shakes his head. "A small matter that needs to be brought to his attention. I shall attend to it."
"Well enow," Gerard says, the thick accent of the Isles taking over his speech. Changing the subject since it's obvious that Vere Does Not Want To Talk About It, he turns to Fletcher to ask courteously "And what have ye been up to since last we saw ye?
"Most recently I've been at sea. Whale-watching in the colder waters further off in Bellum. Currents may be shifting around Asir Island, and the migration routes of Bellumese sea life might be becoming more circumspect as a result. As a dedicated conservationist, Dad had asked me to examine migration patterns to see if changing conditions might result in a mass die-off that would wash up on Assirian beaches from an unexpected direction." Fletcher then either winks or squints into the side of his glass at the remains of his drink, and rises to refresh it.
Vere tilts his head to one side. "I just returned from Asir," he says, "And their harbour was blocked by a permanent storm. Did you see signs of that?"
Fletcher turns to look at Vere. "I knew there was an avalanche and ships went down. I had not heard about a blockade. What happened?"
"Huon's doing," Gerard grunts, clearly displeased. "I know family punishments are Random's prerogative, and I know we needed to find out what the bastard did to Marius, and I know we don't let anyone lay a hand on Princes of Amber. But still I wish your cousins had let the Asirians hang his sorry arse from the yardarm."
Fletcher stiffens. "What happened to Marius?"
"First," Vere says soothingly, "He was rescued and is safe. Gateway captured and bled him, apparently for sorcerous work. My understanding is that a punitive expedition has already been sent, and no doubt we shall have a report on that tomorrow. To return to the Asirians, Edan reported to the king yesterday that they are involved with the Klybesians. When I was on Asir I heard of a cult on the mountain called Questioners of the Oracle. I considered investigating further, but decided it might be risky to do that alone and I should report back first. The king has already received that information."
Garrett's brow lowers ominously upon the description of Marius's treatment, but he does not interrupt. "I've been away longer than I thought," Garrett says finally. "And perhaps I was not as attentive to family matters as I should have been before I left. I do hope that many of these threads can be pulled together once everyone is in the same room and can compare stories."
Fletcher has been doing some calculations in his head while Garrett spoke. "But surely I've been gone for weeks and weeks, if not months. Hasn't Marius recovered by now? He seemed in good, or at least OK hands when I saw him in Paris." He frowns. "I didn't want to step on Conner's toes, but if Marius isn't well enough to direct his own retribution, maybe I should re-examine him. These 'Klybesians', if that's the name they're using now, have been slow to move directly against Am... the family as a whole in the past, even when they were legally tolerated. But if the Klybesians are behind the Assirians, why would the Assirians have wanted Huon dead? They helped him use Marius's blood to develop the means to destroy Rebma. Maybe they were just using Huon as a deliveryman." Fletcher shakes his head. "We can punish the Assirians, but the Klybesians are too widespread by this time to be defeated by purely military means. The last time I checked they had multiple hard points that would be costly to take, and by now they have more."
Vere listens to this with interest. "One hopes that these are all matters that will be made clear by the king tomorrow. If he has that information them I suspect we will be given instructions on how we are to be deployed. " He smiles thinly. "If the king is not yet in possession of sufficient information then I anticipate numerous reconnaissance assignments.
"I expect Random will be sending out reconnaissance," Gerard says, and turns his attention back to Fletcher. "Marius took the sharp end of the stick in a fight with Brand when his mother was killed at Patternfall. He never completely recovered from that; being bled for a--blood golem?--" Gerard makes a puzzled and somewhat disgusted face "--can't have helped. He's lucky he's still alive. But we're tough old bastards, we of Amber stock. You can do a lot to us and we don't quite die." He pats his wheelchair by way of reminder.
Fletcher grins. "You think he'd call everyone in like this just to hand out reconnaissance assignments?" He looks around, and seems to realize Vere meant it as a serious possibility, so he explains. "Consider the following. One: The likely geographic distribution of family members. Two: The relative size and concentration of forces required for reconnaissance versus combat operations. Three: travel times for family members from their likely locations to Xanadu and to the target area (or areas). Four: the increasing sense of urgency you've implied at the sheer number of threats. Five: the apparent coordinated use of trumps currently available to Random. Given that, wouldn't it be more likely that he would dispatch reconnaissance missions via trump, operating on the assumption that many if not all of the family members he would deploy are already physically closer to their target areas? There must therefore be more than just reconnaissance assignments on the mystery agenda." At this point Fletcher pauses and dutifully addresses the matter of his martini.
Vere nods. "All very logical," he agrees. "However, there is also the fact that we may individually have information that we have not shared, because it did not seem important. Getting everyone together and combining that information in person is an effective way to make certain we have the most complete possible idea of what we face."
"Not that I'd ever call Dad 'predictable', but that has been his preferred means of gathering information in the past," Garrett concurs with Vere. "I reckon, poker player that he is, he gets even more information by watching reactions around the table."
"No doubt," Gerard agrees. "I think he'll send reconnaissance the way he did to Gateway. Jerod and Raven and Brita, and the lot of them to find out exactly who in Gateway was working with Huon, and then to act with the Royal writ. When they get in, there'll be news of that and, I reckon, a new regime in Gateway to deal with. Plus he's having Huon to the family breakfast and we've all got questions for him, and the Unicorn alone knows what that will open up."
Vere's cheek twitches in what might be an extremely small and fleeting smile. "Huon's presence should make things... interesting," he says.
Fletcher eyes the assemblage. "Huon will be actually answering? What questions are you all going to ask?"
"I'm going to wait until you lot have asked clever questions and ask the follow-ups that depend on his answers," Gerard says. "The ones he'll answer, anyroad. Wish I could hold him off the edge of a cliff like I did Corwin. What are the rest of you asking him?"
"I'm not sure I know enough about his history to ask the right questions. I think I'd rather watch his face while those who know more grill him. Like Brennan or Jerod." Garrett says with a sly smirk.
Fletcher starts, "I suppose I'd ask him why he thought damaging the Pattern was a good idea. And how he came up with the plan of how to do it. And who else knows about that plan. And if he's got a stockpile of blood somewhere. And why he didn't use his own blood to make the golem. Or if Marius was the only one whose blood he harvested. But that's just off the top of my head. I imagine Vere has a list prepared."
Vere smiles thinly. "I shall be acting as a calming influence on Robin," he says. For Fletcher and Garrett's benefit, because he is not certain how far the news has spread, he explains, "Some of Huon's men killed Canareth, the dragon bound to Robin's brother Jovian. Huon was quite callous about it when Robin spoke of it to him, and at their last meeting she threw a dagger at him."
"Maybe she won't be carrying a dagger this time," Gerard says, in a tone that suggests he knows that's a forlorn hope. "But we do need to find out the things Fletcher was thinking of. I want to know where he got the idea, and if the bloody Klybesians are involved."
"I rather thought they were involved. For whatever power and ability he may have, Huon doesn't have the necessary knowledge from direct experience, and must have learned it from someone more ancient. Oh yes, it was 'monks', but religion is a natural for the franchise model, and 'Saint Klybus' (sorry, private joke) was always one for centralized control." Fletcher remarks, eloquently pronouncing the parentheses as usual.
"It is a pity we never learned more about the not-quite-human priests who served Reid's mother," Vere says. "I still believe they might have some bearing on all of this."
"D'ye remember that far back, Fletcher?” Gerard asks. "I know the librarians would love to hear about it as well."
Garrett, who until now had been wearing a "trying my best to soak up ancient history on the spot" look, perks up. "Librarians. Maybe you meant that figuratively, Uncle, but would any of that history exist in Amber's library, or here, if it's been brought over from Amber?" he asks hopefully.
"It is worth asking Nestor, certainly," Vere agrees.
"Some documents from that time survive, though of course I can probably fill in the blanks. Ried had departed Amber prior to my parents' marriage, but the legacy of my grandmother's descendants was a particular area of interest for my mother," adds Fletcher.
"If Nestor has anything, it'll be in Cambina's papers," Gerard replies, giving voice to the thing he'd been avoiding. "Or something she gave to Brennan. But any insight you can give either Nestor or us would be welcome, Fletcher. So much of that history has been lost, or excised. What's written down can't be forgotten, but it can be destroyed or burned, and one of the things we learned after the Sundering, during the interregnum, was that Dad had arranged for us to forget a lot of unpleasant business, if we hadn't noticed that during the war."
"The problem with an immortal king," Vere muses quietly, "Is that he does not feel it necessary to pass vital information on to his heirs."
Brennan breaks away from Bleys and Conner, locates Regenlief, and draws her aside by means of eye contact. However Bleys' privacy sorcery works, Brennan's is a fundamental working of entropy, destroying the information of their words more than an arms length away.
"We're speaking privately," Brennan says. "The others can't hear us unless Bleys or Conner are interfering. Bleys brings news, and a summons that neither Conner nor I can ignore. King Random of Xanadu-- my father's half-brother-- will announce the impending arrival of a new heir to the throne, at a public event, a celebration or gala of some sort, I expect. Attendance of his brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces and a few select others is not optional, it is mandatory. In this scheme, our son is considered a nephew. If I had my preferences, we would deal expediently with Moire, and then Ossian and you and I could find our footing privately. This gathering is to be very public and very political-- I would not bring you there unaware, unprepared, or unwilling. Nor, though, would I delay the first face to face to face meeting with you and I and Ossian. I will support you in this decision: If you wish to come back to Xanadu with us, please be welcome as my guest; otherwise, I will talk to our son privately.
"But these things may inform your decision:
"First, the public event tonight will be followed by a private event tomorrow morning for the King's Mandatories. I have no authority to extend that invitation. After that morning conclave we should be free to return.
"Second, Ossian has told me something of the Klybesians' part in all this, and I am a fool for not having understood it earlier. Anger toward the Klybesians runs hot in the Family, right now-- or cold, according to our natures," and Brennan's voice is gravelly with what might well be ice chips as he says that. There is no doubt where Brennan's temperament lies in this regard. "That will almost certainly be a topic at the morning conclave. I don't know how far news of their involvement in Ossian's history has spread, or yours. It was my hope to settle these matters between the three of us privately. But you may well find Family asking questions about it.
"Third, I need someone to watch Ramjollock and his men for the day we are gone, to keep them from declaring war on Avalon or something equally self-destructive. Feel no pressure: Firumbras can do this. But it is yours to decline."
"I was wondering when we were going to have this discussion," Regenlief says, a bit drily. "I was hoping we'd have a chance to talk before we arrived at this--I was expecting a battle. I suppose where you’re going is one, even if it's fought with words instead of swords and shields." She expertly flips the spear she's currently carrying, landing the butt end on the floor. It's hard for Brennan to read her at this distance in time and space, but he guesses she might be considering her words, or perhaps her questions, carefully. "Is the goddess known as Fiona going to be at this meeting in Xanadu?"
"At a time less thick with Maghee warlords and skogen, was my hope," Brennan says. "I expect it was something of a gift from Corwin, putting us together away from most of the Family for a time to do just this, but no one could have predicted the timing of an heir.
"To answer your question: Yes, I assume so. I expect this will be as large or larger a gathering of the Family than the King's coronation. It's not supposed to be a battle, but it may end up as a gauntlet. Although at the coronation, two of my cousins and my brother declared war on the rest of us." He shrugs, stoically. "Good times. The brother is rehabilitated, at least."
Regenlief doesn't say 'I didn't know you had a brother' but Brennan might guess she's thinking it. "His good fortune pleases me, especially given my own situation. I'll go," she says. "I don't want to put this off any longer than I have to. I'm ready to go to war against the eye in the pyramid. And when I kill them, none will go to Valhalla." She smiles grimly. "Not that there is one anymore, not since Ragnarok and the remaking of the worlds. But if there were, I'd send them straight to Hel."
Brennan infers her meaning from her expression: "I didn't even know I had a brother, until that day. Hell of a way to make an introduction. I didn't know Ossian was my son until much later. All right, here's the plan: We'll settle Firumbras into his new and temporary responsibilities, explain to the Maghee what's happening, and accompany Bleys and Conner back to Xanadu. From there, we'll find our son, and talk." From his own impression, he caught that reference to 'her own situation,' which should be included in the list of future conversations.
Brennan drops the sorcerous spell of interdiction around them and walks back to Conner and Bleys, presumably with Regenlief although she could elect to stay apart for some reason.
She agrees and returns with him to the others.
Once back with Conner and Bleys, Brennan calls Firumbras and Ramjollock over to them to explain what's happening: "Our uncle brings us news from Xanadu, and a summons that cannot be denied. Conner, Regenlief and I will be departing shortly, returning tomorrow morning. Sir Firumbras, I would like you to remain here and advise the new Ard Righ."
Firumbras nods slowly, his beard sliding up and down his breastplate. "An thou does ask, I shall so do. Pray, tell King C- my King where I am."
Ramjollock looks him over. "We can discuss the Fir Bolg, and other ancient peoples of our land. My lookouts have sighted sails, but they fly our colors. We should have more troops 'ere your return, Sir Brennan. Will you be bringing more demons with you then? We would meet any such who came to our lands..."
"Thank you, Sir Firumbras. Of course I will bear your message to the King," Brennan says. Then, turning back to Ramjollock: "That's not the plan, but anything is possible. Perhaps additional Knights of my order, though." It would be good to have Dignity back as counsel, or a few of the Knights he knows less well.
"In the mean time, I have some very forceful suggestions to make," which Brennan is clearly expecting Sir Firumbras to take as somewhere between an instruction and a command... as close to a command as he's comfortable with, actually. "First, if-- more likely when-- the Protector's forces show up to investigate, do everything in your power to avoid battle. Parley at all cost, parley in mine and Conner's name if need be, but parley. Second, try not to leave the island. Which is only good sense if you've more forces approaching," which Brennan devoutly hopes is true, "but also because it will simplify rejoining you tomorrow."
The Ard Righ nods, solemnly. "We have been gone long enough, and hope to stay, peacefully, for some time. But I think you for your advice, my friend demon."
"Ard Righ," Brennan continues, "I ask that you listen to Sir Firumbras' counsel if he should have cause to give it. He is a seasoned and experienced leader, and has valuable insights into this conflict."
Bleys has a quick word with Sir Firumbras. "I'd prefer that stay above ground, if possible, but don't get yourself killed over it."
The Prince pulls out two trumps, one mostly consisting of a mass of flame-colored hair surrounding the face of his daughter, and the other the courtyard of Xanadu's keep.
He stares at each for a second before putting Paige's trump away. "Best to come in by the front gate, so they can count us on their scorecards." He reaches out to Conner and Brennan, and in a scintillating rainbow flash of light, The tower of Tara disappears and the grand castle of Xanadu is before them.
Bleys squints at the sun. "It appears that today, at least, we shall be morning people. Shall we?"
"Any time of day that brings coffee and bacon is welcomed by me." Conner replies easily. "I wonder who else has arrived."
"I wonder who wasn't invited and who will claim to be too busy," Brennan says with some cynical, if wearied amusement.
Bleys nods. "Yes, that's the game to watch. Take some time to talk to people and get a feel for the city, if you haven't been here yet, nephews. You are seeing something none of us recall, which is the birth of a new kingdom. In a generation or two, this will be different, so it's worth seeing how it is born..."
"Welcome to Xanadu," [Brennan] says to Regenlief.
She smiles and gives a brief bow. "Thank you, Sir Brennan. I expect to learn quite a bit, seeing you in your native environment. Is it always so hot here?"
He answers Bleys' question by beginning to make his way to the front gates. "Anything else we should know, before we part ways, Bleys? If Ossian isn't already here, I trust he will be shortly."
Bleys heads for the side of the castle, "Can't think of a thing, but that doesn't mean there's naught that I am unaware of. If your son is in the kitchen, I'll let him know you’re here."
As in many situations, Conner likes the way Bleys thinks and follows him to Xanadu's kitchens.
Unless there's a reason not to, Brennan goes through the gates and enters the castle, announcing Regenlief as his guest.
A functionary writes her name down. Or some phonetic equivalent, perhaps. "Very good, Sir Brennan. Will your guest be requiring her own quarters or will she be staying with you?"
Brennan's true native environment is at the top of a step pyramid looking down at human sacrifices and beating hearts. He favors the undiplomatic functionary with a long, cold glance in that mode before answering, "She requires her own quarters, as befitting an honored guest of the Court." If he has the distinct impression that Brennan just committed his face to memory, so much the better. Because he has. If they need time to figure out exactly where her quarters will be, Brennan doesn't bother to wait, it's their job to make appropriate arrangements and catch up to them. He does commandeer a page, though, to handle a few things on the way to their destination, which is a small sitting room in the castle proper. Small enough to feel something on the order of cozy when three people are there, high enough to afford a decent view and-- because this is Xanadu-- stocked with a bar.
The course they take from the city gates to the castle is mostly direct, with only a few quick diversions that don't take them too far out of their way. He lets the page fill them both in on the recent events of the place, though it will doubtless make more sense to Brennan than to Regenlief. When he hears about Edan's new order of Knights, he smiles broadly. As they reach the castle itself, he sends the page off with a number of assignments. None of Brennan's irritation with the first functionary rubs off on the page, of course.
First and foremost, he dictates a message to King Random and Queen Vialle offering them congratulations on their splendid news, and delicately announcing the arrival of Regenlief to the court. Brennan has no illusions, here-- Random won't read it before the evening event. But it is proper, so he dictates it and has it sent. There is exactly zero upside to surprising anyone with Regenlief, much less dong something that could be interpreted as upstaging, so he has a copy sent to Gilt, as well.
The page is already visibly calculating how many extra pages he’s goi ng to need for this.
Second, he sends a less formal message to Edan, welcoming him to the club, and warning him to expect some insufferably formal communique from Order to Order later on. That, in turn, brings up the subject of the his own Knights. Each and every Knight of the Order of the Ruby present in the city receives notice that they are to show up to the public event in full and proper formals with smile on their faces. Slop slides downhill and if it's mandatory for Brennan, it is mandatory for his Knights. Doubly so to demonstrate that they welcome the arrival of a new Order of Knights.
Third, and still on the subject of his own Order, he has notice sent to the following subset of the Knights that they should be packed and ready to depart by tomorrow morning: Dame Patience, and Sir Crescent, who were Brennan's candidates for Knighthood after Patternfall. Sir Pebble, and Sir Ember, who were Aisling's and Lilly's, respectively. If Jovian's Knights are still with the order, he will add Sir M'Hall. If Dignity is in Xanadu, he is on the list as well. Relatedly, a note to Sir Marius with the appropriate greetings to his Brother Knight-Commander, inquiring after the availability of Dame Jennet for Order business.
Fourth, arrange an appointment for Regenlief with Brita's seamstress later in the day, as the best way to get Regenlief something appropriate to her station as a Valkyrie and to the Court as a whole.
Regenlief is duly appreciative.
Fifth, find Ossian if he is in Xanadu and tell him that Brennan wants to see him in the sitting room to which they are heading.
Sixth, and finally, perform whatever secret handshake the pages do during times like this, to let the rest of the Family know he is here and will be available... he judges the angle of the sun... some time after lunch, several hours from now.
And then, by the time they reach the sitting room he sends the page off on his way to deliver all those messages, leaving he and Regenlief alone. He ushers her inside, gestures that she should sit and be comfortable if she isn't heading in that direction already, hopes that the bar has a bottle of Akvavit, and pours two glasses of it before coming back over to Regenlief. "Skal," he says, draining his. He sits, and there's something in his affect of a very heavy man settling in a chair he knows is solid and sturdy, despite his spare, swimmer's-body physique. "It's good to see you again, Regenlief. I know you have questions. You deserve answers, and I'll give them to you, but I have one for you, and it's not as facetious as it sounds: How long has it been since we saw each other last? I make it as something like sixty years, maybe seventy, and I ask because time runs strangely from place to place. I spent a few days away from Weyland's Tower, once, and returned to find generations had passed, and I've spent some 'time' in places even stranger than that. Our answers will be the same only by luck. Then... tell me where you want me to start. Family history? Personal history?" Something else?
"Skal," Regenlief agrees, and downs her shot, flipping the glass and landing it on the table hard enough that, were it not real, she probably would have broken it. She’s eyeing the giraffe decorations and the high ceilings of the room like she’s wondering what she got into here.
"It's been a long time for me, too. Decades. At a certain point you stop counting years; after Ragnarok, they don't mean as much. But sixty or seventy at least, probably more than a hundred." Regenlief shrugs. It's not a matter of much moment to her. "My first question is what, if anything, they told you about what I've been doing, actually, and where they ran into me."
"Works both ways," Brennan muses at the shot glass. "Anyone under a century is still just a kid, unless proven otherwise. Ossian himself is... something like thirty.
"But the only 'they' that could have told me the tale is Ossian himself. I understand that your meeting with Ossian was connected with the recovery of my cousin Reid's body from the Klybesian Order. He mentioned a place named Greenwood, but the way he told the story made me think that's not where you were met. So I know what Ossian was doing in the area, but not what you were. I'd very much like to know, since I'm sure it involves the Klybesian Order somehow." Brennan does not voice his suspicion that it involved sending a lot of Klybesians to cold, unmarked graves.
This is when Ossian knocks on the door.
Regenlief lets Brennan let whoever it is in. When she realizes it's Ossian, she smiles by way of greeting.
"Father..." he says before noticing Regenlief "Oh, so we are having a family gathering?" Then he sees the bottle of Akvavit. "Oh. That kind of gathering. Better fill up then." He pours a glass for himself, before offering to refill his parents' glasses.
Regenlief takes the refill, though she doesn't toss it back the way she did the first one.
Brennan welcome Ossian and gestures him to sit. Barring emergencies or meddling Elders, they should be undisturbed for the morning.
He nurses his own refill-- they do all have a state function to attend later that day, Amberite constitutions or not.
"Brennan and I were about to tell family stories. About what I was doing when I met you, which, by the way, he was pointing a weapon at me. I was inspecting a burned out caravan."
Brennan gives Regenlief a wry smile at that, as if to say, which side of the family does he get that from?
"We were near Clervaux, which had been an old stronghold of the White Brothers--a branch of the Klybesians. I was looking for information about what had happened there to build into the larger puzzle. I still don't know who that caravan belonged to, or who attacked it."
"Clervaux," Brennan says. "The place has come up in conversation, but I know almost nothing about it. I gather this is where Reid's body was recovered? How did you separately come to be there?" he asks.
Ossian frowns. "I was looking for Reid. So the Pattern led me there. Their story is that he was with that caravan."
"From what I remember, the burned out caravan was older than that. But time runs strangely in some of those older shadows, especially since Ragnarok, and Clervaux is older than many." Regenlief is pragmatic, and moves on from that quickly. "The name had come up in my broader investigations of the Klybesians. It took me a long time to find a shadow path that led there, especially with all the changes from the aftermath of the Black Road and the rest of the end of the universe."
"Clervaux is a place we clearly need to know more about," Brennan says. "I know it's connected to Reid, somehow, but I haven't been able to figure out if it's where his mother, Pastoral, is from, and it was supposedly Pastoral who brought the Klybesians to Amber, back in the day. There was apparently some scandal about Pastoral-- I've heard she was from Amber rather than Shadow. No one seems to remember that far back-- not clearly, anyway." Most of that is for Regenlief's benefit.
"But this talk about Shadow Paths reminds me, Ossian, you made it sound as though that Klybesian outposts are connected by Shadow paths. Did I understand that correctly? And where did the one that led you to Clervaux start, Regenlief? If they have access to shadow paths, then a big part of crushing them may be understanding that network. It's not exactly the artistry of making Trumps, but how do you feel about the cartography of shadow paths?"
"It could be done. Although I think Bleys' equations might be needed. I don't know how many paths they have, but they surely have some. And as we learned just a few hours back, a shadow crossing computer network." Ossian coughs. "Yes."
The term 'computer network' is clearly somewhat alien to Regenlief, but it seems to carry significance to the other two, so she lets it go by for now and shrugs to Brennan’s question.
"I was in Clervaux because I was looking for the old outposts of the Klybesians. I've been acting against them for some years, for personal reasons." She glances at Ossian, then back at Brennan. "They stole my child. Ultimately I was looking for information about him--about you, Ossian--but in the meantime I was foiling their plans on general principle."
Brennan nods long before Regenlief finishes speaking. Almost before she starts speaking, even. That Regenlief was in Clervaux on a mission of vengeance is the very opposite of a surprise to Brennan.
"But how did you get there, is the question. Here's why it's important: What sets the Family of Amber apart from all others is our ability to move through Shadow by desire. What we often forget," he glances at Ossian, "is that others know of and can move through Shadow as well. Just not as easily and often constrained by paths that already exist. This is a failure of vision that afflicts many in the Family: they don't often worry about the details of their opponents' constraints. Here is what we think we know-- what we believe-- about their constraints: That they move by existing Shadow paths." Brennan nods almost to himself, and continues. This is the Ramble that Regenlief knew of old: focused on a goal, though perhaps from an unconventional angle. "To fully understand and USE that constraint, we need to know more about those paths. That they've set up a way to communicate along them by computer network," for Regenlief's benefit, "tells me they are important, and probably not new. So the question of what path took you to Clervaux is important.
"But this bothers me for another reason. As you say, Regenlief, Ragnarok should have disrupted all those paths. In fact, we know it disrupted many. This should have crippled and isolated the Klybesians just as a side effect, but here they are using Shadow paths and building infrastructure along them." He shakes his head. "Ossian, you say they have at least one sorcerer-- I assume you mean a true Sorcerer-- in their ranks as well. I've hinted at this before, but I'll say it plainly now: You may not be the first or the last child taken by them."
Ossian nods. "I think a true Sorcerer, yes, although I'm not completely certain. Probably more than one too."
Then he pauses for a brief second, looking at his father "We did not have time to investigate, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that the computer network follows the Shadow Paths, when they have sorcery, and interest in Trumps, as far as I understand it."
Regenlief has been parsing the discussion, both Brennan's direct explanation and the elaboration with Ossian, and by the time they come back around to her, she, too is nodding. "You want the rutter," she says, and it's not a question. "The rutter I stole from them. When we're done with the meeting here, we can go get it."
"That sounds good" Ossian says, looking a bit perplexed "Silhouette could probably learn a lot from it.
"I wonder if we could date the Shadow Paths relative to Ragnarok. I guess someone could. Maybe Jerod."
Brennan looks at Regenlief with a deeply malicious gleam in his eyes: "You stole a rutter from them," he says. It's not a question, either. "Yes, yes I think we'd like to see that. Have you read it? When we go get it, where will we be going?"
"Reme," Regenlief says. "Because I knew where to store it safely there. And I've deciphered parts of it; it's complicated. Between what I already knew and what I could figure out from the rutter, I've gotten leads on a number of old Klybesian sites. How old they are--the sites or the paths--I can't say," she adds by way of answering Ossian's question. “But the sites at least are old."
"Jerod's a good candidate," Brennan says to Ossian. "So are Conner and Marius. They've all been involved in the navy, which has its own tradition of navigating and maintaining paths like these. They can probably say a lot about using them and detecting them. So can I, from a different angle-- I can show you how to detect the Faiella-Bionin, if there's time, which I think will be similar. The trick-- which quite possibly no one knows because it's never been important-- will be how to tell old from new."
Ossian nods. "My distinct impression is that someone laid those paths. Which makes the matter very delicate."
Then to Regenlief, "Reme, you say. Is Reme contained in this rutter, as far as you know?" Brennan asks as he finishes the last of his glass.
"Most of the important places are in this rutter, but Reme is a crossroads, so it gets more and less attention than most. More because you can reach places from a crossroads; less because everyone knows where it is already. I don't think they'll have found the rutter, though. I had a fine and secret place to hide it." The sharp smile on Regenlief's face looks almost smug.
Brennan gives Regenlief a suspicious look, but not at all an unfriendly one. He may have been the object of that smugness before and come to respect it.
"Good to know," Brennan says, "but that wasn't what I was worried about. Reme is the first place I went after I escaped from Brand." Brennan still does not readily use the word 'father' or describe his actions as 'running away.' He continues: "I've been trying to figure out how they knew of me, and for how long, which is challenging because I'd never even heard of them until recently. Now I'm thinking I may have spent twenty, thirty-odd years laying low right in the shadow of the Order itself." This thought evidently does not please him. "It doesn't explain everything, but it does explain a bit.
"What Ossian says is right, though," Brennan says. "This is delicate, personally and operationally. Given that a great number of people are and will be invested in hunting these people down, how are you on sharing this information?" It's pretty obvious Brennan has some thoughts on the matter, but wants to hear both Regenlief's and Ossian's first.
"It takes more than one Valkyrie to bear the heroes of an army," Regenlief says, seemingly resigned, but she looks to Ossian for his answer.
Ossian nods. "That we are hunting the Klybesians is well known of course. We probably need to involve more people. And let them know the details. But who to trust? I suggested Jerod because I trust him on issues like this despite our differences."
"Who's Jerod?" Regenlief asks, looking to both Brennan and Ossian for an answer.
Brennan, who had been collecting his thoughts to figure out the tangle of who and how and when they should share this information out, is quite grateful for a simple question with a simple answer, even if it's only the tip of an oncoming iceberg.
"Short answer: He's my cousin, and my friend. Longer answer: Jerod is a Prince of Amber by virtue of having been Eric's son during the brief period Eric was King of Amber. I never knew Eric," Brennan says. "I came to Amber too late for that.
"Longest answer is embedded in the capsule summary of the Family, and it touches on something I wanted to ask anyway. Oberon had a lot of wives and lovers over the centuries. Memory currently runs as far back as Cymnea, who bore Osric, Finndo, and Benedict. Osric sired Reid and Cneve. Benedict sired Lilly, Fletcher, and... a confusing array of relatives on the far side of the Tree. Finndo, though. Finndo sired a confusing array of relatives on this side of the tree including supposedly the line of Asgard. It may be very important later to know if you descend from that line-- I think the right name would be 'Bestla,' Finndo's daughter.
"After Cymnea came Faiella, who bore Eric, Corwin, Caine and Deirdre. Eric was briefly King of Amber, making his children Prince Jerod and Princess Cambina." His face falls despite his best efforts and he decides not to say anything more about that just now. "Corwin sired Celina who is Queen of Rebma for entirely different reasons, and Prince Merlin. Caine sired no one we know of, and Deirdre bore Signy and Marius."
Brennan leaves off the narrative for Ossian to pick up as he chooses.
Ossian nods. "Bear in mind that the time is complicated, so the order of things is...confusing. So Oberon married Clarissa. A woman from chaos. She's still alive last I heard." Ossian glances at Brennan.
"From Oberon and Clarissa comes the redheads. Fiona, Bleys and Brand. As far as I know Brand was quite a bit younger than the other two. Fiona has a daughter, Brita with one of the Asgardian Gods, and a son, Conner. Bleys has Paige and Edan. The Klybesians are in Edan’s home shadow, by the way.
"And Brand's children are Brennan and Ambrose." Ossian adds with a shrug. "Brand is commonly known as causing Ragnarok."
"You left out my half-sister Chantico," Brennan says, while Regenlief is mulling that over. "Not really Family, yet, and not to be trusted."
Regenlief's eyebrows rise a little for a moment while she processes those last statements. She looks at Brennan in a way that he can easily read as "we're not finished with this discussion" but instead of saying anything, she nods.
Brennan nods: He's not avoiding, but he is trying to stay on a topic.
Ossian raises an eyebrow, but leaves the Aunt for now. Regenlief does not need the "I have an AUNT?!" discussion.
"So your father is the Loki of Amber, is what you're telling me," she says to Brennan. "Which is why it's important to find a kinsman you actually trust to help us with the rutter." She's condensing a lot of information in short words but she clearly expects both Brennan and Ossian to take the connective leaps with her.
Brennan nods, "Yes, basically. Given everything that's happened, we need people who can be trusted to put the good of Amber-- or now, the good of the Realms-- above personal self-interest.
"To finish the family introduction course, since you'll be meeting many of these people tonight: Between Bleys and Brand is Llewella, born of Moins," Brennan mugs at that to indicate it's a sore spot in many quarters. "Llewella's daughter Khela was briefly Queen of Rebma. She was also a good friend, and would have been on the short list. After Brand: Flora, born by Dybele. Her son Lucas is dead, but her daughter Silhouette is alive. After that, Huon the little bastard," Brennan says with evident contempt. "But his daughter Folly is good people, as they say. Then Julian, Gerard and Ysabeau were born by Rilga. Julian's children Daeon, and Dione, are dead, his daughter Robin lives, and his son Jovian is... away. Gerard's children are Solange and Vere. And last, Paulette bore Random, currently King of Xanadu and head of the Family, as well as Mirelle who is dead. Random's sons are the Princes Martin and Garrett."
Brennan blows out a lungful of air. "We're leaving out a tangled mess in the Courts of Chaos, most of whom are unreliable at best, hostile at worst. A few folks of Ossian's generation or beyond, especially children," he shrugs. "It gets complicated. But of all that, the ones I'm sure Ossian and I will agree on are Jerod and Folly. Chantico and most of the ones from Chaos are right out."
He looks to Ossian for his opinions now that the cousins are on the table, so to speak.
"Worse than Odin's high hall. At least these all sound like they're human and not--" Regenlief considers that and finished "--eight-legged steeds. At least not in the Amber side relations. Whom I assume I'll be meeting during this gathering" But she, too, looks to Ossian for his judgement on which of the cousins are reliable.
Ossian nods. "And we must not confuse trust with liking. Silhouette is already deeply involved in this mess, so I suggest we include her. What about Brita? She's trustworthy, but maybe too trusting in other relatives?"
Brennan tries, and probably fails, to avoid making a face at the mention of Silhouette.
A face that Regenlief doesn't miss, but also files under "later".
"Brita was close to Reid, too, don't forget. He was her other mentor," Brennan explains to Regenlief. "What's this about the Klybesians being in Edan's shadows, though? Does Edan know? I'll be meeting him this afternoon to see what his new Order of Knights is about."
"I came straight here, haven't had time to talk with Edan. But he needs to know. I and Silhouette were actually looking for enemies of the Klybesians. Instead we found monks posing as science clerics. Unless I am totally mistaken this was at least very close to Edan’s home." Ossian looks angry.
"We investigated, but they found us... where we were not supposed to go. I hope I did not wreck the place too much when we fled.
"Where this places Edan, I do not know."
Regenlief not having a lot to add, she mostly listens and nods in the appropriate places. But she does comment, "They use technology to buy themselves tolerance and into the ruling classes in Shadows where they think it benefits them. I've seen it before."
"I'm not exactly sure what Edan's standing was in his home Shadow," Brennan says, "but I'd assume he was in some position of authority. And here in Xanadu, his position is now about the same as mine: He's the commander of an order of Knights created by the King, which speaks to a certain formalized trust. Recently formalized trust, without the added distraction of being Brand's son."
"At the very damn least, we owe him the information that the Klybesians have been snooping around his old home, and the methods they often employ," he nods to Regenlief in thanks. "I think I am now in favor of adding him to the rutter list, as well. Was there anything in particular made you think it was Edan's old home?"
Ossian looks into his fathers eyes calmly "I think we should add him, yes. But when you talk with him this afternoon, judge his reactions closely.
"As to why I think it is Edan's place. We talked to people there. They are formally ruled by an absent Sultan, a wielder of fire magic from the southern deserts, and a follower of 'The Merciful One'. Sounds very much like Edan to me, or a Shadow of him. He overthrew an 'Amir of Guthium', as I understand it.
"Of course, I could sketch a few places, like old buildings and such from memory, if he needs more.
"And that the Klybesians were there makes it even more plausible.
"So that's some people to trust, then. Or at least involve. Is there anyone we should work hard to keep out?" Then Ossian grins "Except that Aunt, you haven't told me about."
Regenlief glances back to Brennan because this is more interesting than debating whether someone she doesn’t know is responsible for a Shadow she hasn’t been to.
Brennan looks more than a little surprised at Ossian's question. "I thought you knew about her," he says. "She's not a secret, per se, but even though she's Brand's daughter, she's not Family." The capitalization is intentionally obvious so that Regenlief should be able to understand that there is a distinction, even if the specifics are unstated.
"Brand may be similar to Loki metaphorically, but he took up residence in Uxmal a long time ago and put himself at the top of their pyramidal hierarchy of gods in a very literal fashion." He glances at Regenlief to see if she's familiar with Uxmal at all. "His high priestess is my mother and Ambrose's mother. In between those is Chantico, the daughter of some local goddess or other-- I'm not sure which and I've never been motivated to find out." Brennan's contempt for the divinities of Uxmal is comprehensive. "She's a few centuries younger than I am, a few older than Ambrose. I met her, so to speak, during a trip to Uxmal with Ambrose, during which time she tried to kill both of us. She's tried to kill Edan and Lilly at least once, too, and I hear from Conner that she's been seen with-- probably working with-- Dara."
He scrubs a hand through his hair and adds for Regenlief's benefit, "Chantico is violent and dangerous but is-- or at least was-- uneducated, and has no personal argument with anyone who hasn't crossed her personally. Ambrose and I do that simply by existing. Dara, though. Dara is one of the confusing muddle of Benedict's descent, and she is hostile and extremely dangerous. The two cousins and a brother who declared war on Amber? She was the instigating cousin. The other one's her 'brother' cleph, who would be very dangerous if he were more clever than a brick. Those two are lords of Chaos," he says, almost as an afterthought.
"I will try to stay clear of her." Ossian says solemnly. "We haven't heard any signs of the Klybesians being in Uxmal, have we?
"As for Loki, I do not know if he and Brand are the same, but my understanding is that Ragnarok is one manifestation of the Black Road?"
"Ragnarok was predicted by the Norns. The fact that it carried across Shadow and seems to have destroyed everything in its wake, even if it made new things, says it was related to something of Amber, if the stories the Klybesians tell have a grain of truth to them," Regenlief opines.
"I haven't heard anything about Klybesians in Uxmal, but in the brief time I lived there I hadn't heard of them and wouldn't recognize them. I haven't had a chance to ask Ambrose since all this new information came to light," Brennan says to Ossian. "One of us should."
"Definitely. You or I?"
Brennan shrugs-- either way.
"As for the Klybesians, I don't know what they say about much of anything, so I'll just tell you what happened. Ossian knows most of this already, but if there's something that fell in the cracks-- like Chantico-- it's not intentional, so ask," Brennan says. He obviously doesn't believe in burying the lede, either: "Brand wanted to destroy all of creation and replace it with something more to his liking, something with him in charge of everything. He very nearly succeeded.
"The first scheme he came up with, as far as I know, required my death as the instrument of that destruction. It is why I exist. I heard some hints of it a little after my fourteenth winter, spent some time piecing things together, and was gone before my fifteenth." Brennan has had a long time to internalize that. Long enough that he can say it calmly, but not so long that he can say it matter-of-factly. He doesn't even realize that he's wearing the expression from which all his scowls, frowns, and grimaces descend.
"Brand was unstable. During the worst times, it was easier to believe than you might expect. But on the best time he was more charming than I can describe. If I had fled to Amber and presented myself before Oberon-- I thought-- the risk was high that I'd end up sent back to Brand. My grandmother might have believed me, but I had no way of reaching her. I ended up in Reme, undetected and n-tracked... I thought. No one came looking for me, no one obviously from the Family disturbed me. I spent some decades in Reme learning the very first things I thought I would need to know to some day end Brand entirely-- the rudiments of how to fight and how to survive. But after a long career as a Reman lawyer-at-arms under a false name, it became clear that had stopped aging. I had outgrown the place anyway, but eternal youth was drawing more attention than I wanted," Brennan says.
"I spent some time wandering and exploring. Some time trying, and failing, to reach my grandmother's Court in Chaos. A lot of time attaching myself under false names to various armies in Shadow that could teach me other things I needed-- strategy, tactics, how to lead, when to press the attack, when to harden the defenses. How to infer goals from movement, when to trade time for space, how to conceal my intent. How and when to change the rules of the game. When to cheat most effectively.
"When I happened across the Black Road, it was an accident, but an inevitable one. And I knew it for what it was the instant I saw it-- Brand had found another way. It was also an opportunity. It was no longer what I had been made for, it was what I had re-made myself to oppose. It didn't take me long to realize where both ends were, and where Brand was likely to be. I followed it. But it was also an invasion route, and not undefended. Some locations seemed like fortresses, and the only way past was through. I found ways through. Usually by joining with whatever local forces fought against it until they could no longer prevent movement. Which is how I came to find myself in a cold place where the snow fell black and grey along the only pass through mountain terrain. I'd been at that task-- scouting, pushing ever Chaos-ward, for about five years. More than at any time in my life, advertising my real name and heritage seemed like a bad idea. I called myself Ramble."
That seems like a good place to stop, so Brennan does.
Ossian nods. "Do you think Brand knew where you were?"
Regenlief has been nodding her way through this, and has some questions of her own, but defers them in favor of Brennan's answer to this one.
"Well, that is the unsettling question, isn't it? If he did, it's not because I made it easy for him-- I didn't stay in one place very long, and I went some places that should have been very hard to track me through. But he knew where you were, to get you from Abford. And the Klybesians evidently knew something in order to take you. The obvious inference is that he was using them as a sort of a cross-shadow spy network-- but why, when he could make a Trump of me at any time?" He shakes his head in concession. "I just don't know. It seems like he must have, but then why just do nothing for four hundred years?
Brennan shrugs. "There are other alternatives-- he was working with the Klybesians on something else and happened across you, for instance. The Klybesians might have some hypothetical way of detecting who Family is, and approached Brand with you. I don't know. The pieces don't quite fit. But I'm leaning toward yes."
Regenlief holds up a hand to keep the conversation from proceeding further. "I thought you understood how the Klybesians got hold of Ossian," she says to Brennan. "They were there when he was born." She's looking at him and not at Ossian. "He was stolen from me in childbed. By the time I was recovered enough to go after them, they were long gone."
Ossian looks at his parents. "But how did they know I was family?"
"That's my question, too-- unless they didn't," Brennan says. "Regenlief, let's talk about those Klybesians and that night. Why were they there?"
"Among other things, they have doctors and man-midwives in their number. I'd been working for them, exploring and fighting along the Black Road, and when I fell pregnant, they took me in through my time of childbed. There was no indication when they treated me that they meant to steal my son." Regenlief glances at Ossian, then back at Brennan. "I didn't know why they took him, still don't, really, But if they knew he was of Amber blood, they knew who you were, Brennan, and they knew you'd sired my child."
Her lips twist momentarily, and then she finishes her tale. "They turned me out when I'd recovered enough to leave. And then I swore vengeance on them, which I haven't had to my satisfaction yet."
Ossian nods, solemnly. "They could have found out by sorcery, couldn't they, father? Or by guessing. Place me in an orphanage and watch what happened."
Brennan thinks about that, and at last ends up equivocating.
"It's... possible. Sorcery is idiosyncratic from practitioner to practitioner. It is of Chaos, how could it be otherwise? I've had some limited success, but in every instance I was looking at an individual I had reason to inquire after, such as Jasmine, because it's not a simple matter. I can't simply go about as a Family-detector, much as I might prefer. On the other hand," he gives an elaborate shrug, "Brita does just that, and I don't think she can actually stop doing it. How she does it I have no idea. She seems to be the exception, though, and even if they had a Brita it would still involve a lot of luck on their part."
He looks back to Regenlief, and asks, "Men only? Is that a trait of theirs, for some reason?" It's a question to Ossian, too. "You make it sound as though they were there with us in Summerless." He waits for confirmation or refutation, before asking, "How long had you been in Summerless before we met? Or how long with the Klybesians?"
"I think they have women's affiliate orders, as it were, but I only ever dealt with men. Men in charge seems to be the way they do business." Regenlief's expression could best be described as 'unimpressed'. She turns her thoughts to her time working for the Klybesians. "I hadn't been in Summerless that long, but we were tracking our way back up the Black Road. I'd been working for the Klybesians under one of their condottieri for--" she frowns "--a couple of decades. I wasn't in when they were hired on; I just knew the captain by reputation and earned my way up to my Lieutenancy over my time there. We weren't in close contact with them but I could have gotten hold of them and had instructions to under certain circumstances that didn't come up. And clearly they had ways to watch over me."
Brennan looks like he might like to interrogate just about every statement that Regenlief just made, as it all seems potentially useful in way or another. What he settles on is, "How did that work-- you getting in contact with them, them watching over you. I assume at some point they lost that ability?"
Ossian looks at Regenlief, but stays quiet.
"After I threw the glass I used to communicate with them into the Black Road, I burned everything else I had from them and then broke my trail as soon as I could. You can never be a hundred percent sure with sorcery, but I took as many precautions as I could. If anyone was tracking me, I thought for the longest time it would be through Ossian--not that I knew who he was then." She looks at him for a moment before turning back to Brennan, clearly expecting more questions.
"Glass," Brennan says, with a sidelong glance at Ossian. "You mean a mirror, specifically?"
"Or if it wasn't, how did it look?" Ossian looks more alert.
"A small mirror, which I carried in a protective case," Regenlief confirms.
That's important enough to wait for Regenlief to affirm. If she does, Brennan continues: "Was this a common means of communication? Or at least, not unique to you, as far as you know? Because I think we want to have one of those mirrors, if we can. Did any of the Klybesians happen to have green hair or a greenish complexion?"
"If you mean were there Rebmans among them, none that I noticed. I can't be certain--not all Rebmans show their heritage in their looks," Regenlief shrugs pragmatically. "But my sense was that these were some Klybesian device. I'd show you to mine, but I threw it in a lava pit. I didn't want to chance them using it against me later."
Brennan looks skeptical that the Klybesians' mirrors are entirely independent of Rebma, but doesn't press it. They don't have one to examine, and Brennan isn't an expert anyway. But Celina is.
"Probably the right call," Brennan says. "If you're concerned they're still tracking you, I can investigate. Or Conner or Fiona." He taps a finger on the table, thinking. "Or Celina, if we are worried particularly of the mirror, but I would think melting it down is as good a solution as any. Hard to reflect anything when you no longer exist.
"I'm fascinated to know, though, what the Klybesians considered important enough that they would want their field operatives to phone home about," Brennan adds. "Even if it is a century out of date."
Ossian nods. "You call it a device. Would you think it was something else than a magic mirror? A technological device?"
"I don't know how I'd tell the difference, really," Regenlief answers Ossian.
Then she answers the harder question, which isn't as hard as it sounds. "Mostly the usual things you'd report to a commander. I didn't deal directly with the Klybesians themselves, not the brothers, most of the time, unless they were healing the injured or the sick. I was with their outside troops, their sellswords, so I usually dealt with the officer in charge of those troops. He's called the Turcopolier."
Ossian nods. "That's a name I have heard before. He seems to be the leader of their military operations. Do you know anything about him?"
Brennan hasn't heard of this person, so he listens carefully to what Regenlief has to say, and asks, "Would you recognize this person if you saw him?"
"He's a talented strategist and tactician and a man of some power, though not a sorcerer as far as I can tell. He's the one who usually dealt with the Klybesians directly, except when we were injured and they healed us. He didn't use a name, just his title. But I'll recognize him if I see him or hear him," Regenlief answers, covering both of their questions.
Brennan looks over at Ossian. "Trumps?" He asks. "It's a long shot, but...." but evidently Brennan doesn't want to chance it.
Ossian shakes his head. "Of course Brand could do all sorts of weird things, but a Trump that looks like a mirror defies all principles of Trumps as I know them.
"So there seems to be at least two individuals to look out for. This Turcopolier and Chew. And whoever is behind the whole brotherhood. So how do we proceed? Secretly?
" Do you have any other sources of information?" Regenlief asks. "I can't be the only person with a score to settle with them. They make a lot of enemies. And if nothing else, we can always send out a mercenary to join the Turcopolier. That’s what he does, after all: recruit and lead the mercenaries."
"Outside the Family? I do not. Inside the Family they've made enemies left and right: Ossian and I, Brita especially on behalf of Reid, Marius certainly. And this connection to Greenwood you've uncovered is extremely disturbing," Brennan says.
"Ossian, let's be clear: Are you asking about secrecy with regards to the rest of the Family?" Brennan asks.
"Yes." Ossian says. "But I doubt that it would be meaningful. Eh. Don't forget Martin and Folly on that list of enemies... And Jerod."
Brennan nods agreement to Ossian's additions, but says, "Potentially harmful, too. Imagine you're Marius and discover we've been holding back useful information. Imagine you're King Random and you discover we've been holding back useful information. I'm sure he's going to ask everyone to bring what they've got to the table tomorrow, and then we're all going to live with whatever decision comes out of that."
The page leads [Silhouette] back to Random's majordomo, and the circle around him dissipates as she approaches.
He smiles and bows as she approaches. "Ah, Lady Silhouette, thank you for your time. I was asked by your sister-in-law to pass an invitation from her to you. She would like for you to have a chance to meet your nephew and niece, but does not wish to perturb your Mother, who is naturally concerned for her friend the Queen.
"If your Ladyship would be amenable to such a meeting, I am empowered by Lady Solace St. Cyr to arrange it."
Silhouette pauses for a moment, struck quiet. He's caught her off-guard, and it is an unfamiliar sensation. "Forgive me, Lord Winter," she finally says. "I'm still adjusting to the concept of possessing family, let alone nieces and nephews. Yes, please. I would be delighted to meet with Lady Solace and her children." Another pause, her voice dropping low. "This will not cause her undue difficulty with my Mother will it? If so, I would not place that burden upon her."
Gilt smiles, conspiratorially, "Lady Silhouette, please be reassured that I am qualified to arrange clandestine meetings in this castle and that his Ineffable Majesty the King relies on me to make sure that such events do not create a burden of undue difficulty.
"Would you prefer to meet in the gardens or in one of the family rooms? I would recommend such a visit be today, before either Edan's soiree or tomorrow's discussions. If you need to rest or otherwise prepare, then this afternoon might be opportune." Gilt looks at his notepad, just briefly. There's another item on it for Silhouette.
Silhouette's heart stirs at the sight. Few things are more attractive than someone with organizational skills and proper lists. A gentle smile thaws her glacial features.
"And speaking of your cousin, Edan has extended invitations to all of his family that are in Xanadu for tonight's formalities. If you need assistance, I can send a seamstress with a collection of suitable gowns."
Silhouette nods, folding her hands together. "A family room would be most suitable, and undoubtedly safer. Less opportunities for one of Mother's little birds to spot us. I am available whenever the Lady wishes.
"As for tonight, I'd be most appreciative of a good seamstress. Reds and golds are preferable. Lord Edan struck me as a man who enjoyed the Flame."
"It does seem to be his inner nature, yes. I did not know his grandmother, but I have heard stories that she, too had that nature." He looks at his flock of pages. "Marzipan will show you to your room, and arrange anything you need, such as the path to the baths. When you are ready to meet your nephew and niece, send for Page Yaw. She will take you to a suitable private space.
"Marz, please take Lady Silhouette to her room and assure that she has all her needs, including the seamstress."
An older page nods. "This way, My Lady."
Silhouette dips her head toward Gilt, "Thank you for your kindness, Lord Winter. Your eye for details is impressive and appreciated. Until next we meet."
She turns to follow the older page to her chambers.
Marzipan is attentive and helpful and doesn't leave unless dismissed. "If you will return here 20 minutes before you need to leave the castle, I will have several gowns for you to choose from, and a seamstress to make any adjustments needed and to sew you in. Will you need to ride in the gown, or merely dance? Shall I send for any food for you? Lord Winter isn't as used to the Castle's ways, and their comings and goings and odd mealtimes."
There are a number of styles of clothes available for daywear, including riding habits with pants or split skirts, as well as more traditional medieval dresses with kirtles. Silhouette has seen all of them in Xanadu.
When Silhouette is refreshed, dressed, and ready to go, a new page arrives to show her to the sun room. "It's only a sun room in the mornings, Lady Silhouette, but it is open to the King's upper garden."
The room is small, and the tall but delicate doors are opened to allow the breeze from the waterfall to waft inside. Outside, Silhouette can see two children running around with a somewhat hapless young woman in tow. Seated on a divan, watching the children, is Solace, Lady St. Cyr. She rises when Silhouette enters.
Silhouette drifts in like an autumnal shadow - all fiery reds and muted golds. She immediately smiles at Solace, lowering her eyes respectfully. "Milady Solace. Thank you for allowing me this meeting. I am most grateful for your hospitality."
A hint of a smile shapes as the children continue their antics. "I hope you and yours are in good spirits today."
Solace takes her hands and squeezes them warmly. "We are, thank you and thank you for coming. I don't want to let my late husband's penchant for secrecy deprive my children of the joys of family. They tell me you are his older sister. I can scarcely believe it." She sit on the divan, leaving room for Silhouette, if she chooses.
"Shall I call the children?"
Silhouette joins Solace on the divan, "My status as his sister remains in debate, and an issue of some controversy. I'm not even certain he knew of my existence, in truth. It saddens me that we never had the opportunity to meet. So, you offer me a rare gift today, milady."
She laces her fingers together, "I would be most grateful to meet them now. However, might I know their names first? Forgive my ignorance."
"Philippe is my son, and my daughter is--" Solace smiles, perhaps at the ridiculousness of the name in the overall scheme of things "--Hope. Your nephew and niece. My mother-in-law presumes a great deal about how things should be done, particularly where Lucas' legacy is concerned. This, however, is in my gift, and I am glad to be able to bestow it freely on you." Her voice rises then, in a sing-song maternal inflection. "Philippe, Hope, come join us to meet your Aunt Silhouette!"
A few moments later the two children come in: they have their mother's (and grandmother's) fairness about them. Hope is about five, Silhouette might guess, and has that chubby adorability. Philippe is perhaps three, and comes holding hands with his nurse. Both are dressed as children of the court of Paris.
"You're our auntie?" says Hope, looking up at Silhouette with wide eyes. "I didn't know we had one for a long time."
Silhouette tries her best not to look imposing. It's a challenge, granted, but she manages to create the passable facsimile of humanity. Apparently, the children's exuberance has worn off on her.
"Indeed I am, Lady Hope," she says, extending her hand. "It is my great pleasure to meet you. Your mother was most kind in allowing us to finally meet."
Her forest-shadow gaze turns to the young boy, wondering if her brother's features are there. "And this handsome fellow must be Sir Philippe."
With a smile, she says, "I would have made you both toys, but I didn't know what you liked."
The children are both blonde, having their mother's (and grandmother's) coloring. It's not immediately obvious to Silhouette which features other than that might have belonged to Lucas.
The mention of toys seems to brighten up both children, unsurprisingly. Hope says. "Oh, thank you, so nice of you to think of us," in a way that tells Silhouette that Florimel has had a lot of influence on her upbringing.
"What do we say, Philippe?" Solace nudges her younger son.
"Thank you, Aunt Sil-wet," Philippe manages, stumbling over her name.
Silhouette smiles at Philippe's attempt, "You're more than welcome, Philippe. Before we part, I want you to tell me what your favorite animal is. And, with your mother's permission, I will make toys for you both. I believe it is an aunt's prerogative - if not her Duty - to spoil her niece and nephew." She looks to Solace for confirmation.
"Now, Hope. Tell me of yourself. What do you study?"
Solace smiles and inclines her head; it's clear the permission to make toys will be forthcoming.
"I can read, and draw, and dance, and sew a little, and mama says I should learn how to draw a bow, that grandmere Florimel is an archer and so I can be one too. And I can count up to a hundred, and do my plusses and minuses. Mama reads me history and etiquette, from Paris and Amber. And Philippe takse lessons with me sometimes too, but he's not very good at reading and numbers," Hope confesses.
"Yet," Solace reminds her. "You're doing very well for your age, Philippe."
The boy, who had been wilting a little at his sister's lack of praise, brightens at the sign of his mother's approval again.
Silhouette nods to Hope, "Wonderful, young one. You shall show me some of your art on our next visit, I pray? And when your grandmother dictates that you learn the artes liberales, I can assist in your studies." She winks conspiratorially at Solace, "We wish to keep Lady Flora pleased at all costs, yes?"
"Of course," Solace says in a voice in which Silhouette can hear the steel under the velvet glove.
She leans forward, smiling at the young man, "Do not fret, Philippe. At your age, I preferred catching lizards to numbers. It wasn't until I slept inside a wyvern's heart that I learned my love of the numeric language.
"So tell me what you enjoy to do?"
"I like to dance," says Hope. "I want to be a ballerina when I grow up."
Philippe says, "I like to draw, like Papa."
Silhouette grins brightly at Hope, "Then I know exactly what to give you when next we meet."
Her attention turns to Philippe, "He drew did he? Yes, I believe I'd been told that. I'm sure you're quite the artist. I hope you'll draw something for me, yes? Hrm. I think I know what present to give you, as well.
"Now, only to find out what your mother wants," she says. She winks at the children, half-whispering, as if they're a trio of conspirators. Not very skilled conspirators, considering the subject of the conversation is not a foot from them.
"I need you two to watch your mother and then tell me what surprise to get her. It'll be our little secret. Can I trust you two to help me in this?"
Philippe says, "Yes," but his eyes dart to his mother, who is very obviously Looking At Something Else as if all this activity right in front of her simply isn't happening. "Mama likes perfume," Hope opines.
Silhouette grins brightly, "Thank you. Both of you." She extends her hand, palm out, "Then it's settled. We shall all work together to make your mother happy, yes? I'll collect the gift, but you two must each write a card for her. Philippe, I expect it to have one of your best drawings. Hope can help you with the big words. And then we'll give it all to her as a surprise." After they've shaken on the agreement, she touches each on the shoulder reverently. Something almost human stirs within her, creeping out.
She lets out a soft sigh, and turns to Solace, "Your children are truly beautiful. Thank you for allowing me to meet them."
Solace comes to her feet to give Silhouette, if she'll permit it, a kinswoman's embrace. "Oh, the pleasure is all ours, Silhouette. Isn't it?" She looks to the children, who add a chorus of "Yes, thank you."
Silhouette pauses before finally hugging Solace, her normal rigidity fading in the embrace. Lips close to the woman's ear, she whispers, "No matter what they say, you and yours have an ally in me, sister."
She blessed each child with a soft kiss on the forehead, "Don't forget your promise," she says. "And we shall meet again soon. You've but to call, and I shall come, yes?"
"Of course," Solace says, with a smile. "We're all looking forward to it."
Conner sees to checking in and if no one in the castle see fit to snag him, Conner decides to head out into Xanadu city and see how it has been developing. He is particularly interested to see which Amber merchants have settled in.
The city is bigger than ever, and seemingly growing in all directions. Scarlett, who was an innkeeper Conner knew in his sailing days with the Navy, has an upscale establishment now. Rumor has it she has a child by Lucas.
There's a transient camp, where people who came from Amber but haven't finished setting up accommodations are taken care of. In the early days of the trump gateway, it was a tent city, but basically, it has more permanent housing now.
The docks are busy and at this time, even ships that were planning to leave are holding back so they can carry news from Xanadu outward. Lord Captain Marius is in the Portmaster's office, or so they say.
A number of Ambassadors have set up homes in the city, mostly near the Mayor's Palace, which is far from palatial.
On the edge of town, Edan has set up a stables and training grounds for the Knights of the Order of the Lamp. The order is being introduced tonight at a formal ball, and it is the talk of the marketplace. Many of those not attending are providing goods or services for attendees.
The Lord Mayor is still Ash, formerly a confederate of Random and Folly in Texorami.
It is an odd feeling to be nostalgic in a new place but that is exactly what happens when Scarlett is mentioned. Conner decides to see what she has made of herself and this upscale place of hers.
Scarlett's is a large, well-built showroom on the southern arm of Xanadu Bay, near the docks, but not very close. It's closer to the future well-to-do neighborhoods, without being in them.
Conner is greeted at the door by a majordomo who he recognizes as having been employed at many of the finer drinking establishments and clubs of Amber. He seems to have been hired because he knows people. "Lord Conner, an honor to have you join us. May I get you a private table on the second floor, or would you like to be nearer to the stage?" Onstage, a small band is warming up, not a large group, but enough to accompany a singer. "Would you care to dine, or can I send you the wine captain?"
It's a comfortable room, and in some ways reminiscent of the Red Mill. Scarlett is not immediately visible, but the building is large and it's early yet.
"A table by the stage." Conner decides. "Send me the wine captain and tell your cook that I put myself in his or her hands for a light meal. Impress me." He challenges.
Conner is shown a table at the front, where he has an excellent view of the stage, and what is probably most important, he can see and see everyone entering the restaurant. It is definitely a vantage spot for those who wish to see and be seen.
The singer on stage is young, talented, and attentive to her audience. She's just barely old enough to carry off the songs of regret and lost loves. It's not a setlist that would make a man want to go back to sea, except to return to a distant love. Her voice is deep and the three-piece band behind her is versatile, but knows that she's the attraction.
Conner claps politely at all the right points and occasionally graces the singer with a smile.
The wine captain arrives and asks Lord Conner's preferences of the evening. He offers a few choices that Conner assumes came from the cellars at the Prince or the Red Mill.
Conner orders a bottle of sweet white wine, a high end Riesling equivalent.
The kitchen sends out a dish of cold Bellum-style soup. It's a difficult dish to do well, but this is well done.
As the main course is delivered, a striking woman comes over to Conner's table. Conner knows her. Her name is 'Scarlett' and this is her place.
Conner remembers her from years past, before he was a royal. She worked at the Red Mill when she was younger, which explains the quality of service. Both she and he have come up in the world since those days. She sits across from him and smiles. "How nice to see you again, my Lord. Welcome to Scarlett's."
Conner matches her smile with one of his own. "It seems a lifetime ago since we last met, Scarlett. Two actually." He adds after a moment's pause. "I see the move to Xanadu has agreed with you. Has the city discovered this gem in its midst?"
"You flatter me," she says, her face turning slightly red, like her hair. "I have become a fixture of society, my Lord. As have you, though you have come further than I have. While we had a difficult start, 'Scarlett's' is a favorite of Princes and Lords and we are on good terms with Lord Mayor Ashe.
"I took the opportunity to come here early, and to get established before the other places moved. It was a great chance to re-invent myself.
"Xanadu has been very good to me, and I hope I am good to her.
"But speaking of gems hidden in the mists, you spent decades in the Navy and hid your parentage. How did you decide to reveal your true self?"
"As with so many things in life it came down to timing and location." Conner smiles. "I arrived in Amber in the time between the Sundering and His Majesty's return. The method of my arrival made it pretty obvious that I could travel as the Royals did and Amber needed all the help it could get. So I did not try to hide my parentage when asked about it. The need for secrecy had passed."
She smiles back and leans in. "Indeed, and I shall share with you one of my secrets, now well-known to your cousins. My youngest son, Maximillian is your nephew. His father is the late Lord Lucas. While I am not a great Lady of the Court, I am Max's mother, and that seems to matter." She pauses, waiting to see his reaction to the news.
Conner simply nods and eats another spoonful of soup. "I had heard as much and the mother of any of the family most definitely matters." Conner looks up from his soup. "As do grandmothers. Have you come to an arrangement with the Princess Florimel?"
"I have left that challenge for the future. She hasn't yet taken an interest in Max." She lifts a glass and drinks from it. "The King has, and I think that has meaning. And his brother has as well."
Conner nods again and then adds. "If you have not heard already, the King has called a family conclave. I know not my Aunt's mind, but the future may arrive sooner as a result."
"Did you know if you have any children, Lord Conner, from when you were a dashing young sea-captain of Amber's navy? I recall that I was not the only woman who caught your eye."
There is a loud clang of metal on china as Conner's spoon lands heavier than intended. "That is an oddly specific question to ask within minutes of renewing an old acquaintance." Conner notes. "As is your first come to think of it." Conner leans in closer. "I don't recall you as a coy one, Scarlett. If you have something to say, go ahead and say it."
"Fine," she says, not loudly but quickly, as if she needs to get the words out of her mouth fast. "I didn't know it at the time, and you weren't your Lordship then, but Raven is yours. Ours.
"I was thinking you'd've guessed, once you met Raven, seeing as how Raven means 'Corby', which is what you was calling yourself back then, at least to the girls from the Red Mill..."
She looks to see how Conner takes the news.
Conner leans back and drains his wine glass. He grabs the bottle and pours himself another glass. "I have not yet met the estimable Captain Raven." Conner replies evenly. "So if there is any obvious family resemblance, this news has not reached me." Conner shrugs. "We were hardly exclusive Scarlett. How certain are you that Raven is mine?"
"You was the most likely at the time, but you weren't the King's Nephew then. And then you were, and The Vale was lost in the war, so no point in mentioning it.
"Then Raven was back, and had the King's warrant of family. And now you're here, as if you knew we had unfinished business."
She smiles. "I was a popular girl, but not that popular with the Princes. You're the Da."
Conner nods thoughtfully and drains the second glass of wine. He is not conscious of pouring the third. "Very well. There is a test my mother can perform to verify your claim. If it is borne out," Conner winces at the unintended choice of word, "then I will officially claim him as my own. What have you told Raven?"
"She hasn't asked in years, until she turned up royal and all. I told her, back then, that her Da was a handsome Naval officer and I've told Prince Jerod about how we met and you never gave me your name, that one time back dockside, when your man was hurt and couldn't leave because of the curfew and you didn't want to turn him over to the half-hand."
Scarlett smiles. "That was a pleasant night. That was quite a while before the Red Mill, too. Your injured man was the one who told me your name was Corby. I named the baby Corax, after you. You can imagine my shock later when that wasn't really your name."
She looks at her own drink, which Conner suspects is mostly water. "When you talk to Captain Raven, I want you to say that he needs to tell you everything, before you go to the Princess Fiona."
"So I've got Lugg to thanks for the name eh?" Conner chuckles. "Its just as well. Two people with the same name in a family as long lived as ours would be a recipe for trouble. I look forward to meeting Raven. It will be eventful if nothing else."
"Someday Raven might thank me for raising him to be self-sufficient and teaching him to live whatever life he wanted, but right now, I'm still the one who always said 'No'. That's fine. Raven survived the death of two Kings, and didn't end up dead yet, so I count that as something.
"I hope he's not as much trouble to you and to th' King as he were when he was my charge. And that's all the suggesting there might be two sides to things I'm going to do before you introduce yourself to our child."
"Only two sides would be a light change of pace." Conner observes. "I've been juggling five or six sides to stories I've only got half the pages to." Conner sighs. "If Raven finds you before I do, extend an invitation to seek me out. I will do right by our son. Never fear on that score."
She smiles. It's hard to tell if it's a happy smile or not. "I have no fears at all, Lord Conner. I raised him never expecting to see you again. That brings us back to my first question then, but re-phrased. Does Raven have any brothers or sisters? If that's not 'is first question I don't know what will be."
"So far as I know, Raven is an only child." Conner replies. "If you hear any credible rumors to the contrary, do let me know." Conner smiles thinly.
She looks around. "Whatever happens, know you're welcome here. It's not Red Mill and it isn't going to be, but it's mine."
"And you should be proud of it." Conner nods. "Thank you for the welcome and for how you handled things. It is appreciated."
She looks up. "Oh, I made mistakes, I know it. I'll be glad to have everything in the open.
"When I was dabbling at the Red Mill, I never expected to be associated with one Royal, much less a passel of 'em. I have an embarrassment of riches in that department. I'll be honest, it's harder for a normal woman to be tied up to a family like yours than you might think."
She looks up at the stage. The young singer seems a bit nervous. "She's run through her best material and is now performing her second set for Castle folks. Normally, the majordomo would've switched acts by now, but he's a bit short of talent at the moment. Your cousin's party has a lock on the top talent this week.
"Poor girl needs five years of living somewhere to be able to carry off those soulful songs of regret that nobody believes from a teenager..."
Some time as the morning is sliding from early to middle, one of the pages of Castle Xanadu manages to find Edan. This particular page is heavily burdened with with a number of missives, letters, and notes-- a number approaching a dozen, it seems. One of those happens to be for Edan, as he zeroes in on him as soon as he is spotted. "Lord Edan," the page says, after a bow according to the emerging Xanadhavian protocol, "I bear a message from Sir Brennan. He did not bid me wait for reply, though I shall if you require it."
The contents of the letter are in Brennan's breezy phraseology, if not his actual hand. He must be juggling multiple events, much as everyone else is today:
Cousin Edan, or should I soon say, my Brother Knight Commander,
Congratulations on the new appointment. In the rush of news and events, I'm not sure if anyone has filled you in on one of the finer points of protocol for such situations: The new KC covers lunch for the established ones. And we know how important protocol is. The Iron-Grill Market comes highly recommended-- will you join me, today at Sext? I am fascinated to hear your plans for your Order, and to know if I can assist.
The Iron-Grill market, if Edan chooses to join Brennan, is an open-air patio cafe shared by a number of permanent and semi-permanent vendors, and an informally shared staff of runners, the overall effect of which is something like a distributed tapas market. Brennan will be there at the appointed hour, drinking coffee in the shade of the sun.
Edan sniffs at the smell of coffee in the air as he walks in, and smiles at his cousin. "Brennan! A pleasure to see you again. I am glad you have provided me the excuse to try this place. Ah, when you said 'cover lunch', did you mean handfuls of gold, or more like saddlebags?"
Brennan rises to greet Edan as soon as he sees him.
"It's an evolving protocol," he says. "We'll figure it out as we go along. I took the liberty of ordering some preliminaries, but I'm told the Market conquers large appetites through a multitude of small dishes. Since I haven't eaten since Avalon, the notion has some appeal."
"I doubt I'll be the first, so let me be the most recent to congratulate you on the new appointment and the new Order. I've been mostly out of touch, so please-- tell me all about it!" he asks.
"Thank you," Edan says. "Where do I begin? There must always be a beginning. I suppose this story would start with Trumps. Specifically, Random's. Yes. You see, more than one of our Elders had heard of a sorcerous experiment with Space that I was undertaking. They said I needed to lay my hands on some Trumps, which did a better job." Edan shakes his head. "The point of the experiment was to see if it could be done, not replace the Family cards. Still, I sought out Random at Fiona's behest. He told me a story of a pack of Trumps that he lost before the war, while he was being chased by grackleflints. He asked me to go recover it."
Brennan nods in sympathy, "It's hard to distinguish between the Voice of Experience, and the Voice of Just Do It My Way. I'm guessing your father wasn't one of the consultees-- he's far more to the tolerant end of experimentation than most of our Aunts and Uncles." The moreso, he doesn't add, when it's our time wasted and he gets to pick up the benefits. It's not a bad research model, really, aside from the occasional newly grown island. "What was the experiment? This is the first I've heard of it."
"It has to do with my heritage, on my mother's side," Edan says. "The afriti of the Land of Peace can walk through fire; in other words, they can jump from one flame to the next in a manner similar to parting the veil. As the only one of my kind who can walk through shadow, I extended that ability through shadow as well. Set up a network of permanent magical fires in different shadows, and voila! Place trumps that only I can use. Or, if you prefer, a method of parting the veil that is near-instantaneous and doesn't do the same kind of damage to the involved shadows."
Brennan gives a thoughtful grunt to that, and thinks about it for a minute. "What makes you think you're not still damaging the shadows? And what makes you think it's secure? Have I anticipated most of the Elder objections to the idea? I'd take the second one a little more seriously," he adds. "The way you say it is almost phrased as a challenge."
"Those are good questions," Edan says. "I haven't made empirical measurements yet, but I haven't finished everything I've wanted to do. What I can say is that Parting the Veil is an assault on the senses of those who embrace Order. Walking through Fire doesn't feel the same.
"Security-wise, I've set wards and created guardians for each of the three locations in my little network, and the charms have to be maintained or they decay and vanish over time. Have I mentioned I'm the only one who can use it? It's based on Similarity and Space. If someone wanted to travel through the fire, it would be easier to figure out the destination and Part the Veil themselves than fight through my wards...and if they could do that, they wouldn't need the fire in the first place."
Brennan looks highly skeptical at this claim of security-by-personal-identity, but lets it pass. As interested as he is in the technique, it's not the main point.
He is curious about the whole thing, curious enough to listen to an answer, but not to let it derail the story of the new Order. "Regardless: Random lost a pack of Trumps to Grackleflints? Yes, I can see why he'd want them back, at that. Those things do seem to get around," he says. "Who were they working for?"
"Also a good question. It was Fiona, at the time when Brand was being held in the tower. I traveled to Emil, leader of the Brass Legion, to negotiate for their return. But the grackleflints who had the deck were waylaid by the Klybesians. They have the deck now."
Edan leans back. "To get the monks to give back what is ours, one must either give away something precious that they want...or convince them it is less trouble to do what we want. That requires an army. And thus, the Order was born."
"Ah, the Klybesians," Brennan says, quite sourly. "They also seem to get around. I can see the need to retrieve those cards. But I am confused: What makes an army the right tool of persuasion for a cross-Shadow religious cult? Is not an army predicated on the idea that the enemy can be made to stand their ground and give battle? Why would they not see you coming and simply disperse, go to ground, and wait a hundred years?"
Edan frowns as Brennan speaks, but then the frown disappears. "Ah. Forgive my choice of words. Instead of 'army', then, 'a force of men capable of dismantling a chapter house, fast enough to retain some element of surprise, with tactics available to meet and perhaps overcome the proto-sorcerors and magicians that will be part of the defense'." He smiles a little. " 'Army' is not so much of a mouthful. 'Order' fits better. Will some or most of the Klybesians try to disperse? Of course they will, if we are not fast enough. I intend to harry them in ways that I think they have not been harried in a long time. There will be clues, and prisoners. There will be a trail to the next place, and the next. Eventually, I will degrade things to a point where they will try to fight, or talk. I will be prepared for either eventuality. My demands are very simple."
"Don't mistake me, cousin," Brennan says with a glacially thin smile. "I hardly mean to discourage you from your goal. Quite the contrary, actually-- there are a great many people in the Family with reasons to see this group punished. How far do your goals and your writ extend? Are you simply trying to retrieve stolen property, or is that just the formal cause of war to exterminate them?"
"Random just wants his cards back," Edan says. "Beyond that, he has not encouraged me, or discouraged me, from taking any specific action. I think we all see the Klybesian Order as a clear and present danger to the safety of Amber and Xanadu. I have questions for them, and I intend to ask those questions very hard. I believe that once we go down this path, we will discover more questions that need answering." A pause. "I am as keen as any of us to have them answer for their actions. I will continue my course until the full deck is recovered, at which point I will reassess, or I am ordered to stand down. Until then, they will know that a Prince of Amber stood against them. There will be blood."
"Yes," Brennan says, with deceptive mildness. "Yes there will. I'd like to put the one that snatched my son to the question, if he's still alive.
"This is your command and your task, Edan, despite my personal investment in it. And that is perhaps all to the good. But in that light, I ask: What help can the Ruby give the Lamp?"
"I'm glad you asked that," Edan says, "for I am fighting against time."
His expression softens somewhat. "Let me explain what I want to do. Those knights that I have brought to the city from the Dar-es Salaam, they fought with me against the hamaaj. They have fought against magic and chaos. They beat back the Black Road. I trust them. But more time has passed than I realized; there were less of them than I had hoped, and civilization has dulled their edge.
"The Order of the Lamp will be the leaders and officers for the real army, forces gathering in the near-shadows outside Broceliande. But those riders and fighters, they will be little more than recruits. They will have to be separated and trained in cohorts as they arrive. They must become champion equestrians. They must learn to fight and move in varying amounts of magic and sorcery. They must learn to travel with me through Shadow. If I am successful, we will have a cavalry that specializes in that kind of fighting, one that will counter the Klybesians...and since they are based here, perhaps a counter for the Moonriders when they come.
"The Lamp needs practice. They need to drill, and drill again. They need equipment: long guns, crossbows, horses, tack, mortars, swords. If you have suppliers you trust that would not balk at the extra work, I need them. I need Knights of the Ruby that would be willing to train with, and against us. As soon as I can have them ready, we will have to ride."
"Yes, I share a similar problem," Brennan says. "And I intend to execute a similar solution.
"For the moment, the one common bond between the Knights of the Ruby is shared military service. In particular, at the Courts of Chaos. Even the newest addition, Sir Dignity, served there as my squire. That won't always be the case, of course. I have my own thoughts about the customs-- and customs of entry-- I wish to encourage. I do not, at the moment, intend them to become an army or the core of an army. I intend them to be a general collection of specialists, everything fro commandos to scholars to magicians to logisticians. Our collection of force multipliers. It's the best organization I can think of for an Order with three co-equal Knights-Commander. Four, if Jovian comes back to us."
If that structure also happens to follow Brennan's own philosophy of versatility, well, that's as it may be.
"That being the case," Brennan says, "I've already selected a number of them to come back with me to Avalon to augment the force I've fallen in with there. But our forces and needs are not the same." He's evidently used his time talking as time to think as well, because he gives a number of names with little hesitation: "Sir Crow, cavalry from a family with equestrian roots somewhere back in Shadow. You'll like him. Sir Hub, older fellow, built like a brick and just as steady. Sir Hale. I don't know him well, but he's one of Lilly's inductees, and I trust her judgment. I need to talk to Marius about the next two: Sir License. Good judge of the field, good overall strategist. If you need to split your force for training or for real, he's a good candidate. And Sir Monsun. Marius likes him. You might not. I'm not sure if I do, the mouthy little bastard, but he has a certain genius that he applies to breaking as many rules as he can. When you need to show your men the virtue of unconventional thinking, turn the Monsun loose." Brennan thinks that last one over, then adds, "If you don't think Monsun is appropriate for your force, I have someone else more conventional in mind. And I'll see what the status of Jovian's inductees is, too."
Then he adds, "There's a price, but I don't think you'll mind paying it: Grow my people, Cousin. Push them. Sharpen them. Teach them things they don't already know. Time permitting, if any of them show any aptitude for magic or sorcery, nurture it. I could do that last myself, but I want them to learn from someone who isn't me. Yes?"
Edan nods at intervals, memorizing the names. "I will contact them beginning tomorrow, and put them in touch with my captains," he says.
"As far as equipment and armaments go," he continues, "The King has graciously given the Lamp an infusion of gold to start us out. If money talks, we should be able to have a discussion with your suppliers about speed and quality and quantity. My engineers are retrieving the gift now. Slowly. Random dropped it into the bottom of the lagoon."
He spreads his hands, almost like an apology. "I have little choice but to build a sizeable force. I was told that the Klybesian Order has a mercenary army in their employ, led by one they call the Turcopolier. Eventually we will run into them."
Brennan hesitates a long moment, working his mind over something-- probably the lagoon-- before saying, "No. They'll go to you, not the other way around. They're not being asked, they're being told.
"For suppliers... no, I suppose Xanadu follows Amber in not exactly being a hub of manufacturing and armaments. Most of the forces I've raised were locally raised for local purposes, or close enough-- I wasn't exactly trying to be high profile in those days. I'd also he highly wary of gunpowder weapons for all the reasons everyone will already have told you. That said, my go-to location would probably be Reme. I haven't been there in a long time, so I have no specific contacts, but Reme is a land empire, and an old one at that. They have an imperial backbone for their military, but supplemented it with a vigorous policy of private, punitive expeditions when they felt the circumstances warranted it. It was a good way to move up from the moneyed class to the political class, and those content to remain the former did so by selling to the latter. The Remans might just be the most cynical people I've ever met," Brennan says. And coming from the son of Brand, that is not an empty statement.
"But they're sword, board and stirrup. Far on this side of the Tree, too, so they're not likely to have powder weapons. Not much change from generation to generation. For powder weapons..." he scratches his chin. "That's an awfully large amount of ground to cover. I don't think you want the stuff that's so advanced it's basically magic, so this suggestion is going to sound strange, but: Perhaps New Hong Vegas. It's a glitz-tech shadow, so they're going to try to sell you a load of stuff you probably don't want... but they will sell anything they can make to anyone who can pay. They will think you're crazy, but they will happily take your money and can probably set up a print run for long guns, cannons and possibly even artillery, as long as you supply the designs. But if anyone asks, I advised against it," Brennan says.
"What do we know about this Turcopolier? This is the first I've heard of it."
Edan notices he's reaching to scratch the back of his head, stops himself. "I've heard of New Hong Vegas, but never been there. The Land of Peace is at steam and gunpowder technology as well, but it is a longer trip. It might almost be worth it. And that other one, the one Corwin was at." He shakes his head.
"Turcopolier, yes. All I know is that he leads what army the Order commands. Just the name itself implies he commands light cavalry and mounted archers. His identity, and capabilities, are one of the questions I want to have answered from the Klybesians."
"Now I understand the need for an army," Brennan says.
"How does one lead an army for a group dispersed in Shadow?" The question comes fast. Fast enough that Brennan has had something on his mind close to this for some time.
"I don't think they are," Edan says. "Not very much. The more they disperse themselves through shadow, the less effective they are. Thus, they must be very mobile to make the hammer fall where needed. To get from place to place, they would need good working knowledge of natural shadow paths, or sorcery- something they apparently have in abundance- or, of course, Trumps and someone able to use them."
"Or a Family member," Brennan says.
"Aye," Edan says, softly, as if he were reluctant to bring up the possibility. He casually glances around before adding, "Have someone in mind?"
"By name, you mean? Someone we know?" Brennan is also cagey enough to keep his voice down. "No. We all pride ourselves on playing the long game, but this feels like something else. We've been surprised by long lost aunts and uncles more than once, and Benedict mentioned a few names, recently, so old even he wasn't certain they really existed. Another lost cousin in the scale of Artemis and her kin is possible, too."
Brennan hesitates uncharacteristically long over what he says next, probably less in deciding how to say it than deciding whether to say it at all.
"They kidnap children, too. In sufficient numbers to run an orphanage. That is where Brand found Ossian, after all."
"I did not know this," Edan says. Several things click in his head, from his expression. "I am sorry.
"My chief worry is that we will encounter this Turcopolier and it will be one of our elders," he continues. "If it is a new or long lost cousin...it is what it is. I will just have to decide then how to proceed."
"We only put it together recently," Brennan says. "On the one hand, it causes me to want to see if I can actually unmake a Shadow-- burn it right out of creation, as a warning. On the other hand, it's not hard imagine a world where Brand hadn't taken him out of there..." he trails off, at a rare unwillingness to follow a thought to its logical conclusion. "Something for the King to weigh in on, I suppose, but there's a reason I haven't dropped everything to turn my hand to this personally. Either way-- if it's another Huon it's still a Kingly matter."
Brennan returns to the business immediately at hand: "Do we have any leads on this Turcopolier? Finding a particular person in Shadow is a lot harder than finding an object."
Edan shakes his head in response. "You had it right, it was my plan. I will let them come to me. And to do that, I will have to make enough noise so that I get their attention. In the meantime, hopefully, I will gather some useful information about what I want and the organization at large."
"Unless we have some idea who or where this Turcopolier's force is-- and I obviously don't, it's the first I've heard of it-- I don't think there's much more you can do. Unless you gamble that the leader is definitely one of us and let the metaphysics attract him, which is more of a desperation ploy than a real gambit. I'm still struck by the contradictions of a group that on the one hand organizes like a cult or a spy network-- a resistance network, they'd probably say-- and an army," Brennan says.
"But leaving that aside, I guess the question is, what or where do they value enough that they can't ignore you kicking over garbage cans?"
"I don't know that," Edan says. "The only three solid leads I have on them was that shadow Folly and Martin were in, and Abford, and shadow with the Asir- the one with the doctor, and the one with the orphanage, and the lead that the Dey passed along to us."
"Abford is the Shadow with the orphanage, unless they are fronting more than one," Brennan says.
"'The Dey,'" Brennan asks. "Is this the Dey of Longtides that Marius mentioned during the last Mandatory Fun? If it is, that whole rambling conversation is the sum total of my knowledge. Longtides makes it sound like someone associated Rebma or a Shadow of it, but I'm not familiar with the title."
"It is- he is- a marid," Edan says. "I have never been to a place called Longtides, but a Dey is a ruling title. Just under a Sultan, and selected by the sultan and the populace. I don't know if it is an exaggeration, for that is common amongst the genii. Especially the afriti."
"An afrit," Brennan says. "One of your people? Was this near your homelands, then?"
"All of the elemental races are represented in the Land of Peace," Edan explains. "The afriti, of fire. The marids, of water. The djinn, of air. The secretive djao of earth. I am part-afrit. The Dey, his household was in the coastal city where I was raised as a child. But he is there no longer."
"I see," Brennan says. "This touches on something delicate: Ossian tells me that he came across the Klybesians in what he believes to be your homeland. He didn't call it the Land of Peace, but he mentioned a fire-wielding Sultan, followers of the Merciful One, an overthrown Amir of Gathium. I expect he could provide more details if pressed, but those are ones he mentioned to me."
Edan starts to say something, stops, tries again, and fails. He looks like he's quelled the impulse to shake Brennan to see if any other interesting data falls out.
"When I left," he said, "there was a treaty. No one had been overthrown. But considerable time has passed, as if the time stream has been affected. I wish one of my captains were here, they could confirm this one way or another."
That evidently wasn't the reaction Brennan thought he would get from that.
"I fear I have spoken callously about your home, Edan. I did not intend that. I offered the detail of the Amir because it seemed specific enough to pinpoint whether Ossian was actually in your home. What seemed germane to me was the Klybesian activity in that region."
Edan waves a hand. "No offense is taken. I thank you for telling me this. The news, it makes me very angry, that the Klybesians would dare infiltrate my home. My tribal brothers will feel the same. We will use this anger to our advantage."
Brennan nods his head at Edan's graciousness. "It would be worse not knowing," he says. "Ossian asked me recently whether there had been Klybesian activity in Uxmal, and of course I didn't know-- I left far too long ago and too ignorant to know anything useful. It's an uncomfortable feeling, wondering if I've been watched for that long. Use it to your advantage in destroying them, is all I ask."
"I shall do so," Edan says. "As for Uxmal, I hope the news is good. I hope it is still there, to be honest. I was not gentle, breaking out of Brand's tower with Grandmother."
"I've not had much news from Uxmal since Lilly came back from there... quite seriously injured. How did you-- and Grandmother?-- come to be trapped in Brand's tower, if I might ask?"
"Grandmother said she was training Ambrose, and offered to train us together," Edan says. "So we went to Uxmal, but Ambrose had already left the Shadow with his people. Left it to Chantico, but not before lacing the Magician's Pyramid with traps for her. Since her skill set and mine are so similar..." He leaves it at that. "Ambrose is very good with Space."
"Ah. I can imagine," Brennan says. "Ambrose must have spent considerable effort to set traps that would inconvenience Grandmother. I suppose I should have at least some fond memories of the place-- that's where she taught me the basic, too-- but..." he shrugs. "Still not sorry to see it go."
Brennan leans back and savors his drink, giving Edan a chance to redirect the conversation.
Edan smiles. "If I may ask, what have you been doing? You've not been around Amber or Xanadu, last I heard."
"Working for the Crown, with the added benefit of following a personal project," Brennan says.
"The Crown in question happens to be Celina's, hunting down Moire. As far as I'm aware, her last known location was in Paris, looking for Corwin's support against Khela, but she disappeared after Lucas' death. And we all know that since the War, the Faiella-Bionin reconfigured itself so the road to Amber led instead to Paris. I conjectured that she went to Paris not only because of her past relationship with Corwin, but because lacking power over Shadow she was limited in her choices.
"Based on several offhand comments from people like Benedict, I made a second conjecture-- that there was a second road out of Rebma, and that it probably led to Avalon, and worked out how to find it. It's a dicey thing, detecting something of Order that close to a Pattern, and in the end I had to rely to Conner's memories, but I was right. The Road doesn't stop at Rebma, it goes through Rebma.
"So I volunteered, and I went. Fletcher came also, for reasons of his own. Arriving in Avalon, I met with Benedict and explained my and Celina's concerns; The Moire, having failed to secure support in Paris, had fled to Avalon with the probable intent of raising a force to attack Rebma through a route she expected had been forgotten. He allowed that this was possible, and explained some events he had seen in Avalon, but was not convinced. Moreover, he wanted something from me: He was expecting an invasion," Brennan says this in the same way one says one is expecting heavy snowfalls, "and wanted a scout to uncover as much information and detail as possible.
"I of course agreed." Because One Does Not Refuse Benedict. "After considering the information Benedict had given me, I concluded it was at least plausible that Moire was manipulating the timing of that invasion to serve her own purposes, and struck out in a direction that would help me get the information Benedict wanted and, if I was right, prove Moire's involvement."
The next agenda item for Conner is to talk with his mother. Is Fiona in town or is Conner heading for the Trump booth?
Gilt Winter informs Conner that neither his Sister nor his Mother have arrived. He tells Conner that Lady Sommers has informed the Princess and that she intends to arrive this afternoon with her plus one for the evening's event, but that she will be leaving after breakfast.
Conner heads to the Trump Booth. He does not want to have the conversation about what is so urgent that it cannot wait until tonight with any member of the Family. Besides, Mother hates not knowing something before the rest of the Family.
Conner holds her card for a long moment, takes a breath and concentrates. "It is Conner, Mother." He thinks into the contact.
Hello, Conner. You're in Xanadu? I'll come through if you can bring me. Bleys told me I needed to show the flag for Edan and then said he wasn't there yet. I expect a showy last-minute entrance." She's already reaching for Conner's hand. It's not clear to him where she is but she's not in her lab, at best guess, because she's not in lab working clothes.
Conner takes Fiona's hand and pulls her to him. "I'm sure it will be showy, Mother, but not last minute. I actually arrived by his Trump a few hours ago local time." Conner leans in and kisses her on the cheek. "I have quite a bit of news to share but one piece is personal and I'd like to tell you before either the Family meeting as a whole or our usual Redheaded group think. Shall we find a quiet spot?"
"Of course, my dear." The news about Bleys gets no more than an affectionate eyeroll. Bleys is Bleys, after all, and will do what he will. She's dressed in something like Shadow Earth clothes, though with a pair of trousers and boots instead of a skirt.
On the way out, Fiona catches a page and orders several things to be done, not the least of which is airing her chamber and things, including a particular garment for this evening's festivities, and, on hearing where Conner wants them to go, a light meal to be sent to that chamber. She does not ask what his personal news might be; that will wait until they've had a chance for some privacy.
Conner also sends the page on similar errands for himself. He has them set up in one of the many music rooms of Random's castle. The advantage of a castle belonging to a married percussionist is many rooms that are designed to prevent sounds from carrying.
After pouring drinks and seeing that they are both served from the meal provided, Conner comes straight to the point. "Well, Mother, I received some surprising news while traveling through the city today. I stopped for lunch at the new place run by Scarlett. I knew her from my time in the Navy when she was one of the girls at the Red Mill." Conner pauses for the half-second to let the conclusion be drawn. "According to her, I am the father of Captain Raven." Conner sighs and drains his wine glass.
Fiona blinks a couple of times. "Should I offer my congratulations, or prepare to test Captain Raven's blood?" she asks.
"More the latter than the former." Conner answers. "Brita has already smelled out Raven as Family and the timeline of my relations with Scarlett fit." Conner refills his glass. "I don't think she is lying but it would be best to verify." Another half glass slides down Conner's throat. "I had always accepted something like this as a possibility but never thought it would come out of the blue like this." Conner finishes off his wine and pours again. "Scarlett posed a more disturbing and relevant question though. She asked if Raven had any siblings and the best answer I could give was 'I don't think so'. In light of all the forces out there seeking those of the Blood, that answer will not do. But I also know the near impossibility of seeking out any unknown offspring in Shadow. So I'm not sure what that leaves me with as options aside from a reunion tour of every Shadow I ever visited." Conner looks up from his wineglass to regard his Mother more fully with an expression that clearly hopes she has a better idea.
Fiona shakes her head. "You'd need to ask Brita to go with you to sniff out the likely candidates, I'm afraid. It's much easier for a woman to deal with these things. We know when we've left a child behind us. But this is a question we should broach to Random tomorrow, because I'm sure you're not the only one in that position."
Conner nods. "Yes, I suppose I am hardly unique in this matter." That thought brightens his mood a little and he manages a smile for his Mother. "Anything exciting in your life since we last met?" He asks.
Fiona shakes her head. "Nothing so interesting as what's been going on with you. I've been assisting--mostly by providing a workshop--Ambrose and Signy in their efforts to create more Uxmali code wheels before accelerated entropy ruins them and makes it impossible to decode Brand's notes and diaries. And, intermittently, working with the Queen, but her nightmares seem to have cleared up on their own." Which Fiona says in a way that suggests she has some unpleasant ideas about how they might have done so.
"So the ending of the nightmares does not necessarily signal a positive outcome then?" Conner asks. "What worries you, Mother?"
"I've begun to believe the nightmares are externally caused. And that means something has changed for them to stop. While I'd like to believe it's my own efforts, I don't think that's the case. They seem to have trailed off after her little adventure, the one where she went missing and was rescued, and that's nothing to do with any of my sorcery, to the extent that I can work at all in Xanadu, which is minimal." Fiona makes a noise that in a lesser woman might have been a sigh. "You can understand why that would concern me."
Celina is damp at this point, but the towel she's been using as a mantle for her hair is soaked. She leaves it at the doorway of the room Corwin has indicated has good light for a sketch session.
Celina settles herself on a spindly white piece of furniture with silver traces. It seems more solid than it looks. Still it seems less practical than something her Father would like, so she thinks of Alice and Flora and which one moves what furniture around in the palace.
Celina looks to Folly. "Oh, what joys you have had, gone such a short time. How is your daughter?"
"My daughter is glorious," Folly says with a wide grin, "and very much her parents' child. She's got her daddy wrapped around her little finger." She has settled cross-legged onto a cushioned bench of similar design sensibility; her pencil moves over a page in her sketchbook in long, fluid, confident lines. "It's been much more time where we are than in other places, I think, so she's already walking and talking. And surfing."
She falls silent for a moment as she concentrates on a detail she wants to get just right; when she speaks again, her tone is more subdued. "Our goal was to keep her away from court -- any court -- for as long as possible. Not just to let her have a normal-ish childhood, but to try to keep her away from the scrutiny of those that might use her. But all that talk of queens in exile on the one hand, and queens looking for a new host on the other...." Folly gives a little shudder. "You've studied... metaphysical techniques, I guess you'd call them... beyond just Pattern and Trump, right? Do you know of techniques that might be used to find someone of our bloodline even if that person were unknown to you?"
Celina radiates happiness, her thoughts of the thrill of shepherding young Lark, but it dims when the questions start. Celina considers how Martin is so much more qualified to answer, and yet her friend does not ask a redhead or a blonde this time. "Well, I think you'll be disappointed. Family Blood is like the Center, and around us build up reflections or echoes of truth, whether we think that way or not. Metaphysics fractals as we stay in a place, I think. Less so if we just pass through. So no, the best I have for you is logic and patience and discipline to assist finding a path to a Blood unknown. While a true Master of Pattern might get some small advantage to finding an undiscovered relative, I think it is like more like singing cetacean opera to a shark. It does not entertain the shark and reminds him he is hungry all the time." She offers her palms to Folly with a look that says, 'I know, not helpful.'
"That's... kind of comforting, actually," Folly says. "I mean, for all that it would be useful for us to track down certain of our relatives, I'm glad to hear it would not be so straightforward for others to use those tricks to find my daughter. And I think in this analogy I'm married to the shark, so...." She gives Celina a lopsided smile.
After a moment, her expression grows more serious. "So... am I completely mad for thinking maybe I should try finding your mother without bringing an army to back me up?"
"No," Celina offers simply. Her face sets into a complex emotion that is not worry or confidence, but something shaded between hope and bitterness. "I've tried to imagine how I shall reconcile with her. So it is not mad at all to open some diplomatic overture. The madness starts if she doesn't think she has leverage against Florimel unless she gets Martin (or Corwin) on her side. If she took you prisoner to parlay a defense with Martin or my Father, it would not sit well. Someone could get dead."
And because she thinks Folly already knows this, she just adds, "Lucas did something very bad. Maybe there were complications in what he tried and Moire thought he was going to kill her. If Moire has some version of events that we should hear, it is more likely you would get it and get out than almost anyone I can think of."
Folly is quiet a moment, thoughtful, as she works carefully on some small detail of her sketch. Then she says, "Though it happened after he left Rebma, I suppose she knows what happened to Martin. It's not out of the question that she could've thought Lucas meant her harm, at the very least, even without 'complications'. And from what I understand of her nature, a preemptive strike in response to a possible threat like that certainly seems within the realm of possibility." She gives Celina a querying look, inviting her opinion on that point.
Celina runs her fingers through her drying hair a few times. She's obviously working on describing her mother and it is not easy for her. "She's as old as many of the Elders of Amber, except she's a planner, unlike what history seems to say about my father, and some other princes. She certainly has the experience not to make impulse decisions. I have no clue why Lucas thought he would not be caught at what he was about, but yes, in such a dire case, she would be quick. She was quick.
"What I mean to get across is that she is not preemptive as a matter of course." Celina tilts her head and adds with much warmth, "I would not support you talking to her if I thought she would overreact to threats. For half a hundred reasons, I would not expect it. I threatened her once and she just grinned at me."
Folly can't help but grin at that herself. "Well, I can think of half a dozen ways she might've reacted like that, and not all of them necessarily imply that I would be safe... but on balance, that's comforting." She hesitates, thinking, then asks, "Do you think she intended that you would succeed her as ruler of Rebma? Assuming she didn't just expect to rule forever, that is."
"She ages," Celina responds even though it badly answers the question. Instead she forges ahead. "Yes. Moire expected to train me; did train me in her own cursed fashion. But you should understand I would have been one of her plans, perhaps not the main one. I was a plan that was not ripe. And whether a lie or a cloud of squid ink left behind by Mother's departure, there is a prophecy Queen Celina shall not live out the year. Moire shared it." Celina shows the shadow of a grin, "Loreena tends to use her sharpest words when she's most angry. She'll be pleased to dance in my shrine and water my remains."
Celina flips her hand as if to say, 'nevertheless'. "Moire has reason to think she'll be safer where she is, but needs to be ready to return in triumph upon my death."
"A prophecy," Folly repeats with a frown. "Does Moire cast cards as we do, or something similar -- which, as you know, can be difficult to interpret exactly? Or is this from some other source with a more direct and unambiguous line on what the future holds?" She pauses in her sketching and focuses on Celina, watching her body language as much as she listens to her words.
"Prophecy by Mirror is not a part of my learning," Celina says. "Nor would I want to have spent years chasing fleeting images of other possible Celina's. The few I've seen have been enough for me." Her body is anything but tense. It appears she could talk to Folly for days and days.
"So, whatever is glimpsed is just one possible future, you think?" Folly asks, to make sure she's following. "Which means the sharing of it was meant to warn you or rattle you, or maybe both...?"
Celina watches Folly's hands and smiles. "Such would not be useful unless you could steer into better possibilities. So as the crafter pursues images, you find those with more focus, additional layers that make them more probable, easier to find. So yes, it is a possible future, but at the point where you are acting upon it, it is a refined image, collecting hints from the various possibles." Celina adds, "Of course, Loreena shared it because it fit best with her own vision of the future, while taking away from me any chances of making Rebma thrive through my actions. What she did not consider was that knowing my life may be short, I have found greater faith in Rebma being whole for whatever time I have."
Folly smiles, looks down at the sketch, and adds several long, strong lines. "So, one possibility is that 'Queen Celina does not survive' -- which, with that phrasing, could imply merely a loss of title rather than personal death -- but either way, Moire lies in wait to return in the wake. But you spoke of imagining how you might reconcile with her. If you could make that happen, what do you think that compromise would look like? And how would you try to talk her into it?"
Celina doesn't quote Loreena's hard words on Celina's death since it was more than possible that her words were chosen in anger. Yet, Folly has put a finger on the high threshold for saving the situation with Moire. Celina gestures as if sculpting a plan out of the air of Paris, "She could not hope for forgiveness of the military, nor many of the families. For all the Huon did, he's managed well in Rebma's justice, so something like that could work for Moire. Since there is the matter of Flora's vendetta, it might work that Moire is in service at Xanadu rather than Rebma. King Random may have the greater claim and larger reason to make two and twenty years of service stick." Celina looks at the ceiling, turning more ideas into words, "But it might actually help Rebma more if Moire were to take a lesser role, and swear to release all Tritons, Children of Lir, and Llewella from previous oaths. I could see Moire as Special Archivist. Hmmmm."
"And what do you think would be the best way to convince her to submit to such justice, in either scenario?" Folly asks. "Would she only acquiesce under force or threat of force, or are there gentler appeals to reason that might work?" She hesitates, then continues, "I think I'm really asking what you think are her primary motivators The approach -- not to mention the chance of success -- is rather different if she's mostly motivated by a desire to wield power, or a love of Rebma, or...." She lifts her pencil from the pad and draws curlicues in the air as if they were invisible blanks to fill in. "Or maybe," she adds in a faintly ominous tone, "she does what she does for metaphysical reasons. Which... is a lot of why I want to talk to her."
Celina pauses a long time.
"I fail at every turn to understand her. She likes that." Celina cannot take the bitter edge out of the words, though she makes an effort. "Her reasons are her own. But I have learned that Moins was a much more fearsome figure. So you can imagine that power is quite important to Moire. The children of abusive ruthless people are shaped to defend themselves."
Whatever question or comment Folly intended to follow up with dies on her lips at that last sentence. She goes a bit pale and stops sketching to look at Celina, her expression grim as she sorts her thoughts.
After a long moment's silence, she flicks her gaze about the room as if to make sure they really are alone and unobserved. Then she says, hoarsely, "Martin doesn't know what happened to his mother. Neither does his father -- but I do. What I don't know, though, is was it by her own volition? Or did your mother put her up to it?" She watches Celina's expression closely to see if they're on the same page.
Celina looks a bit wary, "You know? He doesn't?" She pauses then sorting the phrasing and the defensive look about the room that Folly made. Celina reaches into her gown and tosses three crystals on a nearby tabletop. The crystals begin to release their power to scintillate, rising slowly into a glare that fills half the room.
Folly watches with interest; when she understands what Celina has done, she gives a nod of appreciation.
Celina gets up and crosses to Folly then, sitting the floor at her feet and putting a hand on her knee. "It was, I believe, of her own volition. She was counseled against it and would not listen. She would not be stopped any more than Khela. If she was driven to have that Power by circumstances, then yes, you can blame the Queen for the circumstances. In this Family, you can always blame the Throne. But no, I do not think Moire planned to discard Morganthe in such a way."
Folly blows out a breath that she probably didn't realize she was holding, and lays a hand over Celina's. "Thank you for that. I hope it will help me face Moire with more sympathy and less anger if and when the time comes. It's not so much that I thought she would intentionally cause her daughter harm; but I had wondered if she might've put her up to it because she thought it would work. Since it's a power she cannot master herself, I believe she lacks the insight to know whether others can do so. If there were any reason at all to suspect her daughter might have a chance, I figured she might've risked it for the good of Rebma -- but I can also well believe Morganthe might've come to it on her own."
Folly hesitates, and stares upward for a moment as if gathering her thoughts; her lower lashes seem to glitter in the glare of the crystals. "I hinted to... to Random a while ago that I knew something, but this is the first time I've come close to saying it out loud."
"My mother is pretty good at finding ways to make people angry, I think she figures it puts her ahead," responds Celina. "Do not let her discover so much about you. Be politic but not political, I suggest. If Moire has already committed to alliance with Chaosi or Moonriders, she may be more bold than you think."
Folly nods and squeezes Celina's fingers. "I'm not the poker player some of our relatives are, but I try to play my cards close to the vest... right up to the point that I think laying them on the table gives me more of a tactical advantage. With Moire, though -- and her supporters -- I shall try to be careful to reveal them sparingly." She seems on a more even keel now; she leans forward and lays a sororal kiss on Celina's forehead.
As she straightens, Folly asks, "If I do try to use Bend as a path to Moire, what other advice do you have?"
Celina frowns, "Bend is mortal. I find that in the Court of Rebma, the long vision of a queen may be understood as pure ruthlessness for the sake of power, hence I think that Bend and her brother only emulated what they felt were the strengths asked of them. Were they full of the will of Moire. Yes. Did it change them. Most certainly yes. I think Bend would do anything for Moire, and that gives advantage to you, if you can sail in that wind." Celina speaks more softly, "If Bend thinks you bring advantage to Moire, she will make sure you get there safely. If she thinks you represent a danger, she will never aid you."
"That may be an argument in favor of laying at least some of my cards on the table," Folly opines. "My own personal agenda should not be seen as any sort of threat, and I may be the least likely of my cousins to take an invitation to tea as an opportunity to raise an army to further my aims. But the bit about Bend's particular brand of ruthlessness is good advice; it sounds like perhaps I should work through some worst-case scenarios ahead-of-time, along with options for how to navigate around them."
She casts a glance at Celina's scintillation crystals to make sure they are still active. "On a completely different topic, I have one other thing I wanted to make sure to mention to you. It's about Caine, and the Klybesians. There is a possibility he could be involved with them: According to Corwin and Flora, way back in the time of Cymnea and Faiella he was involved with a religious order that eventually got kicked out of Amber, and that got him kicked out of the succession over his activities with them. And also, apparently he knows how to use Trumps to spy on people. So... until we know more, perhaps be careful what you tell him about any Klybesian investigations -- as well as what you talk about over trump, particularly to anyone whose card would be in his possession."
"Hmmm," Celina frowns, "good to know. I just offered him assistance in keeping trade moving to Amber. He did not seem particularly interested. So if there were old secrets there, the Monks may already know routes into Rebma."
"What were his interests, if I may ask? Assuming he showed any, that is." Folly gives a wry smile at the poker-faced ways of their elders.
Celina lowers her voice, they are sitting so close now. "I told Caine what the Monks had done to Master Reid and Marius. He seemed to know. I told him the Monks were considered enemies of Rebma. He was interested in caviar. Especially if I could send the sort Dem Harga'rel used to set aside for him. It could have been a code."
"...Or maybe he just really likes that caviar," Folly counters with a wry smile before they trail too far down what could be a rabbit-hole. "Still, it's... curious... that he should speak of the relations between Amber and Rebma by calling to mind a high-ranking Rebman who was murdered at a coronation in Amber. And what he misses is the caviar, not the man who sent it." She frowns. "Was trade with Amber part of Harga'rel's regular duties? Were he and Caine just really great pals? Or was he trying to stay on Caine's good side?"
"Yes, it made me curious," Celina agrees. "Enough so that I want my people to ask those questions. But also, I want them to do so without my hearing about it from the Families of Rebma, or from my Family of Amber/Xanadu." Celina smiles, "Because I'm not enamored of the entire throwaway comment being there as a measure for Caine to see how good my intelligence capabilities are. If you see what I mean..."
"Yes, and that does seem exactly like something he'd do," Folly agrees.
Celina nodded at the tiny glaring spheres, "The beads are about to fail, is there more? I can set out some additional..."
"No, that was the most important bit. I'm glad -- but not surprised -- to hear you are already exercising some caution on that front. I'll keep you posted if I learn more... but perhaps by some means other than trump. Speaking of which...." Folly smiles conspiratorially at Celina and taps the end of her pencil against her own nose. "Perhaps we should discuss what you would like your trump image to convey, if you have any thoughts on the matter...."
This last appears to catch Celina by surprise. "Well, it should convey me marrying Rebma." She gets up and sits by Folly. "What cautions do you have?"
"About trump images?" Folly asks, then continues, "Mostly that regardless of the style or the pose or the costume or the surroundings, it should in some way reflect your unchanging, core essence -- not just who you are now, or who you hope to be, but the you that is still you regardless of your circumstances, if that makes sense. So to your response, I ask: What is Rebma to you, and what about Rebma is deeply part of your essential being?" She grins. "You know, to start with an easy question."
Celina spends some time thinking. Finally she sighs, "I'm still learning about Rebma. However, I think there is something about both of us that is the same: at the moment of trial, when it seems the light shall be overwhelmed, we reveal our reserve of strength."
Folly's eyes sparkle. "I am suddenly reminded of the day we met. I plaited your hair and we talked of the symbolism of keeping one's power hidden until the correct moment. I don't think either of us could have predicted just how portentious that turned out to be."
She takes Celina's hand and squeezes it gently. "That gives me a pretty good idea what direction to go with your trump image, though."
Celina nods once. "Good. Has Lark said anything about me?"
"I think in her mind her education about things Rebman is still a jumble of fact and fairytale," Folly says with a fond smile. "But she knows you as a friend." Celina can hear the unspoken implication that that probably isn't true of all things Rebman. Maybe not even most things Rebman.
Celina nods slowly, thinking that it would probably be nice to think of Lark as a friend as well. Her expression gets a bit sad but returns to a pleasant calm. "Good. If you don't think the request odd, let me know if she has any dreams about me. But don't bias things by mentioning I was interested. If Lark mentions me or Rebma, just take note."
Celina can tell she has Folly's attention. "I take it you have some experience with that sort of thing?"
Celina puts her hand on top of Folly's. "My dreams are busy, yes, but not nice things like Lark showing up for a chat. However, children have far ranging imagination and boundaries. So I thought it would be prudent to warn you. Also, Lark talked to me during my Pattern walk, and it was probably the nicest thing that has happened to me recently, so I feel obligated to her."
Folly blinks, and a wistful smile spreads across her face. "She talked to me during mine as well, though she wasn't even conceived yet. How did you know it was Lark?"
"She had questions for me," Celina replies, "and I demanded she identify herself before I would trade questions with her. She was the granddaughter of my dead sister through her father." Celina pats and strokes Folly's hand. "How did you know it was her in your walk?"
"She called me 'mama'," Folly replies. "That was the biggest clue. And she had hair the color of straw." She chews her lip, remembering. "She chastised me for being in love with the sky. Which made sense at the time."
"I think she is going to be a survivor," Celina offers. "When you think it might be needed, if ever, you tell her she has my blessing in all things."
Folly gathers up the sketches spread across the desk in her Paris guest room. She has a good idea of the direction she wants to go with Celina's trump, and is well on her way to an initial working sketch -- but other needs press.
From the desk drawer, she takes a sheet of tasteful stationery -- Flora's doing, she's sure -- and scrawls a handful of lines in her angular hand. She folds the note over and over into a little square, like she's going to slip it to someone in class, and writes "READ LATER" on the outside.
She has long since discarded her gown in favor of lounging about in her (modest-ish) underthings, but even without pockets her Trumps are still close to hand. She thumbs one out, kicks her bare feet up on the desk, and concentrates on the face of her husband.
There's the usual resistance that Martin offers to a Trump call, maybe more than usual. Folly has the sense his mind is somewhat busy at the moment--not like Hellriding, where she'd probably just slide off him, but his concentration may be on other things.
It takes a moment for him to shake loose enough to decide to accept the contact. "Who is it?" he says, because he's not the sort to know in advance like Fiona. His surroundings coalesce and he's in the dark somewhere a little more jungle-like than Lauderdale was. Vaguely familiar, even. "And where are you, and can you bring us through if we need to?"
"It's Folly," Folly replies quickly, "I'm still in Paris, and I can bring you through." She holds her free hand at the ready, visible to Martin through the contact. "You need to come now? Some of my news might be easier if you did."
"Nope, not Paris. Still not bringing Lark there. Lark, darling, it's your mama. Come say hello." Martin brings her into the contact. She's a bit older than Folly remembers, but they do grow fast at that age.
"Hello mama," says Lark. "We're on holiday!"
"Hello, sweetheart," Folly says brightly. "I'm sorry I'm missing it -- you'll have to tell me all about it. Are you at the place with the estate house and the boat?" Martin can probably tell, even if Lark cannot, that she's leaving out names on purpose.
"Yes! Auntie Solange is here and she showed me how to shoot a crossbow from horseback. I'm helping Daddy make silver bolts by melting the candelabra." Lark clearly thinks whatever the adventure they seem to be having is, it's fun and not dangerous.
Martin smiles weakly at that set of revelations. "Dad knows we found Solange. I don't think she's welcome in Paris right now and I don't want to leave her here either. We have a minor problem."
"Well, if you or Solange have got Corwin's card, perhaps I should come to you to talk," Folly offers; without taking her eyes from the trump, she's already reaching for another piece of stationery to leave a note about her whereabouts. To Lark, she adds with a twinkle, "And see your handiwork with the candelabra."
"Before you do that you should maybe think about how you feel about zombie apocalypses, or at least some combination of shadow medical tech and magic that approximates a zombie apocalypse." There's a long beat before Martin remembers to add, "We're personally immune."
Folly can't quite hide a flash of a scowl. "Well. Definitely not my first choice of milieu, but it's kind of important. If you're secure enough that we can have a few minutes of mostly non-bitey conversation, that is." She's already scrawling a quick note -- 'Talking to husband offsite, will call back soon' -- without taking her eyes from the trump. "Anything I can grab quickly that I should bring through? Er, besides shoes?" Because immune or not, walking barefoot through entrails and other assorted zombie carnage seems like a bad idea.
"Anything silver that Corwin wouldn't mind losing? I'm pretty sure his sword would do a number on these things but I don't think it would be a good idea for him to show up." Martin glances over his shoulder and shouts, "It's Folly. Do we need anything she can grab from Paris?"
"I lost my favorite stuffie," Lark says. "Can you bring it from Paris?"
"Mama will find it," Martin reassures her. "Or I will. Aunt Solange isn't great at looking for stuffies." He makes an awkward face at Folly that says something like she doesn't know what it looks like.
"Yes, we'll find it," Folly agrees. Still with her eyes on the trump, she goes to the armoire and pulls out the sturdy bag she's been using to tote her art supplies (and whatever other odds and ends may have collected there). She slings the bag across her shoulders and steps into a pair of shoes that will be almost practical once she gets a chance to tie the laces. "I think the desk set is partly silver, but that's not much--- oh!" Folly quickly crosses the room, removes the large silver tray from beneath the china tea-set, and offers it through to Martin.
Then, "Pull me through?" she asks.
Martin grunts, and if she didn't know him so well, Folly wouldn't know what a bad idea he thinks this is. "Solange," he calls over his shoulder, "Folly's coming through. With silver." He pulls Folly through into the decrepit, aging house. The air smells heavy with moisture and rot--plant, at least, not human--and Folly can feel the heat and humidity on her skin.
"Mama!" Lark cries, and throws her arms around Folly's midsection as best she can. Martin quirks an awkward smile at her but doesn't interfere, instead leaning in to peck her on the cheek.
Folly tilts her face toward him to accept the kiss and give him a quick one in return. She hands off the silver tray and the folded-up note before scooping her daughter up to carry on her hip. "My goodness, you've gotten big!" she exclaims -- and indeed, Lark seems weirdly heavier than she did just a few days ago.
To Martin, she says, "Since we're not speaking through a trump you can go ahead and read it now, although it's not the main reason I called. Is this, like, a may-need-to-run-at-any-moment situation, or have we hopefully got a few minutes to talk?"
Then, "Hi, Solange!" she says, peering over her husband's shoulder to see how her cousin is doing.
The note, if Martin chooses to read it now, says: "Watch out for Klybesians. We think they are trying to figure out how to become like us. They had Reid's body, and also Dr Chew is one. Corwin and Flora think Caine could be affiliated with them, and he can spy on trump conversations, so be careful what you say over those channels."
"Well, shit," Martin says.
Solange comes in to greet Folly. Her hair is cut short and ragged, as if either Martin did it for her recently (and Folly has reason to know haircuts are not one of his skills) or she'd had it cut a while ago and not trimmed since. She's dressed in local garb, like a boy, having given completely up on the long skirts, apparently. She sweeps Folly up into a hug. "I'm glad you're here. Even given the circumstances."
When Folly lets go of Solange, she turns her attention to Martin. "What's wrong?"
He hands her the note. "So if someone is looking for eternal life, like we have," Martin adds, for everybody's benefit, "and they fucked it up with magic, that would certainly be one way to get a zombie apocalypse."
"I'm surprised you came," Solange says, "given the general summons."
"Which we're not done arguing about," says Martin. "You're taking the amnesty. Folly, tell her she has to take the amnesty." There's about a half-second pause in which Martin's expression shifts and Folly can tell he's realized something and he doesn't like it. "You don't know. I thought you were going to try to change my mind but Dad hasn't talked to you, has he?"
Solange is starting to back out of the room. "I shouldn't be here for this. Neither should Lark." She reaches for Lark's hand. "Mama and Daddy have something important to talk about."
"No!" Lark dodges her and clings to Folly.
Martin shakes his head. "Folly," he says, taking her hands, "it's like this: Vialle's pregnant."
Folly frowns. "Is it--" she begins, but bites back the rest of the question as she seems to figure out a better way to phrase it, or maybe a better question to ask. "How far along?"
This is clearly the first she's heard of the news. Martin can tell she's sorting quickly through a whole pile of additional questions. From the look on her face, the effort is making her dizzy. She pulls one of her hands away from Martin's grasp to stroke Lark's hair. With the other she continues to hold his hand, a little too tightly.
There's the sound of Solange's feet retreating into another room. Apparently she really doesn't want to be here for this conversation. (Who can blame her?)
"Must be pretty recent because I think it was news to Dad." Martin moves to pull Folly into his arms. "I'm sorry to break it to you this way but we have a lot of things to work out and not a lot of time."
Lark pipes up, "Mama--" and doesn't seem to know what to say next.
"We'll work it all out, kiddo," Martin says, and it's not clear, maybe even not to him, which of them he's talking to.
"But things that happen in Xanadu shouldn't---" Folly is still frowning, but it is a thinking, calculating expression; any underlying upset is being tamped down, hard.
She shakes her head a little as if to clear it. "Yes, we'll work it out," she agrees, soothingly, mostly to Lark. To Martin, she adds, "You talked to him? Did he seem... happy?" She hesitates, processing some of the rest of what he said. "And what am I changing your mind about?"
Martin is moving to ease both of them, Folly and Lark, into a chair. "He wasn't very happy, no, but that was mostly because he was trying to tell me to do something that he knew perfectly well I have no intention of doing. One of the few things I have no intention of doing if asked." His eyes drop to Lark for a moment, and his jaw tightens. "Which is what Solange thinks I need convincing to do. Otherwise, hard to say. What's he going to say to me about how happy he is under the circumstances?"
"Yes, I do rather see your point," Folly agrees with a sigh as she settles into the chair with Lark. Catching his glance at their daughter, Folly unslings her satchel and, making sure she's still holding her pack of trumps and fortunes, offers the bag to Lark. "Pumpkin, why don't you see if your stuffie ended up in Mama's bag by mistake?" she suggests gently, sure that there's an excellent chance it contains at least a couple of toys.
Lark starts digging in the bag to see if the stuffie she wants is in the bag. (While, technically, there's no way it could be, Lark doesn't know that.)
With Lark's attention at least partly diverted, Folly asks, "He wants you to be present, or to present?" She inclines her head minutely toward their daughter at that last. She keeps her tone lightly conversational to keep from re-attracting the attention of her sensitive child with too much naked emotion.
"You know Dad. Why think small and go for one when you can go for both?" Martin follows her lead and keeps his own tone light, even though she can see from the crinkles around the corners of his eyes and his flat expression that he's not happy. He continues, "It's a general amnesty, Folly, and the family gathering is all adult hands. It's not just Solange whose exile is being revoked. You understand that includes everyone? Even prisoners of war?" He doesn't say the name but he's clearly thinking of someone specific.
Folly spares the briefest glance at her daughter to make sure she's staring into the bag before she allows her lips to compress, just for a moment, into a thin line. What she says, though, is, "You know what? Bring it on."
She lifts a finger to forestall any immediate complaint before adding, "And yes, I understand all your reasonable and very pragmatic concerns, but if we're going to have a kinder, gentler extended family than what came before" --and she knows she also doesn't have to name any names, there -- "let's fuckin' DO it. That's what I want for Xanadu.
"Plus," and now she can't quite quelch a mad twinkle in her eye, "I'd love to see my mum try to take him out if he tried anything."
"Your mother will need to get in line," Martin says, and he doesn't sound like he's joking. "She's not fast enough, and unless Dad revokes it in a fit of pique, I still have the right of arms in court. But that doesn't solve the other problem of family business." He tilts his head to indicate their daughter, who's still engaged in looking for her stuffie.
"Well, I have to go, either way," Folly says, as if that is self-evident. "By my count, we've still got about four months, Xanadu time, on the timeline he originally gave us barring emergencies -- of which I think this is one. A really, really non-ideal one."
She blows out a breath. "Any chance we could just pop in to do the thing and then disappear again for another few months?" Which, at their current relative time, would probably work out to something closer to six years, for Lark. "I know it wasn't our original plan, but... I mean, zombie apocalypse training probably isn't the worst preparation for it, you know?" She offers up a wry smile.
"There's also the slight problem of abandoning the people here in the middle of a zombie apocalypse," Martin reminds her gently. "Just because we're immune doesn't mean the rest of the people sheltering here are. If we leave, this whole place will be overrun, not just my estate, but everything in the whole shadow. And this isn't something we—the family—wants to have spreading across the worlds."
Folly nods in grim agreement. "Maybe you should back up and tell me how you ended up here -- did you come because of the zombies, or for something else and found the zombies -- and what your plan was before I called. At least the executive summary."
Martin looks to Lark to make sure she's involved with her stuffy before settling in to tell this story. "Solange came to get me in Lauderdale, saying that she'd run across something really wrong and bad and that we needed to bail before things got worse. I'd seen enough troubling signs of things that I already had the go-bag ready--you know I travel light--so we hellrode, or at least helldrove, for it, and honestly I think it was a good thing. I haven't been back since. The thing is, they're here too, and maybe they followed us here or maybe they're all over Shadow, but whatever it is, this is bad. And they definitely fit the classical mode: they bite people and the people die and get up as mindless zombies and try to kill you."
Folly lets out a couple of choice expletives; clearly she was not expecting the cross-shadow part. "So, best guess, given that we ran into these guys -- Klybesians, I mean -- in a high-tech medical environment is that if this is from them, it's biological-crossed- with-metaphysical. Who's our best Pattern-virologist? Fiona?" She has gone quite pale, but her expression is determined, perhaps even a bit dangerous; Martin may suspect she's laser-focused on solving the problem at hand to avoid other unpleasant thoughts. "Do you have a feel for what it would take to contain it while we figure out how to eradicate it?
"And I suppose we're going to need a blood sample."
"Maybe we should bring a whole head. In a box, or a muzzle, though." Martin makes a face that's half ew and half considering the idea, clearly having forgotten their daughter's presence in the room.
Lark is paying attention to them despite her interest in stuffies. "Don't bring it to Amber, Daddy," she opines with all the forceful opinion a small child can bring to bear on a question.
"You're probably right, kiddo." He glances from Lark to Folly. "Blood sample's going to be hard unless we take it off a weapon. But not out of the question. And virology--might be Fiona. I'd have to ask around. Solange's got the tech experience but not the advanced biology for this, I don't think. And we're not going back into random tech Shadows. Not after last time. They were looking for us and probably still are."
"As I understand it," Folly muses, "at least half of your father's generation have got advanced medical training of some sort, but most of it may be too practically-focused for what we're after -- or if they did have a strong theoretical basis, it could be obsolete...."
She trails off, then thunks herself lightly on the head with her fist, as if she's an idiot. "Or there's Solange's friend, Kyril. Although we'd want him as a consultant from a nice, safe distance, since he'd be susceptible."
Because she's not one to discount the intuition of children -- particularly children who pay attention to a lot more than they pretend to -- she asks Lark, "Why not Amber, sweetheart?"
"It's not safe, mama," Lark says with the absolute confidence of a small child.
Martin gives her a side-eye which is less doubtful of her words than scrutinizing his daughter and figuring out what she knows that he doesn't that makes her that confident of the statement, and how seriously he ought to take it. After a couple of seconds, he shrugs and looks back at Folly.
She acknowledges his look with a slight tilt of her head, but keeps her eyes on her daughter. "I've been thinking that, too," she agrees, "but I'm not sure how to put it in words. Why do you think it's not safe? And what's not safe about it?"
"It's not safe," Lark repeats, and has to stop and think about the rest of it. Finally she comes up with, "Because people might get sick."
Martin meets Folly's gaze and it's clear to her that he doesn't like the sound of that one bit. "Do you think it's safe to take Jim with us to Amber?"
"Don't go to Amber," Lark says. "Go to grandad."
"In Xanadu?" Folly asks, just to make sure they're on the same page.
Then, quietly, she asks Martin, "Jim's been exposed? More than just whatever's airborne?"
"Grandad will be in Xanadu. I think," Lark says, sounding less certain about that. "But not Amber."
Over her head, Martin's shaking his head in the negative to Folly's question to him. "The people in the house haven't been exposed beyond airborne," he says, which Folly suspects covers some hard decisions.
Folly nods. To Lark, she says, "Grandad is traveling right now, but he's supposed to be back in Xanadu very soon, and I think that's where I'll be going next, too. You think I should take Jim with me when I go? Even if Grandad isn't quite back yet?"
"Take him home to Grandad. That's where it'll be safe." Lark, having made that pronouncement, goes back to playing with her stuffie and ignoring her parents, who are being silly.
Martin shrugs and holds out a few strands of his blond hair. Then he pokes a finger at Folly as if to say "this is from your side of the family".
Folly can't help but grin at that, but grows more serious as she continues thinking about their immediate plans. "So I'll go to Xanadu and either bring your people through with me, or send for them once your father returns. What's the incubation time between blood exposure and visible onset of symptoms?" Martin can tell she's working out the quarantine protocol, just to be on the safe side.
"Meanwhile, you do what you can to contain the situation here, get a properly-packaged biological sample, and/or gather more information about the extent of the apocalypse -- and if you can't join the family conclave in person, perhaps we could try to work it out for you to join via trump?" She grins again, but with a wicked glint in her eye. "That would make a particular dramatic way to present the sample. 'I've got Martin on the line, and he's brought us a present!'"
She does not yet broach the subject of the attendance-or-not of the other members of this party, but Martin can probably sense it's coming next.
Weyland slowly comes down to land beside the statue that used to be Dexamene. "Fine. Sorcerer-Girl, can you part the veil to the Gate? We can fly in and hit the other two in their tower before they know what hit them. Or undermine it, if we can do that quickly."
"Can you lot fly?"
"Not yet." Jerod says simply.
"I can Part the Veil, but I have Never Tried Flying," Brita notes. She is ready to proceed as soon as Jerod and Raven are prepared.
Weyland looks at Brita. "Your ancestor is that boy who likes Gods and Monsters, right? If someone taught you to Part The Veil, you can manage a Filmy. I'll summon one." Weyland makes a complex gesture with his hands and adds an oddly echoing whistle to it. "Five minutes. Then get ready for a fight." He looks around the plains. "And probably best to leave the emuraptors behind."
A flat black shape slides silently up to Weyland. He points at Brita, and it approaches her. It's like a flying carpet, except it has no texture, color, or even depth. Brita knows how to direct it, of course, although she's by no means an accomplished filmy pilot yet.
Weyland seems eager to get on with the attack.
Brita grumbles softly that Filmies means riding, not flying. She looks to Jer od, "Do We Want the Statue With Us?"
"Still voting for whatever means making sure she ends up where we mean her to be on the first try. No offense," Raven says, adding the last as almost an aside to Weyland, "but I've had just about enough of things that should be one way ending up another."
Weyland begins to hover impatiently.
"We bring it." Jerod says. "Don't want her mysteriously disappearing if we get side-tracked and I don't want to run around trying to find her again."
Brita nods and adjusts, directing the filmy under the statue before punching a hole through the shadow to Gateway.
Snow comes through Brita’s breech in the shadow, sizzling quickly in warm plains of the the Towerlands. Weyland looks through, and then swoops into the opening. From the opening, Jerod can hear the calls of Weyr, and the sound of Emuraptors. It seems as if the Weyr are, in the end, enough to discourage the murder-birds.
Brita waits until the others mount the filmy (spreading it as necessary) and then maneuvers through the opening with the statue in front like a hood ornament (if she knew what those were).
Jerod is on board immediately, minus murder-birds even if they do seem somewhat useful.
Raven follows, after a moment's eyeing of the portal and their latest steed with a wariness the good captain did not have for the overgrown chickens.
The filmy doesn't seem as responsive or perhaps not as clever as the ones Nana Clarissa uses, but it is more than adequate for the job and doesn't seem to tire or need sustenance. If it can be coaxed to a decent speed, it might make Gateway's gate before sunrise.
The storm that was raging around the forest is clearing up, and the thunder indicates that it is spiraling out to sea as the natural weather of the area reasserts itself.
Shortly after the filmy crosses back to the Gatwegan shadow, Jerod hears a howl, quickly answered by others. It's likely that the group has been scented by the Weir. The filmy couldn't take them all, but a half dozen or so could crowd on.
Weyland squints down at the trio. "You know where we're going, or do you need to follow me?"
"The lay of the land is quite familiar." Jerod says. "We can proceed.
"We'll take a couple for secondary support only." he says to Brita, motioning to the Weir. "I want to send the rest back to the others, make sure the ship is okay and give a message to Harper so she's aware of what's up."
"Wouldn't hurt to send a few to track what's gone on in our wake," Raven suggests. "Better to know what kind of mess we left before we run into it on the way back."
Brita nods in agreement to Raven's comment and begins to steer the filmy towar ds the howls. "Where is Your Harper, Cousin Jerod?"
"Don't take too long, or I'll have to do all the work!", say Weyland. He starts flying south. While a cold, hard rain is still falling, it doesn't seem to be falling on him.
To Brita, Jerod replies. "If she hasn't disappeared back to the capital in anticipation of our success here, she'll be back with the ship. I'll wager she's on her way to the Gate though."
A figure drops from a nearby tree. It's still pretty large, but it seems mostly human. Jerod recognizes Reynart, the red-furred warrior who was the last of the weir on the mission.
"My Lord. We saw the return and I see the prey. What is our next task? The Weir stand ready."
Jerod will collect a couple of the Weir who are more battle experienced to take with him (and makes it clear this is not a slight against anyone). The remainder are to get back to the ship with any message that Raven might want forwarded, advising that they are proceeding after the remaining prey and to set sail immediately to follow-up.
All except for Reynart. He and one other will go find Harper and/or her designated representative, if she has departed for the Gate and advise them of the same, that Dexamene is in custody and the other two are to soon follow. Also to advise that Jerod expects Harper to be able to arrange for a suitable transfer of power once the three are dealt with. He doesn't want any "issues" arising from this that he or any of the others will be forced to deal with.
Also, to let Harper know not to interfere with a flying gentleman should they encounter him. He's vaguely family related.
Reynart indicates his understanding, and gives quick orders to his two redheaded (or is it red furred?) associates, naming senior pack members to summon to the Prince's side. Reynart leaves to find Philippe ("and play fox and mouse games with him").
Two weir, of the more common coloration, arrive minutes after Reynart and his associates depart. They smile when the they see Dexamene. It isn't a friendly thing. "Good hunting, my Lord!", says Jeanne, the elder of the warriors.
Jerod nods once. "Indeed. We proceed to Gateway for the other two. I want them alive if possible, but removed for certain."
"This one..." and he motions to the statue. "...goes to his Majesty. It is not to be damaged."
"If it's going by way of the ship," Raven says, "there's spots in the hold that are out of the way of prying eyes, and at least one ought to fit her."
The two weir look at the statue. They can carry it to the boat, but they might have trouble catching up to the filmy if they do. They look at Jerod. "We can split up, my Lord. Or call for another of the pack..."
Brita looks at the statue, back at the weir, and then reaches out and rips a hole to the deck of Raven's ship. "Put her There for Others to Stow. I Will Hold the Path while you Do So."
Jerod appears about ready to say something before Brita decides to tear asunder space and time. He looks only briefly at Brita while he remains the model of aplomb.
"Stow it aboard."
Raven, on the other hand, winces slightly at the sight of the hole. "Tell the First Mate to stow her deep and dark until he's told otherwise. He'll know where I mean."
The rip in space-time is disconcerting for those not used to it. It feels wrong, in a way that the Pattern feels right. On the other hand, standing on a rectangular piece of utter nothingness and cruising around the night in a strange country seems wrong in the same way, so perhaps it's best to ignore how one feels.
The Weir complete their task and return to the rent in the cosmos. They carefully leap through, avoiding the sides completely.
"Do you want additional of our people, my Lord?", the senior Weir addresses Jerod. "If we were four, we could scout two-and-two, while the other team protects the passengers."
"Bring them." Jerod says simply.
Two more weir come through the rip in reality, which is slowly closing. They look very similar, like brothers.
Brita waits until the Weir are arranged as they want and then directs the filmy onward to Gateway. "Do we Come In as Avenging Gods?" She asks Jerod.
"It may be hard not to," Raven points out, gesturing in the direction they're headed.
"I like the avenging part. The god portion, not so much." Jerod says. "Pissed off Amberites should be more than sufficient."
The filmy heads off, at a higher speed than Brita is used to. The path Brita and Weyland walked for days will be crossed this very evening.
It seems to be following Weyland. The machine? thing? creature? It is unclear what it is. In any case, while it dodges trees and buildings, it handles rivers and hills by heading steadily across them.
Looking for very long at the too-dark-to-be-black surface of the filmy is disturbing.
The weir all seem to be enjoying the ride.
Brita keeps her eyes on the path ahead, attempting subtle course corrections to avoid 'dodging' too much. Not need to make the filmy regret its service by having someone get sick on it. Other than that, she has nothing to prepare.
If any of them stick their heads out over the side, Jerod is going to smack them. (get your head back in the damn car).
Given that they are flying on something that is probably based on Chaos principles, Jerod is a bit leery about doing any Pattern manipulation, lest he do something that causes them to suddenly meet the ground at a high rate of speed.
He will do a minimal check on his previous preparations to see if the triggers remain in effect. He'll need to either use them or disable them at some point and he wants to know how Gateway has been responding to them.
Aside from some questions about just what it is everyone's currently standing on, Raven is mostly content with watching the landscape go past. Maybe making a few mental notes of comparison between ships and floating black things as means of travel.
About a mile from Gateway, at a spot where it's possible to see the Gate, but not the city walls, the filmy starts turning east. It continues up the hills to Marksman's Hill. It is about an hour before sunrise.
Weyland is on top of the hill, with a ship's spyglass. Raven suspects it may be her ship's spyglass, but it's still pretty dark.
Weyland continues as if the conversation hadn't been interrupted by several hours of travel.
"Two main landside guard posts, there and there. The port, which has their sailors and access through the gate to the seaward. The large tower is the palace. The green plaza is the Collegium Arcanum. Your people.
"I've got you lot penciled in as 'the distraction'. That work for you?"
"First I'd like to know what your portion is." Jerod says.
Weyland grins. "Once you flush them out, I turn them to statues. Then I promise King Random he'll never be troubled by them again and set the three of them up as coatracks in my tower."
"We Will ask The King His Will after We have Executed your Plan," Brita avers. She turns to Jerod. "What shall We Do as Distraction?
"Setting one of those ships alight would keep portside busy," Raven says. "Maybe more. Might make things harder for us, though."
"The Triumvirate are mages." Jerod says. "What flushes out a mage? A threat to their power." and he motions to the Collegium.
To Raven, Jerod says, "We leave the ships alone. And the civilians in general. Hurt the population and they rally against whomever is causing them grief. That brings them into the fight against us. People dislike changes in government, but they dislike getting killed more. We keep it short and relatively bloodless and they'll stay out of it.
"We get the Collegium to do their part now. Make what appears to be a coup attempt, a nice showy display. Enough to draw out the remaining two in order to suppress it."
He turns to Weyland. "This assumes that the other two are unaware of what has happened to Dexamene. If they suspect something is up, they may decide to run instead of fight."
Weyland shrugs. Since he's slightly levitating, his shoulders stay about constant and his head dips, but it's clear what he means. "If they run it's like the first one. If they stand their ground, they're coatracks that much sooner. But it's fine; get your friends to make a showy and real looking attack. Don't forget to include yourselves in the plan, and your doggies."
The Weir, unsurprisingly, don't like Weyland.
It would be totally unsurprisingly to find the Jerod doesn't think all that much of Weyland either. Certainly the rumors of his Shadow counterparts are well represented in the original.
That being said, he treats him like any annoying uncle who has not yet been deemed worthy of the title. He nods and then ignores him in a polite, courtly fashion unless something of relevance requires that he pay attention to him again.
"Drop us close enough to the Collegium so that the Weir can deliver a message." Jerod says to Brita. "Unless Harper is foolish, she'll be there rallying the troops. Once the Weir are on their way, we head to the palace."
The Weir would like a token, so as to make it clear that they are appropriately representing Prince Jerod and his allies. Other than that, they're good to go.
They receive a token that will definitely identify Jerod to the Collegium. He's absolutely he's got something in his pocket that will work, so he provides to them.
"Once the fireworks start, the two will either come out to attend to matters, in which case we deal with them outside. Or they'll stay inside, in which case we go in after them."
Raven nods agreement to the current plan.
Weyland doesn't exactly disappear, but he becomes hard to see. He flies off and is soon not visible.
Brita nods and does as directed. Flying in low to a rooftop across from the Collegium to let the Weir disembark and then heading to the palace.
As Brita flits the filmy away from the Collegium, the old Gatwegian Flag is raised over the main building and dozens of mages start streaming out and rising into the air. From the ground below, the team of Weir burst out of the main gates, baying and howling in the light of the rising sun.
The Tower, the historical seat of governance, also starts disgorging armies. The mages who are flying are one thing, but things look worse for the Weir, as a large ground force comes out of the base of the fortification.
Jerod smiles, his hand tightening a little on the spear. "Brita, Raven...what say we have a little fun."
Brita's grin is Conner-bright and she already has two daggers in hand. The filmy is moving towards the ground level and coming up towards the front line of the Weir. She asks "Do You Wish to Still Be In Flight, Cousins? Or Shall We Join the Fray Directly?"
"Could always do both," Raven suggests. "I mean, high ground ain't a bad thing, but you take out more enemies if you land on them from the rigging. Or the..." She gestures down with the point of her sword. "Black floaty thing."
The filmy continues towards the fighting. The battle below is joined on two planes. The mages fight and circle above. Collegium mages seem to have an advantage, but the tower's mages are mostly concentrating on defending the tower itself and clearing a path to the collegium itself. It would be bad if they broke through the lines there.
On the ground, the Weir are charging full on towards the ground troops of the Triumvirate, who are apparently trying mostly to draw them into range of the mages.
Observing the battle as they approach, it's clear to all the Amberites that the Triumvirate's forces are at least as afraid of what's behind them as what's in front of them. Mages that are hit in combat seem to "go down" easier than Collegium Mages, and Jerod has spotted at least one group of deserters from the ground forces.
"I'll drop with the Weir." Jerod says, pointing a group. "We'll go in, force a breach and go to the Tower. We need to neutralize the Tower mages so the Collegium has the advantage in aerial. I'll let you two take care of that.
"If we get a breach, flank and split them. Force weaker groups to flee the field and do not pursue. Let the enemy fall apart of their own accord."
Brita examines the field and finds a likely spot for Jerod's Weir approach. She drops the filmy to a low enough level for Jerod's dismount.
Once Jerod has an opening, courtesy of Brita since she is controlling the filmy, he will drop for the ground and summon up the Weir for a coordinated effort. And he makes just the very slightest of probability adjustments so that his clothes are his colors.
If he's going into battle, he wants the enemy to know it.
As Jerod heads off into the Furry mass below, Brita directs the filmy to rise steeply into the nearest set of mages in the sky with a violent Asgardian battle yell. She is aiming to bowl them out of the sky (allowing her and Raven to attack any that remain in close proximity).
Raven doesn't do battle cries - but what the good captain does do is attempt to do harm to other people from moving flat surfaces. And yeah, maybe normally that's more kill-or-throw-into-the-ocean and less everyone flying, but it can't be all that different from fighting in the rigging: knock them out or kill them, push them over the edge if they end up still in the way, and let the people below deal with them past that.
Might be nice if there was something to hold on to, but Raven just mentally shrugs and braces for impact.
The battle proceeds on two fronts. The ground forces move forward relentlessly. No individual spearman of the guard is a match for a Weir, much less Jerod, but there are an awful lot of them and less than a dozen of you. Overhead the battle rages, but the ground troops can't see much progress either way. Every now and then a sizzling bolt of power from one side or the other lands near the melee, but it's not a real impediment to the fight.
Jerod and his troops can push forward, but because of the size of the other forces they are too few to prevent being flanked. They form a moving knot advancing through the enemy. Their movement is not uncontested, but they are significantly better than their foes.
Meanwhile Brita and Raven use the filmy as a kind of sled of death, crashing into tower mages. At first this is quite effective and some who aren't bowled into find themselves taking a thrown dagger from Captain Raven. The filmy acts as an effective shield from attacks from below, although both Brita and Raven have to duck more than once.
Shortly, however, the tower mages adjust their tactics to stay clear of the black rectangle of nothingness. It becomes harder and harder to effectively drive through the tower mages. On the good side, there's plenty of room to maneuver and go where needed.
From the top of the tower, a great flaming ball of something comes flying towards Jerod and the Weir. It's large enough to cast a shadow. The Weir try to leap aside, but even then some are splashed with molten metal or rock. The attack is indiscriminate, and it's likely that more of the tower's troops were disabled than Weir.
But two of the Weir are down, and it's unclear as the smoke of impact clears if they're going to get back up. The rest of the pack lets of a howl of rage.
"FORWARD!" Jerod yells, rallying the remaining Weir and using their rage. If the Tower troops have taken a serious hit, he will exploit it to force an opening, and use two sets of fear against those on the ground. The first of the Weir and a Prince on one side, and their own people trying to kill them on the other. If the idea of getting out of the way seems feasible, he'll see if they decide to take it, or if he forces it on them.
And he really doesn't want to bring down one of his meteors on the Tower. At least, not unless he doesn't have a choice.
The Weir respond with a great howl and there is a response from the direction of the harbor. Reinforcements are here, apparently. If they use standard Weir tactics, the second group will follow in on Jerod's troop.
Raven reconsiders a plan to start using the in-flight mages as a way to get to the ground, and instead turns to Brita and says... well, the heart of the matter seems to be, "Forget bowling for mages, let's go get whoever did that before he does that again."
It's nowhere near that concise. It's considerably more colorful. But that does seem to be the general idea.
Getting closer to the tower brings Brita, Raven, and the filmy closer to the mages. Close enough that Raven can use whatever she has to hand (knives, belaying pins, other mages...) to knock a few of them senseless. However, it's hard to get a clean look at the top of the tower. It looks like it is a second sun rising, and when it's clear enough, Raven and Brita can see a mage hovering a bit above the top, her arms encased in fire. She slowly reaches out as if she’s throwing something very heavy, and a ball of steaming sulfurous fire passes over the filmy and hits a concentration of mages.
She is clearly the major threat on the battlefield.
When the pages are asked where Sir Ophiuchius might be, they tell Celina and Robin that he's seeing to the welfare of his steed. But one of the pages would be more than happy to fetch him if Her Majesty would tell them where he's to be sent.
Celina likes moving in paths that are not always the palace, so she will suggest they see the Knight immediately. She also has interest in the aquatic steed to see if there is a variety that would breed into Rebma stock. She asks Robin to do the introductions when they arrive.
Though the Queen's will prevails, Robin is always happier to go the stable than remain in the palace. She indicates that she'll be glad to make introductions, though since she is Robin, Celina can expect to be introduced to the steed as well. Because Eckford is very awesome in his own right.
Robin's steps toward the stable are a bit subdued as she processes what just occurred. But step-by-stroke her heart lightens until she's pretty much forgotten what weighed her down a moment ago. As is her wont.
Arriving at the stable, Celina studies the Knight and the impressive Eckford while Robin makes short work of the introductions. While she has not brought treats for the mount, she whispers a promise she will make up for it in his ear.
Turning to the Knight, she nods once, "And welcome to Rebma. Is there anything you might need in the short term, Sir Ophiuchius?"
The knight neck-bows graciously after something like the Rebman manner, though in a very old-fashioned way that even Celina's aunties might have found rustic and strange. "Your Majesty's kindness to a wandering knight has already been beyond compare; the care you've shown to me and Eckford is more than I could have asked for. But, if Sir Robin has word of my lady, I would hear it, by Your Majesty's leave." He turns hopeful eyes to Robin.
"I do." Robin chirps. "I had word from Vere. He, your Lady, Lady Laudine and Sir Ywain all reached Amber, safely if soggily. Once there, my Uncle Caine welcomed them in his role as Regent." Well, 'welcomed' is an okay word for it, Robin guesses. "Shortly thereafter, Prince Caine dispatched Vere on a mission that he is right now very carefully not getting killed on or I will have words with everyone involved. Anyway, The Queen here has approved your and Lady Morgne's welcome in Rebma as soon as I can get myself up the Stairs to retrieve her." Robin finishes with a smile.
There is another bow from Sir Ophiuchius, deeper this time, directed to both Celina and Robin. "I am deeply in both your debt. If there is anything I can do to repay either of you, I am completely at your disposal, barring, of course, the prior claim of my own Lady."
Eckford the sea-horse can sense his master's delight and is bouncing a little.
Celina smiles. "We can discuss a welcome in Rebma for your Lady, and I would like her opinion on your future plans to find a new home." Celina moves a bit closer to Eckford, stretches her hand out slowly, carefully and just eases fingertips through the mane.
Eckford snorts and lowers his head a little to permit Celina to stroke him.
Robin nods, and then thinks about it. "Ah, pardon me. I'm afraid I have gotten lost. Next steps are... I head up to Amber? Is there more talking to be done before that?" Robin looks over at Celina. Welcoming and diplomatic things are not her forte, but she's willing.
Celina smiles at Sir Ophiuchius. "As Lady Robin reminds me, we travel to meet with family soon but we would dearly like to reunite you with your Lady. Would you be so kind as to stand with us as we seek an answer from my Uncle Caine? There is a walk to make it happen. I do not want to call my Uncle from here."
Celina looks at Robin. "I do have a Trump for Caine. If we go to the Airy Tower, we can ask Uncle if the Lady is able to come through to us. If Caine has already gone on to Xanadu, the Lady is probably still in Amber. Do you think that works?"
"If I am to go to her, I will need to send for clothing suitable to the dry realms, but barring that, I should be glad to accompany you at once," Ophiuchius replies. He, too, is waiting on Robin's answer.
Robin, who is momentarily distracted by the logistics and the Sir Ophiuchius being fine on dry land, snaps too and nods. "Airy Tower, yes! Oh, and I think it works too." She replies with a smile.
And everyone being so eager, Celina leads them back through the Galleries of Glass to the Airy Tower. Along the way, a page can scamper to find suitable regalia for the Knight to present to Amber's Regent. Celina will even give the noble sir some moments alone in the Airy tower to change before she and Robin enter to make the Trump call to Amber.
She then pulls out Trumps and sorts for Uncle Caine. She offers to Robin, "If Caine is still in Amber and willing, you could lead Sir Ophiuchius through the Trump to Caine if that is best. Better would be Lady Morgne joining us here now without traipsing into the other realm? In any case, I should be able to hold the Trump connection long enough to satisfy any courtly farewells in Amber and provide a return path."
Celina holds up Caine's card. "And if Caine is already in Xanadu, I regret the matter waits until after our Family gather."
Robin nods her understanding. Politics and planning -- the hallmarks of a civilized being. Robin herself is wishing she could just go somewhere and kidnap someone. After all, it's been a whole hour or so since she destroyed a trio of priceless artifacts.
Celina speaks to the card, "Uncle? It is Celina calling from Rebma."
Caine answers at once. "Hello, Celina. What can Amber do for you this afternoon?” He appears to be in his office in Amber if his immediate surroundings are any indication.
Celina nods once. "We hope Amber is well, Uncle. I've called to reunite friends. We understand that Lady Morgne visits you in Amber. Robin was part of that rescue and Sir Ophiuchius is safe here in Amber. I thought to reunite them today, or at least let them speak to each other. Might that be possible?" She smiles at ease and offers her hand to Robin so that she might hear Caine's side of the conversation.
Robin starts to wrinkle her nose, but then remembers the King’s advice about editorializing and realizes that she's starting to leak opinions just everywhere. With a deep breath, the girl clears her mind to green shadows, pine-scented breezes and the feel of the wind on one's cheeks. Once centered, Robin takes Celina's hand and nods to her Uncle once she's in the contact.
"Robin, hello." Caine seems pleased to see her, but what that means in a Trump contact is never entirely clear. "I assume you've all heard about the gathering coming? I'm in Amber, still, but I'll be crossing on Gerard's Trump this evening. If you'll contact me again in a quarter-glass, I can send for her and, if she's prepared, have her come through. Will that suit?"
Sir Ophiuchius is waiting anxiously for whatever the news may be, since he's not in the contact.
Robin (and perhaps Caine) can clearly feel through the contact that Celina is pleased with the courtesy and plan, but she looks to Robin, who is more precedent in the matters of these people for now. If Robin seems flummoxed or without opinion, Celina will step in.
"A quarter-glass would be wonderful sir. Thank you. May I also ask after Lady Laudine and Sir Ywain? Will they be accompanying you to Amber? And Vere?" Robin's sure someone would've contacted her right away if Vere had fallen to his death or some other unpleasantness but she's still going to fish for news.
Sir Ophiuchius is relieved at the mention of the time; he's clearly expecting to see his lady soon.
"Vere's gone ahead to Xanadu with Edan," Caine says, answering the important part (to Robin) first. "I mean to introduce Laudine and Ywain to Random and see what he intends to do about them, so I'll be bringing them to Xanadu. Do you--" a you that clearly includes Celina "--intend to do the same for Morgne and Ophiuchius?"
Celina makes a decision, pointing at Ophiuchius with her free hand. "Ah, yes, an invitation can be extended for Lady Morgne and Sir Ophiuchius to travel from Rebma on our journey to see King Random. That makes for a pleasant trip, if they are interested and willing. Please let Lady Morgne know an invitation includes the comforts the Queen may extend."
"I'll do that," says Caine. He's already scribbling a note to send off with one of his midshipmen or whoever else he may have running errands in Amber for him just now. "Anything else, or will it wait until we've reunited the lady and her knight?"
"It will wait," Celina says with a smile. "If you have no news for Rebma specific, I shall call again in a quarter-glass."
Robin nods and smiles as well. See, everyone can be polite here.
Celina lets the contact fall on Caine's modest smile. As Robin knows the particulars, she assures Sir Ophiuchius first, "Your Lady will be joining us shortly if she is agreeable. Our Family is gathering not far away in Xanadu, and as befits your station, we will arrange an introduction to King Random, head of the Family, if it should please you both. We'll be leaving within the day, probably tomorrow morning."
"Your majesty is gracious beyond belief." Ophiuchius bows deeply and gracefully to Celina and Robin. "If your majesty will permit, I will give instructions about Lady Morgne's preferences to your servants, so a chamber can be prepared?"
Celina gives him leave. She has not let go of Robin's hand.
Robin looks down at the joined hands but doesn't question. "More recruits for the Tour of the Wet Sisterhood?" She questions cheerfully.
"Aye," grins Celina. Robin then may perceive a pulse of warmth hug at her hand.
"Thank you." Robin gives Celina's hand a grateful squeeze before releasing it. Then she stretches her out her arms and slowly twirls once or twice, luxuriating in what open air there is.
Turning back to Celina, she asks, "Soooo, is there anything in particular I should know about the members of the Wet Sisterhood before I don't get them involved in a riot in Xanadu? Don't sit A next to B? C is allergic to garlic, but doesn't know it? Watch out for D; she's like to stab you if she thinks she can get away with it? That kind of thing?" Robin finishes with a smile.
"Sure, a few things," Celina says, smiling, "They don't expect to have a good time on the surface. They expect Amber Family to be trying to stick it to them, particularly any men. They expect age and brains to beat youth and skill every time. And they are likely to have some bad reactions to all that air and dryness, so remember ginger water if someone has a panic reaction. Communicate some of your enthusiasm to the young ones if possible. That would be nice."
Celina places her palms together and twists them a bit as if she's working on a stuck jar lid that isn't there. "Actually," Celina adds, "for your own safety and mine, there is another thing."
Celina shakes out her hands, her expression looks flat now, as if she isn't putting energy into being connected to anything else but herself. "Most of what I just said about the Sisterhood may apply to worlds that were once connected to Rebma but have been isolated a long time. Lady Morgne may be the grateful paragon of Order that I hope she is or she may be something older and scarier and not inclined to like us very much. She may not think men are good for more than warrior status. She may have heard really terrible things about Random or Gerard or any Prince of the Realm. She may wonder if some tale of Moins' demise she heard means I am my Mother's daughter."
"When it becomes clear that I support King Random, she may change her mind about me and the throne of Rebma representing the future." Celina stops and looks straight at Robin, still without expression. "The future of Order is something I have to believe in every day, every minute. I sleep it, eat it, and I shall defend it as I must. As much as I wish Morgne as a friend, Rebma needs to know she is not an enemy. If you feel something change in Morgne or Ophiuchius as we visit Xanadu, I'd appreciate your counsel and your observations. Having said that, you and Vere are more important than any information seeking. So don't take chances."
"Ah." Robin blows out a breath. Then tilts her head to one side as she thinks out the various paths of her response.
"I understand." When she speaks, she's using her slow and careful voice. "Perhaps better than you may realize. While I do enjoying expressing myself in, perhaps, a childlike and reckless-seeming manner -- I am also an old-school Lord of Order raised into my Heritage during the reign of Oberon. Family, Patterns, Order and their protection are my primary foci. In that sequence, since it turns out that Family can make new Patterns." Though she's trying to be serious, Robin can't help the 'who'd thunk?' twinkle in her eyes.
Celina listens so carefully, one might think she is listening to prophecy straight from the Sea Hag.
"Also... the philosophy of a Ranger of Arden is hard to put into words, but a major component of it is that friendship and killing are two different things. And can overlap or not as the case may be. We don't confuse feelings with necessity. Therefore, it's not a stretch for me to be friends with an enemy. Or to kill a loved one." Robin's eyes grow sad as she remembers Girth's death.
"Therefore while I do kind of like Sir Ophiuchius, I also realize that he is sworn to his Lady and that yes, maybe she's a scary, ancient power. Like the Dragon. Like Clarissa. Like the General of the Moonriders."
And that's about as long as Robin can remain 'serious' so her normal flippancy starts to reassert itself. "Frankly, this new universe of ours is overpopulated with an abundance of scary, ancient powers; all of whom we have offended in the past. Sometimes just by existing and sometimes by being a bunch of arrogant dicks." Robin's eyes twinkle to show that she picked the gender-based slur on purpose.
"Soooo, I kind of see it as my mission to make sure that no more Lords of Order die, including myself and Vere, and that no more Patterns are damaged. And all the while trying to approach the ancient-scaries of the universe with, hopefully, less of a dick-based attitude.
"Which all boils down to, yes, I will keep an eye on them while we're in Xanadu and if anything starts to smell, I will deal with it appropriately. Will that work?" Robin finishes with a smile.
"Oh yes," Celina says and wipes a tear from her eye. "Yes, that will be just perfect."
Robin nods. And reminds herself yet again that she has to use words with civilized folk.
And Celina resumes a different posture, graceful and timeless.
Ophiuchius returns in due course and the moment to contact Caine arrives. The exchange is handled quickly and the happy couple are reunited. Arrangements according to the knight's wishes are in progress, and Lady Morgne is led off to rest, and a meeting scheduled at Celina's convenience.
So the next meeting will be in the temporary quarters provided for Sir O and Lady M. Their own turf, so to speak, where we can advise them of the family meeting and offer the introduction to King Random if they go with us.
(If they don't want to go, Celina will be understanding of the recent adventures etc, and make sure there is a watch of palace guards and 24/7 three rotation Triton watch as backup to make sure there is no mischief while we are gone from Rebma.)
If this a moot point, or the GMs think we won't see more than 'yes of course' then we can move along to assembling a party to walk to Xanadu, and make that trip.
Lady Morgne is gracious and well pleased to be back in a watery country, though she will be happy enough to visit the High King in his land of Amber, er, Xanadu. Sir Ophiuchius is clearly a little more relaxed in the presence of his lady; he's been anxious since arriving here and the change is evident to Celina (and also to Robin, but she'd seen him with Lady Morgne before).
What questions do Celina and Robin have for them at this time?
Questions from easy to hard:
Does M agree to meeting the King? (Seems like yes from above.)
Has M ever been to Rebma previous?
Yes, when it was a young city. It has, from Ophiuchius' reports, changed a great deal.
Does M need a place to settle? Rebma is welcoming.
Morgne and Ophiuchius will need a place to settle and would prefer somewhere like Rebma. But until she has spoken with King Random, Morgne cannot confirm—he may have a duty for her that she cannot decline. Barring that case, they would like to stay in Rebma.
Is M interested in sharing history with the Throne of Rebma, we love history.
She would be happy to, though she is not sure what she will have to contri bute, since her own knowledge is out of date and didn’t pay much attention to history as a student.
Robin doesn't have any questions per se. But she will warn Lady Morgne that her family seems really interested in the Shadow knot thing, so dredging up memories about Basina and how that was done would not be a wasted effort.
For which courtesy Lady Morgne thanks her graciously.
Otherwise, Robin will listen as best as she can. Which probably means letting her mind wander as words fall into her ears; words that can be retrieved at a later date when they seem relevant.
Ophiuchius catches her moss-gathering and winks out of sight of Celina and Morgne as they talk.
OK, only other thing is Celina will fill both of them in on Uncle Huon, who is a paroled Family member doing a penance of service in Rebma. He will be coming along for the Family session.
Yay.... Can we take him in separate (non-fatal) boxes?
Never mind. Robin will be civil -- if not gracious -- about it. (Still want to feed his ear to my firelizards....)
If Morgne or Sir O have any questions in turn, that's OK to deal with now.
They don't have any at this time, but certainly will when it's all over.
When the questions have finished, Morgne graciously thanks the Queen and Sir Robin for their time and gracious help, especially since with this family affair coming up, they do have so much to do. Morgne and Sir Ophiuchius will be ready to attend on them for departure whenever they're ready.
At the appointed hour, assembled in the appointed place is: Celina, Robin, Llewella, Huon (grumble, grumble), Lady Morgne, Sir Ophiuchius and the Wet Sisterhood (how many?). All in their pretty travel clothes (with servants & boxes?) And Robin is the designated 'caller' for a Trump procession to Julian. Is that the plan?
Yes, that's the plan.
The Archivists are coming along. GMs will have final number, but I think there is about ten.
The assembled group, including the howmanyever archivists (the GMs have lost track but 10 seems a reasonable number) and a number of Royal Guards arrive with their baggage and necessaries at the appointed hour and arrive in Xanadu proper on Julian's Trump, where they are met by Gilt Winter and assigned quarters due their rank, and in the case of Huon, their other status. They can change and be prepared for the upcoming dinner and evening's festivities.
Once Robin has boots on Xanadu soil, a peculiar mood begins to take the girl. She starts winding up, an almost palpable energy building in her. She does her best to remain civilized and political, but every second seems to add another layer of vibration to her body and sets another bird loose from her mind.
Initially, she is gracious to her Father; thanking him for managing the Trump procession/circus and seeing if he will be available later for a chat about oh, Shadows and things.
Then she is warm, thanking Celina and Llewella for all their help. She really did have a surprisingly good time in Rebma and hopes to do something maybe not so political with them in the near future. And oops, was that her outside voice?
Then she is polite, thanking Gilt for seeing to their guests.
Then she is casual, saying a fond good-bye to Morgne and Ophiuchius, wishing them well in their new lives.
Then she is slightly hurried, making sure that the Wet Sisterhood is going to be okay dealing with her Secretary, Castor formerly of the Children of Lyr. (And frankly, they had better be.) And indicates that they should coordinate with him about maybe a Xanaduvian tour with Robin tomorrow.
Then she is rushed as she checks in with Castor-formerly-of-Children-of-Lyr and lets him know that she's-in-town-and-in-charge-of-a-bunch-of-Archivists (giving him their names) and-she-would-really-appreciate-it-if-he-could-lay-in-the-ginger-water-and-schedule-something-for-all-of-them-to-do-tomorrow. Together. With her. And some-other-really-important-guests. Maybe. F*ck-Huon-he's-on-his-own.
Then she is justhyperasshegrabsthefirstpageshecanfindanddemandstobetakentoVerenow. NowISay!
After that it's just squawks and chirps as Robin tears through the Castle.
Last modified: 13 January 2017
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.