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 Rangers go to work setting up the perimeter as Vere ordered, disappearing into the verge in pairs and triples without discussion. To Lily's eyes, while they are not the epitome of tight military order, these Rangers do work together in a way that Benedict would approve of. Of course, he could tighten them up as a unit far beyond the camaraderie and professionalism that they currently have. But they will be an effective force if an enemy come through.
Merlin answers at once. "Hello, cousin Vere," he says pleasantly. He looks like he might be busy with paints and things "I know I am late but--what is wrong?"
"We have a serious situation," Vere says. "Prince Martin has asked that you join me. I can explain once you are here."
"Bide a moment and I will come to you," Merlin says. The moment is spent fetching things, including his blade and his boots, which he clearly thinks he's going to need. "Is there anything specific you would have me bring?"
"We might be going on a war footing," Vere says. "Sorcery and/or Pattern might be involved." He smiles faintly. "So pack accordingly."
Through the connection, it's obvious that Merlin is not pleased by this news. He gathers up some things--a change of clothing more appropriate to the night outdoors than the indoor garments he was wearing, and his weapons, among others--and says, "Bring me through." He reaches for Vere's hand so that he can come to Vere.
Vere pulls Merlin through the connection. 'Well met, Cousin," he says. He nods to Lily. "You know Cousin Lily, I believe?"
"Indeed I do," Merlin says. "Well met by moonlight, cousin. I will take a moment to garb myself, and you both can explain to me about the war footing we are now on."
"The short explanation," Vere says, "Is that the King appears to be under an enchantment, believed to be the work of the Queen of Air and Darkness, rendering him unable to effectively reign. His queen is believed to be compromised by the same being. Her thrall may well date back to the death of Cambina, now also believed to be the fault of the Queen of Air and Darkness. Fiona is working on this enchantment. Martin wants a meeting between the cousins at the Grove of the Unicorn. Lily and I are to guard the steps to Tir against possible Moonrider activity, and use trump contact to join the meeting, without leaving here. Martin also orders that no one of our generation be alone from now on, hence our summoning you. Martin may wish you to go through the connections to the Grove when the meeting begins, I do no know." He smiles tightly. "A great deal to absorb, I know. No action is called upon from you, save to help us guard this place, until you have a chance to speak to Martin, so you do not need to decide whether to trust our information as of yet."
"I see," Merlin says as he pushes his besocked feet into his boots. There is a long moment in which he ponders everything that Vere has said, though Merlin is his father's son and difficult to read even on a good day. Merlin finally rights himself and looks at Vere and Lilly. "Do we expect the invasion of the Moonriders from below, to get into the city, or from the city itself?"
"Their capabilities are unknown, and the situation is unclear," Vere answers. "As I understand it, the main concern is that they might seek to seize the stairs and then somehow alter the timestream so that they either already have used them to descend or else descend from the next full moon. That implies to me that the expectation is that they would seize them from the ground, as they cannot have already approached from above until after they have seized them."
"I do not see how this prevents longer temporal paradoxes," Merlin says. "You could ask my father about--"
Merlin's comment is cut off by a cry from the woods. A definitive human cry, of horror more than pain.
Vere's eyes flick in that direction, then he carefully looks all around, taking in the entire area. "Rangers!" he snaps out. "See to that, carefully, keeping in mind it might be intended as a distraction or a lure to an ambush. Everyone, defensive positions and full alert."
Merlin draws his sword.
The rangers establish a perimeter and it is a tense five minutes before a runner comes back from just inside the woods. "We found the corpse of a Ranger, my Lords. He looks to have been dead several weeks. It's Ranger Gamut. Gamut was the one who found the corpse. He's... upset."
Merlin says something incomprehensible and chaotic. He adds, for the benefit of the rest of those present, "Time magic is cruel."
"Indeed," Vere replies. He pulls his trump of Martin. "We should take this as a sign that there will be an attack. Prepare, as best we can. I will inform the prince."
"Hold the Pattern as best you can to protect the Rangers," Merlin tells Lilly. "I hope your father prepared you for this." He adds, to Vere, "Tell Martin we need reinforcements. Three is not enough, not of us."
Vere trusts Merlin and Lilly to keep him from being killed while distracted, and turns his attention to the card. "Martin," he says. "It is Vere."
As always, Martin takes what seems like an unusually long time to respond, like it's a conscious and not particularly welcome choice to release whatever instinctive block he has against Trump calls. "Fletcher and I are here, Vere. What's up?" By reflex, perhaps, Martin has reached for a weapon.
Vere suspects he's speaking aloud for Fletcher's benefit.
"We have reached the stairs," Vere replies. "One of the Rangers has stumbled across his own corpse, several weeks dead. No other signs of enemy yet, but that is certainly suggestive. Merlin is here, and he urges the need for reinforcements. I concur with his assessment."
"Fletcher's all I've got with me yet but the rest are coming. Folly's supposed to have been here ahead of me. We can try her and pass through, or you can call her directly if we need to go that way. Who else do you have? Is Merle with you? See who he has and might call on." Martin sounds distinctly unhappy about this turn of events. It's not every day the city gets invaded by Moonriders.
"I do not have a card for Folly, or for any of our cousins," Vere replies. He glances at Merlin. "Merlin, Martin asks whose cards you have?"
"I can call for Folly or several other of our cousins. Paige or Ossian. I will try Folly first," Merlin says and draws a Trump from his deck to do so.
Meanwhile, Martin is saying, "Wait, people have started arriving here. Mounted. Can you take them?"
"Indeed," Vere answers Martin. He makes certain there is enough room around him for several riders.
Folly can feel the stirrings of a Trump contact as she and the others head up the mountain.
"Folly, it is Merlin. The Moonriders will be attacking here soon. We need family assistance; is there anyone who can join us? Particularly warriors like Jerod or Brennan or Edan?"
Folly nods, seems to gaze through Merlin to a spot well ahead of her, and lets out a sharp whistle clearly meant to get attention.
Ossian notes the ongoing Trump call and gestures to everyone to get closer to Folly. "If there is an emergency..."
Conner comes over to see what is going on.
Raven will likewise move closer, but she's more keeping an eye on the surroundings than on the conversation. Nothing like the word 'emergency' to make one want to make sure the ugly situation is only over there and not here, too...
Brita slows as she realizes the others are converging on Folly.
Noting Raven's caution, Garrett takes up a position on the opposite flank of the party, also watching the surroundings, but keeping an ear out for trouble from the trump call.
"Call from Merlin," Folly says. "He's calling for warriors. Moonriders." She holds out a hand for any of her cousins who want to join the call and returns her focus to Merlin. "Where are you?"
Delivering a zombie head, vs Moonriders? Jerod is first in line for the latter as he grasps Folly's hand.
Signy takes a couple of steps towards Jerod, considering how much she could help. Almost unconsciously her hand drifts down towards her belt, and comes to rest on the hilt of a knife.
While the others gather, Jerod takes Folly's hand and Merlin pulls him through.
Trusting Merlin to maintain the contact from his end, Folly scans ahead a bit. "Where's Regenlief?" she asks. "This seems like her bag."
Seeing her nearby assembled cousins, she adds, "Anyone else?" And then for Garrett's benefit, in case there was any doubt: "Our package should NOT go through." She shudders visibly thinking of what kind of mess time magic could make if applied to that particular problem.
Conner reaches out for Folly's hand to be passed through.
Raven will go as well.
Brita nods at Folly's dictate. She hefts the box a little higher and notes, "I will Continue with This to The Grove and Leave it There? I Can Call My Brother After to Rejoin You." The question in the first sentence is there for all. Brita is not sure if leaving the box unattended is wise. She will definitely try to hide it somehow when she gets there.
Garrett chews his lip in thought, but there really is no hesitation in his decision. His strength is defense. "I think I'm needed here," he says to Folly.
Ossian turns to Regenlief. "I think this means change of plans. We really need to win this fight, I think." He motions for her to go to Folly.
"I'll go with Brita. " He adds.
"Good luck, and I'll meet you on another rainbow path, I hope," Regenlief says.
Folly, who doesn't expect to be so good in this fight, says to Brita, "I'll take the package if you and Ossian want to go through now."
"Let me take it," Garrett offers, reaching past Folly to Brita. "I'll stick with Folly until we get to the Grove and meet up with Martin."
Ossian nods. Takes a deep breath. "Heh. I've always wanted to see the Moonriders."
He lets Folly pull him through.
Brita looks searchingly at Folly for a beat and then hands the box to Garrett. "Be Safe," she says to both of them before accepting Folly's hand to pass through the Trump.
"Be safe, Folly. I will call if there is need." Folly can intuit that Merlin means that he'll Trump if he and the cousins need to run for it. "Is there anything else, before we part?"
Folly shakes her head. "I'll be ready for your call, should you need it. Be safe."
Once the call is ended, she looks at Garrett. "I'd meant to call Martin next, but now I may be their escape plan" -- she gestures vaguely in the direction of the distant stairs -- "so I need to keep the line open, as it were. Would you do the honors?" She pulls her trump case from her pocket. "If they're still in town and need a ride up, we can pull them up. Or, if they've beaten us to the Grove, they can take us there the quick way." She thumbs out a card and offers it face-down to Garrett.
Garrett nods silently, looking grim, and sets the zombie box on the ground. He takes the card, turns it upright and focuses.
Brennan is nodding vigorously at something Robin has just said as they come riding into the Grove proper. Brennan's never been there before, nor to its counterpart in Amber, so he takes his cues from Robin, from Martin and Fletcher, and from what his memories of what others may have told him as far as observances and etiquette are concerned. Seeing that Martin is on a Trump call, he approaches them making himself conspicuously visible, but keeping generally quiet-- no surprises, but no distractions, either.
Lark is with her father, who seems to be a bit distracted. She runs over to greet him, with Fletcher following right behind. "Hello Cousin Brennan! Are you here for the council or for the fight?"
Meanwhile, Martin is saying to nobody in particular in that way that suggests he's in a Trump contact, "Wait, people have started arriving here. Mounted. Can you take them?"
Brennan looked about to dismount, until he hears Lark's question.
"Hello, Lorelei. I'd hoped we had time for council before we had to fight. Where is the fight?" He sounds like he's already made a good guess, and doesn't bother to ask who it's with. Glancing at Fletcher, he asks, "Do you have a Trump of Benedict?"
Fletcher greets them both and begins to shuffle through his deck to find Benedict.
Robin is familiar with the Grove (both of them actually) and she rides in confidently. Though she notes Martin, Fletcher and Lark, her eyes are first looking for any signs of those pesky firelillies. Assuming that she finds none, she grins at the small girl running toward Brennan. Oh, yeah - there's Family trouble on the hoof. Gotta love the lively ones.
There are no firelillies in this Grove, nor has Robin seen any in the immediate vicinity as she approached.
At the word 'fight' her ears prick up and Robin calls the firelizards to herself. But overall, the Ranger feels that there are enough people talking right now. So she doesn't add to the chatter, merely extends respectful nods to Martin and Fletcher.
"All right, I'll see who's coming." Martin says to Brennan and Robin, "We're pretty sure it's Moonriders. One of the Rangers saw his own corpse."
He offers a hand to them to send them through to Vere.
"Right." Robin throws a leg over Misae's back and quickly dismounts. Handing the reins to Fletcher, she says "Her name is Misae. She's Hannah's -- who is coming shortly. She's not war-trained and the last time I did that, I got thrown on my ass.
"Besides, I'm better on my own two feet anyway." she mutters as she takes Martin's hand.
A moment later, Robin's blue eyes light up with delight as she realizes Vere is on the other end of the Trump. Despite that the girl is getting combat-ready, the floomph! of joy/love fills the connection before Robin can damp it down. Stoopid Cards!
While Robin is going through the Trump, Brennan looks conflicted almost to the point of pain. He says to both Martin and Fletcher: "So much for getting in front of it all. We have to assume Avalon's end is being hit, too, and that Benedict doesn't know yet. Call him, is my advice." Right now, is also his advice, he just doesn't say it out loud. "This is important: From Castle Avalon, as the crow flies, where is the Avalon Stair?"
Martin just answers with an unhappy obsecenity.
Brennan waits to hear an answer to the crow-fly question, if they give one; but either way he follows Robin through.
"All right, I'll see who's coming." To someone standing near him, Martin says, "We're pretty sure it's Moonriders. One of the Rangers saw his own corpse."
Vere pulls Robin through and gives her a quick wordless kiss before returning his attention to the trump.
This kiss is returned sincerely for all its brevity.
Behind Vere, Merlin brings through Jerod.
Right behind Jerod, Conner appears through the rainbow light of Merlin's Trump. He nods to Merlin in thanks and steps forward to make room for others.
Folly passes Jerod, Conner, Raven, and Regenlief through to Merlin and he brings them through.
Vere pulls Brennan through, then waits to see if anyone else is going to follow, or to hear what words of instruction, advice, or farewell Martin may have for them.
"I'll call Benedict and Corwin and tell them to set up defense in town. And anywhere else it's needed. And if someone brings the package, burn it!" Martin says.
Vere nods an affirmative, and closes the connection as soon as he is sure everyone has come through.
Until Vere closes the contact, an uncharacteristic mix of dread and frustration leaks through from Brennan, when Martin can't (or doesn't) answer the Avalon question.
As Brennan is coming through behind her, Robin turns to Lilly. "So who is boots on the ground? Errr, in charge?" Robin adjusts her thinking, given that she was just talking about military vs other mentalities.
Vere regards his cousins silently, waiting for them to sort things out and start asking questions.
Brennan turns to Vere and Lilly and asks, "What do we know and what do you need?"
"Not enough and too much," Vere answers. "We got here and found nothing out of the way at first, but while securing the site one of the Rangers stumbled across his own corpse, apparently dead a matter of weeks. That certainly makes a Moonrider attack likely." He shakes his head. "So what we really need is someone with experience dealing with the Moonriders, or at the least dealing with temporal magics, to take charge and tell the ignorant among us what to do."
"Then it is Edan we need." Conner replies. "He has fought against the Moonriders and has knowledge of the dimension of Time. Putting myself forward as understudy for the role, I am trained in Time magic and I have talked to Edan about individual tactics against Moonriders," Conner is wearing the same outfit as he went to Edan's affair in. Halosydne is his only visible weapon.
"Likewise, all counts." Brennan says. "They were at Oberon's funeral, too. Bleys and I encountered a party of riders as we were moving back to Amber. I've seen them on the move, met them, and spoken with their High Marshall. Reminds me of Benedict, actually. We didn't fight them, but they were ready for it-- I caught them using invisibility sorcery to try capture the element of surprise."
Brennan is wearing the same armor he wore to Edan's celebration. It's not ceremonial-- cuirass and leggings. He has his customary two swords with him.
Robin is stringing a long bow, quiver at her back, long sword at her side, with plenty of bulges about her person that say 'knife' to the experienced viewer. No armor though, just pretty festival clothes.
"I've got no experience with time manipulators, but I've fought out-of-phase opponents before and not limited to linear time preconceptions." She shrugs, she has no idea how to say that better to the sorcery types.
"I can hit things," Raven says dryly. "Not a clue on the rest." The captain has added a cutlass and a dirk to what she was wearing earlier - which is the kind of nice that's very well-made, but only reluctantly and quietly crosses the line into fancy and decorative.
Brita nods in agreement, "I have No Knowledge of the Moon Riders, although Uncle Loki often Tried Tricks of Time." Brita is still in her embroidered skirt (a skirt!) from the festivities. She has an Axe tucked into the sash on one side.
Jerod leans on his spear, his otherwise very fashionable court coat and pants rather unarmored. "No time manipulation on my side, but we did have to go through a patch of Black Road."
Ossian comes through, carrying a rapier and a long dagger. He has only very light armour, but considering his fighting style, that might be a good choice. "Greetings, cousins," he says. "I guess I will keep a low profile. Lilly has my Trump if that is of any help."
"Oookay," Robin says, taking it all in. "Then this would be my suggestion." She puts a lot of emphasis on the word suggestion.
"Firstly, extreme buddy system in place. No one bounces off alone.
"Tactically, three teams: Base - Brennan, Lily & Vere (until Edan gets here, then he'd be on that team and taking over from Brennan as coordinator). Strike - Conner, Jerod, Merlin &... viking lady I don't know. Scout - Me, Brita, Ossian & Raven."
She shrugs. "Works?"
"The lady of Asgard is named Regenleif." Conner supplies. "Each team should have one versed in Time sorcery. Remind me Sister, have you trained in that principle?" Conner asks Brita.
"The Valkyrie Regenleif is Ossian's mother, a friend and a damn good ally," Brennan says. When Robin proposes her order of battle, Brennan also nods or glances at each person in turn so Regenlief can put names to faces.
He continues, "I'm not sure if their time powers are properly Sorcery or not, but they have Sorcerers regardless. They can move people in time, and they seem to exist in a state that's spread out over time, or have multiple points of personal 'now' that they can access. (And by the way," he says, digressing with almost audible parentheses, "if you get thrown, consider making it back to the meeting at the Grove, with Martin.) I'm still working through everything I could do with that, but imagine being able to shoot an arrow, then tell your earlier self how to correct for windage and do it again for the first time. Or if you're trying to reach a staircase against opposition, tell your earlier self whether to duck left or right.
"So let me offer an alternate possibility," Brennan says. "Pattern. It's good against their Sorcerers. It's good against being sent back in time, and those of us strong in it, or bearing Rebma's blade, or both, might be able to protect a small area letting the Rangers fight with us." Conner was obviously referenced there, but he eyes Jerod and Robin also. "It ought to blunt their ability to pick the consequence before the action. And we have a lot more Pattern wielders than Sorcerers."
Vere listens intently, but he knows practically nothing of the Principal of Time, so he has nothing to offer to the conversation at this point.
Ossian looks at his father. "Do you mean using Pattern to inhibit time manipulation then? We'll necessarily have to keep the area small, not to interfere with each other too much."
Brita notes, "I Know Some Principles of Time But have Little Experience. Establishing the Order of Pattern should be Effective Against Disordering the Flow of Time. I Can be Scout or Fore Guard as Best Needed." She looks to Robin and Brennan for further discussion.
"I don't know these Moonriders at all," Regenlief says, "and I know no Sorcery. I will go where you bid me, and I will do all that I can against the foe. Where do we think they're coming from?" She is heavily armed, with a full shield, a sword, and a spear that would probably do a number on a mounted opponent.
"I'm going to let Vere or Lilly answer that, since they've been guarding the place," Brennan says.
"But to answer Ossian," Brennan continues, "Yes, I mean exactly that. I wouldn't make this a Sorcery on Sorcery fight-- it plays to their strength on a field only two of us can really engage. Order on Sorcery is something all of us except Regenleif can do. It blunts or removes the strength they rely on, playing to our own. This close to Xanadu, it is the stronger tool. It is a defensive power at a time we are making a defense along the Faiella-Bionin. It makes Halosydne even more of a blessing. Yes, you're absolutely right Order will inhibit our own Sorcerers, but that's going to happen every time someone resists an attempt to move them in time. You could argue for Team Sorcery in the field and team Pattern here at the Stairs, but I wouldn't. I'd reserve Sorcery for the most limited and passive effects, like sensing and detection.
"And if their power gives them the advantage I think it does, the way to stop them is to cause all possible paths to go through us, with no possibility of going around. On the assumption that they're going to try to take or go up the stair, I will stay, as Robin says, at the base-- the stairs. It's the chokepoint. If I don't move, they have to try to deal with me and anyone with me. Unless they refuse battle-- and we have evidence they don't-- I see no better plan." He looks to Vere and Robin, and asks, "Do we have Rangers with us? How many? By the way, someone with cards, please shuffle out a Benedict. Martin is trying to reach him already, but my assumption is that they're hitting Avalon, too, and if we can't reach Benedict we're going to have to figure out how to get from here to there quickly.
"Oh, and we're gonna need more of those," he points at Regenlief's spear. He glances around in what, to the rest of the Family, is a tell for conjury-- he's aiming for at least one but preferably several anti-cavalry spears, sturdy, durable, with a wrong end and a right end to be on, and crossbars to keep someone from crossing the space in between uninvited. "Enough for us and any Rangers that stand with us."
It's difficult to conjure here, as it's very close to the Pattern, except that it's easier than Brennan expects to do it -- something is happening here that makes it possible for him to do it at all -- and he ends up with three or four.
"We have Rangers and mounts," Vere responds. "As I understand, the Moonriders prefer cavalry tactics." He will detail their numbers and any quick observations he has made about them on the trip up.
Ossian pulls his Trump deck, and flips up Benedict's Trump. "I'll call Benedict." He says and starts to open a Trump contact. If possible Benedict should feel the urgency of Ossian's call.
Benedict takes a moment to answer. "Who calls? If it is not urgent, leave me be. We're under attack in Avalon." Ossian can see he's on the field, mounted, not on Stripey, with a shield on his maimed arm and with a cavalry blade in his other hand. The field is dark and some of the warriors around him are glowing with an eerie luminescence.
The moon is high in the Avalonian sky.
I won't apologize, Ossian thinks. He wouldn't appreciate it anyway.
"It's Ossian. Me and a number of my cousins, including Lilly, are at the bottom of the stairs to Tir. The Moonriders are coming."
"They're also attacking here." Benedict says, and he's fighting while maintaining his end of the contact. "Coming down the stair to Tir. Use the Pattern against them, protect your men, and be prepared for pitched battle. Their steeds don't fly. Here they're led by a young woman; the Marshall must be leading the attack on Xanadu. Beware."
"Thanks for the advice, uncle. Take care on your side then." Unless Benedict seems to have more to say Ossian ends the conversation.
Benedict is a little busy so he lets the conversation go.
Robin thinks about it. "I might be able to whip up some of those spears, but not quickly and not right here."
"If we're looking at cavalry tactics," Raven offers, "probably wouldn't hurt to throw out something that looks like caltrops, even if they aren't the real thing. Might keep them coming at us from fewer directions."
Conner nods as though Robin confirmed something. "Sorcery is hard near a Pattern and manipulating the Pattern doubly so. Robin, I suspect you've got the most experience with people trying to manipulate Pattern near a Pattern. Any suggestions on how to use it as a defense? I tried it when Artemis brought the Green to Heather Vale and failed to make an impact."
Merlin speaks up. "I am not so versed as to use Pattern as a defense, but I know that my father and his brothers and sisters have used Trump in concert. Perhaps you could reinforce the Pattern in the same way. Also it seems to me that if they come--and they will, soon, the Moon is almost here--then the key will be bottling them up." He gestures toward the stairsteps. "They cannot come down too many abreast and thus Pattern and spear-lengths and multiple tiers so they cannot jump over our heads will be the best defense.
"I should have listened more when Father talked about Jones Falls."
Jerod looks up at the Moon and pauses.
"So...if they're coming down the stairs...how do we get rid of the stairs?" he asks.
Vere blinks. "As a temporary measure, or permanently?" he asks.
Brennan, frowning and inspecting one of the spears he conjured, was going to say something to Conner and Robin but that stops him short. "You know a way? I know of none except to destroy Tir, and that's not on the table. This is a natural feature of the Faiella-Bionin-- only recent events even managed so much as to move it.
"Merlin's right," Brennan continues, "about time being short especially and about spear-ranks." He shrugs at Raven-- probably not enough time for caltrops. "I'd augment with a smaller mobile squad to chase down break-outs. Or if they're going up not coming down, to generally harass." The way he plants himself near the stair says that he's not for that team. "Insights on Time are probably good for that team, maybe light Sorcery, but I'm still for Order as the general defense. As the King would say, keep insisting that the universe enforce its rules, and help where able."
Brennan keeps a spear for himself and hands out the others to those that want them. "For what it's worth, these were easier than they should have been. I don't suppose anyone has a Trump of Marius, get him to pass the Knights through for more boots on the ground?"
Raven will take a spear. "Sounds like running around might be exciting," she says, with a nod to Robin, "but I ain't exactly new at repelling all comers." She plants herself and the butt of her weapon a few steps from Brennan, near the stairs.
Brita is staring at the night sky. "Can We Draw Clouds to Cover the Moon. That would Prevent the Stairs Entirely, Correct? Or I Could Try to Control the Clouds for Opportune Moments."
Robin has been nodding to herself as folks talk and wandered around to the back of the stairsteps. "Hah!" comes the sound of her exclamation as she squats down to brush away loose scrub and soil. Flipping back a dirt colored flap of canvas, the glimmer of metal is revealed. Robin stands up from a cache of Rebman-styled spears obviously sequestered away and forgotten during a hurried exodus.
She stands up brushing dirt off of her hands. "Turns out close and quick was better than slow and far away." She shrugs.
Then she replays the various comments that occurred while she was conjuring.
"Using Pattern as a defense? Channeling the opponent's approaches, definitely. I also use it sometimes to boost my... luck?" Robin's reaching for concepts that she usually doesn't work into words. "Or to increase my opponent's misfortune. Mutual support?" Robin shakes her head. "That takes a lot of practice not to cross other wielders'... uh, intent. General firming up should be okay, though.
"Oh, and against phasic folk? I use the terrain and attack the senses - slower but sometimes the only blows I can land."
Robin looks over to Brennan and Raven. "I'm better in motion than I am holding the ground. If you want to supplement up the Time and Sorcery elements in the Mobile team, call 'em." She finishes with a smile.
Brennan grins when Robin comes up with her own cache of spears. "Mutual Support of No Funny Business is about as trick as I think we'd want to get. Keeps everyone on the same page and gets what we want done.
"Moon's not supposed to be full tonight, though," he says to Brita. Then he frowns and turns to Vere then Merlin, "Weren't we just saying the Moon isn't full tonight? Why are you thinking they're coming down?"
Merlin frowns and starts to say something, and then reconsiders. "I do not know, cousin. But nonetheless I believe it to be true."
Brennan looks over at Merlin and nods. "I'll understand later. If you have a card for Marius, by the way, this would be a fantastic time to use it and ask him to bring over as many of the Ruby as he can. They're already in units ready to move... But I figured they'd be moving after the meeting, not before..
"We discovered the corpse of one of our Rangers," Vere explains. "A man named Gamut. He stumbled across his own body, apparently several weeks dead." Vere will take one of the spears and guard the stairs, bringing the Pattern to mind and concentrating firmly on it.
Ossian has been tucking away his Trump. "Benedict is fighting Moonriders in Avalon. They are coming down the stairs there. So no help from him. But he thinks their Marshal is coming here. I take it that's a bad sign?" He asks rhetorically.
Conner plants himself next to Brennan to defend at the foot of the stairs. Conner will bring the Pattern to mind and attempt to bolster reality around them using Halosydne as an amplifier if possible.
Brennan looks confused by Ossian's new information, and not a little apprehensive, but shakes his head and says, "I'll understand it later. And yeah, think of him as their Benedict and a Sorcerer from what Bleys says." He glances at Regenlief, assuming she's with the group at the stairs, but gesturing for her to join them if she's not.
Hannah attempts to concentrate on Gerard while bumping along on a horse.
While using the cards is still not Hannah's native method of magic, she is a child of Amber. Even bumping along on a horse, she can get hold of Gerard.
"Hannah? Is that you? Where are you?" Gerard is confused.
[And assuming she and Edan are skin to skin, he's in this contact too!]
In the grove ahead, Edan can see the rainbow flash of someone going through a Trump. Martin and Fletcher and Lark are all still in the Grove though.
"We are headed to the Grove but it looks like trouble is brewing somewhere... so I called you for a field kit, and I was wondering if Corvis would be willing to oversee the watch on the baby." She sighs. "You have questions and I'll answer what I can. We're concerned about an imminent attack from the... Moonriders, and that our Queen is possessed by theirs, and the... tíuzhí... uh, cousin clan group, we're going to meet to exchange notes before the morning meeting, but there seems to be trump movement ahead instead of chat so I need to be prepared."
"Corvis isn't back yet; I thought she was with you." Gerard's agitation leaks through the contact. "I'll see what I can find but there's not much here in the way of field kit. I can get hospital supplies ready if you need them, but it'll alert the household, if that's what you're worried about."
Seeing Trump activity ahead, Edan steers Aramsham towards it. Otherwise, he keeps quiet.
The contact has clearly been closed by the time Edan gets there.
"Edan? You just missed the call. Moonriders are coming down the steps at moonrise, looks like,. Martin says.
Lark runs up to Aramsham without fear. "I didn't know a baby was coming!"
"Gerard, it looks like the Moonriders may be coming down the steps at moonrise. Corvis was with me, but she felt we had to keep my son away from Vialle until we were sure she wasn't possessed. We took the service stairs down and I left her with Solange when we called Edan. So, I would say alerting the household is likely the least of our worries. Do you have a trump of Solange?"
"I do, and I'll contact her. Who else do you need to talk to?" Gerard asks. "Is Corwin there, or Benedict? Do you know?"
"Moon-" Edan clenches his hand around the reins, then utters a sharp word to Aramsham to stay still with Lark underfoot. "I mustered the Lamp before I left to leave town for maneuvers in the morning. Get them away from the palace. They'll be going the wrong direction. I did not foresee this," he says to Martin. "You're in luck though, Hannah is talking to Gerard right now. We just talked about setting this spot up as a forward relief.... his voice trails off. "Wait, who is up there? How many of our Elders?"
"I think Brennan may be the seniormost up there and--ah sh!t--" Martin holds a hand up to Edan as his brow furrows and then he consciously straightens out to accept what is clearly a Trump call after reflexively trying to throw it off. "Who's there?"
Hannah says, "Uh, um, huh... I suspect not." She pauses. "I think I just heard Brennan is the oldest there. Like I said, we were meeting to share cousin knowledge so we could see what could condense. Give me one second Uncle. It's all happening fast." She looks up at Edan and over at Martin and decides she's getting down. "Give me an arm, Edan," she says.
Edan nods to Martin, hoping that he would understand they're both in separate Trump conversations. He looks...not happy. He doesn't bother to try and hide the tinge of despair that's creeping in on the edges of the Trump call. "I don't think Brennan's fought them," he says, in and out of the contact. "I have, several times. The original plan isn't going to work." He helps Hannah down, then gingerly starts to unwind himself from the carrier, baby supported on one hand and arm. "Would you lend me one of your knives for an athame? I always ruin my swords when I use them." I'm avoiding the subject is what he doesn't say.
Hannah lets go of him to bend down, pull an eight inch bone knife out of her boot, and hand it to Edan. "The sheath is built into the boot, and I haven't another." She moves to put her arm under his and take the baby. Gerard can likely feel her need to act. "Uncle, call everyone you think is fit to fight, and send me all the supplies and medics you can. Shall I call you back?" She is rubbing the thumb of her free hand inside her medicine bag, and it comes out blackened. The knife is made for her hands, so it's going to be a bit small for Edan's. Although the sides are sharp, this is a thrusting blade.
"Aye," says Gerard, "And I'll find Solange and get hold of Ben and Corwin. And Jules."
"Thank you Gerard," she says, and lets gratitude, appreciation, relief, fraternity, hope, and filial respect follow her determined smile. She hasn't really a free hand so she closes her eyes and makes the mental effort to close the contact. Then she looks up at Edan. "You will go fight; you don't have to say it. Save your bravery for the battle. We will be wherever I am most needed doing what I do. Let me paint you." She lifts her black thumb.
Edan smiles, just a little, and nods his agreement. It almost offsets his grim expression. "This is new." He stays on Aramsham, but leans over so that Hannah can easily reach him. "Tell me what you are painting."
He also thinks, Kyauta. I go to where Lords of Order gather. Their power, all together, it could harm or even destroy you without them knowing it. I have a better plan than this.
Go as fast as you can to the compound. Some of the Knights are already mustering for the morning. Raise the alarm. Get them horsed. Armor and swords. Gather at the entrance. If I get a chance to Part the Veil, charge at the opening. I'll have you pointed the right way.
Meanwhile Martin is talking to whoever's at the other end of his Trump call. "We're at the Grove. Edan's here. Come through," Martin says and steps back so there's room for horses if someone else is riding.
Hannah glances over at the new arrivals for just a second. "If you had a tribe and a clan and... quests met and societies joined... You do of course, I will find it all. Can you conjure here? I could use fat and... or water. Come to the spring with me, two minutes. Brennan or someone would trump you if they needed you now."
Edan looks back at the others, up at the sky, does a little mental math, and nods. "Okay. Merlin should be able to. Or me him." He slides off his horse. "The moon is coming, unless someone can affect the clouds."
"Bring the Prince of Horses, he can be painted too." She leads the way, following the curve of the ground toward the spring. The baby is swaddled unceremoniously, with the economy of movement owed to long practice. Some of the black powder smudges the sheets, and she leaves his arms free this time.
"So, the people have a tradition of using color, symbols, and patterns to center their intent before battle, and when applied by the medicine man can bestow a sense of confidence and purpose, sometimes power. You don't need those, so you get the other intent - scare the enemy. When you call your fire, where does it come from? The mind, the heart, the gut?"
Edan starts to answer, then decides the answer isn't that simple. "I have grown," he says. "Things have changed. Like the afriti, I am the fire. My heart channels it. My mind gives it shape and direction and purpose."
"Very Well. I think I see it. How many people have you killed in hand to hand combat?"
She isn't reslinging the baby yet, and as they come to the spring, she settles him just where she thinks Arasham is unlikely to step on him. She takes off her jacket and folds it into a basin. She motions for him to come down off the horse. She kneels to saya quiet prayer and touches the water, then her lips, then her forehead. She waits a moment, listening, watching the water reflect the sky.
"You know Lilly and I were just in a battle," Edan says. "Throughout my life...by hand, not sorcery...perhaps a hundred. Less than two."
She stands and nods at that. "That will make this easier. When I am done, you will look like a man who kills. Hopefully our cousins will see through it. My other cousins will know you for a warrior who has already proven himself. This may be intense, but I know you will respect the ritual of it."
Edan nods in return. "If Moonriders are coming down the Stair, we need all the advantage we can get. If I summon my Knights, well, the older ones have seen worse. I trust you. Do this thing."
She gently scoops water into the jacket, mixes just a few pinches of powder from a roll of cloth she's pulled out of her pouch. She mixes it with her hands until they're stained and then stands up. "To show them you are a warrior who will not surrender." She lays her wet hands on his collarbones and pushes color under his chin, the across his shoulders before she gets more. She is focused, silently moving in rhythm with Edan's breath. "Edan doesn't dance with fire, but is the fire as it dances. Beautiful freedom in destruction." Hannah moves about him, layering his torso in yellow, until she twists streaks in his hair with the final bits of pollen.
She rolls open the cloth and dips her fingers in red powder. "Red, for the power the Merciful One has given you responsibility for." She moves around him pulling ribbons of red up his abdomen, rib cage, flaring at his shoulders and swirling up his spine. Having depleted the powder, she carefully pulls more water over and adds a enough red powder that it almost goes black. "To show them you do not fear to wear the blood of your enemies." She slaps her dripping left hand into his chest, near his right shoulder, and waits a moment for the color to run down.
Her red right hand she runs over his forehead and up into his hair. She brings them down to grasp his wrists in a tight grip. "What are you fighting for, Fire Dances?"
"Home. Family," Edan says, quick enough that he must have anticipated the question. "You. Him," and he looks down at the baby. "I have made Xanadu my home. Hubs 'ajaeal mawaqifi. Here I make my stand!"
Hannah nods at him with a deep breath. "Pahóga gínazhi, banó. We stand in anticipation; we stand together as a family."
She returns to the water but only cups a little in her left hand. Her right fingertips dip into black powder, and she traces a shape resembling an anatomically correct heart on the skin above his. "To show them you bring all the strength of those you lead against them." Hannah wets her fingers and quickly fills out the symbol until it is a lamp's silhouette. She lets the smoke drift from her fingers from lamp to chin, and over, until his lips are stained black and his nose hides in the night. She spreads black powder over both her hands and rubs them together, then puts them on either side of his face, thumbs extended out to meet the black of his mouth. "Black is the Strength of Aggression. Black brings all you have with it, drives back those who would harm Xanadu and our family." She slips her hands under his hair and behind his neck, rubbing on the last of the color.
"Last is purple, the sacred color, the color of mysteries, the stain of sorcery. Purple, to show them terror neither starts nor ends with your knives." Hannah smooths her fingers from his hairline, over the red, his eyes, and down to cover what little bare skin is left on his face. "I would draw a symbol of protection on your back, if you'll allow it."
"Yes," Edan says, looking at himself to see what he can of what's been done. "And then I will seal it with Sorcery. If I catch fire, I don't want this ruined."
Hannah gives him a funny look, and shakes her head. She walks behind him and slaps him on the back. "Hold still," she demands. "It isn't meant to be permanent, and the messages aren't for you. If you burst into flame, and it burns off, then you did nothing but become the embodiment, and you won't need the paint - you'll still have the words." Hannah, again with purple, puts a dot in the center of his spine. She draws fletched arrows pointing out to the directions from the dot, draws a circle to encompass the arrows and the dot, and then half circles, both above and below. She whispers a prayer behind him.
Edan starts to nod in understanding, but stays perfectly still instead.
Coming around to face him again, she rubs the remaining purple powder into her hands, dampens them slightly, and holds them out, downward, before him. "Anyway, since I've used water instead of fat to mix this, it's likely to stain. You will likely need sorcery to get it off. Now, open your hands against mine. We will call our Gods to hear us."
She waits until Edan has recentered and is ready. "Oh Merciful One, your child Edan is prepared to battle for the things you have taught him are right. Please hear his prayers. Oh Creator, Grandfather of the Earth, your child Enana is prepared to battle for the things you have taught me and to save lives so after the destruction there will be creation. Please hear my prayer." She takes her hands from Edan's and crosses her arms to grip her biceps. She will have purple handprints on her arms, but that is the point. She tilts her chin at him to indicate he should do the same. Hannah quietly begins praying, looking up at the sky.
Edan nods at the appropriate places and follows suit, but says no words. Now was not the time to explain the crisis of faith Clarissa had brought in him. And ultimately, it didn't matter. He would need all the help he could get.
So when Edan turns his head to the sky, it is a different creature that comes to his thoughts. Unicorn, he thinks, your great-grandson is here in your Grove, about to defend against the foes of Xanadu. My liege is compromised, and I have met me my match against these Moonriders of Ghenesh. Bless our efforts this day, or at least remember us, that we stood to defend Order when no one else could.
"This is a sacred place." Hannah glances at the spring, and back at Edan. She lightly grips his shoulders. "When your path opens before you and you smolder with unbreakable will, may time not touch your heart; may no flood carry you from your quest; may home remain your center." And with that she lets go and grins.
"I saved Green for the little tiger. It is for Endurance." She dots the fussy baby's forehead, then draws the morning star where his collarbones meet. He doesn't seem to appreciate this, so she picks him up. "All I ask today is that you fight to live long enough for me to name you," she whispers to the child, not trying to hide it from Edan. "Now give Baba your blessings before he goes to fight." She offers the hungry baby to his father.
Edan takes the baby, and tries a little bouncing to calm him down; he looks inexperienced. Some tickling under the cougar's arms works better. "I will be back," he says, "and then we will teach you absolutely everything. And then you'll be protecting us."
Hannah digs a little rock of chalk out of the bottom of her bag and approaches the horse. "Well, Prince of Horses, Carries Fire, Beautiful One... please accept some medicine from me, or if you choose not to, do me the courtesy of a warning nip instead of a hard bite." Hannah speaks to the horse for a few moments, moving calmly toward him from the side where he can see her. She tells him about how the horses were the best thing the invaders brought among the people, how Omaha and Ponca both saw the sacred in them. Once they have talked and he's gotten used to her friendly hands on him, she draws big white circles around his eyes and a white star on his nose, just like the one on Misae's. Then she uses the remaining green powder, with a little spit, to gently color around Aramsham's eyes so they echo the shape of Edan's own. She sings to him the whole time, in Omahain.
When she comes back over to Edan she's still humming her tune. Her mouth quirks. "I'm sure you'll be disappointed to not be around the first time he needs new swaddling."
"It's just as well. I hear it takes hours to clean up the first few times, anyway," Edan says. "Something about hair. It almost makes the unicorn story believable." He touches two fingers against the baby's forehead, where the Third Eye would manifest, before he hands him back over.
Hannah takes the child and gives Edan a look that says she doesn't believe him. "You're missing out, nothing even stinks the first few times."
"Am I ready? It feels ready, somehow."
"You're asking me? You tell me if you're ready. If you think not we can soak your pants in grandmother's spring here for luck." Now she's definitely teasing.
"Not to worry," Edan says. "I can wet my pants on my own." He smiles a little and holds her gaze. "I can't promise to be careful. I can promise to give it my all. You'll know when and if you need to run. I will find you."
"Or I will find you," she smiles back, "and I won't ask for promises. You will do what you must. I know this." She kisses him well and good, and pulls away with a sigh. "Go... hurt them but good so we don't have to do this for the next five years. I need to trump Gerard back."
She steps out of range of his reach.
With a quirky little smile, Edan gets back into the saddle, gives Hannah a nod of farewell, and turns Aramsham back towards Martin and the others.
As always, it takes a minute for Martin to decide to let down his guard and accept the call. "Who's there?"
"It's Garrett. I'm with Folly, on our way up to the Grove," Garrett says. He seems more tense than Martin has seen him in some time. "Are you there yet? And if you are, can you bring us through?"
"We're at the Grove. Edan's here. Come through," Martin says and steps back so there's room for horses if someone else is riding.
Folly steps through, clutching an armored case very tightly; she trades it with Garrett for her Martin trump once he's stepped through. She says to Martin, "The intended recipient of your package was not available to receive it, so we thought it safest to bring it with us." She touches the case lightly for a moment. "With enhanced security."
She glances around the Grove without really seeing it and then slips her hand into Martin's with a look that usually precedes bad news. Or an apology.
Meanwhile, Garrett takes the armored box from Folly and sets it down near his feet. He turns to Martin. "I have to admit I don't have much battle experience, other than that time we saved Vialle," he says to his brother, grimacing slightly at the memory in light of the current situation. "But I'll go where you need me," he finishes with a single strong nod. He's not dressed for battle, having had no time to change after the event in the square. He's in street clothes with just a leather jacket for protection, but he does have a small knife at his belt and has acquired a rough-looking sword from somewhere.
"Neither of us has any business on the front lines, Prince Garrett," Martin says by way of reminding him. Meanwhile, Lark has run up to throw her arms around her mother. "Mama! I met a lot of new friends and played with wood-wights and talked to Gramma Brij!"
Folly bends down to give her daughter a big hug, carefully adjusting her stance so that the knives tucked into the belt around her hips and the buckler slung from a strap over her back don't get in the way. "I'm so glad you had a good time!" she says... and carefully does not add 'and that you are wearing clothes again'.
The zombie head rattles inside its cage, and Martin grimaces. "Edan needs to burn that thing. Preferably outside the Grove," he mutters. Martin hasn't had a chance to change since his arrival and he looks like he's already been in a fight, but he's not armored, just armed with a gentleman's blade that has been cleaned up but has also seen some recent fighting.
At the sound of the cage rattling, Fletcher turns his head away from scanning the perimeter. His longsword is in his hand. Seeing that things are still quiet for the moment, he remarks, "Resolve and wits can serve as armor aplenty, my lords. And they have fewer leather straps." He wishes he had his plate armor.
Garrett scowls down at the cage, resisting the urge to kick it. "Let's hope so," he answers Fletcher. He turns to Martin and asks, "So what do we know? Have you had any reports?"
Martin shakes his head, once. "Other than Big Trouble in Little Amber? Not so much. We need to get this place ready for incoming and then one of the two of us needs to get out of here, Garrett. Two princes in the same place is a no-go. Fletcher, have you fought the Moonriders before? If you have, you may need to go up with Edan."
He's still waiting for whatever Folly has to say to hit the fan.
Folly says to Lark, "Why don't you tell Uncle Garrett and Fletcher what you know about zombies, and they can tell you a little bit about Moonriders, while I talk to Daddy just for a minute?" In a lower, much less cheerful voice, she says to Martin, "We need to talk about your father."
If Martin is willing, she'll lead him a little away from the group so they can talk privately.
Fletcher turns to face Martin. "I've met some, but haven't faced them in combat. I've got one or two ideas about tactics that might work well, but they're just theories. I'm willing to face them where you need me." Since he's expecting action, Fletcher removes his necktie and stuff it in a jacket pocket.
Garrett clearly hadn't thought about the 'two princes together' implications until Martin mentions it. His surprised look turns thoughtful even as he absently reaches a hand out to Lark. Before she starts on her tale, however, he asks Fletcher, "Has anyone talked to Corwin, do you know? If Paris isn't involved, that might be a back door, if things go sour."
Signy looks over from where she took up a casual watch of where they came in from, having decided that for the time being with the Family assembled at the stairs having a few that were in reserve and could go wherever was needed was probably the better option for her.
"Do we have any other reserves available if needed, or if we find a surprise attack coming from somewhere that we haven't anticipated?"
Her hand rests casually on the hilt of her sword, though she hasn't yet drawn it.
"Edan's people are somewhere; and some of Brennan's knights are with them but I don't know if anyone with a Trump is," Martin answers. He tosses his deck of Trumps to Garrett. "Hannah was talking to Gerard. Someone get Corwin on the horn, someone else get Julian. See if you can find Flora and if she's in Paris, if she can raise Corwin's knights. If nobody's called Ben, him too. Arrange to get Edan's people to the fight at the stair." This is mostly directed at Garrett, but also to Signy and Fletcher, since there are enough Trumps for everybody.
Lark is still clinging to Folly. "Mama, but I have to tell you--"
Martin interrupts, "Kiddo, your mom and I have to talk. Can you help Uncle Garrett call great-uncle Corwin?"
Folly adds, "This shouldn't take very long. You hold on tight to that thought, and tell me as soon as we're done. Or you can tell your Uncle Garrett, if you have to say it right now." She gives her daughter a reassuring smile and leads Martin a short distance away from the rest of the group.
Signy makes her way over to Garrett to get whatever Trump she is dealt.
"Do you have one of my brother in there also," she asks Garrett, though her voice should carry to Martin as well.
She considers volunteering to go for Edan and Brennan's missing forces, but "somewhere" is vague, and may be more of a wild goose chase than they can afford right now.
Garrett catches the trump deck easily and immediately starts shuffling. He finds Corwin's trump and pulls it out.
"I don't know. You can look," he suggests. He pulls out one more card before handing the rest of the deck to Signy. He then holds the other card out to Fletcher, face down. "Do you want to call Benedict?" he says. It's not really a question.
Assuming Fletcher takes the card, Garrett will focus on Corwin's trump.
Fletcher nods, and takes the card. He takes a few steps away. He observes, "if something big is going down, I'm guessing Dad's already been pinned down. Worth a shot though." He concentrates on the card....
Fletcher hears his father's voice as the connection opens. "Who calls now?"
He's in the middle of a fight.
Fletcher speaks briskly and loud enough to be heard, "Fletcher. Invasion of Xanadu by stair is imminent or underway. Forces need to be mustered to repel them. I see you are busy elsewhere and assume this is not a coincidence."
"Ossian has already called," Benedict says. Fletcher can feel his father's graceful movements through the connection: the thrust and parry with the knifed buckler on his off arm, the shudder of the hard parry with his blade, the jerk of the blade from flesh as he cuts a foe down. "They're in Avalon too. Remember Jones Falls."
Meanwhile, Lark's parents have called for her, but once they hear that she's going to Hannah, they go back to what they're doing.
Fletcher remains focused on his conversation with Benedict, and tries not to be too big a distraction for him. "Where is Ossian now? Has he mustered any forces?"
"He's at the stair on your side with some of your cousins," Benedict answers, "Raise the city and the rest of the family if no one has. I can hold here for a time, but their main forces will be sent to Xanadu, if they're involved at all."
Signy deftly catches the Trumps tossed by Garrett and shuffles out Julian and Flora's Trumps face down. While she's got the Deck out she takes a quick scan through for a Trump of her brother and if one is there pulls it out to add to the bottom of her small pile.
Flipping over the top Trump on the pile, she looks at her Aunt's picture and concentrates on it.
"Aunt Flora? It's Signy, and pretty important."
Florimel is in Castle Xanadu. She sighs, a little impatiently, and says, "What's Random done now?"
Signy offers a tight smile, but otherwise skips the offer to waste time. "There's an attack imminent on the stairs from Tir, Moonriders. There's a group at the stairs, but we're looking to see who can help get reinforcements."
She pauses, and looks elsewhere suddenly as if distracted. "King Random is occupied by an attack on him through the Queen."
Florimel's demeanor changes at once. Clearly, whatever she was expecting, it wasn't this. "I'll raise the castle guard and contact my--" and she's distracted for a moment as well. Signy feels a third party join the contact as someone takes Florimel's hand, and it's Solange.
"Signy? Dad says there's an attack. Bring me through."
Meanwhile, Lark's parents have called for her, but once they hear that she's going to Hannah, they go back to what they're doing.
Signy reaches her hand towards Solange. "A few of us are in the Grove with Martin, trying to contact whomever we can to raise the alarm. I'll be reaching out to Uncle Julian right after this, Fletcher's talking to Uncle Benedict, and I think Garrett is reaching out to King Corwin."
"The castle's being raised," Solange says, adding, "Aunt Florimel, I was sent to tell you Dad needs you. The King may not be able to lead the defense so Dad's taking the reins. Also someone needs to call Caine in Amber and get some of his naval people here." She takes Signy's hand and steps through.
Solange was ready for this: she's wearing a shirt of mail and is armed with a blade and shield.
Corwin takes the call without demur, but there's a clear impatience in his mind. "Who is it? And what's going on?" He's not paying the kind of attention that it takes to hide where he is, which is at the port in the city below.
"It's Garrett," the young prince answers immediately. "I'm up at the grove with Martin and others. We just got word that a Moonrider attack is imminent at the steps to Tir. Have you heard from anyone in Paris?"
Corwin shakes his head and it's almost like he said no through the connection. "We're gathering the defenses of the city in case they break through and attempt to sack it. Who's in charge where you are?"
Meanwhile, Lark's parents have called for her, but once they hear that she's going to Hannah, they go back to what they're doing.
"Martin is in charge here at the Grove. Most of the rest are either at the stairs or going there, so I reckon Jerod or Brennan is in charge there," Garrett explains. "I know they were looking to get Edan's knights up here for support. Are they part of the city guard, at this point?"
"We're conscripting anyone who can take up arms. The carnage during the sack of Amber was terrible; we've got too many undefended civilians here." Corwin's usually more reserved during trump contacts and in life; this is probably the first time Garrett has seen or felt one of his Uncles this upset. "Do you know where Bleys is? Is he with Fiona?"
When they are reasonably out of earshot of the rest of the group -- but not so far that a shout wouldn't reach them -- Folly asks, "What have you heard so far, about your dad? And Vialle?"
"That Vialle murdered Cambina while she was walking the Tir Pattern, which Vialle shouldn't be able to do, which is part of why we were having this party here that seems to be derailing because the bad guys are one step or possibly one stairway ahead of us. And that Vialle and whoever may be riding her have put the whammy on Dad, which is the other half," Martin says grimly.
"And that doesn't leave us with a lot of options. I need to send you and Lark out of here because I can't have her on a battlefield full of Moonriders, and the safest place I can think of is--" he sighs "--Rebma."
"She'll like that," Folly says, though her smile is a bit grim. She tangles her fingers into her hair and balls them into fists against her scalp.
"So, this is marginally less urgent now that there's a super-urgent battle about to happen, but... a few details you might want to know sooner rather than later. First, I briefly talked with Vialle, and then with Brita, who'd been escorting her for a few minutes, and... I get the feeling Vialle doesn't know she's been... possessed, or whatever. Like, she may be doing things she's not actually aware of because they're not really her doing them, they're that other queen acting through her." She gestures skyward.
She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and blows it out. "Then there's the precise way she's put the whammy on your dad." She glances toward the cluster of others, realizes they're all ensconced in Trump calls, and lets out an eloquent string of expletives. "LARK!"
Martin immediately adds, equally loudly, "LARK! Moonriders are faster than zombies!"
"Yes, Auntie Hannah!" Lark immediately stops splashing in the water of the pool, where she's been playing and goes to help Hannah. Martin turns back to Folly.
"Yeah, I can't make that vow, and you can't either, and we can't make it for Lark. So you and Lark have to go, and since only one of me and Garrett can be on the field for this, it needs to be him that goes with you. I've got a record of defying the crowns that he doesn't need."
"Agreed," Folly says, and adds, grimly, "At least now we've got a much better excuse for needing to evacuate -- but I would have come up with a way to avoid that vow anyway. I've already made the vows that matter, and I intend to stick to them."
She takes Martin's hands, squeezes them... and then grimaces as she realizes how what she just said crashes into what she still needs to say. "So... yeah. About your father. Soren and I were hoping we could reach him with music -- you know, get the band back together and remind him who he really is -- but we haven't had a chance to try yet, and... and anyway...."
She clears her throat, looks around once more -- this time to make sure nobody is close enough to overhear -- and then goes up on her toes to murmur into his ear: "Bleys says he's being controlled... enchanted... whatever... through some sort of sex magic. He and Fiona were surprised when your father suddenly started sleeping with Vialle again, and apparently that's why."
She rocks back on her heels again so she can look into Martin's eyes. "We can argue about all the implications when we're not under imminent attack by Moonriders, but I at least wanted to give you the heads-up before anyone else put that on the table as a suggestion for how to undo the whammy."
It probably occurs to Martin that Folly has not so much warned him as beaten everyone else to the punch.
Martin closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose.
Then he recovers his composure, because there's no time for this right now, and he's practical if nothing else. "You're going to be in Rebma with Lark and Garrett so that's not going to fly any time soon. Are there any more bombs you need to drop in my lap before we do this?"
"No, that would be the one big crotch explosion," Folly replies with a pained, apologetic smile. "Do we need to incinerate that zombie head before we go?" She glances around, probably looking for Edan.
Edan knows he needs to get from the Grove to the Stair quick as he can. He takes stock of his inventory after visiting his room. Dancing silks. Slippers. A pair of Averni hook swords. The Moonrider compass/necklace. Aramsham. Layers of paint. His mitts. And a little oiled pouch containing a few reagents and a jeweled pin and-
Edan tries the Trump first; if it fails, Martin will be the next obvious route. Beyond that, he'll have to be crafty and flashy and sorcerous. And fast.
Hannah glances past the Prince of Horses and notices the other set of parents on the field in conference and everyone else looking at cards. So that leaves one person free to help her out, and luckily that person is probably best kept busy.
"Lark, will you come help me with the baby?" she calls across.
"Yes, Auntie Hannah!" Lark immediately stops splashing in the water and comes at once to render assistance. Either she's very precocious (possible) or she's already spent a lot of time dealing with adult tasks, which is also quite possible.
Lark's parents have called for her, but once they hear that she's going to Hannah, they go back to what they're doing.
"I've got to call Uncle Gerard. The baby is hungry - so cranky - and he'll get even more mad before he gets fed. But if you could just hold him and deal with him crying, I will feed him as soon as I can. Maybe he'll be distracted by you."
If Lark agrees, Hannah will tie the baby on her, and after saying, "I really prefer he not drink anything but mother's milk, not even Grandmother Unicorn's water. Babies have very fussy stomachs."
"I'll try to keep him from crying," Lark says and lets Hannah tie the boy to her.
Hannah will step aside and trump Gerard.
Gerard answers at once, like maybe he's waiting for calls. "What's the situation?" he asks. "I'm raising the castle, Corwin's raising the city, and we're working on getting hold of the rest of the family. Solange should be back soon to step through; she's getting hold of the rest of the family in the castle."
Jerod, Robin, and Ossian and the rest of the advance party spreads out to take forward positions near the edge of the forest or a bit into it. Regenlief spends her time going between ranger positions, helping them find the best defensive position in their immediate area, teaches how to use a boar spear against a horse, and other useful and bloody tactics. She is sorry they don't have any children to cut the throats of the wounded, but it can't be helped. She plans on returning once she's satisfied that she'd done what she can for the forward units.
Merlin holds up his hand and pulls out a sketch of Marius. He speaks to him for a moment. "He can gather the troops, cousin, but he and I are both worried about concentrating them here. We might not win a race down the mountain against a troop of Moonriders, and they could do much damage to the fledgling city if we do not leave it protected. Jones Falls is on the mind of many this evening, and they sacked Amber for three days before our fathers could drive them out of the city and into the trap at the pass, and we have no such trap set at this point."
It's Robin, with her Ranger skills and years of experience, who first hears the first sounds of riders in the woods.
The night, which is as cold as sultry Xanadu ever gets, suddenly becomes much colder.
Robin's ears perk up and she points with her spear. "Riders." Tilting her head, she Listens for as much information as she can; number, speed, direction, etc.
"His call," Brennan says to Merlin, quietly, and then nothing more so as not to distract Robin. It might be too late, anyway.
Brennan has several things on his mind, not least of which is that if Robin is hearing riders in the woods, and Merlin is convinced the Moonriders are coming down the stairs, and Brennan takes both of them seriously, then that's a worrisome puzzle. Candidate solutions flicker through his mind:
Solution one-- The riders are reinforcements, possibly Edan's order, or perhaps some of Bleys' allies.
Solution two-- Merlin is wrong and they want to go up the stairs.
Solution three-- Robin is hearing a time trick from Moonriders that aren't there yet.
Solution four-- Robin and Merlin are both right, and the Moonriders remember Jones Falls, too.
Solution five-- The unknown.
The only immediately useful thing Brennan can do is to bring up the passive-only Third Eye if he can do so without being blinded by Conner's blade, scan the treeline quickly, and then up where the Stair might appear.
Vere remains alert and ready, concentrating on the Pattern in his mind.
Raven is likewise prepared. Her gaze is constantly moving - up, down, around, behind - looking for trouble.
Brita is halfway between stairs and woods, lazily swinging the axe to warmup. Her eyes are half closed and she is angled into the wind to scent for enemies approaching...
Ossian moves closer to the woods. He figures he will do more damage if he stays hidden until the riders show up, so he tries to find some kind of hiding place. He also brings up the Pattern in his mind.
Lilly moves with quiet grace to the foot of the stair, weapon drawn, eyes blazing. Defend the sorcerers, she reminds herself. Their skills may be needed.
Jerod remains oddly...patient. He seems to be waiting, expectant. He scans and listens and waits...and the cold that descends doesn't seem to bother him. Instead, he waits for the arrival of those from a kingdom where his sister died...
He has payment to extract.
The Rangers all align on Robin's spear direction, adjusting their formation silently.
Her fire-lizard friends all take to the air, staying silent. Robin notices them disappearing and re-appearing. They won't make easy targets.
Nearby, two rangers-- Totter and Cranny, signal that they will make a reconnaissance path. They look to Robin for approval or rejection of their plan.
The cold air causes a wet fog to start to rise, making concealment easier for both sides, and dampening sounds.
Robin cannot tell exactly how many, but it sounds as if there are at least a dozen, and they are approaching at a walk. If she's right about that number, they are highly disciplined.
Robin signals her agreement with Totter and Cranny's plan, but adds cadence for a real, big, bad enemy approaching - just, you know, in case the veteran rangers missed all of that 'Moonrider' talk.
"Look but don't touch," comes back the response
She also sends quick hand cadence to the other rangers -- and Brita -- splitting the force in two. Half with her for the incoming, half with Brita for the Stairway.
The Rangers adjust again, but only slightly. Brita's half call on Vere -- "Ranger Bookworm" to evaluate the threat of a sneak attack from the rear.
A quick hope is sent to Peep, Chirrup and Ooot that they let her know if something tries for an aerial or side attack.
The fire lizards are indignant at the thought of invaders of the nest, and they will burn their faces off.
Then, Robin very carefully Listens for which of her cousins are doing what with the Pattern.
Robin extends her pattern sense. This place seems... dreamlike in some ways. Almost self-enclosed, like a shadow of... nothing. Whatever that means. Her cousins are pulsing with the Pattern, as is Conner's sword, which seems as if it a piece of the grand design, written in steel. Robin extends her senses again and something odd impinges upon her.
She detects another piece of the pattern, a twin to Halosydne.
With the approaching enemy.
Vere stands on the cliffside as the moon rises. It's difficult to concentrate between the rising fog, the knowledge that Robin is on the front line, and the near silence of the forest. The Rangers use hand-signals and Vere works to interpret those. He thinks the Rangers here will need a lot of combat support. Individually, they are unlikely to measure up to Moonriders.
When Brennan makes his hand gestures Vere frowns and looks in the direction indicated, carefully opening his third eye.
Vere hears the rangers talking. Cadence is precise, but limited, which is linguistically fascinating. Vere wonders how it compares to early language development used to coordinate hunting parties.
They discuss who will scout the woods, and a new Ranger replies warning them to beware of a rear attack. Another calls out with Vere's personal identifier and asks him to check the rear-guard.
The only immediately useful thing Brennan can do is to bring up the passive-only Third Eye if he can do so without being blinded by Conner's blade, scan the treeline quickly, and then up where the Stair might appear.
Brennan avoids looking at Conner's blade. The forest is a hive of vibrant life, and the people nearest him are the realest he's seen. They should be; they are his cousins.
When Brennan looks up to where the stair should appear, he sees a dozen or more riders slowly descending, wearing armor not unlike that of Bleys and Fiona at the battle in Chaos, and riding horses caprisoned for war.
There are no steps, just riders riding down steps that are not there. They are facing up the nonexistent stairs, but moving downwards. They are too far away to hear, yet.
Brennan stares at that in captivated confusion for a long moment. They've reversed cause and effect? No, the way they're moving is more like they've reversed the effects that flow from the causes... but how deep can that go? There has to be some selectivity to it... and Brennan still can't shake the nagging idea that what he's seeing is in some way connected to what Robin hears. There's a dreamlike logic to it, somewhere, that Brennan's mind wants to worry over, understand, subvert, and sweep aside....
He shakes his head, almost violently. No. Do something. Something useful and practical, he resolves.
Brennan raises a hand for the attention of his immediate companions; touches three fingers (he hopes the Sorcerers in the group will note) to his brow and points up along where the stairs should be; then points to his ears, shakes his head, and gives an exaggerated shrug. There's no way to convey to the non-Sorcerers in the group how odd their motions are. He doesn't try. But he repeats the sequence of gestures a second time.
Then he tries to expand his Third Eye sight, rather consciously, into the auditory domain to see if he can hear their hoofbeats and if so from what direction. And he strains to see-- visibly, expecting perhaps a silver cord phenomenon-- if these descending riders are connected to anything or anyone else.
Brennan might not hear them at this distance anyway, so he's not sure if it works. He still hears the generic "whooshing" sound that he's always heard when using his third eye, but now... perhaps it's a side effect of how he perceives the vision needing to sound. It seems... ignorable. But he doesn't hear anything distinctive. He may have to work more at his "third ear".
What he does see is that they stop and point at him, or at least at the base of the stairs. One, and Brennan can tell very little about him or her via his third eye, dismounts and seems to be stretching his or perhaps her arms apart. Almost as if they are aiming something at Brennan.
Conner stands next to Brennan, Halosydne firmly held and shining as a beacon. The sword reflects moonlight that is not shining on it, somehow, but should be. Near the pattern blade, the fog does not spread, and the cold does not seem as abrupt.
Despite himself, Conner looks up to assure himself that there is not a moon in the sky where there wasn't before. He maintains his concentration on the Paxblade as if it were a Trump willing the Pattern within it and himself to hold firm and if possible spread the little island around him where Moonrider's changes do not hold sway.
Things... shimmer as Conner extends his pattern further from the stone steps. He's sure that something happened, but not what.
Raven finds herself in the situation of a Captain who knows her ship will eventually lose a stern chase. The fight is coming. The only thing that can be done is prepare for anything, which is to say prepare for what one expects and hope nothing different (and worse) happens.
Nothing to do but wait, then; Raven figured out a long time ago that you conserve what energy you can in moments like this, because they're going to last both too long and not long enough. As for preparation - well, you prepare what you can and hope that people cackling madly and blowing up towers isn't going to be a theme for the day.
When Brennan motions for attention, she watches the series of gestures - looking up to follow when he points - and frowns. If there's nothing for the non-sorcerer to see, the good Captain is opting for the time-honored technique of letting people who see things that no one else can see continue to watch those things until they're an actual problem, and she'll continue watching other directions for enemies approaching.
Raven isn't sure what she sees. It could be a bright star glinting through a gap in the cloud-cover. Or the moon. It's not nothing, but it's not anything threatening. That she can see.
Lilly moves with quiet grace to the foot of the stair, weapon drawn, eyes blazing. Defend the sorcerers, she reminds herself. Their skills may be needed.
The fog rises slightly, making the woods and things not very far into them indistinct. Her sorcerers seem safe, for the moment, but she feels the tension of imminent battle in her cousins and the Rangers.
Lilly closes her eyes. In these conditions, sight could very well be a distraction. Instead she listens and feels. A change in the noises around her will be far more indicative of the direction of the initial clash.
Lilly's instincts and her ears tell her it's too soon to commit to any particular strike, and that enemy is experienced and smart and looking for them to give away their advantages by making a premature move.
Near her, Brennan stands making bizarre magician hand gestures at the other redheads.
Brita is halfway between stairs and woods, lazily swinging the axe to warmup. Her eyes are half closed and she is angled into the wind to scent for enemies approaching.
Brita smells many things, fear amongst the Rangers, the comforting smell of Family, the smell of a forest in winter, the sea far below, the horses they brought, and ... something else. And coming from two directions. Brita thinks it may be the enemy. If it is, then they are being surrounded.
Brita gives a cadence call of 'fore and aft' before also calling out "Ware the Stair". She notes the rising mist and chill, both she is comfortable with from her time in Jutenheim with Grandmother Grid. She draws the damp closer to her, away from the forest and stair.
The Rangers react to her cadence. Ranger Bookworm, the cadence comes back, check the rear-guard.
The water moves to her, sluggishly. As if it's resisting, or impure. It's not quite freezing, but it is definitely colder than Xanadu should be.
Ossian moves closer to the woods. He figures he will do more damage if he stays hidden until the riders show up, so he tries to find someone kind of hiding place. He also brings up the Pattern in his mind.
The fog will be his friend: a good hiding place on a grassy sward that is otherwise more easily-defensible. But what can work for his opponents can also work in his favor, and Ossian can hide nearly anywhere he likes.
Ossian places himself close to a big rock. He does not want to be overrun by the horses.
Ossian finds himself a rock near the base of a tree. Regenlief comes over to him. "This is a good spot, perhaps the best on the field. Have you spent much time fighting mounted men or man-things with a boar spear? I can give you pointers if you would like."
Jerod maintains his position, aware of where Robin points out the enemy. He's convinced there's less than a score of them, but not sure exactly how many.
The wet ground and the sudden chill bring a sound and vision dampening mist up. Jerod prepares for sight-lines to be short.
Jerod sinks lower to the ground, using a spear ready position to cover his forward approaches and keep himself harder to see. He can block, cut or lunge as needs be. The wet ground can serve to warn of approaches, the squish of earth and the ripple of mist. He opens his mouth just slightly, letting the pressure equalize to better his hearing.
Rage is patient, and so is Jerod.
The rangers shift their attention based on Robin's signals, and Jerod is well positioned to take on any rider who comes through along the axis that they are worried about. Jerod recalls Eric's stories about Moonriders. You have to kill them before they have a chance to not be killed.
Holding hands, Celina, Valeria, and Silhouette step from the Xanadu longboat into the chill waters of Rebma. The Trump rainbow shift ends. Celina drops Llewella's hand and gives her aunt an informal hug. The hug is much warmer than the nearby glimmering crystal braziers.
"Conner has taken the lead in Xanadu," Celina states without preamble. "He asked me to withdraw. So I agree we should have troops standing by if he calls. Volunteers preferred for the first wave. I suspect nasty magics are going to be loose, so if we have some mages who wish to make their reputation, we are taking those sorts of volunteers also."
Celina smiles at Llewella. "Would you debrief Lady Valeria this time?"
Llewella smiles back. "It would be my pleasure."
Valeria swallows, and looks visibly pale. "I had no idea the situation in Xanadu was so dire. If you need trusted family members at the front, Your Majesty, I am at your service."
Celina's face does not express it, but she admires how Valeria covers her reaction to personal questioning by Llewella, with a reaction to front lines combat.
Silhouette bows her head respectfully to her aunt, but keeps her distance. Instead, she focuses on the other woman, dutifully looking her over. She makes special note of Valeria's movements and measurements... as she'd likely need to provide her with armor.
"We must be ready, things could move fast and my favorite uncle may be in jeopardy," Celina adds.
Then she makes a small follow gesture to Silhouette as she heads for her own chambers. "Let me see what sort of armor I can salvage from the Queen's wardrobe. Valeria is more my mother's build than I am."
Celina leaves Llewella and Valeria to chat and exits. She moves through the corridors but stops halfway to the Queen's chambers. She turns around and looks at Sil. "You mentioned Blood Magics of Huon as if you knew quite a bit about it? What principles are involved?"
Silhouette cocks her head, "While negotiating his surrender, Lord Huon and I communicated through the utilization of Blood Magic. Regrettably, circumstances prevented me from observing more beyond this. However, I hypothesize its core principles revolve around the shaping and manipulation of our divine quintessence through one's willpower. Huon formed small birds, which would bind with my flesh - thus allowing us to speak through Shadow, not unlike a Trump. Said creatures can traverse Shadow and possessed rudimentary intelligence, so carry a portion of our Nature, as well." She pauses for a moment, reaffirming they are alone.
"Our Blood's destructive effect the Pattern and the sympathetic connection it provides makes the form of Magick highly dangerous and likely frowned upon. But its potential is virtually unlimited."
Celina nods slowly. "Oh, that's not what I expected at all." She considers, twists, and discards her previous strategies. "All right. So what do you know about seduction magic?"
Silhouette lightly smiles, "That you would not require its use to achieve the desired effects, my Queen?"
A low chuckle, "It is beyond my purview, but in my homeland, alchemic and soul magic could be utilized to twist the heart. I suspect our kind would be adept at seduction magic, due to our unconscious manipulation for the world around us."
"So I want you to guard yourself as best you can. Armor against seduction. There is something wrong with King Random, and if it worked there, it could sweep other Family up." Celina thinks for a minute, then asks, "Will you take my blessing as Queen?"
Silhouette cocks her head, curious. "Of course, my Queen. I am yours."
Celina concentrates then, bringing herself to the steady intangible place that allows her fear to melt to the smallest thing and her heart to be ready to walk the Pattern. She closes to Sil and puts hands gently on her shoulders.
"Rebma, hear my blessing on Silhouette, Designer of Dragon Beauty, and
Earthen Guard of the Sapphire Throne,
May her sight always be True,
May her enemies always be Late,
May her Necessity always be First,
May she honor and cherish the Privileges you Bestow."
Celina leans in and lightly kisses Silhouette on her Third Eye.
Closing her eyes, Silhouette remains stock still as Celina delivers her blessing. Her skin radiates with heat like sun-baked stone.
At the end, she opens her eyes and smiles, "Thank you, My Queen. You honor me." For an instant, she leans forward as if seeking another kiss, but quickly catches herself.
Celina makes a tired noise and looks in the direction of the Queen's own suite. "I'll have to review troops that Llewella has assembled, which means I need to change and take a catnap." She strokes a finger across her collarbones. "I wish I knew more about what sort of Sympathy may be involved with this Seduction."
Silhouette cocks her head, "Sympathetic magicks typically require personal possessions or bodily products, such as hair, blood, or nails. These are the correspondence for the fetish. Anyone close to the King could have acquired these. A servant. A family member."
She steps forward, touching the Queen's wrist. "Let me be your handmaiden for tonight. I will assure you are rested for the coming matters, as well as lay out your attire."
"We are to be ready for battle," Celina says, looking down at Sil's hand on her wrist, "so it shall be armor from the treasury. And we will find something to fit you as well." The Queen studies her face. "You will assure I rest?"
"I shall inspect the armor myself," Silhouette says. "I am certain it will require adjustments. My Queen's protection is paramount."
She smiles under the scrutiny, "Yes. Rest. You deserve a moment without troubles weighing upon you. In this, I wiIl be most persuasive."
"Then I agree," Celina nods once.
Celina turns and continues to the royal suites. Upon passing the guards and sending a page with notice of what is required of the armory, she tells Sil, "But I disagree, I don't deserve a moment without troubles until Rebma is safe."
"Forgive me, your Highness, but that stance is foolish and ill-advised," Silhouette says plainly. "Rebma will never be safe. There shall always be threats within and without. It is the natural order."
She glances over at Celina, narrowing her eyes. "Even tempered steel breaks under fatigue. You will be no use to your people, if you do not pause."
Celina turns and begins taking off her clothes, her voice is urgent, intense, but not angry, "No! That same logic says the natural order is for threats to come through me before reaching my city. Rebma will never suffer because I shall never break. I shall bend, and twist, and be the Flow that endures. My people, my Court, will understand I'd rather be lost than undone. My banner shall be Necessity and the Sapphire shall be besilted or hidden, but never anything but sharp and hard."
Silhouette collects the shed clothing as Celina speaks, folding each item to crisp perfection before laying them aside.
As the silence falls, she walks over to the young Queen and takes her hand. With a gentle, yet insistent tug, she guides Celina to the bed. "Lie down," she says softly, yet leaves no room for dispute.
Celina looks at Sil, searching her face. She does lay out upon the bed.
"Forgive me, my Queen. Normally, I would have prepared aromatic oils for this," she sighs, Using a combination of friction and nerve-touches, she begins massaging the tension from Celina's upper body. Between her strong fingers and preternatural warmth, she is exceedingly deft at this.
Her voice draws out like a blade. "Celina. I've buried untold nations beneath ash and bone. I've erased entire civilizations in the name of Progress. So, heed my words now, for I know of what I speak. Rebma shall not be consumed by the currents of time. Your people shall know your character and strength. Your banner shall endure in the sea of blood to come."
She leans over, lightly blessing the tip of Celina's ear with a kiss. "So, you can afford yourself a moment of peace tonight. So be quiet. Or I shall be forced to take measures to see you do."
Celina chuffs a sound that may be rude agreement. She relaxes under the persistent fingers. The queen's muscles seem to side completely with Silhouette, and they melt into good order.
And then, Sil can feel a vibration, a tiny trilling sound from Celina at rest. She is definitely asleep. Snores? The sound beat was low, indescribably mellow, a music so fantastic that it might defy description. The trill seemed to filter from everywhere; it was as if the very water were saturated with it.
Satisfied, Silhouette blesses the back of Celina's neck with a kiss. For a moment, she hovers, feeling the gravity of the woman's body calling to her, pulling her down into serenity. The weight of wanting is almost too much.
And then, reluctantly, she rises goes about her duties. Walking on cat's feet, she prepares the room for the Queen's awakening - laying out everything for ease and expediency. She contacts the staff, arranging for all possible correspondence to be delivered, along with the Queen's armor, which she inspects personally. With uncanny precision, she has food and strong coffee arrive as Celina returns to the world.
Celina awakes, not in her bed, but floating on a current above it, just under the surface of a running stream, her hair loose around her. It seems no time has passed at all, but she knows that cannot be. She feels a stirring, like a trump contact, but before she can ask, a strange voice speaks. "Who calls?" it says, the standard response, and a way to buy time. The voice is old, female, and unfamiliar. Celina can not quite make out the woman's face, hidden in currents and shadows.
"Who calls, I say again?" The voice is sharper this time, and seems used to being obeyed.
Celina wipes at her eyes and says, "It is Celina, mated to the Rebma Design, sitting Queen of the Sapphire Throne."
She chuckles, ruefully. "Not while I'm alive, which means I must be dead to you. How stands the circle of cities in your time, child?"
"There is danger from the Lady of Air and Darkness," Celina responds, holding half her mind ready for betrayal. "Is this my grandmother, the Queen Moins? Or some deeper mystery?" Celina centers and balances, ready to defend or attack.
"Thou speak'st aright. I am that merry wanderer of the night. Although perhaps not as merry as the Puck, for all that. My sister Queen is, in my day, contrary and warlike but given our brothers, it can be hard to blame her o'ermuch.
"Is it she, or her heirs who vex you? As if there were a difference."
Celina remembers this moment now as it happens and later when she understands she has fallen in love with the voice of a mentor she may never meet. "Vexed of Her and her Art, all of Oberon and his Art, all of my Moire and her Art, all left, all returned, and all me and my Beloved Pattern, guarded in this one dear Sleep by a daughter of Pattern I would have as a true Sister and more."
She is asleep and calm and only herself now so she weeps. Even a Queen is allowed to confess in her sleep, if she keeps up her guard.
"My Conner carries the Forged Edge of Rebma to stand opposed to Lady Air and Darkness. Upon waking Llewella and I shall gather Our Best. If I have your Blessing or Counsel it will be a better morning than I have seen in a very long time."
"The Warlike Queen stands beside her mount, all caprisoned for war, while her protectors, the heirs of Lir, stand between her and her foe. The card is clear and the meaning is less so, which is the way of the cards. I know not how to counsel you, for in my days we had peace, then war, then peace again. But I ask you this: if you cannot defeat her without destroying her pattern outright, how will you make peace with her?"
Celina sees a current of faces, recognizing a few, Huon, Conner, Martin, Brennan, her father, and others. She sees Llewella's shocking extremes of kindness and fierceness. She also sees herself draped in graceful red silks and bright shells. "I can give her an heir and access to realms that do not go through Xanadu. Would she make peace if not bottled?"
"You are asking the wrong dream-of-the-past, my dream-of-the-future. But the four connected realms are connected, and just as the sea-realms Rebma must always be separate from Amber and Paris, so too must be her sky-realms be distinct, lest she lose herself completely.
"So, her Kingdom must be her prison, as mine is, but it should be enough, in its infinities."
"And if her Kingdom is half as lovely as Rebma, why should she War on Xanadu? Why is she not already at Peace? Is it a truly a Madness for Deeds done by Oberon then?"
The queen's voice gets harder, as if she has suddenly changed. "The war was hers, not from madness, but love. The madness came later, as she tried to repair the damage she had done. She broke herself, her pattern, and threatened to destroy us all. If father had not sacrificed himself, the imbalance would have ripped everything apart. The question is simply has enough time passed for her to try peace and sanity, or is the doom upon her too great for her to overcome, even now?"
"The Ocean Throne is deep with secrets, my Queen," Celina says. "I have walked the Pattern of Rebma and lead our People. I am willing to try Peace. Is there a cache within your Chambers? A place where you might leave Trumps or personal effects? I could try to parlay with the Lady of Air and Darkness." Celina is cold with the idea of what she might lose by trying such a thing.
"Child. Our trumps are written in stone.Masterwork self portraits written into the living rock in the darkest, most protected part of our realms, You need but find a way to take in the entire thing, and you can use it just as you use a tiny pasteboard." The voice pauses, and adds a warning. "Do not make physical contact, though, it would not go well."
Celina pauses. The entire thing? She cannot mean walking to Tir to access Her Pattern, so she must be saying the Patterns allow the connections between rulers. But am I written into the stone? "I hear, Grandmother. I can reach other rulers through the Rebma Pattern. I shall parlay but not touch."
The voice stops her there. It doesn't sound exactly patient, although the words are not harsh.
"No, child. You can reach me through my pattern, for what truer picture of me can there be? And each King and Queen the same, even those that came after the first order. If you wish to achieve the ambitions I see in your heart, you will need to train yourself to think in larger and longer fields than you now imagine possible."
"I shall do as you say," Celina whispers, "and speak to you again whenever it seems right. Grandmother, an unworthy hand has taken the Sapphire from Rebma. I would imagine a current bringing the Stone back where it belongs. Do I have your blessing to call every ocean to this task?"
Last modified: 22 April 2018