Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Vere briefly considers the idea of taking the quick route to Amber through the Deep Green, then rejects that as needlessly foolhardy when no extreme need for speed has been suggested for the dispatches he carries.
Instead he commandeers one of the the small boats of the Rangers and sets off down the river. Once he is out of site of the camp he begins shifting shadow, turning the deep forest around him to something closer to the trees close to Amber.
He also tries something new, experimenting with actually shifting the nature of the boat he is in as he travels, so that the closer he comes to the mouth of the river and the sea the more it resembles his sloop Psyche.
The boat becomes, gradually, the sloop. Vere cannot tell any difference between this sloop and Psyche. Vere arrives at the mouth of the river, and can sail from here up to Amber. The weather is clear and he can see Cabra in the distance. If he were to stop, he might find the cairn of stones that once marked the path to Rebma.
Vere sails out into the ocean, and for a short time simply delights in the feel of once more being upon the sea. He gives the sloop her head, feeling the way she moves, and shaking his head in bemusement when he finally determines that her every little trick and idiosyncrasy perfectly matches the Psyche of his memory.
Then he turns her towards Amber.
A sloop is better at sailing into the wind than any square-rigged ship, so the Psyche is an excellent choice for Vere’s sail back up the coast to Amber. He arrives to a gorgeous sunset, the sky a wash of reds and oranges tinging into blue. He comes up to his regular berth and does not see the Psyche. In fact he doesn’t even see slip 12, where he last left her. The dock ends with slip 10, which is empty.
The Psyche glides smoothly into slip 10. Vere ties her off and steps onto the dock, pausing for a moment to regard the harbor ands the city, comparing it to his memories, judging how the city and its feel have changed.
The city seems as he left it, although a few weeks closer to autumn that it was when he left.
He will wait a few minutes to see if anyone approaches him, officially or otherwise.
A young man comes striding down the dockside. "Good Evening, my Lord. Admiral's Complements and may I summon a remise for your use?" He looks to be one of Caine’s young officers, or a man who wishes to be one of that lot.
Vere nods a greeting to the young man. "Aye," he answers. "Where is the Admiral right now?"
Rather than guess which Admiral, the young man just rattles off the top two. "The Marquis is at the Naval Club." He looks up at the castle and spots the pennants flying there. "The Regent is in residence. I have not heard he is in the city, so the castle is the most likely place to find him. I can send runners, if you wish."
"Do so," Vere replies. "And another to the Marquis, to inform him that I would like to call upon him if the Regent permits. I will go ahead and begin to travel to the castle. Have someone intercept me if it is determined that the Regent is somewhere else."
The young man nods. "As you wish, My Lord. I will accompany you to the carriage house."
He glances at the end of the dock then back to the young man. "Is my memory at fault or was the dock not longer in the past?"
"The... recent past, My Lord?" The young man looks back at the dock. "It has not been longer than that that I recall. Perhaps before the sundering, but I was a child then."
Vere drops the subject and allows the young man to escort him to the carriage house. He silently looks about him as they walk, and once in the carriage will keep the curtains open and observe the city as it makes its way to the castle, looking for any other changes that have occurred since he was last here.
Amber seems greener that he remembered it being when he recently left. There is more green space, as if some buildings have been demolished. There's nothing Vere can point to and say that a particular building was gone, but there's a lot of growth, and in places overgrowth.
As Vere looks ahead, the path up the mountain seems more overgrown than it used to, as if no one was clearing the spring growth off of it regularly.
Vere frowns, then closes his eyes and opens his third eye to regard the greenery. Is it more than natural overgrowth caused by neglect?
Vere sees no signs of the incursion of the Deep Green, but it's possible activity from that front caused more growth in Amber. Plus, there are more vacant lots.
It's also warmer and wetter than this time of year usually is.
Vere briefly considers experimenting with making slight alterations to buildings as they drive through the city. Then he considers Caine's possible reaction and chooses to refrain.
He regards the castle carefully as the carriage approaches it.
They've done more work repairing the defensive fortifications that were damaged when the family tower collapsed in the Sundering.
The staff seems diminished, although the guard seems to be at full complement.
Vere's carriage is met at the inner bailey by a footman, who may or may not be a sailor on other occasions. "Welcome to Amber, Prince Vere," he says. "The Admiral is in the Library. Shall we open your room?"
Vere gives him a nod in greeting and replies, "Not yet. I may or may not be staying dependent upon the desire of the Admiral. I shall see him immediately." He will pause a moment, giving the footman the opportunity to lead him to the Admiral if that is his order. If not, then Vere will head to the library on his own.
The footman doesn't seem to have any such orders, and Vere take the well-worn steps to the library. It's diminished, of course, since Random moved the family library to Xanadu, but there are still books, both on shelves and in crates. There are many sea-charts as well. Caine sits at a table, reading some sort of report in a folder. He's shaved and had a recent haircut.
"Welcome back," he says. "How was your voyage?"
He seems distracted.
"The voyage was quiet, sir," Vere answers. "And it was quite pleasant to be on the sea again, even if I never did get out of sight of land." He lays the dispatches on the table.
Caine looks at them, as if they're not what he expected. He slowly picks the fist dispatch up, opens it, and looks at it. His eyes don't look like they're tracking the writing on it.
Caine picks up the rest of the dispatches. "Interesting. Where did you get these?"
"I have been working with the Rangers," Vere replies. "The Warden needed someone to bring these to you."
He tilts his head slightly to one side, regarding the Regent.
Caine's head tilts slightly, as if he were a mirror of Vere. "Oh, yes. My brother. How is he?"
Something is not right with the Regent. He leans his hand on the table beside him, puttling his weight fully on it. He is either about to spring up to the chandelier or collapse to the ground.
"Quite well, as always," Vere answers, giving no sign that he has noticed anything unusual about the Regent. He glances off to one side, opening his Third Eye, then slowly returns his glance to Caine. He doesn't want to blind himself by gazing full on at a member of the Royal Family if this really is Caine.
It's not Caine, or if it is Caine, he's lost whatever light and energy differentiated him from a non-royal person.
Disturbingly, the floor, walls, and ceiling of the library are also glowing, in a way that buildings almost never do. To Vere's Third Eye, the library looks like an extension of Caine.
Not-Caine lurches forward towards Vere.
Vere falls back, avoiding Not-Caine. "Is this necessary?" he asks, while reaching through the Principal of Space to recover the dispatches from the desk without approaching Not-Caine. "Can we not discuss matters?" His eyes flit over the room, gauging potential exits.
The room is well lit, with large windows letting in as much light as possible. Nestor's office is also close by, and the door Vere entered by is behind him.
Caine stumbles forward. "I don't... feel well."
The attachment of the room to Caine looks far too much like the way a Lord of Chaos is part and parcel of his domain to Vere for comfort, so he is going to avoid touching things as much as possible. He will endeavour to avoid the Cainish figure, dodging around to head for Nestor's office. If the door to the Head Librarian's office is closed Vere will use Space to blow it open before dashing inside.
Using the sorcerous equivalent of a hard kick, the door flies open. There is a room behind it, but it’s not Nestor's office. It's unfinished, like a stage set meant only to be seen from one angle.
Looking over his shoulder, Vere sees Not-Caine stumbling after him. He seems to be shrinking as he comes, as if he's peeling off a slice of his leg with every step. The net effect is that it looks like he's going down very narrow stairs into the floor.
The view through the door looks wrong, somehow, as if it's not as solid as it seemed when he was led in.
Vere slashes a hand through the air, ripping a hole in Space between here and the deck of the Psyche. He glances through the hole before leaping through it, just in case there are any unpleasant surprises waiting.
The ship is floating peacefully in the slip in the harbor. It has started to rain, gently, and some is actually falling into the hole that Vere has opened.
Behind Vere, Not-Caine has fallen to the ground, and is crawling towards the door. Each movement pulls off another thin layer from his arms and knees, as if he were composed of slices of roast beef. He's nearly at the door to the office. Or part of him is. Behind him is a trail of the rest of him.
The Psyche is firmly beneath Vere's feet, and the whole dock seems to be shaking.
Through the portal, Not-Caine looks at the Prince of the Isles. "Vere, help me!", he says.
Vere glances at the city, and the castle on the mountain, with his Third Eye, looking for other traces of Not-Caine, before turning his attention back to the portal. "What help would you have, then?" he asks in a cold voice.
"Pull me through! This shadow is collapsing! It couldn’t handle both of us." Not-Caine reaches for the rip in space between his office and the Psyche.
Vere lifts a hand, preparing to close the rift. "Be honest, and I help you," he says. "Lie, and fall." He is prepared to either reach through and pull the other to safety, or to close the opening, depending on the words and actions of the one claiming his aid.
"This is why I sent everyone away, you fool! Pull me though your sorcerous gate!" He's crawling, leaving more bits behind him on the floor. In another moment, he'll have reached the opening. Parts of him will have reached it, anyway.
"And that you are Caine is what I do not believe," Vere says, a faint trace of sadness in his voice, as he closes the Portal before any of notCaine can come through it.
He casts off from the dock, and observes Amber, or perhaps merely a shadow trap made to resemble Amber, as he sails away from it.
As Vere goes to cast off, he notices that the Psyche is in slip 12. He doesn't really know what he’d change to make this shadow more like Amber.
Vere sails a little ways out into Amber Harbor, makes certain that he is not in the path of any other vessels, then quietly observes the city and the castle for a while, using both his mortal vision and his third eye. "I certainly hope that was not you, Saeth," he murmurs quietly. He draws his father's trump, but pauses thoughtfully, and does not look at it.
Amber is itself, the partially abandoned city that is a shadow of its former self. There are still plenty of people, but not the thriving trade and rough life it once held. Many have left and even a diminished city does not lack for people to fill the abandoned spaces.
The castle and city look as they did when Vere left, but the city seems smaller. Not in size, and not in the buildings, but in life. On the fringes, parts of it seem abandoned completely. This is a continuation of trends Vere saw when he was last here.
It seems hard to believe that it once rivaled Paris or Xanadu.
Vere watches silently for a short while, then shakes his head. More investigation is clearly called for, but he will not be so reckless as to go in without informing someone, in case he vanishes.
He looks at the card in his hand. "Father," he says. "It is Vere."
"Hello Vere," his father replies. "Sorry, I was taking a nap. Have you returned from your mission for the King?"
"Not yet, Father," Vere answers. "I am still working with Uncle Julian and the Rangers, as we discussed when we last talked. I wanted to know if you have heard any news of Amber recently? I am here, and there is a most curious situation."
Gerard shakes his head. "No news that I've heard. A lot of people are still coming from there to Xanadu, of course, so I'd've expected we would've, were there any.” Gerard, at least, understands his antecedents.
Vere nods. "That is what I expected. Very well, then, this needs to be brought to the King's attention. Uncle Caine is not in residence. Instead, there was either an impostor or a construct of some kind pretending to be him. It might have tried to attack me when I discovered it was not Caine, although I am not certain if it was actually an attack, or an attempt to save itself when the constructed shadow of Caine's office collapsed." Vere shrugs. "I do not know enough about these things to be certain what happened, but I do think it is important to report that either Caine has left Amber, and left a decoy in his place, or else someone was able to kidnap and replace him." Vere's voice does not indicate which of these he thinks is more likely.
"I am about to go to the Naval Club to question M about this matter. I wished to report what had occurred so far in case of any..." Vere pauses delicately, before concluding, "...possible difficulties."
"If aught like that had happened to Caine, I'd hope we'd have heard." Gerard's face scrunches into an agitated frown. "Someone would have come through the gate."
There's a ponderous slow pause while Gerard considers the options, settling on one he clearly doesn't like. "You know that when too many of us spend time in a shadow, things become strange around it. Is there a chance the shadows around Amber have led ye astray?"
Vere nods. "That is always possible, Father. I have not been using the Pattern for long, and walking through shadows is still new to me. When I first arrived I noticed a few oddities - a dock that was not as long as it should have been, more overgrowth than should have occurred in this short time, and so on. I thought they were due to the fact that Amber is now only a shadow, not Reality."
Vere tilts his head thoughtfully. "I escaped from the false Caine through a Sorcerous portal. It is possible that I might have stepped from a shadow of Amber to the true Amber when I did that. I do not know how to test this, other than perhaps going back to the Castle and seeing if Caine is there."
"I'd leave and come back into harbor, meself, but I'm a stick in the mud that way. Are you sure you don't want to come here and have me hand you through to Caine instead? If there's no certainty of where you've landed with your sorcery, it might still not be safe." Gerard's native mistrust of sorcery leaks through the connection, along with his concern for Vere.
Vere considers that possibility, then shakes his head. "At this point I am rather interested in finding out what has happened. I shifted through shadows on my way here to turn the boat I was using into the Psyche, which I had left in Amber. When I used Sorcery to escape the false Caine I stepped through Space onto the Psyche. Perhaps Reality had created a false Amber to prevent the paradox of the two Psyches, and I am now back in the true Amber? Does that sound possible?"
Gerard ponders the question for a long moment before saying, "Could be. I've never tried to find a thing I knew was mine in Shadow to take back to Amber knowing it was there. Or to make one, if you will. If I have a thing, it's with me; if it's in Amber, it's in Amber." He shrugs, a bit of bafflement coming through the connection. It's not clear to Vere whether his father is questioning the possibility that Shadow is working the way Vere's trying to make it work or why Vere chose to plate his metaphorical and metaphysical beans in that manner.
"But you have found something in Shadow that was somewhere else in Shadow, have you not?" Vere asks.
Gerard starts to say something and then decides whatever it is isn't relevant as Vere continues.
"And Amber, alas, is but Shadow now." He smiles. "Well, since that may well have been what happened, and not some nefarious business regarding Uncle Caine, I think my next step is to return to the castle and see if he is there."
Vere pauses then, then adds, "I have not seen Robin yet, but I have been told that she has returned from her visit to Aunt Fiona."
"Aye." Gerard sounds relieved at the change of subject. "She's gone back to Arden to help Julian. The last I heard, she was sniffing around for some trouble on the border with Broceliande, such as it is. Not," he hastens to add, "into the Deep Green. Just the forest border that shades off into shadow toward Xanadu."
Vere nods. "I would dearly like to be with her," he says, "But I believe that Uncle Julian thinks it best for the Family to see that she can operate on her own and does not need to rely upon me for stability. This is logical although I do not like it."
Gerard frowns. "I wouldn't presume to say what Julian thinks or not about the needs of his daughter. But have ye considered that Robin may want to show such herself? She had a rough time coming back from the wars, but she's no child. If her knees wobble now and again, she may want to stand straight on her own, without need of her sire or any man to tell her what to do."
Vere's face reveals nothing of what he thinks of this suggestion. "Once I am through with this matter in Amber I shall return to Arden," he says. "Robin and I shall discuss the matter then.
"Thank you, Father, for your advice. I shall return to the castle now." Vere's hand hovers over the card waiting to sever the connection unless Gerard has some final words.
"Good luck, and call again if ye need me. I’ll be waiting to hear from you or Caine." And on that note Gerard is ready to relinquish the contact.
Vere sails back to the dock, ties up, and takes a leisurely walk up to the castle. He is closely observing the city, to see how it compares to the last version.
The city here is more like the one Vere remembers, though it seems to be depopulating more rapidly than Vere has any reason to expect, even given the hardships of the Regency and the exoduses to Xanadu and Paris. More buildings are boarded up and abandoned, though many shops are still open, if with fewer goods, and many homes and tenements are still at least partially inhabited. If Vere passes by the Naval, it's open, or at least guarded rather than abandoned.
The stair up to the castle appears unchanged, at least, and there are guards on duty at the gate as there should be.
Vere enters the castle and considers the servants and members of the staff that are apparent. Are they new, or are they old members of the staff who chose not to relocate to Xanadu?
Some of the members of staff are familiar to Vere from the five years of his father's Regency. Others, perhaps more, are young Naval types, presumably in Caine's service. Fewer, if any, of these are personally known to Vere. As far as Vere can tell, the people Vere knows are, in their brief encounters, behaving exactly as they ought to do. There's nothing strange or wrong about any of them.
He will request an audience with the Regent at his uncle's convenience.
The midshipman on duty passes that message to Caine.
Not long thereafter, Vere is ushered into the office from which Caine does his Regenting. It looks just like it did the last time he was in this office with Unstable Caine. "Welcome to Amber, Vere."
"I hope so, Uncle," Vere replies with a small smile. "Earlier today I arrived at someplace that wasn't quite Amber, and someone or something that wasn't quite you."
"Then you'll need to sharpen your use of the family gifts as you come here. I'm not surprised based on what I've heard of the metaphysics. To the extent that Amber is losing its reality, it's going to be harder and harder to come here directly through Shadow, especially for those of you with less experience." Which Caine doesn't say unkindly so much as observationally.
"Would you like a drink while you tell me your news?" Caine reaches around behind him to the credenza, where several decanters--flat, ship-style--of liquir are sitting.
"Yes, thank you," Vere answers. He puts the dispatches on the table in front of Caine. "From the Warden."
Caine finishes preparing two drinks and puts one down in front of Vere. He then opens the dispatches and glances through them. "Hmm. Nothing urgent. Tell me about what you encountered in Arden, and then how you think you went wrong on your return."
He stirs his drink idly with his finger, in a way that Flora would almost certainly disapprove of.
Vere pulls a chair up to the desk and sits down, then takes a sip of his drink before answering. "I am working with the Rangers currently, learning how they do things and what is going on in Arden. Uncle Julian sent me on a reconnaissance mission into the Deep Green, which contacted me to give a vague, poetical warning of some sort. I had heard some of the stories of the Deep Green and the Dragon of Arden. My brief and glancing encounter with it definitely reminds me of a Lord of Chaos."
Caine looks surprised. "I would recommend against... entanglements with the Dragon. It has bested more than one Prince of Amber."
Vere nods. "I did not seek it out," he clarifies,"And I have no plans of doing so in the future, unless under the direction of someone who understands it far better than I."
Vere tilts his head to one side. "As to how I went wrong in coming here..." he smiles slightly. "I think that was the result of an experiment that I attempted. I sailed to Amber from Arden on one of the boats of the Rangers and as I sailed I shifted shadow to change the boat into my sloop Psyche which I had left in dock here in Amber. I suspect the resulting paradox is the cause of my failure to arrive here on the first attempt. When I fled from the collapsing shadow I used Sorcery to open Space back to the deck of the Psyche and Reality appears to have used that as a loophole to return me back to Amber and the collapse the two versions of the Psyche back into one."
This time Caine doesn't look surprised at all. "I assumed it might be something like that. You can't force a paradox with the pattern, you can only make the illusion of a paradox. You got exactly what you expected, which was Amber, but without the Psyche.
"So, instead of landing in the same Amber that I'm in, you ended up in some near-Amber, but not a very stable one, from what you say.
"You can discuss the philosophy of it with your more philosophical cousins, but practically, it can be dangerous. It's one of the reasons Dad didn't let youngsters walk the pattern too soon, and why he made sure we all had Trump decks."
Vere nods once again.
Caine looks down at the dispatches from Arden. "Do you want to return immediately, or will you accompany the supplies that I'm to send to the Rangers?"
Vere takes another sip of his drink, then asks, "How long will it be before the supplies are ready?"
Caine gives the list a quick glance. "Two days. Most of it is basic supplies: blankets, food, bandages and such. It's the weapons that will take a bit longer."
He hands the dispatches to Vere. "Nothing unusual here, we're just going to have to gather it together."
In summary - Vere wants to check out the Amber library, just to see if it is still as he remembers it or if it seems to have fewer volumes. More as a point of information than anything else.
The library does have fewer volumes,and fewer librarians. Apparently much of it has been moved to Xanadu. The fragile stuff is waiting on the return of Nestor, who is in the new capital organizing the new library.
Then he wanted to go by the Naval Club to see M. Whether we play out the meeting with M or not depends on what sort of shape the old man is in.
M will see Vere. He's too old for a command at sea, but he's good on land. He seems more careworn than he did when Vere last saw him. Even the Naval seems less busy than it was. The center of Amber Naval power is split between Xanadu and Caine's office, so M is not in the middle of the web as he once was.
He's still got his wits though, and his voice is still stern. Once appropriate formalities are dispensed with (and M is a stickler for appropriate formalities), he gets right to the point. "I understand you're riding with the Rangers now."
"I am, milord," Vere answers. "My upbringing in the Isles included a great deal of forest craft, and I fought beasts of Chaos in the woods during what were called the Black Forest Incursions. It seemed a natural fit."
"I've never understood the appeal of the land, when the sea beckons." He shakes his head. "Nonetheless the Admiralty always stands ready to help the princes of the blood. What can I do for you?"
"You are in the habit of knowing things," Vere says. "That is not an easy habit to break. What is being said that is not making its way to the King or the Regent, now that you are not in the loop?"
M looks at Vere, considering how or perhaps what to answer. "There are multiple loops, and the King and the Regent are not completely without my guidance.
"What the King and the Regent choose not to deal with is another matter. And a difficult one, for how does one slowly kill a city that has lived for over two millennia? The city has not social structures to deal with wholesale abandonment.
"And yet it happens."
Vere nods slightly, without expression. "I confess to being somewhat disappointed," he says. "I had hoped that the appointment of the Regent meant a plan to save Amber, a revitalization. But what I see is a city in decline. It is ... sad." Neither his voice nor his expression show the sadness he speaks of, nor give any clue to his real thoughts on this matter.
The old man snorts. "Try not to be sentimental, Lord Vere. It's a fortification whose walls cannot be rebuilt. The city hasn't been the same since the sundering. It's foundering.
"No, we save the people and move the flag. If that works, the city will rebuild. But we do this so fast that elements that we should not allow in to the new world are amongst the first."
Vere nods. "Lady Robin and I had a similar conversation regarding the destruction of my homeland," he says. "In the end, the people matter more than the place."
He tilts his head to one side. "I believe I see your point," he adds. "If we are forced to move, then that move could have been a chance to..." he pauses, as though considering his words carefully, before continuing, "...to filter the populace."
M snorts. "Cull the bad seeds is what I mean. There's many who've already gone from Amber to this Xanadoo who should've been chained to a metaphorical oar, where they could've done some service to their King. Now those elements are parasites in his new city."
"A healthy organism can survive a certain number of parasites," Vere says mildly. "Especially if the cost of removing them is cutting out healthy flesh."
He to tilts his head slightly to one side, considering. "Unless you think it possible they are symptomatic of something deeper. Conspiring with enemies of the throne, for instance?"
"Bah! It's just opportunists. Most people will sink to unspeakable behavior, if not governed." M looks. "There's something to the King's plan, of course. Do it quick and don't look back."
"Indeed," Vere says. "Especially when there are real and dangerous enemies that have to be dealt with?" It has the form of a statement, but the tone is interrogative, and Vere waits to see what M's response would be.
"The admiralty needs to become more involved, there and here, to help maintain order and stability. There were riots on the docks of Xanadu. Riots! Sir Archer would've hanged the ringleaders, back when Oberon was King. They're probably going to give him a title and a country estate to die on."
He turns to Vere and looks at him with only the slightest tone in his voice. One might imagine that it isn't even accusatory at all. "There's no point in securing the woods against monsters if you don't also secure the city against people."
"Indeed," Vere answers. "I appreciate the point, milord." He takes another sip of his drink, then asks, "But other than warnings against the general sort of people who have been allowed to immigrate, you have no specific individuals or groups in mind at this precise time?"
"Oh we've got lists. We've passed them along to Lord Ash. The woman who smuggled a basilisk to Xanadu is on it, but she's got protection of some sort. Octave, the lawyer for another. Some of Lord Lucas' spies, who also have royal sanction. Every single printer that hasn't had his shop burned down in the past five years.
"And so on. The new Lord Mayor of Xanadu is more interested in politics than the King's Peace, if you ask me. He needs to set some examples."
Vere nods. "I see," he says. "This is then a difference of opinion between the old order and the new, complicated by the difficulties caused by King Random having brought people in from outside who have different ideas of how to proceed." He finishes his drink and sets the glass down. "That being the case, you can understand why I might prefer the more definite enemies of the woods for the time being."
"Hmm? Oh, yes. Quite. Perhaps the forest or indeed the palace are better suited for your talents and ambitions, my Lord." He pauses, just long enough for it be described as uncomfortable. "Is there anything else I can assist you with?"
The old man seems sharper, somehow, then he did a few moments ago.
Vere rises. "I would not wish to take up any more of your time," he says. "It was very good of you to see me."
"My best to your father," he replies.
Robin is a silent part of the forest as she glides toward the lake following Lady Laudine's directions. The greenery around her is still glistening from last night's torrential rain and the air is filled with scent of wet living things. At least the three firelizards that zip around her in the open air are far less pungent than they used to be. They seem as happy as Robin is to be free of stone walls and formal manners.
A sardonic snort ripples through the young woman. Her last two stabs at diplomacy seemed to have turned out all right. Maybe she can keep up the pattern. Though she suspects Lady Laudine would wish otherwise.
There are times, like the ones just behind her and the one approaching, when Robin very much misses her spontaneity. It would be soooo much easier to just jump in swinging, secure in her strength and position. But a lost war, two dreadful arguments with Family members, a nearly avoided duel and a dance with madness have... lessened her enthusiasm for leaping without looking.
Besides it's well past time that she turned her strength and her position toward healing, repairing and preventing the trouble that seems to follow her as naturally as a tail-wind. Instead of reveling in it. Dung.
Ahead of the young woman, the old growth forest reluctantly parts to reveal a rocky lake shore.
Robin notes that the level of the lake seems to rise and fall, perhaps seasonally. The signs are clear along the banks.
Where the undergrowth of the forest stops and the rocks start, there is a cairn of stones, several feet tall. It may be a match to the one marking the path to Rebma. From it, by the most direct path to the water, there seems to be a path, and one that does not terminate at the water’s edge.
Errrrr.... Confronted by the actuality, Robin finds her steps slowing and her stomach dropping. She tends to avoid thinking of Rebma and all things Rebman as they seemed to combine two of her most very favorite things: wetness and being underground. (Well, kind of underground-like.)
A shiver runs through the girl as she remembers her near-drowning in the Temple on Danu. And Vere isn't with her this time. For a moment, she misses him with a fierce fiery longing. But -- even though they said they'd do things together from now on -- her Family needs to see her standing on her own. So she swallows her misgivings and prepares to get on with it.
Robin sets down her pack beside the cairn and carefully rearranges things to make the most secure (and comfortable) lizard perches and snuggly places she can. Then she picks up her little friends and cuddles them closely.
Where they are going is dangerous! They must not fly. They must stay on her or crawl into her packback. No flying! Or they can stay here and wait for her return.
They're confused, but biddable, since they still remember the recent drenching rain. However, they are also clearly in their own little minds expert swimmers and fisher-lizards all.
Robin smiles warmly as she nuzzles them. Of course they are! And one day they're all going to go back and get that big thing in the dark lake.
The fire-lizards do not want to be left behind, and each wraps itself by the tail on their favorite perch on Robin. She can hear her little queen breathe next to her ear.
Okay, then. Breathing deeply and slowly herself, Robin regains her pack, checks to make sure all her weapons are handy and strides down the path toward the edge of the lake. Merde!
Despite her misgivings, the girl does not falter or hesitate but continues to stride right into the rippling waves.
The path continues down into water and Robin finds that she has no problem breathing it, or staying on the path. She's convinced she could swim here, but she doesn't seem to need to. Peep peeps.
Robin's adjustment to breathable water is not pretty or graceful. There is much nose-scrunching, wincing, and head-shaking as well as cursing intermixed with coughing. Bleah! Robin definitely doesn't like water, breathable or not, up her nose.
But once her own breathing is under control, she concentrates on making sure that the firelizards are adjusting as well. (OOC: "Secure your own mask first, then assist the child.") Peep’s peeping reassures her greatly with regards to that. But she reminds them (and herself), no swimming – stay on the path.
As Robin's ears adjust she pays attention to the sounds. The sound of the path into the lake is the sound of the deep green when the rains are due, but haven't started falling yet. High tones are muted and low tones are elongated, giving most sounds a deep, bell-like quality. There are no land-animals in sight, and fish have no vocal chords, so the entire waterscape is eerily silent.
The path leads down into the water over a series of switchbacks. When Robin reaches the bottom of the lake, she sees two things: a castle on a small rise and a fountain, filled with a bubble of air that does not rise. She sees no signs of people, and behind the castle is what can only be described as an undersea forest.
"Okay, sooooo... the minute I touch the Font, I attack myself." Robin is just thinking aloud for the benefit of both herself and the firelizards. "But while my wet faerie self will be able to hit me, my dry ordered self won't be able to hit me. Buuutttt I'd rather not use this Font as a weapon this time 'round 'cause Laudine will probably do something regrettable, the moment it's 'emptied'.... Therefore, we're going to have to use other terrain features to defeat myself." Robin nods as she comes to this conclusion.
And with that she turns to scouting the ground around the rise, being very careful not to touch the fountain itself. She's particularly looking for good throwing rocks, places she can trip up a horse, etc. etc.
There are trees, and a rocky ledge similar to the one Robin rode out the storm in, and the path has large and small stones adjacent to it.
The ground is soft enough that Robin could, with enough time, dig some sort of defensive trenches. If she has the time to do so.
Robin tsks but gathers some stones of both sizes, just in case.
"Okay, loves." She croons to the firelizards, "Flying okay, but only to harry our opponent. And remember, Chirrup, they can hit us at the same time we can't hit them. On the up side, I'll bet flying through the horse's head is bound to disturb him." Robin chuckles evilly at that thought.
Checking with her crew to make sure they're ready, Robin steps up to the fountain. As she touches it, she declares "I come in peace."
Then she waits for the thunder.
The bubble of air resists momentarily when Robin pokes it, deforming, but then her finger goes through into it. There's a small popping sound, and the bubble starts to oscillate. The Firelizards all fly up from their perches on Robin, circling her and trying to warn her of something. They're close enough to make it hard for her to see.
What her friends are worried about becomes apparent a moment or so later, when the ground begins shaking beneath Robin's feet. She's knocked around, but not over and it takes a moment for her to regain her bearings.
Robin notices two things. One is a vent on the floor of the lakebed, near the fountain. It's spewing forth air bubbles.
Robin chuckles; look, reverse rain. But her chuckle masks her concern that she can plug the vent before 'the lake empties.' She has no more desire to desiccate this place than she has to drown others.
The other is a bright orange and gold seahorse, floating just above the path to the keep. It has a saddle and a bridle and a rider. The rider is a slim man wearing some sort of chain mail armor. He has a lance, but no helmet. He salutes Robin with his lance.
Ooooo, seahorse! For a moment, it's hard for Robin to focus on the human because she's so interested in the critter.
His voice carries across the distance with ease. It is smooth and sounds educated. "Greetings, Interloper! Whom do I have the pleasure of fighting this day?"
"Hail, Defender." She returns the salute with her sword. "I am Robin of Xanadu - come in peace, but understanding of necessities. Are you oath-bound to attempt to kill me or can we do this friendly-like?"
"Not to kill, Robin of Xanadu, but to defend Merlin's Fount, whose tranqulity you have disturbed. Do you have a mount and a lance, or shall we meet with blades? I am Sir Ophiuchus, yclept The Serpent-Bearer."
He seems more sure of himself than Ywain was. Even in the watery half-light, something seems odd about the way he moves, as if Robin isn't seeing what is really there.
"I have neither mount nor lance, so blades would be preferred. But is it possible for me to undisturb the Fount and thus avoid the fight -- fun as it sounds -- altogether?"
The man slides off the Seahorse, frowning. His legs move in ways that suggest danger to Robin. "The Dweomer reacts to the Champion. Were I to attempt to avoid the challenge, I would be unable to control myself, and then I would find myself riding down an unmounted knight with my lance, while the basin drained the lake.
He shakes his head. "I prefer to avoid that burden on my spirit, and instead challenge you, as I am bound to, and to specify that I expect to fight you to first touch.
Sir Ophiuchus slide-steps towards Robin. "Do you have a blade, or do you need one?"
Robin tilts her head. What do her ears, the currents, the surroundings and her friends tell her is really there? Because if her sight's unreliable, best not to depend too strongly on it.
Robin's other senses tell her that he's not always where he seems to be.
Robin remembers where she's heard stories about people who move like he does. When the oldest Rangers told of the relief of the Siege of Amber, they say things about how oddly the enemy moved. The Moonriders move like that.
OoooOOO! A piquant mixture of fear, curiousity & thrill surges through Robin's veins.
"I have a blade. And first touch it is. I have no desire to burden your spirit any more than it already is." She smiles bemusedly, her head still titled as she Listens for her opponent more than looks for him.
Drawing herself upright, Robin salutes Ophiuchus with her blade and takes a standard 'en garde' position.
Ophiuchus sends his seahorse off to the side and comes closer to Robin. He stops perhaps twenty paces from her, draws himself up, and returns her salute.
From this distance, it's clear that he is human-shaped, but not quite human. He is also not quite a moonrider, lacking certain specific moon-rider talents. Robin does find the combat challenging because the water, while not perfectly water-like, does slow some movements more than others. The almost-human knight tries his best, but is not able to defeat a Robin who is determined not to be defeated.
Eventually Ophiuchus breaks his silence. "Lady Robin, you toy with me."
Robin steps backs and brings her sword to an off-guard position (though she is alert for any sneakiness or sudden attacks.)
"No," she says, "No I do not. I am very serious and considering in this. I honor you, your position and your oath and would do no harm to any of that. But I also think the whole situation is... in need of a shake-up. And that's why I here. To prove that there are ways that are neither losses nor victories. Just... you know, life." She smiles at the knight.
"Soooo, is your mind as keen and is flexible as your blade? Can you think of a way out of this? After all, my attempts lead to naught."
He stands off guard as well. He isn't winded at all, and his hair is strangely perfectly coiffed. "This fight or the larger impasse? I must fight until blood is drawn, by our terms. I do not mind losing, but I cannot make myself do so. Were you a mortal, I would just keep fighting on the grounds that you would eventually need to sleep, but that is not a weakness I can depend on in you.
"In the latter case, were the lake or the shore to 'win', it would disrupt a balance that has served all sides well. Your side has forgot it was ever at war, or has not yet remembered it, and ours has moved on.
"We are two pawns left facing each other when all the others have been put on new boards in different games. Neither of us have legal moves.
"Unless you can come up with a way to permanently separate us, then we are the frontier."
"Hmmmm, maybe I can." Robin says, "First, the impasse."
Trying not to worry that she might be following in Daeon's footsteps, Robin quickly brings her sword up to her free hand. She gently pricks the pad of her forefinger bringing a single drop of blood to the surface. (At the same time, Robin is very, very careful about where that single drop goes in this watery environ. If there is any sign that she will lose contact with it, she will immediately sop the drop up on her sleeve.)
"See?" she shows the drop to Ophiuchus. "First blood drawn by me, first blood drawn from me." Having said so, she wipes the blood off on her sleeve and makes sure that no more leaks out. "Does that work for our terms?"
He brings his own sword to the guard position and pricks his thumb on it. The blood flows smoothly from it. There's not much, but it heads towards the crack where the air is bubbling out and somehow staunches the leak completely.
Robin grins as Ophiuchus follows her example and finds an awesome solution to the leaking air.
Ophiuchus sheathes his sword and motions towards his horse, which swims towards the two of you. "It solves the small issue, but not the greater issue. If the air breathers attack their own tower, we might be inclined to press our advantage, or contrawise, they ours were the circumstances reversed.
"Many people on both sides benefit from a forgotten stalemate, at the cost of a handful of lives.
"Will you join me in the castle? We can discuss the matter further with the banphrionsa."
"I'd be honored, thank you," Robin says sheathing her sword.
"On the way, perhaps, can we introduce one another to our various companions? I must admit, sir, that your steed fascinates me. And you may have questions regarding my own little lovelies." She gestures the firelizards back to herself with reassurance that all is well now.
Ophiuchus looks at the fire lizards. "Dragonnes, in some cultures, Dragonettes in others. Not large enough to be drakes, or even hendrakes. They are a variety new to me. They seem to be well-adapted to the water, perhaps suggesting an island origin."
Robin is slightly taken aback by Ophiuchus' bland attitude, but mentally reassures herself and her companions that not everyone can perceive the innate awesomeness that is them. She shakes her head briefly, "No island origin. They're just getting used to being really wet around me." A rueful chuckle escapes Robin.
"They are, respectively, Peep, Chirrup and Ooot." Pride and fondness ring through Robin's voice as she introduces them.
The man bows to the queen and nods to each of the lads.
Robin perks up immediately at the show of manners. After all, she’s casual and a savage, but the firelizards? They're worth it.
"This fine lad is Eckford." Eckford nuzzles Ophiuchus. From close examination, he seems more decorative than strong, with a large number of frilly leaves attached. They move constantly. It's hard to believe that the creature can stay afloat, at his size. "His non-magical relatives are much smaller than he is."
"Oh, aren't you a pretty one?" Robin croons to the sea-stallion. She glances at Ophiuchus to make sure it's okay and then reaches a slow hand toward Eckford's nose. If both knight and mount allow, Robin will spend a little time admiring, petting and getting to know Eckford. Yes, the fate of this world is waiting but... critter!
Once she is done, she relunctantly pulls away and follows Ophiuchus towards the castle and more politics. Bleah.
The knight leads the was towards the castle, only loosely taking Eckford's bridle in hand. He propels himself with a smooth grace as if he doesn't need to touch the ground.
While Robin isn't overly blessed with grace (or familiarity with this kind of environment), her natural athleticism and coordination allow her to get by without too much flailing. On the way, she takes time to emotionally assure her little lovelies that they are doing very, very well and herself that she is not going to drown, it is not so bad and that she will see the sky again soon. Hopefully, really soon.
As they enter the castle, Eckherd is released to swim on his own, and he departs. The castle is large and airy (or perhaps watery) and full of light. Ophiuchus leads her down a long, empty passageway, lined with portraits.
A happy smile dances across Robin's lips at the architecture. An underwater dungeon would be just too horrible to contemplate.
"My Lady paints. These are some of her ancestors and friends. No one she has seen in some time, of course."
Robin glances at the portraits curiously to see if there are any she recognizes. She also checks for what little she can figure out about style, composition, technique and really, really wishes Ossian was here.
Not all of them are fully human.
Well, neither are most of Robin's friends and relations. So it doesn't bother her.
As they enter a courtyard, a woman rises from a bench, putting down a book. She is wearing a long gown that hides her shape and movement, and she seems almost to glide towards Robin.
"Knight Robin of Amber, may I introduce you to the Lady Morgne, Lady of the Lake."
Though briefly startled by the appellation, Robin bows. "Milady." (Castor would be proud.)
"Knight Robin, my family knew of Amber of old, but it has been many years since we have entertained her knights. You are welcome to our demesne."
Ophiuchus nods. "We are sorely lacking in tales of the world beyond the lake. We would be pleased to hear any news you have."
"I thank you for your welcome. And will abide by guest law." Robin smiles to them both.
"News from beyond the lake may prove quite... extensive. Case in point, while I do hail from Amber, my Knighthood (such as it is) is of Xanadu -- Amber's progeny kingdom." Robin does her best to clarify, not correct. "Amber... is not in such a way to create knights these days." There's no disguising the sadness in her voice.
"That is grave news. I grew up in my Grandmother's court with the tales of Amber's knights. It was a distant and fantastic kingdom and only the bravest of our people could travel the wild lands to reach it.
"I am not surprised that the Sons of Auberon are making their own cities. They were his chief Knights and legends in their own right. I saw them ride by, on a visit, when I was very young."
She looks up. "I do not wish to fall into wistful 'membrance, Knight Robin. Is this purely a social call?"
"Not purely." Robin agrees. "I come hoping to broker a peace between yourselves and those who guard the Water Font."
"Merlin's Fountain?" She seems somewhat confused. "We have had peace, for years beyond counting. We are sentry-posts, as are they. Each maintaining the peace maintaining a watch post. What do you propose in the place of this arrangement?"
"I'm not sure." Robin says, "As I don't fully understand the arrangement. I mean, I understand duty. And oaths and protecting one's territory. What I don't understand is... compulsions. How did those get involved?"
Morgne stands and moves to a window. She looks out across the lake bed and finally turns back to Robin. "It is a hard thing for me to remember, it was so long ago. Memory becomes, after centuries, like opening a box in a long-forgotten storeroom. I know what the label for it is, but the contents are often a surprise, and not always a welcome one.
"Yes, It was King Mark and my grandmother, the Queen. They were at war for many years, and had made peace numerous times. It never lasted. Sometimes as long as a generation, but it always returned.
"Laudine and I chose to bind ourselves here to create a barrier between our peoples, to make the peace last. Our sister, Basina, negotiated the peace between her parents and the binding.
"The years have been hard on her. My people are... somewhat more used to time that seems timeless. Her sacrifice is equal to mine, but is harder on her."
"And what of King Mark and the Queen? Is there reason to believe that the wars would return if the compulsions were lifted?" Robin's voice is sympathetic. In Morgne and Laudine's situation, she hears the Shadows of her father and the Dragon.
Morgne sighs. "Our parents are gone to dust, and their kingdoms, in Calamity. We stopped getting word or visitors, and when we sent messengers, they could not reach the Summerlands. Perhaps we could leave, all of us. But we are blood-bound, and the binding and my visions tell me that some successors would war were we to abandon our posts.
"The dragon-blooded forest children perhaps, although it was not always them. Or the riders of the moon."
Ophiuchus shudders. "Order would suffer at the hands of the Chaotic, or worse, war with itself. If the Queen of Air and Darkness were to find us, she would surely destroy us all. That is my fear."
Robin sighs as well. "Well, yes. All of those folks are currently active and feisty. And indeed," she nods to Ophiuchus, "the Queen of Air and Darkness has been seen. The Riders search for her, I believe. And if she has not already been found, she soon will be. But several of my more ferocious kin are on the trail of that particular concern.
"I myself am searching for some... solution to the dragon-blooded. Though I'll admit I am very young and not so given to civilized ways. It is why I wander here in the Deeper Quieter ways, meddling." Robin finishes with a rueful smile and a shrug.
"Soooo, Laudine mentioned that this place could only be a frontier. And someone else," Robin is not even going to hint that it was Ophiuchus, "mentioned that separating the Kingdoms might result in a permanent stand-down. This may be within my abilities, but I'd need to be deeply in touch with the Land. And, of course, it could destabilize the whole thing, but... would that work to release your bindings?"
For once, Morgne has no answer. "I would have to research our binding. It was more of our sister's doing than our own. Were she here, she would know, but she died very long ago.
"My concern is that if we sever the connection, we would sever the points of Order and leave a weakness for those of Chaos to exploit, a sort of blot on the ledger.
"I must think on it, and retire to my study. Ophiuchus will see you to quarters and offer you what limited entertainment the castle affords."
She bows slightly. "Knight Robin, I do not wish to downplay your offer— it gives me hope I have not had for many years that things may change. Change can be frightening, even when desired."
"I understand." Robin says, "And I would rather you not rush into a decision of such magnitude without thought, anyway." 'That’s my job,' she carefully does not say.
Ophiuchus offers her his arm. "Shall we leave the Princess, Knight Robin?"
"Of course. MiLady." Robin bows to Morgne and places her hand on Ophiuchus' arm. "Are there any more fine fellows like Eckford here?" She asks him, gently clueing him in that Robin is not so much into the gallery/garden style of entertainment.
"I can summon another, if you wish to ride. I would show you these lands, if you wish. In case they do not survive the undoing of the pact."
"Oo! Yes, please." Robin gives a happy chirp, but manages not to squee in delight.
The stables are remarkably stable-like, although there are no stablehands inside them. Ophiuchus leads out two saddled sea-stallions, his own Eckford and a more yellow sea-horse he calls Ashford.
If Robin wishes help to mount, he will provide it.
(OOC – Nope, Robin's going to vault into that saddle with glee and enthusiasm.)
The water keeps her from landing too hard, or too fast, but eventually, she settles in to the saddle.
"I'll show you the trick of underwater mounting the next time," says Ophiuchus, with a hint of a smile.
The sea horse rides like a land horse, except his feet never touch the ground, so there is almost no jarring to the motion.
"My Lady will need sanctuary," he says after a few moments of quiet walking. "She will take it if offered, but will be too proud to ask for it."
"Ah." Robin nods. "Thank you for letting me know. I am still new to this whole..." she waves her hand vaguely, "diplomacy thing."
She thinks for a few moments. "My cousin, Celina, is Queen of Rebma. It's an underwater kingdom like this, if Lady Morgne -- or yourself -- were wishing to retire to somewhere similar. And while I cannot speak for Her Majesty, I am pretty sure she would welcome older, wiser minds with some knowledge of the Old Forces... make that really darn sure."
He seems stricken. "Moins is no longer Queen of Rebma? And Oberon, you said as well, Amber is no longer the seat of Order. Pray, tell me at least the Paris stands, and Charlemagne rules there with his twelve paladins..."
"Uhhhh... A Paris still stands. But I'm not sure it's the one you are thinking of."
Robin is quiet for a while as she organizes her thoughts -- as much as they can be organized.
"I'm afraid I don't know much of the history of Rebma. I have... distanced myself from that Land and its politics; partially due to disinclination and partially due to the intense Familial interest already invested in the place. Too many cooks..." she casts a wry glance to Ophiuchus.
"But Moins has not ruled there within my lifetime or even within recent history. Her daughter, Moire, was Queen of Rebma throughout most of the time that I know of. Though recently, Moire... uh, my Family is hunting her for the murder of my cousin, Lucas." Robin shrugs, not pretty but that's the way it is.
"I also know that Rebma is still recovering from an epic battle against a rogue Uncle of mine, Huon." She sticks her tongue out. "He has since surrendered and is working off his debt in service to Rebma. Though... I still hold a grudge." No need to go into friends killed by cannon fire, brothers driven mad or cousins all snotty because Robin choose safety over vengeance.
"Moire's daughter by King Corwin of Paris, Queen Celina, rules there now. But she is very young -- like me -- and rules an ancient and potentially divided kingdom. She has been receiving much support from my cousins and the rest of my Family. But... she could use the knowledge of some who were there and who know." She smiles at Ophiuchus.
"The Paris that I know of is the older of the two Ordered Kingdoms taking up Amber's heritage, but it is still a relatively new star in the firmament. It is ruled by King Corwin and there might be paladins... I'm not sure. I've never been there." She blushes at the memory of the discussion with her father.
"Xanadu, the younger Kingdom and direct heir to Amber's glory, is ruled by King Random who was personally chosen by the Unicorn. Xanadu is... more casual than any of the other kingdoms, though it does foster Orders of Knights. The Order to which I belong, the Order of the Ruby," and Robin wishes she could sound more confident about that, "was founded to protect Amber in its decline and safeguard Xanadu against those who would take advantage of the transfer of power.
"Like the Dragon. Or the Moonriders. Or too frisky Tribes of Chaos." She smiles over at him.
He smiles back. "That is too much for me to absorb all at one, Knight Robin. Or does your order style you 'Dame'? Some did, but it was too old-fashioned, even when I was a young man."
"I think the other ladies in the Order go by 'Dame.' Buuuttt, I think I'm going set a precedence here and ask you kindly, Sir, to refer to me as 'Sir' as well. The..."
Robin pauses a moment, what to call it, what to call it? 'Order' isn't right, 'service' is totally wrong, 'brotherhood' seems a little stuffy -- rangers just don't use words to describe themselves that way. Either you are one or you're not -- and everyone knows who is and who isn't (regardless of stupid arm-bands.) Eventually she settles on,
"...Calling I followed formerly didn't differentiate between genders. And I think that's a good idea for the Knights of the Ruby too. We'll see how it goes." Robin shrugs. Yep, Xanadu is much more casual.
With that settled, Robin returns her attention to what Ophiuchus is saying.
He nods, amiably. "As you will, Sir Robin."
"In my day, Paris and Amber were ruled by brother Kings, while Rebma and Tir na' nOgth were ruled by their sisters. The realms were strong, distant centers of Order, and we filled in in places like this in between.
"It's said that in the early days of the Four Kingdoms, they warred incessantly with the 'Tribes of Chaos', and when those were beat back, they had no one to fight but each other.
"But that was the time of legends, and no one who was alive then would say if it was true."
The seahorses crest a ridge and Robin can see down into a lovely valley, decked in the colors of autumn, the leaves on the trees are swaying in the current, and it looks like any of a hundred valleys that feed into different parts of Arden.
There is no possible way that this valley is in the same lake that Robin entered, but she doesn't think she has left the shadow she was in.
Robin smiles at the beautiful yet impossible vista. Fae... or are they?
"Sir, if you don't mind me asking, what kind of beings do you and the Lady Morgne describe yourself as? If you do at all." Robin adds. Because really, she's still not comfortable with 'Lord of Order.' Or any definers for that matter.
He seems surprised by the question. "The Lady's ancestors were vassals of Moins, Queen of Tír fo Thuinn, but lived in Tir-na Nóg'th. My forbearers owed feudal duty, eventually to Paris. For the most part, we have so few people to talk to that there may be long stretches where we have not named anything for we have not needed to speak.
"It's not quite as if we hibernate when no one interrupts our routines, but I do not remember the most recent days and months any more clearly than the first days here."
"Ahhh," Robin nods happily. "Okay, then -- you’re folks."
The Ranger tips her head to the side. "My apologies for prying. I had to ask. Eventually, I must report back to my King, my Warden and my Family. And they’re all..." she waves a hand vaguely, "concerned with labels and names and things. And labels and names and things aren't my strong suit."
She smiles at Ophiuchus. "I'll just tell 'em I met some folks out this way, descendants of vassals of Moins by way of Tir-na-Nog'th, who abide.
"Does that work for you?” She asks for accuracy’s sake.
"If they will have us on those terms, we shall be satisfied. Is Tir fu Thuinn no longer at war with Tir-na Nóg'th and Amber?"
"I'm not familiar with Tir fu Thuinn. What is it?" Robin says, hoping it's still around.
"Rebma is another name for it, although that one is unfair. Tir fu Thuinn means 'Land Beneath The Waves', which was the name we called it in 'The Land of Youth'. Paris derives from name 'the land of lilting' or Tir-na Portais, because of the way they spoke."
"Oh. 'Tir fu Thuinnnnn.'" Robin tastes the words. "I like that. Cause yes, 'Rebma' is... kind of yucky. With Amber fading, it'd be nice if Tir fu Thuin could be its own thing again." Robin smiles wistfully, fresh growth after the fire always feels that way.
"What is Zanadoo like?"
"Xanadu?" Robin says, trying to model the pronunciation as genteelly as Vere would. "Syncopated, energetic, enthusiastic, young... really, it's a boom town." She smiles wryly to Ophuichus. "Honestly? I find it a little loud and frenetic. But much of my Family is there and it’s important for me to see and be seen by them.
"I prefer these kind of places." Robin gestures out to the vista before them. "The Wyld. Places that don't need to be valuable or useful to the civilized. Places that don't require meaning to be assigned to them through the observation of sentient minds. Places that just are."
"Though I am curious... how did we come to be here?" Robin asks. "I didn't notice the change in the trail."
Ophuichus smiles. "That is what makes this place so interesting. Do you see the mountain on the far side of the ravine there? You can never reach it. Ride down the path here and when we crest that ridge, we'll see a new expanse of valley before us. The next ridge beyond has the same thing, forever.
"I have ridden in that direction for four tendays once, to prove to myself that stubbornness could not resolve this puzzle. I turned around and was home the same day for tea.
"It does make a great barrier to war between two peoples, when they cannot march armies at one another. At the center, which cannot be reached, is the magic that creates this place. None living know what it is."
Robin chuckles. "Well, I'm glad you've already disproven the stubbornness technique. I'm not one for stubbornness myself and am happy to have that approach off the list. Given that the Lady allows my intercession, of course. Do you think she would mind if I just Listen? Not actually do anything, just get a lay of the Land ahead?"
"She would not mind, I am sure." He pulls up his sea-horse and waits, trying to be very quiet.
Robin takes her time listening, because everything sounds somewhat distorted anyway. The lake has a rhythm of its own, like a forest valley would. She doesn't hear anything that tells her that she is not at the top of a long ridge leading downwards.
Robin closes her eyes and concentrates on the rhythm of the lake, sensing the shadow energies around her. Does it have a central beat or harmony? Does it seem stronger from one direction?
It's distorted, somehow. It's like the places right on the edge of Arden, where if you go anywhere you might end up in the wrong forest and never get home. It would probably take some sort of evocation of the Pattern to get to the place Ophiuchus described as the center.
"Ah." Robin breathes as she opens her eyes.
She smiles as she glances over at Ophiuchus, "Yep, the valley's got a blended dissonance running all through it. But I think I could get to the... whatever. Not without making some noise, however, so best to wait for the Lady's permission." She finishes nodding as she looks back out over the vista.
"Soooo, do you hunt?" She grins to the Knight.
Ophiuchus is happy that Robin is not immediately charging downhill. "Not in that direction, but yes. Have you ever hunted underwater before? The art is different. One needs to consider depth as well as distance, and the bow is not an ideal weapon. The Lance is good, but some game fish can still strike you even if they are on the point. It's best with a boar-spear. The best direction is to the east, where the kelp forest is deeper and larger creatures dwell.
"Would you like to hunt? I can get spears."
"Ooo, yes!" Robin says with enthusiasm. "I very much need to brush up on my spear work!" She grins.
The hunt is successful and Robin has a good time learning the subtle tactics necessary for underwater spear hunting. Ophiuchus seems to enjoy teaching her, and she is a quick student.
Vere spends the next couple of days haunting the dying city of Amber, visiting old haunts and noting how they now seem little more than... well, shadows of his memories. By the time Caine has Julian's supplies ready to depart Vere is more than ready to be gone.
Before the date of departure he goes over how much material is going to be transported, and how many people are going to be in the party, to determine how best to proceed back to Arden.
The supplies will fill more than a dozen pack-horses in addition to any riding horses he brings. He has a few sailors to act as porters. Vere suspects that this is some sort of punishment duty, but no one says.
There's a pack-train prepared, but Caine suggests barges up the Oisen, if Vere can calm the seas enough to tow them safely to Oisenmouth. Otherwise, the ships can only travel a little way up Oisen before Vere will have to lead his teams on foot.
Caine does not recommend a direct path into the forest from Kolvir.
Vere considers the question carefully and weighs the pros and cons. He is loath to take sailors into potentially hostile forests. Barges could prove difficult to defend if they are attacked on the river, but they are by far the most efficient way to transport the supplies. Eventually her decides to follow Caine's advice: ships to tow the barges to the mouth of the Oisen, while Vere shifts them through calm water. Then the barges to transport the goods up the river.
The horses will come along as well, in case they need to abandon the barges in the face of unforeseen events. Vere will make certain that the horses chosen are all of calm temperament, and have traveled on barges and ships before.
Vere pays his respects to his uncle before departing, in case Caine has any last-minute instruction or (unlikely though it is) avuncular advice to offer.
When they depart the Psyche is brought along, as captain's gig.
And it's off towards the Oisen!
Vere moves his ships and his barges out from the bay, and the tow down to Oisenmouth begins. Vere finds that there is a knack to keeping the seas calm but the ships moving. Several times the ships find themselves becalmed, which seems odd so close to shore. Eventually Vere finds the right balance and the trip becomes more constant, if not as fast as Vere could take the Psyche.
When they reach the Oisen Vere goes onto the deck of the Psyche. He goes to her bow and draws his dagger, then pricks his finger, drawing blood. He leans over the prow and draws an eye with his blood, then does the same on the other side. He whispers "Sail forth to where I need you to be," then leaves the Psyche. He unties her line from the ship and tosses it back on board, then watches as the current from the Oisen carries her out to sea.
The Psyche drifts out to sea, unmanned.
The sailors seem happy when they've sailed as far as they can navigate into Oisenmouth (which is not far -- not with the draft that Amber's ships have). Vere and his crew are now reliant on Man or Animal power to move them against the current of the Oisen.
It's early afternoon when the arrive, and the men who are going on with Vere think they should stop and start fresh at sunrise.
Vere examines the banks, getting a feel for the forest here, looking for signs of human, animal, or other activity.
The forest is green, and untouched by men, but neither particularly ancient nor magically green.
He consults his internal compass. How far are they from the ranger encampment?
Having come this way before, Vere believes they are a day's walk for unencumbered men or a 2 day raft-ride for men with the supplies they have on the rafts.
Vere orders the barges to be made fast, and watches to be set once night falls. He spends the afternoon speaking with the men, getting to know them better and judging which of them know anything at all about forests or the concerns of landsmen.
It's a mix. Some of the men were impressed in the Navy within the last decade and have reasonable experience on land. The ones who went with Marius to Chaos have... odd ticks. The ones who didn't go lived on land for 5 of the past 6 years.
Forests are different, of course. The Rangers kept most people out. One of the men knows a thing or two, but mostly about which trees make good masts or keels.
Since Vere is a Ranger, they look to him for guidance.
Vere's instructions are that no one goes into the forest alone and that they avoid it altogether as much as possible.
They'll set the night watches and assuming nothing untoward happens that night be off at dawn the next day. Caution is more important than speed and Vere will be keeping an eye out for hazards as they travel.
The night passes uneventfully, and the men begin poling the raft upstream. The current is not difficult to overcome, although some of the men think it's stronger than it was the last time they were on this river.
Near sunset on the first day, having made good progress upriver, the forest grows quieter. The dusk-time life of the forest is more wary and more likely to either be predator or prey. The mood falls on the rafters as well.
The river temporarily becomes too shallow to cross, and Vere will need to portage the supplies. It's growing dark, and they might not be back in the water before it becomes too dark to work.
Vere, with his innate sense of direction, recalls that if they only carry the supplies an extra half-mile to the south, they will cut about 20 miles of polling off their travels.
Better slow than risky, Vere decides. They will spend the night on the river here, and portage in the morning. That way they can take the shortcut with no chance of ending up in the forest after dark.
The portage goes uneventfully, although it serves as a good reminder of the advantages that boats have, even if you have to pole them upriver.
The boats have already been placed back in the water and mostly re-loaded when the sentry signals to Vere that he sees someone across the river. As Vere casually looks in the indicated direction, he also sees a man behind a tree, watching them. He doesn't seem to know he's been spotted.
Vere opens his Third Eye to get a better idea of what sort of person the watcher may be.
It's not a person who is touched with the green, nor is it a family member. If the watcher is a Ranger, then it's a Ranger who needs training.
Vere would guess that it’s some sort of military scout.
"Keep loading the boats." Vere tells the men quietly. "But do it slowly."
Vere isn't sure if the man who nods is the bosun of the men or the sergeant, but he fills the role of "speaker to officers" for the others. He whistles and the men start slowing their work. Vere now has time to complete his plan.
He slips towards the river, taking advantage of cover to be certain he remains unseen by the watcher, then slides into the river, swims across underwater, and eases smoothly up onto the opposite bank. His intention after that is to circle around silently and come up behind the watcher.
The man Vere ends up behind is something of an anomaly. His clothes are a patchwork of homespun wool and tanned leathers, but over them he's got a cuirass and a short sword at his side. He's got a dark complexion, but it may just be from time in the sun.
He hasn't noticed Vere, yet.
Vere smiles quietly and shakes his head slightly, aware of the dramatic indulgence he is allowing himself.
"Are they doing anything interesting?" he asks in a conversational tone.
"N- no. Unless you think going to get killed is interesting." The man is young, perhaps more of a boy. He has a strong nose and curly hair, and somehow looks slightly familiar to Vere.
Vere raises an eyebrow, remaining still and making no hostile moves. "They do not seem to be a hostile force," he observes mildly. "More of a supply train than anything else. Who is going to kill them, and why?"
His breathing slows. "I'd've said 'you', but you seem like a survivor. 'Them?' The forest is going to. Because they don't belong. Like it did to most of my friends."
"The forest can be deadly," Vere agrees. "If you do not belong. How did you and your friends come to be here?"
Vere noted that "most" and while not relaxing his guard concerning the young man in front of him he's also letting his senses tell him if there are signs of any other people around.
"We marched. From Arcadia."
Vere senses no other people nearby. The young man's trail is obvious to the trained observer, and it looks like he was walking alone. The signs Vere sees indicate that the man is good in the woods, but not up to the quality of a veteran Arden Ranger.
"Where are you all going? I haven't seen anyone in days," he asks.
"From Arcadia?" Vere raises an eyebrow. "And marching? This implies military discipline. Were you a soldier, my friend? And what may I call you?"
"I was a conscript. My name, ironically, is Adrastos. My friends marched to their deaths, at the behest of an incompetent commander, on the orders of a Mad goddess. My fellow deserters could not survive here. I cannot either, forever. But I am willing to sell my services as a forester for help getting to a less dangerous place."
"I am Vere," and he offers his hand. "I could use the aid of a forester. My men here," he nods towards them, "Are sailors, not men of the forest. We are carrying supplies to the Warden of Arden. In his camp you will find safety from the dangers of the forest, and afterwards they will be returning to the city of Amber. Will you accompany me?" He smiles slightly. "I will tell you of Arden, and you can tell me the story of this goddess. It is always best to be warned of deranged deities."
He considers, and finally says "I will accompany you, but I make no promises that I will not move on after we arrive at your camp. This is, I hope you already know, the Wyrdwood—the wood between worlds. Some are small, like the one I hail from and some are as unending as the forest itself.
"It is easy to find oneself moving between worlds here. And stepping away from your friends and never being able to return."
"This is true," Vere acknowledges. "So stay close." And he leads the way back to the river and across it to his men.
Once there he will introduce Adrastos to the sailors, and assuming nothing else untoward occurs they will continue their journey to the Rangers' camp.
Once back on the barges Vere will speak with Adrastos some more, while keeping alert for threats. He wants more information on Adrastos' goddess, commander, and the reasons the warriors were sent into Arden.
It's the oldest story of all time, or at least the oldest in Arcadia. Vere is told the stories of ancient Arcadia, where all lived in peace, and each goddess relinquishing her primacy after her year to the next in harmony. How one Goddess conspired with Evil One to suppress their benevolent mother and extend her term indefinitely, by way of unholy offspring. How when those twins finally died, the other Goddesses were unleashed and brought their people to war, but how they could not decide amongst themselves who should be next and fell to fighting amongst themselves and their people did likewise.
He tells how the Mother of Goddesses, the world-drake, grew wroth at the Goddesses and the People and claimed many as her own. The green ones were driven back from the cities, but they are in the surrounding countryside. It changed the wars entirely.
The rebellious sister-Goddesses now fight openly against their Green Mother. Adrastos was part of a force that attempted to link up with another city-state to create a force large enough to attack the Green Mother but how it was attacked and many, such as himself, were separated and isolated and ended up here.
Vere listens, occasionally asking questions to see if he can get any specific and useful information about the strategy, tactics, and personalities involved in the various factions. He's not pushing, and he's not revealing anything about his own knowledge of and connection to the events and mythology being talked about. He does ask about how long Adrastos has been on his own, and anything unusual he has seen since he was separated from his companions.
Adrastos has no idea. Long enough for his beard to grow.
The deeper they get into Arden proper the more attention Vere will be paying to their surroundings, and the possibility of attack or aspects of the Deep Green spying upon them.
The sailors are on high alert the entire time, but as the temperature reaches its mid-afternoon high, the dock comes into view. The camp seems full again, and Vere thinks he hears Morgenstern's snort in the distance. There are men watching the river, who hail them as they approach.
Vere answers their hail. His experience with faux-Amber fresh in his mind, he opens his Third Eye to quickly examine the camp, just to reassure himself that all seems as it should. Unless anything seems out of place he will see to the docking and the beginnings of unloading the supplies.
The camp is as it should be to the Third Eye.
After that is begun, and assuming no one has any other orders from the Warden for him or any immediate news that takes precedence, he gestures to Adrastos to follow and heads for the Warden's tent.
Once the work of unloading is in progress, supervised by Vista, Vere is able to go on to see the Warden. Word of his arrival has been sent ahead; Vere and his companion are ushered into the Warden's tent.
Julian's armor is on its stand but, Vere notes, his sword is in easy reach. "Vere. Come in, and tell me about your new acquaintance."
Adrastos, who has been observing with interest, if some nerves, takes a look at the white armor, and his eyes get very wide. (Morgenstern is not close by, so Adrastos hasn't seen him yet.)
"Lord Warden, allow me to present Adrastos," Vere says. "He was a soldier in the armies of one of the goddesses of Arcadia. During an attack some were scattered and lost. Adrastos is the last survivor of a group of comrades who ended up together in Arden."
"Welcome to the camp of the Rangers of Arden, Adrastos." Julian rises and comes to inspect the newcomer. "I am Julian, the Warden of Arden. Do you know of me?"
This has a perhaps unexpected effect on Adrastos. "Lord," he says, and abases himself on the ground before the Prince of Amber. Julian looks at Vere, an eyebrow rising toward his hairline at the spectacle. "Rise, and tell me of recent events in Arden."
Adrastos begins babbling, repeating the story he told Vere. Julian listens, and when it is done, turns to Vere for a response.
"He was lost in the woods," Vere explains. "And I did not wish to leave him to die. As well, I thought you might wish to hear his tale of what occurs among the peoples of Arcadia."
Julian nods. "Thank you for bringing me this news." He turns to Adrastos. "I am giving you into the hands of one of my aides, who will see that you are fed and bathed and have a place to stay. Do as he says." With that, he strides to the opening of the tent and summons a Ranger by a Cadence tune. The Ranger leads Adrastos away, without, Vere notices, touching him.
When the guest is out of earshot, Julian turns back to Vere. "I assume you have inspected him for infection by the Deep Green, but he'll be quarantined until I have time to deal with him myself. We can't afford to take chances here."
"He appeared to be a normal man, free from taint," Vere answers. "But I do not discount the possibility that the Deep Green is capable of embedding seeds within him that I could not detect, to sprout later. Another reason to bring him to you."
"That's something I'll need to see to personally. But until then, he'll be kept in quarantine. I doubt you've been infected, but if he's been working with your men and handling your supplies, I'll need to have a look at them as well. Do sit down now, and tell me about the rest of your trip." He gestures to a camp chair where Vere can be seated; Vere recognizes it from previous visits to the Warden's tent. (Vere just might be getting used to the camp.)
"There was an oddity," Vere says, taking the seat. "As I traveled I shifted the boat I was on into the Psyche, while knowing that the Psyche had last been left in Amber's harbour. I was curious to see what would occur. The result was ... interesting." He proceeds to tell Julian about the faux-Amber and faux-Caine that he encountered, and his use of Sorcery to escape back onto the deck of the Psyche, at dock in the true Amber.
Julian nods his way through the story and then proceeds to explain the general principles involved in finding and losing things. "Places are different to things. You have to be moving to find them, but it's inherent to the nature of a place that you get there by going there. It doesn't come to you. An object, however, can be lost and can come to you, but only if you don't know where it is. If you know where it is, if you're sure where you left it, then what you get isn't the object you wanted, but a shadow of it. And when you tangle yourself up that way, you find other strange things. For instance, this shadow of Caine, which I can imagine was ... disturbing from your description."
"Indeed," Vere agrees with no change of expression. "My immediate thought was that either Prince Caine had been kidnapped and replaced by a Chaosian or a construct of some kind, or else had left Amber in secret for some purpose of his own or the king's, and left this to cover his absence. It was only when I contacted Father that he suggested that my attempt to summon the Psyche had led me into a shadow of Amber. It did prove to be a useful empirical experiment, all things considered."
Vere smiles slightly. "As a further experiment, I set the Psyche adrift, with instructions to come to me when I need her. I believe that will prove more fruitful."
"That's probably a better way to approach it. When it's time to rediscover the Psyche, do remember that you need to be moving in Shadow to find something you 'lost' in that way," Julian says by way of reminder. "You may not have enough mastery to send it to yourself yet, but if nothing else, the usual sort of finding will work.
"Some of us read portents in the near shadows of Amber we find. Do you think there was any portent for you in your dealings with the near shadow of Caine?"
Vere frowns slightly. "An interesting question. What I saw in the shadow of Amber is, I think, what I fear. The decline of the city, the dwindling of it into a pale reflection of the jewel that once it was. Accelerated beyond the truth, but not so much that I would be surprised to see the true city follow in that same path within the not so distant future. The shadow of Caine..." he pauses, head tilting to one side. "He begged my help, when I escaped the collapsing shadow of his office. I think if I had been moved to pity and tried to save him it would not have gone well for me."
"Probably not, particularly given how Caine handles his own shadows," Julian answers. "There are lessons and lessons you can take from that, if you are so inclined. But I leave them to you to consider. Like the cards, or Tir, the truth and significance of such portents is unique to the one who experienced it."
Vere nods. "Thank you, Uncle," he says.
He pauses for a moment, to allow Julian a chance to introduce any other topics he wishes to mention, and if his uncle does not say anything after a few seconds Vere will ask, "I hear that Robin has returned. May I ask how she has fared?"
"Robin has been and gone. She's investigating some minor concern in the wood--some smoke seen in a potentially dangerous place--and has not yet returned. Time is tricky in this part of Arden; I'm not yet concerned by her absence. I expect Rangers of her skill and seniority, never mind her gifts, to be able to operate independently for long periods." And indeed, as far as Vere can tell by the way Julian is seated and his tone, there is no special concern about Robin. "She was well when last we saw her, and seemed to have resolved at least some of her difficulties after her visit with Fiona. Vista and Iron Eyes gave Robin the assignment she now follows."
"That is good to know," Vere says. "Ah, and speaking of Iron Eyes, I trust he gave you the cryptic message from the Green, and explained the circumstances under which I received it?"
"He did," Julian confirms. "But I should like to hear your version of the tale, even so. Even the most faithful messengers often miss crucial details or tell the story slightly differently."
Vere nods. "The Green sent..." he pauses then says, "I will not say it was the ghost of a Ranger but it was the ghost of what was once a Ranger, before being taken by the Green, as such things manifest there. It inquired our purpose and when I told it we were sent by the Warden to see what could be seen and know what could be known it made a somewhat ominous statement about my seeing all that could be seen and knowing all that could be known. I made it clear I was not there to accept bargains that would lead to my becoming something other than what I was. It then asked me to carry a message to you."
Vere's voice changes, as he copies the mannerisms and tones of the spirit when it gave the message.
"Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. Anarchy is loosed upon the worlds. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and the ceremony of innocence is drowned.
He will know whereof we speak."
His voice returns to normal and he continues,"And then it thanked me for my courtesy, and wished for my sake that we would not meet again. It departed and I decided it would be wise not to venture any deeper into the Green after that encounter. So we returned. We were followed for some distance by a raven which departed when we were near to the camp."
"If their center does not hold, it means nothing for our center," Julian says decisively. "They forget this, but I do not. But I do not disregard the warning, and I thank you for bringing it. One more thing: do you know who the remnant was, the one that the Green wore to deliver this message to us?"
Vere shakes his head. "There was not enough definition to the shape to make out any features. I am fairly certain it was once a man, not a woman, and the clothes he wore made it more likely than not that he was a Ranger. He had been given mortal wounds, and the Green leaked from those wounds. More than that I cannot say."
"Unfortunate. It would have been useful to know who it was--if it was someone we had already lost or whether this was someone merely missing until now. However, there's nothing to be done for it." Julian shakes his head and refocuses on Vere. "Unless you have further questions, you should go and bathe. Cleanse yourself and your newcome comrade of any Green influence. And after that you have the freedom of the camp until you take an assignment."
It is the freedom of a senior Ranger: the expectation that Vere will decide where he needs to pitch in and do so.
Vere rises and nods respectfully to Julian, then departs the tent.
He will follow Julian's instructions and bathe carefully, and check himself over for any sign of contamination by the Green, and make certain that Adrastos also bathes. He'll use the Third Eye to check Adrastos carefully, but even if he finds nothing he won't allow Adrastos to leave quarantine until Julian has a chance to examine him.
Vere bathes himself and checks for signs, both visible and magical, of infestation on himself and Adrastos. He is quite sure he has either avoided infection or washed it away.
After that Vere will speak to the other Rangers, finding out the current situation and listening to their current concerns and opinions of what tasks are currently the most pressing.
The main worry amongst the senior Rangers is where Adrastos came from and how many more like him may be coming. They neither want the added diversion of another army nor do they want The Green to have a steady source of fresh troops. Also, Robin isn't exactly late, but they don't like solo Rangers out in the deep when there is the potential for attack.
Vere will get some of the senior rangers together with Adrastos, and question him about what he remembers about the march and what happened after he and his comrades got lost. The intent is to try to determine how they entered Arden, to try to locate likely areas of other possible incursions.
Adrastos suggests that Arden is merely the greater forest, the heart of which is Arcadia. The details are harrowing, but the lost comrades seem to mostly have been lost to the normal perils of an unforgiving wilderness.
Until the end. Then a man who was building a cairn over a fallen comrade ended up fighting with his corpse. That's when Adrastos ran and didn't look back. Adrastos doesn't think his general has a useful fighting force in the forest anymore.
Vere consults with the other senior rangers on this. Do they have any thoughts about where we might want to be on the lookout for more outsiders?
And just how serious do they think this might be?
They're pretty surprised even one got this far without getting killed. Patrols sometimes find dead Arcadians. Or signs that dead Arcadians have gotten up and joined the enemy. It's uncommon, but not unheard of. The senior rangers have little concern for this threat.
The ones who are somewhat worried are more concerned that there's an armed force out there that might hit them in the flank while they are stretched thin. It's unclear what they would like to have done about it. Some suggest that they abandon the camp and move as a mobile force, not using a base to attack but rather to keep themselves tight and together.
[Vere] will also ask what the other senior rangers know about Robin's plans. Any ideas on where she was going, or how long she expected to be gone?
Vista says he sent her out to investigate mysterious smoke in the distance. It could all be related to Adrastos' people. It's been a week or so, and he's not surprised she hasn't checked in. She's known for finding five kinds of trouble when sent to find one.
Vere laughs at this and agrees. Privately, he resolves to use Sorcery to contact her if they don't hear from her within another week, but for now he's not going to give anyone cause to think that he doesn't believe Robin is completely able to take care of herself.
First, find out what the plans are for Adrastos. Does Julian have anything firm in mind for him, or is he just keeping an eye on the lad for now? And what are Adrastos' own feelings about his current situation and his future?
They don't seem to have any firm plans for him. Does Vere want to send him back with his sailors? Recruit him? Have him lead a patrol to find where his people were attacked? Ranger culture is pretty strongly biased towards protecting people, basically by getting them out of the dangerous forest, but it's even more strongly inclined to defer to the plans of whichever senior Ranger is responsible. In this case, Vere found him, so they want to know what Vere wants to do with him.
Vere will take Adrastos aside after his talk with the rangers. "You know who the Warden is," he says. "And I think you have some idea of where you are. The question is, what do you want to do now? Going back to your homeland is not possible, at least not for the near future. But I could have you sent to a city, away from the greenwood, where you could make a new life for yourself. There are other possibilities open to you, as well. But I would know what you wish."
Adrastos seems ready to leave. "I don't want to be in this forest, fighting a war with things that don't let you die. I'd like to be sent back to a city, behind the lines, or perchance to serve with your sailors."
"Then I shall send you back to the city with my sailors. Once there, go to the palace." Vere smiles at Adrastos' expression. "No, you are not going to have to talk to the king, or any great nobles. Simply ask for a servant, and tell them that Lord Vere sent you with a message for his man Castor. They will pass you along and send you various places until you eventually are presented to Castor. Tell him that I am not expecting the Lady Robin or I will return at any near date, but he is to continue with the plans on our home as previously discussed. Then tell him that I wish him to assist you in finding a suitable place in keeping with your talents and interests. You can remember that message, I trust?"
Adrastos seems pleased to be going back. He repeats the message back to Vere, verbatim. He even manages to mimic Vere's inflection, without seeming to mock. He's prepared to leave immediately.
Morgne meets Robin and Ophiuchus at breakfast. She's dressed for riding, or in what some shadows consider a lady's riding habit. It's not as practical as Ophiuchus' clothing, but it's not completely useless.
"Lady Robin, I have considered the weight of your offer. We will leave the lake and these environs, if the spell binding Sir Ophiuchus to the fountain can be undone. We would not have him be bound unwilling as Laudine's husband Owain is to the fountain above the lake.
"Have you a plan for the unbinding?"
Robin's still a little bed-tousled, but she's made an effort to be presentable. It's just that some people are naturally rumpled and those people are Shadows of Robin. The firelizards, however, are buffed, polished and gleaming. It's obvious where Robn's morning priorities lie.
And from the carnage around her table-setting, an extremely hearty breakfast is another of those priorities.
"Thank you for your trust, Lady." Robin bows her head to Morgne.
"I have no formal plan as yet. (OOC – I've got, like, 12% of a plan.) I would like to investigate the Heart of this Land more closely before crafting something. I'd also like to confer further with your land counterparts. In fact, if at all possible, I'd like to get the four of you together..." Robin floats it out there.
She nods. "It would be better for the two of us to meet. Our champions' doom is to fight if ever they meet. Arrange it and we will be happy to see our kinswoman. We have missed her these long years."
"I will"” Robin nods again.
"But first, I'd like to get a better idea of what I'm dealing with here -- Landwise. With your permission, Lady, I'd like to travel to the Heart of this Land to do some direct investigating."
Robin indicates Morgne's attire. "You are welcome to join me, if you don't have other plans..."
She looks unsure. "It is tempting, for who has not wished to look on the heart of a place, and see what unseen shallows and deeps are concealed within it?"
Morgne takes a deep breath. "I wish not to, for fear of what I might learn of it and myself, and yet I must, for if it does not survive, only the five of us will exist to tell the tale, and I must know a thing to know the telling of it.
"When shall we leave?"
"I travel light so whenever the two of you are ready is fine with me." She smiles to Morgne and Ophiuchus. A little wriggle goes through Robin at the thought of riding Ashford again.
But Morgne's struggles bring her back to the present. Robin reaches over to pat Morgne's hand. "There are things in my past that I have been avoiding investigating as well. Your example gives me strength, and hope that when the time comes for me, I can be as graceful as yourself."
Morgne seems surprised by the touch, although she does not flinch away. "I assure you that my inner state is not particularly graceful, Sir Robin. Sir Ophiuchus will not accompany us to look into the center of the place. He is still sorcerously bound and we do not feel it safe to expose him to it. He will pack our things and go to the shore of the lake to await our return."
Robin nods. "Sounds like a plan." She can't resist shoveling a last bite in before wiping her lips and gathering her firelizards to herself.
"I'll miss your company, Sir," she says to Ophiuchus, "and while on this journey, I promise to safeguard the Lady to the utmost of my ability."
And with that she waits for said Lady to rise first -- just like Castor taught her.
Ophiuchus bows, "I shall see you shortly, Sir Robin, my Lady."
Robin returns the bow. "Until later."
They depart the castle and head towards the ridge that marks the point where they can make no further progress. It is not that far a walk/swim. "You may call me Morgne, rather than 'The Lady'. It is a title that attaches to a place that I am relinquishing."
"Very well. And please, feel free to call me Robin. There are no titles in the places I am used to." She smiles to Morgne.
Robin carefully selects a place that she and Morgne can be comfortable for a while; a shaded glade with moss-covered tree trunks that one can settle into. Once she gets Morgne and her own gear settled, Robin scouts around, making a noticeable bit of noise, to be sure that they won't be disturbed by the usual denizens of this place. (Essentially she's nicely shooing away any wildlife that could interrupt her studying and getting her scent all over place to discourage any ranging creatures from approaching too closely. And no, she’s not marking her territory – that'd be rude. This is Morgne's place.)
Once Robin has everything settled in the glade for a long contemplative Listen, she cocks her head as a thought strikes her. "Ummmm, Morgne? Is it possible for me to start a small scrying fire here? It's not strictly necessary, but it'd be nice."
Morgne sticks out her lower lip in thought. "It's certainly allowed, if that's what you're asking. We do not use flame very much because it's difficult to maintain and there are other methods of light and heat that we have gotten used to. Expect to use a lot of fuel or magic to keep it lit, but you may do anything needful."
"Hmmm... okay," Robin says thoughtfully. Time to put some legendary fire-making skills to work then, she thinks. Then she gathers a lot of what she would consider dry wood, if she were in an air-bound version of this forest.
After building a small, safe firepit, Robin puts her Ranger skills to use to get a smallish blaze going. If that works, she then sits herself down comfortably before it and gathers her firelizards around herself. Breathing slowly and deeply, Robin lets her 'civilized' self go and returns to her more savage and primal self; wordless, observant, without thought, judgment or analysis. Just being.
Slowly, Robin lets the odd under-water crackling sound of the fire guide her to the blue lightning that crackles with herself: her Heritage – the Pattern, so freshly rewoven through herself. Robin fans the fire of the Pattern within herself to a bright cheerful flame and then she turns her attention outward to the Shadow around her. Eyes closed, Sense open, Robin Listens to the weave of the Shadow in front of and around her.
(OOC – Backed up with Pattern senses, Robin's taking her time to sense the shadow energies as fully as she can.)
Robin has in the past had the impact of Amberites on shadow like the effect of a number of lead spheres placed on a sheet pulled tight. If that metaphor is accurate, then this shadow had someone tie a knot in it. Robin could probably break it, but it might be ... messy.
Her Listening complete, Robin sits back from the fire with a pensive fluff of breath.
As she carefully extinguishes the fire, she slowly lets her words come back to her. "Soooo, yeah. I can undo that. But I wouldn't want anyone to be near it when I did so." Her blue eyes dart over to Morgne. "And I'd like to consult with an expert before I start messing in there."
Morgne nods. "Of course. I'm curious about your expert. It was only certain Princes of the Realms that were experts in such matters in my day."
"That is still the case." Robin agrees, "I'd like to consult with Prince Julian, Warden of Arden."
And then Robin waits for any reaction that might cause.
She doesn't seem to have heard of Julian or Arden. "A Prince, then. At least that hasn't changed. Who is his mother?"
Corwin has summoned the members of the family in Paris, who appear to be Florimel and Solace, though Solace is excused for reasons that Ossian and Folly suspect boil down to "not a Pattern initiate". Florimel arrives looking as if she's just come from a soiree, and doesn't appear to be entirely pleased to have been summoned from it (or perhaps the summons suggests news she won't like).
Ossian and Folly have time to change into appropriate Parisian clothes, particularly Ossian, whose wardrobe is intact from the last time he visited. (Also there was time for a brief trump exchange, and one for Folly if she wants to check in with Martin in summary.) The meeting is held in Corwin's study, and some food has been set out--finger foods--and there's wine and whiskey, since those things may be needed. Florimel has her Trump deck with her, which suggests that Corwin requested it.
Folly does change clothes -- into something soft and Art Nouveau-inspired rather than one of the more heavily corseted styles, if she can manage it -- and checks in briefly with Martin. She fills him in on the news about Reid, and particularly on Dr. Chu and the shadowpath between the monastery and Greenwood Hospital. She offers to bring him through if he wants to join the family meeting (although since it would require bringing Lark, too, she is not expecting him to take her up on it), or to keep a trump line open if he'd like to join that way. If not, she'll check in again once they're done.
Martin is Not Pleased. He's not willing to bring Lark through to Paris, but he'll take a check-in when Folly is done. (Clearly, he thinks, he should have done a more thorough job of murder and mayhem in Shadow Tyrell.)
When she arrives at Corwin's study she exchanges pleasantries with those who have arrived before her; her tone and manner are rather more subdued than usual, though, and she is not inclined toward idle chitchat unless she senses it would help ease the tension.
Ossian dresses in slightly more color than current fashion dictates. He takes a small glass of white wine. A gentleman as usual, he will kiss Flora's hand, but like Folly he stays quiet for the moment.
Florimel is dressed in a softer gown than one might expect given the current fashions, but they are en famille here. Like Folly's, her dress is also influenced by the curves and designs of Art Nouveau.
The King has also changed into a black and silver smoking jacket. (Black velvet; silver trim.)
Once they have gathered and greetings have been made, Corwin explains what they're here to discuss. He summarizes for Florimel the stories that Ossian and Folly have told them, with particular emphasis on the Greenwood Hospital part of the news. All of this appears to be news, and a bit of a shock, to Florimel, who disclaims any knowledge that Greenwood was affiliated with the Klybesians.
Brand might have known. He'd been the one who suggested that Corwin be put into the hospital there.
"I suppose Brand could have seen that as a fair trade," Folly muses. "Give the Klybesians an Amberite to experiment on, and in exchange they keep a meddlesome older brother out of the way of his schemes. But I'm not sure I buy that, unless his connection to them ran so deep he trusted that they would never try to use whatever they learned against him."
She hesitates, frowning, and looks at Corwin. "Or perhaps you were the price of something he learned from them. But I imagine it would have to be something awfully big." She makes a gesture inviting the rest of them to speculate further or poke holes in that idea; after all, they all knew Brand, and she didn't.
"Oh, I bet they had things to tell him. My grandfather was curious to a fault. I do wonder about Chew's position in the order. What was his role when you met him, Folly?"
"He presented himself as a doctor," Folly says. "He didn't run any of the actual procedures, but he's the one who came to talk to us when we went back the next day to get the test results. Told us some of my results were abnormal and that he recommended I be hospitalized until they could run some follow-up tests. In The Machine." She shudders visibly; these memories are clearly upsetting to her, but she pushes ahead:
"We started asking questions that he was not very forthcoming about answering, and that's when it started feeling very, very wrong. Wrong-er. He left us alone for a few minutes and I was in the process of calling Random to trump us the hell out of there when someone or someones came in the room and scuffled with Martin. He told me to go on, so I did, while he stayed behind to, you know, punch people in the head and blow up labs and stuff...."
Folly hesitates, and then says. "Terranova. I think that was the name of the hospital. 'New Earth' and 'Green Wood' -- possibly just a coincidence, but it's an interesting one."
Corwin is increasingly disgruntled as Folly's story continues, and by the time she's finished, he's openly frowning. "Is there anything else about the Klybesians or Greenwood or Terranova or this Hannibal person that anyone wants to contribute? Because we're past the point here where Random and I need to discuss measures, and if there's no more to add, then I'll take any suggestions you have on how we should deal with them."
Ossian shakes his head.
Folly says, "I will just add this, which you may well already have thought of: As much as I would love to see the Klybesians unmade, there is a very real possibility that they could have a Pattern initiate among their ranks -- possibly a long-forgotten and disgruntled one, if they are as ancient an order as they want to seem. That would explain how that shadowpath might have come into being even without Brand's help; all the other alternative explanations I can think of seem rather less likely. If that's the case, dealing with them as if they are a mere shadow problem could be not only ineffectual, but dangerous."
She makes a small gesture, palms up, to Corwin and Florimel: she's ready for them to call in the other players, if that's what comes next.
The room falls silent after Folly's words, quiet enough that the slightest movement sounds obscenely loud. Florimel blinks, slowly, and turns to Corwin. The Prince in Silver and Black raises his hand.
"I hadn't considered that, but if he's fallen in with them again, we have to act immediately. I certainly hope you’re wrong."
Flora's eyes are wide and she is sitting very, very still.
Folly's brow creases with concern. "Who?" she asks warily.
"Caine," Corwin says to Folly and Ossian.
Flora's expression suggests that she has had a very ugly suspicion confirmed.
"Oh come on." Corwin turns back to Flora. "Dad never told you why he pulled Caine from the succession? Why he threw all the religious out of Amber?"
"That kind of talk wasn't considered suitable for the dinner table when ladies were present, and you know it, Corwin," she ripostes sweetly.
Corwin has the good grace to look mildly abashed.
A smile flashes over Ossian's face. Then he turns somber "How old could that path be?" he asks.
Folly drops her gaze to her hands folded tightly in her lap to hide a momentary glint of amusement in her own eyes. She looks up again at Ossian's question and adds, "And for the benefit of those of us who weren't even around to hear that particular story from Oberon, what happened, if you don't mind filling us in?"
"Caine was deeply involved in one of the old martial orders attached to the Church of the Unicorn. They were involved in the old troubles between Cymnea and my mother--and Caine's--Faiella. Even I don't know all the details of how he annoyed Dad so much; as you say," Corwin nods to Flora, "it wasn't dinner table talk. And I was much out of Amber at the time. It was after my mother had died, but before Dad married Clarissa, I think. The net result was that Dad ordered all the religious out of the city, stripped them of their citizenship and goods, and Caine was out of the succession.
"He didn't get rid of the Unicorn, and now we all know why, but there were no more priests, and the Knights were purely secular."
It takes Corwin a moment to remember that he hasn't answered Ossian's question. "It could be old, depending on how much spying they were doing on Flora, or me, during my exile there. But the real question is how it survived the Black Rain."
"It was underground, if that helps." Ossian says, frowning. "Is there any way to find out who layed a certain path?"
"Or could there be anything else about the place -- inherently or by design -- that could have ensured it would stay somewhere on the natural paths between Pattern realms?" Folly says. "It didn't feel... pre-Patterny or anything, did it?"
Ossian shakes his head. "I don't think so. Jerod said nothing about that either, and he's way ahead of me."
Folly frowns thoughtfully. "I suppose it's possible that Caine -- or maybe Brand -- worked out some other way to ensure that spot stayed on the natural paths. We do seem to exert some sort of metaphysical gravity on the shadows around us; perhaps---" she nods at Corwin "---keeping you in that place, your psychic energy, somehow reinforced that effect. But that's just speculation.
"It does occur to me, though, that if Caine really is working with the Klybesians -- and if he also was somehow in on the scheme to keep you in that hospital -- it casts his actions in the recent war in an interesting light. Perhaps the true purpose of his fratricide was not so much to save the universe from Mad Brother Brand as to take out the one person who knew enough about his comings and goings to out him to the rest of the family."
Flora ponders this question. "Caine was apparently friendly with Brennan at that time." She glances at Ossian, but holds the question for now.
"Oh." Ossian says.
Folly's frown deepens. "In your experience, does Caine have the kind of skill with Pattern, and the curiosity to experiment with it, that might let him make an especially enduring shadowpath, or create some kind of anchor in shadow?" She hesitates, thinking, and then adds, "And does he have any other interesting metaphysical skills he might be sharing with the Klybesians that we should be on guard against?"
"Caine's the most skilled user of Trumps I've ever seen. He can spy on people with them, and that's a skill most of us can't match," Corwin explains. "He's almost as old as I am, and he's one of our Admirals. I don't know that he has any special skills in forging paths, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did. He wasn't one of the original pathmakers, but he learned from them, and he's been doing it for a long time.
"But it doesn't have to be him for all of it. He could have made the path for them centuries ago, before Dad forbade him any further involvement with the religious. Or he could have taught some royal bastard, his or someone else's."
"Probably not his," Flora says and gives Corwin a knowing look. Corwin shrugs.
Ossian frowns "I'd like to ask Ambrose if he has met the monks. Not that he could have laid the path.
"Silhouette has agreed to help me investigate at Greenwood. Unless you kings decide something else, of course."
"If Random approves it, I see no reason why you two shouldn't investigate together. Emphasis on together, since we don't want any more of you disappearing and it sounds as though the Klybesians can take one of you if they want." Corwin rises and moves to his secretary desk to rifle through it, presumably for his Trumps. "What about Ambrose? Brennan's brother, Brand's son?"
"Given that the monks have been involved with Caine, my father, me and Brand, I wouldn't be surprised if they contacted Ambrose, or that mad sister of his. It's just a hunch."
"Well, and if they've managed to piss him off the way they have the rest of us, he might be easy to recruit to your mission, if you think he could help," Folly says. "But -- how were they involved with you, Ossian? I'm afraid I missed that part."
"I found my mother." Ossian says with a sigh. "The Valkyrie Regenlief. Strange that. But Brennan confirms it. They fought alongside with the monks.
"He didn't learn she became pregnant. But the monks did. Stole me and placed me in that orphanage."
Florimel scowls at this report but doesn't add anything. Corwin meets her gaze and shakes his head in the negative.
"A Valkyrie would tie her back to the shadows near Brita's family. Have you brought this to Brita's attention, or Fiona's? Because it's looking more and more like the Klybesians have spread further through Shadow than we previously imagined." The question is directed to Ossian but Corwin seems interested in Folly's opinion.
"Not to mention that we suddenly have a potential motive for getting rid of Reid."
Folly's jaw has set in a hard line. "Ossian," she asks, with a coolness that he feels is not directed at him, "did you come to that orphanage before or after Meg?"
"She's older than me, so I guess after. I was only an infant... But yes, that is a problem too. What's their deal with Dara?"
Ossian looks at Flora: "Why would they want to kill Reid?"
Corwin steps in to field this one. "Reid was in the Asgardian shadow realms for a long time. When we settle in a single place in Shadow, we attract Reality, and clearly the Klybesians are interested in that. Who knows what information he might have picked up about them and their history in Asgard, given that we know they were recruiting agents like your mother there?"
"They might have needed to shut his mouth, or, depending on how things went, dispose of the evidence," Flora adds. "Exile from Amber--or Paris, now--is a cold and lonely thing." She glances at Corwin; their eyes meet briefly. "Who knows what he might have done, all unknowingly, to get back home?"
"Or not so unknowingly," Folly offers. "If I understand his timeline correctly, his youth or young adulthood in Amber could have been during the time they were still active there, yes? Which I suppose could also have led to them thinking he knew rather too much about them." She looks at Ossian, who may know more about that part of Reid's history than she does.
"That is very possible, even probable." Ossian says. "Reid did not say much about his past. Do we have any proof of their precence in Asgard? I was not aware that my mother was recruited by them at all?"
"How did she get out of Asgard to run into Brennan?" Corwin asks Ossian. "I'm not saying she was, but we know they recruit and a presence in Asgard doesn't indicate an abbey. The gods of Asgard are jealous and wouldn't allow foreign religious in without a fight. So they came as warriors--and that means military recruitment."
As the King is speaking, the door opens to allow Signy and Ambrose to slip in. They're clearly dressed for travel, with Signy bearing a plain sword on her hip.
Signy hangs back from the main group for the moment, hoping in vain that they somehow will have managed to avoid becoming the center of attention upon their arrival.
Ambrose is also mildly hesitant, but the group is small enough that there's nothing for it, so he comes all the way in as well.
Corwin is holding court with Florimel, Ossian, and Folly in attendance. It's late at night--possibly even pushing toward dawn by now--and there is food and drink, the latter of which Corwin offers to the newcomers if they want any.
Given that the King is holding family court, everyone is dressed informally, but Ambrose and Signy have come fresh from the Rebma road and are damp (but at least not dusty).
"Welcome to Paris," Corwin says. "Let me get you something to drink and settle in. We're in the middle of a family council."
Ossian smiles. "Uncle." It still sounds strange. "Cousin. You arrive timely. How much of the latest news have you heard?"
Ambrose bows slightly to the King and Florimel and acknowledges Ossian, then Folly with a smile. "There is always news in this family. You'll have to tell us which we're meant to know."
"We're glad you're here. Perhaps you'll have news for us as well," Florimel says with a smile as Corwin prepares the drinks.
Folly returns Ambrose's smile warmly, then rises and extends a hand to Signy. "I take it you know everyone else here, but I've been traveling so much lately I'm not sure we were ever properly introduced," she says. "I'm Folly. We were just talking about the Klybesians, of whom I'm afraid I know very little."
Signy makes a passable attempt at a bow towards Corwin, before giving Folly a small but genuine smile in return as she takes her hand in a firm clasp. "I'm Signy, Dierdre's daughter." She gives a quick glance around the room, before turning her gaze back on Folly.
"I know the Klybesians. My tutor was of their Order, and when Marius came to them seeking knowledge of me he took that opportunity to flee their service and return to me."
She sighs quietly, before taking in the rest of the room.
"Edan and I questioned him after the news of Reid reached Rebma. He had some information, but had fallen out of favor with them some time ago, so wasn't high in their councils when he left. I have him working on writing up any details about his time in the Order in my absence in case something in there means something to someone in the Family."
"That's great news. " Ossian says. "I would be very interested to read that, indeed.
"I, Jerod and Raven went back to get Reid's body. In short: Jerod wrecked the place when we found out who Brother Hannibal is. Folly has encountered the man before, in an unpleasant manner. When we searched the place we found a Shadow Path to the hospital where Uncle Corwin" Ossian nods towards the King "was for a while.
"Too many ties to too many of us. And they like tissue samples of Amberites." he makes a wry face. "And they got away.
"Do you have any idea of who might have laid that Shadow Path?"
Ambrose looks around, in case this question is directed at him, which from the looks being sent in his direction, it is. "I cannot say whether my father laid it, if that's what you're implying. He didn't tell me he had done any such thing, but there are many things I've since learned about him. I can't say he didn't do it, and it was well within his capabilities to lay a path, especially if he had reason to be familiar with one or both places." This is not an answer Ambrose likes, but it's clearly all he has.
"He knew the endpoint," Corwin says. "He was the one who tried to kill me and have my brains fried."
Florimel suddenly seems very preoccupied with her drink.
Signy thinks for a moment, before looking at Corwin. "Does this mean the Order might be looking to continue what he started when he attempted to destroy the Pattern? Is that why they want the samples? Or do they think that they can somehow use our essence to gain our powers?"
"Chew seemed power hungry enough to try to get our powers." Ossian says "But we should not rule out that they want to trade the samples with someone. Or simply blackmail us."
"Or they could be trying to grow their very own little Amberites," Folly says with a tight, forced smile; to Ossian's eyes she looks as though she would like to go be quietly sick in a corner. "My home shadow doesn't quite have that kind of technology, and I gather Greenwood wouldn't've either, but the place I met Chew almost certainly does."
"The shadow Greenwood was in didn't have that kind of technology at that time. But it might have developed it afterwards," Florimel corrects Folly gently. She seems less horrified at the idea than grimly dissatisfied about its very existence. "If you have enough power and you dwell in a Shadow long enough, it molds itself to your desires, if you're Real."
"If you're a Pattern initiate," Corwin says, and it's not obvious whether that's disagreement or clarification. "And we don't think they have a huge number of those."
"They have at least one," Florimel counters. "One who made that shadow path."
Ossian nods. "I agree that Greenwood probably isn't advanced enough from my more recent observation. But Chew can travel between more Shadows. I wonder if there are more paths."
"Do we know of any other locations in Shadow where the Order is particularly associated with?" Signy looks at Corwin. "Or would it be worth looking for any places that Brand was known to frequent?"
"I can make a list of some of the places I know were important to my father," Ambrose offers.
Corwin nods. "That would be useful." He gestures Ambrose to the secretary, which he opens to produce pen, ink, and paper. He turns back to Signy. "Your man, did he describe the places he knew to belong to the Order? Have you got names of places, and possibly routes to get there? Cross-referencing would be useful, and possibly give us a list of places to check."
Signy shakes her head in the negative. "We didn't really discuss the locations of other Chapterhouses. He knew of the Shadow paths, and that the Order had some collection of Trumps that they had collected over the centuries."
Ossian's eyes narrow, but he stays quiet.
She shrugs slightly. "I got the impression that he was either in his Chapterhouse, or with Weyland to tutor me, and hadn't really moved around much within the Order itself."
Folly has been lost in thought during the discussion of shadows and shadowpaths, trying to puzzle something out. Then, "Corwin?" she says, "You mentioned that the path to Greenwood, if it were laid while you were there, shouldn't have survived the giant shadow storm. But the paths between Patterns do, at least in some form. What do you know about those -- and in particular, why were they named for your mother?"
Signy listens to Folly's question before turning to look at Corwin and Florimel for their response.
Ossian too is quiet.
"I wasn't in Amber when the Faiella-Bionin was made. I left after my mother died and came back--later." Corwin chooses not to elaborate on that point, but Florimel rises and comes to him to pat his hand comfortingly, as a good sister should. "Legends have it that some people can leave benisons on their deaths instead of curses, like Eric's or--" he smiles thinly "--mine. The Faiella-Bionin is, I am told, my mother's."
Folly's eyes widen in surprise. "But then... she must have been a woman of considerable power in her own right, to create such a boon."
She regards Corwin with an artist's gaze, scrutinizing his features as if seeing them for the first time, mentally comparing them to every portrait and sketch she studied when she first arrived in Amber and worked to learn the history and legends of her new-found family and its allies and foes. It is only by an effort of will, evident in the way she has wrapped her fingers tightly around the edge of her seat-cushion, that she stays in her seat rather than egregiously invading his personal space for a closer look. She turns to study Signy's features, too, for a long moment, looking for the markers of Faiellan heritage, before turning back to Corwin.
"Was she... of Tir?" she ventures, with a tone that suggests more than just idle curiosity. "Or one of the other realms of power?"
Signy's eyes light up with a question, but for the moment she bides her time to let Corwin answer Folly.
Ossian's eyes shine. He is way out of his depth here. So he is quiet.
Corwin shakes his head in the negative. "My mother was the daughter of a noble merchant family of Amber. I don't know for certain where her family was originally from. But, given what we know from the growth of Paris in recent years, and the growth of Xanadu, it's likely enough that she came from somewhere else. But most of Dad's queens and consorts were powers in their own right. Look at Moins and Clarissa. He didn't seem to care for weak women."
Ossian and Folly suspect he has something else he might have added to that comment but decided not to say for whatever reason.
"Well, one can hardly fault him for wanting a partner with half a chance of keeping up with him," Folly observes with a little half-smile. It's not clear whether the gently wry humor in her tone is directed at Corwin or herself. Possibly both. "But he could have had other reasons, too."
Signy glances around the room before speaking up. "My father had some sort of relationship with the Order, though I'm not sure what it was other than to have Tomat provide me with training." Signy locks her eyes on Corwin's.
"What is my father's ancestry?"
Folly has slipped a small sketchpad from among the folds of her dress and is scribbling on it, angled so Ossian can see. It looks like she's working on a family tree, but twisted around on itself. After a few moments it becomes apparent to him that she's laying out family members and connecting lines along the Faiella-Bionin.
Ossian smiles at that, restraining himself from pulling out a pen to help Folly. Then he looks at Corwin.
Florimel is interested in Corwin's answer as well.
Corwin frowns, more thoughtfully than annoyed. "It's a good question, and one I'd like a solid answer to. What I do know is this: Weyland is Real, as real as any of us, and he's taken some form of the Pattern at some point in his life, or he wouldn't have been able to make something like Grayswandir." Corwin pats the pommel of the blade, which he is in fact wearing to the meeting. "So that makes him family of some sort. At what remove, I can only guess--but it can't be too distant because he's got to be ancient. Unless there's some question of time with him from being on the wrong side of Ygg."
Folly looks up from her scribbling and eyes Corwin's sword with curiosity. "How long ago did he forge Grayswandir?" she asks -- then amends, since absolute times are unlikely to make sense in this context, "When in your timeline, I mean."
Signy frowns thoughtfully. "And in making it, it seems like he would not be the type to ally with the Order, unless something changed...."
She leaves the obvious answer unspoken for the moment.
"The legend about your father makes him no one's ally, Signy. The question is what price Dad paid to have Werewindle made. And what price someone else paid to have Grayswandir made." Corwin shifts his focus from Signy to Folly. "And that's another question I don't know the answer to. It's an open secret that Caine had Dad's sword before Bleys, and the same portfolio."
Florimel nods her agreement to Corwin's statement.
Folly's eyes widen in surprise; clearly his answer has gone in directions she did not expect.
Corwin continunes, "But I don't think Caine was the first prince with that position. Maybe it was Osric or Finndo. I don't think it was Ben, though."
"Do you know whether my father ever held such a blade?" Ambrose asks.
Corwin shakes his head. "Not to my knowledge. He was desperately jealous of Bleys for having it."
"We speculated," Florimel adds, without specifying who the we was, "that it was part of what drove him into deeper studies with Dworkin."
Ossian frowns and asks "Do you think he tried to make one for himself?"
Folly looks like she might have something to say about that, but she lets Corwin and Florimel answer first.
It's Ambrose, perhaps unsurprisingly, who speaks up to answer that. "My father's primary interest for centuries was the Tir problem. I know he resented Bleys, but if he wanted a specific blade, I would have thought it was Grayswandir and not Werewindle. And his--" Ambrose searches for a word and settles on "--creative impulses, such as they were, were channeled in a different direction."
Ambrose is pointedly not looking at Folly. Just Ossian.
Folly's eyes narrow fractionally; she looks as though she might be biting back a comment or two about Brand's 'creative impulses'. Instead, she says to Corwin, "Yes, that's part of what made me think your mother might have been of Tir: not just your bond to Tir's blade, but the fact that Brand seemed so interested in keeping you out of the way and closely supervised. Well, and because Avalon guards the back way to Tir" -- she taps her pencil over Benedict's name on her sketch -- "but... was that always so?"
Signy looks slightly confused at Ambrose's words. "Tir problem?" she says quietly, hoping someone will elaborate further.
Ambrose hesitates, but Corwin gestures to him to speak. "My father thought that Dworkin--his mentor, our great-grandfather--was damaged by something that had happened to Tir, to render it out of sync. That it was a source of pain and mental instability. His plan to remake the universe sprang from a desire to help Dworkin. Though it went into darker places as he elaborated on it." Which is all Ambrose really seems to want to say about it.
With that sidebar complete, and explained to everyone who hadn't heard Ambrose's theory before, Corwin turns back to Folly. "I can't answer any questions about Avalon with certainty. I'm not sure Benedict's Avalon is the Avalon I knew. Very similar, but different. There were silver towers in Avalon as I knew it, but they were part of the city rather than in the sky."
Ossian stays quiet.
Signy frowns thoughtfully. "So, Tir and Amber are both damaged. Are there other places that once had Patterns but are now damaged or inoperable?"
She pauses before the words just spill out of her. "Was Rebma's Pattern created in response to the damage to Tir's?"
Florimel looks to Corwin as if she thinks he has some special insight into the answer to this question.
He sighs. "Signy, a decade or three ago we didn't even know about the Primal Pattern, never mind Avalon. All we knew was Amber and Rebma and Tir. We didn't even know Dworkin was Dad's father. We're all feeling our way through this, too, figuring out which of the legends and myths have some basis in fact. There are no quick and easy answers. Unless Brand had them from Dworkin."
"Not in the papers I've deciphered so far," Ambrose answers. "Though I haven't finished them by a long shot."
"Uncle," Folly says to Corwin as the War Council breaks up, "I still have a few questions for you -- but perhaps more grilling by an eager niece is not how you would prefer to conclude what has already been rather a long evening for you--" where by 'long' she undoubtedly means something about halfway between 'trying' and 'disappointing', given that they interrupted his post-opera plans. "Would you rather wait 'til tomorrow?"
Corwin, who is watching his sister and the rest of the group make their goodnights and departures, shakes his head in the negative. "Kingship means long nights sometimes. I have the luxury of setting the pace of the palace in the morning. Sit back down and I'll answer the questions I can for you." He smiles at Folly, a bit indulgently, and gestures to her to sit down. "And if there's anything I can have brought around for you, let me do that too."
Folly thinks on that for a moment, then replies with a little smile, "Well, depending on how irritating my questions turn out to be, later we may want a lute or a guitar or something -- but for now perhaps just a wee dram of something will suffice." She squashes her natural instinct to go serve herself from the remains of the War Council spread, letting Corwin play host instead. She takes a seat; her posture is noticeably less rigid than it was during the War Council.
Once Corwin has made himself comfortable, Folly begins: "Perhaps it is my songwriting instincts that make me latch onto recurring motifs and symbols to see where they go; but since hearing the story Cameleopardis told of his experiences in the sunken city, I can't shake the feeling that there is something important hiding in the details. I was hoping you might be willing to tell me a bit more about the Avalon you knew, and your life there."
Corwin had apparently been paying enough attention to what Folly had chosen to bring her a plate full of things she would generally have chosen for herself, along with the aforementioned wee dram.
Folly accepts the plate and glass with a warm smile of thanks. She makes a mental note to try not to flirt back, and then promptly loses that note behind the metaphorical couch.
He gathers up another plate of his own, and a dram for himself, and joins her. "I can see how that might be useful to you. Do you want to tell me what themes you see in common and let me search through my memories for them, or ask me a leading question or two and see what I turn up for you?"
Folly chews her bottom lip thoughtfully. "Perhaps let's start with the recurring themes, but then I might have some follow-up questions.
"The first is the silver towers, which seemed awfully important to the legend of his ancestors that the Maghee wizard spoke of. Some version of them has now appeared on land in Avalon, beneath the waves once they were sunk by the Maghees, and in the sky in Tir.
"The second is the relationship between you and Benedict, or perhaps the 'Sorceror-King' and the 'Protector', to use Cameleopardis's words." Folly's tone has softened, and she pauses to take a sip of her drink, perhaps to give herself time to choose her next words carefully; she is aware this could be a delicate area. "That image he related of the two of you striving against one another over the Pattern -- I don't know whether that is an echo of a real incident in the past or the future, or if perhaps it is symbolic of something else. Some clash between realms, perhaps. I'm curious to hear your thoughts."
"The Silver Towers were part of the legend of Avalon when I found the place." Corwin answers that first, because it's clearly the easy part. "I remember them, but I didn't create them.
"As for the other--" and here his expression turns a little puzzled, as best as Folly can tell, not that he seems to be trying to hide anything from her "--I don't entirely know. There are things Benedict and I don't agree on, but not to the point of fatal violence, and certainly not since the war. And in any case, everybody knows he's a greater warrior, and a better swordsman, than I am. He'd make mincemeat out of me unless I had some protection and some luck."
He frowns. "Though maybe it's the scene from Tir, with the arm. It was me, and him, but not at the same time."
Folly blinks. "The arm was silver, too, was it not?" she asks, then adds, "By legend, who raised the silver towers in the Avalon you knew?"
Corwin frowns thoughtfully at the series of questions. "I think the silver arm was Dad's fault. He took it out of Tir and sent it back somehow. He was a greater master of reality than any of us knew."
Folly nods; she has heard similar ideas about the silver arm, and Oberon's abilities, from Martin.
"Now Avalon, there were old gods there, and Fair Folk, who slaughtered each other long before my time. And then the people after them, the great heroes of ancient times, whose magic was stolen from the Fair Folk. They were the ones who raised the Towers."
Folly considers that for a moment. "Did you know of this Maghee clan, and Maghdeburgh, during the time you dwelt in Avalon?" she asks. "And... is the story of their 'sorcerer king' to do with you, or is it part of that earlier history?"
Corwin shakes his head in the negative. "If my present understanding of the relationship between Ben's Avalon and mine is right, I was never there. But," he clarifies, "I did know a people like the Maghees, and I warred against them, and they were the ones who pulled down the Silver Towers in my Avalon. That's the best answer I can give you." His tone suggests he doesn't expect Folly to find that very helpful.
"So, clan Maghee might not have been part of your Avalon, but if not, they sound like a close shadow of something that was there," Folly says. "What were you warring over with your near-Maghees, if you don't mind my asking? And," she adds after a moment's thought, "did they claim any notable descent?"
"They never claimed any specific descent I recognized," Corwin says, "but there were sorcerers among them, which indicates they were somehow of Chaosian ancestry, directly or indirectly. As for what they were warring with me over--well." He pauses there and considers how best to say what he's thinking to Folly. "The last part of the time I spent in my Avalon was after my mother died giving birth to my sister Deirdre. I was not a kind man in those days, nor a good ruler, and it's no surprise that anyone would have wanted to overthrow me."
Folly lays a hand lightly on Corwin's arm in sympathy, just for a moment. Then, "I think I may have mentioned the Maghee Brennan questioned identified himself as 'Camelopardis Findanus', which I thought was... interesting. I don't really believe in coincidences -- not where this family is concerned, anyway -- so I thought it might be worth probing."
She hesitates, thinking. "If I may ask, what was it you were looking for when you first found your Avalon? And... did you already bear Grayswandir then, or did that come later?"
"I had the blade by then. Some, in Avalon, called it Caliburn." The long grief which Corwin wears along with his black and silver relaxes its grip on him. "I was looking for--something very personal. It would be difficult to describe to anyone else. I don't think it's relevant to Benedict's Avalon. He would have been looking for other things. By definition."
Corwin ponders the rest of what Folly has said. "And as for Camelopardis Findanus, that doesn't sound like a coincidence to me. Finndo spread himself far and wide across the universe. Maybe that was part of why he had to die for the good of Amber."
"Yes, I seem to recall he's responsible for several branches in the family tree, and that's just the better-known parts," Folly says. "I've heard only a little bit about his 'dying for the good of Amber'. It... had something to do with Rebma?"
"That was before my time." Corwin huffs out a long sigh. "I know one of Osric's sons died in Rebma in the wars against the Tritons--there was a song about it in vogue about the time Brand was born--but that was already a legend when I was a boy. It may have been a legend in the days when Benedict was a boy.”
"I suppose it's rather too easy for history to fade to legend in a single generation when one generation lasts millenia," Folly muses. "I don't think I had fully appreciated just how widely spaced some of you were in the birth-order, though."
After a moment's reflection, she adds, "With so much of our history obscured by the mists, I expect you won't have a definitive answer to this, either, although you may well have an... educated hunch. You mentioned Bleys's blade was previously carried by at least one other person. What about your own blade?"
Corwin has an easy answer to that one. "Given how long those generations are, I can't imagine I was its first wielder. I don't know whose it was before that, though. There are legendary swords in Amber's history before Grayswandir. One of them must have been Grayswandir, under a different name. After all, Werewindle wasn't called that when Caine had it."
"What was it called then?" Folly asks. "And does the wielder choose the name?"
"Almace," says Corwin. "I don't know its doom, though. I only know the doom laid on Grayswandir. And before you ask, no, it's not something I talk about. I--chose isn't the right word, but the name Grayswandir is tied to me. More like the sword let me know in its own way when the name was right."
Folly nods; that part makes perfect sense to her. "How did Grayswandir come to you, if that's something you can talk about?"
"I've heard it was forged on the steps to Tir, but I can't speak to the truth or falsehood of that legend. What I know is that I found it in Avalon when I was young. This was before Deirdre was born, even, when Caine was still a boy." Any conclusions that Folly wants to draw about that are her own, because Corwin continues, "I've carried it since then, except for the time when I was without my memory. It was lost, and I don't know what happened to it. I called it again by instinct when I started to get my memories back."
Folly sits up a little straighter, with obvious interest. Her mind is spinning in at least three directions at once, but she quickly settles on a path to try first. "You 'found' it?" she asks. "That sounds like a story all by itself. How? And how did you know it was... you know, yours? Beyond just the ancient law of Finders Keepers, I mean."
"I was given it by the Lady of the Lake," Corwin says, as if he expects everyone to know that particular piece of legend. "And no, I don't know who she was or how she got it. It didn't seem that important at the time, though now I wish I'd paid more attention. Unfortunately I can't go back in time to correct my mistake. I'm lucky I remember it at all anymore."
"Well, it does sound rather memorable," Folly says, making a mental note to check the histories and the legends for this Lady of the Lake. "We've got a folk song kind of like that where I'm from, but it was the Lady of the Mountains, and an axe all done up with...."
She blinks. She hasn't thought about that song in years, but suddenly those lines about '...etched across the blade/ the windings of a sacred braid' seem really significant.
"...well, I suppose the original story could have gotten a bit lost in the translation, you know?" Folly downs most of her drink and then fixes Corwin with a level look, though her eyes are twinkling. "Corwin, would it be too forward of me if I told you I want to touch your sword?"
"I never say no when a lady wants to touch my sword." Corwin is fighting the urge to smirk, not very successfully. Also not very hard, at least in the difficult sense. The blade, however, is hard when he draws it out of its sheath for Folly to examine. It's a handsome blade, all silvered steel, with tracery down the length of the blade that makes Folly's heart sing. It's familiar the way her own heartbeat is, the way the creases on her palms are, the way the backs of Martin's trumps are.
At the sight of the blade, whatever playful retort she may have had for Corwin dies on her lips. Mesmerised, she sets aside her glass, brushes her fingers together lightly to make sure they are free from wayward crumbs or condensation, and then reaches out to touch the delicate tracery, gently following it down the length of the blade. She breathes out a long, slow breath. "My god," she says, more to herself than to Corwin, "that's...."
But whatever she's observed, either she can't quite find the words or her mind has already raced ahead to the next idea. With some effort, she tears her gaze from the blade and meets Corwin's eyes. "By your leave, I'd like to try something," she says. "Sort of an experiment."
Corwin nods. He’s mostly watching her and not saying anything.
If he is amenable, Folly stands and asks Corwin to do so as well, with Grayswandir in his sword hand -- but suspended loosely from two fingers through the guard, palm upward, point downward, so that the blade is free to swing. Folly cups her own hand under Corwin's, perhaps to keep it steady at the proper height -- though it is doubtful he would really need her help for such a thing -- with one of her fingers just making contact with the hilt of the sword.
(She could just as easily have done this herself, without Corwin, but she sees his bond with this blade as that of a musician with his signature instrument; she would not dare presume to take it up herself without a great deal more history and trust between them, except in extreme circumstances. And anyway, there might be more she can learn this way.)
Once they are situated, Folly holds a finger to her lips and then flicks the flat of the blade sharply at about its midpoint with her fingernail, ringing it like a chime. She closes her eyes to listen, and to feel.
Her reaction to the tracery on the blade suggests to her that the Pattern is the Pattern is the Pattern -- but at the same time, the realms that grow up around Patterns reflect more than that. Paris is not Amber is not Xanadu is not Avalon. What she is listening for, then, is the relationships -- similarities and differences -- between the vibrations of this blade, rumored to be tied to Tir, and the rhythms of the city around her -- and to compare those to the rhythms of Xanadu, which she knows like she knows its maker, and what she can remember of the rhythms of Avalon. It's a subtle thing, she knows -- like listening for the differences between two note-perfect renditions of the same song by two different cover bands -- but she is hoping she might be able to detect telling similarities. Does Paris feel more like Avalon than like Xanadu? Does the sword seem inherently resonant with one realm more than the others, or is it very much its own thing?
It's an imperfect experiment: ideally, she would repeat it with Corwin and Grayswandir in Avalon, and listen for the differences. Or even better, she would go to Tir to see if she could detect the blade's alleged connection to that place. But perhaps this will be enough to gain her an insight or two, and without needing to resort to sword-touching of a more euphemistic variety.
Xanadu is a rock song, all heavy drumming and mando and fiddle blended in with the lead guitar and the rest of the rhythm section. Avalon was psalter and crumhorn and rebec and shawm. The blade is some kind of keyboard, probably a synthesizer of some sort, all mellow and no rhythm section needed. They're all playing variations on the same theme, with fugues and canons to change what you hear while still working with the same sequence of notes.
And what about Paris itself? More operatic/symphonic, given Corwin's own social-artistic interests? Or more keyboard-leaning, like the early 20th century composers of Shadow Earth's Paris? Or maybe all of the above, mixed with a bit of cabaret and accordion? Or something else entirely?
Impressionistic chamber music, after the fashion of Debussy, with a touch of the holy egoism of genius.
Folly smiles, just a little, as she listens; the whole thing -- the song of the sword, the echoes in the space around her, all of it -- is beautiful and fascinating. And it helps her understand these men, just a little, from the music they've made.
It is several heartbeats after the last reverberation has faded before she opens her eyes again and looks up at Corwin. "I'm not sure that quite answered my exact question, but it did help me understand a thing or two. I appreciate the indulgence." With a lopsided sort of smile and a tilt of her head -- almost a bow -- she releases Corwin's hand.
She takes a half-step back to give Corwin room to re-sheathe Grayswandir, and leans on the arm of a chair rather than taking a proper seat again. "The hypothesis I was trying to test was that there might be a detectable metaphysical... something... linking you and Benedict, or your realms. That perhaps that's the reason for this 'Corwin versus Benedict' motif that seems to recur even though the two of you don't seem to bear any special animosity toward one another. I mean, I'm not certain of the timing, but it struck me that it might be possible that Benedict really did find your old Avalon, once upon a time, and that for Big Metaphysical Reasons he needed to defend it. So he drew his own Pattern there, and it became his Avalon. And... possibly he even drew it with your sword, that could have come to him as it came to you, while you were out of commission. Although one supposes he might have recognized it and mentioned it to you at some point, if that were true." Folly gives a little shrug.
"I don't know him well, but Martin described him to me once as someone who does what needs doing. From that standpoint, I could certainly see him taking on responsibility for something or someplace that had tactical or metaphysical significance. Guarding the back way to Tir, for example." She gestures toward Grayswandir. "I thought I might be able to detect some link, but I think what I learned instead is that Grayswandir is like a pure concentrated essence of Pattern, and each realm is that essence rearranged and filtered through the scribe of that realm's Pattern. I mean, I sort of already knew that last part, but this made it more obvious. I dunno -- how plausible does any of that seem to you? You know your brother a lot better than I do."
Corwin considers and eventually answers. He might have formed three different responses before he finally speaks. "It is hard to know my eldest living brother, but I think he intentionally chose 'Protector' as his title in his home for the reasons you outline. However, he would never have used Greyswandir. It was not his to use. He would have had to use the Jewel of Judgement, because the Pattern is inside it. Once a person is attuned to the Jewel, they have to make a pattern, or they die. Eric only partially attuned, and it killed him. The fact that Brand didn't make a pattern reassures me immensely.
"I should give Greyswandir up, and have Weyland forge a pattern blade for Paris, or re-forge if one is part of the history of Paris that attached itself to my city. But I know of no one that I would charge with the doom that attaches to such a blade, even were I willing to pay Weyland's price. I keep the sword of Tir to keep it from falling into the hands of someone who might be more susceptible to the siren call of it."
He looks off into the distance, staring at nothing that Folly can see.
Folly regards him for a long moment, thinking. "I know you can't speak of the doom itself, but is it actually connected to Tir in some way? Or is there a threat to a specific person or place that would result if a wielder were unable to resist the sword's call? Something that the Protector would be particularly inclined to Protect against?"
"It's connected to Tir." Which is all Corwin seems inclined to say on that point. "Protecting Tir as Benedict sees it might cross what he thinks of as his other duties. The other things he has to protect, as it were."
Folly nods. "Yes, that makes sense, and it reminds me -- I asked you about your mother, whether she might be connected to Tir, but what about Cymnea? Do we know her origins, or rumored origins?"
"Her father was of a merchant clan in Amber, and her mother was a foreign princess named Clothilde. That's what I know. People don't talk about the Queens' War around me me much, or didn't, I should say. I mean, I've seen the play, though I was in disguise when I saw it:
"Two households, both alike in dignity / In fairest Amber, where we lay our scene / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean," Corwin declaims in a theatrical voice.
"I've seen the version of it from Flora's shadow as well. I prefer the original."
Folly smiles. "I think my shadow may have its own version as well, but with your 'Clothilde' and 'Cymnea' as our 'Hildegaard' and 'Heloise'. I'd be interested to see the original -- or the version from this place, for that matter, if such a thing exists. It is fascinating to me that your Paris sprang into being with its own ancient history already attached. Would you mind terribly if I explored the library here? ...Probably tomorrow, though, as I know it has already gotten quite late."
Not quite as an afterthought, Folly adds, "And, just out of curiosity... did Paris come with its own Silver Tower?"
"You're welcome to explore the library. I don't know that Alice has found me a librarian yet; if she hasn't, feel free to consult with her and requisition someone useful to assist you. And as for the Tower, just the Tour de M. Eiffel, which is of course silver in this city. But I don't think it corresponds in the same way, since it doesn't have much of a military use," Corwin explains. "But the correspondences aren't perfect. Amber didn't have a cathedral or a silver tower either."
"Yeah, what's the deal with the cathedral, anyway?" Folly asks, cocking her head in curiosity. "It seems strange -- or at least very interesting -- that one should appear here when religious orders were so explicitly banned in Amber. What do you think it signifies? And what religion does it represent?"
"It's a temple to the Unicorn, of course," Corwin says, as if there's
no way there could be any question. "Although nobody really offers
services in there. I suspect if I were to marry, we'd hold the
ceremony there. Or any other wedding of cosmic significance. But it
seems to me mostly a historical place. So maybe--" and here his voice
turns speculative "--my subconscious thinks the need for religious
practitioners is past, even if it knows better than to think of the
Unicorn as a dead letter."
Avalon/Grayswandir were Finndo's first?
Metaphysical link to Tir -- after the Primal was damaged? (While Corwin
Benedict took over Avalon while Corwin was away? Gained Grayswandir
and drew the Pattern to protect the way to Tir?
Silver Tower (la Tour d'Argent) in Paris?
Sigurd (Sighvardh) Balmung, Gram, Gramr-Ox (king-axe), Grammer-Brand
(king-blade), Brising-Brand (bright blade)
Avalon/Grayswandir were Finndo's first?
Metaphysical link to Tir -- after the Primal was damaged? (While Corwin
Benedict took over Avalon while Corwin was away? Gained Grayswandir
and drew the Pattern to protect the way to Tir?
Silver Tower (la Tour d'Argent) in Paris?
Sigurd (Sighvardh) Balmung, Gram, Gramr-Ox (king-axe), Grammer-Brand
(king-blade), Brising-Brand (bright blade)
Brennan lets the Trump contact fade without protest, then lets out a deep breath and scrubs his face with his hands. Why is it, he muses, that speaking in a voice barely above a whisper is more stressful than shouting across a battlefield at the top of his lungs? There is probably some deep psychological insight there-- maybe he'll ask Bleys. That should good for a chuckle. He stands up, stretches, and manages to crack at least half the joints in his upper body, and begins the process of freshening up as though he'd actually taken a nap. And unconsciously, reflexively, he starts updating his to-do list:
Call Fiona. Call Bleys. If he catches a break, they'll be together and he can get both of them together. Call Folly? Yes... but lower priority, since Benedict is more or less up to date. Send Cameleopardis' words to his people. Track down Cledwin, see what he knows. Go to Cameleopardis' people, and make an army out of them. Question this Jellicoe character. And, come to think of it, Crisp and Mayness, although they're probably harmless dupes. And then this banquet with Benedict, Balen and Trippel-- technically it is a victory celebration, but Brennan would prefer that it be thought of as a survival banquet. Brennan craves strategic ambiguity, here.
All of those go under the sub-heading of, "Find and stop Moire."
Then there are the longer term, extra-curricular activities: Poke around the basement of Montparnasse, for one. As spooked by the place as Balen and Trippel seem to be, Brennan bets that he finds it even creepier. Check into the Silver Towers... although Conner will probably do that, and Brennan envies him the opportunity. A nice long conversation with Weyland that will probably cost Brennan his right hand... and that, only because Weyland doesn't believe in souls. Investigating these Fair Folk, and their (their?) ley lines all over Avalon. And as a last recourse, if necessary, Project Yg.
He stops and considers. Maybe those ley lines should go on the active curriculum. If this battle is fought here, it will be fought on Avalonian geography, of which those lines are a part. It may behoove him to learn something of them, especially if Moire has not. Perhaps Cameleopardis' people know something about them. Or Benedict. Or Balen. Or it wouldn't be the first time Brennan had to master something with no training, and it won't be the last.
He realizes that he's grinning to him in anticipation of... all of that... so he scrubs the smirk off his face, screws himself into the Walker persona again, fakes having taken a nap, and exits his quarters in search of Jellicoe.
Jellicoe is in the guest wing, where Walker and his men have been quartered. His room is nearer the main hall and larger than Walker's. If Brennan knocks, Jellicoe answers his own door.
Well, kicking down the door seems like an abuse of hospitality, and as much as Walker... and to some degree, Brennan... take Cledwin's betrayal personally, Jellicoe had seemed like a man that could be reasoned with. Or bought. So Brennan knocks. Is Jellicoe under any sort of guard or watch, or is he left to his own recognizance?
There’s no guard.
[OOC: Apparently a cultural difference here is that they really mean it about paroling captives. He could walk out the gate and no one would stop him, but if he took arms against his former captors, his own men would cut him down. Not that Walker knows this...]
"Nice quarters," he mutters, giving himself the excuse to scan briefly for mirrors as he looks around. And by way of inviting himself in. "Perks of rank, I reckon."
"I suppose. You’re the captain of the mercenaries, am I correct? You have my admiration for your skill and determination in defeating us."
"We had some good luck," Walker allows. He moves in such a way that Jellicoe can see that he's brought something with him-- a bottle that might have come from the royal family's private stash. Conjured, if need be, but something in exactly the style and quality that would be fit for such a stash.
"My compliments for whoever kept your groups on their timing. Ain't easy keeping two groups coordinated," he says. Then he reconsiders. "Three, I reckon, if you look at it right."
The man shrugs. "Sometimes. You can do more if you can split your troops, but there are risks as the communications get more difficult. Two commanders can't react to a change in circumstances as quickly as one, and so on. However, you can't have a pincer movement without coordinated separation of troops. And it's even more difficult at sea, where the wind also has to cooperate." While Jellicoe seems very interested in small unit tactics, and what's more seems reasonably good at the theory as well as the practice, he's also being careful not to refer to any specifics of the recent battles.
"You obviously had some sort of way out of the castle. Our magician assured us that you didn't conjure yourself outside of the walls."
"Obviously?" Walker says. "We feinted break-outs to get riders to these folks' allies. You sure I ain't just tag along with them and circle back?"
Walker, like Brennan's uncles, has cultivated the skill of casting reasonable doubt on prior certainties.
Jellicoe shrugs. "Not all watching eyes are human eyes, Captain Walker, nor do they all see in the same spectrum. But have it your way. It could be as you say."
Walker shrugs in return. Brennan notices that rather educated turn of phrase, but keeps it to himself.
He shifts in his chair. "May we have the bodies of those who died inside the castle walls, to return to their kinfolk for burial?"
Walker pours two drinks: They're negotiating, now.
"You mean those boys that came and killed Prince Maibock? They ain't mine to give, but I might could put in a good word with the new Prince." Walker does not conceal his impression that this would go a considerable distance, all things considered and all favors owed. "A good faith gesture couldn't hurt."
Walker has some ideas on that subject, but he'd rather see what Jellicoe offers. He offers Jellicoe a drink to lubricate the negotiations.
Jellicoe takes the drink and considers. "War's coming, no doubt about that. I can't commit to anything that would get us hanged back home. Them was good boys, but if we'd wanted to die for 'em, we'd've already done it." He swallows the first half of his drink. "There's a few things I can offer, one for the Mountain folk. They are isolated up here, and not well liked by their neighbors. War's coming, but it's also going to end. A trade agreement would be a good faith gesture, would it not?"
He drinks the rest of his drink. "And here's another thing I can offer. Position. You're a hell of a fighter, and you're wasted in this backwater. You're free of your contract, I hear, and we're bound not to attack Montparnasse, so there's no conflict.
"You're good, and I'd like to see what you can do for us."
Walker sips his drink while asking a few questions about this proposed trade deal: What for what, how often, starting when, that sort of thing. It is clear from the outset that Walker is not negotiating, simply getting the details of Jellicoe's offer-- such as they can be at this point-- to relay them back to Trippel. It seems from the initial offer that Jellicoe is speaking of something to begin after the war, not during it; this is something Walker wants to clarify, even if he doesn't ask in term quite that stark. After all, no Avalonian trade fleet is ever going to be anything other than armed to the teeth, and having an armed fleet of the northern coast after the war is a bit different than having one off the coast during the war.
The details are mostly of interest to the parties involved, but the offer seems to be a step further than most paroles go, even in Avalon. That it's even offered suggests that alliances here are both fluid and complex. Jellicoe is very clear that he means to honor his commitment to sit out the war. Given that this is Avalon, that probably means "sit out the rest of this campaign season".
That satisfies both Walker's duty to take a reasonable offer to Trippel, and Brennan's duty to make sure that the strategic balance is retained, at least in this small regard.
When he gets the information he needs (or gets all he's going to get) he agrees to take the offer to Trippel.
That concluded, he can investigate this job offer more fully. "Tell me more about this job," he says. "I reckon you ain't wanna tell me where I'd be fighting, but you can at least tell me who I'd be fighting for, and with."
"A mercenary should know who is punching his ticket. There is an alliance of four cities in the northlands, whose commission I hold. I cannot tell you where they would need us most, because we have been on this assignment for some weeks. Perhaps in the shield lands, perhaps with our allies to the east. The Admiral is a naval genius, and is excellent at finding how to best use whatever resources he has."
He pauses. "He'll be keen to meet you, and hear of your exploits."
"You don't mind my sayin', that ain't sayin' much: Northern cities, and a guy with a fleet," Walker drawls, waiting for Jellicoe to put even enough structure on the table to hang a hat on. What Walker thinks of a naval genius who uses sailors to assault a mountain fastness goes unsaid... although to be fair, Brennan's opinion is somewhat higher, all things considered.
"But that ain't all I meant. What about Cledwin?" he asks.
"Crisp's man? He kept to himself when we brought him to Avalon. Barely came out of his cabin. I don't know who he worked for."
"Aye. Crisp's man," Walker says. "Humor me. Call it part of my payment for your boys. Tell me what you know about him... and how it is you brung him to Avalon where I met him. Who else was with him, where'd he come from, like that."
Walker pours them another drink while Jellicoe answers.
Jellicoe drinks, again. "Half a year back, or maybe a year. Anyway, not long after the breaking of the black tides. We were afloat again and damn glad of it; we'd all been beached too long. We met the Admiral at sea, at a rendezvous he'd arranged. Us, The Dancer, and his flagship. He sent us Cledwin and someone else to Captain Stoat. We took him to the coast of Avalon and dropped him on the shore under cover of darkness.
"It's funny, we met the Admiral again after that, but I don't recall getting orders to do so. That's when we got our orders to take the Maghee to the Cannibal Coast and raid this castle. We didn't know why, but the Admiral is a tactical genius, so we did as he said."
Walker wets his lips with his drink, to maintain appearances. And to keep from scowling too noticeably-- something just seems... off. The repetition of "the Admiral is a tactical genius," the confusion over when he met the Admiral, or why they met a second time... It just feels off.
"I'm startin' to like the sound of that, workin' for a tactical genius," Walker says. "So, sell me on him. How'd you fall in with him? What's he done to earn his rep?"
Walker will try to keep Jellicoe amiably chatting about the Admiral, asking questions to draw him out looking for non-specific specifics, so to speak. It doesn't matter what the specifics are-- he doesn't care if it's a description of his face, or a name, or a particular thing he does or has done, or a location they've met, but he does gently probe for some specific. He's certainly not going to bother for anything like actionable intelligence, because Jellicoe is not a fool.
As he does, he's watching Jellicoe in two ways-- when the talk turns to a specific, does Jellicoe seem to go a little fuzzy minded and veer away? And secondly, he'll carefully, briefly, and passively look him over with the third eye for signs of manipulation.
Or Brennan might just be chasing shadows, and Jellicoe is just cagey, but at least he'll get a feel for this Admiral player in the process.
The five clans of the Blessed Isle elect a war-leader annually. He or she appoints the top officers of the fleet and the army. War-Leader Syke appointed her son Stratum as Admiral and he won several unexpected victories, using unorthodox tactics. Most people in Avalon are tactically competent, but Stratum wins unwinnable battles. Jellicoe has served under him for most of the last five years, which is a long time for both a War-Leader and an Admiral. They were devastatingly effective against the black tides.
He is absolutely fuzzy on the last meeting between himself and the Admiral. He does not know where or when it was, exactly, but he's aware of the orders he was given from it.
Brennan's Third Eye investigation doesn't show any signs of current glamours on the man, but it might not detect if he was interfered with in the past.
Fascinating. Positively fascinating. Brennan doesn't know exactly where this puzzle piece fits, but it sure looks like it's Moire's colors... or perhaps Dara's, which would be deeply unfortunate. Contrary to form, Brennan does not push the sorcerous examination any further, or augment it with Astral vision or anything active-- if there is something there, no sense disturbing it or setting off any landmind, and if there isn't it will just be time wasted. The fuzziness is enough.
Given that, though, and being unwilling at this time to press any farther on Cledwin-- since he was also hand picked by the Tactical Genius, Jellicoe is probably unwilling to give him up-- Walker and Brennan are running out of agenda. Walker will happily let Jellicoe continue to sell him on the Admiral or tell him about the Black Tides, but unless Jellicoe has some additional particular agenda to push, he will eventually excuse himself.
"I'll think on it," Walker says. "I reckon you'll be leaving before sundown tomorrow? Gives me time to talk to the Prince about you gettin' your boys back. I'll let you know what he says."
Unless Jellicoe stops him, he'll be off looking for any of Balen, Trippel, or Benedict.... probably in that order, although they're probably all together in council.
Balen has a tight smile for Walker. Trippel is lying on a couch. "Forgive me if I don't stand. I'm pretty sure this wound isn't going to kill me, but it's not for lack of trying."
Benedict looks between the two men, and Brennan thinks the Protector may have conclusions that he is keeping to himself. "I trust your discussion was enlightening?"
Walker gives Trippel a shrug, as if to say, It's Your Castle. If Trippel is fishing for an apology, he should take up farming. Being unsure of the protocol here, but being at least cognizant that the Protector's face is on coins and that Balen assumed he was an agent of the Protector, he sketches a Reman-style salute of sufficient roughness that it probably cost him a commission back home in Reme. He begins addressing the Protector, but since he knows Trippel and Balen better, his address slides back to them by the end.
"Summat," he says. "New questions for old, at least." For the first and not the last time, his address slides back to Trippel. "Jellicoe wants his boys' bodies back, the ones as killed your pa. He offers you trade pacts after the war. It ain't my call to make, I told him, but I'd pass it on."
Looking at Balen, he adds, "Cameleopardis ain't on the table for that deal. But you remember how someone messed with Cameleopardis's head? Jellicoe and I fell to talkin' about our contracts and our bosses. My price for bringing you the offer. Turns out, Jellicoe delivered Cledwin to Avalon hisself, but he didn't know why. It was on the orders of an Admiral Stratum, same fellow as later told him to bring the Maghee here and take this fort particular. He's a Tactical Genius." Walker pronounces the capital letters quite clearly. "Kept sayin' that-- Tactical Genius. It was... weird. I poked for some details-- nothing useful, because the man ain't a fool-- just details past. He ain't have too many, and I ain't even sure he realizes it. Maybe he's just playin' me, and I might not have gave it a second thought, but it made me think of what was done to Cameleopardis." Another look at Balen. "Not much more I could do, so I stopped.
"So," he says. "Who's this Stratum fellow and his mama, Syke?"
Benedict nods. "Northern warlords. They control some of the mines and more of the trade routes for metals from that part of the world, so they're not inconsequential."
Balen looks puzzled. "I'm thinking it isn't Syke’s doing, because I haven't been able to figure out how attacking us is in her strategic interests. She's not going to be a great friend of the Mountain ever, but she won't break a deal Jellicoe brings her, not if Stratum agrees. I'm not sure about the bodies, though."
Trippel replies to her. "I am. He can have 'em. I've got no use for nor room to store northern corpses. We'll hold off somewhat to get this deal solidified, but it costs us nothing to help him with his sailor's families.
"Now, what did you find out about Cledwyn, Crisp, and our sister?"
Walker is surprised that the possibility that Stratum's identity is being usurped by Moire gathers no immediate reaction-- surprised enough that he lets it show briefly in a pair of raised eye-brows, but doesn't try to redirect the conversation, at least not yet.
"Ain't spoke to either one, yet," he says. "There's a lot of sense, me questioning them-- unfamiliar face, they don't know what I know, I got no stake other than hunting down Cledwyn, all that. But going in blind, don't make sense, either. Remember we said, if we lived through to morning we'd swap life stories? Seems like this is the time for it-- be a help if I knew Crisp's story, goin' in, or at least what you have of it."
Walker is even willing to go first if Trippel really cares, which is questionable at best.
Trippel shifts from where he's reclining. "I didn't agree with my father, mostly about who we should ally with. Crisp is a Northerman, but we never held that against him. 'Everyone is friends with the arms-dealers,' as the proverb says. Mayness chose him, I hear, not the other way around."
Balen snorts. "Sort of. I'd say he made himself into the kind of mind she'd choose, and flattered her into it. She's not stupid, even if she is good-looking. She didn't have a great future to look forward to, when Trippel took over from Maibock."
Trip agrees. "That is true. Father and I didn't agree on most things, but he wasn't going to disown me for it. She wanted to commit him so that I'd be constrained. They have nothing to gain by Father's death, unless I were to die as well, and probably Balen. I don't think they were that murderous, but it's worth knowing what they were doing."
Benedict looks up. "So, if the plot were to have succeed, Prince Maibock and Lady Balen would be dead, Prince Trippel would be excluded, Crisp would be holding the castle for Mayness with the help of Jellicoe's Corsairs, and Cledwyn would be pushing the folks of the high plains south into the coastal plain to tie up Methuenport City, which was happening already, but will be accelerated if there's no threat from the Holy Mountain. Do I have it aright?"
Walker very politely refrains from pointing out that his initial thoughts to Balen were along the lines of Mayness marrying the Mountain to the Corsairs. He runs his fingers through the stubble on his chin. "Enh," he says. "Crisp and Mayness ruling the castle sounds a nice-to-have, but those elephants and that worm... they'd've torn this place down if if they had to."
Benedict is stone-faced. "It is difficult to imagine elephants as part of a subtle campaign. Unless they were summoned." He frowns. "And they are difficult to transport over seas without a fleet."
The supply train alone is enough to boggle the mind-- hundreds of pounds of fodder per elephant per day. Not impossible to move by fleet, but dragging even so much as a week's supply up the mountain would have been a back-breaking effort. But Brennan knows this; knows that Benedict knows this; knows that Benedict knows that Walker has no reason to keep that sort of esoteric trivia in his head.
So he just nods sharply when Benedict mentions summoning.
[Walker] turns to Trippel and says, almost as an aside, "If you want to set up for a sucker punch, let 'em think they almost did, and you're out of the game-- send Jellicoe a list of goods of everything you'd need after a huge disaster."
Trip nods. "We'd have to be careful to split the message if we decide on that course. We still need to be a threatening power to the north to keep the port open. We might not actually like the results of such a feint."
This, Walker readily agrees to with another nod.
"Could be that's what they promised Crisp or Mayness for their help. How's this line up with Stratum's rise, though? Is that about the time the romance began?" Walker asks.
Trip shrugs. "Could be. They met In Methryn's Port. She was sent to find arms and allies..." Balen does not hide her displeasure at the memory.
"All right," Walker says. "One more question: What's the worst threat they'll take serious? I assume you ain't want to execute your sister without proof, and maybe not even then," he pauses pointedly for Trippel to correct him if he's wrong, although he suspects Balen wouldn't shed a tear to see her dead. "Exile? Disinheritance? Life in the tower? Same for Crisp. What's his status, now he's wed?" Some of those have their own problems to contend with-- exile is a dire threat for a pampered princess, but it leaves open the possibility of the northerners to prop her up as a rallying figure for another attempt next season... although by next season it is highly unlikely that Moire will be at large in theater, and thus highly unlikely that Montparnasse will have the same strategic relevance.
The assembled royalty of Avalon and Mountparnasse seem to agree with Walker's analysis.
Trip is willing to have them stay, under arrest or on parole if they will give it, but expects them to choose banishment.
"Protector, the man is your citizen, married to my sister, who seems to have been involved in the princepicide of my father. If you wish to take them to Avalon for trial, I am amenable."
Benedict stirs. "No, we'll take him if you expel him, but make it known to him that he will need to explain things very clearly to me if he does wish to return, and that I will judge him as I see fit if he does."
Balen nods. "That ought to send them north and out of our hair."
Trippel nods. "She'll have to renounce all claims to Montparnasse if she leaves, of course."
Assuming there are no surprising revelations, and that Benedict or lesser NPCs have no further questions or distractions, Walker will move to question Crisp-- just him, separate from Mayness.
Trip will have guards bring him to whatever chamber you wish to use to interrogate him. He asks you not to kill him without discussing it with himself or Balen.
The last thing Brennan hears as he leaves to deal with his interrogation is Balen telling Trippel that he needs to marry to move the succession past their generation. He doesn't disagree.
Walker tactfully ignores the details of the impending royal succession program.
He asks to have Crisp transferred to a room with a table and two chairs and not much else, certainly not a window. Then he lets Crisp sweat there for maybe half a watch or so, to worry and wait and wonder what's going to happen next. He inquires of Crisp's guards, out of earshot of course, how they have treated him-- was he allowed visitors, what was his state of comfort, did they feed him, what did they feed him, etc. Ideally (although of course Brennan can't influence past events with Pattern) they will have been ungentle, but not brutal.
It's hard to find a prisoner who has been mistreated in Montparnasse and Crisp is no exception. It might be worth asking Benedict about, or even Balen. He's been fed, decently if not luxuriously, and doesn't show any signs of rough treatment.
When Walker finally enters, he looks around and frowns at everything although not specifically at Crisp.
"How you holding up?" he asks. "They feed you? You want I should get you something to eat?" If Crisp answers in the affirmative (or if he looks hungry but to proud to say it, or if Brennan knows perfectly well that he should be hungry but is too proud to say it) he will call for two meals to be sent up, one for Crisp and the other for himself. They can eat before they get down to business.
Crisp accepts the meal as a sort of peace offering, or something. It's hard to tell. He definitely eats, but he's not been deprived in prison.
"Reckon we got some problems, Crisp." Walker leaves it at that, for openers. He wants to see where Crisp goes with it.
Crisp smiles, but doesn't seem happy. "I more than you. I'm pleased that you've landed on your feet. When I heard of Cledwyn's treachery, I feared for you and your men. Please understand that I had no idea that Cleddy was a villain and a traitor."
Walker doesn't smile. "And that's a problem," Walker says, "Because what else'd you say? Now Cledwin, what he done is an act of war. Dishonorable, maybe, but an act of war, straight up simple. You, though... when all this went down, you was Maibock's son by marriage, we'd say back in Reme. And Cledwin was your man."
He pauses to let that sink in like rat's teeth.
"So I figure your best bet's to be convincing. If you can't be convincing, be real helpful. Start with Cledwin. Everything you know about him but maybe start at the beginning-- how'd you meet him?"
He looks despondent. "He's the son of an old friend. He knew how to fight and offered to run a guard for me in exchange for lessons in how to be a weapons-merchant. He didn't have the knack, but I did need a guard, so I took him on. We did two trips to Methryn's before you joined up.
"I thought for a while she might've sent him to me because he was my son, but I gave up on that one pretty early on. I knew he was doing some spying, it's not uncommon for mercenaries and travelers, but I had no idea he'd try to kill my father-in-law."
Brennan, if not Walker, has the grace not to chuckle at that. But only just barely.
The bit about Cledwin's mother gets placed in working memory-- there will be questions about that later, but not so soon as to make Walker seem over-eager about it.
"I see," he nods.
Walker is only mildly curious at best about where Crisp went when he wasn't on Methryn's Isle-- even a vague notion of "the North," or equivalent is more than sufficient. What he is really interested in is how much time Crisp spent travelling in pursuit of his trade, and how tightly Cledwin was part of those travels. Walker expects that someone like Crisp needs to be travelling almost constantly, but were there brief seasons off? Was Cledwin part of all Crisp's travels? If there was downtime for Crisp, did Cledwin share that, or did he go off on his own?
Walker starts with, "How long ago was that, you reckon?" and "Those the only trips you took together?" and then moves the conversation from there if need be.
Crisp nods at the latter suggestion. "Yup. Mind you, that's over three years. We'd bring the iron down to Blackpool, pick up a cargo of finished goods, and head for the southern archipelagoes. Last time, I let him do the run up to the mines, but you can do very well just making the run to Methryn's. Everyone loves a weaponmonger. You don't even have to go as far as the Tethys to make a nice profit.
"Mae says you're working for her sister now, or something. Mind telling me how that happened?"
Walker is so astonished by the presumption of the question that he actually answers it.
"Wrong place at the wrong time and no other option. I figured on swingin' from a gibbet just for comin' in with you and Cledwin, and even if I ain't, even if I walk out, I got to get through that force of corsairs showed up half an hour later with the rest of the boys. And they-- the corsairs-- 'll be thinkin' we're just a runner band makin' a break for allies when we're just five boys running down a strange mountain at night. We'd be five dead clowns before the sun came up. You thinkin' I had some better option?"
He actually pauses to see if Crisp answers that, before taking the momentum of the conversation back.
"It's hard to argue with success, Captain Walker."
When Crisp calls him Captain, Walker closes his eyes for a moment and just shakes his head slightly in resignation. But he does not otherwise comment.
"Speaking of corsairs, how do you figure things'd stand if they won and keep changed hands?"
"If I'd been left standing alone in the throne room, having heroically defeated the assassins sent by my father-in-law's enemies? I'd have asked the Trinovantes for protection, which they were prepared to offer. The keep is still too much trouble to take, but it's no longer a threat, so the Admiral wins.
"Or if the corsairs took it out cleanly, I'd've bought it back from them for my bride, then we'd be back on script."
And it is in that one brief statement that Brennan understands, should he ever have serious enough cause, how to cause Benedict serious grief in his own realm. But that is not germane to the topic at hand.
What is germane is that all of Crisp's ending scenarios end up with him or Mayness in charge. Which is perfectly reasonable and follows the logic of Avalon quite nicely. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense for Crisp to get himself involved in such a thing if he found his desire for power to be greater than his desire for land, or if this mysterious Admiral were offering him even greater monetary rewards in the future. On the other hand, it makes him a near perfect dupe because his natural inclinations lead him to perform actions in support of the corsairs anyway.
On the third hand, Brennan really doesn't care about Crisp as Crisp.
What he cares about are this Admiral's connections to Moire and finding Cledwin so he can acquire that information efficiently.
Walker nods sharply. "Makes sense," he allows. "Back to Cledwin for a few questions. You make it sound like he was off the leash at least part time. Is that right? Whereabouts was he supposed to be when that happened?" Walker will firmly but civilly press for at least some measure of detail, here. He knows he won't get a day by day, or even a month by month, accounting of Cledwin's activities, but he's trying to get a sense of how much Cledwin's time was spent off on his own and roughly where and how far he ranged.
The time right around the time Walker knows that Jellicoe was bringing him to Avalon is of particular interest, though.
Crisp is perfectly willing to provide details, but it's mostly of cities and mountains neither Walker nor Brennan have heard of. "He went to the mines to get the raw materials to make the weapons we sold. Normally I would do that, but having him available meant I could concentrate on getting the ship ready earlier. I received instructions from the Admiral, since he knew that war was coming, and he told me to meet Cledwin on Avalon, before sailing to Methryn.
"Other than those two times, he's been with me for years." He pauses, and shakes his head, as if he's bothered by a fly. "Given how badly it's gone, this doesn't seem like it was actually the Admiral's plan."
Walker shrugs, pleased with confirmation of the fact that Crisp knew-- or at least was in contact with-- this mysterious Admiral without having to fish directly after it. "Fella's pretty inscrutable, is what I hear. You never know." But, no, the grand hope was for Mayness or Crisp to rule here, Walker doesn't say, or failing that for the neutralization of Montparnasse, which can still be faked.
"How'd you get your instructions from the Admiral?" This is a matter of particular interest-- it could be as simple as written letters by ship or as telling as a mirror connection... or as telling as a fuzzed or missing piece of Crisp's memory. Walker probes gently around the area of whether Crisp and the Admiral had ever met and whether or not any memories are fuzzed, as he had done with Jellicoe.
Crisp describes the normal system: letters sent to ports they'd been scheduled to arrive at, Notes for "the next captain in our service to arrive in [place]", and so on. Orders about Methryn came via a merchant factor on the Isle of Dogs, when they put in for water. He left Cledwin there, to wait for more orders and waited in Avalon for him to catch up. It was a dull month.
When he thinks he's got all he can on that account, he changes direction without warning: "What'd you and Jellicoe talk about when he delivered Cledwin?" It's a bit of a bluff. But if Crisp should suddenly understand that Walker knows more than he lets on and that lying is perilous, so much the better. Walker watches him closely.
Cledwin arrived by road from the northern part of Avalon. Crisp knows the name of Jellicoe, but hasn't sailed or served with him.
Walker has one more question, before they get down to the meat of the situation: "How'd you and Mayness meet? Was this before or after you threw in with the Admiral?" Walker will press for details, of course, on who knew how much and when, but his real goal here is a bit subtler-- how much does Crisp care about her?
Granted, it might be hard to tell since in Avalon the penalty for being caught is a time-out, rather than a swift death-by-example.
He shakes his head. "You make it sound as if one has a choice to 'throw in' with the Admiral. We are of the same land, and when he takes us to war, we go to war. The differences are in how much or little of our duty he calls into his service."
Walker is not impressed. "You always got a choice."
Cledwin continues, ignoring Walker’s comment. "Mayness and I met in Methryn's Port. I was there by accident: Our shop, the Shield, had damaged her mast and Methryn's was closer than Avalon, so the Captain changed course. She was buying weapons, for her father and for her brother, as I recall. This was before they fought. We couldn't get my cargo through the excise men for several days, so we ended up drowning our sorrows together and one thing led to another, and soon all my trips came here and we started planning a future together."
He smiles, smugly. "Now that I think of it, it was quite a coincidence that we ended up here. If her witch of a sister damaged the Shield of Lir to get arms there for Mayness, she got more than she bargained for."
Walker just stares coldly at that-- the man has an awfully high opinion of himself if he thinks he was Balen's special target even before he and Mayness became involved.
"All right. Time for my business now: What was your orders, with or without Cledwin, after you got here. If they ain't concern Cledwin, where d'you figure he's run to now? He runs back to your ship without you, you reckon they'll take him and just leave you here if he says you're dead?"
"They might. More likely, he'll send word to the Admiral and hire on a ship going anywhere else. Too many witches on both sides to lie very much, 'the truth will out', as they say." He leans forward. "Gotta figure he's heading to Methryn's, given the start that he has. Unless he thinks you've got a way there that's faster, and then he'd cut for the hills. He and I made lots of friends on the way up here.
"Anychance, if they send an army down after him, it ends up roiling the situation in Methryn's and the Admiral gets what he wants. He's a tactical genius, you see. Most plans get him what he wants no matter which way the wind blows."
Walker gives that a very humorless smile "Yeah, I heard he's pretty clever."
In the back of his mind, Brennan has to bite back a comment about back-rationalizing brilliance to the point that getting thrown off a mountain is seen as yet more evidence of a master plan. Perhaps he'll throw Cledwin off Mountparnasse to underscore that point in whatever karmic ledger these things are recorded in. Or maybe he'll just use it to his advantage.
Once he's absorbed what Crisp just said, he nods. "All right. Here's my recommend to the Prince: I know your friends in the lowlands already. You give up a list of friends in the hills I ain't already know. You oath off any future ventures against the mountain, and you enjoy the Prince's generous hospitality til I send word back I found Cledwin... or maybe the Protector's hospitality. I understand you're his citizen, reckon he's got a say in what happens to Maibock's murderers, too. We'll see."
Crisp looks impassive. Either he's not worried, or he's an excellent actor. Brennan suspects the latter.
He gives it another moment's thought, then adds, "And your money. We ain't need Mayness buying trouble on your behalf-- how's that work, her access to your money?"
He looks at Walker oddly, as if even a foreigner should know this. "She's my wife. At home, she could raise my brothers and cousins and arm and fund them, or she can ransom me. She has her own funds, of course, and would ransom me with those."
"Yeah, that's about what I figured," Walker says.
He pauses. "The bargain offered to Jellicoe by Trippel is a much better deal than either of those options, for us and for him. We would take a similar deal. If he wishes, we will withdraw to the Northlands and only trade on Methryn's through agents. He need not see his sister again."
Walker smells blood. The humorless smile vanishes. "You keep lookin' forward to that. Sooner I send word back, the sooner it might come true."
Unless Crisp stops him-- and the best way to do so is with a shrewd guess as to Cledwin's movements and whereabouts-- Walker departs, in search of Benedict, Trippel, and Balen, or whatever combination thereof is easiest to assemble, to deliver his report. Assuming he finds them, his report is thus:
The Admiral may or may not have spelled out to Crisp and Mayness that they were intended to hold the keep at the operation's end. But if Crisp, in particular, hadn't seen it coming, he's too stupid to use as an agent. And yet, there he is, having acted on the Admiral's behalf and knowing that his protege' did so as well. In the traditional formulation of Reman prosecutors: If he didn't do it, he thought about it. Walker doesn't say so outright, but it's clear from his demeanor that in Reme, there would be serious punishments meted out.
The interesting wrinkle is that while Cledwin probably has no reason to believe that the plan failed, and is probably running back to Methrynsport to find his next assignment, that may not last very long. And when that game is up, he'll probably turn around and do something else to keep the region on edge... he might he even just hope that Montparnasse sends a full warband after him, which would do that job quite nicely.
So Walker's suggestion is to send one man-- him-- to go chase Cledwin down.
That leaves two issues. One is whether to, as he put it before, set up for a sucker punch. Trippel correctly identified the danger there, that the hill folk could decide to take advantage, or it could simply lure Cledwin back into the area to try to finish the job in a few weeks. Walker tracking down Cledwin should blunt that, somewhat. So will the list of friends and contacts in the region that Crisp is providing. That's the sort of list that an enterprising young prince could use to quietly decapitate the local opposition, if he so chose.
The other is what to do about Crisp and Mayness. Walker left them with the impression that Mayness will be exiled, and Crisp will stay here... at least until Cledwin is hunted down. Walker makes it clear that he doesn't really care, that was just his leverage to ensure Crisp's cooperation. Unless the terms of Mayness' exile can be made to include a believable clause against raising forces to raid the keep to free Crisp, the better solution might actually be that Mayness stays here while Crisp is remanded to Avalon. And when they're done using that stick, they can switch to the carrot of giving him the same trade deal as Jellicoe-- Walker points out that this carrot is so effective that Crisp asked for it himself.
"...But I can't say as I care much about Crisp and Mayness, as long as they sweat for a few more days, shake loose any information they may be holding back. And the way I see it, the best man for settling these names is the Prince," he nods at Trippel. "It's more than a list to you, you know the personalities and reputations behind them, and you gotta live with the results ten years down. But it gives you room to set up that head fake, keeps your options open. And the best man for Cledwin is me. Came up through the ranks as a scout, before..." he shrugs with just a hint of despair. "Before I got here. I heard Jellicoe mention Black Tides. Sounds like a good description, even though I was mostly on land through it."
Trippel nods through the report, asking detailed questions where appropriate. Benedict and Balen are quiet, although Balen smiles at the thought of exile for Mayness.
Trippel nods. "I shall determine the sentence for my sister and my new brother, and yes, Sister, I shall have your advice as well. As to this Cledwin, I would charge you as follows: Cledwin is declared an outlaw and The Holy Mountain offers a reward of one hundred Protector's Heads for his return, or twenty if he is dead. Take this message down the mountain to the port, telling each community along the way and spreading his likeness as you go.
"Tell your contacts to hurry, because you intend to take the bounty yourself. If you reach the port and find that he has sailed, send word to me and you are released from your obligations."
Benedict nods. It's about what he expected.
"Balen," asks Trippel, "what do you wish to advise?"
He pauses. "I... will consider. That is not for their ears, yet."
Benedict nods. "I will leave with Walker, and accompany him at least part of the way."
Walker has a few loose ends, small tasks, and farewells to make.
The important and private one is to make several copies of the letter that Cameleopardis dictated, for later use. He could always conjure the necessary materials in the field, but why bother-- ink, paper, and writing surfaces are present here in abundance. This will not take long; it's just copy work from a letter already drafted.
He also makes farewell to the other men from Cledwin's crew-- technically now Walker's crew, although the crew is now disbanded or will need to take one of the remaining members as a leader. Walker thanks them for their steadfast service, and for not leaving when the leaving was good, between Cledwin's betrayal and the start of the siege. It may not be worth much, but he'll put in good words for them if he reaches Methrynsport, and allows as how he may make calls there in the future. Of greater possible worth is a good word with Trippel and Balen, should they desire one. At the very least, he ensures that they're paid for their service for the time after Cledwin left, even if it must come from his own pocket. (He expects Trippel has more class than that personally, and that even if he didn't, the mores of Avalon would cover it.)
Balen pays them from Clasp's purse. They plan to take the wagon south and return to Methryn's Port.
Then there are Cameleopardis' remains, if any, and any effects he left behind. If there are meaningful remains, Walker asks that they be put to rest respectfully. If there are personal effects... Walker captured him, Walker claims them. He retains the religious book, of course, and it will serve as a keepsake if necessary, but he is hoping to find something a little more compact and durable-- a signet, a locket, some small personal token or piece of jewelry. Its primary purpose is, really, as a remembrance of someone who might have become a friend, whose death Brennan deeply regrets. But Brennan is too cynical to discount the possibility that it may be useful to prove that Cameleopardis lived recently.
He was wearing a torc when he was taken. It is given to Walker.
Finally, a farewell to Trippel and Balen. He still does not apologize for knifing Trippel, but does wish him well for a speedy recovery.
Trippel doesn't expect Walker to apologize. He thanks him for his good wishes.
Once on the road with Benedict, Brennan lets the Walker persona slide off as soon as they're out of view of Montparnasse. He lets the Shadows stop lying for him-- to the extent that they actually do in the environs near Avalon-- and stretches as they travel, like a man who's been wearing too-tight clothing or too-small armor for a very long time. He revels quietly in the freedom of motion and activity, and waits for Benedict to start whatever conversation he obviously wants to have.
Benedict watches him stretch. "Removing self-imposed constraints is pleasant. I am returning to Avalon. I consider your work here on my behalf a success."
Brennan smiles at the sheer pleasure of no longer constraining himself to Walker's abilities, skills, and persona. "Thank you," he says. Whether Benedict intended it as such, Brennan considers it somewhere between a compliment and an honor.
"I don't think my work for Queen Celina is complete, although I was able to report back to Rebma since we last spoke. Celina has a Trump of me, but not vice-versa," he explains. "That work, of course, is discovering her mother's designs on Rebma and, if possible, stopping them. I'm still certain she, or at least her agents, are here. Do I have your blessing to proceed?"
He nods. "She should have moved on by now. She needs two or three solid, threatening routes and to take a different one. I'd expect her to take the forest."
Brennan nods agreement. "Her position is very tense: Her need for ambiguity plays against the pressure of time. On the other hand, she still bears the ultimate symbol of the realm, which Rebma cannot tolerate. Better if she were captured or defeated, made to bend knee, and the matter simply closed."
He cocks his head to the side, chewing over what Benedict just said. "I had sought to tip the scales here without giving the appearance of a decisive victory, to preserve the appearance of ambiguity-- to preserve its utility in her mind. You think she moves to the Kelp to begin preparing the ambiguity in that theater? Or because this one is no longer useful to her?" he asks.
"Time is on her side," Benedict responds. "She merely has to wait for the right opportunity without being caught, and move in when Celina falters. Perhaps she causes that, perhaps she is merely opportunistic.
"If she has planted the right seeds in the city, and I assume she has, then she can either claim tenderness of conscience in her refusal to fight her own niece and daughter, strategic vision in her refusal to fight them while Huon was approaching, or mystical prophecies that required her to undergo a trial.
"Nothing has changed in this assessment, unless you have learned something new. It's the same position that she was in when she left Rebma.
"For all we know, she could have already moved to the kelp forests of Nedra before you even tracked her here. And when you arrive there she may have put things in motion and moved to Gateway, or Paris, or the Seaward.
"If she has the patience for such tactics, she could bedevil you for years. And if she does it right, Celina would have few places that she could flee to where Moire didn't have influence."
He looks back at the Holy Mountain. "I discussed such matters with her, in idle conversation, some decades ago. She asked me how I would attack Rebma, if I did not have an army."
"I think she'll have a hard time spinning her flight from Huon as strategic vision when we actually held it and took Huon's surrender, and Khela's death is being held up as mystic sacrifice for the good of the realm." It is abundantly clear from Brennan's tone of voice that he is aware of the level of cynicism and manipulation behind that statement. "But," he concedes, "the more troubled Celina's reign is, the more time Moire has and the more she can spin. Years seems right. Decades..." He shrugs. He doesn't think so, but he doesn't intent to let it last that long.
"If I may ask," Brennan goes right ahead and asks, "what did your answer have to say about use of the Jewel?"
Benedict chooses to answer the first part first. "Winners write the history, and it is re-written when there are new winners. A decade's absence in a centuries-long rule is nothing. Eric will never be remembered as King of Amber, and not just because Queen Vialle does not wish him to be remembered. Do not underestimate her, nor discount her while she lives."
"We did not discuss the jewel. It is worth an army, if she can attune herself to it. That would take access to a pattern and more confidence in her paternity than she has."
Brennan turns that over in his mind as they ride. "I had been using Corwin and Bleys' situation as a model," he says slowly. Then he nods, slowly, still thinking. "But there are obvious differences. I see your point."
"But there are two small blessings," Brennan says. "She has not the benefit of your advice on the matter of the Jewel, and by inference you don't think she could use it either. I remember what Brand was able to do at Patternfall... I was not eager to face even a fraction of that. But then," he says, "It is hard to imagine why she would have abandoned Rebma if she could marshal that kind of force."
He exhales slowly, then says, "There may come a time when the best course of action is to oppose her in the field, in the environs of Avalon. The Faiella-Bionin and the Kelp are both highly useful to her. That time is not now, of course, but if and when it comes... do you oppose such a course? I would need to raise the forces locally, and I cannot yet say if it would be better or worse to invoke your name."
Benedict considers. "The Faille-Bionin is a choke-point both in Avalon and in Rebma, and can be defended in a number of places. The Kelp is too large to protect, and of little use if Moire' plan is to raise an army of Tritons. She only needs to take herself through for that, or perhaps a cadre of officers to form the core of her corps.
"Unlike Arden, there are no rangers to patrol the Kelp. As a border it suited both of us, because nothing could come through without dealing with the Sons of the Dragon, and the Sons had no interest in the surface of Avalon."
He nods. "I would prefer that you stay on the Rebma side of the border in any defensive endeavor and reported it to me to deal with any problems she causes in Avalon. There are circumstances under which I would change my mind, but I adjudge them to be highly unlikely to occur."
"As you say," Brennan agrees. Then adds in a dry tone, "Of course, until I have actionable intelligence instead of--" he waves his hands in a gesture entirely unlike the universal waggly-fingered Sorcery gesture, "--this informed speculation I've turned up thus far, an armed force would only slow me down.
"My immediate thought was to chase down Cledwin and see if he has any clearer memories of his meeting with the Admiral than Jellicoe or Crisp. Speaking of which-- I'm as certain as I can be without seeing Sorcerous thumbprints on him that Jellicoe's mind has been tampered with, vis-a-vis the Admiral's appearance and identity. This seemed highly suspicious to me, given that Cameleopardis' orders came from Moire. Or is this sort of identity concealment a typical-- or even plausible-- gambit, here?" Brennan asks.
"It's uncommon, but it was used in the 15th War of the Orokoy Islands, the 5th Grand Southern Fleet, the so-called Spearfish Mutiny, and a handful of lesser campaigns. The Admiral doesn't actually exist, but his mother does. She needs to keep the war going to keep her war powers through her warlord son.
"If I don't intervene, she has a slim chance of becoming Empress of the North and a great chance of becoming dead. I haven't decided if I am intervening, if she stays to the North. These recent forays into my sphere of interest make her more intriguing. I'm thinking of writing a paper on her, actually."
"I'll let you know if I find evidence that Moire is spoofing her command and control," Brennan says. Or in some other way, colluding, because, "There was a bit too much coincidence in that chain of events for my tastes."
Brennan rides in silence, as companionably as one does with Benedict for a time, considering whether to broach a subject.
[OOC: Also giving Benedict the opportunity to raise any issue he considers pressing. If he has something, then disregard the rest....]
At length, he comes to a decision. "Uncle, there's a matter removed from any of this current business that needs counsel. This may trespass on business of your own as well." He shrugs a regret, athough he is clearly uncomfortable with the decision, or the topic, or both. "Tir-na Nog'th is often described as dream-like, for lack of a better word." Brennan, having been there, has other words-- phantasmal, spectral, visionary, prophetic-- but they aren't necessarily better words. "Have you ever known that to be... literal? Or its influence to extend beyond Tir, out into Shadow?"
"There are congruent places. Have you heard the story that Prince Garrett tells of rescuing Vialle in the woods? It was such a place, and I was there with Random and a few of your cousins. It is not an honest place."
"Yes, but from Signy rather than Prince Garrett," Brennan says. "But that's... not entirely what I meant. Those were real, waking experiences as I understand it, and those involved left with a physical token."
Not unlike your arm.
"I meant literal in the sense of a literal dream, while sleeping. And by far out into Shadow I mean in the Plain of Towers, a place where Weyland dwelt for a time. It's on this side of the Tree-- I think-- but far enough that the time scales between here and there are entirely disjoint. Although," he scowls in memory, "there were people there who reminded me of the Moonriders.
"The dream was a single image," Brennan says, "but it was clear and compelling enough to make a sketch. I believe it was an accurate image of someone I've never seen before, which does give me pause." He reaches into his Trump case, where he keeps the sketch he made of that dream, and shows it to Benedict.
"It's hard to tell with the time differential, but I was in the Plain of Towers when-- I may have had this dream when Cambina was dying."
Benedict considers, stroking his beard. "That is the Queen of Air and Darkness, Maeve." His voice sounds oddly foreign when he says the Queen's name. "Paige and her brother saw a projection of her in Gerard's home shadow. Possibly some others, although my understanding was that she was appearing to your female cousins. Possibly searching for a new host.
"You were... close with Cambina. We know sorcery can project images over distances, even across shadows. We don't know how Cambina died, but we should sincerely hope that she did not project her final visage. I almost never recommend this, but you should go to Tir-na nOg'th."
Brennan has to try twice before any sound comes out, but the second attempt seems to get all the voice-- and all the horror-- of both tries: "A new host?!" It's another long moment before he's mastered himself enough to speak again, and when he does it's still with great agitation, but more control. "A new host? What exactly does that mean?!"
Benedict shakes his head. "Speculation on my part. There is still a working pattern in Tir-na nOg'th. Therefore the Queen of Air and Darkness is not dead. She is looking for something, and doing so by probing women of the family. It's unclear what she wants, but to be cautious, I presume the worst."
Brennan stares at Benedict as his heart rate and blood pressure recede to something approaching normality, or at least to something that wouldn't kill someone not of the Family.
"I can follow that chain of logic when led through it," he says, "but I can't help feeling that the chain is informed by facts I don't have access to. What we-- my generation-- knows or believes is about enough to fill a thimble: That she is to Tir-na nOg'th as Oberon was to Amber. That at some point, the city changed from something close to 'normal' into what it is now, with catastrophic consequences for the inhabitants. That at some later date-- much later, I suspect-- there was a war to prevent the remnants from reclaiming the remnant, as it were. Less commonly known is that Brand's project and insanity was in some way related to fixing a problem with Tir's Pattern or the Queen... or at least, that's what Ambrose has so far from his notes."
Benedict nods as each point is made. He lets Brennan continue uninterrupted.
Brennan gives a beat, there, to see how or if Benedict reacts that last piece of information, then adds: "I understand that as Brand's son, I'm walking on graveyards. But I have to ask: Do we, the Family at large, have any understanding of what actually happened to Tir or the Queen? Or why?"
As Benedict answers-- or doesn't-- Brennan takes his ring of office as Knight Commander of the Order of the Ruby from where he had been carrying it. He runs one thumb around the edge of the band, both sides, without lifting his thumb and does... something... to it. When he's done, it has a half twist in the metal of the band, although the band hasn't been broken in any way. It really should not lie flat against the skin of his finger when he puts it on to inspect his work, not with that half-twist in it. But it does. It's hard to see, as the twist is between the fingers... but it does.
Benedict is slow to answer. "It's all hearsay and myth, at least in Amber. Rebma will know less, unless the Tritons have the lore of it. It wouldn't have been something Moire would want to have known. She had a vested interest in indestructible Queens and cities.
"Paris might help you more than either, since it seems to have been created with thousands of years of history already attached to it."
He pauses. "Or Weyland, if he can be convinced to tell you anything true."
Brennan doesn't interrupt and doesn't quite point at Benedict, but when he mentions Rebma, Brennan does raise a finger as though to bookmark that part of the conversation for later reference. When Benedict is done, Brennan nods, having mostly expected that response or something along those lines. "Thank you," he says. "I had to ask."
Benedict's deep dislike for Weyland is noted and filed, but not otherwise commented upon. "I expect good information could be purchased from Weyland," he says. "I expect I wouldn't like the price."
Popping the conversational stack, he says, "You said that I should go to Tir-na nOg'th, regarding Cambina. It was my impression, though, that Tir-na nOg'th was also... not an honest place."
Benedict nods. "It is not a straightforward place. It often tells what is true but either in a way the listener will not hear or in an oblique way. It is a place of staggering beauty and sorrow, and that it a kind of honesty in itself."
"I've been there once before," Brennan says, "but with the single-minded intent of finding the Pattern, taking the Pattern, and losing myself into Shadow. I'm given to understand that part of the exercise involves having a spotter, for lack of a better term. With a working Trump connection, I assume. What else does one do, where does one go? Cast the Fortunes? Is there a ritual? Or does one simply... go?"
Benedict shrugs. "Different people describe it differently. It's dream-like. It's no easier to prepare someone for than the pattern is. I can try to tell you about my experience, but I have no expectation that yours will be like mine."
He pauses, "or that my next one will be like the prior one. Would it help you to know that one time I followed a bright ribbon of light through the empty streets of the city, while it crosses and re-crossed itself, and moved along grand avenues and forced my way through difficult places until I reached the center? It’s never been like that for me since that day."
Brennan thinks that over, looking for the right phrasing of his answer. "Yes," he says at length. "We are, after all, scions of Order. It is as much, if not more, in our nature to seek rules, patterns, mechanisms as it is to rail against the consequences those patterns impose. Knowing that such rules have not been found yet... Well. Knowing that won't cause me not to seek them," he admits, "but it may cause me not to obsess at a critical moment, nor to over-analyze before it."
Brennan gestures again at the sketch. "If the figure on the throne represents the Queen in some fashion," he says, "then what does the man being knighted represent? I had thought at first I was seeing some historical event, and had wondered if the figure was you, or a relative before my time."
Benedict looks at the sketch more closely. "If you are a creator of trumps, I would not attempt to imbue this sketch with that power. The scene seems -- dangerous. It could be the Marshall of the Moonriders, as a youth. It could be a relative.
"It looks vaguely familiar to me, as if I've seen this painting hanging somewhere, or a copy of it from a slightly different angle, but I don't recall where I've seen it."
"No," Brennan says, with a quiet emphasis. "I have not that skill, nor would I wish to develop it if I did. I share your sense of foreboding, if not your... memory of a memory, for lack of a better phrase, but if there is power in the image, it is not by my hand."
Brennan eyes the drawing one last time before putting it away-- he's met the Marshall, although briefly.. the putz. He remembers thinking they had somewhat similar body language, but he never really followed the thought to its logical conclusion. Is there perhaps a facial resemblance to Benedict under that mountain of self-affected alienation? It does cause a man to wonder where exactly Cymnea's family was from, before they were from Amber.
Regardless, "For the moment, King Random's ban on the place remains in effect, and I am still committed to my task for Rebma, but I hope to take your advice. Will you allow me to go there from Avalon?"
Benedict thinks on Brennan’s request, continuing to ride down the mountain as he does so. Eventually he speaks. “Yes, with the provision that you must stay in contact with someone via trump, so that you can be pulled to safety. I would not recommend keeping your task from Random, but I will not interfere in your decision."
"I have no intention of breaking the King's prohibition," Brennan says, "and the condition of Trump contact is perfectly sensible. Several exist of me-- although I'll have to give some warning to make sure the one we use is durable, not just a sketch."
Unless Benedict has further agenda with his nephew, Brennan makes clear by word and posture that he is ready to part ways... after one more item on the list. "Benedict, I thank you for your advice. As I go to ponder how best to draw Moire out and force her to take the field rather than harass Rebma's flanks, though, I have one more question. Are we repeating the error of your brothers? Using your syllogism, there is a working Pattern in Rebma. Do we all of us-- Moire, Celina, myself, a few others-- presume too much?"
Benedict stops and dismounts. He holds a card, or possibly a trump sketch. It's likely that he has another way home rather than sailing off this island. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Patterns can distort time-flows, especially when they reinforce each other. It's unclear. However, I will leave you with one question, which is this. If all cities are, somehow, in some distorted way, reflections of Amber, or Paris, or Xanadu, or another pattern fortress, then what is Carthage a reflection of?
"That one has disturbed me since I learned the story of Carthage from Flora, many years ago."
That is not a question meant to be answered, so he doesn't. "One could ask the same of Rome," he says. "Be well, Benedict."
Once Brennan and Benedict part ways, Brennan continues alone back toward the coast and Methrynsport City. As he had briefly reveled in the discarding of his Walker persona, he takes a bit more to revel in the discarding even of the public face he wears for Family. In short, it's nice to simply be alone with his thoughts for a while, not needing to worry about anyone or anything else. He can, for example, consider the extent to which Avalon reflects Benedict's personality and interests, and shake his head in mildly alarmed amusement without the risk of being seen or asked about it.
Benedict, on reflection, is a rather strange person.
He gives himself the rest of the day (while moving with some speed) to satisfy his loner tendencies before turning back to Family business. In preparation for that, he finds himself a nice secluded semi-woodsy area to break for a meal-- somewhere along a fresh stream with natural rock outcroppings that look like they were made to sit and relax around a fire, far enough from any roads, and with the trees providing enough privacy from random passersby, that sitting and having a Trump conversation or two won't draw unwanted attention.
Once he's got himself a few trout frying away in a pan over a fire, and a few traps set for tomorrow's meals, he shuffles out his Trumps: Fiona, and if she doesn't answer then Bleys, and if he doesn't answer then Folly.
Fiona answers at once. She’s in a dark lab room that Brennan recognizes from one of her shadow hideouts. She says, "Hello, Brennan. Your brother and Signy have just arrived."
Brennan lets the surprise shows on his face, and probably leak through the Trump contact, but it is not an unpleasant one.
"Unsought good news," he says, "for a change. I would ask to join you in person, but I'm in Benedict's Realm, working, and I don't want to lose time. I'll be happy to share news, but there is a matter I would discuss with you in private later, if you have time." Brennan is uncertain where he stands with Robin-- or vice-versa, to be honest-- but he knows discussing her in front of anyone but Fiona is out of the question.
"Understood," she says, and reaches to bring Ambrose and Signy into the contact. Brennan can feel both of them join at once. Ambrose greets Brennan: "Hello, brother."
The Family council breaks up, and Signy and Ambrose retire to their rooms for the night. After rising early and grabbing a quick breakfast, she heads over to meet Ambrose outside of his rooms.
"I assume since we attended the meeting last night, we're clear to depart?" she says by way of greeting.
"I believe we ought to formally announce our planned departure, just to be safe, but we were dismissed. It may be that King Corwin wants some way to get in touch with us, or perhaps he'll have some final instructions. I tend to be cautious in my dealings with our uncles. My father was--mercurial about his expectations, let us say--and I learned that it was easier to ask for permission rather than pray for forgiveness." Ambrose smiles at Signy, but it doesn't quite reach his eyes. "Shall we send a note, or go in person?"
Signy gives a resigned sigh.
"If we leave a note and just leave that's probably not really any better than just leaving if he wants to talk to us. I'd rather not wait around to see if he replies to the note, so maybe visiting him would be quickest?"
Assuming Ambrose doesn't object, she requests a nearby page to escort them to the King.
The page escorts them to the King, who at breakfast with a lady of a certain age unknown to either Signy or Ambrose. She's introduced as Mme. Hardwind and is clearly an ornament of Corwin's court. They are invited to remain for breakfast and casual conversation, which is light and mostly news of Paris and a bit about some of their cousins, who seem to be known to Mme. Hardwind.
Afterwards, they receive the King's blessing to depart and an offer of any supplies or assistance necessary.
After they leave the court, Signy gives a quiet, relieved sigh. "That wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared," she murmurs quietly.
As they make their way out of the city, she takes the lead and brings the two of them on a clearly predetermined path out of the city. As they head out through the high street area, she stops at a small jewelers shop. After a brief period of negotiation, she hands over a small but heavy purse of coins, and receives a tightly rolled leather bundle filled with jeweler's equipment. Once out of the tiny shop, she glances inside, and Ambrose can see numerous tools for working on small and fine tasks in the bundle -- hammers, picks, screwdrivers, miniature and needle-nosed pliers, and a series of jewelers' loups.
"I talked with a few of the ladies at court, and this is one of the hidden secrets of some of the ladies there. The only way they told me of his location was if I promised to keep it secret from the others that didn't already know. He's one of the best at small and fine work."
They continue on, and as they start to pass through the more industrial sections, she stops off at a small, out of the way shop. As they enter, the sounds of hammering and grinding can be heard from the back. Another quiet round of negotiations, and another exchange of a slightly larger and heavier purse of coins for a slightly larger leather roll that a quick inspection outside shows additional tools -- tap and die sets, gauges and calipers. She pulls out a smaller leather pouch that offers the briefest of glimpses at a well-stocked lockpick set before it's slipped into a pocket somewhere inside her clothes.
She gives a quick smile at Ambrose, stowing the second set of tools alongside the first bundle before leading them back to the gates and out of the city.
Ambrose accompanies Signy without comment or question until she offers an explanation, which doesn't seem to surprise him. "What my father said about Amber, and I would expect it to hold here as well, is that the tools might not be endowed with special reality, but you would be able to find the best tools in the city because of the quality of person the city attracts."
On the way out of the city, Ambrose obtains horses for them from the guard by the King's warrant. They're good quality and Signy would have been happy to have them on the plains: distance riding horses, not sprinters.
"My father would have hellridden back to our destination," Ambrose explains, "but I haven't the strength or skill with Pattern yet. Nor, I imagine, will you. But since you don't know the way this time, I'll have to do all the shifting. You can take the lead when we return, and ask any questions about what I'm doing along the way. I've had some teaching and some explanations. I'm just missing the practical experience that some of our cousins have."
His shifts after they leave Paris and get into the countryside are at first large and not particularly subtle. Things like changing colors of grass and sky as they pass over hills or around groves of trees on the road, or changing a body of water. They are obvious to Signy, and she can feel the alterations as Ambrose makes them.
Signy nods at what he says, but stays mostly quiet at first, observing and on occasion commenting on the changes she observes to make sure that she is following Ambrose's shifting.
"This seems a lot like a puzzle I saw my father make once," she notes. "Move this piece, so that you can move that piece, so that you can come back and move this piece again." She pauses, before getting a slightly far-away look in her eye. "I wonder if this was his inspiration for making it...."
She blinks, before giving Ambrose a quizzical look. "What happens if I try to shift as well? Can I make it go twice as fast, or would we cancel each other out?"
"For this trip, I don't think you can, because you don't know the puzzle you're solving. I don't know how it would work if we both knew, though." Ambrose looks thoughtful. "It's an experiment we might try on the way back to Paris or Rebma, though, if you're willing. Either it would work well, if we coordinated, or we'd be fighting each other and never get anywhere. I'm not sure how well we could coordinate at any speed, though.
"Has anyone talked to you about hellriding? I'm not strong enough to do it yet, but I'm certain you absolutely couldn't hellride in tandem. I know our uncles, and aunts, hellride together, but it seems to be one in the wake of another."
Signy shakes her head in the negative. "I think I'm like most of the rest of us, and I just walked the Pattern and...that's it. A chance discussion here, a bit of an insight there."
She pauses, before continuing. "I did have Uncle Bleys recommend I travel out to Ygg, though I'm not entirely sure what I would have gotten from that experience, since I got sidetracked right after I got there."
"With our Uncle Bleys, sometimes it's difficult to tell. He's the sort of teacher who believes it's all about the journey, sometimes to the exclusion of the endpoint." Which Ambrose says with a sort of exasperation that's touched with fondness and speaks of some acquaintance with Bleys' teaching methods. "The journey itself would be a difficult task for a novice, especially one with limited sorcery. He hasn't assigned that kind of a lesson to me, but I'm an experienced sorcerer. On the other hand, I haven't asked him for Pattern lessons, either. Have you had any tutoring from Aunt Fiona?"
Signy shrugs. "I got there, and I thought I...saw a face in the tree, but it was very quick and I didn't really have time to dig into it further to see if I could get its attention."
"Aunt Fiona was mentioned as well, but I haven't really talked with her. Maybe if she's in her lab...."
She looks at Ambrose. "Who's taught you? Or are you like most of the rest of us, and more self taught than anything else?"
Ambrose glances at Signy, surprise coloring his expression, and to a certain extent his fair cheeks. "You don't know?" he asks, which question is clearly rhetorical, because he continues, "My father, Brand, was my first teacher. Full brother to Fiona and Bleys, and supposedly their better in matters of Sorcery and Pattern both. One of Dworkin's students of Trump, attempted destroyer of the realm, and--your mother's murderer.
"I serve the family by trying to unravel his schemes. That's why I need a new code wheel: because his papers are in Uxmali glyphs and can't be deciphered without one."
It's Signy's turn to look at him in surprise. "I didn't think that he would have done that." She considers everything he said, before turning slightly serious. "Do you think he had additional plans that are still going on after his death? I hadn't thought that there could be some sort of trap in the code wheels."
"I'm sure he had additional plans that haven't come to fruition. I hadn't considered the possibility that he'd done anything to the code wheels, since he did have to use them himself." Ambrose looks appalled at the idea, and sounds somewhat resigned to whatever security precautions that will entail. "If there's some kind of kin-line protection against any curse laid on them, you might be close enough, or you and I might need to work together to learn how to protect you using me. Because I'm fairly certain my father wouldn't have trapped his legacy against me or my brother."
Signy looks thoughtful at this. "Why wouldn't he have done that, though? Was he planning on bringing the two of you in on his schemes, or was his end goal something different than just destroying everything?"
She pauses for a moment, watching idly at some of the scenery shifting by as they continue to move through Shadow, before continuing. "Code wheels and ciphers seems a lot of work, unless he felt the need to communicate to someone? He didn't seem particularly absent-minded from the histories I've read."
"The code wheels aren't for him to decipher his own notes. I'm sure he knew what he meant and only used the glyphs as a reminder. It's so that those of us who did know him, and who can speak Uxmali, which is a difficult language, can decipher what he meant. He might have meant to bring me or Brennan in on his plans, but he never did in life, or not entirely.
"As for what he meant to do," Ambrose pauses there and chews on his lip a moment, before concluding, "as best we can tell based on what we know, he meant ultimately to heal Dworkin by solving the problem of Tir."
Signy doesn't look comforted by his answer.
"Does that mean that he had others he was working with?"
"Well, of course at one point he was working with the Courts of Chaos. But of course, he double-crossed them. That was my father's nature." Ambrose looks at Signy with a little sadness. "He was the Smoking Mirror and he destroys the world. I don't think they understood the potential they were dealing with. Or perhaps they always meant to betray him and he just did unto them first." Which Ambrose says with a wry humor.
"I am the Feathered Serpent of Uxmal. It is, in some sense, my nature to oppose his works. In our family, as I'm sure you've gathered, relationships with our parents can be very complicated."
Signy doesn't bat an eye at the mythological roles that Ambrose mentions. "It seems a little at odds, though, doesn't it? His nature was to double-cross them, but he seemed to have a legitimate goal that he was working towards."
Signy idly glances at the desert-like surroundings they pass through, a pack of horse-sized lizards sunning themselves off in the distance, before turning back to Ambrose. "Would there be someone else that might have a working copy of the code wheels at the Courts?"
"It's not out of the question, I suppose. A Court would be the sort of place where you could guarantee the conditions were perfect for keeping the wheel intact, as long as the Lord remembered to do it." Ambrose frowns. "My grandmother might have one. I don't think he would have trusted any of the others with a code wheel. Grandmother coddled him and would have kept it for his sake. I don't think she was interested in helping Dworkin.
"His problem was that researching the way to solve Dworkin's problem drove him mad, I think. Because he was at the end: quite mad and vicious. And by 'the end', I mean probably longer than I've been alive." Which, given his age and appearance, could be anything from thirty years to a thousand.
Signy gives a mirthless smile. "At times, I wonder about the sanity of us all. I wonder if I was lucky that my mother left when I was so young, or if she would have offset my father...."
She sighs, before turning back to the matter at hand. "Dworkin had Oberon, who had a lot of kids, who had a lot more kids themselves. It seems odd that Dworkin only had the one, no?"
"It does, doesn't it?" Ambrose agrees. "On the other hand, given what I understand about our great-granddam--our great-grandmother--there may have been only the one time when it could have happened. While there's nothing to say that she couldn't have given birth to twins, it seems unlikely under the circumstances, or as best I can tell. I know a bit about horse-breeding, and I presume that applies to unicorns, but I might be wrong. Also, she is a singular Unicorn, so there's no reason any of it applies to her."
They move on through Shadow in silence for a time. Forests make way to jungle, jungle to savannah to tundra. As their breath comes out in white plumes in the cold, Signy looks sideways at Ambrose.
"So, what little reading I've done hasn't shown his name, but I have a feeling that my father was one of the Family, for the Pattern blades if nothing else. But in everything I've read, we don't generally form those sorts of relationships with one another."
There's no outright question, but Signy pauses for Ambrose to offer up any thoughts he might have.
"That's not the way I heard it," Ambrose answers. "My father told me our uncle Julian would have married our aunt Fiona if not for our grandfather's prohibition on brother-sister marriage. And he said that our uncle Corwin--" and there he stops and reconsiders his words. "I'm sorry," Ambrose says, "but he said that our uncle Corwin was very enamored of your mother. And that she was not above twisting him around her finger."
Signy nods. "I never really knew her, but the first time I met the King he was...moved when talking about her."
She sighs bitterly.
"Like I said, I don't know if I'm better or worse for not knowing her."
She pauses, considering, before continuing. "Did your father ever discuss the Pattern blades?"
"Dad was never personally interested in the blades that I know of," Ambrose answers after a few moments in which he was clearly searching his memories. "I know Bleys had one and Corwin had one, but I think he viewed them more as obstacles--especially Corwin and Grayswandir--instead of as something he should personally aspire to." He offers Signy a smile that suggests humor at his father's expense. "My father liked to be the planner, not the person on the front lines, and that's where those with the swords find themselves."
Signy shakes her head negatively, not immediately buying Ambrose's assessment.
"It still seems like the sort of thing that most planners would at least account for, to make sure that they had an answer, no?"
Ambrose smiles, amused at Signy's disbelief. "The answer was Bleys. Bleys and Werewindle, which with Corwin out of the picture, meant that the swords were on his side, at least in theory. My father thought he could control Bleys--and he could, right up until he couldn't. Bleys told me once that he punched my father in the jaw, but I'm not sure I believe it."
Signy shakes her head in disbelief. "Compare that with Weyland -- he would have had a plan to neutralize the blades themselves, so that if he couldn't co-opt them he could simply remove them from play altogether."
A range of mountains which had been constant on their left for some time start to turn a deeper purple hue, and starts to slowly curve around to come in front of them.
"Did he have any that he considered his equals?"
"Dworkin was his master, and he loved Dworkin. He feared his father and our Aunt Fiona, and sometimes Benedict. I can't say he exactly respected Bleys, but he considered Bleys worthy of personal manipulation, which is more than can be said for many of our cousins. And I think the same for Corwin and maybe Eric.
"My father was mad, though. Certainly at the end. His judgement was unsound." Ambrose grins, not pleasantly. "I'm glad he wasn't as forward-thinking as your father, though. He would've destroyed the universe if he had been."
As they crest a gradual hill, their destination comes into view.
"Did his notes talk about other family members at all, or talk of going to a master craftsman for anything like the code wheels? My father had a habit of using other names at times, so he might have had something to do with the wheels...."
"The code wheels were Uxmali in origin. Of our family, only Bleys, Fiona, Brennan, and myself know the language. And I'm not entirely sure Bleys knows the written language." Which thought elicits a smirk from Ambrose. "The craftsmen involved in making the original wheels may have been half-gods of my father's line, but if they were, he didn't mention it. If he did as he usually does with fine crafts work, he had the priests sacrifice them to his glory afterwards."
Fiona's tower in this shadow is a black glass pyramid.
Signy nods with her head at the pyramid that is steadily moving closer.
"Are there any ground rules for our Aunt that I should know before we get there?"
"Fiona's difficult to predict. Just treat her with wary respect and you should be fine. I've never seen her take an active dislike to anyone, except my mother. It's not like what we're doing is going to be at cross-purposes with her own work--then we might have to worry." Ambrose smiles in a way that suggests he's teasing. "She may not even be there, so it may be a moot point. But she does tend to prefer redheads and practitioners of the art, so you fall into one of the categories she prefers. And don't moon at her, if you're inclined that way at all. My understanding is that she gets very tired of that kind of behaviour."
Signy offers a wry grin.
"As long as she doesn't mind a bit of mess," she murmurs as they arrive at the entrance to the pyramid.
When they enter the black glass pyramid, which isn't actually made of glass, Ambrose and Signy are guided up three levels to a laboratory by virtue of there being no other direction they can go at any given point. Whether Fiona accomplishes this by magic, technology, servants, or some combination thereof isn't clear, but they arrive in a lab area, also furnished in relatively dark colors (though well lit). Fiona is in the room, but as they arrive, she holds up her hand and says, "Bide. It's Brennan."
After a moment, she adds, presumably to Brennan, "Hello, Brennan. Your brother and Signy have just arrived."
Signy shoots a calculating look at Ambrose, wondering if he somehow managed to time their arrival to coincide with his brother's Trump call.
She moves so that Fiona can easily reach out to include her in the conversation if she wishes, but stands silently otherwise.
There is a pause during which, presumably, Brennan is replying, and then Fiona holds out her hands to Signy and Ambrose. Ambrose joins into the contact at once, and greets Brennan: “Hello, brother."
Signy joins the link when Fiona offers. "Hello, Brennan."
"Ambrose, Signy," Brennan says, with a smile.
It's deep into dusk wherever Brennan is. It also seems to be countryside or wilderness-- there's a fire in the background, probably providing light for the Trump he's using, and the sounds of a stream nearby.
"What news from the other realms? I understand your man has given some testimony," he adds to Signy.
Ambrose holds back, as this is not his tale to tell, and there’s some awkwardness, which, although her expression does not change, amuses Fiona. But not in a mean-spirited way.
Signy nods. "He met with Edan and me at my forge in Rebma. The Order is old, and was in Amber at some point until Oberon banished them for some reason that he didn't know. He thought that Reid's mother was involved with the Order."
She pauses, before awkwardly adding "He didn't seem to recognize Reid's likeness that Edan...created."
No doubt imagining something much cooler than actually happened-- perhaps a fiery apparition or something similarly impressive-- the awkwardness of the memory passes Brennan by completely.
"She was," Brennan says. "And I suspect before all is laid to rest, that we will have to uncover the place of her homeland. Bear with me if I cover ground already trod-- I wasn't there for either of his interviews. Do you know if Tomat's presence in your father's realm was something Weyland welcomed, something he paid for with a service of his own? Or the opposite, something that the Order desired and had to pay for to make him accept?"
Brennan also glances at Ambrose as he concurs about Pastoral, as if to ask if he knows anything. It's a fleeting hope-- there's no particular reason he should.
Ambrose looks back at his brother. "Our father had a long list of those 'Consumed by the Imbalance in The Pattern'. I have heard her name, but no more. I'm not sure he knew more."
Fiona snorts. "I am sure he did not. I believe that, of old, the Order was banished for meddling in the affairs of Amber during the the Cymnea/Faella conflict.
"After they'd snuck back under another name, they were evicted with the other religious after the events which led to my brother being tasked with Werewyndle."
She looked at Signy, "I also am interested in anything you know about the relationship between Weyland the Smith and the Order."
Signy nods her agreement at Fiona's words. "That is what Tomat said about the Order's history. Unfortunately I don't know what the agreement was with my father. Tomat trained me, but I don't know if that was on the Order's instigation or on my father's."
She pauses, before continuing. "I do know that whatever the deal was, my father would have gotten the better of it, and in ways that the Order would not have necessarily expected."
Brennan nods at Ambrose slightly, to show that he caught the comment and hasn't disregarded it, but does not interrupt Fiona or Signy.
Once Signy finishes, he looks at Fiona and says, "They've used different names? Interesting."
"They have used a number of different names over time and across Shadow, as I understand things from Bleys. They are the religious order of which all others are but Shadow." The corner of Fiona's perfect mouth quirks in amusement at her own turn of phrase, mostly because she finds it so trite but technically correct in this case.
Back to Signy: "I ask, because it would be useful to know, when we hunt them down, whether they had been providing him with services so valuable as to merit unique weapons forged by his hand. And I am curious to know what Tomat could have trained you in that your father could not have done a better job."
Signy sighs, and looks unhappy. "I don't know for certain, he never really went into detail when he didn't feel like it. If I had to guess, given what Tomat has said about the Order my guess is that he wanted information from them, and in return they got access to me."
She pauses, and turns back to Fiona. "I didn't realize they had a connection to one of my father's Blades, though."
It's clear she's hoping that Fiona will elaborate further on this bit of history.
Brennan would also be curious to hear that.
"Brand might not have known much about Pastoral or their origins," Brennan says, "But I would bet much that he had more recent information about the Klybesians, whether it showed up in his notes or not." While it is impossible to prove the negative, he glances at Ambrose inviting him to prove the positive.
Brennan feels something through the connection that might best be described as amusement from Fiona, though she doesn’t say anything at this time.
It is, of course, Ambrose who speaks, since the question was posed to him. "Not yet, or not recognizably in that form, other than perhaps the information we have about the group that fostered Ossian. And the code wheels are beginning to experience some difficulties now that they're out of the perfect conditions of Uxmal. I've brought Signy here to construct a new one, which I hope will be more--robust."
(Brennan's own experience is that they can be a bit persnickety, and it's not a terrible surprise that the entropy Patterns sometimes bring on in magical or technological goods has caused problems for the code wheels. It's typical of Brand's approach to things: one-off solutions to get the job done, and not always well-thought-out in their underpinnings. Such as erasing the Pattern.)
If anyone can sense anything of Brennan's emotional state through the Trump contact, it is a dull flat angry red not unlike blackbody red radiation.
"He was active in Flora's Shadow, too-- he trained Lucas, after all-- and there is a chapter there, as well. Greenwood, the place that held the King of Paris." If there is anyone in the conversation who hadn't hear that, he pauses to let that sink in. "What concerns me just as much as what Brand knew, though, is what the Klybesians know and how they know it. My son ended up in Abford, not because he was an orphan but because they kidnapped him from his mother."
Dull flat angry orange blackbody radiation.
"As it is, I'm still working in Avalon for Celina and our uncle. But when that's complete, I may have my own set of questions for Tomat."
If Signy senses any of her cousin's rage, she doesn't display any outward sign of it.
"He is in the care of the Queen in Rebma while I'm not there," she notes. "Pastoral had a connection with this Order, and they had Reid's corpse. Was there any connection between the Order and Osric?"
She pauses for a second before adding in a musing tone, "Could Reid have been a pawn of theirs that they thought they had access to through Pastoral?"
Ambrose has got nothing.
Fiona's mien has grown more serious as well. "That was before my time, but I think it entirely possible. However, if they had some influence with Reid, they wouldn't have killed him if they could possibly avoid it. They would have allied with him, or tried to use him, as they did with Caine in his day, and perhaps with Brand. If Reid died in their custody, it will be either because they couldn't save him, or he turned on them for some reason."
"I have less than zero motive to cut these people any slack," Brennan says, "but as far as I know, we don't actually know that they killed Reid with their own hands." Which is a de facto agreement with Fiona. "But we do know they desecrated his body by taking tissue samples, and we know they steal children to raise as their own. And bear in mind that Pastoral lived long enough ago that Benedict's memories are sparse and unclear. As little as the Pastoral connection is living memory for us, through Benedict, it is even less so for Klybesians-- for most or all of them, it will have degenerated into myth and legend and may be almost totally disconnected from what actually happened.
"He could have died and they sought him out for religious reasons, or for tissue samples. He could have died in their hands after refusing samples, as I suspect he would have. He could have been a willing participant in some scheme which got him killed. None of this changes the requirement that they be dealt with. And that's where the Pastoral angle-- and this is just a hunch-- may help us," Brennan says. "It never hurts to understand an enemy."
"No, it doesn't. Dad's tactic of throwing them out of Amber doesn't seem to have worked very well for him in the long run. It just sent them out there to fester and cause trouble in the shadows. It may be that some of the trouble that was attributed to Chaos during the years that led up to the late war was fomented by them," Fiona opines. "We should pursue the Pastoral angle, and I'll advise Random and Corwin of that when I speak with them next.
"And, to my knowledge, the Order has never laid hands on Grayswandir, nor on Werewindle when it was the blade he had. But I cannot be certain of that last," Fiona concludes.
Brennan nods. "Ambrose, what did you mean about Pastoral and the imbalance in the Pattern? I had thought Pastoral came from... some Shadow somewhere or other... but you make it sound as though there is a connection to Tir. On a related topic-- somewhat--" he takes the sketch of Maeve and her Knight out of his Trump case and passes it through to Fiona, "I know who the woman is. She is the Queen of Air and Darkness. Does anyone recognize the man? I had thought it might be a very young Ben, but apparently not."
As the others are looking it over, he explains its provenance. "This is a sketch I made of a particularly vivid dream I had, in the time frame I was breaking into your father's tower, Signy. I didn't put it together until later, but given the large time differentials, this dream could have come at about the time Cambina was in Tir with Vialle. And then, I wanted to talk to Ben before anyone else."
As the sketch passes in front of Signy she studies it intently for as long as it's in her vision.
[OOC: In addition to the Knight, does Maeve look like Floaty Woman from her trip down to Rebma with Tomat and Red Fox Claws?]
[OOC: Funny, that, floaty woman and Maeve could be the same woman.]
Fiona shakes her head in the negative. "I don't recognize either of them."
Ambrose says, "Nor do I. And I don't know of any specific relationship between Pastoral and the imbalance, just that our father seemed to think it would require deaths to bind it. Almost as if they were-— giving their lives for the good of Amber."
Brita's companion seems to be looking at Raven and talking to her. Brita raises a hand in greeting to Raven.
Raven nods in greeting and strolls over. She's dressed like a merchant captain, in sturdy and worn clothes, and she seems far more comfortable in those than she'd seemed in her Naval gear.
"Didn't mean to bother you," she says, "but I was starting to think I wouldn't see anyone but locals. It doesn't feel like a proper port of call without a few faces I've seen other places."
Walder smiles at Raven in greeting, but waits for Briena to make the introductions here, since she's the one known to this Amberite.
Raven notices Walder's blade, just as Brita did. Beautiful work, plainly sheathed, top quality materials. Worth, to the right buyer, a whole shadow. The kind of thing that can only be traded for another unique item, because there's nothing like it to compare for prices.
"Captain. I am Pleased you Recognize me. I Must admit, however, that I do not Remember your Name beyond the Title. It has been Awhile since we met at Court. I would Introduce you to Master Walder - we Travelled here together from the Surface Gate." Brita smiles at Raven, "and, although I doubt Your Memory is as bad as mine, I am Brienna."
Raven smiles in return. "It has been a while, but I can't say I'd forget your face," she agrees. "Beam, at your service, and it's nice to meet you, Master Walder. What news from the road to the Surface Gate, if you don't mind my asking?"
Walder neck-bows to Raven. "Captain Beam," he says, very seriously. "A pleasure. The road was relatively quiet for us, but we sped here, avoiding the waystations. It's a trick used by those familiar with Gateway." He leans in and says, quietly, "At the Gate, I found that more were leaving the realm than entering. Shadows are rising here. It may not be a good time for Amber to make trade with Gateway."
"The Trip was Uneventful and Swift in Master Walder's company," Briena notes. "I have Not Travelled that Route Before. It is perhaps a Long, Shadowed Route to Visit with Kin," Brita cocks her head to the side (towards Walder). "What of You, Captain beam? What brings You to This port town?"
"Trade," is the immediate answer. Raven gets a kind of slight eyebrow furrow that clears quickly. "Master Cambric and I partnered to transport a cargo to the Gateway area. Our last stop was pretty far from here, as such things go, so I can't say as how I knew people were leaving the Gate."
"I have always heard that Amber knows everything," Walder replies, as if it's a private joke among the three of them. "My compliments to your master. Will you be remaining in Gateway long, Captain, or do you plan to move on in your trade circuit?" His tone carries polite interest in Raven's answer, but no more.
"Well, I'm only one man, last I checked," the captain says dryly. "I'm here until Master Cambric finishes his trade talks. However long that might be. If you don't mind my asking, how long are the two of you in town yourselves?"
"I will Stay as Long as I am Needed," Brita notes.
"I am here to fulfill an oath," Walder says serenely, "and I will remain here until that business is finished. Briena is free of her contract, but I am pleased to have her company."
"Business and oaths are always good, so long as the profit is acceptable." Jerod says as he approaches, hand idly tapping the pouch on his belt, "I was wondering where my Captain had gotten to. My apologies for eavesdropping but one learns when to ignore what they've heard and when to intrude. Here I see a conversation engaged and I'm thinking an opportunity may be at hand. I am Cambric, and you are well met."
As he is speaking, he is looking over Walder and Brita, the look that a merchant has when sizing up a potential client. Master Cambric is dressed simply, his clothing made to handle the rigors of travelling but of a quality that is excellent for this with the eye to notice. His hand never seems to stray far from his belt pouch, an idle habitual tapping. A sword on his hip shows the workings one might expect from a rich merchant, not ostentatious but expensive, certainly serviceable but more focused on the side of appearance than usage one might think.
Walder's blade, by contrast, is the best blade money couldn't buy. Exquisite work and excellent materials, but the hilt of the blade is unornamented and the sheath is of the highest quality of leather. Walder himself is a dark man in a red cloak, the hood thrown back to show a friendly smile and an assessing look at Jerod in exchange for the one Jerod is giving him.
He waits for an introduction from the one who knows the newcomer.
[Jerod] looks at Raven. "Our contract is arranged, Beam. Here's a sample of what will be getting traded." he says as he passes the nugget of ore over. "I'll want that back.
"A celebratory dinner is to be had...we should attend at least to make nice with the Port Captain, not to mention the food is free. We'll also need to arrange a shipment but we can go over that later.
"Anything to report?"
Raven takes the nugget and rolls it in her palm, studying it. "Nothing I didn't think I'd find," she answers. "Except these two."
"I am Brienna and This is Master Walder. We have Just Arrived in Port Thule. How Long are you Staying Here, Master Cambric?" Brita asks.
"Well met Brienna." Jerod replies. "My time here depends entirely upon the opportunities that I am able to find. The Port Captain and I have come to an understanding concerning a trade agreement that will require some work on my part, but my long term plans lie more to the south. There are stories of some upheaval, changes in government, that sort of thing, which I am unable to as yet verify but am curious about. Such times can be dangerous perhaps, but they can also mean opportunity for the wise trader willing to take risks and set their goals for the long term.
"Might I inquire as to whether you or your companion would have any news on the southern lands?"
"We have travelled overland from the Gate. I expect my route will take me back to the south soon enough." The corners of Walder's mouth curl up in another smile. "What I have heard," and here Walder lowers his voice, so that everyone has to lean in a little to hear him well, "is that the Collegium Arcanum has been overthrown, or at least the powerful among it have been replaced. And that those upheavals may not yet be over."
"I only Recently Arrived on Land," Brienna notes. "There were Many Leaving through the Water Gate and Few entering the Land Gate. In my Travels I am also Seeking Kin to Relay Messages and Offer Assistance." Brita adds.
"You have family in the area?" Jerod asks Brienna, almost absent-mindedly.
"I am indeed curious as to the state of the Collegium, as they are the government as it were. A ruling body in turmoil is dangerous, but opportunities abound. I am thinking that a trip to the south may prove most fruitful in the long run. You wouldn't happen to know who is doing the overthrowing, would you?" he asks Walder. "Never hurts to know who the winning side might be."
Raven stays quiet.
Walder's smile would be disturbing if it were aimed at present company. It doesn't seem to be, though. "The triumvirate presently appears to be in control of Gateway as a whole, with the old Collegium either tacitly supporting them, tacitly not supporting them, or simply hiding. Things may be about to get a little more difficult for the triumvirate, however, and I would not count on their long-term success." Walder seems serenely confident on this point.
"Really?" Jerod says, a slight smile crossing his face. "Then it sounds like I might be a little closer to learning who the winning side is.
"Would it be fair to say that those opposing the triumvirate might require some...support?"
Raven eyes the smiles that have appeared. "Not that it ain't a perfectly nice place, but this is getting to be one of those talks that really ought to not be in the middle of a market," she says dryly.
Brita concurs with "And This is getting Tiring. Where can We Go that is Fully Private?"
"I place myself at your disposal, gentlemen," Walder says to Cambric and Beam.
"We can obtain quarters ashore, or the Captain's ship is docked." Jerod offers.
"Shore," Raven says. "No point in bothering the crew with unknowns while they're dealing with our cargo."
"And Here I would have said 'Ship' because of the Unknowns Ashore," Brita notes. "We Have Quarters if we wish to Go There."
"Then ashore it is." Jerod says.
Walder nods at Jerod. "We'll need sorcerous protection from eavesdroppers wherever we go. Please follow me to our quarters."
He leads everyone to a room at an inn, and recommends that any of them with magical protections use them. He himself lights a candle and begins to chant. Soon smoke is circling the extremities of the room.
Jerod decides is improbable that they will be bothered by any of the local staff while he is there.
"It's not my usual style of magic, but it is what works best here. Now we are truly alone."
He looks expectantly at the disguised Amberites.
Jerod looks over at Brita. "What brings you here? Didn't get any word that anyone else would be around." he asks, the tone more like his usual self.
Raven finds a seat, somewhere not immediately near the smoky corners, and listens.
Brita does something to the humidity in a ring just inside the smoky trail that makes the air feel heavy and as if it would distort any sound passing through it.
"I have Much Painting to do and am In Search of My Mother. I Have News for You from Your Underwater...", she cocks her head to the side and finishes with, "Kin."
Jerod nods once, though does not pursue that avenue just yet.
Walder smiles. "I am as I have told Briena: a man bound by an oath, who has come to fulfill it here in Gateway. Certain notorious sorcerers have offended me and mine. I will take what was done by them out of their hide, as they have done. They chose the wrong side in a war they should not have been involved in. They will regret their decision."
"And these notorious sorcerers?" Jerod asks Walder. "Who might they be?"
"The ones who handed over my son for sacrifice," Walder explains, "not to put too fine a point on it. Now what brings a scion of Amber like yourself--" he pointedly looks at Jerod, but neither Raven nor Brita feel that they've entirely escaped his regard "--to Gateway after the late war swept through here?"
"Something similar." Jerod replies without missing a beat. "They decided it was acceptable to very nearly murder the offspring of a Prince."
"That was a mistake. I'm here to determine if the old, more amenable, regime can be restored, or if an object lesson is required for the entire population."
"Wait," Raven interrupts. "Your son?"
"My son," Walder agrees. "Marius."
"Mmm...that explains the sword. It has the feel of the Smith about it." Jerod replies, moving to sit in a chair, frowning slightly at a thought, but then deciding to keep it to himself for the moment.
"It's time to get things up to speed." he says, looking at Brita. "What news?"
Brita is staring hard at Jerod. She says in a controlled voice, "If They Had Part with the monks in the Death of Master Reid, You Will Destroy Them, Correct?" Brita visibly has to shake off the rising rage. "Your Mother says 'Hello', by the way. She Loves you and Wishes you to Stay Safe if you Join This Generation's Queen's War."
Weyland is not getting in the middle of whatever "Briena" and "Cambric" are discussing, though he is clearly taking note of it.
Jerod is silent for a moment. "I begin to realize what my dad must have had to deal with when he was sitting on the throne. Can't be gone for five minutes without someone going off to start a war." he says finally.
"I'll ask after Mother later. As for Reid, monks and Gateway, that depends. Those in the triumvirate who are responsible for actions against us certainly need to be punished. But we need their knowledge first...what they are doing and why. There are other things at work here."
He leans in a bit towards her, focusing just on Brita. "I need your rage, precise and focused, like a knife. Not a bludgeon. You want to burn them down, I don't have a problem with that. I understand you want to do right for Reid. But don't let it rule you. There's a time and a place, and it's not now. We do this wrong, and we don't do Reid or his memory any good.
"Same for Marius. We do it right, for Family, or we don't do it."
Raven says dryly, "We're saving the comets from the sky for in case they really piss him off again. Those monks ain't something we should leave lying around, but he's right that we need to know more. Seems to be like getting rid of rats, from what I'm seeing - gotta find out why they're there before you can really get rid of them."
Brita responds to Jerod, "I Trust in Your Judgement to Wreak Havok When Needed." Her eyes have glints of red. "I Only Ask to Aid the End of Time for them When Ragnarok Descends." She nods at Raven, "Knowledge of their Goals is Key to Ensuring they Exist No More."
"One of their goals," Walder/Weyland says, "is to make themselves more like the Princes of Amber. But I don't know how or why." There's an unspoken yet at the end of that sentence.
Edan returns to the castle. He gathers his things for another trip, summons Kyauta to him from exploring the city and environs, and goes down to the stables to prepare his horse, Aramsham. It's not a normal preparation, there; along with the grooming and checking equipment, he saddles his horse with the best and most durable tack and harness that he owns or can find, things that he can charm against the damage that extreme heat would do.
That done, he points his horse out along the coast, in preparation for a hellride that most of the Family would not consider taking.
Kyauta complains that this is a dull place and he has trouble eating birds and taking their forms. Everything tastes the way lightning smells.
This doesn't surprise Edan too much. "Not to worry, it's about about to get more exciting."
The stablehands help with the tack and the stablemaster helps Edan choose the best gear. He tells Edan that he has seen Benedict or Caine return a horse with shoes on it that no mortal smith could have forged, and that if Edan knows those spells, he may want to cast them as well.
He then makes a strange sign involving his finger and his forehead.
Edan is nodding almost before the stablemaster finishes. "I know something similar, but likely not as long a duration. Tell me, what is this?" He repeats the same finger-forehead sign.
"Sir? Nothing sir, just wipin' me brow, Sir."
He's quite nervous. "I'm a family man, sir, I need to get back to them, if your Lordship will excuse me, I will retire."
Edan smiles. "Of course. Thank you for your help. Have a good night." Once the stablemaster leaves, and once Edan is sure that he has everything he wants for the trip he is to take, a pick, bags, a rake, heavy gloves, he rides Aramsham out of the stables and out away from the city. When he's ridden out a respectable distance, he dismounts and starts a fire; he uses it for his Sorcery.
It's all about what gets used up in the spell, this time. Edan rubs down his horse with a series of rare plants and powders, using what he has because he knows this is a unique trip to make. He finishes with red hot coals plucked from the fire itself, knowing Aramsham won't feel them by that time. The entire ritual is accompanied with chanting and a dance, which is more than just for artistic show.
It may be that Edan himself will need additional Sorcery for heat protection this trip, but he is confident a more tame effort will be needed for his part.
"Hah!" Aramsham gets a kick in the ribs, and the trio is off on an easy gallop. The fire sputters and dies behind them as if it had never been.
The cadence is rhythmic, almost hypnotic; they follow the line of the coast, with a line of clouds slowly combining above them into a grey wall. It takes a very long time, but the clouds eventually darken, get lower, take on the smell of smoke. The sand coarsens, gets darker as well, until they are racing along great bands of black and yellow pea gravel.
Another burst of speed, a turn; the water begins to steam, to bubble. Vents of smoke and steam issue forth from cracks in the now flat, dry ground. The smoke gets thicker, and heat builds upon heat. Another turn, another kick. Aramsham's eyes are rolling now, but Edan stops it with a sharp command. The horse feels nothing. Ground, rocks, a tunnel of black rock. They emerge on a plain of rock and fire and black smoke. Another kick, and they are into a full gallop. Aramsham is magnificent, as they break through a shower of sparks and fire...they race along a trail, lava on both sides of them...it widens, becomes a path between mountains...the smoke is choking now, would overcome them if not for Sorcery...the world is a hellish red-lit place, and fountains of molten rock are all around...faster, faster...each strike of the hooves brings sparks and flame...they glow now, all of them, yellow and red in a hazy shimmering aura...volcanoes now in the distance, the cone he's looking for...a place where metal and precious stones pushed upward in a funnel up to the surface...racing still, slowing, finding the details he wants, the place and the temperature and the stones he's looking for...
Edan has brought bags and picks and a rake. The ground glitters with precious stones the ground has thrown upward to pry and collect. But in this world there is no one to take them, no one but Edan himself. He dismounts, takes a long drink from a waterskin; it's going to be a long day.
It is indeed a long day, but by the end of it Edan has a sackful of precious stones, ranging from tiny to a size that most human cultures would give specific names to.
He could crash the economy of a number of places without even cutting the stones.
Aramsham is, at best, bored. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the heat.
Edan makes sure that he has everything packed up and ready to go. He isn't looking directly at his affine when he asks, "Kyauta. Tell me of your existence before you were given to me at the Race to Madness."
Kyauta shifts, rearranging his bones to better sit on Aramsham's saddle horn.
Great Lord, I was a bird in the skies of Xanadu. I was a part of the Blue World. I was a drake. I was many, many fish.
I rode the moon. I was the father of the rains of Uxmal. Before that, I do not recall.
"That sounds like things that you experienced with me," Edan says. "I still don't understand why Chases-in-Madness would offer you to me as a token. According to Merlin, such a thing is not normally done. Perhaps she merely marks me as her enemy, giving you to me. Perhaps she marks me as something else. Perhaps she and her people could track me through you. I do not know. I can personally attest to your loyalty, I know that. I would...I would use Sorcery to see your life before your recollection, if you would be willing."
I serve at my Great Lord’s pleasure. Kyauta seems unperturbed by the idea.
Edan's hand catches aflame as he reaches out to Kyauta. He places the heel of his other hand, also on fire, against his Third Eye.
"Remember," he says. "Think back to where you were dancing on the palm of Chases-in-Madness. You were in the form of a horse. That is the starting point."
"I know more, Great Lord." Kyauta is neither surprised nor alarmed by his newfound ability to recall. "I was the Great Lord Chases-In-Madness’ most malleable servant, Great Lord. She protected me and I served her. When she needed a saddle blanket, I was a saddle blanket. When she needed an airborne scout, I was a scout. Of her small set of real objects, I was firstmost, as I have been for you. Before that, I was a part of her lessons. I became sentient then, as we learned how to be Lord and Affine together. Before that, I was a part of someone else, taken from a Great Lord in battle. That is beyond my ability to remember, for the parts of that being who remembered did not come with me."
Edan nods, and lets the spell lapse. "This was the answer I was looking for. You were not created as a trap. Whatever ties to Chases-in-Madness the other Riders recognize, they are symbolic. Thank you, my affine. This answer pleases me." He looks around. "Are you ready to depart? I shall fill you in on recent events and my plans as we get up to speed for the hellride back."
Kyauta takes a few steps and his legs grow longer and thicker. "I am ready at your pleasure. I would assume her other affines would report that you had given her a knife, Great Lord, to match the one she gave to you."
Edan grins. "Well, it's interesting you should mention yourself as a weapon. Let me tell you about what happened in Xanadu..." and he fills Kyauta in on the creation of the Order and his own short-term plans for recruiting as they pack up and head back in the direction of home.
Kyauta listens intently. Since it was was not asked for input into the Great Lord's plans, it offers none.
The Plan has been communicated, and that's the important thing. Edan continues back; unless they run into something, he'll set Michelle up with the starting funds when they return to Xanadu. It will be her task to convert and disburse them appropriately. After a final review of building plans and last-minute problem-solving, he'll be off towards the Land of Peace.
Michelle shows him a lovely site on the edge of town and is ready to hire men to clear it and then to build the barracks and the chapter-house. Everything looks good, but expensive. Luckily, shiny things pay for a great deal.
Random wants Edan to provide horses for the royal stables, as rent-in-kind to set a precedent. Michelle thinks it will not only be feasible, but will possibly give them a way to make the order more self-sufficient.
Edan can accept Random's idea, and is happy with the concept; after all, he has an interest in raising horses. They'll probably need more room for the stables and pastures, but that's easily arranged. With this all handled, he bids his seneschal adieu and turns Aramsham around towards the Land of Peace. By land. And in this case, he aims for a fast trip, but not a hellride; just having done one, that had to be hard on the psyche.
Edan heads out, riding perhaps for a day towards the dense jungles to the south of Xanadu. When he was last here, he thought he was nearing Amber and Kyril thought he was on an island. If the climate was warmer, this would be a forest, but apparently, the King likes the warm places.
By sticking to the beach, Edan has the opportunity to play with the dunes, and the sea birds, and the smell of the sea. Soon enough the dunes of the beach become the dunes of the desert, and the cries of the terns become the cry of desert hawks. The sea-smells fade and the sun grows even harsher than in Random's Xanadu. Edan rides on, gaining the colors and smell, and sounds of the Deep Desert.
He lets the sun set, and arrives by moonlight. It is neither cold enough nor dark enough to prevent travel, but few are abroad at this hour. Edan is home, in the heartland of the Seven Tribes.
Edan sees no signs of people.
That doesn't mean a whole lot at this hour, in this place. If Edan recognizes the location already, he turns Aramsham towards the nearest nomadic trail or settlement. If he doesn't, he'll attempt to fix his position and/or pick a direction to travel until he starts to recognize the landmarks.
Edan finds where he expects a settlement to be. The landmarks mark a place the seven tribes often camp. The stars tell him it is late spring, and thus the wadi should have people and animals a-plenty.
It is deserted. Edan doesn't see signs that anyone has been here since the last storm, and no evidence that such a cleansing happened recently.
It is a long way to the West to the port towns of the coast, and a longer ride to the east, but the east was always the more civilized place. He could also head north to the coast or south into the deep desert and towards the cities of his grandfather's people.
Edan sniffs. The air doesn't smell right for the Land of Peace. Something is missing. And yet, he is sure he is home.
Edan frowns. Of all the trouble he was expecting, this wasn't it. There is time pressure, too, in that Edan eventually has to return to Xanadu. Wasting that time travelling won't do.
Solving one mystery will likely solve another. He turns his horse south, towards the deep desert, to see if the strangeness persists; if it does, or gets worse, it will be time for some Sorcery.
The deep desert is vast, but Edan is canny, and knows the way of it, and the way to go. It is not quick, but as quickly as he can, he find an outcropping from which he should be able to see the most remote outposts of the Efrit.
He finds barren desert, pristine and empty. There is no sign that people or spirits have been here at all.
Edan also knows he's about to bleed over into a natural shadow path to an adjoining shadow, so this is where he stops. It's a mystery, all right. The worst part is that he knows he's come to the right place.
The natural shadow path may be the thing that's missing.
Well. The next step is a little drastic, but necessary. Edan Parts the Veil, a smoking tear through the fabric of Space, so that he can ride through to a spot he knows. When Aramsham steps through, they should be on a long strip of rocky terrain near the ocean and within sight of the port city of his birth.
Edan rides a through the Veil and up to a promontory above the city, looking down on it laid out below him. The harbor is busy with steamships and fishing vessels, the docks are awash in cargo and people, the temple quarter is a hive of activity, and the city looks prosperous and vital.
Some enterprising people seem to have miniaturized the steam engines from the ships and installed them in carriages, and apparently also on bicycles.
Edan rubs at his jaw. "I don't know what to make of this, Kyauta. Either I'm in the wrong place, or significant time has passed, or things have progressed naturally from the defeat of the hamaaj." He ponders for another moment. "Or someone has come and altered the nature of this Shadow. Let us find out. Conceal yourself, like you did in Paris. We shall pretend to be a holy man, coming out of the desert. We shall observe this new world."
Kyauta conceals itself and Edan comes down from the hill. The town is bustling, but horses are not unheard of. People hardly give Edan a second glance. Edan does not see anyone dressed in the robes of the desert people, though.
The first stop will be the city center, where Edan can consult a calendar. Maybe a perpetual one at one of the great libraries, or at a temple. Finding out the year will be the first order of business, and he will go as far as to ask the date and year from someone, if he has to.
The Way of Peace Library is a place of grace and beauty and is very new, although apparently it houses the collections of three previous private libraries.
Edan has been gone for about a decade, perhaps a decade and a half.
[OOC: Things seem to have advanced from Late Victorian to Edwardian during his absence...]
The library seems to have a number of books on the war, and apparently the books are common enough that Edan could pick one up without going through the scholars. He recognizes the name of the author. He was a fierce desert fighter.
Well, this would definitively tell whether he's in a shadow of a shadow. Edan sits with the book and starts to skim, paying close attention to the material near the end. If at all possible, he wants to know what's happened since he left. And if, inexplicably, there's some kind of a language problem, he'll be using some quick Sorcery to help resolve it.
The book is straightforward and tells the war story about how Edan remembers it, although Haytham seems more prominent than Edan recalls.
The end is... odd. "Sarwar Al Edan Al Damurah (P.B.U.H.) was with us until victory was assured and he ascended bodily to Paradise, ending the age of the gnostic prophets. The fire spirits of the Deep Desert followed him, and sealed the ways to their fiery lands behind them.
"The Literalists expect Al Edan to return, bodily, but the Council of the People have declared that he is to be taken as a symbol and message from The Merciful One and the Merciful One cannot be expected to honor his people to such a degree twice and claim that he is in every candle flame and hearth-fire and that all should learn from his example."
"The people of the cities accepted the Way of Peace and the tyrants of the cities who had twisted the teachings of the Merciful One were pulled down from their high places and left in the desert to survive, if the Merciful One allowed."
It goes on in that vein for some time. It seems that the seven tribes have entered into city life and are at the top of the social order, but that each city is far enough apart that the tribe that settled there has little conflict with the others...
Peace be unto him, indeed. Things have seemed to have worked out about as well as could be expected. Edan thumbs through a little more slowly, to see if he can verify where this Haytham has taken a leadership position; in other words, he tries to find out what tribe has taken over this city.
Haytham is an elder of this very city! [OOC: It's why his book is such a good seller here...]
After that, before presenting himself to the city elders, his old tribesmen, it will be time to visit his mother and siblings.
The building Julnar the Firemaiden and her children lived in is gone, and has been converted to some kind of a theater. Tonight's presentation is called "The Tale of Al Edan and the Wondrous Lamp".
Of course it is. Edan sniffs and smiles. It is not so important to track family down yet, and he was about to find someone with a better idea of Mother's migration than anyone else. Edan rides on to the city center and the city government, making an effort to meet with Haytham. Edan will identify himself as al-Alayan, the Searcher, and will say that he is an old acquaintance who seeks audience.
al-Alayan is told that Haytham is holding court in this very building in a short while. If he has business before the city or a grievance to air, that is the venue. If the matter is personal, it may be possible to send him a note to read after his work is done for the day.
The courtroom is large, and has a large bas-relief image on the back wall, showing a stylized lamp with a flame coming out of it. It is a symbol of the tribes of the deep desert, not of Dar es Salaam as he remembers it.
The courtroom is starting to get full.
That's a big question. Should Edan reveal himself to the city and become the center of the whirlwind that would follow? So little would be accomplished afterward. No, the best approach would be to stay subtle.
"It is personal," Edan says, "but he would want to read this note as soon as possible. Tell him it is a matter of the desert. I will leave the decision to you."
The note is simple.
::Haytham al-derin col, lieutenant of the al-Ghanii,
::I am returned for a short while, as I promised so long ago. I am both pleased and concerned by what I have seen in my absence. Attend me as soon as you may, for I have need of you and my time here is short.::
::Edan ibn Bleys ibn Oberon al-Kehribar al-Salaam al-Djinn-al-Ghanii::
In a few moments, a bearded man comes and sits cross-legged at the front, facing those waiting for their chance at justice. There is a murmur in the crowd and they, like Edan, are surprised it is not Haytham sitting in front of them.
A man comes up to Edan and bows. He says "The jurist asks that you follow this one to his office, Lord."
[Assuming Edan does follow...]
Haytham looks to be middle aged, and likely to age into a wiry and old man, if nothing stops him from doing so. "Lord Edan, it is you!" He rushes over, and then stops. "I would touch you and see that you are solid, and not a vision or a dream. Is such a thing permitted, or is it blasphemy to even question you? I do not know if I am honored that you came to me or cursed for needing to prove to myself that such an honor could fall upon myself."
He used to be less... philosophical.
Edan crosses over to clasp hands with Haytham, keeping the disappointment from his own face. He should have known they would make him into a Mahdi, it was one possible outcome, but it hurt to see friends and acquaintances turn into...worshippers. That was the word for it.
"I am pleased to see you, old friend," he says. "It is good to see how things worked out so well for the tribes, as good as we could have hoped for. I would stay and see how the hand of the Merciful One has worked in our favor, but I am afraid my time is short."
Haytham seems unsteady, not with age or infirmity or drink, but on the verge of being overwhelmed with emotion. "Your time was already short, but each moment is precious. Some said you would only return if the need was dire, or the Ulema had departed from the Way of Peace, to harrow us from the desert as we once harrowed those who lived here before us."
He takes a deep breath. "Lord, there are those who say you are a myth, that you never walked among us as a man, but are a symbolic representation of the power and correctness of the Way. It is hard, even for those of us who were there, to counter them, for so much of that time seems like a dream..."
Haytham trails off, not really knowing what else to say.
"I am the man you knew when I left," Edan says. "No more, no less. You knew I had a mother, and brothers and a sister. I have traveled to the land of my father and returned, with news and a need of my own. But I cannot stay."
Haytham looks troubled. "That is unfortunate. There are many here and now who could use your guidance, including myself. I am a Mahdi, but I struggle with the issues the people bring. And the ulema is not as undivided as one would wish it were.
"If what you need is a loyal man, who once fought at your side, to accompany you and fight once again for the crystal clarity of right versus wrong, you need only give me the slightest hint that one would be welcome and I will follow you once more.
"Or anything else you require, Lord Edan, but perhaps slightly less joyfully."
"I told you before I left that I would find my father. I traveled far, to other lands, other worlds, and I found him." Edan hesitates; how simple should he make this? "The king in his land is his brother, my uncle. Old enemies of the Family are rising up. I have sworn fealty to my uncle in that distant land, which is known as Xanadu. I will fight for my family, and I seek those who would fight with me." He folds his hands. "I will not lie. It will be very dangerous. Worse than the hamaaj."
Haytham looks relieved. This may be the best news he has had in a number of years. He seems younger and tougher just thinking about it. He's still middle aged, but he's not as soft as he might have seemed to be a few minutes ago.
"I am sworn to follow you to the Nine Icy Hells if need be, and I will never renounce my vow. How many of the band do you need? Or do you form a larger army?"
"I'm looking for at least two thousand, horsed," Edan admits, "to be camped outside the city of Xanadu. "Mobile, light armor, firearms and archery. The core of the force will be a newly-established order of knights, who will train and be housed at the edge of the city. They will be the leaders. They will learn how to fight the tougher foes."
Haytham looks confused. "We have no knights. It is a foreign tradition and one that places obligation to a lord above obligation to The Merciful One. The vestiges of the old knight and feudal lords who invaded the coast of the Land of Peace were swept aside by the Armies of the Faithful. You might need to recruit outside the Land of Peace if you want knights.
"However, I can happily show you much better technologies for war. The aeroplane and the steamcar are far superior to the old horses. Few these days even ride, and the streets are full of wondrous cars, trains, and bicycles. I can have the local garrison show you their deadliest forces."
Edan nods at what he's told of knights here; he knew what the answer would be. He shakes his head at the mention of the rest. "Friend Haytham, it has come time to shock you with the first revelation. The army camp will be in forest or beach or open areas. We will need horses to navigate them all. And there will be many places that I will take you that those wondrous cars and trains and guns won't function. And sometimes, the bicycles."
Haytham smiles. "I am still your man, for I am resolute in all my vows, but I know of few who will follow you who are not your faithful guard."
He looks at Edan. "What other revelations do you wish to shock me with?"
Edan smiles and leans forward. "One thing is that some of our countrymen are already in Xanadu. They were at sea when the black storm came. If we ever find a way to establish a permanent trade route, the King of Xanadu is open to trade."
Edan's smile becomes brittle. "Now, our enemies. The first is a monastic order with centuries of experience and arcane use behind them. The other is a race of warriors who can manipulate time itself."
Haytham's smile matches Edan's. Edan feels as if the man is getting younger just being in his presence, or if not younger, bolder and with a larger scope of vision. "Trade is good, Hadi, for no country that is starving can send warriors to fight. At most they can send mobs. But that is for the rear-guard to organize.
"As to your enemies, they seem particularly dangerous, especially if they join forces against us. There are philosophers of war, in the lands to the east, my Lord, who would counsel that they should be manipulated to fight each other, and then our forces could fall upon the weakened victors. Can this be done?"
"I'm not going to say it's impossible. However, I would say that the motives and the thinking of the Moonriders of Ghenesh - they're the time-altering ones - may not be what anyone else would consider 'normal'. The Klybesian Order - they're the other ones - they're not our friends, and neither side would be easy to manipulate. It would be...difficult." He waves his hand, gesturing around them. "I meant to ask this earlier. What will happen here, if you and others of the tribe leave? Will the government stay in place?"
"All of the seven tribes are scattered, and I do not know if the peace and promises of mutual support we made some years ago would hold if we took the entire tribe away from any one city. We have a good accord with the city people now, and my assistant, who is administering justice tonight, is not of the tribe.
"So, possibly, it is unclear how long peace would hold if we stay. Lessons of Peace are amongst the hardest, especially when one is confronted by the clear advantage of war."
"The entire tribe would not leave, anyway," Edan says. "As you said, technology has leaped ahead, and many riders...are not, any more. We shall have to take the risk that the uproar will be at a minimum. Well. You know this new land far better than I. Send the word, and draw those that would ride with me to this place. And when this is done, and I could not say when for sure, I will lead back those who would return here. I am confident, however, that most would want to stay in this new land of my father's kin."
He sits back. "Now is the time to ask the other question. Where have my mother and my siblings gone?"
"None know, War Leader. One day, all the fireborn were gone. Some say they took the magic of the world and left. Others, that they could not stay when something else took away the magic. Only a small few of us remember the fireborn and most believe that they did not exist, except as a vast metaphor to make a point about the nature of man and his desires and skills."
He looks glum. “Not far from here stands a house that no man has entered in a good decade. Once it housed a noble Marid, a trader and scholar of this city. He was always somewhat of a recluse. Now he is gone, and the fountains and gardens of the Dey of Longtides are no more."
Edan looks upset. "She would not have wanted to go from this place. Despite her reputation, she rejected the afriti and embraced the Merciful One. My mother would not have left, unless there were no other choice." He shakes his head. "I will find out what happened. But I cannot do it now." Looking up, he says, "One of my cousins mentioned meeting the Dey. I did not know he had taken residence here. I would see this house. Perhaps a message was left."
"I did not know he was elsewhere. Perhaps your cousin came to this very city. However, if there is the possibility that a message was left, we should by all means retrieve it. Let me fetch guards, in case we need to force the door."
[Assuming Edan goes with Haytham]
The compound is shockingly exotic and completely ruined. Plants that could only grow in swamps fill the garden, and all are dead and being turned to dust and then nothing. The ground, once rich and brown, is cracked and parched. The house is octagonal, and several stories high. It is locked.
Edan looks glum. The house is a lot like what he felt last in Amber; a place that was slowly dying and turning to dust. He does stop the guards, though, before they force the door, so he can give the place the once-over with his Third Eye beforehand.
Edan looks over the house. It appears relentlessly bereft of any taint of Order, Chaos or Magic. On close examination, it looks as if it once had contact with magic, but that the magic no longer exists.
If the channels of magic indicate where water ran and magic kept it in place, the dwelling is a shell of what it once was.
"I don't see any traps," Edan says to Haytham. "It seems to me that what magic was once here, was to move water throughout the building and to the plants. That magic is gone." He steps aside to let the guards open the door.
The senior guard gestures to the junior one, who takes a few steps back and then throws himself into the door. It breaks open and sprays the entry hall in splinters. The building is octagonal inside, with no dividers other than the floor and ceiling. Perhaps there used to be, by magic.
The very sparse furniture is covered in drop cloths, and all of the easily movable pieces are gone. There is a stairs going up around the edge, but the room is dominated by an empty pool in the center, and a large gilt mirror on the far wall.
If Edan were to leave a message to someone, it would be through the mirror; so, he moves to that wall and checks the mirror out with mundane and arcane vision.
The mirror has words written on the surface, visible only to arcane investigation. It says "Break Me".
Edan's face breaks into a slow smile, white teeth flashing in a cinnamon face. "I can't imagine a more obvious trap. So likely it's not. Get your men back," he says to Haytham, "while I create some wards for myself."
And he does, creating flames that dance across his body as he creates a simple but powerful physical ward for himself, followed by an arcane one. Then, he reaches out to break the mirror with the hilt of his sword.
The glass breaks and flies out, much more of it than was held in the frame. The stream of it hits Eden's ward and spreads against it, encircling Edan in reflective material.
"This is my strongest spell, and the one I hope will last for some time," says a voice, deep and smooth as Edan imagines a Marid's would be. "I trust this message will reach a son or daughter of Amber, for only those should be able to hear my message. I am the Dey of Longtides, and a friend to Prince Bleys and the Arcane College of Gateway. I do not know what magical catastrophe has befallen this place, but I know that the power that sustained us here is fading, and more of my people and the djinn are retreating. My people to the deeps where they can go to the undersea kingdoms, the Djinn to the City of Brass.
"I know not where I will end up, but tell the King and Prince Bleys that I have found that the Asir are a sect of the Klybesians, and that they have plans in motion that I have not been able to discover, but that they involve Amber.
"I will try for Atalantis, and if I make it there, then Prince Bleys will be able to find me.
"May the Merciful One speed your feet to the King, and beware the Klybesians."
The message ends and the sphere of glass drops to the ground. Edan is surrounded by a circle of glass shards.
The Palace is emerald glass and silver mirrors and often appears larger inside than it could be.
Ossian and Silhouette present themselves at the north gate. The guard expects them and the honor escort is two women who walk the visitors through galleries where slow waters hold plenty of comings and goings even at this hour.
Silhouette recognizes the path and it is confirmed when the Diplomacy Gallery is the destination. The escort take up positions to either side of the metal door. The door is already partly open, Rebma's queen is within, arranging the setting on a low quartz table. Nearby carts are laden with breakfast foods. One cart even holds a few meats grilled in the landstyle.
Celina is at the low quartz table transferring food from a cart to the places set, and with a soft word and smile she sends away the young pages attending the three carts. She wears scaled trunks and bracers in a deep blue that is also black in shadow. Her green hair is braided up in a formal style.
The Queen meets Ossian and Silhouette halfway to the table. "How nice to have you in Rebma, Cousins. Well met. It is not proper for the Monk Tomat to attend our breaking of fast. He will come at call. What is it you hope to task him with? You may know I have a personal interest in his well-being."
The pages leave and seal the door.
Silhouette drifts into the room like a placid lion fish - her dress trailing a colorful forest of transparent fabrics. Beneath the flowing cloth, the curves of her body are delicate shadow and suggestion. Her fingers are casually laced with Ossian's, yet hinting at some unspoken intimacy. She offers the Queen a tender smile, dipping her head in reverent submission. "My Queen," she says, "Thank you for accepting our petition with such short notice. Might I say you are exquisite today."
Her fingers slide from Ossian's grip, "I shall let my companion explain his Purpose with the monk."
Ossian is not yet fully accustomed to having all this water around him, so his normally graceful movements are a bit hampered. He is dressed slightly old fashioned, barechested with loose trousers. No ornaments, except for the paint stains on his hands that never seem to wash off, not even here.
He bows. "Greetings... Queen. We only wish to ask Tomat some questions about his former associates. The Klybesians have, as you probably know stepped over way too many lines."
Celina gestures to the food. "Please make yourselves at home." She seats herself near the table, choosing a drift position with her feet lightly trailing the slick floor. She settles a bit more as she reaches for plates but does not seem to sink further. "You will find the monk is responsive but his leadership cut him off from the body of the Order once he was associated with the debt tasks for the Smith. Ask him about his term with the Order, but you may be very disappointed with what he can tell you. And of course, the Order knows that he knows. It is long since understood by the Klybesians that Signy took him along. They have opportunity to anticipate his comments and adjust."
Silhouette nods lightly, "Agreed. However, there may be aspects of their operations that cannot be altered quickly or efficiently." Her samplings from the breakfast table are frugal, leaving most of her plate bare, her attention more on Celina than the food.
"May I ask... what limits are set upon our 'discussion' with him?" Her gaze darkens to impenetrable shadows.
Celina turns her full attention on Silhouette. "The Klybesian Cult is serious family business, so you must needs do whatever your oath to King Random holds you to. Tomat is under my personal protection, as are you and Ossian by coming here at my invitation. I have not thought to set limits that are more constrained than these obvious protocols. So I'm exceedingly curious about your question. As I said, I think you will find the Monk responsive." She looks at Ossian to see if he also has some hidden agenda not hinted in the request for an audience. "That does not mean your questions should give Tomat information about the Family that makes him useful for the Klybesians to 'reacquire and interrogate'. Talk to me plainly, what do you think to make of this interview?"
"We will not force him in any way," Ossian says. "Our goal is to be as well prepared as possible before going after them. I want to know about their chapterhouses, their modes of transportation and communication. If he knows anything about their command structure, although that probably has changed, I believe it is useful. Also we are especially hunting one individual among the monks. Tomat might know something there."
Silhouette nods lightly, offering a placid smile. "I also wish to know about their military capabilities, as well as their arcane." Her gaze never drifts from Celina, "If he is responsive, so much the better. But we all have our secrets. And our sense of Duty. He may be holding back information for either reason."
A dip of her head, "He is under your protection, and I shall not cause you offense. Indeed... that protection might work in our favor, if he is unwilling to talk."
Celina nods a few times. "I judge these things within Tomat's ability to assist. He was a believer, a sorcerer, and a promising addition to their Order. For my part, I ask that you have three ways out of combat with the Klybesians for every one way you devise to engage them. I want you both to come back." Celina puts down her plate. "So previously you spoke of Chew and his agenda and you thought about talking to Merlin or Martin." She looks at Ossian now. "Have you gathered any additional information? Anything else to share? I can have Tomat brought here within a very short time."
Ossian shakes his head and lower his voice. "Some. Corwin actually got really talkative. The Klybesians seems to have been involved in some kind of power struggle between his and Caine's mothers. And Caine has been friendly with them in the past.
"But we still are speculating on who lay that path from their chapterhouse to Greenwood. Circumstance says Brand, but we have no hints of proof."
Celina thinks about what's been shared and when Silhouette adds nothing more, she says, "It seems to me that you are overlooking a vital piece of leverage then. Unless Caine is second on your list of suspects after Brand, I'd think you want his comments and suggestions for leverage on the Klybesians. Family business has changed a lot since the days when those mothers drove politics. Perhaps Caine even knows this Chew if you can furnish a description. And by the way, I'd like that description as well."
"I will not accuse Caine of being involved, but Corwin and Flora did see that as a possibility." Ossian says grimly. "But I think they will ask him about that. We will definitely consider that advice.
"As for Chew, I can paint you a portrait as soon as we get back to Silhouette's. "
Celina gets up and goes to the door. She steps into the hall and requests that Tomat attend her. Then she returns to the table. She nods at Ossian and Silhouette.
"I was not suggesting you accuse Caine of anything at all. However, due to his age and experience with the Klybesians, he might have a point of view or useful information, and he is only twenty miles from here." She smiles, "I've sent for the monk. And I thank you for the offer of the portrait of Chew. What else can I help you with?"
Silhouette glances over at Ossian, and then back. "I do have information for you on another matter, if you wish to speak before the monk's arrival. We can speak freely." Her hand touches Ossian's shoulder, as if confirming her trust in him.
Celina nods to proceed and gives a very open smile.
Silhouette nods, "Lady Lorenna has fled the city with the help of her seneschal. Arrangements were made to provide transport directly to her home. The carriage in question has not been returned. It is more than likely her own people were used as porters. At this point, this carriage has not been returned. My contact will tell me if this unlikely events occurs.
"That said, it is apparent that she or her seneschal arranged for her passage outside of the city. That means she likely has one or more agents amongst your door guards."
She touches Ossian's shoulder again, "Ossian contacted me before I could pursue the investigation further. I thought it more prudent to assist him."
A page returns to say that Tomat is on his way.
"It is not terribly mysterious to exit Rebma," Celina responds taking a few steps to close with Silhouette. "And disguise accounts for leaving the city without the Watch knowing who you really are. Loreena is as accomplished or more so than you, Silhouette, in the ways of deception. You should think in terms of her being an equal. I shall make inquiry of the Watch rosters based on timing to see if there was likely any bribes of guards or Watch."
Celina asks, "Do you know which Gate she left the city from? Or is your source supposing she left because the carriage did not return? If I was Loreena, I'd feel one up on Celina if I made it look like I fled and then waited for her complacency to give me a choice opening. Loreena knows the Palace, the City, and the weak minds of Court better than I do."
Celina adds, "I'm not saying you've done a bad job, just that your report makes me think there is a much deeper play being made. Where Loreena is concerned, I must be wary."
"Of course," Silhouette says. "Without further information, I cannot make a true assessment of her actions. I'd intended to inquire with the gate guards regarding the movements of the carriage, and if the occupant was indeed Loreena. I also intend to search her premises. If I can obtain an sympathetic connection to her, I may also be able to track her with my pets."
She dips her head, "And yes, Loreena's public presentation of the carriage likely indicates it was a ruse. Whether she left by other means, or remains sequestered within Rebma remains to be determined."
"Is Jerod aware of her escape?" Ossian asks.
"Loreena is 'at large', not escaped," Celina says gently. "She was never arrested or confined. She had been invited to the Court for a swearing of oaths. She and some few other people decided not to attend. Clearly, in this case, because she does not intend to be loyal to this throne. So her titles are forfeit, but not her property." She nods once, "It is a good question, Ossian. I have not spoken to Jerod so I cannot say that he does know. He certainly will not be surprised. Since you and Silhouette are headed into shadow, please be sure to tell him if you cross paths."
Silhouette nods lightly. "May I ask what politic ramifications could arise should she contest her forfeiture? And would your mother support her?" She glances over at Ossian, "And would Jerod assist her? Are they close?"
"Jerod sees his sisters as very capable of taking care of themselves. And it seems they are." Ossian says "As for his loyalties, I don't think they have been tested on that scale."
He then grins "But I think he would say that you should not trust me on matters regarding him. " Or his sisters. he thinks.
At about this point a page announces the arrival of Brother Tomat and he is brought in. He looks round to see who is present before presenting himself to Celina and bowing. "What does your Majesty require from me?"
Celina welcomes Tomat and points to the table of food. "Brother Tomat, it would be of service to Rebma if you would answer questions about the Order for my cousins here. We will try not to hold you overlong, but they are headed into peril and your words might go a long way to guarding them. I think Lady Signy would approve." She nods to Ossian and Silhouette.
"I am at your Majesty's service." Tomat does not move to take any of the food, but instead looks to Ossian and Silhouette. "I've answered questions before, and will be happy to again, though I don't know what I can answer that I didn't tell Lord Edan and Lady Signy."
Ossian smiles "We will surely ask some of the same questions again. I would start with a question dear to me. Do you know a brother Chew?"
Silhouette remains silent through the question, her impartial eyes studying Tomat with clinical interest.
"I believe I know of the man you speak of, though not under that name. Among the brethren, he is known as Brother Hannibal. He is powerful, though he does not hold an abbacy or work for the Turcopolier. I'm not sure I've ever met him, but I've seen references to him in many documents, and copied him on certain reports."
"That is him, alright." Ossian says.
Celina asks, "If you can, give me an idea why Hannibal is powerful within the Order if he is not in a favored position within the ranks. Is it his magic, his insight, or something else? How does he appear in the documents?"
"Brother Hannibal is without a formal portfolio, but he knows many secrets, which are a sort of power of their own. I would guess he reports to someone who reports to the Grand Master of our Order, if not the Grand Master himself. He is addressed and referred to as Brother, but he moves between projects over time. He has dealt with several members of the royal family over time. His loyalty has never been in doubt," which comment is tinged with a certain amount of resentment.
"So, he is the power behind the Divine, as it were?" Silhouette says softly.
Tomat shakes his head in the negative "Brother Hannibal is a power. But not the power. He isn't the only agent of that sort, though I don't think there are many. He is old, though: older than he appears. Not immortal, but time sits lightly on him, and has since I joined the brethren, even accounting for the differences in time between the realms."
Celina nods once in consideration. Her eyes shift to Ossian, inviting him to continue to satisfy his inquiries.
"I wonder if that agelessness is only sorcery or something else. So, this Grand Master. Has anyone ever met or seen him?" Ossian asks.
"I haven't, but others have. Not just Brother Hannibal, either," Tomat adds by way of anticipating the next question. "I know there were others who held the office before him. It's even said, according to legend, that one of our early Grand Masters was a Prince of Amber. I'm not sure I believe that one, though."
"What would be the ramifications if he would fall from grace... Is there someone to step in to replace him?" Silhouette says before sipping her drink.
Celina holds her attention on Tomat. She alters her posture in reinforcement of his own, making it clear that she is sympathetic and a resource if he needs one.
Ossian is also quiet.
"Brother Hannibal? It would be a blow, but no brother is allowed to be completely indispensable. It's a tenet of the Order. We can only earn uniqueness when the Order succeeds in its goal. And if he were to die, and it took a dozen men to replace him, then a dozen brothers would be found." A cynical smile crosses Tomat's face. "Or that's what we're told, anyway. I expect that most of it is true, but not all."
Celina says, "If Most of your learning with them is True, then you are a treasure to us, and your aid is vital. They have risked much, and often, in order to stay close with Amber's secrets. If the Grandmaster follows an old course, or plan laid down by an exiled or lost royal of Amber, well, we shall see if that fares well for them now. It appears they have a hand in the death of Reid. That's not acceptable. So we shall journey to them and put many questions to them." Celina looks at Ossian and Silhouette so they know they may continue to question Tomat. She also asks Tomat, "Say something about how the Grandmaster position is filled, and how many times has there been a new one? It seems the Order has a long history."
"And where is the Grandmaster to be found?" Ossian adds.
"Moving between the Chapter Houses like a king on progress, I suppose, or with the Turcopolier. There was a time when I thought where I served was the center of the universe, but I was clearly wrong." Tomat shakes his head ruefully. "I know more about the outlying houses, the ones newly established and the lost houses the Order hoped to bring back into the fold, than I do about the abbeys and other establishments deeper in the Order than my own."
Celina nods, to her this agrees with various questions before this session. She waits to see where Ossian will take his inquiry now.
"Does he have any enemies or political opposition?" Silhouette says softly.
"Who or what is the Turcopolier?" Ossian adds.
"The Turcopolier is the brother in charge of the Order's military. At the present time, they're all mercenaries. He used to have a brother officer who was in charge of the knights militant, but they've been disbanded and never reconvened. As for political enemies," Tomat frowns. "None are known to me, but given my situation, that's not surprising. Had I been deeper in the Order, I might have been approached by some opponent of our leadership, but I never have been."
"If I may change directions from the operational aspects for a moment..." Celina checks body language of Silhouette and Ossian. She proceeds forward looking at Tomat directly, "Tell me about the big picture, Tomat. Men are recruited. They are offered a place. There is a lot of work, education, stories even of the goals of the Order. People want to know what they are working towards, and how it all fits into their own idea of the Universe."
Celina smiles, "So do the monks talk about Order? Do they preach about tomorrow's wonders? Do they think about dying for a cause? Are they keeping the Light of Knowledge burning in an uncaring tyranny of myths? What's the passion that binds the Klybesians? I do not recall anyone asking this..... and if I were confronting the Order, I'd like to know."
Ossian nods. "And that's why you are Queen."
"I told this to Edan and Signy, and perhaps they were unclear in their conveyance." Or, perhaps, Tomat's tone suggests, not unkindly, that he's being tested here. He continues, "The Order gathers knowledge, and seeks to perfect itself according to the way of the Unicorn. Our roots lie in the ancient history of Amber, and it is said that the Princes themselves have been among our knights militant in the past. One of them was even disinherited by Oberon for it.
"The Order gathers all the secrets of the universe. Many of them are kept by the scions of Order, such as yourself. The secrets of how to walk between the worlds where there are no paths, the making of the cards, all of these things are marks of power, a power that those of us, of the brethren I was once one of, of sufficient rank and personal power to become leaders--like Brother Hannibal--could learn. But it is in learning and mastering these powers and making them freely available that the Order will fulfill the Unicorn's rede of perfecting the universe."
Silhouette blinks at this, the words sending so familiar, so right. How many years has she spent following these very same goals - if only more proactive in her fashioning. "The Grand Design," she said faintly. "These are goals I've sought most of my life."
She smiles at Tomat, "What is the Order's definition of Perfection? And do they have a central library for all this amassed knowledge?"
Celina keeps her thoughtful friendly focus on Tomat.
Ossian's eyes narrow for a split second. This is fun.
Tomat glances briefly at Celina because she's the one in charge here. Getting nothing but a relatively friendly look, he takes that for guidance and turns back to Silhouette to answer her. "For everyone to become as the Princes of Amber are. Not perfection of form to their likeness; the Unicorn isn't even a human. But to have that power over the universe, and that control. Everyone has that potential, but only in the princes of Amber is it realized. The Order wants to learn how, and to make everyone perfect in that way."
Ossian shakes his head "Contrast. Perfection needs contrast."
Then he shakes his head again. "And have they had any progress in this?"
Tomat starts to answer but--
Silhouette leans forward, "And do you know if your Order had any direct relation or connection with Princess Flora? Were they aware she had a child?"
This seems more urgent. "I'm sure all the daughters of Oberon were kept track of, and it seems likely, but I cannot say for certain. My watch was set on Signy, and so she is the person I know the most about," Tomat says, a bit of wariness creeping into his tone. Turning back to Ossian, he answers the other question. "The Order learned the secret of Sorcery, and now there are many sorcerers through Shadow because of it. Not all of them belong to the Order, but many do. Before the Order's work, there were few, if any, outside the royal family of Amber."
Celina nods once. "That is a considerable achievement. The Order has certainly made strides. I count the extended life of many of its most senior members as a stronger indication that Certain Perfection is closer to being realized by the Klybesians." She smooths her expression in response to some memory of the costs of Knowledge and Perfection. "But Tomat, you have lived at the elbow of Perfection for many years. You shared the Passion for knowledge. Combined with your own passion and discernment, you realized there was something greater.... at least from your point of view." Celina leans towards the ex-monk and balances elbow to knee and hand to chin. "What did you see or hear, that told you the Order's chase for Perfection was not your hunt anymore?"
Silhouette remains silent on this, focusing on her food. She has many opinions and questions about the Order's view on Perfection, but a debate at this point seems intrusive.
Tomat has to think about that for a moment and finally comes up with, "With all due respect, your majesty, that is a personal and private matter, and though I would gladly answer you privately, I do not wish to speak of it in the open--water."
Celina's single nod and expression are frankly open. She appears perfectly understanding of this request.
Ossian nods. "Do you know anything about a place named Greenwood?"
Celina smiles thanks to Ossian for bridging the moment back to operational aspects of the coming confrontation. She leans back to let things continue but her focus is still Tomat.
Tomat looks at Ossian, glad of the change of subject. "The mythical Greenwood the Great—called the Ever-Green, where it is always summer and the Fae folk of the forest live in eternal innocence and eternal youth? I have read legends of it, Lord Ossian. Some say it is a counterpart to the archetypal city, of which all others are but shadows."
"You've described Elysium of Antiquity," Silhouette says. "And not a realm from which your Order would marshal its forces. Why is it so important? Is this where they gather their learning?"
She asks this of the table, not simply Tomat.
Celina gives Tomat a sympathetic smile. All of them born of different cultures and then learning yet more. Walking and talking through a diversity of myths, did not make Family Business any easier. Tomat would, of anyone, appreciate that the Ordered Universe includes an ocean's worth of irony. Celina thinks irony may turn out to be a feature.
Celina gives a small negative shake of her head to Silhouette's question. She isn't familiar with Elysium and does not believe in eternal innocence. However, if Greenwood is very important, that certainly could be Family irony cutting both ways.
Tomat shakes his head in the negative. "No. It's one of the legends the Order knows about the great citadels."
"So a Hospital named Greenwood Hospital is then likely named after this ideal place?" Ossian asks. "It fits.
"Do you know what the order does with the body samples they collect?"
Celina prepares herself to hear unfortunate details.
Silhouette remains similarly silence, watching the man's reactions.
"Depending on the expertise of the brothers who have them and the place where they're taken, they're examined magically or by the best technology available. They're trying to find out what makes princes of Amber different. And princesses, of course, saving Your Majesty's grace," Tomat adds, for Celina's benefit. "Whatever information they obtain is added to the store of knowledge the Order has about, well, Order.”
As far as Silhouette (or Ossian) can tell, Tomat is being honest.
"Would they incorporate outside assistance in this? Mercenaries and their ilk," Silhouette asks. "I'm curious as to how they pluck our kind from Shadow."
Ossian nods, but stays quiet.
"And I am curious to the extent that identifying Family is or is not in the Klybesian bag of tricks," Celina says.
"Their knowledge is not perfect, or Marius would not have been able to trade for assistance." Tomat relaxes a little, and his voice sounds firmer. "So whatever methods they have are served by cross-reference with other data.
"And yes," he adds for Silhouette's benefit, "the Turcopolier works with mercenaries, now that the Order no longer has militant brothers of its own. It's part of what the Turcopolier does. But sometimes the mercenaries, or at least their service, are traded for knowledge the Order desires."
There is no mistaking that Celina is pleased with these expected answers.
Conner spends some time before his departure touching base with the various spies, magicians, and Tritons under his remit to remind them of their tasks and see that they have instructions to carry on on the tasks they were given. Once he feels reasonably certain that the Queendom will not collapse for a few days at least (allow 1 day to a decade for this), Conner calls for a bag to be packed for him with provisions for the journey to Paris.
As his sister has taken the Seaward Route he will go landward and take ship from Paris to the Land of Peace. It will let him check in with Corwin and Flora on the Moire situation and check up on that statue/not statue in the place in-between realms.
After a two day climb up the stairs inside the cave, Conner finds himself pushing aside the vegetation that both screens and signifies the Paris end of the Failla-Bionin. He is noticed by a watcher, who recognizes him, and is offered a horse to ride to the palace. The palace is magnificent and open to the air, which is full of chestnut blossoms.
Conner is escorted to the gardens, where he finds Corwin and Flora with a small circle of courtiers. With him, is Garrett, who steps over to intercept Conner. "Well met, Cousin. I didn't expect to see you here." The boy smiles, and Conner sees, perhaps, more maturity in his bearing than he had when last they met. Perhaps it's merely confidence.
Corwin waits for the pair to approach his pavilion. Conner can see croquet mallets and other gaming materials behind the King.
"The surprise is mutual but it is a welcome one." Conner smiles back and offers him a hand clasp. To give them a little time to talk, Conner walks unhurriedly towards the waiting monarch and Aunt. "What brought you to Paris?" Conner inquires.
"I'm following a path to Gateway. Jerod needs some supplies imported and I'm supposed to seek them out and bring them to Port Thule," Garrett explains. "Dad thinks it's a good and relatively low-risk job to teach me how to do things. He said something about 'training wheels' and I had to ask him what he meant."
Conner chuckles. "Not much call for bicycles in Amber though they could become popular here. I expect skateboarding in Xanadu." Conner smiles. "Well, we might be able to help each other. I too have come to Paris to take ship into Shadow on a fact finding mission for Queen Celina."
Garrett nods. "I have a ship. What facts are you trying to find? If we're going to the same places, we could go together. It might save you some time."
"Even if it doesn't the company would be welcome." Conner admits. "My destination is the Land of Peace. The last time I was there a link between the Marids of that place and Rebma was implied that I did not full appreciate at the time. I want to dig into that a little deeper. Where is on your itinerary?"
Garett looks genuinely pleased. "I'm to go into shadow and gather certain trade goods and bring them to Jerod in Gateway. Since it's the furtherest place from Amber and Paris, Gateway is likely on the way. If you come along, we can probably shift shadow more effectively, so we could get there faster. I have a ship being outfitted at Le Havre."
The Prince turns and glances at Corwin. "You'd better greet our Uncle, I don't want him to think we're ignoring him."
Conner bows to Corwin and Flora as is proper for their station and smiles broadly. "Majesty, Highness. It is a pleasure to once again be in Paris. Queen Celina sends her warmest regards to you both."
Flora, for all that she is in theory the junior of the elder royals present, both by age and protocol, steps forward to give Conner an auntly embrace. "It's good to see you, Conner."
Conner returns the embrace warmly. "The feeling is mutual, my Aunt."
When she releases Conner, Corwin offers a firm clasp. "Welcome to Paris. We thank you for bringing us our daughter's regards, and send them in return when next you see her." The formal greeting having been completed, Corwin lets his tone fall back to normality. "You're welcome to join our game. Or perhaps you've brought matters of state that cannot be delayed for leisure."
Corwin doesn't sound as if that would bother him very much.
"I have been sent forth seeking information on behalf of Rebma and I would seek your counsel on these matters." Conner admits. "There is also news from cousin Brennan that I believe you both would find of interest."
"Well, let's all go inside, then," Corwin says, unfussed and undisappointed. He leads the way back to the castle, explaining to his non-royal companions that duties of state call. If Florimel is pouting a little, well, nobody likes to work when there's playing to be done.
Corwin stops to send for Folly, as well, so she can join them.
Soon enough, they're all settled in Corwin's comfortable study, drinks in hand, and ready to discuss business. "So, Conner, tell us your news and Brennan's, and--I assume you've had Garrett's news from him, so we'll move straight on to the questions on which Celina is seeking counsel after that, unless there's anything else that needs to come first."
Last modified: 29 June 2015
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.