Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
The dining room is one of the first floor's great halls, and the doors to the terrace are open, as usual. Inside, Random's kitchen has prepared a vast array of food, heavy on the meats and exotic dishes, for his guests. The staff constantly renews the food and, since the meal is restricted to family, the atmosphere is casual. If only the chairs at the head and foot of the table were taken by the absent King and Queen, the room would look normal for a private dinner of the Princes and Princesses of Amber.
Corwin, as senior monarch, is acting as erstwhile host, and greets everyone as they enter. He wears his traditional colors of silver and black, in a dinner jacket with a subtle rose motif. Corwin is pleasant and seems glad that this meeting is about a happy circumstance, for once.
Despite a sizable and leisurely lunch with Edan earlier that day, Brennan is one of the first to arrive. Casual as the atmosphere may be, it is still a Family gathering, and there are still the subtle protocols to observe: Brennan is also dressed in his colors, with a longish jacket of muted red over a shirt that shimmers between black and red, and black pants and boots. His only jewelry is the Ring of the Order of the Ruby, with the odd half-twist of it mostly concealed between the fingers of his left hand.
Brennan warmly accepts Corwin's greetings, and if he is genuinely the first to arrive will stand and make small talk, making it subtly known that he appreciated the chance to reunite with Regenlief away from the public eye. He'll depart when others begin to arrive so as not to usurp his role as host. He is particularly looking for either Marius or Benedict to speak with.
Other members of the family start to trickle in. Fiona arrives and greets both Corwin and Brennan. Julian arrives and corners Corwin for a discussion of something-or-other. Merlin and Marius arrive together, and separate so Merlin can speak with his father.
Signy and Celina arrive at the doorway in conversation and take in the groupings of the room. Celina is dressed in a toga of shimmering blue silks and is barefoot, though her hair is pinned up and braided. She smiles when she sees Merlin waiting to talk to Corwin.
Celina whispers to Signy that she'll be right back.
Signy offers a brief nod at this, before making her way over to the bar to pour herself a bourbon, neat.
Foregoing the traditional dress, Silhouette strikes a masculine figure in her ash-grey, pinstriped suit and crisp, black trousers. The stark-white blouse makes her checkered tie stand out sharply, its silk length perfectly knotted. Delicate petals of silver accessorize her midnight black lapel and hand, catching the light as she moves. Makeup is kept minimal, softening her elegant features. Her lips, the color of pink rose petals, offer a sensual contrast to the shadowy suit. Swept back, her hair brushes her angular shoulder in a curling ponytail. She strides confidently across the room, perfectly at ease on her high, peek-toe shoes.
She notes those present, paying them a polite nod or smile. However, she remains the room's periphery, walking around it with purpose and interest. In her suit, she casts the semblance of a shark in motion, moving, moving lest she died for the stopping.
Not long behind Celina is Llewella, dressed in her colors and with her hair cut short again. Paige is with her, and they're giggling about something or other as they enter the room. Paige starts to go to Merlin but she sees that he's occupied, and merely flashes a smile at him and Celina.
Conner arrives next. He is dressed in the Amber style in his usual blues and greens with a wide sash around the middle like they wear in the Land of Peace and Halosydne on his hip. Conner sweeps the room with his gaze, greeting everyone with a nod and a version of his omnipresent smile. He walks straight to the no-doubt well stocked bar and busies himself with the preparation of a cocktail with multiple colored ingredients carefully layered.
Ossian enters, dressed in white shirt and blue trousers. There are small paint stains on his sleeves. He greets everyone with a smile or a bow or a nod, and a wink to Silhouette. Then he joins Conner at the bar, pouring a glass of white wine for himself.
A lean, trim young man appears in the doorway. He is dressed in a casual rust-red shirt, buttoned at the cuff, and dark gray, almost black trousers. His dark brown leather boots look worn, but very comfortable. No weapons of any sort hang from his brown leather belt. An unconscious shake of his head parts the shock of dark brown hair from his eyes as he prepares to enter. For those who have not seen Prince Garrett recently, he looks older, his brows a bit heavier and his shoulders stronger than when he departed Xanadu however long ago. But his grin holds the same charm as it ever did when he greets Corwin at the door and turns to scan the room.
Bleys wanders in not far behind Garrett and moves to join Fiona (unless intercepted).
Edan appears at the door, then almost immediately turns and says something to the man behind him. It is a man in the unfamiliar livery of the Order of the Lamp, who takes the murmured instructions and leaves.
When Merlin and Marius arrive together, Brennan breaks off with whoever he's chatting with-- probably Fiona-- and makes his way over to Marius.
"Marius," he greets him. "How have you been? It seems there are fewer of us every time we have one of these gatherings, and I get the feeling we're all about to be pressed into service." By us, he means Knights of the Ruby, not Family members.
Marius gives Brennan a clasp that's more solid than it would have been when he arrived but probably less strong than Marius (or Brennan, for that matter) would like it to be. He's dressed in dark colors, navy and red, and wearing his Ruby ring as well. He's definitely gotten some color back, but he's never going to completely recover from the double-damage done to him, Brennan can see. "I'm hoping I'll be considered fit for duty, even if it's not on the front lines. How are you doing? I've been hearing things and seeing paperwork from the Knights, but it's not the same as the stories of what's happening in the field."
Brennan is more distressed-- close to stricken-- by Marius' continued ill-health than he allows to show on his face. But he'll address that later, and gingerly, if at all.
Instead, he gives Marius the thumbnail sketch of things, less a blow by blow account than a filling in of the details that wouldn't make it into the reports and rumors because they're only suitable for Family ears. Marius is no fool and he's had plenty of time to worry over details in his head. Brennan is perfectly aware that he is mostly confirming guesses rather than adding actual knowledge: The trip to Avalon, the nature of the place, etc.
Where he slows to add detail are the parts that he, Brennan, still finds most interesting, and the parts that he expects Marius will find most interesting. The former include the odd and tragic business of Cameleopardis which still greatly bothers him, and the strange and unexplained business of Montage and hypothetical Moire. The latter is every scrap of detail he can recall about the naval situation, from daily life aboard Crisp's ship, to the mustering of the Maghee fleet, to the overall naval situation in Avalon... such as they can get into without drawing it out on the dinner table. The new island, of course, constitutes both.
"That's ... a lot," Marius says. He looks up and catches that Signy has come in, and tries to meet her gaze for a moment before turning his attention back to Brennan. "We'll want to get out the sand table later, or tomorrow, or maybe we should bring it to the family gathering. And whether it's Moire or not, we've got a powerful sorceress at play. Someone needs to put a stop to her. Or find out who and what she is. Do we have any word of Saeth since she came to this side of things? It couldn't be her involved here because of the timing. Could it?"
"Imagine my rapturous anticipation of telling Benedict that there's a new invasion platform right off his coast," Brennan says. "Then again, he might like it. Hard to say."
"I have no recent news of Saeth. If you're saying she's on this side of the Tree, your information is more recent than mine," Brennan continues, inviting some elaboration on that. "What makes you think to mention her in this context? Your thinking this Montage is a shapeshifter?"
Marius looks around. "I have that from Caine, by way of Vere through Gerard. Part of how I keep useful to Random is keeping up with Caine." He smiles, thinly. "We are hard to kill, but it's going to be a long time before I'm back to my old self, if ever." He sounds somewhat sad, although he doesn't seem as resigned to his losses as Gerard.
"Anyway, there was some sort of altercation and suddenly Saeth is a teenaged runaway off to find her way in Order, where her Daddy can't go searching for her without a license from Random. Sounds like a B-movie plot, I know, but either she's out there being more dangerous than we expect or she's out there in more danger than we expect. So far, it's been on the list of 'someone should look into that when we find more time', but if she's raising the dead in Amber or Avalon or helping Moire, she moves further towards 'problem to be taken care of'."
"No reason it can't be both," Brennan says-- dangerous and in danger.
"I guess I'll add it to the list of explanations for this Montage, along with some weird Tir-like time-trick, some weird time-bendy Sorcery by Dara, some overly complex scheme involving cleph or Dara or both as shapeshifters, an unknown older relative of Montage, an unknown older shadow of Montage, and the ever popular, 'Something so bizarre none of us have figured it out, yet.'" Out of respect for Martin, Brennan does not add, "Montage was never really dead," to that list. He sighs and scrubs a hand through his hair, "So that's where all that stands. I left Firumbras in charge, and he seems pretty solid, but all hell is poised to break loose. Could be breaking loose even now."
Picking up on Marius' mention of his recovery, Brennan asks quietly, "How are you, Marius?" Eye contact is strong enough to be no bull-sh!t, hopefully without rising to aggression: Talk to me, Marius, now or later.
Marius laughs. It's loud and not unkind. "How the hell should I know? I went mad, which is no picnic, and then I was bled almost to death. Would've been the death of most people.
"The weirdest part is that I felt like being mad gave me a way to retreat and survive that second thing. I like to think that not everyone would've survived those Gatwegan bleeders. But how am I? Dunno, but I don't think that which did not kill me has made me stronger, yet..."
Brennan nods, sadly. "However you did it, Marius, I am glad you survived. If you want to talk about it-- now, later, whenever, I won't press-- I'll listen."
"Maybe some other time," Marius says, and he's not being unkind, but as Brennan well knows, this is not the venue. "My sister has arrived," he adds by way of changing the subject. "I'll have to talk to her later. Perhaps at Edan's demonstration. Do you have it in mind to do something similar with our knights?"
Brennan nods his understanding and, as promised, drops the topic.
"You anticipate me, actually," Brennan says. "I took the liberty of informing our Knights that their presence at Edan's elevation tonight is not optional, but mandatory. A show of solidarity and shared purpose, if not shared command structure, seems appropriate. But that begs the question-- and I wish Lilly were here, too-- how do we three operate without stepping on each others' toes? What do we want our Order to be?
"Here is what we have: Twenty-six men and women. We have officers, Jovian's flyers to take care of until he returns, at least one former peer and a crop of extraordinarily talented commoners. Their common thread is they all followed us from Amber to about as far a human being can exist, and they did not merely live to tell about it, but thrived all in different ways from their separate talents." Brennan is counting Dignity, but not Cloudeater. "We also have three Knights Commander, for now. Four, someday, when Jovian comes back, and who knows how Saeth will fall out." Brennan makes a 'later' gesture for that.
"So here is my vision: A small, tightly knit order of experts, of fixers, of talent, of lieutenants. An order of force-multipliers in numbers small enough to move quickly through Trumps, or by ship, or embed into larger operations. Or even, some of them, delegate smaller tasks to. Moreover, not three-- or four or five-- mini-orders each reporting to one of us, but a shared pool of talent for all of us. How does this strike you?"
Marius nods as he takes all of this in. "Madness is a refuge, and Jovian will take a long time to come back from it. Lilly is supposed to be joining us tonight or tomorrow, so we can hash things out in more detail, but this seems a good plan to me. You and Lily will be field commanders and I'll handle court matters for the nonce. And possibly act as roving ambassador, as needed?"
"For the nonce," agrees Brennan.
"I wanted to talk this over with you and Lilly before fully committing to it, but Edan has a very different vision for his Order: Something closer to the nature of a brigade, larger but more regular than what I proposed. But when I asked him what help the Ruby he could offer, he requested a small cadre of officers to help train them, which is," Brennan smiles, "the role I saw our people filling. And when I return to Avalon, I'll want a similar force for the Maghee. Here's what I was thinking...."
Brennan runs down his initial ideas for loans to Edan and people to bring back to Avalon. The most vital, as he sees it, are Sir Crow the cavalryman and Sir License the strategist for Edan-- they'll be ideal for the skills Edan wants to bring out his his Order. And Dame Pebble for her organizational skill which Brennan is convinced the Maghee value highly enough, and Dame Jennet because he expects a lot of the Maghee lore will be buried in their music. And frankly, it's a shot in the dark, but something similar might be true of Firumbras and his weird, ancient Paris, Tir and Rebma. The rest all have their purposes, but those four Brennan considers critical.
Brennan does not insult Marius' intelligence by pointing out that each group is drawn from the candidates of multiple Knights Commander, or that those two cadres are still less than half their total force, leaving ample resources for he and Lilly to draw on at need. But he does ask what he thinks of the selections.
Marius nods and hmmms and generally indicates his approval for the plans Brennan has in mind. "Do we know what order Firumbras belongs to?" he adds as Brennan winds down. "I mean, presently. Are we looking at another Order that we might want to liaise with across kingdom lines? Or that Edan might?"
"Well that's a damn good question," Brennan says. "And there's Fletcher's Order of the Unicorn and Martin's Order of the Card, too. But Firumbras... I don't know what order he was part of, or if his presence constitutes a re-foundation of it. About all I know of his past is that he was born in Tir, as far I know," he pauses just a beat to let that one register, "was a contemporary of Rebma's Lir but that Cneve was apparently after his time-- if those are two different people-- and that he was a member of the Court of King Carol of Paris."
Marius blinks a couple of times at the news that Firumbras is a Tir native.
Brennan gives a characteristic frown of frustration. "The only reason I haven't picked his brain clean is a lack of opportunity-- turns out, keeping the Maghee forces in line is several full time jobs."
"They do seem to be something of a pain in your ass from the way you tell that story. Firumbras is too interesting of an asset to be left with them for long. And in any case, it sounds as if there's a climax to their bardic history imminent. Assuming they survive it, what do you mean to do with them?" That they will need something done with them or to them and that it is Brennan's to do goes without saying on Marius' part.
Brennan touches his nose when Marius mentions the Maghee's bardic history-- it's one reason he wants Dame Jennet on hand.
"Pains in my ass they may be," he says, "but they've survived centuries in the crucible of Avalon on their own, with no support, no patronage, no lands, not even part of the Protector's network of alliances. There's a certain bone-deep stubbornness that appeals. What can I say, they grew on me. And I feel a certain debt to Cameleopardis' memory, so I'll do what I can to provide them a home. Their bardic history, as you say, has already provided them a new island-- one whose ruins fascinate me-- although Benedict may have something to say about that.
"And when the day inevitably comes that the Moonrider War enters its next phase," he shrugs eloquently, "They'll owe me a favor."
Brennan eschews a lot of their Uncles' habits, but one he cultivates is having multiple reasons for doing things.
"Ah, so you mean to follow Bleys' method of accumulating favors for later alliance purposes," Marius says with a smile. "Perhaps we should appoint you roving ambassador as well. Let's hope we can leave them for the Moonriders and don't have to spend them on the Eye in Pyramid."
Brennan smiles as if to say that even Bleys has some good ideas.
Then the smile dims and goes out. "Eye in the Pyramid," he repeats. "That's the second time I've heard that phrase today. Regenlief used it before, too. This is another name for the Klybesians, yes? What does it mean, exactly?"
"It's the sign they use in some parts of Shadow. Like this," Marius says, and sketches a simple device in the air with his fingers.
"Obviously some of the art is much more elaborate."
Brennan gives a non-committal grunt, obviously trying to scan more than five centuries of memories for something he hadn't even been aware of, all in the space of a few seconds while talking to Marius. "Ominous-looking thing. Is it supposed to be a real place, a real structure, do you think?"
Marius shrugs. "Not one that I know of, but if I made it my symbol several millennia ago, I might build one along the way. You're from the pyramid culture, I'm sure you have better ideas what they symbolize than I do."
"Human sacrifice, where I come from," Brennan says with a dour expression. Brennan's dislike of his home shadow is well-enough known that his reluctance to say more is probably not surprising.
Crossing the space, Celina stops short a respectable distance from Merlin, being very aware of his worries about physical moments. Celina turns her biggest smile on him, "Well, if I promise not to squeeze hard, can I hug you? I was getting worried at your absence."
"Of course, sister," Merlin says. Celina notes Silhouette arriving in style.
Celina winks at Paige and moves gently into Merlin's arms. She holds him, solidly, for too short a time by her lights. Then she steps back, tamping down her emotions. "I was more worried than I thought. It is good to see you, so good, I'm not going to quiz you about your interesting times in absence. Thank you for allowing the hug. Anything Rebma should know about in the short term?"
Celina gives a small hand wave to Signy to show everything is all right now.
Merlin's response to hugs is perhaps less enthusiastic than Celina might hope, but he has learned the skill of hugging back. "Nothing that will not wait until tomorrow. I meant to work on Trumps, but I have been busy. I have not had time." Merlin lowers his voice. "My father had me scouting for the Moonriders."
"And you are here now as testament as to how skillfully you scouted them and brought back news," Celina nods. She totally isn't going to think about having to rescue a hostage of the Moonriders. Nope. "I still would like to see how you portray me in Trump, so when you have time, I can pose again if you like."
"I will be glad to. I plan to take some time to create Trumps, if the allotment of duty permits. I think we will need more of them than we have." It's not exactly a confession but perhaps an honest assessment of whatever he's heard from Corwin and the other elders he's been speaking to as part of his assignment. "Have you spoken to our father recently?"
"Yes, we have spoken more in the past few weeks, than my entire life," Celina answers in kindly tone. "And I'll have a word with him before the formal Family gather to hear about Vialle's womb. Any particular reason to ask?"
"I am told," says Merlin, "that it is the sort of small talk question I should ask at events like this. Contrary to family habit, it is not a particular attempt to elicit special information you may have from him due to your rank." That little smile would be a smirk on anyone else's face, but Merlin is doing his best to hold on to his eternal choirboy expression. He lowers his voice. "I have been told that Vialle and Random are reproducing after the Ordered manner, that they will remain the same even though they have reproduced. I am not sure I truly believe this yet, because it does seem sometimes that we inherit heavily from the essences of our parents."
Celina chuckles with a big smile at Merlin's description of 'small talk'.
Celina resists the urge to gather him in again. His thoughts about essence of parental flavor have echoed in her head often enough. "Well, here's the thing, while Random and Vialle will be the same, they will find they must change in response to the responsibility. They will not turn out to be good parents if they do not change. I expect that is something Oberon did not know or disagreed with." She glances at Signy, Silhouette, and back to Merlin. "I am changing. I am not the girl I was. There will be a time soon when I have to think much more about having an heir myself."
Merlin's eyes get big for a moment before he remembers either not to do that or that she really doesn't think she's going to produce an heir by fission. "I see." He lowers his voice and moves in a little to ask, "Do you have a sire in mind for the heir?"
Celina keeps a poker face, "Well, I've narrowed the possibles to nine but the only one I've asked turned me down."
"Is there any potential sire you require my assistance in gathering in to ask?" Merlin says, very seriously.
Celina tries to avoid getting choked up, and gives herself a moment to absorb Merlin's generosity. She sets her face and body language to be as clear as possible, she sees the humor of this subject working both for and against her and her brother, so she keeps a steady, welcoming stance. She leans a couple finger-widths closer to him, "If someone does get onto the list, that I think you would be able to inspire to see things my way, I will certainly come ask you. As yet, no one that formidable is on the list," Celina takes and squeezes his hand in lieu of a big kiss in front of everyone.
Probably the hand squeeze is better than the kiss. "What qualities are you looking for? I am not an expert in dealing with Ordered reproduction, but I would like to help you with this if I can. Also I am given to understand that is the right of a brother to challenge a man who dishonors his sister. If this applies to the man who turned you down, I will gladly undertake to restore your honor."
"You have been schooled in Amber ways, but not Rebma," Celina replies warmly and easily, "Most women would allow a brother to assist such dishonor to Family but not undertake the responsibility alone. And there was none in this case. I knew it was an 'outside chance' when I asked the man, as his heart is lost to another. I thought to elevate him in status where he might more easily impress his Love. It was not to be."
Celina continues with much pause, "But certainly since you show an interest, I will share my thoughts and we can plan things together. The first quality I want," she moves to the sideboard slowly enough for Merlin to see she wants to share away from close ears, "is a great intelligence and curiosity. A flexibility of mind, if you will. Secondly, a sense of common worth in balance and order, something I might call intuition in the rightness of things."
Celina looks to see what Merlin makes of these first two comments.
Merlin progresses along with her, his voice staying low and soft, not that they couldn't be overheard but certainly letting that be a signal that he's not interested in anyone joining their conversation. "Do you mean to seek the father among people in the more distant royal bloodine? I mean, I myself am too close even if I had the qualities you seek, but cousins in the half blood seem to be acceptably distant for siring. Not that many of them will necessarily have the intuition you seek."
Celina shifts the line of discussion just a little, "I had not thought Family was acceptable to anyone. With Khela I did not know what I had gotten into. Half-blood cousins such as?" She wonders what half-blood means to Chaos.
"Robin and Vere are cousins in the full blood and their fathers seem to accept their liaison. Though I am given to understand that they are not allowed to spawn." Merlin's mouth goes crooked while he considers this. "But I was thinking more of Cambina and Brennan or ... Martin and Folly. Martin has been allowed free reign with his creation of heirs, and Folly is of the Royal blood, though Julian only shares a father with Random. So half-blood, is how this was explained to me. And the same distance between Corwin and Random, for him and my mother."
"I see. That is a variant on how I have heard the term used. I think I like yours better." Celina smiles at the wall, but it is Rebma she sees, a City that should be saved from broken love. "We are so much alike will we ever have the time?"
Celina looks at Merlin and realizes she just spoke out loud. Too many nights of wicked dreams catching up with her, she thinks.
"You have the qualities. I noticed when first we met. Then I found out we were sibs and the fire went out. The prowess of Family and the dazzling range of ways I am drawn to various 'half blood' therein is not much of a cure if Rebma finds no Order in it. But since I'm not making progress with my heart these days, perhaps I need an arranged marriage scheme. Or maybe my fate lies elsewhere." She feels Merlin will only be confused if she continues to talk about her heart and hopes. She then tries to change topic.
"No news on your mother's schemes?"
Merlin is many things, but adept at hiding his discomfort with regards to human or nonhuman birthing practices is not one of them. He is relieved to change the subject. "I am hoping Prince Benedict has some news of her, as I think he meant to look into the matter. Or else Lilly or Fletcher might be here as his envoys and know the state of the investigation.
"Given that she is out there, I worry that I do not see Meg here."
"Indeed," Celina does not put three-quarters of her worries about Meg into the word. "Let's ask Fletcher then." She motions towards him. "He just glanced our way."
Merlin nods. "Of course."
Signy looks up from her spot over at the bar as the two new arrivals make their entrances. A crisp, white linen shirt is tucked into black pants, their understated formality only moderately marred by the rather well worn leather boots. Her wavy hair is pulled back and perfunctorily secured by a black leather band.
"Hello, Silhouette. It's been a while."
Silhouette dips her head, smiling softly. "A lifetime, as it were. You're looking far less... sooty than last we met." She punctuates this with a wry grin.
"Have you continued working in the forge? Or have our more proper cousins dragged you from its soothing flame?"
From across the room, Marius, who is deep in conversation with Brennan, tries to catch Signy's eye. He does not break free to join her, but he has clearly noticed her and would like to speak with her at some point.
Signy catches the glance from Marius and gives a quick smile in his direction to acknowledge the request before turning back to Silhouette.
"Yes, I've been working on things that don't need a forge so much," she says with a slight air of sadness. "Finer work sometimes gives me a headache."
She produces a small, silvery sphere and hands it over to Silhouette. It's unadorned, but faint lines show how it can be spun so that you can shift along almost any desired axis. "I was working on something for Ambrose. I think I've got most of the mechanics, but making it actually do what's needed requires something with magic that for some reason I cannot seem to quite grasp."
She sighs quietly, before dropping the problem. "What have you been up to lately?"
Silhouette sits down, holding the sphere delicately in her hand. "I've been on a reconnaissance mission for the Crown. Crazed cults, sludge monsters, and technomagically-inclined monks. The usual for our family, from what I gather. Quite invigorating." Her voice remains decidedly plaid.
She draws a jeweler's spectacle from her jacket pocket and puts it on. Fascinated, she turns the sphere over, examining it closely. "Exquisite work," she admits. "Are you employing some sympathetic or theurgic principals to invoke the magical response? One issue most Constructs suffer from is mana-bleed. They simply cannot produce and store the power require for their designated task. An issue exacerbated by the dampening effects of our local."
Signy gives a mirthless grin. "I have a feeling I know of the monks you're talking about."
She hooks a chair with her foot and scoots it a little closer, and perches on the edge, her knees close to touching Silhouette's. "So I'm using a technique that's termed 'close my eyes and wing it.'"
She gives a rueful smile. "I sort of ended my apprenticeship before I got to that part, and am trying to teach myself a lot."
Silhouette offers a soft smile, nodding. "If you have not done so already, I strongly advise you to undergo the trial of walking the Pattern at the earliest opportunity. The insights provided by the experience have been invaluable to my work. The ability to perceive and, thus, overcoming restrictive paradigms will be benefit you greatly."
Turning the sphere over, she runs her fingertips over its surface, almost sensually. "My arcane training may differ from yours, but I may be able to help. What was your intention with this artifact?"
Signy resists the urge to flinch.
"Oh, I've already had that pleasure. I don't regret it, but I certainly don't intend to repeat the experience any time soon."
Silhouette glances up; her forest-shadow eyes flickering with empathy. "Indeed. The experience is most... transformative."
She turns her attention to the sphere in Silhouette's hand.
"It's basically a translation device, where somehow the magic that is bound to the originals allows you to translate writing. The language is...weird. Hard to understand, I've spent a lot of time learning it and I am probably able to speak it at the level of a five year old. Maybe six."
She pauses, for a second, before finishing. "Unfortunately it's Magic, so it has to be kept well away from places like Xanadu or Rebma."
Silhouette nods, smiling. "Utilizing magick for computational linguistics can be both a boon and a burden. On the positive side, it can provide you with rapid - and generally accurate - symbolic and syntactic overview of the language. However, the core of magick is rule-based, thus it operates on statistical and rule-based translation methodologies. This approach while effective is invariably flawed, as it ignores the linguistically subtext. Cultural perception shapes linguistic typology and idioms, as well as produces anomalies. Only by understanding the culture's nature can you interpret their language's hidden truths. This becomes increasingly significant with written language, as orthography may vary between samples due to personality and physiology."
She offers the sphere back to Signy, "How many samples of writing have you assessed with this item?"
Signy gives a defeated sigh. "None. I can't quite seem to get it. I either bind... something, but the translation reads like a drunken game of Telephone through a dozen Shadows or more that's been written down by someone that's never seen a pen before, or it just slips away at the final binding."
"I figured this might be a good place to talk to some of the others in the Family, and see what they have to say."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "Of course. But, please, seek me out after this. I would enjoy experimenting with this project. Perhaps together, we can unlock the sphere's potential, yes? I believe it is an important concept and can be most useful in our family's current endeavors."
Signy nods, thankful that she's at least got one other person that might be able to help her out with this.
"So, what about your adventures, like your run-in with the Monks? Have you had a chance to talk with Brother Tomat about what you saw and experienced? The Queen says he's here as part of the Rebman retinue, but I just heard about it now and haven't had a chance to see him or let him know I'm here."
She feels a couple of knots that she wasn't aware she had in her shoulders start to unkink as the tension of not having any real progress on Brand's Wheels starts to lift a little.
Silhouette touches her arm, as light as a warm breath. "You must strip yourself of your worries, Signy. They do nothing but poison your mind and blind you to Enlightenment."
The touch lingers for a moment before retreating. "As to your question, no. Ossian and I have only just returned. I also had Circumstances to address. So, I have yet to relay our findings to anyone. As for Brother Tomat, I am surprised that he has been brought into the Queen's confidence. I would have thought he'd executed by now. Or incarcerated, at the very least. It is dangerous to have him here."
Signy blinks a couple of times in surprise. "I understand the need to make sure that he is who he presents himself as, but I'm a little surprised. I've not seen anything that would make me doubt his word to me...."
Her voice trails off, inviting Silhouette to fill in the details that she may have missed.
"This brotherhood appears to understand cross-Shadow communication," Silhouette says. "We cannot be certain of their full capabilities. I do not know if that would extend here, but the chance exists. Also, if the Klybesians reacquired him, Tomat will prove to be a source of information about the Family, even if he does not wish it."
She dips her head, "I've only met him briefly, though. Perhaps he has earned your trust genuinely. Perhaps things have changed while I was away."
Signy looks surprised at this.
"Cross-Shadow? How? Tomat taught me Sorcery, do they have people that powerful?"
"Of that, I am uncertain at this point," Silhouette admits. "Their technology is rather peculiar. But they appear quite capable, indeed. The computer network Ossian and I encounter was generations beyond the shadow we were in, for example."
Signy sighs, before turning back to the more immediate concern. "I'm afraid that he would have been in trouble no matter what, just because of his link to my father and I. His being here keeps him away from them, and hopefully safe."
To this, Silhouette lightly nods. "I empathize, truly. My own arrival was wrought with paranoia and distrust, considering my previous dealings with Huon. However, I was eventually brought into the Family's confidence. For that reason alone, I shall bow to your better judgement concerning Tomat."
She leans forward, "Forgive me, but I am still unclear as to your association with him."
Whatever will be said on that topics at least momentarily in abeyance. The conversation between Fiona and Paige appears to have paused for a moment, and then there's a shimmer in the air and Fiona is bringing through Raven, Jerod, a young man whom nobody recognizes, and last, but not least, Brita. They're all straight from the field: dirty, blood-streaked, and stinking of exertion and carnage.
At the same time, the door opens and Ambrose lets Gerard wheel in. Gerard takes in the scene and says, "Well. Looks like you've arrived just in time for dinner."
Signy looks at Silhouette, and shrugs. "It's a long story. The summary is that he was my tutor and the closest thing to a friend I had for a long time, and he also brought my brother to me against the Monk's wishes."
Silhouette nods, "Then you owe him a debt. And not even the gods can interfere with that."
Signy looks over, noticing that her brother seems to be no longer the center of attention in his current circle. "If you don't mind, I actually do want to catch up with him."
She glances at Brita, remembering the chain they brought back from rescuing the Queen, and makes a mental note to chat with her at some point tonight as well.
Silhouette follows her gaze and then offers a polite smile. "Of course. Give him my regards. As always, it is a pleasure speaking with you." She lightly graces Signy's hand with the lightest touch. "May the forge within burn bright until next we meet."
Conner is pouring a half shot of pale green liquid carefully down the back of spoon to form the last layer of his drink.
"Good day, Ossian. What is your artist's opinion on this?" Conner asks with a satisfied smile gesturing at the finished cocktail.
"Considering that you haven't mixed fluids to make precisely the nuances you would want, the color composition is... striking. Layers carry a lot of symbolism, which can be a feature or not." Ossian smiles "But compared to most drinks it definitely passes as a work of art. Personally I like that the work is perishable, it adds to the value that we can only see it until you have consumed it."
The he shrugs, lifting his wine glass. "There is not much to do with wine."
"Aside from consume it of course." Conner observes. "There is a place for utility after all." Conner carefully raises his glass so as to not disturb the layers. "I've always liked making these. You have to pour each layer so carefully. It is almost a meditation if you focus right. And if the creation doesn't relax you, drinking it may." Conner chuckles. "Some say you should insert a straw and enjoy each layer separately. I much prefer to see how all the flavors mix. To your health." Conner salutes Ossian and knocks back his drink in a few long swallows. Conner sighs in satisfaction and takes out a handkerchief to dab away a bit of bright red grenadine from his face. "So, what have you been up to since I've seen you last?"
Ossian grins. "I and various cousins have been involved in a hunt with the Klybesians. Who is hunter and huntee is quite unclear."
"You have also encountered them, haven't you?"
Conner shakes his head no. "Aside from Signy's man Tomat which has joined the Archivists of Rebma, I've had no direct contact with the Klybesians." Conner takes his cocktail glass and pours a bit of white wine into it. "I suspect some of the information brokers I've used in shadows to have ties or dealings with them though."
"I think it is safe to assume they have." Ossian says glumly. "When I came to Amber I learned to look for traces of Brand in everything in my history. Now I have learned that I should have looked for traces of the damn monks instead."
Conner swirls his cocktail glass and watches the grenadine bleed into it. "They have been that intertwined with your life?" Conner asks. "What have you learned?"
"That they pop up anywhere in Shadow where any of us have been. That they kidnapped me when I was newborn. And that they have found their own way of cross shadow communication." Ossian’s mouth twitches.
"Kidnapped you wh..." The rest of the sentence is lost as Conner's jaw locks. Conner takes a deep breath and drains his wine glass. "So they were responsible for your fosterage in Abford? I wonder if they knew of Meg and if Huon knew of them. Perhaps Abford needs a closer look."
"We don’t know how much of my upbringing they were responsible for, but yes, Abford. And Huon is known to have had contact with the Klybesians. " Ossian says. "Do we even know who placed Meg there?"
"I do not believe it is known." Conner replies. "The orphanage was gifted with a bracelet of Rebman make to pay for Meg's upkeep. With Martin claiming Meg as his daughter, he would be the most likely suspect but his announcement of her parentage sounded like it was newly discovered knowledge. Dara lays claim to her as well. Perhaps it was she." Conner shrugs. "Another knot in the skein. What is this about cross shadow communication? Have they Trump artists among them?"
Ossian lowers his voice. "I bet they are trying to make Trumps. But we found a computer network... Not my expertise that, but it seemed to run between shadows."
Conner's eyes widen slightly. "A cross-shadow computer network?" He echoes. "That must have been years in the making. It is difficult enough getting computers to talk to each other within the same shadow. But the real question is how you would send a signal between them without a real power behind it. Natural shadow paths might work for a conduit. I would love to see this for myself."
"We will investigate this, most likely." Ossian says. "But somehow I suspect all their shadow paths are not natural. Have you heard of any interference from the monks in Rebma?"
Conner shakes his head no. "I've been traveling so I don't have the latest news but there was nothing along those lines when I left. Frankly we were all more worried about whether Huon would continue to behave, if Moire would appear out of nowhere with an army, or if the Trtons would suddenly turn on us at the commands of the Dark Mother."
"The Dark mother? I don't think I have heard of her. Although I and Brita saw some strange things when we were down there."
"I am not sure she exists honestly." Conner admits. "Tritons call themselves Sons of the Dragon and revere the Dragon of Rebma as their Mother who bestows gifts of power and knowledge upon them. They abide by the treaty laid down between the Dragon and Rebma and seek to keep the peace." Conner pours a bit more wine for himself. "There is apparently a sect considered heretical by most Tritons that worship the Dark Mother. They essentially feel that believes that the current worship of the Mother is weak and corrupted and that weakness is why they lost the battle with Rebma. They also believe that blood sacrifice is the way to worship the Mother Dragon. We are concerned that there are members of this sect among the Tritons in Rebma but really have no way to sniff them out aside from hope that self policing still works among their community."
Ossian frowns. "I am confused. Do you mean that the Dark Mother is an aspect of the Dragon? Sounds troubling."
"Unclear at this time." Conner shrugs. "It could be a separate entity, two personalities of the Mother, or a delusion of the Cultists who need a justification for disobeying."
"By symmetry, where is the Xanadu dragon?"
"I suspect that Xanadu has inherited the Dragon of Arden in the same way that it now links to Tir. I am told that Broceliande has paths to Arcadia and other parts of the Deep Green." Conner looks across the room at Paige. "We could always ask her Warden, I suppose."
Across the room, the conversation between Fiona and Paige appears to have paused for a moment, and then there's a shimmer in the air and Fiona is bringing through Raven, Jerod, a young man whom nobody recognizes, and last, but not least, Brita. They're all straight from the field: dirty, blood-streaked, and stinking of exertion and carnage.
At the same time, the door opens and Ambrose lets Gerard wheel in. Gerard takes in the scene and says, "Well. Looks like you've arrived just in time for dinner."
Ossian leans closer to Conner. "I might want to consult the cards regarding the Klybesians later. Would you like to join me?"
Edan meets with Corwin and Julian first, not mentioning anything about his time in Arden, but is as pleasant as he can be with both of them.
"Uncle Corwin," he makes sure to say, "we only met briefly in Paris. It is good to meet you again."
"Edan!, glad you're back." Corwin reaches out, earth-style, to shake his hand. "Julian, have you met Bleys' son? Such an interesting story."
"I have not," replies Julian. "But Hannah thinks highly of him." Julian's bow is a perfect courtly greeting from an uncle to his elder brother's son. One might think he had been in the Land of Peace.
Corwin says, "In the absence of Random, and the absence of others, it's "family rules" tonight, Edan. You don't need to call me Uncle Corwin unless you want to remind me that I'm old."
Julian smiles, just a bit. It's not clear if this is pleasant for him or not.
Edan bows as well, and makes some pleasant conversation with both men; but once Hannah enters the room, it is clear that he's distracted.
Hannah arrives at the door just after Bleys. She's quite pregnant and she's carrying the baby far-forward on her tiny frame. "Garrett, can you help me over to the couch?" She asks, holding out her arm. "And tell me what you've been up to these past few months."
"Hannah! Of course!" Garrett gasps, quickly offering an arm for her to hold onto. He settles her onto the nearest couch, propping pillows as needed to adjust to her rounded frame and trying not to stare. "What I've been doing pales in comparison, for certain," he laughs, "but before I give you the very long story, can I get you something?" He nods toward the bar and the bounty of food.
Hannah demurs. "If I drink anything else, I'll pop. My bladder isn't used to so much pressure. Really, this isn't difficult, just annoying. I've birthed plenty of babies for other people and if I didn't have to be here now, I'd be out doing so now. I spent longer in Shadow than I intended, but I hear that's the way of it." She smiles. "Don't let me stop you if you need fuel for the furnace."
"All right. Be right back," he nods. He's not gone long, but in that short time, he somehow manages to fill a plate with a wide selection of finger foods AND find himself a beer.
"You're sure you're not hungry?" Garrett asks when he returns, offering Hannah her choice of the vast selection on the plate. "My ma always was when she was with child. You learned always to come armed with bannocks or fruit when you came near her," he grins.
She makes a little face that makes it clear that she doesn't, in fact, want any food. "No, not right now. An hour ago, I stuffed my face. Have you ever been to a shadow with space travel, Garrett? We went to one when we were chasing after Solange. I thought it would be great for the baby, but they were horrified that I'd left the earth and described in detail why birthing needs gravity.
"But I may go back that way in a few days to take advantage of the water birthing facilities. It's a lot easier if you're in the water, apparently."
"Is it? I've never heard of that. Short of whales, that is," Garrett says, setting the plate on a side table, but not before grabbing a few bits of cheese for himself.
"No, I don't think I've been to a shadow like that. Not that I know of, anyway. 'Space... travel' doesn't sound familiar." He stumbles a bit over the words, but adds brightly, "But you were chasing Solange. Did you find her?" Garrett apparently has fond memories of this particular cousin.
"No, she wasn't where we'd last heard of her. We did find out that she'd been in jail on a space ship. I don't think Paige will let her live that down. Space is easy. You know of other worlds that you get to by walking, either spirit walking or pattern walking? Space is like that, except the other worlds are very far away."
"That sounds amazing," Garrett says, an air of awe creeping into his voice. "I haven't gone anywhere that's very... odd yet. Not on my own anyway. I've been spending some time traveling in Shadow, but was trying to do it sort of methodically. You know, change a thing or two and wander around a bit in the world where that took me, then try it again.
"Though it's hard to tell how far away you've gone, isn't it?" he continues. "Sometimes I thought I hadn't gone far but time got real messed up."
"The windows of the ship were exciting, then not very exciting. It's not like a sea-voyage where you can go on deck. Imagine, it like a ship that has to go under the sea from port to port. That's how I think of it."
Hannah shifts on the couch and her baby kicks a few times and then is quiet. She breathes easier when it stops.
"I spent most of my time studying. And trying to figure out how it all worked. It was extremely quiet in higher planes. I was sad for the people who were there. It seems they were even more disconnected from the spirit worlds than my Easterners."
Garrett cocks his head inquisitively. "I've heard you speak of spirit worlds before, but I'm not sure I understand. Are they like the Shadow worlds we walk through when we shift? Or something more... um, spiritual?" He asks, apparently uncertain that he has chosen the right word.
Hannah sits still for a second. "My original understanding of shadows was that they were just a different kind of spirit realm.
"In my experience, 'spirit' is actually a bad name for them, because being spiritual is just the same in all the worlds, but it's far too late to change it now. Imagine a place you can see if you concentrate, or see the entrance to. The blue world is the one I am closest to, and I was born there. My father was a chief of the tribe and my birth mother was your aunt. My other mothers raised me, because the blue world does not suit infants. I may take my child there, but I will not stay there.
"If you want to see it, I could take you, or my father could." Hannah grimaces but turns it into a smile. Her hand goes to her belly and she strokes it. "We should go soon."
"I would like to see the blue world, though I reckon, for me, it'll have to wait until after my father's big meeting and whatever comes of that," Garrett replies. "Just thinking, though. Didn't Red Fox Claws come from your world? Did you ever meet him?"
"I did meet him. He's a lot like a Ponca, but he's not from my world. He's from Signy's world, and was her war leader when she was trying to kill her dad and he her." She sighs. "That has to be a very fractured and damaged world. The warriors live completely apart from their spirit world and those who can manipulate the world's energy isolate themselves and fight constantly.
"I hope my home is never described thusly."
"I hope that too. Nor mine," Garrett says, with a chuckle as an afterthought, "though I understand it was so in Amber back in the old days. I want to be able to work side-by-side with my kin, not be looking over my shoulder in suspicion."
The conversation between Fiona and Paige appears to have paused for a moment, and then there's a shimmer in the air and Fiona is bringing through Raven, Jerod, a young man whom nobody recognizes, and last, but not least, Brita. They're all straight from the field: dirty, blood-streaked, and stinking of exertion and carnage.
At the same time, the door opens and Ambrose lets Gerard wheel in. Gerard takes in the scene and says, "Well. Looks like you've arrived just in time for dinner."
Hannah leans in to Garrett. "I wonder if that's a new cousin."
Robin and Vere appear in the doorway, arms linked and very much a couple. Robin is smiling and slightly flushed. Around her flutter her three little companions: polished, oiled and looking like they mean to be very *very* well behaved.
Robin’s hair is neatly tucked up under a dark green button hat. The beads and feathers of Robin’s usual rats-nest styling are now arranged in artful falls at the back of her head. Her face is clean and sparkling, no make-up is required to augment her already rosy cheeks and bright smile.
A soft suede vest in complementary kelly green cradles Robin’s… errr, endowments without trapping her or cutting off her breath. A plain but well-made peasant blouse with a higher collar picked out in green embroidery keeps everything civilized. Cocoa trousers, also of soft suede, hug the girl’s waist before dropping straight to the floor. The toes of serviceable but clean boots peek out from under the trousers’ hem.
An ornately brocaded belt wraps Robin’s waist holding a matching sheath at her hip. It’s a small knife, really. Only 8” or so.
Vere is his normal observant self as his eyes take in everything all at once.
Spotting Corwin, Julian and Edan near the door, the couple makes their way over to their host.
When Robin and Vere arrive, Brennan is in conversation with Marius. He does not break off the conversation but he does look up until he and Robin make eye contact. Evidently he would like to speak to her at some point this evening.
Robin nods back to Brennan in agreement but her quick grimace indicates while that she knows it must be important, she's also on a tight schedule tonight. Brennan may have to ambush her.
"Uncles," Vere says, giving a small bow to a spot halfway between Julian and Corwin. "And cousin," he nods to Edan.
"Your Majesty, Father, Edan." Robin nods to each.
And they to Robin, though Julian's nod is punctuated by a smile.
Then noticing the relative calmness of her firelizards, she looks confusedly to Edan. "Is Kyauta not joining us tonight?"
"Eh? Indeed, I have made Kyauta one of the Knights of the Lamp. My Knights are setting up the dance area now." Edan turns his attention more fully to Robin and her fair. "The accolade is well earned- Kyauta fought well and risked its own destruction in action against the Moonriders, for my sake. I also chose not to bring it to the dinner because it is still very young and inexperienced, and this is a Family gathering. I will not constantly have to be mindful of it. And our Family, they may speak easy, not having to worry about an unknown creature in their midst."
"Probably wise not to bring an affine to dinner where we might discuss family affairs, as it were," Corwin opines.
Julian shrugs as if the matter were of no moment, but his gaze rests momentarily on the firelizards, not hostilely, of course, but with a certain assessing look. "I suspect we'll leave most of that sort of talk until breakfast. Do we have a full head count for tonight? I think Benedict and Lilly are unfortunately going to miss this evening, but should be here in the morning. Gerard says Random has extended amnesty to Solange, but I haven't heard that she's arrived yet."
Vere lifts an eyebrow at that, and a moment later shakes his head and smiles very slightly. "Is there any word on whether the king will attend tonight?" he asks.
Robin bounces in happiness at the thought of amnesty for Solange and the thought that she might be coming home. Her eyes dart briefly over to the couch where Hannah and Garrett are chatting, it'll be good to have all the sisters... Wow, Hannah is really, really pregnant. Robin's green eyes glance back to her father, questioningly.
Corwin shakes his head in the negative. "He's not expected; Gerard asked me to take charge of dinner because I'm the senior of the brothers expected to be present by both age and rank."
"It will be disappointing if he doesn't show up tonight," Julian says, with some disapproval shading in his voice, at least to Robin's ears. "Though I know Benedict won't want to miss a martial display, and he's a more demanding judge than Random in these matters." He offers a nod to Edan.
"It's a good thing," Edan says, "that this isn't a new dance. Thankfully everyone has either participated for years or has had extensive practice."
Vere smiles slightly, but his eyes had followed Robin's and he also glances at Julian now.
"You'll have a good turnout, both family and the locals. The Mayor made sure to let the local gentry know their presence will be noted by the Royal family. I expect there to be a full house," Corwin says.
Julian adds, "There will be some Rangers as well, and some of Estimaxa's tribesmen. I suspect there will be a rush for all the knightly orders to put a showing on." He glances at Robin and tilts his head away from Corwin with raised eyebrows.
Robin shakes her head minutely. Never mind, she's letting herself get distracted.
"Sounds like fun," Robin says with some enthusiasm. She does enjoy a good dance. Roughly, she pulls herself back on track.
"Indeed," Vere agrees with another small smile.
"Majesty?" She says, addressing Corwin. "If you have time later this evening. I came across some things on my recent travels that I, well, I believe I need to inform you about. But they're not things for a public venue, even a public Family venue."
Edan's smile is benign, just listening, as if he figured there would be a lot of side-discussions and such here. The fireworks would be going off the next morning, he was sure.
"Very well. After Edan's exhibition, perhaps?" Corwin's regard of Robin is, as far as Vere and Edan can tell, purely cordial and avuncular. And interested in what she may have to report.
Robin nods. "That would be fine, thank you."
"I have something I need to attend to now, but thank you... gentlemen," she says widening her words to the entire circle of smiling men, "for allowing me to brace you." She nods to Corwin, Julian and Edan as she prepares to move off.
"Always a pleasure. I hope to see you at the dance," Edan says.
"And we can talk after the dance as well," Vere says to Edan. "Uncles." He nods to his elders as he offers Robin his arm.
Robin takes wonderful, wonderful Vere’s arm and with one more smile to the group, departs.
Edan has his own question for Corwin when the opportunity provides: "I heard that Paris is developing its own history, of sorts? One that did not exist before?"
Julian returns the nod with what amounts to a smile for them, and Corwin produces an actual one before turning back to Edan as they move off. "Perhaps you'll tell us a bit about what we're to see this evening," he suggests, by way of turning the topic on to something more interesting to Edan.
"Of course," Edan says. He's facing Hannah and Garrett, and as soon as he catches Hannah's eye he gives her a Look. I will speak to you later, is the message he sends, hoping she understands.
She either bent her neck to subtly signal him to come over, or else she has a crick in her neck. It’s hard to be sure.
"It is called the Echo dance," is what he says to Corwin and Julian. "I have seen iterations of it in Shadow, and years ago I developed a similar routine in the Land of Peace. My tribesmen got to beat on drums, and I could dance and swing swords. Some of my knights remember this dance, so we have the advantage of being well-rehearsed."
Corwin breaks into a smile. "Sword Dancing was quite popular in many cultures on the shadow I shared with Flora for so long. I always enjoy it. I think I will bring the head of my guard, Sir Lancelot, from Paris to see it. Did you know that some cultures considered sword dancing a way to talk to the spirits of the dead?"
Julian smiles, lightly. "I have found very little that some culture did not believe put then in touch with a higher power. We don't sword dance in Arden--"
"Naturally not," interrupts Corwin. "You'd get your sword stuck in a tree."
"We don't sword dance in Arden, but I, too, appreciate the acrobaticism."
Edan fights to keep a polite smile instead of caving to his amusement with a belt of laughter. Ah, comedy.
"I'm surprised there is not more dancing here in general," he says. "I saw a lot of it in Paris- the place seems almost made for it- but I expected to see more of it here in Xanadu. Then again, there has been much to keep us busy."
Corwin looks pleased at the thought of his own city. "Paris dances, because she has always been a city that danced. I think you might find that as the year turns warmer Random will want more dances. You may not know this, because of the hot spell we're in, but it's really Winter here, as it is in Paris."
Julian nods. "Summer promises to swelter. But the deep forests will be verdant and cool. Now, if you will excuse me, my drink needs tending to."
Corwin nods back, an equal amount.
Edan's bow to Julian is more pronounced. "A pleasure, Uncle. I hope our dance will entertain you."
Julian looks at his lithe nephew for a moment, considering briefly how to answer. "As do I, Edan. I shall be sure to let you know."
Fletcher enters the hall, attired in a casual suit and tie of black and green, with his scabbarded longsword slung over a shoulder, as usual. Careful observers may have noted that his selection of shoulder seems to rotate.
He greets Corwin warmly, and mentions that he hopes to catch up with him when Corwin's hosting duties permit.
Moving on he equips himself with a nearly-transparent cocktail and surveys the room. Spying Bleys, he crosses the floor and greets his distinguished uncle. "Well met sir. Robin tells me you made a bit of a find under the sea. I was wondering what your current theory was as to the significance of the sunken location and its 'etchings' as Robin called them. Was it truly a sunken land mass?
"She's modest," says Bleys, sipping his drink. "The discovery was hers, and she called me in to consult. We were opposed in the War, her father and I, but she has been trying to overcome her issues related to that. It actually makes me think Random is setting a good foundation for his kingdom.
"But," he says, taking another sip, "you wanted to know about her new Island. It was clearly magically suppressed ages ago, and may well have been part of Avalon. It would be worth going back in a generation or two and seeing if the channel is still there or if the islands have merged. It's an odd portmanteau of a shadow, having hosted Lir in the past, then Corwin, and now Benedict.
"I think if Benedict allows, I'll set up a research embassy there, to keep track of what happens. Who knows, it might detach itself and connect to Paris."
Fletcher nods, "The would indeed be remarkable. We only had a chance to speak briefly, and she was anxious to confer with Vere, but I was curious about the parts that remained from the previous inhabitants. She mentioned 'etchings' in the floor and said you had recognized some of the other features from before. What exactly were these etchings? Had they been there all along? And had Lir's tomb been known previously?"
"When a young lady offers to take you to see her etchings, it is a moral imperative to do so," Bleys says with a deadpan look that is only betrayed by his eyes. "What she meant by 'etchings in the floor' was that the main room of the tower, more than three actae across, was an unbroken slab of marble, with a delicate, filigreed tracery etched into the ground. In the areas that were not part of this pattern, there were tiles. Dozens had been removed to dig up a sepulcher, which had the characters LIR carved into it in ancient runes.
"When Corwin ruled there as Lord of the Silver Towers, it was not known to have been related to LIR, and there was no pattern in the ballroom. I'd've noticed."
Bleys pauses, but doesn't let Fletcher interrupt. "So, that makes it possible that Corwin was in a nearby shadow, but not exactly in Proto-Avalon or else something else is the case."
"Ah, thank you. I was having trouble reconciling the notion that multiple family members had accessed, 'Proto-Avalon' as you call it, or that magic of the magnitude needed to sink a land mass in such a proximity. You mentioned that it might somehow detach. Have you observed that sort of realignment before in a Real context? I can't help but wonder about the degree of similarity with Amber's current situation."
Bleys frowns. "Have you visited your Uncle Corwin, and seen his fine city? An amazing place, full of ancient temples, all dedicated to ladies, somehow, and tunneled under with the catacombs of fifty generations of dead Parisians? That there are now people who claim that ancestry, and people who can speak of a Paris that existed before Corwin did?
"As far as Xanadu is concerned, Corwin built Paris less than a year ago by laying a pattern on the bedrock in an uninhabited land that was not the home of the Franks."
Bleys brushes his hair back. "So, yes, re-alignment happens. Not to mention the Faella-Bionin.
"Besides, it's inherently possible in the math. Would you like to see the equations?"
"I thought you'd never ask," Fletcher replies as he sets down his drink and pulls out a leather-bound notebook. "I had some time to think about it while I was sailing in the arctic. I'd noticed the changes in Paris between my visits there, and of course some realignment had been proven possible empirically. My calculations didn't seem to indicate that a piece of Avalon could separate from the from it. Perhaps I've failed to account for something. Maybe an aspect of the Faella's Gift." He flips through pages of equations and diagrams, pointing out high points to Bleys before arriving at a fresh page.
Bleys pulls a pair of reading glasses out of a pocket. "Joys of being a grandfather, no one thinks it eccentric if I magnify what I'm reading." He points to different parts of the page. "Her Gift connects the realms, and makes the distancing of the realms that Dworkin warned about more difficult, but it re-configures itself. Rebma connected to Amber, but now it connects to Paris. And look at Xanadu. It wasn't here, so it wasn't affected by the Sundering, and yet it's attached to the Bionin and connected to Tir."
He looks over the reading glasses at an equation. "Did you devise this notation or did you learn it somewhere? It's not what Dworkin taught, but it's not wrong..."
Bleys takes out a pencil and sharpens it to a razor-fine point. "Let me just point out a few features of the sixth equation..." He moves to a side table and begins explaining. Bleys seems very smart, but this is crazy math. How, for instance, can a certain equation be the same thing as Corwin's sword, and why is that different from the sword Bleys is wearing? The equations might as well be in Rongorongo.
Bleys goes on for some time, making light, precise marks in the book.
Fletcher does his best to follow along. "The notation is kind of a combination of a number of things. Grandad had entertained some notions, maybe just to show he didn't think Doctor... I mean Dworkin knew everything. "
Bleys smiles gently.
"Anyway, I'd been adapting off those and adding some other ideas as needed over the years. I didn't think a piece like an island could break off one Pattern world, though if it can I suppose the realignment you're describing makes sense." Fletcher asks questions as Bleys goes along, but tries to avoid bombarding him with a constant stream of queries.
Bleys allows as how there is much he could show Fletcher, and is not averse to doing so, but he counsels that it is a long course of study and cannot be completed before dinnertime.
Fletcher smiles, "not something to be done on an empty stomach, eh?" He jests. "I may take you up on that, depending on this night's outcome. If I'm sent off on another expedition in Shadow, I'm sure what you've outlined so far will provide me with plenty to ponder in my spare time. I thank you. Regardless of the proof, I take it that you're saying it is possible for elements to fracture from even a Pattern realm and migrate, even possibly accreting onto another such realm. Is that correct? Could a place be... shaped to do so? Steered even?" Fletcher does not say the word, 'Amber'.
Bleys nods absently. "Yes, but..." He straightens his doublet. "Think of it thusly. Do you know how, when you attempt to change shadow too fast, you either end up hell riding or else starting to lose some of the important basics, like breathable air or gravity or light?
"Good personal discipline can overcome that and experience allows you to minimize the effects, but eventually, it either become impossible to change shadow at the rate desired or it becomes unsafe. Normally, one would pass out, hopefully somewhere with air, and you'd wake up swearing not to do that again.
"So, I told you that so I could tell you this. Probability manipulation is the same way. The closer and more likely the probability, the easier it is to manipulate it. Cross shadow, normally we can only do gross manipulation, such as 'send a huge winter storm to Xanadu'. I have a few tricks I know that can create a local dissociation barrier around a nearby shadow, which I have only ever used in the service of the King.
"Something as massive as you're talking about would either require a cataclysmic event or an undertaking so massive that it would not be possible for a thousand mages in the course of multiple lifespans.
"I can only think of three to six groups capable of such a feat, and none of them should have the requisite knowledge to do it." He looks down at his now empty drink. "I think that calls for another of these."
Fletcher nods in sympathy at Bleys' plight, and then realizes in astonishment that somehow his own glass is not empty. He remedies the situation swiftly, gesturing for Bleys to leader the way to bar. "Thank you for the explanation. I'll have to digest what you've told me for a bit, but I hope to be in touch soon."
En route he glances around the room so see who else has arrived.
The bar is large enough that several groups can be at it without disturbing each other. Such is the case now, as Bleys heads to a section that is otherwise unoccupied, except by a bottle of his favorite beverage.
Julian is headed towards the bar, Fiona is here, but she seems to be talking to herself (generally either a sign of redheaded madness or the immanent arrival of more guests). Corwin is with Edan, who is about to depart to speak with Hannah and Garrett. Celina is chatting with her brother Merlin, Brennan and Marius are winding down, and Robin and Vere are approaching them. Conner and Ossian are talking, as are Signy and Silhouette. Paige is speaking to Florimel, who arrived quietly a few moments ago.
"Oh, pooh..." Robin mutters very, very quietly to her Love. "Still ungraceful with the small talk and timing. Oh, well. At least I'm attempting it now."
"Much improved,' Vere comments soothingly. "As with any hunting technique, it takes patient practice." His gaze sweeps the scattered clumps of conversing family about the room. "What shall we now?"
"Thank you, Love." Robin gives his arm a squeeze with a happy little wriggle. So, just, nice to be back in His company.
"Wellll," she continues with consideration, "I'm torn. I don't see Soren in the room and I feel like I've already diverted enough. On the other hand, Brennan and Marius are over there. And while I'd prefer latrine duty, Brennan did throw me a 'look' earlier and I do have to speak to him. What's your druthers, oh rational one?"
Vere considers a moment, then answers, "Brennan. We can use your need to speak with him as a reason, and move ourselves into a remote corner where we cannot be overheard before I bring up the other." He smiles. "And he is less likely to eviscerate me if you are with me."
"No one gets to eviscerate you but me, darling." Robin says with a fond pat on his arm as she returns his smile.
"Oh, he is just going to love this..." she murmurs under her breath as she turns her steps toward Brennan. And while her lips aren't grimacing, maybe her eyes are.
Robin and Vere approach, arm in arm. "Cousins," Vere says.
Brennan gives Robin and Vere a searching look-- perhaps he wasn't expecting a package deal, but doesn't seem inclined to resist it. "Cousins. You're both looking well." With another clasp to Marius' arm, he says, "Marius, we'll keep in touch, but if you'd excuse me...."
Before Marius can respond, there's a distraction across the room.
The conversation between Fiona and Paige appears to have paused for a moment, and then there's a shimmer in the air and Fiona is bringing through Raven, Jerod, a young man whom nobody recognizes, and last, but not least, Brita. They're all straight from the field: dirty, blood-streaked, and stinking of exertion and carnage.
"Wow," Robin murmurs with awe and a tinge of jealousy as she watches the new arrivals. "Merlin, Lilly, now those guys." She turns to Vere with a happy grin. "Maybe someday we can crash a family get-together all smoke covered and battle torn." Yay, life goals.
Then Robin's smile drops as she remembers who else she's talking to. She looks over to Brennan. And decides to just shrug. She is who she is.
Vere smiles and pats her hand, but his eyes are weighing the body language and expressions of the new arrivals.
After a pause to see if the new crew's arrival is followed by any call to arms or for medical aid, Robin decides to leave that scene to the professionals and concentrate on where she is and what she is doing.
"Thank you, Brennan." she acknowledges with a nod. "Marius," she nods, "It's good to see you out and about. Maybe we can talk later? If you're available?"
"It's not a party until someone comes in covered in blood," Brennan muses. He's probably joking.
It's a Trump entrance, so if they were pursued, they've just escaped it. Like Robin, Brennan judges that the new arrivals need no assistance for the moment-- if they need someone to hold their new "guest" he's sure they'll ask.
Vere turns his attention back to Brennan. "We would like to talk," he says. His eyes flick towards a corner of the room that he has judged is the least likely to be easily overheard.
"I see," Brennan says. He allows himself to be led off by Robin and Vere.
Vere gives a nod of the head to Marius as he leaves them, and then, after a moment's consideration, he steers Robin and Brennan out onto the balcony, closer to the roaring falls. "I know that Robin and you have something to discuss," he says to Brennan, giving Robin's arm a reassuring squeeze. "And it important that you do so. But I have another... item... of which I need to inform you, and the need for you and Robin to consult can act as cover for that matter."
"Yep," Robin nods. "My item is more of a heads up to avoid a... maybe unpleasant surprise. I don't know what you wanted to discuss, Brennan. But Vere's 'item' is darn close to my top priority right now. For all that I keep getting distracted by trying to appear calm and collected."
"A few things, actually," Brennan says. "Only one of which is really time-sensitive."
Brennan looks from Vere, then pointedly to the roaring falls and back off the balcony before looking at Vere again. "I'm not going to like this, am I? Go ahead, spit it out." He stands with his hands on the rail, looking out over the cascade as though admiring it, which puts his back to the party inside.
Vere turns away from the family as well, and speaks softly. "Caine sent me to Tir," he says. "He wished me to see what the visions there would show concerning some ancient guardians that Robin rescued from a difficult situation." He shrugs slightly, "No doubt they will be mentioned at least in passing in the family meeting tomorrow. But the important point is that while I was there I saw a masked woman who did not behave like a vision of that place. She clearly saw me, deliberately drew my attention, and then led me on a chase through the city down to the Pattern Chamber. Once there she unmasked and spoke to me."
Vere pauses, watching Brennan for a second before stating baldly, "It was Cambina."
Robin turns so her back is resting against the railing, facing the room behind them. She schools her expression to her typical 'bored while the researchers talk.' But up close, one can see the sympathy in the set of her hidden hands. She gives Vere as much warmth and strength she can.
Brennan's stance does not change, except to swivel his head in Vere's direction, with a blank expression. "You have my full attention," he says.
He looks back out over the Xanadhavian falls. "Tell it from the beginning."
Vere nods. "Edan acted as my anchor while I was in Tir, and heard everything that I said. I have asked him to not say anything until I had a chance to speak with you, Jerod, and the King.
"Tir was much as I expected at first, and I saw images of the people I had been sent to gather information upon. I will not spend time on those details unless you wish it.
"Oddly, when I entered the castle, I heard sounds, which I did not expect to occur in Tir from what I have previously heard. I heard the sounds of people in the throne room, and music from the ballroom. I chose to follow the music.
"A masked ball was in progress. I saw Reid, Deirdre, Demond Harga'rel, Khela, Aisling and Adonis. There were many others, but those were the ones I recognized. A woman I did not recognize caught my eye from a side passage, then put back on her leonine mask." He tilts his head to one side, considering, and then adds, "She looked the same as the other visions of Tir, translucent and faintly glowing, so I took it that she was not another visitor to Tir, even though she could somehow see me. She moved away from ballroom, down the passageway, looking back as though wishing me to follow."
Vere smiles slightly. "Obviously, I could not resist, although it seemed likely to be a trap. Throughout all of this I continually described what I saw to Edan, who remained ready to pull me out if things went bad.
"She led me down a spiral staircase to the Pattern Chamber. When I reached it she revealed herself as Cambina, and spoke to me."
And here Vere pauses, whether to give Brennan a chance to ask questions or to collect himself before continuing is unclear.
Robin nods a little to herself, keeping up her 'nothing interesting to hear here's act. Though she does encourage her firelizards to get some wing time in before they're all stuck at dinner.
Brennan says nothing, but lifts his chin fractionally: Proceed.
Vere's eyes focus somewhere in the distance as he recalls the order in which Cambina told him things. "First she said that she had been waiting for me to come. Then she said we did not have much time, as I would be in trouble if the Queen discovered I was there. I assumed that she referred to the Queen of Air and Darkness when she used the word 'Queen,' although I did not think to verify that until I had already left Tir. She said that she believes that the Queen has been distracted since Vialle walked the Pattern of Tir, but we should not count upon that." Vere's eyes flick briefly to Brennan as he drops that bomb.
Brennan nods, as though he had been waiting to hear that.
Vere takes a breath and waits for a moment to give Brennan time to digest that, then continues. "Vialle had asked Cambina to take her to Tir. Cambina agreed, as it was something she had already Forseen herself doing, and Vialle said she would go alone if Cambina did not accompany her. But when they arrived at Tir the Queen was waiting for them, in a translucent form like a ghost of Tir. She held Cambina with magic while Vialle walked the Pattern. Vialle's walk ended just as the sun arose, and Cambina fell, and does not know what happened after that.
"Now she is trapped, and hiding from the Queen. As far as she knows the Queen believes that she is dead and gone, and she does not want to risk what might happen if that changes."
Vere turns his face to Brennan now, and adds, "She said I should tell you and Jerod about speaking with her. She did not want you to imagine that she did not think of you." He smiles very slightly, "She also said it is dangerous to seek her out, and she would tell you both not to come if she did not know that it was useless to say such a thing to you. So she asks that you be careful."
Turning his face back towards the waterfall he concludes, "Dawn came, and I departed via Trump. I asked Edan not to speak of this until we could speak with the King. But when we returned to the palace we learned that Vialle was with child, and the King was away. I reported on my trip to Caine, telling him what I had learned of the matter on which he had originally sent me to Tir, but telling him nothing of Cambina. Nor have I told anyone else, save Robin."
Robin nods in acknowledgement, sympathy coloring her eyes as she too turns from the Family to watch her friends flit out over the Falls' mist. But she doesn't have anything to say - no words are right in these moments.
"Edan did as you bid him," Brennan says. "And you will tell Jerod. That will make five who know."
He turns back to face Vere and Robin. "What is your interpretation of that? And what do you propose to do now?"
"Random needs to know," Vere says, not quite answering Brennan's question. "But I think it best that Vialle not know that I am eager to speak with the king after having just been in Tir. The coincidental timing of her pregnancy is ... troubling."
Robin nods, her eyes still on the falls. "I've run into a Floaty Moon Woman one and a half times now. That person was looking for something. Maybe a vessel?" Robin shrugs, she doesn't know. "And she was always more interested in women than men."
"If that's the case and she is the QOAAD then I think that the Queen and her child need some serious help.
"After this I'm off to run down Soren and plead for a line to Random."
"This woman?" Brennan asks, and hands them the by-now dog-eared sketch he made about a year and a half ago. "Yes. This is the Queen of Air and Darkness, the Queen of Tir-na Nog'th. I have it on very good authority: Benedict. Solange and Paige have also seen her, and perhaps others. I believe you are correct that she seeks or sought a host.
"What will you do if the King is unavailable, or is with Vialle and will not dismiss her at your request? I ask for a reason: When I described Huon's plan to destroy Rebma-- his full and detailed plan--" Brennan emphasizes, "she was in the room and allowed to hear. This demonstrates a level of trust."
Vere nods. "A serious concern," he agrees. "My thought was that once you and Jerod also know this we can all look for an opportunity to speak with the King in private. That way it becomes less about me attempting to gain an audience without the Queen present. If we simply allow whichever one of us first gets a chance to bring the matter to his attention there is less chance of arousing Vialle's suspicion. At least one so hopes."
"As for me," Robin shrugs, "I'm not going to assume that I know better than the King of Reality. He's got faaarrr better and diverse intel than I do. I will make my requests and pass along the critical information. Then I will Listen to what he says and do my best accordingly."
While Robin's words may sound cavalier, her voice is not. Flexibility and instinct are her best weapons and shemeans to keep them to hand.
"That is part of the problem," Brennan allows, quietly. "We don't know who knows what. The King may already know and wish it kept quiet. If the idea that she is searching for a host can occur to us, it must have done to others. If we find ourselves assigned to tasks tomorrow amounting to exile, I suppose we'll know." He shrugs, stoically. "I don't think we can take the chance, though.
"The question remains: If he will not see us, what then? Spring it to everyone at the Family Conclave?" Brennan obviously thinks that is a terrible idea. "Have you tried a Trump?"
Vere nods once again. "The fact that he put Tir off limits after Cambina's death now has some potentially troubling connotations. As for announcing it publicly in front of the entire family..." He shakes his head. "No, that is certainly not a good idea.
"Trump contact I was saving for a last resort. Unless you would argue that I should do so?" Vere lifts an inquisitive eyebrow.
"Family Conclave equals bleah." Robin scrunches her nose and sticks out her tongue for added emphasis. "Lenghty explanations, committee decision making, compromised discretion, explosion of independent agendas... I would rather not.
"I do have a Trump of the King. Buuuut I thought using those was specifically discouraged. And having been around the King when he's doing his Trump switchboard thing, I don't think a Trump call would stand out from the day-to-day universe shaking stuff." Robin finishes with a shrug.
Brennan has kept his face mostly turned to the cascade, or to the sky above it. Robin's mention of Trumps being discouraged gets an odd look, though-- that's news to him. "You neglected 'causing a possible major public embarrassment to the King,'" he says. "All our choices are bad, but that one is very bad." To Vere he says, "Yes, I would use a Trump, at least to make contact. Trumps carry a certain gravitas. But not before telling Jerod. It is not right that he be left in the dark longer than needed.
"But Trumps can be blocked. At the risk of belaboring the question: If he will not see us before the Conclave? I ask not because I think I have a good option, but because I do not want us all to exercise five individually bad options at the same time," Brennan says.
Vere sighs. "Here I run into my besetting fault of spinning out multiple possible scenarios, an endless series of if-then possibilities attempting to cover all potentialities. But as a precursor for making a decision, do you agree with me that the king absolutely must have this information before the meeting tomorrow? Or am I mistaken, and if he refuses to speak with us should we put it off until after the meeting? Are there aspects of this I am failing to consider?"
Robin presses her lips together in distaste. Here she is again, with Brennan and Jerod again. But this time poor Vere is in the mix as well.
Then sighs. Brennan's point is extremely on target. And Vere's precursor is as good a place to start as any, still she's her.
"I can't... predict. Things change too quickly around me. But I will communicate - with words - what I think I'm doing. And I will listen for good ideas." She shrugs. It's not great, but it's what she's got.
"It's failing I share sometimes, Vere, so let's try to keep the tree short and to the point. Yes, I agree he needs the information before the meeting. Outcome one: We get to the King and debrief. No further planning necessary... or possible, for that matter." Despite himself, having something tangible-- or close to it-- to plan, has Brennan sounding less hollow than he had before.
"Outcome two: We don't get to the King by, say, end of festivities tonight, which means we probably won't be able to, period. That's a problem. Option one: Debrief in conclave. Terrible idea. Option two: Wait until later. Terrible idea, it may up-end everything that gets decided, make us look like we're playing games or holding back. Terrible idea," Brennan says.
"Option three? I don't really see much middle ground except to ask someone's advice or make it someone else's problem, too. Candidates: Benedict. Scribe of his own Pattern, on the other side of Tir from here. Old enough to remember Tir as it was. And I have reason to talk to him anyway-- this business of a new island off the coast of Avalon is relevant to us both," he says. "Too bad he's not here, and gossip has him arriving tomorrow morning."
"After that, my choices would be Gerard, not just because he trusted, but because he is wise, and you certainly both have reason to speak to him. And Fiona, who I always have reason to talk to. Perhaps both at the same time if it can be arranged. Thoughts?"
"My concern with bringing in one of Random's siblings is that it might make the king feel that we are trying to force his hand by seeking an older and more powerful ally," Vere answers. "Assuming that he does not already know this, it is going to hit him very hard. And having one of his older brothers or sisters there is not going to make it any easier for him to hear it." Vere sighs once more. "I do not disagree that it might turn out to be our only option." He nods at Robin. "Robin thought that we might enlist Soren on this matter if all else fails. I do not know him well enough to trust him with this information, but I trust Robin's opinion."
Robin smiles briefly to Vere. "Soren had some sort of managerial role in Random's shadow life so the King is used to and trusts him based on experience. And Random has described him as 'unspeakably brilliant'. I've worked with him once. He's more verbal than myself, but our thought paths align more than most. But I was thinking of him as a first resort, not last, because I think that's where Random would leave his 'Only in Utmost Emergency' trailhead."
"I don't know Soren at all," Brennan says, "but he sounds like an excellent first resort-- going through channels, and all that. Are you planning to tell him his wife, carrying his first legitimate heir, may have been possessed by the Queen of Air and Darkness, or just... that you have very important business that just cannot wait? Is he someone we can tell that, and who can meaningfully advise us in return?
"That's not a rhetorical question," he continues. "I don't know I've ever said more than five consecutive words to the man. That's what Ben or Fiona or Gerard can give us." Brennan looks over at Vere, and clarifies, "I'm not seeking to force anything except the aversion of a complete disaster. Nor do I know that they need to be in the room when and if we tell him. What I would seek from them is advice. We do run the risk of having to add a name to the question, 'Who else knows this?' when it inevitably comes to us. For that reason it should be someone every one of us trusts and someone we sure as hell hope the King trusts as well."
Vere gazes out over the falls and answers, "My feeling is that if Soren is willing to set up a meeting with the king based on 'we have vital information that we think he absolutely must know before tomorrow, and please do not let Vialle know about this but we would prefer not to tell you why until the king hears what we have to say' then that is the way we should go."
"Yep. I was hoping to start telling Soren the least bit possible and fly from there. Though -- honestly -- if I get through, I was only thinking of telling the King to contact you, Vere." Robin drops her eyes. "Less committees and chances for individual bad options."
"I think we're in broad agreement, then," Brennan says: "Robin to contact Soren, get an audience if possible with the least possible reason why. Someone to tell Jerod what we know. Failing the Soren angle, reconvene and pick someone to get advice from?" The last is a question because it is what Brennan wants, but so far he is in a minority of having actually said so.
"That's as much as we can decide right now, I think. And that being the case, I still have a few things to discuss with Robin," Brennan says.
Vere nods. "I still think it a bad option," he says, "But the best that we have, if the others fail. Agreed. If the king does not return by the end of tonight's festivities, and if we cannot arrange a meeting through Soren, then we three, and Jerod if he agrees, reconvene and brace an Elder. Said elder to be determined based on who is available."
He looks at Robin, "Do you want me here for your discussion with Brennan, beloved?"
Robin cocks her head as she thinks over Brennan's summation. "All good, though I'd like to keep it out there that we need not go to an 'Elder' for advice. There are plenty of people in this room and Castle with plenty of skills that do not involve another Kingdom's politics or a history of grudges and rivalries. No matter how nice everyone is playing currently. Annnnddd, I might add that getting advice might not be my first alternative depending on why the Soren thing fails. But I will promise to try and reconnect with you guys before I do something else?" She shrugs, can't predict the future.
Then she considers Vere's question carefully. "Yep. I think I do. Thank you." The moment is solemn, but the fondness and gratitude for Her Love's thoughtfulness is clear in Robin's eyes.
"Okay, mine is not time sensitive so you go first, Brennan."
Celina smiles at Fletcher and tilts her chin in obvious invitation to join her with her brother.
Fletcher makes eye contact and nods. He sips from his fresh drink and strides toward the siblings. He starts to straighten up as he nears Her Majesty, but then reminds himself of the more modern family protocol in play. He grins. "This is quite the assembly. Your father is an excellent host to stand in for Random. If he were also busy I assume the duty would fall to you. It is good to see you again, both of you." He nods to Merlin over his drink.
"The pleasure is mine, cousin," Merlin says, but before he can add more, there's a distraction across the room.
The conversation between Fiona and Paige appears to have paused for a moment, and then there's a shimmer in the air and Fiona is bringing through Raven, Jerod, a young man whom nobody recognizes, and last, but not least, Brita. They're all straight from the field: dirty, blood-streaked, and stinking of exertion and carnage.
Celina leans near to Fletcher and responds with a bigger smile, "There is no shortage of hosting. Enough to fill the area several times over. I almost think I can taste it in the air." She leans back out, to see if people start moving towards the food tables. Celina seems to have no particular hunger pangs herself.
"What is your own clear worry in recent days, Cousin?" Celina asks Fletcher as if this has been a conversation ongoing with Merlin that he just neatly stepped into.
Fletcher pauses a moment, pondering how to best express his concerns. "Recently it seems as if, for some time now, a great deal more of our 'family secrets' have been known to a much wider circle, and in greater detail, than had previously been imagined. Knowledge of the Pattern in particular, seems to be in the hands of certain parties. The attacks on Marius and on the Pattern in Rebma indicate a knowledge of how to conduct such an attack. Descriptions of Corwin's Avalon also imply that unfriendly parties may have had had access to at least some basic information for quite a while. The breadcrumbs pile up when the opposition is highly organized and has made a centuries-long business out of accumulating information. I know we should probably be out there beating the bushes and looking under rocks in shadows trying to find them, but recently I've had some time to wonder what we can learn from ponder their sources of information, their methods, and history. It may even help us figure out what their motives are. While these modern-day monks seem to be enemies of the family and willing to act against the Pattern, I haven't yet seen any evidence that they are actually opposed to the central inspiration of Order itself."
Celina pauses after all that and glances at Merlin to see if he has a reaction. It might gain purchase with him that Others would oppose Dara at all costs.
She thinks about the dead defenders of her city, Huon's willingness to run over small people in his way, the continued suffering of Rebma, and the string of catastrophes to Order including possibly her own death in the near future. She smiles a bit at Fletcher, "Possible allies then against larger Aberrations?"
Fletcher frowns. "I thinks the odds of recruiting them as allies are small. Just because they don't oppose Order in general doesn't mean they don't oppose us. Still, the possibility exists. And regardless, they probably have information about other parties of interest. Getting their information could be useful."
"If we treat them like they themselves are Lords of Chaos," Merlin says, "we can ally with them--or individuals of their group--if needed, and expect them to turn on us at other times. They may be our enemies at times and still be willing to act against Chaos, or Ghenesh, or some other powerful foe if it suits their purpose. The question with such a temporary alliance is whether we can obtain more from our use of them than they obtain from us, which we cannot know without more intelligence on them than we currently seem to possess." He tilts his head to Fletcher by way of agreement with Fletcher's point.
Edan wanders over from talking to Corwin and Julian. "Cousins," he says, with a slight smile. At least he hopes it's a slight smile, because when he sees Hannah he feels like he's grinning from ear to ear.
"Edan!" Garrett startles, his attention having been on the scene across the room and the implications of the blood streaks. He holds out his hand, "It's good to see you. How have you been?"
Edan takes the hand, and it's obvious he's gotten over the hesitation that he used to have from skin-to-skin contact. "Prince Garrett. I have been very well. As you can imagine," he says with a smile, indicating the room around them to refer to the presence of the new Order. "Donovan has been wanting me to talk to you. I'm thinking of breeding Aramsham, and everyone says you are the expert on that subject in Xanadu."
Hannah smiles, starts to say something, and decides that she'd rather not make both men blush. Instead, she drinks her water.
Brita hugs her mother briefly as the rainbow fades into reality. "We will Talk Later," she states as her she scans the room and spots her brother. She hurries over to him as everyone begins to move towards the promise of food for another brief hug and a "Well Met, Brother." She nods at Ossian assuming he is still there, "Cousin."
Ossian bows. "Nice entrance, Cousin. No polishing." This seems to be a compliment without irony. "Who are we fighting?"
After a brief hesitation, Raven follows Brita.
"Mages," she says dryly. "And clouds of dust. Hello, Ossian. And you must be Conner...?" That's about half a guess on her part.
Signy crosses the room over to join her brother.
"Marius. You're looking a bit better then when I last saw you."
Marius has fetched himself a drink and raises it to his sister. "It's good to hear you say that, Signy. How have you fared? I see you've made at least one friend of late."
Folly gathers up the sketches spread across the desk in her Paris guest room. She has a good idea of the direction she wants to go with Celina's trump, and is well on her way to an initial working sketch -- but other needs press.
From the desk drawer, she takes a sheet of tasteful stationery -- Flora's doing, she's sure -- and scrawls a handful of lines in her angular hand. She folds the note over and over into a little square, like she's going to slip it to someone in class, and writes "READ LATER" on the outside.
She has long since discarded her gown in favor of lounging about in her (modest-ish) underthings, but even without pockets her Trumps are still close to hand. She thumbs one out, kicks her bare feet up on the desk, and concentrates on the face of her husband.
There's the usual resistance that Martin offers to a Trump call, maybe more than usual. Folly has the sense his mind is somewhat busy at the moment--not like Hellriding, where she'd probably just slide off him, but his concentration may be on other things.
It takes a moment for him to shake loose enough to decide to accept the contact. "Who is it?" he says, because he's not the sort to know in advance like Fiona. His surroundings coalesce and he's in the dark somewhere a little more jungle-like than Lauderdale was. Vaguely familiar, even. "And where are you, and can you bring us through if we need to?"
"It's Folly," Folly replies quickly, "I'm still in Paris, and I can bring you through." She holds her free hand at the ready, visible to Martin through the contact. "You need to come now? Some of my news might be easier if you did."
"Nope, not Paris. Still not bringing Lark there. Lark, darling, it's your mama. Come say hello." Martin brings her into the contact. She's a bit older than Folly remembers, but they do grow fast at that age.
"Hello mama," says Lark. "We're on holiday!"
"Hello, sweetheart," Folly says brightly. "I'm sorry I'm missing it -- you'll have to tell me all about it. Are you at the place with the estate house and the boat?" Martin can probably tell, even if Lark cannot, that she's leaving out names on purpose.
"Yes! Auntie Solange is here and she showed me how to shoot a crossbow from horseback. I'm helping Daddy make silver bolts by melting the candelabra." Lark clearly thinks whatever the adventure they seem to be having is, it's fun and not dangerous.
Martin smiles weakly at that set of revelations. "Dad knows we found Solange. I don't think she's welcome in Paris right now and I don't want to leave her here either. We have a minor problem."
"Well, if you or Solange have got Corwin's card, perhaps I should come to you to talk," Folly offers; without taking her eyes from the trump, she's already reaching for another piece of stationery to leave a note about her whereabouts. To Lark, she adds with a twinkle, "And see your handiwork with the candelabra."
"Before you do that you should maybe think about how you feel about zombie apocalypses, or at least some combination of shadow medical tech and magic that approximates a zombie apocalypse." There's a long beat before Martin remembers to add, "We're personally immune."
Folly can't quite hide a flash of a scowl. "Well. Definitely not my first choice of milieu, but it's kind of important. If you're secure enough that we can have a few minutes of mostly non-bitey conversation, that is." She's already scrawling a quick note -- 'Talking to husband offsite, will call back soon' -- without taking her eyes from the trump. "Anything I can grab quickly that I should bring through? Er, besides shoes?" Because immune or not, walking barefoot through entrails and other assorted zombie carnage seems like a bad idea.
"Anything silver that Corwin wouldn't mind losing? I'm pretty sure his sword would do a number on these things but I don't think it would be a good idea for him to show up." Martin glances over his shoulder and shouts, "It's Folly. Do we need anything she can grab from Paris?"
"I lost my favorite stuffie," Lark says. "Can you bring it from Paris?"
"Mama will find it," Martin reassures her. "Or I will. Aunt Solange isn't great at looking for stuffies." He makes an awkward face at Folly that says something like she doesn't know what it looks like.
"Yes, we'll find it," Folly agrees. Still with her eyes on the trump, she goes to the armoire and pulls out the sturdy bag she's been using to tote her art supplies (and whatever other odds and ends may have collected there). She slings the bag across her shoulders and steps into a pair of shoes that will be almost practical once she gets a chance to tie the laces. "I think the desk set is partly silver, but that's not much--- oh!" Folly quickly crosses the room, removes the large silver tray from beneath the china tea-set, and offers it through to Martin.
Then, "Pull me through?" she asks.
Martin grunts, and if she didn't know him so well, Folly wouldn't know what a bad idea he thinks this is. "Solange," he calls over his shoulder, "Folly's coming through. With silver." He pulls Folly through into the decrepit, aging house. The air smells heavy with moisture and rot--plant, at least, not human--and Folly can feel the heat and humidity on her skin.
"Mama!" Lark cries, and throws her arms around Folly's midsection as best she can. Martin quirks an awkward smile at her but doesn't interfere, instead leaning in to peck her on the cheek.
Folly tilts her face toward him to accept the kiss and give him a quick one in return. She hands off the silver tray and the folded-up note before scooping her daughter up to carry on her hip. "My goodness, you've gotten big!" she exclaims -- and indeed, Lark seems weirdly heavier than she did just a few days ago.
To Martin, she says, "Since we're not speaking through a trump you can go ahead and read it now, although it's not the main reason I called. Is this, like, a may-need-to-run-at-any-moment situation, or have we hopefully got a few minutes to talk?"
Then, "Hi, Solange!" she says, peering over her husband's shoulder to see how her cousin is doing.
The note, if Martin chooses to read it now, says: "Watch out for Klybesians. We think they are trying to figure out how to become like us. They had Reid's body, and also Dr Chew is one. Corwin and Flora think Caine could be affiliated with them, and he can spy on trump conversations, so be careful what you say over those channels."
"Well, shit," Martin says.
Solange comes in to greet Folly. Her hair is cut short and ragged, as if either Martin did it for her recently (and Folly has reason to know haircuts are not one of his skills) or she'd had it cut a while ago and not trimmed since. She's dressed in local garb, like a boy, having given completely up on the long skirts, apparently. She sweeps Folly up into a hug. "I'm glad you're here. Even given the circumstances."
When Folly lets go of Solange, she turns her attention to Martin. "What's wrong?"
He hands her the note. "So if someone is looking for eternal life, like we have," Martin adds, for everybody's benefit, "and they fucked it up with magic, that would certainly be one way to get a zombie apocalypse."
"I'm surprised you came," Solange says, "given the general summons."
"Which we're not done arguing about," says Martin. "You're taking the amnesty. Folly, tell her she has to take the amnesty." There's about a half-second pause in which Martin's expression shifts and Folly can tell he's realized something and he doesn't like it. "You don't know. I thought you were going to try to change my mind but Dad hasn't talked to you, has he?"
Solange is starting to back out of the room. "I shouldn't be here for this. Neither should Lark." She reaches for Lark's hand. "Mama and Daddy have something important to talk about."
"No!" Lark dodges her and clings to Folly.
Martin shakes his head. "Folly," he says, taking her hands, "it's like this: Vialle's pregnant."
Folly frowns. "Is it--" she begins, but bites back the rest of the question as she seems to figure out a better way to phrase it, or maybe a better question to ask. "How far along?"
This is clearly the first she's heard of the news. Martin can tell she's sorting quickly through a whole pile of additional questions. From the look on her face, the effort is making her dizzy. She pulls one of her hands away from Martin's grasp to stroke Lark's hair. With the other she continues to hold his hand, a little too tightly.
There's the sound of Solange's feet retreating into another room. Apparently she really doesn't want to be here for this conversation. (Who can blame her?)
"Must be pretty recent because I think it was news to Dad." Martin moves to pull Folly into his arms. "I'm sorry to break it to you this way but we have a lot of things to work out and not a lot of time."
Lark pipes up, "Mama--" and doesn't seem to know what to say next.
"We'll work it all out, kiddo," Martin says, and it's not clear, maybe even not to him, which of them he's talking to.
"But things that happen in Xanadu shouldn't---" Folly is still frowning, but it is a thinking, calculating expression; any underlying upset is being tamped down, hard.
She shakes her head a little as if to clear it. "Yes, we'll work it out," she agrees, soothingly, mostly to Lark. To Martin, she adds, "You talked to him? Did he seem... happy?" She hesitates, processing some of the rest of what he said. "And what am I changing your mind about?"
Martin is moving to ease both of them, Folly and Lark, into a chair. "He wasn't very happy, no, but that was mostly because he was trying to tell me to do something that he knew perfectly well I have no intention of doing. One of the few things I have no intention of doing if asked." His eyes drop to Lark for a moment, and his jaw tightens. "Which is what Solange thinks I need convincing to do. Otherwise, hard to say. What's he going to say to me about how happy he is under the circumstances?"
"Yes, I do rather see your point," Folly agrees with a sigh as she settles into the chair with Lark. Catching his glance at their daughter, Folly unslings her satchel and, making sure she's still holding her pack of trumps and fortunes, offers the bag to Lark. "Pumpkin, why don't you see if your stuffie ended up in Mama's bag by mistake?" she suggests gently, sure that there's an excellent chance it contains at least a couple of toys.
Lark starts digging in the bag to see if the stuffie she wants is in the bag. (While, technically, there's no way it could be, Lark doesn't know that.)
With Lark's attention at least partly diverted, Folly asks, "He wants you to be present, or to present?" She inclines her head minutely toward their daughter at that last. She keeps her tone lightly conversational to keep from re-attracting the attention of her sensitive child with too much naked emotion.
"You know Dad. Why think small and go for one when you can go for both?" Martin follows her lead and keeps his own tone light, even though she can see from the crinkles around the corners of his eyes and his flat expression that he's not happy. He continues, "It's a general amnesty, Folly, and the family gathering is all adult hands. It's not just Solange whose exile is being revoked. You understand that includes everyone? Even prisoners of war?" He doesn't say the name but he's clearly thinking of someone specific.
Folly spares the briefest glance at her daughter to make sure she's staring into the bag before she allows her lips to compress, just for a moment, into a thin line. What she says, though, is, "You know what? Bring it on."
She lifts a finger to forestall any immediate complaint before adding, "And yes, I understand all your reasonable and very pragmatic concerns, but if we're going to have a kinder, gentler extended family than what came before" --and she knows she also doesn't have to name any names, there -- "let's fuckin' DO it. That's what I want for Xanadu.
"Plus," and now she can't quite quelch a mad twinkle in her eye, "I'd love to see my mum try to take him out if he tried anything."
"Your mother will need to get in line," Martin says, and he doesn't sound like he's joking. "She's not fast enough, and unless Dad revokes it in a fit of pique, I still have the right of arms in court. But that doesn't solve the other problem of family business." He tilts his head to indicate their daughter, who's still engaged in looking for her stuffie.
"Well, I have to go, either way," Folly says, as if that is self-evident. "By my count, we've still got about four months, Xanadu time, on the timeline he originally gave us barring emergencies -- of which I think this is one. A really, really non-ideal one."
She blows out a breath. "Any chance we could just pop in to do the thing and then disappear again for another few months?" Which, at their current relative time, would probably work out to something closer to six years, for Lark. "I know it wasn't our original plan, but... I mean, zombie apocalypse training probably isn't the worst preparation for it, you know?" She offers up a wry smile.
"There's also the slight problem of abandoning the people here in the middle of a zombie apocalypse," Martin reminds her gently. "Just because we're immune doesn't mean the rest of the people sheltering here are. If we leave, this whole place will be overrun, not just my estate, but everything in the whole shadow. And this isn't something we—the family—wants to have spreading across the worlds."
Folly nods in grim agreement. "Maybe you should back up and tell me how you ended up here -- did you come because of the zombies, or for something else and found the zombies -- and what your plan was before I called. At least the executive summary."
Martin looks to Lark to make sure she's involved with her stuffy before settling in to tell this story. "Solange came to get me in Lauderdale, saying that she'd run across something really wrong and bad and that we needed to bail before things got worse. I'd seen enough troubling signs of things that I already had the go-bag ready--you know I travel light--so we hellrode, or at least helldrove, for it, and honestly I think it was a good thing. I haven't been back since. The thing is, they're here too, and maybe they followed us here or maybe they're all over Shadow, but whatever it is, this is bad. And they definitely fit the classical mode: they bite people and the people die and get up as mindless zombies and try to kill you."
Folly lets out a couple of choice expletives; clearly she was not expecting the cross-shadow part. "So, best guess, given that we ran into these guys -- Klybesians, I mean -- in a high-tech medical environment is that if this is from them, it's biological-crossed- with-metaphysical. Who's our best Pattern-virologist? Fiona?" She has gone quite pale, but her expression is determined, perhaps even a bit dangerous; Martin may suspect she's laser-focused on solving the problem at hand to avoid other unpleasant thoughts. "Do you have a feel for what it would take to contain it while we figure out how to eradicate it?
"And I suppose we're going to need a blood sample."
"Maybe we should bring a whole head. In a box, or a muzzle, though." Martin makes a face that's half ew and half considering the idea, clearly having forgotten their daughter's presence in the room.
Lark is paying attention to them despite her interest in stuffies. "Don't bring it to Amber, Daddy," she opines with all the forceful opinion a small child can bring to bear on a question.
"You're probably right, kiddo." He glances from Lark to Folly. "Blood sample's going to be hard unless we take it off a weapon. But not out of the question. And virology--might be Fiona. I'd have to ask around. Solange's got the tech experience but not the advanced biology for this, I don't think. And we're not going back into random tech Shadows. Not after last time. They were looking for us and probably still are."
"As I understand it," Folly muses, "at least half of your father's generation have got advanced medical training of some sort, but most of it may be too practically-focused for what we're after -- or if they did have a strong theoretical basis, it could be obsolete...."
She trails off, then thunks herself lightly on the head with her fist, as if she's an idiot. "Or there's Solange's friend, Kyril. Although we'd want him as a consultant from a nice, safe distance, since he'd be susceptible."
Because she's not one to discount the intuition of children -- particularly children who pay attention to a lot more than they pretend to -- she asks Lark, "Why not Amber, sweetheart?"
"It's not safe, mama," Lark says with the absolute confidence of a small child.
Martin gives her a side-eye which is less doubtful of her words than scrutinizing his daughter and figuring out what she knows that he doesn't that makes her that confident of the statement, and how seriously he ought to take it. After a couple of seconds, he shrugs and looks back at Folly.
She acknowledges his look with a slight tilt of her head, but keeps her eyes on her daughter. "I've been thinking that, too," she agrees, "but I'm not sure how to put it in words. Why do you think it's not safe? And what's not safe about it?"
"It's not safe," Lark repeats, and has to stop and think about the rest of it. Finally she comes up with, "Because people might get sick."
Martin meets Folly's gaze and it's clear to her that he doesn't like the sound of that one bit. "Do you think it's safe to take Jim with us to Amber?"
"Don't go to Amber," Lark says. "Go to grandad."
"In Xanadu?" Folly asks, just to make sure they're on the same page.
Then, quietly, she asks Martin, "Jim's been exposed? More than just whatever's airborne?"
"Grandad will be in Xanadu. I think," Lark says, sounding less certain about that. "But not Amber."
Over her head, Martin's shaking his head in the negative to Folly's question to him. "The people in the house haven't been exposed beyond airborne," he says, which Folly suspects covers some hard decisions.
Folly nods. To Lark, she says, "Grandad is traveling right now, but he's supposed to be back in Xanadu very soon, and I think that's where I'll be going next, too. You think I should take Jim with me when I go? Even if Grandad isn't quite back yet?"
"Take him home to Grandad. That's where it'll be safe." Lark, having made that pronouncement, goes back to playing with her stuffie and ignoring her parents, who are being silly.
Martin shrugs and holds out a few strands of his blond hair. Then he pokes a finger at Folly as if to say "this is from your side of the family".
Folly can't help but grin at that, but grows more serious as she continues thinking about their immediate plans. "So I'll go to Xanadu and either bring your people through with me, or send for them once your father returns. What's the incubation time between blood exposure and visible onset of symptoms?" Martin can tell she's working out the quarantine protocol, just to be on the safe side.
"Meanwhile, you do what you can to contain the situation here, get a properly-packaged biological sample, and/or gather more information about the extent of the apocalypse -- and if you can't join the family conclave in person, perhaps we could try to work it out for you to join via trump?" She grins again, but with a wicked glint in her eye. "That would make a particular dramatic way to present the sample. 'I've got Martin on the line, and he's brought us a present!'"
She does not yet broach the subject of the attendance-or-not of the other members of this party, but Martin can probably sense it's coming next.
"Quarantine protocol is--" Martin draws a finger across his throat. "Bite infection appears to be 100%--contagious. Unless you're me or Solange, or you. We don't have very long after bite to onset, on the order of minutes. It's do-able. But if she's going," Martin looks down at Lark, "I need to go."
Folly arches her brows, inviting him to elaborate. She can think of a couple of very good arguments herself, both political and personal, but she wants to hear his thoughts -- and whether there's anything she's missing.
Martin's own eyebrows go up. "You think I want her in that shark tank without me?"
"Fair point," Folly says with a wry smile. "But I'd be there, and there'll also be other people there I would trust to have her back. The conclave itself might be a bit of a challenge, though, unless it's unexpectedly open to the under-five contingent."
Martin shakes his head. "If she's old enough to go at all, she's old enough for that. She's a potential heir to two kingdoms and she'll need to know who's who and what's what early. Even if she can't follow the discussion, she'll get an idea of who to trust, and she'll need that. If we're doing it, we're not doing it by halves.
"Besides," he says, having apparently made up his mind that this is the moment, and if he's going to do it Folly's way, he's going to find the silver lining, "it solves the problem about her public debut in a big way. Dad's big news will overshadow everything else and that'll be the end of the public whatever about her." He gestures to Lark with a tilt of his head, and she stops what she's doing to smile at him.
"One can hope," Folly agrees; but there's something in the twist of her lips, the spark in her eyes as she smiles, that says she expects their daughter will be a Big Deal regardless.
"It's just down to logistics, then," she continues. "All of us wait until the last possible minute to venture to Xanadu, so we can work on understanding and containing the situation here? Or something else?"
Martin frowns, but it's more of an I'm-thinking frown than an annoyed one. "You two go on through and take Solange so she doesn't duck out at the last moment. And also Jim and the rest of the refugees in the house. And I'll get the sample we need and then torch the place. I think it's the best I think we can do at short notice."
Folly nods. "That works. You've got my card, or if I don't hear from you before the powwow starts, I've got yours."
She casts a quick glance at their daughter, then adds, "And if you've got a couple of minutes before I go, perhaps I should tell you the almost-certainly-not-zombie-apocalypse-related reason I called?" Her tone is light -- but almost immediately after she says it, a decidedly un-light look crosses her face, as if she'd just thought of something a bit unnerving.
"Yeah, go on," Martin says, because after everything else, what's one more piece of bad news? But he moves over to Lark and kneels beside her, in case there's something he needs to shelter her from or he needs to be there to hug her.
"Well," Folly says, slowly, "I'd been considering trying to track down your grandmother while you two were safely Elsewhere. Technically I did tell her I would come talk to her, if that letter ever got to her. And it turns out her former henchwoman is a guest in one of Corwin's basement rooms; I thought she might provide a lead."
She pauses there to give Martin a chance to react, although he can tell from her tone that she hasn't got to the potentially disturbing part yet.
It turns out that Martin is just possibly the one wanting the comfort of touching Lark, who stops playing with the stuffie to lean against him. "Is this where I say 'that's a terrible idea' or do I need to wait until you've actually told me what the full terrible idea is? Because I did kill her brother and she's not above killing you to get back at me."
"Aaand there it is," Folly says with a wry smile. "It's not the plan itself, but part of the 'why' of the plan. Brennan is in the vicinity of Avalon investigating the activity of an 'Admiral Stratum' and his mother, the 'War-Leader Syke'. Everyone he's encountered who has encountered either one of them has had some kind of memory geas placed on them that makes it hard for them to remember their faces, but he's trying to get that unraveled with the help of some local hedge wizards. He suspects this Syke might be your gradmother -- and it turns out that Stratum looks just like her henchwoman's dead brother, if maybe a bit older.
"So I figured, if there's something that's supposed to be rotten but isn't in the state of Avalon, maybe actually talking to your grandmother would help us figure out what's actually going on. And I figured I'd have a better chance than most of accomplishing that through more-or-less diplomatic channels, before a vengeful cousin or auntie tries to exact their own flavor of justice."
"And if Bend finalizes you, the Rebman way of thinking is that they'll get at my daughter with no mother to protect her. That's sadly underestimating my capability for both parenting and homicide, but it's how Bend thinks. Not to mention my grandmother. But if we're all going to some family thing, we can talk to Brennan--" which thought makes Martin blow a dissatisfied gust of air out of his pursed lips, a gesture which really makes him resemble Lark, or perhaps vice versa "--and find out what we've actually got in terms of this Syke and Stratum. Not to mention what Celina may think, because I'm not interested in doing this behind her back."
Folly nods. "Celina was in Paris, briefly, so she's aware of my intentions, at least in broad strokes -- those being the only ones that have been filled in so far -- and I've got an idea of her interests, as well. We'll see how much the family conclave changes those ideas."
She leans over to kiss her daughter's forehead, and then Martin's. "Shall we go gather Solange and your people and get us sent through to Xanadu?"
"I'm as ready as I'm going to get," says Martin, but he moves to open the door and call for Solange and the others. It takes them a few minutes and while Martin and Solange are gathering them, Folly has time to choose which Trump she's going to choose and who will bring them to Xanadu.
Last modified: 15 March 2017
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.