Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Hannah is relieved to gather up Ky and his list and head back up to the palace. The clinic is better prepared than what she was used to back home. So nice.
But first, she asks Brij, "Can you check on the rest of the clinics down here in the city and see what their staff levels and stocks are like? Not in detail, just scribble down what they're asking for. If we can get back together tomorrow we'll try to make a good guess at population and try to figure out where we should add more. Will you do that? We'll meet back down here in the city for breakfast?"
Brij nods. "I'm really glad Syd decided to come to a place where they speak Thari. I don't need a language barrier, too." Hannah notes that she doesn't ask where the other clinics are or how she'll get their attention. Unless Hannah stops her, she heads off, towards the center of the burgeoning city.
Hannah smiles after her.
Kyril smiles, "Back to jail, then?"
"I should hope not. As far as I'm concerned you've given your word and are under supervised release. We'll get you a room somewhere up there so I can, you know, supervise. But I was hoping you can tell me everything you know about genetics, on a high level, on the walk up." Hannah gestures back up toward the palace with a questioning gesture.
Kyril starts for the road up the cliff to Xanadu Proper. "OK, that's a pretty wide subject, starting with 'Why are one-quarter of the bean plants short?' and getting much more complex from there into some pretty racy stuff like molecular genetics and into gene sequencing."
Kyril goes on to explain twentieth century genetics in reasonable detail, Doctor to Doctor.
"None of it explains why you're qualitatively different from other people, but not all of your children are."
Hannah nods. "But... maybe it does. You and Solange never ran any genetic sequencing on her when she was in shadow with you, did you? To compare it?" She's horrified at the idea and yet curious too.
Ky laughs and shakes his head. "No, Solly wouldn't let me. She said her dad would kill me." He stops laughing, somewhat abruptly and runs his fingers through his hair. "I suppose she might've meant that literally. She wouldn't even let me check her blood type. She just told me it was an exotic, like Bombay Type, but compatible as a donor with AB+. Naturally I wanted to look at that, but she nixed it."
He pauses. "Do you think a microscope would work here?" He leaves the next question hanging.
"Yes." Hannah takes a deep breath. "But every bit of knowledge that can heal can hurt. It's always a struggle, isn't it? Do they tell the myth of Pandora's Casket where you're from? It wasn't even her casket, it was Zeus's. I always hated that story. It's told all wrong."
Hannah is annoyed, looking at the path in front of her. "They probably would kill us. But that's rather beside the point. Is it the right thing to do for the right reasons? Or the wrong reasons? Or the wrong thing for the right reasons? And what if we answer that wrong? No, we can't do it." She looks at Kyril. "I've been thinking about this for weeks. I mean to keep you out of my trouble, though you really are drawn to trouble, aren't you?"
Ky is slightly ahead, and turns to look back without stopping. "Guilty as charged, your honor." His grin is infectious, and his glance lingers longer than her boarding school chaperones would have have liked.
Hannah just raises an eyebrow and shakes her head at him. "We talked about cloning before, do you remember? Solange was there." She lets the little reminder of her sister sit there a minute.
Most people might not detect the anger Kyril has towards Solange, but Hannah reads people better than most people.
"I don't think Gerard would be interested in cloning, but perhaps something else. Something reconstructive. I've been thinking about how you might mix magic with healing. If all the bones are still there, at least the fragments big enough not to be absorbed during the process of cleanup, it seems to me they could be rearranged into the proper configuration and then if there was a way to magically trigger the healing process so they'd fuse that way... just a crazy thought to keep in the back of your head. I'd still like to find a way to see Gerard walk again someday.
"So if I get you a nice cozy house arrest room, what are you going to do with yourself? Because not having a schedule, that's where trouble comes in."
Kyril shrugs. "Well, since I was released from durance dull to be useful, I'll try to be useful. Set up a practice in town, specializing in diseases of the rich, hair restoration, maybe invent insurance claims to stimulate the economy. Things like that."
Kyril continues along the trail. He doesn't seem to get tired, although his brow is glistening, and he probably should have a hat, as incongruous as that might be with his casual clothes. "In other words, no idea. I've been sorta isolated from what 'useful' would look like, so I've either got to poke around and find it myself or get some hints."
"I've got some hints for you. Setting up a practice wouldn't be a bad idea, honestly, and nearly a full time job itself. Getting involved in making sure we're not going to have a sanitation issue - that would also be helpful and time-consuming. Maybe working with the... harbormaster? Whomever it is who runs the docks, have them send you sick folks shipping in so you can isolate bad diseases before they enter the populace. There may already be something in place for that, but I don't even know. You're joking about hair restoration, right?" She asks hopefully.
Kyril shakes his head. "Unless you have medicines and treatments I don't know about, hair restoration is not really a viable practice. It's pretty much the example they use in Medical School to weed out the unserious. They didn't catch me with that trick..." He looks down at the town. I don't see a way to dig sanitary sewers under a town basically built on a sand bar, but then I don't see how the town that's down there would survive a Tsunami or Tidal Wave. Might be possible to do something in the cliffside housing, but this whole place seems like it wasn't designed to deal with the realities of nature.
"Any idea why that would be viable? Maybe we should just be planning for when the entire place gets drowned."
"But that shouldn't..." she stops walking and looks up at that sky. Then back down at the city. "I suppose if someone could control the tides, there wouldn't need to be an earthquake. And tides are be about timing as well as forces."
Hannah sets her bag down and stares down at the city, putting her hands on top of her head and thinking.
"Yes. Yes, that too. Combine it. Electricity works, man-made materials should work, I think - something that can go under sand and is flexible enough to hold together. Or inflexible enough. Something that flushes sewage to somewhere less dangerous, something that serves as high ground in a Tidal Event. Use gravity, avoid relying on electricity. I keep thinking aqueducts, but it's not quite right. We may need to limit residential areas. Nothing is settled, though moving people around is always problematic. We should avoid it if we can but if we need to do it, the sooner the better. The city is only going to grow.
"I mean, in a Tidal Event, the buildings wouldn't survive, but maybe the people would. You can't stop the ocean. There would have to be drills, a holiday to practice, add some music and our King will be on board. He's going to say something like, 'It'll never happen because I don't want it to' and maybe he'll be right or maybe everything is possible. So... whatever it is we end up with, it needs to look like Art. Art that compliments the palace."
Finally, she smiles. "No small order, all told. But it'd keep people in work, give people an idea of what's possible here. It's plenty. Do what you can do. Just... come up with wild ideas and try to find people who come into the clinics who can answer questions about construction and whathaveyou. Have Brij help you. People are going to trust her and want to help her.
"Oh, hey, if you don't want to stay in the palace, I know some men in the city who'd be happy to have a doctor living among them. Something to think about."
"Mmmm. I don't want to live in town. I like being up here with the powers that be and working down there. Kinda lets me be a bridge between, which is rarer and may help more."
Hannah nods knowingly. "I understand that. Have you met the librarian? I've found you have to think outside the library, but knowing the librarian helps when you need details."
"Lauderville was in a Hurricane zone. In bad years, we'd get four. I know squat about building, but a way to get to high ground was the key. In Okaloosa, we had a sea wall. Build it with a bandstand, if you want music on it."
Kyril pushes his hair out of his eyes. "I have not, in fact, looked up the librarian. Solly and I corpse-napped his ex-girlfriend and I don't think he likes me."
Hannah sighs. "Right. Well, he'll have to learn to live with you. It might help if you apologized. Y'know, your jail time served as a nice cooling off period for everyone who might have been very angry about that. Maybe." She almost feels sorry for him. "Yeah, I'd offer apologies, were it me. I wouldn't go around trumpeting this, but Solange was trying to identify the threat. To me, it's sacrilege, but even I can see she considered the risks worth protecting the family. And she's paying the price. I don't expect she'll see parole in twice again the time you have. But then... it was her doing. All you could have done was abandoned the action.
"I know these circumstances are no fun for you. If you make yourself useful and do good things, people will redefine you by those actions. Unless they're real stubborn, but you can't do nothing about stubborn."
Kyril nods. "Yep, yep. I learned a long time ago that I couldn't fix it when someone else displaced their anger at their loved ones onto me. As an avowed atheist, I didn't have any problem with Solly's plan. She told me that most people were non-believers, so I didn't think of sacriledge as a concern. And I never counted on her father being more stubborn than she was. That was probably a mistake."
Hannah just snorts. "So do you think you have to believe in a god to think a soul is a sacred thing? Or that you have to believe in a god to believe there are souls? In general, most people don't take it well when you mess with their dead, whatever they believe in. Just a note, for the future," she adds, amused.
He navigates around the last switchback. "Almost there. I'm not very worried about myself. My poker buddies seem to think of my incarceration as a temporary condition, so I did, too. It wasn't the hardship you might imagine being locked up would be."
He grins. "Ever been to jail, Hannah?"
She chuckles. "Oh yeah. Three times. I was always protected from the 'hardships' too. I was only scared the first time, but I was young. That time got me a scholarship to finishing school. Once I helped bust up a bar. Found out I don't really like destroying things. Got off easy on that one - community service, but was in jail weeks while all the white ladies got to go see the judge ahead of me. Last time was during my residency in the capital. I was treating some working girls, and the local authorities didn't know me, so figured they better take me in to straighten things out. The Dean of the Medical College showed up to identify me, but it took two days. That was embarrassing. Was this the first time you've been in jail?"
He shakes his head. "Twice, before this. The last time I was a prisoner of war for about 3 days, but we were rescued. I don't know if that counts. The other time was when Solly disappeared and the police thought I knew something. I did, but you don't tell them that your girlfriend who disappeared is really a space-alien who went back to her magic castle to fight demons." He shrugs. "Or I didn't. Eventually they let me go due to lack of motive and evidence and because I had enough money to pay for a lawyer who was actually good at it."
"Oh, I think prisoner of war counts. Next one who gets imprisoned has to buy the other one a treat when they get out. Deal?" She smiles.
As they get up to the palace Hannah leads the way toward the library. "You need to get a hat, you know," she informs Kyril, trying to sound more doctor than mother.
Kyril shrugs and feels his forehead. "It goes red, then it tans off the next day. And at 57, I'll have skin cancer, but it'll be caused by things I did when I was 13. Nothing I can do about it now. While the King may look dashing and happy in slashed doublet and hose, I'd just feel silly in a getup that required a codpiece."
When Kyril figures out where Hannah is heading he stops. "Um. I'm not really ready for Nestor on his home grounds, and I don't think he's ready for me. Maybe I should sort out moving out of the dungeon?"
Hannah stops too. "Sure. Of course. Do you want me to come help you reassure people you've really been freed, or do you think you can handle that without me?"
Kyril laughs. "Nope, I can run it down myself. This place is, as far as I can tell, purposefully inefficient. They'll work it out, and ask around and such. Besides, the King tells a great story about how he went from Arrest to House Arrest to Dinner Guest to second in command after he tried to assassinate his predecessor. They're probably used to inviting prisoners to high tea here."
He smiles, then lets it go. "I can get on with my 'avoid Nestor for a bit longer' plan without your help."
Hannah laughs "Alright then. I have a call I need to make anyway. Don't avoid Nestor too long. He has the books." She says this last with all due solemnity. "And stay out of trouble!"
Vere waves a farewell to Victor then turns to Robin. "I like him," he says to her. "He says what he thinks, but with friendliness and grace." He smiles. "A good mean betwixt the two of us I think, the one who o'erthinks his every word, and the other..." he raises an eyebrow, then winks at his beloved.
She wrinkles her nose at him with a twinkle in her eyes. Words are stupid.
Robin takes a little time to breathe, stretch, dry-off and snuggle her way out of the adrenaline-fueled state that let her survive the -- brrrr -- caves. Wet caves!
After checking to make sure that Peep hasn't licked up any strangeness along with the paint, Robin sighs and mounts her horse.
"My love? If we run across any firelillies, can you just take one to investigate? I mean to destroy any others I find outside of Daeon's byre, okay"
Vere nods. "One for research. The rest we shall destroy if that is your preference." He considers for a few moments while they ride, then asks, "What do we know of these firelillies, in sooth? I have heard the story of how they were created, and have seen a few of them, but I have not yet had a chance to study them. Nor have I heard any theories of what they are and what they can do."
"Weeelllll," Robin drawls, knowing she's not the best person to answer a research question. "I don't like 'em 'cause they sound like Chaos; all buzzy and scrapey." She wrinkles her nose in distaste.
"And I don't like the way they grow in paths; like from Daeon's cairn, around the Grove of the Unicorn, then off into Broceliande. And every time I come across one off by itself in Shadow, it feels like a signpost." Pause.
"Since I'm dead set against Chaosian roads - I've set myself to smash 'em wherever I find 'em."
Vere nods his understanding of this viewpoint.
"On the plus side, they set things on fire and taste yummy to firelizards." She finishes with a grin.
Vere laughs. Then he looks up at the firelizards with a thoughtful glance. "I had not realized they could teleport and breathe fire like their larger cousins," he says. "It is impressive."
"It is." Robin nods with fondness to her lovelies. "And since I suspect that these little darlings are what Dad bred up the larger cousins from, I expect we'll see even more fantastic surprises from them."
She croons lovingly to the fair.
Vere leans over from his saddle to kiss his beloved as they ride side by side. "I look forward to it," he assures her. He straightens up again and looks around. "Now, what shall we? Straight on to Arden?"
"Yeeessss." Robin fluffs uncomfortably, but steals another kiss before settling down to business.
"When I came through here with Venesch, it was a day and a half ride. But I was pushing pretty hard. Could be longer going back."
Robin sets her horse's nose against the winds of Reality flowing toward Xanadu and starts pushing through Shadow toward Amber.
Vere follows. Robin is far more experienced than he is at travelling through Shadow and he takes this opportunity to watch what she does.
[OOC: Please note that it will take a week to travel from Xanadu to Amber unless you hellride. Converse/plot accordingly. It passes uneventfully, unless you make it eventful.]
Oh, let's take the week so Robin can teach and demostrate how she Shadowalks to Vere. Maybe brief spurts of hell-riding to demo that too. :) And lots of snuggling time.
Hmmmm.... things Vere might notice about Robin on the trail.
She catnaps at night, preferrably in trees, but she'll make the accomodation to ground sleeping to be with her Beloved. (And doesn't snore. ;)
She is very much a morning person, bounces up chipper and cheerful and ready to attack the day. But tends to wind down as it starts getting dark.
The longer she doesn't talk, the less need she has to. If Vere lets her get away with it, by day 3 or 4 she'll be completely non-verbal.
She's conscientious about the care of the horses but only bonds with them lightly. They go in and out of her life too rapidly for Robin to care much about horses.
She'll spend down time working with the firelizards. (Especially seeing if she can repeat the seeing through Peep's eyes stunt at the marketplace.)
[Nope, can't seem to repeat this.]
[Well, that's okay. Peep is magnificent regardless. :) ]
While Robin is definitely sanitary, she's not what you'd call neat or clean.
And, of course, she is massively competent on the trail. Fire, shelter, food, safety/security, kludges, tools, etc all come to her easily and naturaly. And she's definitely more happy and playful in the woods.
For her part Robin learns a number of things about Vere in the wild, as opposed to Vere in more civilized settings. While no Ranger he is clearly no stranger to living off the land, and is just as watchful and observant of the natural world as he is the doings of humans when he is among them.
He is comfortable sleeping in the trees, and he is skilled and quick in constructing a tree nest. He is always careful to disassemble it the next morning, leaving as little trace that it was ever there as possible.
He follows her lead in communications, and once words drop from her repertoire they also drop from his. He is very quick to pick up on her nonverbal communications, and he is an able mimic of bird calls and the calls of a variety of natural beasts of the woods through which they are travelling.
He avoids Sorcery during this time, although he begins a collection of seemingly random twigs, stones, feathers and such things that he picks up along the trail and stuffs into a variety of packs. He does this without paying much attenction to what he is doing. It seems as though he would just as soon not remember exactly what he has collected.
He is clearly much more fond of the horses than she is, and murmurs to them soothingly whenever something spooks or worries them.
He pays a lot of attention to her Shadow work, but asks no questions.
Robin feels as if she's reached the southern reaches of Arden, perhaps a a day's ride from Amber. It's not the deep green, but it's plenty green.
The firelizards warn Robin that there's something ahead on the trail. The wind is wrong for her to get a scent, but it may be that they are about to meet the first people on the trail all week.
Robin perks up in her saddle. She gestures to the firelizards, her own eyes and the trail ahead. She's obviously still non-verbal, but starts clearing her throat softly and reorganzing her thoughts toward wordiness. Her body language is that of curiosity, not wariness. She's not too concerned about anything she might meet on the trail. Whether that confidence is misplaced or not.
Vere instantly picks up on Robin's increased awareness and glances down the trail in the direction of her attention. A moment later he slowly turns in his saddle, scanning in all directions around and above them just in case whatever Robin and the firelizards have notices should prove to be a distraction.
Whatever it is, it's just around that rise there. The firelizards aren't sure what to make of it, and come in much closer over Robin.
Vere is following Robin's lead.
Robin's using her standard approach to the unknown - walk (or ride) right into it and then figure out what to do. She's much more confident in her ability to get out of trouble than her ability to avoid it.
As the firelizards gather in, Robin croons comfortingly to them, trying to convey that assurance without words.
Vere follows, alert and ready for anything.
Robin and Vere crest the rise and see a lone horseman on the trail ahead of them. He is not wearing significant armor, but seems to be travelling lightly. His red hair and ready smile, so like his father's, give him away as Edan.
He looks beleaguered, as if his attention is in three places at once. He's not riding his great stallion, and there is some sort of gargoyle creature sitting on his shoulder. He's on a new path, one that seems to run straight and unnaturally. Robin thinks it leads to the Deep Green.
[The gargoyle] turns to towards Robin and Vere and lets out a burst of flame and a raucus challenge.
The firelizards hate the other dragon-thing and are getting ready to attack it.
Edan leaves the center of the woods, sure that eyes are upon him the entire time.
He arrives back at his chosen location, where the gate is located.
[OOC: I assume Kyauta met up with him on the way out, yes?]
Very quickly. He also seems quiet.
First things first. If the law of congruences is right for Pattern maniuplation, this place is closer than where he's going. Edan finds a tiny scroll of paper in his pocket, and a pencil and some string, and writes the following:
Trump me. It's important.
Setting the items aside, he draws his knife and slashes his palm, setting his Will upon his blood as Fiona taught him, willing a bird of desire to come and perch upon his sleeve while he ties the message to the bird's leg. If all goes well, he launches the bird up and away and towards Paige.
After some [handwavy] time, Edan feels the subtle stirrings in his mind of a trump contact.
[Assuming he takes the contact]
Paige is wearing a low cut green dress, and is standing in a more-fashionable section of Xanadu. "Well, having your flying blood arrive certainly did in that party. " She turns her smile back on. "They were boring people anyway. How is my favorite brother?"
Edan smiles in return, but bows his head. "I am sorry," he says. "Actually, my bird reached you faster than I expected. I thought you would reach me as I traveled, and there was a good chance you would miss me. I have some news which I thought best to pass along before heading to my next task. Right now, I am on the border of Arden, but I will be heading... south. Far south. The firelily plants, I think I should mention first."
Paige chuckles; her signature throaty sound seems like a confidence shared. "Yo u saved me from bores, so I do forgive you. If you're in Arden, time has always been odd there, and it's very close to Broceliande, too.
"We've heard of the plants in the new forest, by the way, but no one has found one. Just rumors. What have you learned?"
She tucks her hair behind her ear, highlighting a glittery earring.
"I met with Julian," Edan says. "He had one of them on his table. I offered to examine it, and felt back along the flame to expose a huge sensory network. According to Julian's maps, they lead back to the Dragon of Arden. That makes a compelling argument that these firelillies are the eyes and ears of Arcadia. I...don't know how many of us have been taking these things, nor where they took them. But if I can think of a way to see through these across Shadow, you know She can. The rest of the Family needs to know that She could, and probably has, spied through them." He suddenly frowns. "I really should have thought to ask her about that."
Paige picks up on the latter, which shouldn't be a surprise to Edan at all. She's always been good at reading emotions. Still, she wants Edan to say it. "What do you mean, you should've asked her about that. Asked who about it? What did you do, Edan?"
"Merely followed the path that the device showed me," Edan says, holding up a hand, palm out. "Have you talked to Father lately? We raided one of the forward Moonrider camps, and I acquired a device that looks rather like a sextant. That is a story in itself. I followed the device's path, masking myself as a cockatrice to dissuade observers. I expected it to skirt past or go through Arden and head towards Tir. Instead, it led directly to the Dragon. Lady Arcadia." He pauses a breath. "Her avatar was present. The Dragon herself was asleep, or at least She was trying hard to make it appear so." He smiles slightly. "I threatened her. We had tea. She gave me a riddle to ponder. Several, actually."
Paige looks white. "The Dragon. Of Arcadia. The one who killed my children's father and stole their first decade of life from me. You had tea?"
Paige makes her question linger, one word dropping at a time. The air tastes like a forest, just before the lightning strikes.
"It was a temporary truce, of course. It took the form of a tea." Edan feels his jaw clench and unclench; he also sees the fight coming, but resolves to keep a cool head. The irony of him doing so nearly renders him speechless. "I was trying to avoid her in the first place, but it is better that I discovered this link existed. If we had fought, I would be dead, and she would be permanently injured, for I know what a death-curse is.
"Instead, she chose to talk. I chose to listen. I learned things. I gained new riddles to answer. And now I need you, for I have had a double earful of Arcadian god-politics today, things no one has bothered to explain to me up until now, things I don't think our aunts and uncles, even our father, think us important enough to know, and I don't know what to believe. I still can't prove the Gheneshi haven't made common cause with Arcadia, past or future, and if they do, you will be the second place where the hammer falls."
Paige may or may not have heard anything Edan says. "Just one question. Am I going to be an Aunt again? Are my children going to have more cousins?"
"Huh? Not from her. Is that what you mean? What do you take me for?" Edan's eyes narrow, and it does nothing to reduce the bright golden glare they emanate. "You know about Hannah, yes? I don't know what I am to her. Probably nothing. But whatever I am, I'm not about to ruin that with some chance encounter with a dragon. And that's putting aside all the possible ramifications of such a thing."
"You knocked up Hannah? What were you thinking? Nevermind that, does Father know?" On a streetcorner in Xanadu, people probably think Paige is a crazy woman, yelling into the air.
Kyauta wants Edan's attention.
"What is knock...oh. Sounds a little crude, my sister. To answer, yes, but it is not common knowledge. I have not told Father, but I always assume he knows. I've never been able to surprise him, even when I...never mind. What is it, Kyauta?"
Kyauta is aloft, concealed as a part of a tree. "My Lord! There are dragons to the south, and they are leading others towards you!"
If enemies are approaching, Edan is reasonably exposed.
Paige isn't done yet. "I'm not doing talking to you! Do you realize how young she is? She's just a baby, not even a hundred. She's Gerard's ward, he could drop you off a cliff for this, and we live on the edge of one. Didn't you think of the consequences? And if you think you're going to marry her and make it better, then you better at least know that the King has expressly forbidden it for cousins."
"Kyauta, to me," Edan says. "My sister is the best escape route, and we have the gate, right here, as a backup. Paige..." He hesitates. "Thank you. I would have walked into all that unknowing. I am a baby too, by your standards, not even thirty. Maybe a little more, if Father stretched Time during my grand tour. Random wants me to find his lost Trumps, and I may have to go as far as Clarissa to get them. Maybe he saw this coming and wants me out of town, I don't know. But I don't shirk responsibility...if you think it's best I come back and face an angry Gerard, I will do so. Or, if you have an alternate suggestion, I am prepared to hear it."
Kyauta lands on Edan's shoulder and starts to change forms. Edan senses more of the Uxmali god that he ate than he recalls. Kyauta may be better at picking what he'll change into.
"Escape? Are you in danger? Do you need a weapon?" Paige suddenly has a crossbow in her hand and is offering it through to Edan. "Take it, or come if you need to. I'm not dressed for a fight, but I can come if you need me."
The lead rider is Robin, and she has her own flying dragonettes with her. Kyauta apparently is spooked by them, and screams defiance at them and breathes a burst of flame.
It is only Edan's excellent horsemanship that keeps the animal under him from panicking, but between Paige, Kyauta, and the mare, it's kind of hard to maintain concentration on much of anything.
As well they should since it's so rude. But Robin knows and recognizes Edan and dueling Lords of Order is something to be avoided. So unless the punk gargoyle is a parasite, no showing it who's boss.
As an alternative, the emotions and feelings Robin sends winging to her lovely little vicious killers is 'let's out-style them.' It's not often that Robin and the firelizards get to be the self-controlled civilized ones. What a coup that would be!
The details of the message may be beyond her friends, but the 'hold back' part is clear enough, and they land on Robin's shoulders, except for Chirrup who lands on Vere.
Errrr? what would Vere say in a moment like this?
"Cousin Edan!" Vere calls out, holding up a hand. "Well met!" He whistles quietly to the firelizards, a calming melody that closely mirrors the cheeps they gives when they are in a more placid mood.
"Arg..." is all Edan gets out for a moment. Trying to keep one's attention on everything at once is a lousy tactical move, so Edan doesn't try. Maybe it's a credit to his training, or some kind of natural ability, but he immediately concentrates on keeping his horse in check and Kyauta close to him, the two variables he judges to be the most fragile. He leaves the Trump connection to Paige, who he assumes is much better at it than he is, and he leaves Robin to keep control over her own lizard fair, without using possibly-Trump-killing sorcery to interpose a barrier.
"It's Robin and Vere!" he yells out, if Paige is somehow still connected. "Kyauta...stay...here! Those are not dragons!"
Kyauta stays, but seems ready to fight on any provocation.
Paige sets down the crossbow. "I'll call you back in a bit. You've got your hands full." She closes the connection.
"Are we all settled now?" Vere asks in a calm and reassuring voice.
"Yes," Edan says after a moment. "No. Sort of. I was on a Trump call. Kyauta is a creature of Chaos, and he thinks the lizards are dragons."
"They are; just not affiliated with The Dragon." Robin chirps.
"Creature of Chaos, hunh? Can you tell him that the Firelizards are attached to me, Robin Lord of Order, and that I would take it harshly if he tampered with them?"
Robin's tone of voice is cheerful. She's not threatening, just stating a fact - like 'look, there's a cliff there.'"
Edan blinks in surprise, then matches Robin's smile. "I understand. Neither of you are from the Dar-es Salaam," he explains. "It is also my creature, dear cousin, and I am responsible for its actions." He says this slowly, almost deliberately, as if reciting something learned. "Were it ever to disobey me, I would most likely destroy it immediately, in a manner of my choosing. It has already seen me do something of the sort, so it knows this is no boast. If its misbehavior were to cause damage to you or your holdings, it would be up to me to show apology and find recompense for its misdeeds, up to and possibly including an offer for you to slay it in my stead. Being my creature, it is mine to kill, not yours, if I so choose." He inclines his head. "In the same manner, I would hold you responsible for your pets, and would expect the same response if they...misbehaved. But I do not worry; I have every confidence in your absolute control of your fire-lizards. My affine knows my wishes, and by now it should well know that those are your own affines. I will destroy it if it disobeys. I know you will extend me the same courtesy."
Robin grins and relaxes in her saddle. "Oh, good. You wouldn't believe what some of our cousin's consider responsibility." She rolls her green eyes.
"Though to be fair, I probably wouldn't destroy my firelizards. They're still babies and have a ways to go yet. But discipline, apology and recompense? Absolutely!
"Sooo, we meet in the Green once again, cousin." She looks behind Edan down the very straight road behind him.
"We are on our way to find Julian," Vere explains.
"Ah. Yes. I met him encamped as I was riding out of Amber, back that way," Edan points. "But he's not there now. I think he is probably going to confront Lady Arcadia. Perhaps I should relate recent events?"
Robin's eyes get round. "Oooo, yeah. Is this a saddle-story or should we settle a while?"
"Lady Arcadia?" Vere raises an eyebrow. "I would indeed hear this story. Cousin, I would bid you be our guest if you have time. Our provisions are meagre but what we have we gladly offer."
Edan thinks a second, but doesn't dismount. "You might be wanting to move onward after you hear the tale," he says. "I won't delay you with unpacking and all that entails, but I would be happy to share food with you."
He does twist around and starts to rummage in a saddlebag. "I had better preface this with some history. You know that I chose 'Moonriders' as my preferred project. Not too long ago, Father and I raided one of their forward camps. I stole a thing from them, a device of power that had the appearance of a sextant."
Robin's listening and nodding as she retrieves a couple of bota bags from her own saddle gear - water and wine. (Okay, wine-ish liquid. Robin's not a real fan of the grape.)
Vere fishes out some fruit and dried meat to hand around. "A sextant? Intriguing."
"And it works just as you would expect," Edan says. "With the caveat that one must use the Third Eye. I finally had the chance to start using it, at least once I left Amber, but I will come back to that. I passed through a Ranger camp on the way through Arden, and met Julian. We discussed what I was planning, but I was distracted by the firelilly he had in his tent. I had not had the chance to observe one up close, you see. Together, we determined that the flowers form a huge sensory network...one that led directly back in the direction of the Dragon."
"Ah," Vere says. "Now that is interesting indeed."
Robin's eyebrows go up, wheels turn in her head and she nods. But does not interrupt.
"So, I continue out here, outside the edge of Arden," Edan continues, "I take the opportunity to do an experiment I've been wanting to try with Space," he waves at the sputtering fire on the rock under his feet, "and then I try the sextant I took from the Moonriders. And lo and behold, instead of leading me in the direction of Tir, as I anticipated, it led directly back to the Dragon." He looks up. "Who is sleeping, or at least her avatar said so. That part of her was awake and aware of me, even though I had disguised my form as a cockatrice. I addressed her in the old way, as a Lord of Chaos. We had tea."
"You had tea," Vere repeats drily. He nods. "But of course."
Robin nods again. Yep, sounds like a Lord of Chaos alright.
Then her brow furrows, "But why would a Moonrider tool lead to the Dragon?"
Her eyes dart over to Vere, "Unless Solange was right and floaty moon-woman is only appearing to Rilgan children.... no, that doesn't work. Shoot, I wonder if Brita has seen the floaty moon-woman too. She's descended from the Dragon after all."
Edan taps the end of his nose in response to Robin's question about the sextant. But, then, his attention is diverted to the second question. "Do you mean the Queen of Air and Darkness? In an impressive display of bad fortune, She appeared at the Moonrider camp as we were raiding it. Father described it as 'achieving theosis', which brings up many questions about what will happen with them now. But She did appear to her subjects, and to us...we didn't stick around to see the aftermath. But that is another story."
Vere frowns. "There are also her appearances in the chamber between Paris and Rebma," he points out.
"Floaty moon-woman has been identified?" Robin looks exited. "Did you see her? Can you describe what you saw?"
Robin looks over to Vere. "The only reason she came to mind now is that the last time I 'saw' her, we were.... well, uhhh.. anyway, it was her, me and two of Dragon's newest scions all together. So, you know, floaty moon-woman in proximity to Dragonkin."
Edan frowns. "Newest scions?"
"You mean Paige's children, my love?" Vere asks Robin. "Or are there more?"
"No, not Br?" Robin stops as she remembers something Daeon said about names. "Not them. I mean my father's children by Daeon's mother's sister. I haven't been formally introduced. In fact, I'm not sure I've met them. But I call them Fur and Fang to myself.
"They're Daeon and Dione's replacements in the Cycle." She adds to Edan by way of explanation.
Vere nods thoughtfully.
Edan shakes his head, once. "My sister's children are still the...favorites, would be the best word, according to Arcadia. She said the other sisters, all of them, had candidates. She said the Warden slew one pair."
Robin makes a sad mewling sound. She'd hoped to spare her father that.
Vere reaches across and strokes Robin's arm without saying anything.
He pauses to take a drink and collect his thoughts. "The Dragon said other things. She didn't deny association with the Gheneshi outright, but offered alternate explanations for the sextant. She offered an alliance. Her terms were...inconvenient. We did not agree on anything, but I was invited to meet again. Not...likely. In any case, as I was leaving, I heard from her attendants that the White Rider was coming to her. I assume that was Julian, and further assume they are going to have words about the firelillies." He pauses again. "And that is why I am happy to have run across you."
"What did you have in mind?" Robin cocks her head.
Vere's eyes grow distant and thougtful as he considers possibilities.
"If you do run across Julian, you would be in a position to explain," Edan says. "He knew about the sextant, what I was about, but he didn't know I'd end up crossing Arden without his leave. Neither did I, but I considered the possibility. I would do it again, in the same circumstances. I hope he would realize the tactical necessity of my doing so without waiting for permission, but he still may be wroth with me. Especially if he's going to see Arcadia because he was following my trail - he must know by now where I've been, disguised or no. So I've gone against his wishes and may have caused him inconvenience. I do not shirk my responsibilities...if he wishes my apology or some manner of recompense, I will do so when I return. He needs to know that." Edan frowns. "I had eyes on me all the way back from the Dragon, not that I would do Julian the disservice of thinking he could not take care of himself...nor Arcadia, trying to spy on her in such a crude and obvious manner. If you go that way, know that the path is perilous. She is not fully asleep."
Robin nods her assurance that she will convey Edan's words to her father.
"Did you have any sense of how much of her the incarnation you spoke with represented?" Vere asks.
A brief smile flits across Robin's lips at Vere's question. But she keeps her thoughts to herself.
"Not really," Edan says. "But I was prepared for the worst. There's a woman who came out of a hill, and I declined to follow her back in. She used complex and nuanced Sorcery to make us both comfortable for a talk, which takes active thought and concentration. I was not set upon by a giant dragon who is also a Lord of Chaos. The rest is just her claims as to the Dragon being asleep."
Vere laughs. "Indeed," he says. "It is rude and unwise to openly doubt it when an obviously powerful being claims to be a Great Power."
Robin smiles fondly as she glances around the circle of baby Great Powers.
But there's concern in her eyes when she gets to Edan. "Is Arasham okay? Because, you know...." she gestures to the horse silly enough to siddle under Edan but not competent enough to throw him.
"Not the same, I agree," Edan says. "Aramsham is in Amber. Fiona borrowed us, Kyauta and I, to help fight a company of Moonriders about to descend upon her airship. Kyauta fought well, holding them off at the last as we moved the crew to safety. There will be a more formal ceremony later, but for its courage and ability I name Kyauta a Friend of the Desert and Mir Alem, the bearer of my standard. There will be land and a household in the Dar-es Salaam for it someday, if it wishes."
"Well done, Kyauta," Vere says, noding to the affine. "My congratulations upon your promotion."
"Indeed." Robin affirms. "Good work!"
A wistful frown crosses her face. ""Cause it'd be nice if someone? could, you know, work against the legacy of poor Ce'e"
With a glance to Edan to make sure it's okay to address the affine directly, Robin does so. "Kyauta, you ever find yourself in those kind of straights, look me up. Despite our earlier... kerfuffle, I wish you all the best. And totally understand how hard and weird it is to find the wind amongst the Ordered."
Then she bounces off to another subject. "Oo! I've been remiss. This is Peep, Chirrup and Ooot." Robin gestures to each of the firelizards in turn as her voice grow warm and her eyes begin to glow with fondness. And maybe a little mother's pride.
Edan glances at Kyauta, then peers at the fair. "Fascinating. You did not find them in Chaos, then?"
Kyauta seems less inclined to rip throats out. He still seems wary.
"They are quite Ordered," Vere says. "Although the extent of their abilities is still undetermined."
Robin nods in confirmation. "They're from an Order-weighted shadow named Calusa. And I suspect they're particularly sensitive to Ordered adaptation. Plus, they're being raised by me and Vere. So the possibilities - while not endless - are pretty expansive."
She smiles at both her Love and her little jewels. Gotta love those expansive possibilities.
"Calusa. Calusa. I have heard that word..." Edan suddenly looks uncomfortable. "Ah, yes, Jovian. I have not yet met him. Perhaps someday." It's what Edan doesn't say that sounds suddenly both hopeful and confident and classy. Very Bleysian. "The other riders of dragons, what happened to them? I have not heard the story of them past, well, the coronation."
"They came with me to fight in the Isles," Vere answers. "Perhaps, in retrospect, an unfair request of them. They fought nobly, and I owe them greatly. When peace was made Robin took them home." Vere smiles at his beloved. "I do not believe I ever heard the full story of their return. We had other things to discuss when we met after long absence."
Robin glances at Vere and for a moment hovers between a blush and a rapacious grin; before settling on a rapacious blush.
Then her eyes grow wistful. "Yeah. That went better than I had feared but not as well as I had hoped for.
"When we got back to Calusa -- or as near as I could figure -- it had been... reset is the best word I can come up with." She shrugs. "There were no Weyrs, no dragons, no large settlements. Just fishing villages and these little guys." The warmth returns to Robin's eyes as she scratches Peep's eyeridge.
"And the land felt... new, unformed. Kind of like Xanadu did and still does somewhat. Though I tell ya," she takes a swig from the wine flask before passing it on, "the geography in Calusa is weird.
"Anyway, the 'riders seemed to have had enough of gods and wars and were looking forward to fighting battles they understood and managing their own lives. So I didn't stay long."
She cocks her head as she thinks. "I don?t know why Danu didn't reset like that after the Change. And it took a while for the effects to be felt in Arden.... Have you been back to Dar-es Salaam since Random did his Thing?" She asks Edan.
"I have not," Edan says, and his troubled frown deepens a little. "It would not be a high priority for me right now, but even if it were, there would be ramifications upon my return. Even among the people I liberated, my presence caused...discomfort."
Vere nods sympathetically. "Those discomforts are liable to grow more severe as time passes. If you continue to care for and return to your homeland as the centuries pass you will at the very least become a figure of legend. It will be very easy for you to become a demon or a god in their mythology unless you take great care."
"My approach is different." Robin shrugs. "I find that the less I care, the less... significant my effect on Shadow and Shadowfolk is. The trick is balancing gentle disinterest against capriciousness." Her lips press together wryly. There's obviously been some mistakes in her past.
"That kind of balance is a difficult thing," Edan says, "if you were born and raised in that particular Shadow."
"Yes. Yes, it is." Robin acknowledges, looking around at the fading green of Arden.
Vere nods, sympathetically. "For the moment I am staying away from the refugees of the Isles so as not to complicate matters for my sister who now rules them. But if she called for my aid I would have to go. And I shall keep track of them over the long years and do what I can for them when they need assistance."
Robin looks over at Vere in surprise. And then nods. If he can help her raise firelizards, she can help... whatever with Danuuans.
Her green eyes turn back to Edan. "Have you tried expanding your... oh never mind."
A corner of Robin's mouth ticks. "Rangers tend to be self-reliant and private folk. I'm not sure I will ever truly understand the responsibility others feel toward... societies. But I do wish you the best with that.
"You too, Love. And I'll help. Or stay away. Or whatever is best." She smiles at her Prince.
"When I left, I was looking to secure a trade agreement between the Tribes and Amber," Edan says. "Then I arrived and learned of the Sundering, and of Xanadu, and I realized that such an arrangement would be difficult to secure, at best. The Land of Peace would ever be seen as a minor Shadow, far away from the center of things. When you stack that up with a desire not to stir things up upon my return, well, I realized that it would be better to let things progress naturally, without me."
"Aye," Vere nods. "I was thinking something similar when I first returned to the Isles. I thought it might be possible through clever and subtle manipulation of Shadow to shift them closer to a Pattern realm. But I learned the great danger of our meddling with shadows we care about. Our mere presence draws others of the Family. And that can lead to conflict and ruptures of the underlying reality of the shadow." His eyes grow distant." The Isles are unraveling and the best I could do was to lead an exodus of its people."
"Yeah." Robin nods, "I've had accidents like Danu before, but... usually more on purpose. That one was just... bad. He..." Robin stops herself and shakes her head sadly as her eyes wanter elsewhere. "Stupid heroes. Never good for the populace."
Edan feels a mental stirring as if someone is attempting to open a Trump or Sorcerous communication with him.
Edan looks slightly perplexed, digesting all this, then his expression clears. "Huon."
He holds up a hand, then. "Wait, Paige may be trying to get back in touch with me."
Robin looks over at Vere. "Yeah... Huon." She says, not too convincingly.
[Edan] opens his mind to the contact, and says, "Who calls?"
"It's Hannah. Paige gave me your trump. Can you talk, or no?" She's curled up in a plush chair.
"Hannah," Edan repeats, for the others' benefit. "I'm just outside Arden, with Robin and Vere."
"Give her my greetings," Vere says. He looks at Robin. "The Isles' fate was not your fault, my love. You were nearly one of many who had plucked at its foundations over a very long period."
"Yeah... and at least, I didn't set its atmosphere on fire. Still, I hate being involved in the destruction of your home, Love."
She smiles sadly at Vere and then is content to wait until Edan's off his Trump call.
Hannah, nods, then says, "Tell Robin when she's in Xanadu next to be in touch and I'll take her to meet my father."
Edan communicates both missives, then smiles and holds up a hand. "A few moments, please," he says to Vere and Robin, and starts off on a little walk.
Vere holds Robin's hand and smiles at her without saying anything.
Robin squeezes his hand in thanks and smiles back.
"Hey," Hannah smiles when Edan seems to stop moving. "Arden?" She shakes her head. "So, I was right. Things will get interesting in a little while. In between your traveling think about a list of traditions and assumptions you were raised with. It's not that I hate surprises, just surprises that lead to hurt feelings."
"For example, my people call a child a nickname until they're old enough for a name. You get to know a baby 3 or 4 days, and then pick a nickname. They don't get their name until they're 3 or 4 years old. There's a ceremony." This makes her smile again.
"I'm getting ahead of things. Are you alright?"
"I am...all right," Edan says. "My mission brought me directly to the Arcadian Dragon. We had a talk, under a temporary truce, which was not incredibly informative on either side." He suddenly looks serious. "Everything is all right, yes?"
"Everything was very well until you said you talked to the Dragon. Are you telling me the... thing... took you to the Dragon?" she asks.
"It did," Edan confirms. "I was hoping it was just cutting through Arden, but that was not to be. Fortunately, She was in the mood to talk and not to fight. She even offered an alliance, but as I told Vere and Robin, her terms are...inconvenient. And totally unacceptable." He looks suddenly downtrodden. "But that is not why you will be unhappy with me. I contacted Paige to pass along this rather significant find, and, well, she knows. About us. More specifically, she guessed, and I unwittingly confirmed it. Not that I would be able to hide anything from my sister, especially on a Trump connection... I trust her to keep quiet about it, but she's worried about Gerard calling me out. At the very least, I expect her to come to you."
"But she already asked me about my intentions toward you. She examined me, Edan. I think she's playing with you. She's the one who gave me your trump." Hannah sounds really amused. "Awhile ago."
"Now Gerard... frankly, you just tell him who was greener. If he wants to use old-fashioned standards, use it against him. And my uncle should take a deep breath before he assumes he has any precedence over my personal life before my own father. I understand how big-headed this family is and all, but I also understand how big-headed my father is. And that's who I'm off to talk to next. He's unpredictable. I can only predict... he'll do something I'd find hard to predict. I'm not being very helpful right now. I'll warn him off, but he's uncontrollable. Speaking of uncontrollable fathers, do I need to go have a conversation with your father?" she asks.
Edan's mouth goes into a silent O as Hannah speaks. If he's prepared to say anything further about Paige, he doesn't say it.
"I hope your father likes me, actually. I liked him. As to my father, whenever or however he does find out, what he will do is be friendly and gracious and within minutes you'll be under the impression he planned the whole thing." Edan smiles slightly.
"Your father is charming, but he's a little too charming. I like your kind of charm better." Hannah smiles.
"My father... does like you. But he's also a father and currently I'm the only child he's got in reach to interfere with. I don't expect him to be harmful. Perhaps difficult. I will attempt to explain to him the current circumstances in a way that... will leave him pleased and not upset." She shrugs. "We'll see.
"So, if I had to guess your guide there is going to lead you from one place or being of power to another. I'm a little concerned your taking it to all these places gives it more power."
"I understand," Edan says. "I completely agree with you, but I expected it to happen. For it is not just a guide, but an affine. I won't bore you with all the permutations that our complex relationship could lead, but I can say that for the moment, I expect its absolute loyalty and obedience...and that is what I receive. And someday, perhaps soon, it will be strong enough, experienced enough, that it will be able to stand on its own. On that day, my affine and I will part ways, with my blessing."
Hannah's brow furrows. "Oh, no, I meant the... the other thing you showed me. Not your affine. But, well, that too. I will try to consider the affine an... affine. I am more worried at this time about where the device leads you and for what purpose. What if you are just doing their work for them, only more quickly because of your skills?"
And then she cracks a smile again. "Because worrying about this lets me not worry about other things."
"Well, let me lay this worry to rest, and then perhaps I can help you tackle others," Edan says. "Now that I know where this goes, I'm going to bind it up so that it's undetectable, almost, and then I'm going to hide it. Knowing that the Riders will eventually find it anyway, I'm debating whether to make it a trap or outright render it non-functional. Right now all I have to do is find Random's Trumps and avoid annoying any more uncles. And think up names."
"Nicknames," she laughs. "My people tend to use those nicknames too - as adults. Saying someone's real name in public is considered rude. Because names have power, and are meant to be... intimate among the people. Every tribe has it's rules. That's why I'm wondering about what you're expecting that an outsider might not think of.
"I'm just worrying about war. Trying to prepare for one without saying that's what I'm doing. It's as good a thing to worry about as any. I hope you'll be a little careful at least."
"A war...is certainly possible," Edan says. "The Moonriders are certainly motivated, on their end. I think it is logistics, rather than the hand of their leaders, which are holding them back." He does manage a smile. "I will be careful, if you promise that you will, too."
Hannah smiles very slowly, like someone who has been caught out. "Well, I guess we're both just going to have to worry. I promise... not to put myself in harm's way unless I feel a compelling need. I will be thoughtful about it, and not just jump in until I've considered it. That's the best I can do. Can you match that?"
"It's a promise," Edan says. "I'll be back. In the meantime, you have my Trump, obviously. And I still have your three hairs."
Hannah nods with a smile. "Just keep those away from Dragons and Moonriders and Affines, and I won't send Gerard after you."
"Hah," Edan says. "And try to stay out of any wars. I'll see you soon."
"Sorry about that," Edan says, returning. "What were we talking about?"
"About our kind being bad for Shadow." Robin says, slooowwly drifting back from Vere's eyes.
"But I'm still curious about your mention of the Queen of Air & Darkness. Can you describe what you saw? And do you know what your father meant by 'achieving theosis'?"
Vere nods agreement with the questions.
"I was busy extracting myself, and I was looking through the Third Eye, but this is what I saw..." Edan describes the last moments at the Moonrider camp. "As to 'theosis', it is my understanding that the Queen of Air and Darkness is like a goddess to them. Imagine the power needed to change their entire race to their temporal state, he said once to me. Apparently, they had been separated until now. Whatever she wants, whatever her agenda, she'll get it."
Vere frowns and shakes his head. "This sounds a serious threat," he says. "Things move too rapidly for my liking." He looks at Robin. "We may not have the leisure to build our nest before being called upon to defend Amber." He smiles suddenly, "It is a good think that you are teaching me to be more active, and less reactive."
Robin grins back at Vere.
Then her eyes drift in thought. "Imagine the power... I wonder how she's related to us. Or maybe, she's just trying to be... Huhn.
"Anyway," she says shaking herself back to current topics, "the float moon-woman me and Solange met was definitely looking for something ... someone to help her. But she hadn't found them yet. Pretty sure it wasn't Fur or Fang. Don't think it's me but we've been interrupted every time we... met?" Robin shrugs. Words are hard.
"Fascinating. Did she actually talk to you, interact with you? What did she look like to you?" Edan blinks, thinking of something, and looks at Vere. "And speaking of Moonriders, how advanced are you with the Third Eye? Do you know how to see the isochronal substrate? If you have studied Time or Space as a Principle, perhaps I can show you a trick."
"I have studied Space with Lord Madoc," Vere answers. "Chaotic views of Space are quite interesting." He tilts his head to one side. "I should greatly appreciate anything you can teach me."
"We've interacted, yes/maybe. But there wasn't any talking. It's... hard to put into words, Edan. Teach Vere the trick." She says with warmth. She knows how much Her Man loves to learn. "And I'll try to wrestle my impressions into language."
Edan hesitates, then nods. "Very well." To Vere, he says, "Even if you have only worked with Space, the Third Eye sees much more. It is the primary method by which I observe the most common of the Principles around me. Bring up your Third Eye, please, and observe. In a moment, I will make a couple of insignificant ripples in Space-Time. Nothing fancy - we don't want to catch anyone's attention, neh? If you don't see them, I will make an illusion to show you what I see, what you should look for."
Vere nods, closes his eyes, opens his Third Eye, and watched Edan.
Edan opens his own Third Eye, and as soon as he sees Vere observing he sort of slaps at the air with an irregular rhythm. "Tell me when you can see this. The Moonriders use this as a weapon."
Edan learns that this is very difficult, or perhaps he already knew that. Vere, without the grounding in the fundamentals of Temporal Magic, sees this mostly as an effect in space of something having previously appeared and then disappearing instantaneously. Intellectually, he knows that description is wrong, perhaps because Thari doesn't have a tense for "actions that occurred in the past, but not in my past."
Robin finds the use of magic disturbing; she has to supress her fight-or-flight instinct. She sees nothing particular in Edan's air-drumming. The fire-lizards' eyes start to spin with agitation.
Robin converts the urge to hiss into crooning to and comforting the fire-lizards. She can't expect to like the things her cousins or her Love do anymore than she can ask them to like the things she does. But there's a scowl on Robin's face and her eyes are darting all round the clearing.
"Interesting," Vere says. "I do not think I can describe in words what I am seeing. It is somewhat as though I am seeing a quick memory of something that did not actually occur in the timeline that I inhabit."
"I may not be able to show you this, then," Edan says, frowning. "Perhaps if I showed you what I see, but then, I could not guarantee that you would be able to see it later on."
Vere frowns as well. "I think that showing me what you see would be counterproductive. The expectation of what I think I should see might well interfere with my ability to learn to manipulate Time.." His frown changes to a small smile, "... in the future." His lips quirk in what Robin recognizes as a quiet Vere laugh.
"At least now if I see something similar I will know that temporal magics are being used." Vere nods. "That may well be the best we can expect for the moment."
"So be it," Edan agrees. "Time... as a Principle, Time is more than just the complex interaction between probabilities and progression. It is a moody, dynamic thing, meddling in all the other Probabilities, having a nodding acquaintance with its cousin, Space. Someday, if you choose to follow its intricacies, perhaps I can be helpful to you."
"It's a medium." Robin mutters grumpily, mostly to herself. "An event medium. And if you keep shaking it like that, it's going to foam out of its container. Sorcerers." She finishes with a snort and a shake of her head.
Vere closes his Third Eye, opens his physical eyes, and smiles at Robin. "It is our version of poking dangerous beasts," he says to her. He looks at Edan. "But let us stop disturbing Reality for the moment. I thank you for explaining your views on Time. I shall remember them, although I shall not be bound by them. Sorcery is so very personal an Art."
"So it is." Edan grins, white teeth flashing in a cinnamon face. "It's all about bending the rules that are in place. So different than Pattern." He cancels his spell, and rubs his hands together; it almost looks as if he's wiping frost off his hands. "Any new news with the Family?"
Robin perks up at the poking dangerous beasts analogy. That's certainly something she can understand.
"Well, okay then," she tells Vere. "Just don't knock yourself out of Shadow like Jerod did. That's just ugly to watch and I don't know how to throw a rope." She chuffs a little in disgust.
"New news?" Those green eyes turn to Edan. "Ummm, Saeth's wandering around on it... her own, looking for fun adventures in Orderland. Her progeniture, Maddock, is not pleased about that. Otherwise..." she shrugs and looks over to Vere.
Vere nods. "Lord Madoc holds me partially to blame for Saeth's decision to flee Chaos." He rolls up his sleeve to show the mark on his arm. "Madoc marked me with this as a means to communicate with him should I learn anything about her whereabouts. I have shown it to the king and he appears not to be concerned that there might be anything more to it than a means of communication."
Edan nods. "I still think that's the Chaosi version of a Bird of Desire. I finally had the opportunity to use the Pattern version, the one Fiona showed me. It got where I wanted it to go, so I suppose it was successful, but I don't think it looked much like a bird by the time it got to where I wanted."
Robin laughs. "Well, it's not the bird part that's important anyway.
"Okay, so... floaty moon-woman." The girl settles herself.
"The first time I saw her, I have full corroboration for. It was on Danu and Jovian saw her as well. As did Siege, Carina and others. Pretty much the full spectrum of Oberonesque life forms present saw her. Interestingly, the saurian life forms did not perceive her at all. And were quite upset about it."
Robin frowns. "Something that just now occurs to me: the dragon-rider pair is one of most stable time-travelers I know. Most time-travelers are... you know, really wacko." Robin rolls her eyes.
"Anyway, though no one had any interaction with floaty moon-woman, all the observers agreed that there was a palpable sense of searching about her.
"Since then I've heard of two more instances similar to that; one from Solange and one from Vere." She smiles at her beloved. "But since neither Solange or Vere had dragons with them -- I don't know if that affect has been repeated."
"When I saw here it was in a dream," Vere says. "There was no one else with me in the dream. I have heard nothing of any other connection, either positive or negative, between her appearances and dragons of any sort."
Edan looks like he's still trying to get his head around what Robin said. "Dragons and riders," he says. "The riders saw her. Everyone else saw her. The dragons did not. Why?"
Robin shrugs. "No one there at the time could figure it out. And honestly, we were hunting other prey and decided that floaty moon-woman was a distraction. So we tabled the issue for later.
"The next time I saw floaty moon-woman was less... collaboratable. It could have been a vision or a dream, I suppose. It just... didn't seem that way.
"This was in the mutable lands between Arden and Arcadia: more on the Arcadian side than not. I was standing watch alone when I noticed that the clearing in front of me had filled with the bright light of an unseasonable full moon. In the clearing was floaty moon-woman doing her searching-from-a-distance thing." Robin shades her eyes with one hand and peers off into the forest in demonstration.
"Padding around her were two feral children on the hunt: a boy and a girl, juveniles with a ways to go before adolescence; clawed, tufted, fierce and... just cute as buttons." Robin smiles with an odd combination of fondness and Wild. "I think of them strongly as Fur and Fang - my father's children by Daeon's aunt. But I have no proof of that.
"As I watched, floaty moon-woman lured out the stalking girl, and while she doesn't touch her, their gazes lock and the girl seems... stunned or something. Both me and her brother used the distraction to circle in on floaty moon-woman. I checked my flank quickly and when I looked back?" Robin's eyes become soft, wide, full of wonder and very green.
"Her gaze. Luminous. With universes. Searching, searching. For the one who will bring her journey to an end. Am you she?" Robin closes her eyes and shakes it off.
She looks back to her companions with a wry smile. "I'm still thinking me thoughts the whole time, but... Anyway, just then the world starts shaking. That changes to my relief shaking my shoulder and I 'wake up.' And then it's another damn thing to store in the Robin mess." She taps the side of her head with a rueful grin.
"So," Vere says in summation, "There really is little more on her than was discussed at the family meeting," He reaches out and briefly strokes Robin's arm without saying anything, in a gesture intended to calm any distress she might feel at the reminder of Random's comments on the fact that she didn't attend said meeting. "I would wager that there will be no more such visitations now that the Moonriders have apparently rescued or restored her from whatever time, place, or state she was in."
"Ooo, you told them? Thank you, Vere." Robin says with sincerity. Now she knows that she was just being rude - not witholding important information. That's better - not great, but better.
Vere tilts his head to one side. "Other Family news that you would not know..." he says thoughtfully, then nods decisively. "Ah, yes. Robin and I were tracking down a murderous half-Troll who had been offered leniency on condition of joining Xanadu's navy, and then deserted. He is dead, but we discovered an underground city that is clearly far more ancient than it has any right to be on the outskirts of Xanadu, an underground lake with a reptilian monster that my beloved did not have the leisure to slay, to her displeasure, and a camp where it appears that our cousin Reid might have been attacked. Although evidence on exactly what happened is ambiguous. If you meet one of our Elders soon you might mention that camp to them, as they might be interested in learning if something ill has befallen Cousin Reid. So far as I know, he is by far the oldest of our generation, and is older than some of our Uncles and Aunts."
"I don't think I've met him," Edan says. "He wasn't at the big meeting. I will remember." He shakes his head. "I wonder if Random knows about this thing that has sprung into being on his doorstep. It makes you wonder what else is out there. In Paris, say. Or what other secrets may be slowly falling apart around Amber. As to the Queen of Air and Darkness...who knows? She will have to be dealt with, at some point. I am confident that I am not her match."
Robin chuckles. "Stored in the Edan mess, hunh? Yep. Dad didn't know what to do with it either.
"If you do run into other word of Reid, could you maybe get me a message? I'm really worried about him. He's been very stuck in shadow before and I don't want him to think that we would let that happen to him again." A frown of concern drifts across Robin's face.
"And of course," Vere adds, "If there was something this close to Xanadu that was able to overpower one of us, that is important to investigate."
"The next time I see Random, I will mention it. Or you might, if you see him first," Edan says. "Robin, how do you wish me to contact you? I can use the Trump booth, eventually when I get there. I could also send a bird of desire. Or, even some kind of sorcerous missive, but I kind of doubt either you or your fair would wish that."
Robin smiles at her little friends. "Thank you for the consideration, cousin. A bird of desire would be fine. I'm not... portrayed in the Trump Booth to the best of my knowledge." She wrinkles her nose in distaste.
Vere smiles fondly at Robin then turns to Edan. "There is a trump of myself in the Trump Booth," he says. "Please feel free to use that."
Hannah tucks the trump back into her very slim bag, and picks up the latest summary of her scientific gleanings for her father. These she packs away in a document tube. She ties back her hair and changes into riding pants. Then, it is off to the stables to retrieve Misae for the ride into the forest.
Misae is anxious to be out of the stables. Her tail is hooked and she's less patient than usual with the stablehands who saddle her up. Once she's ready and Hannah is mounted, she starts to move forward.
Hannah notes that Aramsham's stall is empty, as is Morgenstern's. Most of the horses here now are not anyone's in particular's.
The day is more than half gone, between the trips up and down the hill and the time in the clinic. There's still plenty of time to get to the ranger encampment, but probably not back, at least not while it's light.
Once Misae is warmed up, Hannah lets her gallop just as fast as she pleases wherever it's open enough. Hannah's not too worried about staying overnight in the woods. She does keep an eye out hoping not to overrun a patrol or watch-post.
Misae warms up on the climb to the top of the ridge, and gallops along the cliffside and through the verges of the forest towards the encampment. She seems almost disappointed when Hannah pulls her up short at the ford that marks the edge of the compound. There are sentries, but they seem relaxed. The rangers here will take Misae to their paddock and direct Hannah to her father.
He's helping some men who are learning basic survival in Broceliande; the properties of local herbs, the animals, and such. The group consists of mostly young men of the various tribes brought here over the past few months, and also seems to have a few strangers. Hannah isn't sure where the sharp-nosed men wiith the curly hair came from, but they weren't here the last time she visited.
Her father hands the class over to a woman Hannah hasn't met, and comes to greet her.
"Hello, daughter." He looks her up and down.
"Hello Papa. It seems poor Misae isn't getting enough exercise. She's not happy. I was thinking I should leave her with you and take back a more retiring creature. You're still looking... well." She smiles, forcing it through her continued discomfort at her father's youthful appearance.
Hannah can't disguise her feeling about her father from her father. "Still looking at my outward appearance? At least I did not go back to before my voice deepened, or you would not have recognized me at all. But, if you considered me as a forest, not a tree, you would not be surprised by renewal. You do know how old your Cousin Paige is, I take it?"
She rolls her eyes at him. "Paige is not my daddy. I'll acclimate. Give me a few years. By then, my child will be calling you grandfather. That ought to ease my mind."
He nods. "Quite right. Paige would make a horrible father. So many people we have met who are not as they seem, and you expect us to be so? Have you started on your project yet, or do you intend to wait until the last minute?"
Hannah makes a face. "I started. I worked at it. I thought about it. I've decided not to carry on with it. I feel the risks to the universe outweigh your life. Sorry Papa." She means the last, but it changes nothing. She pulls the tube holding her papers off her shoulder and offers it to him. "Not that it has to mean your life. That's your choice."
The rangers continue to ignore the father and daughter, but there is plenty of activity around them. Hannah spots Brooke amongst Rangers, trying to look inconspicuous. She and her brother are likely up to something.
Estimaza clears his throat and replies. "It's unlike you to give up so quickly, especially when you've got forty-nine and a bit years left on the time you asked me. Tell me what you worked at and what your thoughts were. I at least should have the advantage of whatever work you did on the matter."
"I don't know that you should, but that's what's in the tube." She is distracted from the matter at hand though, and gives her father a suspicious look. "Did you give Brook and Leif a mission?"
He puts his hand out for the tube. "Other than 'don't get killed'? Not particularly. You should take a look at 'em sometime. I think they're still somewhat magically connected to whatever made them grow so fast. They're nearly done being children, at least physically."
"I'm taking a look at them right now, and they're up to something. I don't know that you can ever shake the magic of your ancestors completely. I mean, I've spirit walked here... right up here somewhere," she motions. "Why? I mean, really, it's not the same, but sometimes I just feel compelled to do it."
Hannah shrugs, and looks away from the children, back at her father and the tube. "I really do believe you'd have to endanger the universe to answer your question, Papa."
Estimaza shakes his head. "The universe is large, and our place in it small, even when we are more than we once knew. What are all our lives and loves and events to a mountain? The mountains are there, regardless. And across a million, million shadows, what do our actions in one do to the mountain in all those worlds?
"So you have some theory and some knowledge. How is it, in your mind, that I can do worse than could others who died on the Pattern of Amber? What of Pinnobello, who died in such a way, who was rumored to be descended from Oberon The King on both his mother's and father's side?"
Hannah smiles slowly. "How you simplify it and how busy you've been. I didn't know that about Pinnobello. What of him? He's dead, on the Pattern. Rumors are rumors, who knows what the truth was? Anyway, I hold you to a higher standard than just 'not doing worse' than others have." He gets a pointed look. Clearly she's heard something like that from him in the past herself.
"Again, I think it would be bad for the King, and that means bad for Xanadu, and that means bad for the ordered end of the universe, if you were to die on the thing. I think it would be opening a trunk of trouble for you to do the science work to try to figure out if or why you might die doing it. Perhaps a bigger mess even than just trying it and dying. I'm not going to play around and put you off six months. My baby might be born by then, not to mention it's just dishonest."
He snorts. "You'll have your child by then. You're already trying to mother me, which shows a distinct lack of respect for your elders. I hope that your children are less willful than mine were, but I see no reason to expect it."
She sticks her tongue out at him.
"Will your children be able to walk the pattern? Yours and the desert warrior's?"
She shrugs unhappily. "I don't know. Will you wait long enough to find out if knowing the answer changes my mind?"
With a farewell wave to their cousin Edan, Robin and Vere, along with the chirruping fair of fire lizards, continue along the trail towards Prince Julian.
The ride is uneventful, though Vere and particularly Robin begin to see Ranger sign early on. Cadence and whistle-sign mark where they pass lookouts, so that their arrival in camp is anticipated. Other than that, there are no rangers, and no large wildlife in the area. Robin catches hints of old smoke on the wind now and again: someone set a fire at some point, but she guesses it's out now. There's no sign of fleeing creatures.
Robin smiles and relaxes as the Ranger sign becomes noticeable. She slides into old trail protocols easily. And with a playful grin, does not point them out right away to Vere. Knowing how much her Love enjoys a good social puzzle, she'll let him observe and deduce -- only pointing out things with a glance or a tilt of the head if it seems he's missed them.
Vere is quiet and observant, adding the hints he picks up to his slowly increasing knowledge of Cadence and other Ranger communications.
The Ranger trail is clearly marked. It's not one that would be found easily by anyone who didn't know what they were looking for. Robin knows that this must be a forward camp from the New Post, or Brita's Watch, as some of the Rangers have taken to calling it. There will be a source of water, defenses (more and less obvious), and all the other things needful for a camp of this sort: a war camp.
Once they get closer to the camp, Robin gets less playful and more focused on hostile territory protocols -- still not explaining everything to Vere as though he were a child. But more like leading with examples, like he did when he helped her dance at the Masquerade.
With a short burst of birdsong-Cadence, Robin lets the camp know that herself, one "safe" and three "allied wilds" are on approach.
Vere nods slightly to himself when Robin whistles.
After Robin's whistle to notify the camp of the approach, there's a response to tell her to approach freely. The camp is on a war footing, but clearly not in immediate perceived danger of attack from the intonation of the Cadence and the trail sign. The firelizards are making interrogatory noises as Robin and Vere approach the camp, reacting to things they observe that may or may not be clear to the humans.
Entry to the camp from this side will involve fording the river, which protects the camp on three sides. To Robin's eyes, a safe fording point is marked.
Robin points out the ford to Vere, then urges her mount forward. While Robin is reasonably alert, she is also comfortable and relaxed with the environment.
As they enter the camp, Robin is all smiles. She acknowledges the Rangers she knows without interrupting their duties. She heads for the corral without really even thinking about it. To her, this is so much better than a confusing room full of people and things that she doesn't understand the purpose of. Here everything is laid out according to usefulness & need: and so marvelously compact, each Ranger able to gather and disappear with their own gear, leaving nothing behind.
Dismounting, Robin casts her eyes around for the camp lead.
Vere allows Robin to take the lead as they enter the camp. He is watching everything, without seeming to pay attention to anything in particular.
Morgenstern is (nominally) contained in a second corral nearby. The rest of the horses are happy to avoid that end of the corral.
Once Robin and Vere have put their horses away, Needle appears at her side. "Robin," he says, by ay of acknowledgement, and he nods at Vere. "The Warden is in camp and will see you when you're ready." Needle is aware of the firelizards, but doesn't seem overly concerned about them. They are exploring the nearby parts of the camp with interest; the rangers close by are keeping eyes on them but doing nothing to disturb or provoke the potentially dangerous wild creatures.
The Warden's camp tent is visible from the corral. The moment is at hand.
"Thank you, Needle." Robin murmurs, reluctance lining her shoulders. "We'll be there shortly."
Vere returns Needle's nod.
She delays for just one more moment to slip Morgenstern an apple and a fond thump on the side, if he will allow either. And while Robin knows better than most that her father and Morgenstern are two very different beings, she can't help but note carefully how Morgenstern responds to her attentions.
Morgenstern's tail thwaps a little less lazily when she approaches, and he takes the apple. He does not bite Robin's fingers.
Vere watches Morgenstern with a small smile on his face, but he does not approach unless Morgenstern acknowledges him first.
Morgenstern does not deign to notice Vere.
With a smile for the inquisitive lizards, the girl sends her hopes to them that they will keep out of trouble but to stay out outside while she gets chewed out by her bronze.
Then casting a glance at Vere for strength, Robin sighs and straightens her shoulders. Tipping her head to invite Vere to accompany her, she turns and plods toward her Father's tent, every inch the ashamed teen.
Vere nods at Robin when she looks at him, then follows her quietly.
Once there, she claps reluctantly for admittance.
"Enter," Julian says. His tent is much as Robin remembers it, but some things have changed. The tapestries and rugs are new, the furniture has been scarred, and Julian's arms are kept close by, even when his armor is on the block. There is a firelilly on one of the tables, kept far enough from anything but the table it sits on to prevent an explosion.
When Robin and Vere open the flap, the firelizards rush in, and fly at once toward the firelilly. So much for staying outside while she deals with her father.
"Oh, no-no-no-no!" Robin's words come out in a rush as she makes a grab for Peep and Ooot, trusting that Vere can handle Chirrup. "That's his!" She squawks, while her heart reminds the little ones that we do not eat other people's food when it's on the table. Unless, of course, it's offered to us. Which this hasn't been. Eeeeep! Robin flushes with embarrassment.
Vere chirps to the firelizard and interposes between it and the firelilly.
Not long after Robin and Vere leave him, Edan brings some leaves and branches together to feed the sputtering remains of the flame that encircles and defines his Gate. Amazingly, as the fire grows and leaps under his hands, there is no smoke; either it is part of the spell he's cast, or some unknown skill he has with fire, or both. When he is satisfied with the results, he places a binding of peace over the mind of his horse, a gesture of his hand over the steed's eyes, checks that Kyauta has a good perch on his shoulder, then steps into the Gate.
It is like, and yet unlike, his experiences with Trump. There is a blue-green halo all around them, probably having to do with their destination, and the transport is much faster than all the time spent concentrating on the cards. He is in Arden, then the next moment he is in the Blue Earth and the tree is at his back.
Kneeling, Edan places his hand on the ground, palm down, and recites a half-remembered couplet that comes to his mind. He sends his awareness around the edges of the Gate he just used, exerts his will, and lets the whole thing contract and collapse. He keeps going, his concentration pure as any spell he's cast, until the Gateway is closed, the connection broken and unusable. Without looking, he knows that the space he created in Arden has fragmented and flared into nothingness.
And then he smiles, for his theory is sound, his knowledge expanded, and he can only but build upon it. Space is not his favorite Principle, but this effort is a smashing success. Standing, he checks the Tree with the Third Eye, and mounts his horse, trying to remember if he had ever met this commander of grackleflints that Fiona mentioned.
The tree doesn't move, but Edan feels as if he's being watched. In the Blue World, that's entirely possible.
General Emil would only be familiar if Edan had spent significantly more time with Queen Clarissa than he has.
After some head-scratching and navel-gazing, Edan decides the best course would be to head in the general direction of Clarissa. Even better, since the Shadow that Random described to him in in that general direction, Edan will stop there first. If he's very lucky, he might even run into some grackleflints there and be shunted up the bueracratic ladder.
Edan does spare the occasional glance towards Kyauta, allowing his affine to work through whatever thought processes it might have, if it wants to discuss the meeting with Robin and Vere.
Edan heads out. The blue world is a good starting place, and soon Edan finds himself needing the little tricks of pattern and sorcery that his father has taught him to deal with the environment of Chaos. The sky is starting to splinter, as if there are different parts that are out of phase, and the trees shimmer, but the land is still relatively normal this close to the border tree.
Edan comes across a battlefield. There is a single oak tree at the edge, denuded of leaves as if in winter. Perhaps it is winter, here. Tangled in the branches of the tree are several men. All are bleeding, and none are moving. They don't seem to be weighing down the branches at all. As Edan gets closer, he sees that they have chalk-white skin, no hair, and bone spurs (either natural or artificial) on their elbows. At least one of them is obviously dead, his shoulder cleaved as if by an axe. The others may be as well.
Sitting on the tree branch is a raven. It has an eyeball in its beak.
It couldn't have been that long of a time since the battle, if there's still eyeballs for ravens to pick at. Edan approaches carefullly, more out of caution for his horse than anything else - Aramsham wouldn't have shied from the smell of blood or death, but he doesn't know how this horse would react...and he's already been warned about how spirited this steed can be.
So he urges the horse closer, close enough to be at an easy talking distance from the raven. "Do you speak?"
Random lets go of Raven's hand. "Welcome back to Stately Xanadu Manor." The mansion/castle behind the King was clue enough and the picturesque waterfall that fills the basin beside it made it abundantly clear where Raven was.
The King is dressed for riding. Either he's returned recently or he's about to set out. Other than him, the great terrace is empty.
He gestures towards a table near the edge. "Caine was either in a big hurry to get rid of you, or you've really got some news for me. What's up?"
"News, sir," Raven answers promptly, heading for the table. "The Admiral tells me I found something that Lucas was up to while I was checking in on the place where I grew up. Or a box of something."
"'Unka Random' is fine when we're in private, if you need to. I know it's hard to drop all that 'Sirring' and 'Ma'amming' when you're in the Navy, but them's the rules in this league."
Random sits in a way that couldn't possibly be comfortable. Draped over the frame of the chair, he gestures toward Raven. "Knowing Lucas, or at least the reputation he chose to cultivate, it's either something wildly inappropriate, wildly dangerous, or both. So, I'm going to guess that you found a collection of deadly pit vipers, each one tattooed with a unique scene of unbelievable debauchery.
"Am I close?"
Raven blinks a couple of times. "Can't say as how there's anything inappropriate." She considers, and then continues dryly, "Unless we're counting kind of girly handwriting. So I guess it's just dangerous. I found this box, addressed to my little brother what seems to be Lucas's son, and it's full of these." She pulls her sample out and sets it and the box on the table.
It is around this time that Jerod makes his entrance from the castle, nodding once to a page accompanying him before dismissing him. His approach is leisurely and as always court sensitive, enough time to allow Random sufficient time to warn him off if need be.
Random waves Jerod over. "Jerod, welcome back. Look what Raven found." The box holds enough cartridges to hold a palace coup, but not a civil war.
This is also the time when Ossian calls Random by Trump. "Requesting passage to Xanadu, uncle." he says with a smile as soon as the Trump contact is open.
"Come then," says Random, and holds out his hand.
Jerod nods to the King, looking at the box of cartridges, then at Raven inquiringly.
Ossian steps through, and bows to the King and to Jerod. "Uncle, cousin. " Then he looks at Raven, and the box, and then Raven again. "Oooh." he pauses. "I 'm Ossian."
"Raven," the captain identifies herself with a polite nod. "These were left for my little brother. Guessing my mother didn't know about them, since they got left."
Random looks at the cartridges. "Not Corwin's automatic rifle ammo, but it could've come from the same batch, for officer's pistols..."
He picks one up. "Opinions, lads? What was Lucas up to, why the boy, and what else do we not know? I don't think they're decorative."
"Max - my brother - he told me he was the oldest of six," Raven says helpfully. "Though I can't say as how he told me much more than that. And it was addressed to him, special-like." She pulls the paper the box had been wrapped in out of her coat pocket and flattens it on the table. "And the way it was left was odd. It ain't like my mother to leave good furniture behind, much less good furniture what has something she could use to get money out of someone hid in it." She sounds very certain of that.
Jerod picks up one of the cartridges as Raven speaks, listening to the words as he twists the bullet from the cartridge casing, dumping the propellant into his hand to see how it compares to what was in the arsenal and what he had seen before. He wipes the powder from his hand once he is done, replacing the cartridge and bullet back beside the box once he is done.
If Random is observing him (and Jerod would be surprised if he weren't), and if the propellant matches what Jerod knows from prior experience, then the King gets a single nod concerning his assertation.
"Max had indicated he would need to avenge his father in some circumstances." Jerod says. "A stash perhaps, delayed vengeance maybe. Or a hedge against future bets if they went wrong, or if Lucas saw an opportunity to exploit. I'm not sure I'd say they were for use against you your majesty...but rather an unnamed family in a bad future. They're very effective equalizers.
Ossian nods "Lucas did care for his kids, and he definitely was capable of scheming. But, I wonder, isn't it more dangerous for the kid to be found with bullets in his possession?"
Random almost replies to Ossian, but stops when Jerod starts asking questions.
"Would your mother have taken something that didn't belong to her, if it was likely to cause problems for her later?" Jerod asks Raven. "Could the furniture have come from someone else, who may have expected it back? I'm assuming this furniture was not a new addition that came after her departure." He motions to the paper. "May I?"
Random touches it with his little finger, brings it to his nose, then sticks it in his mouth. It does not kill him, but it's easy to see that he doesn't like the experience..
"Light it up," says Random. "It's what I was gonna do. But don't be surprised if it doesn't work here and does elsewhere. Gunpowder leads to guns, 'equalizers', you called 'em? That's what they were in Flora's favorite shadow. Last thing we need, being us.
"Raven, can you keep Max from committing suicide by Moire? Or can his mother?"
Ossian keeps quiet for the moment.
"I can try," Raven answers. "Can't promise; I barely know the boy. Whoever does it, it'll be a damn sight easier if people what know who killed his father stay away from him or keep their mouths shut for now. He can't go poke at people if he don't know who they are, and he doesn't seem to yet."
Random shrugs. "Bad news, you're going to end up with the hard way. Restraint in gossiping is not a feudal duty they owe me."
He turns to Jerod and holds out a lighter. It's a flint and steel affair, with some sort of fuel oil. Hopefully it won't explode too explosively.
Jerod takes the lighter and flicks the wheel to produce a flame, followed by a slow pass across the powder from the cartridge.
Raven isn't surprised that she'll have to do it the hard way, clearly. She watches what Jerod is doing without further comment, though.
The powder burns -- a slow sullen and non-combustive burn that would not propel a cartridge at lethal speeds.
"That's Corwin's stuff. Great for polishing jewelry. Probably still explosive in Amber. Or 'again'. I would quite like to know where Lucas got it. Also, why he gave it to a boy, but unless we're going to go bother his ghost, we're not likely to learn that one."
"Do we know of anyone else with access to the powder?" Ossian asks.
Random shrugs. "Anyone who visited his favorite shadow. Anyone who got a cartridge, fired or unfired, after the batter. It's hard to imagine anyone who couldn't have had access to that powder. Rebmans, maybe."
Ossian also follows the process. He looks at Random. "Do they know about Reid?" he says gesturing towards his cousins.
Random shakes his head. "Not from me. Nephews, your cousin Reid is dead. Ossian discovered this while on a mission to find him. We have unfinished business over the matter with the Klybesians. They say they were not involved, of course.
"I'm going back there to tell them we want his body. And if I get away with it, his girlfriend too." Ossian smiles. "I could use some backup."
"There is also the issue of the Gatwegians, Uncle." Jerod offers. "I've been assembling info on that and personnel as needed. My return was to collect Raven and his ship before heading out."
Raven nods in agreement. That had been the plan...
Random smiles and waits a moment before proceeding. "I imagine of the difficulties of working for me is that I keep adjusting things to match the current circumstances rather than the circumstances when last we talked. I suspect this is part of why my brothers and I stayed away from Dad when he was in a delegating mood.
"Have you ever seen any of those heirarchy of needs charts, Jerod? All the rage in mechanical-electrical societies that have the leisure time to indulge in philosophy.
"In any case, I need to deliver a message to the Klybesians who may have killed my nephew more urgently than I need to deliver a message to the Gatwegans who almost killed a different nephew. Call it Random's Heirarchy of Threatening Missives, if you will."
Jerod nods, apparently unsurprised. He knew the moment he heard of Reid's demise that a response would be needed on that front - such a situation could not be ignored. He makes note to himself to send a message to the Count to advise of the necessary delay. It will give the Weir time to prepare if needed.
He turns to Raven. "You came here by trump and the Vale of Garnath is in Amber. If Caine is efficient, it's already set sail for Xanadu. What say we let that happen and you three head off to make my opinion known to the Brothers. I'll have someone make sure your ship is all shiny when you get back."
"What level of...response...is his majesty looking for?" Jerod asks. "The Klybesians are certain to be in full obstruction mode and an admission of culpability is unlikely. Are we just nudging them, or do we need to be concerned about salting the ground as it were?"
"Aye," Raven agrees, cutting herself off before she added the 'sir' that naturally ought to follow orders. "And how big a nudge, if that's what we're doing instead of the other?"
Ossian smiles. While he does not particularly like Jerod, he thinks that it will be interesting to see him interact with the Klybesians. "We will not negotiate, which will annoy the Klybesians to no end."
Random nods. "Ossian has my message. You three can discuss details of how you want to deliver it to them amongst yourselves. If they can't give you Reid's body immediately, well, we have less cooperative options. Don't stand for delay if it's mere obstructionism. And once you have the body, remind them that we wanted all of it back. If they've chosen to do medical experiments on his corpse, they will wish they'd only had to face the death-curse of a Prince of Amber."
Random smiles. "Easy, right? If you need horses, get them from the stable. Oh, and get the girl. She may be able to tell us more about what happened to him."
Jerod looks at Ossian. "Rule 38. Your lead, your plan."
Ossian coughs. "I have painted a Trump sketch of a place close to them. Should be annoying enough for them. As soon as we get in contact with them we demand to talk with Hannibal, who seems to be one of their leaders. We ask for the body, and for the girl.
"They will try to negotiate. If they persist we go claim the body without their consent."
"Do we know where the body is?" Raven asks. "And the girl?"
"I have been to what they say is his grave. The girl I don't know. It would be much better if we could threaten them to release her and the body. They do understand power.
"They do have at least one sorcerer, and have stuff from many shadows. But I am pretty sure we could wreck that place if we need to.
"Define stuff from Shadows." Jerod says, motioning for food and drink to a page hovering on the edge of their vision once the King departs.
"Trinkets. Maybe they just wanted to show off. But in one way or the other they have acquired the things."
"You don't sound so sure that was actually his grave," Raven says. It's half observation and half question.
"I did not dig him up, no." Ossian says "And while I do not think they lied to me, I cannot be certain."
"Ah." Raven pauses, and then asks, "Since I ain't got a clue, is there anything I'm supposed to know about these folks? Besides that if they're talking, they ain't to be trusted?"
"They trade in information, so if they want to stay in business, they'd better not lie. They will probably want something in exchange for releasing the body and the girl. And we will deny them that. " Ossian seems rather pleased at that.
"While I do think they mostly trade information in a honest manner, they are too interested in our family."
"And that ain't great," Raven says, nodding. "All right. I think I'm caught up enough."
"Since you seem to think that they're going to negotiate and we're going to refuse to do so, perhaps you'd like to explain how you think they're going to just give us the location of Reid's body and the girl." Jerod asks. "If you're not negotiating by trade, then you're doing so by force. What are you going to have that they are not going to want to be subjected to?"
Ossian grins. "Well, I'm counting on you there, cousin. If we want to, I guess we could wreck the place with Pattern. The threat should be enough."
"I think if we're going to wreck the place with Pattern, it won't be a 'we' effort." Jerod replies drily. "I'm hoping you've considered if they've got a sorcerer, I can defend against that personally. I'd figure so can you. Raven...maybe not so. No Pattern walk, remember?
"What's your escape plan if things don't go so well?"
Raven isn't exactly thrilled at the idea of having to defend herself against a sorcerer, and it shows on her face, but she doesn't interrupt.
Ossian nods. "I guess Trumping away is one plan if things go bad. I am worried that it might be too slow, though. I still think they are wise enough to give in to threats."
Jerod looks over at Raven. "Thoughts?"
"Well, it's a plan," Raven says drily, "and not just a single step in one." She snorts and shakes her head. "I ain't got a problem with threatening these people, but threats have got to be done right or they ain't worth much. You can't open with a big one - which I'm guessing 'wreck the place with Pattern' is - unless you already made other threats and they didn't listen. Besides, it don't leave you much wiggle room if they try to kill you before you can carry it out. And it don't sound too healthy for the body we're supposed to bring back, either. And not sure I like having only one plan for if things go bad, since I'll be f-" she clears her throat, "screwed if I ain't with whoever's got the card when it's time to leave."
"I know the plan is not that good. What about if you are the one with the card?" Ossian asks.
"I have no intention of starting out with the big threats. Just the implicit ones that we pose by being Random's messengers."
Raven nods. "Aye, that'll work a bit better." She glances at Jerod. "Guess my next question is, is that going to be enough of a threat? 'Or else' ain't of much use unless they already know you mean it."
"No, it isn't." Jerod replies, leaning back in his chair. "We can try to shake them up early if we want. That puts them on the defensive and makes them nervous, but it can also motivate them to prepare and can get their backs up.
"We'll need to go in early, to the edge of the Shadow. There are things that can be done to mess with them, to make things happen under certain conditions. But you need to be able read the place first and if they have sorcery available, that's a power than can be used to counter ours. It won't last long against us, but in a pinch it can last long enough to stop us."
"I think they know what Amberites in general are capable of, but they might think we are not that dangerous. Maybe shaking them up a little could be good. Nothing grand enough to make them hate us, though." Ossian looks at Jerod. "What did you have in mind?"
Raven looks at Jerod as well.
Jerod sifts memories for a moment, choosing his words carefully.
"Foreboding." he says simply.
"If I have enough time, I can try to make those in the shadow feel a presence. I can't affect their emotional state...Pattern doesn't work that way. But I can create the conditions under which a person would be likely to interpret those conditions as equally something foreboding. And once that begins to take hold, I can adjust the probabilities to permit others who are weaker against reality from being likely to consider resistance to it.
"Enough to let their emotions do some of our work for us."
"That's subtle and good," Ossian says. "How much time do you need?"
"Depends on the Shadow and the people." Jerod says. "How strong, how much reality exists there and needs to be adjusted. We'd see once we get there...that's why we'd need to be on the edge. We wouldn't want to be doing this while we're trying to talk to the Klybesians, or any of their military flunkies."
Raven continues to listen.
"My trump sketch should be suitable then," Ossian says. "I should probably find me a larger sword, before we leave. Other than that, I think I'm ready. What about you?"
Into the momentary silence, Random looks up from the crossword puzzle he's been doing, or at least using as a pad for doodling on. "You all need anything else from me? Don't take no for an answer and if you need to shove a dirt-covered coffin through a trump, try to make sure to do so when I'm in bed, asleep..."
A few hours later the three cousins gather in a small room. Ossian has found a shiny steel breastplate, and a heavier sword than he usually carries. He also has a bow and a quiver full of arrows. This is the first time Jerod sees Ossian wearing any kind of armor.
Ossian gives Raven two trumps, one of uncle Corwin and one of a sunny beach. "I will sadly need them back afterwards. " he says, and opens his sketch book. The sketch shows an oddly shaped rock at the foot of a hill. "Anything before we leave?" he says.
Raven accepts the cards gingerly and tucks them away in an inside pocket of her coat. The good captain looks ready to board a ship, complete with a sword that looks like someone might have used the hilt as a club against something hard at some point. "You'll get them back," she answers. "I think I got everything."
"Ok. Get close, and I'll push you through." Ossian says concentrating on the sketch. When the contact opens he lets Jerod through first, and then Raven, before coming himself.
The three cousins are in a valley between high grass-covered hills. No humans are in sight.
"I'll move us a bit closer" Ossian says, striding off northwards. Jerod can sense Ossian's careful shifting of shadow as they walk. As they enter a small forest on the side of one of the hills Ossian turns to Jerod: "We are now rather close to the shadow of the Klybesians. I think it is your turn now."
Raven follows along, looking around with clear curiosity.
Jerod keeps moving silently for a distance before coming upon a trio of horses tied up near a set of low-lying shrubs. From a saddlebag on one of the larger ones he collects a bottle and a thick crystal glass. He then rummages around further, pulling out a leather satchel and looking at it for a moment. "Get comfortable. It'll take a few minutes." he says. He busies himself making a small fire before settling down before it and pouring himself a drink. It is downed in one smooth motion as the bottle is moved to one side, within easy reach of anyone inclined to get some.
Closing his eyes, he breathes for a moment before summoning the Pattern to his mind, letting it fill his awareness, before opening his eyes. Everywhere he looks, he focuses, letting the Pattern touch it, seeing the Shadow before him, feeling its nature, the vibration of life dictated by rules and laws bound by probability. He watches it, seeing it all through the veils of the Pattern, cementing it in his consciousness, letting the ebb and flow of this place move within him, while slowly, carefully, imposing his will upon the substrate of Shadow.
After what seems like an eternity to him, he opens the satchel and looks inside. He pulls a ring from the satchel, silver with a large ruby and he stares at it. One of his father's rings, he let the feelings seep out from within himself, entering into the Pattern connection with the Shadow. For a moment it is hard to maintain the connection and his gaze narrows considerably, using the feelings that come to fore for strength, for focus.
As he places the ring on the ground in front of the fire, he lets the emotion enter into the connection proper, the loss of home and rule, of order and good conduct, a loss replaced by abandon and the fear that faltering laws and order bring. This he pushes into the Shadow around him, letting it ripple outwards as his hand reaches into the satchel.
A cloth comes forth next, an intricate pattern that Ossian would recognize is from Rebma. Jerod looks at it carefully, letting the emotion of security fill him for just a moment before reliving the attack by the Triton, remembering the pain of his ribs, the bitter acrid taste of blood. The loss of faith in security and home pushes out now into the link, to be followed by the fear of the outsider, the malevolence that comes from that which is outside, which cannot be stopped or controlled or bargained with. He pushes this into the Shadow as he lets the cloth fall into the fire, the smoke of its passing wafting into the air, spreading itself upon the wind.
Another draw from the satchel, this time a graven image, brilliant blue and green colours reflecting the sunshine, an image of a fountain set in an idyllic glade, a woman facing away from the viewer, looking outwards to the mountains in the distance. Jerod looks at it for a long moment, remembering when he handed this to Cambina in Paris, a life time ago. He places it carefully onto the ground beside the ring, letting the loss of hope fill his mind, followed immediately by the rage, ice cold and unyielding, a living thing that cares not for mercy or pity or reason. A cold, relentless force...a power of itself that gives focus and clarity upon the execution of its terrible purpose.
Another draw, the final one, and Jerod is looking upon the letter. The letter for Reid, written after Jerod's meeting with Random, in another life, when Jerod had promised he would make the King's wishes known to Reid should he find him, to let Reid "make things right". He looks at the letter, the wax seal of his ring, the careful script of the address...and he places the letter into the fire, letting the ash waft into the air, as vengeance fills the link, vengeance against all those who had wronged him...and those who kept him from helping Family.
The crack of his knuckles, squeezing of his fist, bring him back to the forest and the fire and he lets the link fade, lowering the Pattern and taking a long breath. Another drink follows the breath and he says, mostly to himself. "Better get something to eat.", and another drink.
He picks up the ring and the small plaque, placing them back in the satchel and looks at Ossian. "It's done. The rules have been adjusted...the Shadow will manifest our foreboding for us." he says, climbing slowly to his feet.
A bolt of lighting strikes a distant tree, from the mostly clear sky. It is, Ossian knows, directly between his kinsmen and the Klybesians. Seconds later, thunder rumbles across the evening plains. The night is cool and seems inclined to become colder.
Ossian nods. "That's really impressive, Jerod. Do we want horses."
Jerod motions to the trio of horses, one of which he pulled the satchel from. "Not unless we're getting company." He returns to the larger one, putting the satchel back into the saddle bag and pulling out a wrapped package that upon opening contains travel rations of smoked meats and cheese, which Jerod proceeds to consume with considerable efficiency.
"I'm thinking that should be enough for now...it'll get some people's attention without terrifying everyone into a defensive posture. Unless you've got a suggestion in which case I'd be happy to consider it. I had considered letting a vampire loose but it would take too long to set up the shadow linkage for one to find their way here."
Raven gives the horses a resigned look - the look of a man who grew up in the docks and has spent infinitely more time on a ship than in a saddle. "If we were planning to be here for a bit, I'd say rats," she observes. "Ain't nothing less restful than dealing with rats for days, and all of a sudden they up and disappear."
"The case for horses is that the Klybesians have less time to prepare for our arrival, as we travel faster. The case against - they will probably be intrigued by the quest of how we managed to walk here." Ossian says "Oh, I could do mean things with rats, but let's keep that in reserve."
"I'd rather they be less prepared. But we'll keep the rats in mind though." Jerod replies, concentrating for a few moments, allowing for future probabilities to appear, delicate hooks to await the hanging of just the right amount of fate upon them to trigger the arrival of some very unwelcome guests.
"Let's be off. Time to get what we came here for."
The landscape is bleak and the clouds glower overhead, threatening to storm without doing so. The wild heath looks to be a no-man's land. It is only as the riders approach the monastery on the cliffside that they even begin to see signs of human life. There are cleared trees, and a valiant attempt to wrest crops and livelihood from the sullen soil seems to be an exercise in futility. The weather varies between too warm by day down to far too cold in the evening. The light seems to wash out every bit of color and life, leaving a greyness that looks as if it has long known that it underlies everything, but which has waited for everything bright and alive to die.
The Klybesians' compound fits this place. No one would come here, willingly. It is an information fortress.
The gates are ahead. They surely have seen the three riders approaching up the mountain.
"We need to get someone ranking high enough out here." Ossian says to the others. "I do not think entering that fortress is wise."
Jerod looks over the compound, studying it and the land around it, sifting it for the feel of reality as well as the taint of sorcery.
"What are your colours?" he asks, the question directed to both Ossian and Raven. They can see he begins to rummage through one of his saddle bags.
Raven blinks. "Eh? Ain't sure I got any."
"Welcome to being a Lord of Amber." Jerod says to Raven, riffling through one saddle bag, pulling out two banners and a collapsed pole made from segmented wooden sections of hardened wood. "You'll come up with some eventually. They're good for impressing the hired help and intimidating the outliers." and he pauses to verify the two he has in hand, nodding.
Ossian smiles. "I have suggestions."
"Huh." Raven looks like she's considering all of that.
"For me: Electric blue, the shade of Amber 's sky on a clear day at the end of winter just after sunrise as seen through the window in Lucas' study. And white as the petals of the Arden Starflower."
Jerod goes over to Ossian's horse and riffles through one of the bags on his horse before pulling out a banner that exactly matches the color scheme described, along with another segmented banner pole.
"You'll want to put that up." Jerod says, handing it to Ossian before moving off a few yards and posting the two banners he has. The first uses the colours and markings of Xanadu, the heraldry for a royal emissary on official business. The second is styled in Jerod's colors and contains heraldic markings for both Xanadu and Amber. It also contains, prominently, the markings that denote a Prince.
"They'll be able to see these." Jerod says, getting back on his horse. "We'll see how quickly they respond, and more importantly, who they send out. If we don't get anything in about an hour's time, I'll see about having a meteor impact at the horizon's edge. The explosion won't be a problem for us, but I'm sure they'll get the hint real fast.
"It'll be your show." he says to Ossian. "I'll be in the background watching things."
Raven nods agreement to that.
Within ten minutes the gate opens and a man rides out, slowly. He's dressed in modern earth clothing, and has a leather jacket that looks like it can stop both the fierce wind and an errant dagger. "Lords and Princes of Amber, I am Brother Mago. I greet you in the name of the Saint Pastoral Chapterhouse of the Order of Klybes. Your coming was not unexpected. Please, come in. The weather is unseasonal." His tone of voice is calm, but not friendly.
The entrance to which he leads the group is different from the one Ossian came in by. There is evidence of some higher technology in play. It's quite possible that they used this entrance just to allow Ossian to see the difference.
"You must be tired. Rooms have been prepared."
Ossian grins. "Your hospitality is commendable. However, you are mistaken. We are not tired, and will not be staying for long. Bring us to Hannibal, or another of your leaders."
Jerod is silent as Ossian goes through the introductions, watching all around him, and feeling for the disturbance in Order that sorcery brings. He tweaks a string here or there in the threads of probability, adjusting just in case a meteor really is needed. He'd prefer not to have one though...things gets too messy.
Raven likewise keeps her mouth shut, studying this Brother Mago, his clothes, and the fortress. She keeps her arms crossed, looking unfriendly; she'd try for intimidating, but she's always thought that's harder to pull off when you know you're not the meanest person in the room. If the overall effect is that of a lesser Naval officer backing up his captain at a tense negotiation with the enemy, well...
"Doctor Chew has been summoned. He will not be long. He has been authorized to discuss matters with you." The monk looks at Ossian. "Since you are here, and certainly aware of our role as information brokers, you may wish to conduct personal business with us as a side affair.
"We learn many things. Please consider, " he says, turning to Jerod, "anything you may wish to learn from us, and what you might be willing to offer us."
He smiles and looks at Raven. "Or indeed, anything you would wish to have us keep silent."
Perhaps it is the time Jerod spent with the Pattern in his mind, the immersion of Reality that hardens oneself against the vagaries of Shadow and those who are part of it, that sharpens their personality and defines who they truly are...but there is a look that the monk will see...that Raven and Ossian will see...a look that few see...behind the face of Court and politics and bland conversation concealing threats and promises....there is something...more. Jerod hears the monk and his words, but his own calculations are far ahead...so far ahead...and for the briefest moment there is a flash of that, of an intellect concealed from view, hidden from those that might be apprised of it's true nature. That flash is all that is needed to know that the Order of Klybes has nothing that Jerod wants, or that they could offer that would come close to what Jerod might possess.
There is something else as well, something that is suppressed after a moment, something that says that perhaps it is better that the monks do not possess anything he might truly desire...for the thought might occur to those who consider it...that Jerod might decide to simply take it instead...and crack this world asunder in the process without regard to the consequence.
But the moment passes, the "something" fades and Jerod remains silent, watchful...and waiting.
Ossian just shakes his head. "We will talk with the doctor."
The monk nods. "The rooms behind you are for your use." He makes a gesture at three identical looking doors along the north wall. "You may also tour our sculpture garden and public library. Speak to any brother if you wish anything. Dr. Chew will be with you as soon as possible."
"I do like sculpture, and I don't like waiting. " Ossian says looking at his cousins. "Shall we?"
"Keep your eyes open." Jerod replies.
"Fine by me," Raven agrees.
The sculpture garden is large and the sculptures lean towards the monumental. Amid the many images of monks, there are some more modern works. In one niche there is a a conical statue of a mountain, looking much like Kolvir. There are climbers on it, and they seem to become increasingly happy as they ascend. The ones at the top have wings. There is a bench across from it.
Ossian looks closely at this sculpture, as it shares some elements with the Sundering Monument. He sits down on the bench to see what perspective that would give him. He looks at Jerod, raising an eyebrow.
Jerod looks at it only briefly. "Moonriders." he muses.
At a distance from this is a statue entitled 'Lir'. It is more like a diorama than a statue and it looks like Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa. It has a bench across from it as well.
Jerod looks at it the way a Rebman would look at it, visualizing the three dimensional space of the wave the way that surfacers rarely can, seeing beyond just the surface effects. But the moment lasts only long enough to imprint the statue for future reference before Jerod returns to the here and now.
A monk approaches Raven, and hands the captain a piece of paper.
Raven eyes the monk warily as she accepts the piece of paper. She doesn't make any attempt to conceal the note - anyone sufficiently curious to do so could easily read over her shoulder - she just reads it silently.
Towards the evening Ossian will send a messenger to Regenlief asking if she wants to take a walk with him. Assuming she agrees, he will take her for a walk along the Seine.
He will chitchat for a while, but the he says : "The Klybesians had another prisoner I would have liked to free, but I chose to bargain for your release.
"Had they not told me you were the mother of an Amberite, I might have chosen differently, despite counting you as a friend."
Regenlief has put aside her armor and helmet; apparently someone told her that it wouldn't be fantastic form in the streets of Paris. She has cleaned up and someone's attempted to make a fashionable gentleperson (closer to a man, but there's no hiding that she's a woman) out of her. The odds of her being a fashionable denizen of any bank of Paris ever are low.
Ossian finds this hilarious, but does not show it.
"Then that was the first stroke of luck it ever brought me," she tells Ossian, unconcerned by the possibility of prying ears in the park. "Who was the other prisoner? I'd hate to see some poor bastard left in the clutches of the Klybesians for too long."
Ossian looks sad. "A friend of Reid's, a woman from here, Papillon." But he is not to be distracted. "Please tell me about this child of yours, where is it now?"
"I don't know," Regenlief says flatly. "It was taken from me after I gave birth. I never saw the child again." It's a story she's rehearsed enough to give her a veneer of frosty equanimity about the story, although Ossian can see right through it. "It's not a happy story. I don't dwell on the matter. It was a long time ago. I hope my child had a good life, but that's all I can do."
"It is dangerous to be a child of Amber. Who is the father, and who took the child? We will need to find it to protect it."
She looks at Ossian as if he's said something somewhat stupid. Maybe he has. "The Klybesians took my baby. I was in their employ when I met the man who might have been the father. A mercenary: some called him Ramble and others called him Gamble, depending on who you listened to. His forces and mine fought the agents of the Black Road. The Klybesians have their grudges against Amber, but even they knew the Black Road was bad news." She presses her lips together for a moment and adds, "If I had to guess what happened to it, I'd think they had it raised in their faith, to be brainwashed into serving them later. If a child of Amber is dangerous, they'd think it was powerful, and they'd harness that power however they could."
Ossian pulls out his Trump deck. " Would you be able to identify the father from a picture?"
"Probably. Depends on the picture." Regenlief shrugs, a gesture that her outfit clearly wasn't designed to accommodate. "Why? Do you think you have an idea of who the father might be?" Her voice has taken on an edge of nerves and suspicion; this is clearly not a topic she's comfortable with. "If he's looking to marry me and legitimize his claim to the throne of Amber with an heir, he can think again. I'm not interested in Amber's civil wars; I have a few wars of my own to prosecute," she tells him firmly.
Ossian smiles. "I would not think marriage is a risk. Nor civil war at the moment.
"But I have a few guesses." He flips through his Trump deck until he finds the card of Random. "This one?"
Regenlief takes the card and examines it. "Cold," she notes. "I don't know this man," she says after looking at him for a bit. "Who else do you have in mind? I can tell you it's not the dark-haired fellow, the one who's King here, either. I never saw him before." She hands the card back to Ossian. He can tell from the way she hands it over that she doesn't have the proper care that she ought to have with Trumps.
(Ossian suspects that Corwin wouldn't throw Regnelief out of bed for eating crackers based on the way he looked at her, but Corwin likes dark-haired women.)
Ossian nods. He picks out his sketch book. He flicks through it until he finds a half finished sketch of Brennan. (a non-trump one) He decides it is good enough. "This man then?"
Regenlief takes the sketchbook from Ossian and examines the sketch closely. She handles it the same way she handled the trump. "The clothes are different, but obviously that could be changed. We go from place to place and clothes and customs change. But that could be him. If you put him in the right gear and dragged him through a battle and a half against the Black Road, that could be him.
"Who is he, and where is he now? Do you know?" She looks up from the Trump to watch Ossian's response to the question.
"He would have looked more warlike, yes. He's probably far from here right now, but he moves around a lot. I guess I could reach him given a week or two."
Ossian sighs "His name is Brennan. Do you know of a town called Abford?"
"Never heard of it." On that point Regenlief is certain. "I moved around a lot, though, during the war. I didn't catch all the names, though. Tell me what it was like and I might remember it, if it was somewhere I went through in a rush." She glances back down at the sketch of Brennan. "Sometimes we had forward motion against the Black Road for a little while but for the most part it was a fighting retreat."
Ossian describes Abford in some detail, and adds: "I grew up in an orphanage there, not knowing who my parents were. I have learned since that Brennan is my father."
Regenlief is shaking her head here and there as he describes Abford, which apparently sounds to her like any of a number of shadows she's been through, until that very last bit. Then she stops and stares at Ossian, really stares at him. Then she eyes Ossian's hands, which have the calluses of a painter and not a swordsman or archer. "Are you trying to tell me you think you're my son?"
"I think it is possible. We should have someone test it." Ossian looks at her. Does he and Regenlief look alike at all?
"Test it how?" Regenlief asks at once, eyes still narrow and suspicious. She may be a little in shock, Ossian can feel. "Do your princes of Amber have a way of knowing such things? Because I've been told the Klybesians do, and nothing of theirs is simple or easy. Or free." She presses her lips together for a moment. "It's a good thing you didn't let on who you were, because if they had any idea, they'd never have let you out of there."
Ossian nods. "It would be fun if they missed that. But it certainly seems that way. There are ways to test parenthood, I think, but that is not my art. Brennan knows how to do it, though."
Regenlief shifts uncomfortably from one leg to the other as they stand in the grass by the river. "How long will it take him to come and do whatever it is he wants to do? Will it involve bleeding?" Her face twists a little in distaste. "I don't like having blood taken. The Klybesians used blood in their divinations."
Ossian frowns. "I hope to get in touch with him within a week. To be honest I do not know about the blood, but I think something else would suffice. Hair maybe."
The look of distaste on her face shifts slightly. "How much hair? I don't mind giving up a few strands, but I'd rather not cut it off." Another thought occurs to her. "You're going to be in touch how? By bringing him here, going to him, or some other magic?"
"I will first talk with him across the world's with the help of some magic, then we decide how to proceed. Preparing that magic will take a number of days."
"All right," Regenlief unbends a little, or at least the stiffness in her posture releases. "I don't have anywhere else to be. I can wait that long." Nothing about this situation seems to please her, though. "And what happens after that depends on what we find out."
Garrett arrives at the appointed meeting place at the appointed time to find Heap already waiting. He motions toward an alley behind the building and leads Heap into it. After checking to see that no one else is around to notice, Garrett turns his back to his companion and self-consciously pulls out his trump deck. Unsure about how much Heap knows about this process and uncertain about non-emergency, non-family Trump protocol, he keeps the cards close to his chest, shuffles Corwin's trump to the top of the deck, and concentrates.
Heap doesn't seem to have a very good idea of what's going on, but he's very interested in it.
Once he's pulled the trump and concentrated, there is a moment or two before Garrett is sure he's caught Corwin, at which point the picture of Corwin clarifies into him in some interior room, probably a study, at Paris.
"Who's there?" Corwin asks.
[Assuming a clear answer.]
"What can I do for you, nephew?" he asks.
"Well, sir, I have someone here who needs to be brought to Paris on Prince Jerod's orders. I have business there myself as well. Would you prefer us to travel by trump or shall we come the long way?" he asks. While he's not exactly hiding the trump from Heap, he's not openly sharing the view either.
"I can bring you through." Corwin's eyes narrow a little. "Who do you have with you and why does Jerod want him brought through to Paris?" Corwin is coming to his feet, probably to make room for Garrett and his guest, or maybe to get out of the room before he brings them through.
"A man from Amber by the name of Heap, sir. Jerod wished him to deliver a message to a... woman named Silken, who we believe has relocated to Paris," he reports. If Corwin still seems willing to bring them through after this information, he takes Heap by the elbow and readies himself for transport.
"A moment," Corwin says, and steps out of the room through two sets of French doors and a hallway out onto a lawn. The first door clicks securely shut behind Corwin. Wherever he was, he doesn't want Heap to appear there.
[OOC: I'm pretty sure Garrett has been in Corwin's study in Paris and if so, he'd recognize the room as where Corwin had been as the study.]
Garrett waits patiently for Corwin to choose the entry point. He had been expecting some sort of advance preparation.
Once he's out on the lawns of the Louvre, Corwin offers his hand to Garrett. "Send him through, and then I'll bring you through. If this Silken is in Paris, we'll find her."
Garrett does as instructed. Once he's through himself, he makes the proper introductions and continues, "Silken is from The Red Mill, Uncle. She'd likely have settled in a similar position here. Unless she used her connections with Lucas to move up in the world." He glances at Heap inquiringly.
"I'm not as familiar with the houses of that sort here as I was in Amber," Corwin admits, though Garrett suspects that Corwin has more familiarity with the clubs of that sort in both Ambder and Paris than he might like to admit.
"I will be glad to help Your Majesty in any way you might require," Heap interjects, bowing his head obsequiously to Corwin.
Corwin's attention is still on Garrett, however. "We'll ask Flora about Lucas' connections," he continues, as if Heap hadn't said anything. "I don't think it would be wise to ask the widow about his connections of that sort. Even if, as I suspect, they're not primarily for entertainment."
"True," Garrett agrees, not mentioning that he had already asked Solace vague questions in that regard on his last visit. He continues, "Though, is that something he would have shared with his mother?" His ears go slightly pink at that line of thought.
"Clearly you never saw my sister interacting with her son," Corwin says drily, ignoring the bugged-out eyes of Heap. "Now let's get you and your guest settled for the duration of your stay. Alice is my chatelaine, and she'll see that you're tended to and have appropriate servants to care for your needs. And the same for your man here." He glances at Heap, who is desperately delighted to receive such a promotion.
Corwin adds, "Unless there's something else you need now."
Garrett grimaces slightly at Heap's elation, but his attention remains on his uncle. "Thank you, sir. No, there's nothing else at the moment. I... we'll... get settled first. I can find Alice myself, if you're busy," he offers.
"We'll summon her once we go inside. She'll know how to make all the necessary arrangements." Corwin smiles and, with his face turned toward Garrett and away from Heap, winks.
Once Alice has shown Garrett and Heap to their rooms and bustled off busily to her next task, Garrett turns to Heap and says, "Now then. We're here. What did Prince Jerod want you to do?"
Heap can't seem to decide whethet he's relieved or unnerved that they're in Paris and under the scrutiny of Corwin and his people. Paris is very different to Amber, and the palace is probably more luxurious than anything he's seen in his whole life. Garrett has no trouble reading the naked ambition in him.
"He wanted me to take a message to Silken, Your Highness," Heap says, his tone dropping into that grovelling sound that Garrett has come to know so well from talking to him. "Once we find out where she is, we can do that as soon as possible, I hope? I would hate to disappoint Prince Jerod."
"And I reckon he didn't give you any hints on where you might find her once you got here?" Garrett asks doubtfully.
Heap has to think about this for a moment, but he comes up with an answer pretty quickly. It's entirely possible he's not making this up as he goes along. "He told me to deliver the message without fail. But I know that the man who handled all Lord Lucas' business in Amber was the tobacconist Prudenter, who removed to Paris to continue to provide... cigarettes. If anyone knows the whereabouts of Silken, it will be the tobacconist." Heap beams, as if he's done something particularly clever.
Heap has Garrett's attention on this. The young prince frowns. Something about "the tobacconist" sounds VERY familiar, in a Connected-with-Martin sort of way. "All right," he muses quietly, rubbing his chin in thought. "You're good on the streets. Do you think you can find this person if I leave you loose to wander? Not talk to him. Just find him?"
"I can do that." Still beaming, Heap nods enthusiastically at Garrett. "I can send back to the palace for you, if you like, and follow him if he leaves wherever he is, Your Highness. I will not fail you!" Or perhaps not Prince Jerod, who is a more fearsome fellow than Garrett by some significant measure.
"No, don't send anyone back. Just watch him a bit, then come tell me. I'd rather not bring anyone but us into this," Garrett says, emphasizing the "us" very slightly. He's not above using Heap's ingratiating nature to his own advantage if it's convenient. "In the meantime, I'll talk to my aunt to see if she knows of any other contacts."
"Very well, Your Highness." Heap bows, and once Garrett dismisses him, scuttles off into the city to spy on the tobacconist for the prince.
When Ossian gets back to his room in Corwin's palace he goes through his collection of inks, brushes and paper. "You have travelled to much." he decides, and goes into town to buy the best art supplies he can get.
Then he looks at himself in a mirror (carefully covering it afterwards) "I'm not sure that was helpful at all" he says to himself, before starting on a sketch of Brennan.
Ossian will spend a whole day painting. He wants that sketch afterwards too. Then he takes a deep breath and tries to use it.
There is no sense of immediate connection, but Ossian doesn't think the trump has failed; it's more like Brennan cannot be contacted just now for whatever reason. He's too distracted to take the call or otherwise occupied or something.
Ossian sighs and puts away the sketch of his father. He flicks through his deck until he finds the Trump of Random. "Reporting time. " he mutters to himself.
Random replies almost instantly from the chamber behind the throne room. He's wearing a crown and a regal-looking robe and Ossian guesses that someone is fitting it on him. "Ossian, I was wonderering how you were getting along. How goes it?"
Ossian grins and then turns somber. "I'm in Paris. Have met the Klybesian monks, who told me Reid's dead. It will not be easy to confirm however."
Random pauses, considering. Eventually he asks two questions. "Did they kill him? Do you know if he made a death-curse?"
"They said they didn't, whatever their word is worth. I have no idea if he made a curse. Is there a way to tell?"
"To tell about a death curse? You usually tell by the consequences. If the Klybesians were cursed by Reid, we might not know for decades, but it will be inexorable and permanent. Entire shadows have been removed from the cosmos by a well-phrased death-curse. Save yours for the enemies of the Pattern.
Ossian nods. "Booring." he thinks to himself.
"Please pass this message to them from me. 'The family of Reid of Amber claim his body and will soon send a delegation to recover it. If there is the slightest resistance to our reasonable and just request, the Klybesian Order will find the consequences will make the death-curse of a Prince of Amber seem mild by comparison.'" Random pauses. "And after you tell them that, skedaddle. There's no small-talk after a lovely threat like that."
Ossian frowns. "I gather you want me to go back there to deliver that message? And that you have a reason for that... Hm. Harsh wording?"
Random nods. "Let 'em guess on my meaning or reasons. If you want to indulge in speculation with them on the subject if the king's tone, lead them towards 'I think he is annoyed that you didn't tell him without being asked.' I don't know that they did something I don't like here, but I know they do things I don't like in general."
Random's eyes move, as if he's making eye contact with someone on his end, out of Ossian's sight.
"I understand you are busy. One last thing." Ossian grins. "I would love to deliver that message. How quickly do you need it to get there?"
Random nods to Ossian's grin. "How far out of your way is it? You can deliver it to any highly-placed godbotherer you can find, if it's inconvenient or risky. You've gotta get these messages to them fast. Monks are like puppies; you can't teach 'em what's bad unless you basically catch them in the act."
Random reaches his hands up above his head, and someone puts a jacket on him. "Go forth and rattle them for me. Observe how they react, and let me know if they drop anything useful. Does that make sense?"
"It will take me a few days to get there. Anything else?"
Random cocks his head slightly, as if thinking. "Other than 'Don't get killed'? Nope. I figure that's a good assignment for now. Should be easy-peasy."
"Heh. If you don't hear from me, please have someone Trump me."
Ossian will try to get some kind of armed escorts for his trip to the Klybesians, Firumbras would be ok, for instance. He will also ask Corwin if he wants Ossian to simultaneously demand the release of Papillon.
Corwin wants Papillon back, yes, but Random's message comes first. He suggests that Ossian ask for her to show Random and Corwin that Reid died of something other than being murdered by the Klybesians, not that Ossian should say things that way. Macy's doesn't tell Gimbel's that either, unless it wants a lawsuit.
He'll definitely send Firumbras or Lancelot with on this one, but suggests recruiting a family member might also be worthwhile. Someone who could make a firm martial impression would be ideal.
Heh. Who is available? I know Marius is, but his former experience with the monks might render him unsuitable.
NPCwise, Marius may be it. Unless you want to try for Merlin or Ambrose--and you might could get someone from Team Rebma if you talked to Ambrose. Merlin is on an errand, last we saw him, but you can ask him. Mind, he doesn't cut an impressive figure, but he's probably the most powerful of the youngers.
Or possibly Raven will be getting in touch with Ossian and that will do instead?
Ossian will not drag Merlin to the Klybesians, for various reasons. If Raven calls, that could be a fun solution.
Back in his sitting room, Garrett drafts a note to his aunt. He writes slowly and carefully, recalling childhood lessons in penmanship at his da's side; lessons that were largely ignored as he grew older, except on those rare occasions when he was called upon to write formally. If anything could be called a formal occasion, a meeting with Aunt Flora certainly qualifies.
Dear Aunt Flora,
I have returned to Paris and would like to meet with you, as your schedule permits. Perhaps a late lunch on a quiet veranda could be arranged?
He sends the note off with a page and takes some time to clean up and dress in proper Parisian finery while waiting for a response.
After an exchange of notes, Florimel agrees to meet him for tea in one of the salons. When he arrives, she is a vision of loveliness, in the current fashion--which Garrett suspects she set, since it's perfectly suited to her complexion, coloring, and form--seated on the low sofa, with handsome Irish wolfhounds to keep them company.
She rises, though by rights she does not have to, being both the lady and the elder of the two, not to mention in her own place. The swan is in her movement, as the song says, and the morning in her smile. "Prince Garrett," she says, and her voice is like silver bells tinkling. "How lovely to see you."
Garrett bows from the neck formally, momentarily as lost for words as an illiterate docksider asked to recite epic poetry. "Thank you for agreeing to see me, Aunt Flora," he says, regaining speech. "The pleasure is mine. I trust that Paris is treating you well." He moves toward the chair she just vacated and touches it in a gesture of gentlemanly politeness, inviting her to sit, though he is fully aware that, manners or not, his aunt will make her own rules.
Her lips curl upward at the corners and her eyes crinkle in amusement and pleasure as she seats herself and politely gestures to Garrett to join her. The grey--she is, technically, still in mourning--of her skirt spills over the fabric of Corwin's sofa. "Do join me, and tell me how things have been. Did you come from Xanadu or Amber? How were your travels? How does everyone fare?"
This is all standard fare; Martin warned Garrett about it. She's older and more powerful and has the office of host. It's Garrett's place, Random's son or not, to give his news first, at least according to family etiquette.
Garrett settles in for a long chat, feeling rather like a mouse caught between the paws of a tail-twitching tabby. Accustomed by now to family etiquette, he begins speaking without hesitation. "I come from both, actually. Amber most recently, but only briefly, and I saw none of the Family there. I was here fairly recently, as you know, and went back to Xanadu for a short time before going to Amber. Father caught me up on developments there, chiefly that Bleys and Edan have been poking the Moonriders with sticks. His words, not mine."
"Oh, that sounds quite fascinating," Florimel says with a knowing nod. "Bleys always finds such interesting ways to get himself into trouble, and that son of his seems likely to follow in his footsteps. I'm sure that they'll come back with delightful stories of the scrapes they've evaded soon enough."
As if on cue--and perhaps it was cued by his entrance--a page comes in with a tray of tea and food: little crustless sandwiches and delectable little sugary treats. He sets it down on the table before Flora's sofa and bows to the Princess and Garrett before retreating.
"You may pour." Apparently that's an honor. "And how does Queen Vialle fare?"
Garrett nods his thanks to the servant then makes his best effort to pour a proper tea [and as his player has no idea how to do this, assume Garrett learned from Vialle]. "Father says she's doing better," he replies, "but it's a slow recovery. He didn't say more than that, but that's not unusual. He's been vague about it all along." He allows his concern for his step-mother to show on his face, assuming Flora to be adept at reading expression.
"He mentioned that the Moonriders are growing more active, though he didn't seem to feel there was reason for immediate concern in Xanadu. He didn't mention Amber, but there's not much there to pillage anymore anyway. I reckon that Corwin would be monitoring threats here as well?" He says this as a question, though he can't imagine that Corwin wouldn't be watching the situation closely.
However he's doing, and Garrett suspects his tea-pouring skills aren't up to snuff, based on the gentle guidance he gets here and there from Florimel, Florimel is nothing but complimentary toward his efforts. Once the tea is served, she waits for Garrett to serve himself some of the little crustless sandwiches--the little roast beefs are clearly there for his benefit--before taking a single cucumber half-sandwich of her own. Clearly she doesn't eat like a prince of Amber, or at least doesn't in front of one.
Roast beef sandwiches, crustless or not, are something that this young prince of Amber cannot resist. He helps himself and downs one quickly, with passable manners and no crumbs dropped, as his aunt speaks.
"I'm sure he does; I know he's in close contact with your father and, I'm sure, Caine. Corwin is old enough and remembers enough of the last time we fought them not to take the Moonriders lightly."
Eager interest lights Garrett's eyes at this. "Did Corwin ever speak to you of it? The last time we fought them, I mean?"
Florimel smiles, as she often does when she speaks of the old days before Oberon died. "I've heard the tale of his heroism, and Bleys' and Benedict's, many times, but I wasn't present. Father had sent me to Rebma to see me safe from the Moondriders. It was only in the recent war, when things became more desperate, that I was allowed to participate." She takes a sip of her tea, eyes meeting Garrett's over the curving rim. The cup does not clink when she sets it into the saucer. "What in particular would you like to know?"
"I wish I knew, exactly," Garrett begins, the remainder of the little sandwich forgotten between his fingers. "I keep thinking about the encounter we had with the Marshall, when we rescued the Queen. I go over it, trying to remember something I missed, or something I should ask my aunts and uncles about. What I keep coming back to is a feeling of... I don't know... coldness? Dread? The idea that the Queen could be possessed as she seemed to be... and wondering if that could be done to one of us, or if she was vulnerable because she wasn't one of us. Do you recall any mention of... that sort of attack?"
A delicate bite from one of the cucumber sandwiches gives Florimel some time to think about that. She ultimately shakes her head in the negative. "The chief magical attributes I've heard of--and seen, though never at close range--are their abilities to move things in space and time, presumably sorcerously. Which is not to say they don't have other magical powers, and that those of us of the royal blood don't have particular strength in resisting their magics. But neither their legendary powers, nor their witnessed powers in the last war, include possession. Not of our forces, nor of their own."
Garrett pops the last bit of sandwich into his mouth and ponders this as he chews. "That fits with what we saw," he says once his mouth is no longer full. "The images, I mean. I reckon they could have been scenes out of time rather than ghosts or some kind of possession. Or... perhaps that's what ghosts ARE. Scenes out of time."
He shudders at this, his thoughts going deeper than he'd planned for this particular conversation. "Anyway, that wasn't really what I asked to meet you for," he resumes. "I wondered if you knew where I might find of one of Lucas's... um... associates from Amber. A woman by the name of Silken."
Florimel laughs. "His mistress, you mean. Maitresse-en-titre, as we would say here in Paris. I know he kept her at Red Mill and that certain arrangements were made for her after his death. But I don't know where she is now, and I would very much like to find out. I think someone removed her, and I do hope--" her smile turns down around the edges a little "--that it was not a permanent sort of removal. Since we do know that poor dear Lucas had enemies."
Garrett is relieved to find Lucas's mother so matter-of-fact about the idea of a mistress. His own mother certainly wouldn't be. He relaxes visibly, though her last comment concerns him once more. "If you don't mind my asking, Aunt Flora, what makes you think that? Back in Amber, they seemed to think she had simply moved to Paris. No one was alarmed, as far as I knew. Have you heard something more?"
"I have heard nothing, and that is why I believe she has been removed," Florimel explains. "She is not in Paris. I am aware of all of the ladies who practice the arts of love at her level, who are mistresses of the gentlemen of the court. Moreover, I was somewhat aware of Lucas' affairs--not of all of them, obviously, but those that a discreet ear in the right place could make one privy to--and I know she has not been in contact with any of his other agents. The ones who now report to me know better than to keep such news from me." She smiles sweetly at Garrett.
"Indeed," Garrett agrees seriously, acutely aware of the steel beneath the sweet smile. He rubs his chin thoughtfully and picks up another sandwich, more to have something to hold in his hand that because of true hunger. "Aunt, have you heard of someone named Scarlett? I believe she's in Xanadu now, but she's from the Amber Docksides originally. Her name has come up more than once as someone who bears watching."
Florimel sniffs, but not unkindly. "A woman of the Docksides generally is beneath the notice of the court. But," she relents, "if it was someone one of the Princes noted, perhaps. I don't know her in relationship to Lucas, but if she's the woman I think you mean, I know she's had Silken's attention a time or two before I left for Paris. I had concluded that she was related somehow to Silken." Her gaze falls onto Garrett. "What makes you think there's something more to her that makes her worthy of our attenion?"
"Only that she had my brother's attention before he left Xanadu, and Jerod's recently. Both were in the 'watch out for That One' sense," Garrett explains. "It seems a bit too coincidental that Silken, who I always heard could take care of herself, should mysteriously disappear when Scarlett turned up."
This captures Florimel's interest enough that she sets aside her cup for a moment and leans in to look closely at Garrett, sort of in the way that a cat might look at a tastily interesting mouse. "That could be taken to mean any number of things. Are you suggesting that Scarlett removed Silken somehow? Or something more interesting? I'm fairly certain people have seen them in the same place at the same time, but as Caine has demonstrated, that's not necessarily proof of anything." Another sniff, disdainful, at that.
Garrett's dark brows arch, startled. "The first one, certainly. I...had not even considered the second possibility until this moment," he admits, though his newly-thoughtful tone indicates he's thinking it now. "Do you think that's possible?"
"I doubt that Silken is sufficiently powerful or closely enough related to manage Caine's trick. I'm sure there are some of us who couldn't, if only because of the fortitude it takes to provide the corpse." Another Florimelish moue of distaste covers that situation, though talk of corpses doesn't seem to have interrupted her appetite for tea or tea-cakes. "But it's quite possible. Your father has explained to you about Shadow duplicates, n'est-ce pas?"
"Not specifically, no, but he's not much for long explanations," Garrett replies. "I heard stories about Caine's return from the dead back when it happened, but it was mostly servant gossip."
"They had a body, of course, because it wouldn't have been credible without. I saw it," Florimel explains. "I didn't think anything of it at the time. We thought Benedict was dead after twenty-odd years, and Corwin had been dead for longer, but there had been uncertainty. Caine wanted to be certain we didn't look for him, and to pin the business on Corwin. So he walked into a close shadow and removed the shadow-Caine from that place, killed him, and left the body for us to find." The corners of her mouth turn up and she nods, approvingly.
"But why?" Garrett asks, intrigued. "What did he do while he was gone? All I remember was that he showed up in Chaos at the final battle and killed... Brand." The change in his eyes and voice on that last word is abrupt, as though a long-known legend has suddenly become alarmingly personal. Which it has. "Did he know about Martin?" Garrett asks quietly.
"That's a question you'd do better asking him. It seemed at the time like a feint against Corwin, but Caine wasn't the only one acting against him, or on the assumption that he was behind whatever was happening, so I could be wrong about that." If she were carrying a fan, Florimel might be opening it and looking over it at Garrett. Instead she merely bats her eyes. "I suppose you have more freedom of action when you're believed to be dead. Between Benedict and Caine and our father, all the best people were doing it."
Garrett snorts in amusement. "To the point where it would no longer work from overuse, I reckon," he says with a wry smirk.
"Back to the point though, Aunt Flora," he continues, reaching for another meat sandwich. "Silken is still missing. Do you think any of the 'agents' you mentioned might be able to help find her?"
"If she fled on her own, through routes that dwellers in the city can take out of Paris, quite possibly. Paris doesn't have a Golden Circle yet, but it will in due time. Some of those places have stable routes, and those are being--let us say 'explored' by Royal agents. If Silken is there, it's quite likely she'll be found.' The corners of Florimel's mouth turn up predatorily. "But if she's been removed by someone who can cross shadow paths, with or without her cooperation, all bets are off."
"Well," Garrett sighs, "I reckon I'll have to cross that path when I come to it. Best to start at the beginning though. Could you put me in touch with your people? Or put the word out to them if you'd prefer not to reveal your contacts?" He smiles slyly at that last bit. Ladies, especially royal ones, must be allowed their secrets, after all.
Florimel purses her lips slightly and considers matters. "I could certainly ask for discreet enquiries to be made. It may take a little time for results to arrive. How long will you be staying? How should I reach you if something interesting turns up and you've gone on your way?" She looks inquiringly at Garrett over the rim of her teacup.
(She does not do anything interesting with her pinky when she drinks, Garrett has noted. Either the legends are untrue or the fashion has changed.)
"This is my prime job now, so I should be here until it's settled," Garrett explains while finishing off his sandwich. "If I'm not, I reckon I'd be in Xanadu and you can ask Father."
"Then I will be sure, when I hear something one way or another, to let you know." Florimel sets her teacup down and nods by way of signalling her agreement to the favour.
After Brennan closes the contact with Folly, he takes stock of the situation and looks around: Assuming there is no evidence that anyone is out spying on him-- which hopefully Skiaza would have alerted him to-- he stops to consider all the things he needs to do in the near future.
First on the list is getting a closer look at that caravan and its contents, if any are left. This, Brennan chooses to accomplish by means of Sorcery. Again he calls Skiaza to him and tell it to watch over him, then settles down for a piece of a minor Sorcery.
By now, it is almost old hat to separate his field of vision from the physical location of his eyes. He's been doing that for weeks now, with a simple working of Space. This time, though, he is doing it in the dark, so he necessarily adds another component to it. Specifically, a working of Entropy which will serve to gather more signal from the incoming light without needing to do anything gauche like conjure extra light.
Brennan is cagey enough to leave hooks in the spell to modify it further, but once he has that much working, he moves his field of vision until it is at, and then inside, the caravan. Who is keeping watch on it, this night-- are they doing their job? And what is inside?
It's Radish. He's pretty well positioned to see the two entrances to the barn area and to be seen so that no one investigates the caravan to see if it's unguarded. He seems to be better prepared to raise a ruckus than to fight off a swarm of enemies, but that may just be the job he thinks he's doing.
Inside the caravan are an assortment of weapons, similar to the ones distributed so far, a locked chest that is empty, perhaps for some treasure Crisp doesn't leave in wagons, a box full of papers that can't be read in the total darkness of a closed box, and a collection of brightly lacquered wooden panels, the longest nearly six feet long.
Radish doesn't notice the magical manipulation.
The papers might be interesting, but for the moment Brennan doesn't bother with them. Too risky.
The wooden panels are meant to be decorative, correct? Of the ones he can see, are there particular patterns or decorations that might have significance? More importantly-- and this may take some contrivance of Space, since Brennan is engaging in clairvoyance and not physically present-- are they perhaps lacquered wooden panels on one side that hold mirrors on the other?
Perhaps it's a disassembled dowry chest, but it's a significant fraction of the length of the wagon. Examining the edges of the forms, they're supposed to fit together somehow. Brennan doesn't detect anything that might indicate a mirror. One side of some of the pieces might be cushioned.
Big damn hope chest, if that's what it is. But perhaps not unreasonable for a princess.
Finally, once Brennan has acclimated his vision to the place, he modifies the spell slightly and presses the clairvoyant vision into the Astral. He's already taken a look at the caravan Astrally before, and came up dry, but it was at a distance and quite some time ago. Things might have changed.
Whatever was special in the caravan is gone. It either was handed out in trade earlier, or Crisp took it out of the wagon. The caravan and the wooden door to the stables are just not there astrally. Brennan sees something odd. There was an astral source high up on the castle walls, probably near the roof. Now it's gone. It's hard to say where it was, but Brennan definitely notices that something changed.
Brennan is using some rather deep principles of Sorcery to achieve the clairvoyant effect of a back shadow hedge wizard. Brennan could close his eyes and grind the heels of his hands against his orbits and not impede his vision. Brennan's vision is almost entirely decoupled from his actual eyes, at the moment.
None of that stops Brennan from-- rather uselessly-- squinting in the direction of the Astral disturbance. It is likely he also scowls.
In for a penny, in for a pound, he thinks to himself, and shifts his vision in the direction of the disturbance, as near as he can make it out.
Brennan moves his extended vision to the top of the tower. There's a dead sentry, with an arrow in her chest. There's also a pair of ladders against the south wall and an open door.
That is one possible explanation for the subtle change in the astral qualities of the environment-- either the dying sentry or the passage of a few infiltrators could have done it. Although two ladders seems like overkill and leaving the door open is just unprofessional.
Brennan spares approximately two heartbeats to look at the dead guard to see if anything stands out about her-- is she someone Brennan recognized, is there anything unusual about the position of the body or the arrow, or about the arrow itself-- before snapping the Astral component back on the clairvoyance. The fortress, being a temporary, man-made structure, should be translucent or non-existent to his Astral sight, thus letting him see the infiltrators as they make their way into the keep. If he sees them, he sends his clairvoyance their way with all due speed... and since it can go straight through the walls, that's pretty speedy.
He also prepares to use the origin of his clairvoyant as a focal point for further effects-- likely, but not necessarily, a Long Step effect that will bring Brennan bodily to that point. But not yet.
It's difficult for Brennan to properly orient his vision and his hearing when they are in two different places, although it is not impossible. Either the attackers have flubbed in their mission or they no longer care if they make noise/raise the alarm.
Brennan quickly finds them, in a fight, somewhere in the family wing of the keep. There are perhaps a dozen people struggling, but it's hard to say due to the nature of his third eye.
Or it's a diversion. So let's end the diversion, Brennan thinks to himself.
Within the constraints of not wasting any time, he picks his moment and his place. The place, he identifies with a moment of both "mundane" and astral-enhanced clairvoyance that he already has running-- it's around a corner where he won't be seen, and ideally one from which he might be plausibly coming in the first place. The moment, is as soon as possible.
The action associated with that time and place is to use his clairvoyance as the focal point of a Long Step, bringing his body and vision back into physical congruence, but at the location of his vision rather than the location of his body. Or in other words, he brings his body from where it is to up inside the keep, without traversing the distance in between. His vision is already there; it's probably only a few hundred yards; it's even in the same Shadow. It's not, for instance, like travelling from Amber to the Chamber of Dreams. It ought to be possible without all the effort of a full Parting of the Veil.
Brennan takes his Long Step and is around the corner from the fight. He's somewhat bruised and there may be a door or window that he went through at extremely high speed that will never be the same again, but he's substantially achieved his goal. Even having dripped his several sorceries, Brennan is mentally taxed from his castings. He might not be at full strength to duel against an Elder, but he's not going to duel against an elder tonight.
If Brennan had time, he'd muse that apparently the Long Step working needs a bit more work-- the idea was to avoid the space in between those point all together, not just to traverse it at high velocity. But it worked, is the important thing.
Once there, Brennan rounds the corner ready for combat. If pushed up against the wall, Brennan could probably do for a half a dozen invaders on his own without even any overt sorcery, although any notion of posing as 'just' a mercenary sergeant would be out the window. He can damn well turn the tide of an otherwise even fight, though, so that's what he does-- identifies and overpowers one of the invaders (hopefully leaving him alive for later questioning) and rallies the rest of the home team to put the rest down. Quickly.
Brennan's immediate tactical scan shows several fights he can help with. The guard are fighting individually with the invaders, who are dressed in black and seem better armed and trained. Several guards are down and Brennan's snap judgement is that the home team is losing. Maibock is on the ground with Mayness leaning over her father and Crisp and Balen are fighting, with Crisp trying to keep Balen from stabbing her sister. So far, no one has noticed Brennan.
There also seems to be a captain of the corsairs who isn't engaged at the moment. He's surveying the battle from the door.
Thus neatly explaining why they don't care if they're noisy: It's not a diversion, they've reached their likely target, which seems to be Maibock.
Brennan's snap assessment is that the few members of the home team that are right here, right now, are expendable. If Montparnasse's military effectiveness turns on a half a dozen fighters who happened to be right in the area, then the area is a lost cause anyway. Which leaves the Corsair captain and the royal family drama as focal points.
It's a tough call, but Brennan makes Maibock his first priority-- he's concerned that either Mayness is trying to finish him off, or that Balen is trying to stab Mayness so she can finish him off. And if he's already dying, Brennan (as Walker) wants to hear his last words. He sprints for Maibock. He also expects the Corsair captain to intercept, and if that happens, he's not interested in a flashy contest of swordplay; he's interested in knifing the man in the gut, leaving him alive for questioning but wishing Brennan had killed him.
Brennan's instincts are sound and the captain of Corsairs is down on the ground in seconds, and Brennan has moved on.
Brennan quickly gets to Maibock and Mayness swings wildly at him with a wicked looking dagger. It would be easy to disarm or throw her. Maibock has an arrow in his chest. At best, it's a horrifically painful flesh wound. At worst, he's drowning in his own blood right now. Crisp and Balen are evenly matched; Crisp has more stamina, but Balen is more agile.
Brennan's calculus doesn't need to go any farther than the transitive property: Walker just knifed a Corsair; Mayness just tried to knife Walker; it's pretty damn likely that the Corsair and Mayness are in fact on the same side. He uses her knife-arm as a lever with which to slam her into a wall until the fight's knocked out of her (and the knife's knocked out of her hand) and he can toss her aside and worry about Maibock.
It's all basically one toss-- the wall is about 8 feet away, she hits it back first where Brennan threw her, the fight (and consciousness) are knocked out of her and she slides down the wall in a heap.
Good. One less thing to worry about.
"Mayness!," shouts Crisp. He seems to be more desperate than before.
Hopefully, Crisp and Balen will keep each other busy. Brennan kneels over Maibock. What's his status, and what can be done for him? Is he conscious? Trying to speak?
He's struggling to breathe. He isn't bleeding, but he's turning blue. Poison seems the most likely cause.
"Poison!" Walker bellows. "'Ware the blades! Poison!" That should be news to either Crisp or Balen. Brennan watches carefully to see their reactions.
It seems probably in a holding of this size that reinforcements will be on the way.
Even if Brennan does not make it more probable, it was already true...
Then he turns his attention back to Maibock: He rifles through his collection of dirty tricks and bets on something vicious in the cyanide family, based on the speed and strength of the reaction, the skin tone, and the perceived shortness of breath. If he's going to live past the next five minutes, he's going to need to be able to breathe better, or his breaths are going to need to be more effective. Then the arrow is going to need to come out and then they'll have to worry about what the poison is going to the rest of him.
"Arrow's gotta come out Prince," he says to Maibock, as he leans over to inspect the wound and work out the best approach to remove it. He'll probably need a knife. "Gotta come out now." And since Brennan has no intention of getting poison on or in himself, he'll need some twine or wire to wrap around the arrowhead to get leverage over it rather than yanking at the sharp arrowhead with his fingers. Or maybe some pliers. Some alcohol to cleanse the wound. Something for Maibock to bite down on. But he doesn't start.
Brennan risks a relatively small working, using entropy to filter everything but oxygen out of the air around Maibock's head. It won't make the physical act of breathing any easier, but each breath he takes should be worth much more. "Gonna hurt like a sumbitch. Say anything you have to say before I give you something to chomp down on," he says. Hopefully the oxygenation will given him enough breath to speak a few words. "Like who done this."
He fights for air for a moment and does seem to get stronger. He struggles to reach up to Brennan. "My ..." He coughs, a rich red froth of blood and spit. "My." Maibock closes his eyes. "My son. King." He says, and stops struggling to speak. He's not dead yet, but he's dying.
Brennan could, more than likely, create a major working of Time and simply reverse the progress of the poison, and perhaps even the progress of the arrow out of Maibock's lungs. But Walker obvious can't and such an action would irrevocably destroy his cover... and the Walker cover is thus far Brennan's best bet to truly discover if there is Rebman influence here.
"We'll find him, Maibock," Walker says, which is just as ambiguous as what Maibock said to him. His son... what? Wants to be king so he killed him? He wants his son to be king so protect him? Thanks. Brennan thinks furiously about what he knows, bereft of all the hearsay and personal agendas:
First, assassinating Maibock is fairly useless unless it degrades Montparnasse's effectiveness or changes its posture. Killing Maibock won't degrade the Mountain unless either Trippel is out of the way-- hostage, say-- and won't change its posture unless Trippel inherits and turns to the Corsairs, or he's dead and someone else pro-Corsair inherits. Supposedly Trippel is none too fond of Crisp, or Cledwin, or the Corsairs, but this is a realm designed to breed aggression and nothing Brennan has seen so far inclines him to believe that ruler's sons can't be ambitious enough to murder their fathers. Much depends on Trippel's status... wherever he is precisely.
Second, this job had an inside component. The guard on the wall with the arrow shaft sticking out of her could have been shot from a distance. It's possible. But it's unlikely, especially since Brennan was clairvoyeuring the area at the time. Plus, it'd be quite a tricky shot all things considered-- elevation, lighting, visibility, sentries. It's a mess. Brennan wouldn't want to be the one to try it. But Maibock was shot right here, and none of these guys have bows and arrows... and the best candidates are people who had physical access to Maibock. Much also depends on finding that weapon and finding who used it.
So, one more try before the man dies. Walker takes Maibock's hand and wipes the froth from his mouth. "There's no weapon here, Maibock. Help us avenge you: Who shot you?"
Brennan makes a note to compare poison notes with Celina, later.
"Never ... have ... children." The effort is too much and the man passes out.
The room rapidly fills with reinforcements and the corsairs are now losing and losing quickly. Brennan hasn't seen most of these reinforcements in his entire time in Mountparnasse. One of the fighters is the wounded captain of the Corsairs. He's been unmasked but is much more lively than Brennan expected him to be. He's doing a pretty good job mowing down corsairs, as well. He seems to be moving through the crowd towards Balen and Crisp.
Maibock's soldiers are also reacting to him. "Trippel! Rally to the Prince!" There are just a few corsairs between him and his goal.
Brennan isn't sure what the exact extent of the list of people who just got screwed is, but he's pretty sure he's on it. Whether it's in his own handwriting or Balen's remains to be seen, but a dark corner of his mind considers punching Balen, just to get an assault on all three non-poisoned members of the royal family under his belt. He resists the urge.
If Balen was telling the truth, a plausible interpretation is that Trippel was-- or is-- the Corsair agent, who just launched a palace coup with their help. That's got a lot of moving parts to it, though, like making sure no one lives who saw him lounging around in Corsair clothing and a mask while Maibock was busy dying. Not to mention the Corsairs busy getting killed by Trippel.
Too many very weakly plausible models, not enough hard data. Not to mention, despite his redheaded urge to meddle, manipulate and direct outcomes, he's really not sure if he cares much who rules in Montparnasse. Yes, Benedict's campaign will probably be harder if it is in the possession of the Corsairs, but probably not cripplingly if he gets advanced notice, which he will. But that's not really Brennan's concern. Evidence of Rebman influence is his concern. It might even be in his best interest to keep things as confused as possible rather than letting them settle immediately.
So, he stands and moves closer to Balen and Crisp, but keeps a very weather eye on the interaction of the three groups-- the original defenders, the Corsairs, and this group of new faces that Brennan has pegged as Trippel's personal men. Are these new faces focusing only on the Corsairs? Are there any of the original defenders left rallying to Trippel? How are the Corsairs reacting to being killed by someone dressed in their colors?
Brennan is observant, and picks up several answers to his questions in the immediate next moments, from his vantage place on the ground next to Maibock.
The new men strictly attack the corsairs, and are intervening and double-teaming them with the original defenders. The original defenders seem to accept them at face value. The men grab Crisp, and drag him away from Balen.
Balen and Trippel kneel down by Maibock. Trippel says to his sister. "This one?"
She quickly responds "The Protector's". Trippel nods back.
"Send for the Field Surgeon!" he shouts, seeing that his father still breathes.
"Do you know who shot him?" he asks Brennan.
No, do you know who knifed you? Brennan doesn't ask.
"Best send for a Wise Woman. I can take the arrow out, but it's poisoned," Walker says. The term, Wise Woman, is one from his days in Reme, but the meaning should carry.
Both Balen and Trippel look shocked, as if poison arrows are ritually unclean. "I'm the best you're going to get," says Balen, matter-of-factly.
"Then you'd best do as you can," Walker says.
He gives Trippel or Balen time to bellow out a subsequent order before continuing, "No. I ain't see any of those boys carrying a bow, either," he nods to the rapidly diminishing Corsair force.
While he lets the implication float there like a drowned corpse, he decides right then and there that the probability of anyone finding matching bows, arrows, or any sort of poison at all in the place he's been staying is zero.
Trippel shakes his head. "They're not bowmen; it's not a sailor's weapon. Not a Methrite weapon at all, really. Maybe Maghees, but I don't think they're allies with the Corsairs."
"The field surgeon!," interrupts Balen. "Over here, man!"
Trippel turns to Balen, "get ready to put pressure on the wound." To Brennan he says "I'll brace him, pull out the arrow."
Balen directs the surgeon and is prepared to doctor her father. Trippel holds his shoulders and head. If they're going to save him, now is the time to pull out the arrow.
Walker reflexively spits at the mention of the Maghees, a detail that Balen and Trippel probably aren't in the right frame of mind to appreciate, but something which Brennan wanted to do, anyway. While they're distracted with the arrival of the surgeon, though, Brennan consider-- the only player conspicuously absent in this psychodrama is Cledwin. Brennan recalls being asked if he could shoot, but what does he remember about Cledwin's abilities? Did he carry a bow? Seem good with it? Brennan thinks about Kim and Chiu as well, but it's Cledwin Brennan is thinking about, uppermost.
Cledwin did have one on his horse's saddle-pack. He shot fresh meat for dinner more than once.
When they're ready, Brennan takes out the arrow. He's canny enough to do it right-- pull straight back if it's a shallow wound, incision to ease the exit if it's barbed or deep enough to be stuck, and a loop of wire around the head for leverage if it's jammed on bone. He's also canny enough not to touch a poisoned object with his hands. If cuts are necessary, those are done with a bare hand (or he'll let the surgeon do it if he seems competent) while the arrow is handled through thin leather gloves.
Brennan's technique is superior and successful. Trippel's caution in holding his father down was wise, and Trippel is notably strong. Maibock struggles, but isn't able to prevent Brennan's work.
Balen puts her fingers on her father's lips and he quiets. She looks at the surgeon. "He'll either live or die, but I've made him comfortable. The surgeon will take him to his bed.
"A King deserves to die in his own bed," say Trippel, as if it's a well known saying. "If they come at full speed, the main corsair force should be here within an hour. This was done to promote confusion. We need to man the walls."
Trippel looks at Brennan, "Tell me of yourself, stranger. What is your name and what brings you to the Mountain?"
"Call me Walker. From Reme," he says, pausing to see if Trippel recognizes the name. "Hired on with Crisp and Cledwin at Port Idun as part of their caravan guard, few weeks back. Life story'll keep till morning."
"It will either keep or we won't need the information. I thank you for your help. If you need to send a message, you have perhaps twenty minutes before the road is cut off."
[Brennan] looks around, collars a pair of Trippel's men and gives them instructions to find his men-- he names Burl, Radish, Kim and Chiu-- get them together and up in here with him. If the barn where that caravan rests is not part of the keep that's protected, he gives them twenty minutes to move whatever seems most valuable inside the perimeter. With six men, that ought to be enough time. They are not to split up as they do this, because there is possibly still an assassin with a stash of poisoned arrows moving about the place.
Then he commandeers another two men, preferably an officer-type and a sergeant, and tells them to find Cledwin and bring him up here as well. They, likewise, are not to split up, for the same reason. He does not voice his suspicion that Cledwin is the assassin.
Officers are nobles in this culture, or the equivalent thereof. The man commandeered looks to Trippel, who says "Go. 'Ware poison."
Cledwin, Brennan learns when the man returns, visited the caravan and then took off on a fast horse. He is likely some miles from the castle by now.
[Brennan] considers giving orders to organize the sentries on the walls, but for just this exact moment in time he wants to gauge Trippel's ability to command. "What force, what direction?" he asks. His voice and diction are still recognizably Walker's, but this is a Walker who could credibly have picked up a nickname like Saviour of the Backpains. Or Blackplains.
How is Trippel reacting?
He's giving orders to his father's men, which they are obeying with alacrity. Mayness is to be locked in the tower, a messenger is to be sent to a certain ally, the gates are to be reinforced, oil is to be brought to a boil on the ramparts, spotters are to go to the top of the tower, and the surgeon is to be brought back to the council chamber behind the throne room. The beacon is not to be lit and the two scaling ladders are to be left in place in an attempt to fool the corsairs into thinking their plan worked.
In response to Walker's questions, he says, "Come with me."
[Assuming Brennan follows...]
"The surgeon is coming to treat me. I was in disguise when you stabbed me, and luckily had my leathers on. You'd've killed most men with that move. I'm still moving mostly on the rush of the battle, but that'll fade. Balen will do her part and she trusts you, which is good enough for me.
Walker neither apologizes nor promises to do better in the future.
"I need you to help, or I need to send you on your way. It seems like you plan to stay and help. It's in your best interests, but I want to hear it from you. Will you and your men serve temporarily under my command for the duration of this assault?"
Walker grunts before answering.
"I ain't much like being set up and used," he says. "So. Condition: This is over, we all sit down and swap life stories. I ask Crisp some questions, too, nice and friendly-like. Look through whatever Cledwin left. Then maybe I hunt him down like a dog.
"Can't speak for my men. Fools if they try to leave now, though. Tell me what we face, I'll talk 'em into staying," he finishes.
Trippel nods and sits, hard. "I haven't been back long enough to sort out the foreigners, except one was helping May, one ran away, and you. We can expand on that tomorrow.
"Situation out there is pretty grim. Two-three ships compliments of corsairs, several hundred men at arms, and all blooded fighters. I expect battering rams early on. If it lasts a long time, they'll be constructing siege machinery."
The surgeon comes in then, and begins taking off Trippel's armor. He nods to the man and keeps talking. He moves the prince like a mannequin. The armor will never be usable again, but it saved his life.
"Our normal strategy is to convince them that we're too much trouble to take and that they'll miss their shot at the ports if they stay in the mountains. We probably have fifty solid fighters and another eighty untrained and children. We also have walls, which give us an advantage. Your 5 or so men add a measurable amount of strength, in addition to your skills.
"We may want to negotiate, but we don't want any of them coming in here. If we tie them up for a long time, that helps the Protector.
"That's the lay of it all. You can talk to your men, but if you're staying, I need you at the front, where I may not be--"
"Will not be!" interrupts the surgeon. "Not wounded and not with the King ... unlikely to recover for some time."
Trippel nods. "Where I will not be. So, what are we not doing that we should be doing?"
"The other foreigners are Crisp and Cledwin," Walker supplies. "You do reckon Crisp married Mayness?" Trippel doesn't have to give an opinion on that, but Walker holds his eyes until he gets a convincing nod that he understands.
Trippel shrugs, painfully. "Effectively. Maybe years ago. I don't even know if they're dangerous or just stupid yet. It's not like it was hard to get on the outs with Dad." He winces a bit as the field surgeon wraps a bandage around his torso. He turns to the man, who is finishing up and sends him for Balen and Windfall.
Walker is unwilling to let that go without a parting shot. "No. Now. Formally. Brideprice given and taken. Get caught up with Balen and don't get killed."
"What else: Make sure Cledwin ain't left any other surprises." [Walker] lists a few examples and finishes with the big one, "Damage to the gatehouse, weapons stocks, whatever the bride price was. Especially if it's weapons. And check your supplies and and your wells. Send Balen quiet, but send her now. And count heads-- those boys didn't raise no alarm, so someone else probably dead. Maybe more than one."
[Trippel] nods. "Sensible." Windfall must be one of the men Trippel returned with, because when he arrives, he's a new face to Brennan. He gives order to the soldier to fetch him stiff armor, something that will hide his wound from his enemies and his troops. He orders Balen to follow Brennan's plan, using her gifts as needed. He also asks for something to help him through the fight. She hesitates, then nods and leaves. "I know who they killed on the way in. I took out their rear guard, stole his outfit, and followed them up their own ladder past our dead sentries less than an hour ago, remember?" He smiles. "There will be a reckoning for that, and all of this."
He breathes deeply, testing himself against his wounded state. "Balen's potion won't really keep me going, but it'll help for a while. We'll put everything we have on the walls at first, try to convince them that the castle is too tough to take. I'm inclined to make you and yours a flying squadron, backing up whoever needs it. Acceptable?"
Walker nods. "Yeah. Your men, some of 'em, know my face. Make sure your next does, and that I know him. I'm off to brief my men."
As Brennan walks out, he exhales and shakes his head. Kim, Chiu, Burl and Radish should be assembled and waiting for him, unless they've already decided their odds are better off outside. He draws them off to the side, out of the bustle as much as possible, and gives them the brief:
"Men, I reckon you've heard bits and snatches of what's happened. What you heard's probably true: A squad of Corsairs came in and tried to kill Maibock. He was alive last I saw him. Be surprised if he's that way come morning. We'll see. Pretty obvious Cledwin done it: Maibock was shot with a poisoned arrow," Walker spits on the floor to show his contempt for the idea, "and Cledwin was a good shot. Didn't see him do it, but he's flown the coop. Don't know if Crisp and Mayness helped, but they're in chains until this is sorted. That's the bad news. Worse is that there's a force of Corsairs less than an hour away. But Maibock's kid, Trippel, is back. If you heard rumors he maybe slipped and fell on my knife you heard right." He lets that hang there two full measures. "He'd infiltrated the Corsairs and was in their colors when it happened. But he's alive and in charge now.
"Like I told Trip, I ain't much like to be set up and used, so I'm in this to keep Montparnasse from falling, just to piss off Cledwin. That leaves you. None of you men signed on to defend a mountain keep, and only two of you signed on with me, anyway. You don't want any part of it, you're free to go. You got," he shrugs," maybe half an hour before the roads close. Won't think any less of you. Or you can stay here and fight. You'll be my crew, and I report to Trip who if he's smart'll be hanging back not interfering and not losing any more blood than he already has. We stay together, we're," he shrugs again, "maybe a tithe their fighting strength, or close enough. We'll stick close to each other, stay mobile and help where we can.
Walker pauses, then gives a grimace that might in more polite circles pass as a smile. "Reminds me of Magrison's Stand at Discol Warmuth. I walked outta worse, and I walked outta that with people owing me favors." He sobers, and adds, "I said you got half an hour before the roads are cut. But you got only half a minute to make up your minds." He shrugs something that isn't an apology and waits for the response.
Kim looks at Chiu. "Way I see it, if we don't stay, they'll catch us on the road or at the end of it. Or Cledwin will see us coming down the hill behind us and we'll be spouting poisoned arrows.
Radish is worried that the news of this attack get back to Port Methryn. Chiu thinks that Cledwin will get the Lynx to sail home with some story that they all got massacred by Corsairs, which might still be true.
Those who elect to stay with him are told, "I expect Cledwin's miles from here. But if he's dumb enough to take part in the attack, he is mine. You see him, you don't kill him. You point me to him. Understood? His ass is mine." The intensity behind that claim may be frightening even to hardened soldiers and mercenaries.
With that, he takes his merry band to Trippel.
Trippel sees them. He has maps of the keep in front of him. Brennan can easily see both the strong and weak points of the design. There are two places on the eastern wall that look vulnerable. "Thank you for sticking with us. The Mountain does not forget her friends. If you need armor, talk to my armorer. If not, he'll give you some colors so that you don't get killed by our side. Your captain knows the plan, so ask him anything you need. May Lir lend strength to you all."
And there's the mention of Lir again. That is absolutely something Brennan needs to understand... but he'll be better positioned to probe that, come morning. He's already mentally adjusting Walker's back story. As for armor, that they have, or they'd be a terrible mercenary band. Colors, they'll take.
Walker's strategy and tactics are simple: Walker calls the shots for his team. Trippel's maps are useful only inasmuch as they show where the enemy is coming from. Having been here as long as he has, he's already absorbed the salient points of defense, strengths and weakness. He stations himself and his team between the two weak points and a little behind, keeping a weather eye on both. When one or the other has too much pressure, he and his team will hit the Corsairs from another angle or shore up the line. He does not intend to take up a permanent station at a weak point, though. His team is a reserve force, and ideally each action is a (relatively) quick strike, almost a raid against the raiders, letting Trippel's men regroup and counter-attack.
To that end, Walker himself is the sharp point of the flying wedge, dodging behind the lines causing as much pure havoc as possible. He'll take the kills if he can, but is content simply to knock the Corsairs off-balance, literally or figuratively. He fights with a sword and a long knife, slashing, stabbing, pushing, and generally forcing a disproportionate number of the enemy to focus on him. Kim and Chiu on one side, Burl and Radish on the other, both teams slightly behind him, can finish off any that Walker harries and keep a path for him to come back to safety.
Any variations or improvisations are pending further details.
Trippel's ruse is somewhat effective; the corsairs are not as alert as they could be as they approach the seemingly unaware castle that should be in disarray inside. As a result the corsairs take what are probably significant casualties before they retreat. This stage of the game is one of snipers on each side trying to pick off the careless or unlucky. While more of the corsairs fall, they have more fighters in general.
After a remarkably short time, they fall back and begin building some sort of a barricade. It's the kind of thing you'd use to protect sappers, but even quite good sappers would need to traverse two hundred yards of ground. It should take too long to undermine the walls.
Windfall seeks out Brennan. "Captain Walker, what are those heathen doing?"
Walker twitches at having been promoted to officer status, but in this circumstances... it's probably warranted. His grimace is reserved for the Corsair antics outside the keep, though.
"Diggin', it looks like," he says. "Bent if I know why. They ain't gonna sap the walls proper, I don't think. That takes time and equipment, and I ain't expect a bunch of sailors to be any good at it." He chews that over on the way out, then grunts. "Sailors. And it looks like they got something they want up close against the keep. Get me your mason and anyone whose seen the Hiruleans in action. And anyone briefed on the Corsair supply chain." He eyeballs his own squad to see if they have any knowledge.
Not only do your lot not know, they don't quite fathom supply chains.
While he's off fetching them, Brennan gets as good a look as he can at what the Corsairs are doing. If spyglasses are about, he'll commandeer one. His notion here is that the Corsairs have some of the greek fire Benedict had mentioned, and have turned it into a siege weapon, so he is particularly looking for evidence of that: Catapults or some sort of ranged delivery mechanism is a possibility. Digging a long zig-zaggy trench is another, but much slower. Some kind of storage-- probably barrels or something similar near the barricades would be a give-away.
They're digging down.
When Windfall comes back, he asks a few targeted questions to get a discussion going. On the subject of the Corsairs and their logistics, he wants to know: How well stocked are they? Are they provisioned for the length of time it would take to sap the walls properly? He suspects not, and they'd probably want a larger force for that, but he wants to hear it from someone with knowledge, whether that's Trippel or a delegate. More critically, do they have any of this Hirulean Fire stuff?
[OOC: Are Corsairs and Hiruleans the same group? Allied? Completely unrelated?]
Balen returns. She's the best expert on the Corsairs other than Trippel. She thinks they may have a wizard with them and they need to get her close to the walls.
[OOC:Hiruleans come from Hirule. Corsairs come from over the sea. They are frequently overlapping sets.]
If there's any evidence of Hirulean Fire, he wants to know: Has anyone seen it in action, or have reliable reports? How is it deployed? How hot does it burn? To the mason, can they hope to get fires burning on the stones that will weaken the mortar and therefore the walls? Or is the best they can do raining fire with catapults? (Not that that won't be good enough.)
Many things are possible. Stone can be weakened by fire, and the walls above it could collapse under their own weight if they were undermined. They don't seem to have catapults, but they could be building them.
Squeak the Mason suggests that they might be trying to get down to the water supply and poison it, but even if they dig to it where they are, they'll be downstream of anything the castle uses.
Windfall wants to know if there is any action that shoud be taken now. He could arrange a sally.
There is no hesitation in Walker's response: "Yeah. Can't do jack until we get a better look at what's behind that. Anybody got any better ideas-- spyglass, optics, crystal ball-- now's the time." Walker looks at Balen in particular, idly hoping she'll bust out a scrying mirror.
Balen looks over the wall. "Feint out of Southgate on foot, made to look like cover for a messenger on horseback. You lot ride out of Kingsgate and overrun that position, breaking the wall and also learning what it's for."
It occurs to Brennan, perhaps not for the first time, that average citizens of Benedict's home would be world-conquering warriors in any other shadow.
If Brennan agrees with the plan, the Mountain-folk get on with preparations for it. Windfall intends to go with you.
Yes, let's go do that.
Assuming nobody got any, Walker just assumes he'll lead the foray. He's all for subterfuge and subtle tactics, but unless the Corsairs were polite enough only to encircle half the structure, there's probably not much subtlety to be had, here. He requests someone with an intimate knowledge of that patch of land and what's under it as part of the force. If Squeak is too valuable to be risked, a briefed apprentice will do.
(It's actually not true that nobody got any better ideas-- Brennan has several, involving Pattern, Skiaza, and Sorcery, in that order. But Brennan's not here to win this little engagement, he's here to look for Rebman influence beyond namedrops of Lir. Smashing about with the great powers on the battlefield will probably not give him his desired results.)
Squeak is far too valuable to risk, certainly in the eyes of Squeak.
Then he'd best spend some time prepping his least-favored apprentice, balanced against the risk that said apprentice will make it out alive and come back with some serious battle-cred.
Squeak's apprentice Lunk is sent. He's the only one who can ride.
The attack works as planned, with Windfall and Walker leading the charge. The diggers scatter and it will take a few minutes for the corsairs to attack you. There are a few scattered men at the woods edge, waiting for numbers to attack. They're armed with slings, since they're no bowmen, and aren't of much use at this distance.
Windfall throws a grappling hook on a line over the barrier and pulls it over revealing the work behind it to Walker.
Brennan does a quick appraisal. They've dug down about 10 feet, and have a set of long, shallow steps leading into the pit. There's some sort of writing or paint on the wall nearest to the castle. Brennan can't tell for sure, but it might be some sort of runes or sigils.
Brennan smells some kind of animal downwind, in the forest. He could investigate further, but it would be suicide for a normal person to take the fight into the forest.
"Retreat!," yells Windfall. The corsairs are setting up a pike-and-shield line that could seriously trouble Walker if he doesn't follow the plan.
First and foremost, Walker wants Lunk's two sentence appraisal of that pit and the ground it's being dug into. When he gets that, he sends Lunk to join up with Windfall.
He has no 'effin' clue, Sir! He's baffled by it. Not wide enough for horse nor a sapper. He's really confused as to why they continued to 10 feet when 3 and the wall would've been plenty to protect someone behind it if it were just a trench warfare trench. And they can't get all the way without hitting rock, since the castle is built on a mountainside, above caves.
But he does want a better look at that pit, which is hopefully not just a distraction of its own. Windfall and his people don't have to stay, but Walker goes to get a better look.
The rest of them are riding back. Windfall is standing in his stirrups firing sling-bolts at the pike square that will shortly reach Walker.
Of chief interest to Brennan:
- Are those marks writing? Can he read them or make sense of them? His two rival theories are that they are either some sort of Shadow magic or religious stuff (which are often one and the same) or just mundane engineering markers.
They're not engineering marks, or at least not normal ones. They do seem to be triangulating on the wall, but that's just not a very hard problem. Magic makes sense, perhaps something divinatory.
Perhaps, although Brennan would expect them to be more active in his Astral vision if that were so.
- Is there anything in the pit other than the floor?
- Does a quick scan in the Astral reveal anything?
Astrally, the ground is solid and the pit is not remarkable. The writing on the last wall is the only thing there. If Brennan climbs in, he might find more.
This is not an archaeological dig, with carefully calibrated measurements and detailed sketches. This is just a professional Sorcerer-Knight making quick, targeted appraisals of features of interest before skedaddling.
They're trying to undermine the walls, but they're aiming too deep, unless they know something not obvious. Since no amount of digging will accomplish it in a mundane manner, it very well could be magical, although the means of attack are unclear.
Windfall rides close. He has a wicked looking cavalry saber in hand. "Captain Walker, we must go! We've got to get back before they need to close the portcullis!'
Behind the shield wall, Brennan sees movement in the forest. They have something big back there. Bigger than a horse but smaller than a house. Until they bring it out, it's well hidden.
Walker gives Windfall a quick nod, contenting himself with trying to memorize as much as possible at a glance so he can at least draw a glyph or two our for Balen, who might be able to identify it. He also looks around to see how feasible it might be to impersonate one of these fellows. They do, after all, have a number of corpses in Corsair garb back in the keep.
If Brennan could get to their lines without been killed, he could probably impersonate one of them well enough. The ones he sees here aren't dressed all in black, though. That must've been special for the assassins. These are in an assortment of colors.
If there is an opportunity (before or after/if they make it back) Walker questions the keep engineers about these caves-- how extensive, what's known about them, are they mapped, and is there a way out of the keep through the caves such that a single clever operative might disguise himself and head back out for some creative sabotage? (Walker doesn't need a map of the caves, just to know if they've been charted.)
Lunk says the caves are dangerous, and he might get through, if he could manage the trolls. But it wasn't generally thought to be much more than suicide to go deep into them. Some of the lads claimed they could, but every now and again those as tried didn't come back...
You build your castle on a network of caves infested by trolls? Walker doesn't say. That's moderately daft and Walker hopes that's a wives tale to keep small children out of the caves.
Once they're back to the keep, Walker gives his findings. The only must-be-there person is Balen, but Windfall, Squeak, and Trippel would be preferred as well. "I got no idea what they're doing," he's forced to admit. "Pit's dug deeper'n need be for sapping. Down to about ten feet, with steps cut in. Can't tell if they meant to go deeper. There's marks on the wall facing the keep, too. Not any sapper marks I ever saw." He'll point to the rough location where the marks are directed.
Here, Walker appears to dither somewhat in trying to communicate the shape of at least one the glyphs to his local expert, Balen. If she has a suggestion, he'll follow it, otherwise he'll trace out a marking with his finger on a piece of cloth or a tabletop or some other impermanent surface. Then he'll shrug.
"Maybe they're aiming for the caves? And they got something out there in those woods we ain't seen yet," he points in that general direction, and describes the size of the silhouette he saw. "Smells like beasts. Dunno if it's beasts in a cage, or drafts pulling something."
Balen bites her lip. "I can get a look, but not until tonight, which might be too late. It doesn't sound like they have siege engines."
Windfall arrives. "Attack at the South Gate, My Lord. They're trying the defenses."
Trippel nods. "A feint, unless it gets traction. Protect the gate but make sure we don't forget to watch the other walls."
Windfall bows and leaves.
Balen looks grim. "I hate the idea of waiting for them to launch whatever they have planned at their leisure."
"It's the way of warring when one side has a castle, " replies her brother. "What else should we do?"
Balen looks at Walker, as if expecting him to answer.
"I ain't much like waiting till nightfall," Walker says. "Even though that's how it's done, not doing it that way is better.
"We tried a sally in force," he muses. "Didn't work. They responded too fast. What about one man? What about these caves I keep hearing about-- there any path that can get me out and back in? We got some of their clothes already, and if those don't suit we can fake some of what we seen down there. Should be enough to do recon. Maybe even sabotage, if I'm lucky."
There are some concerns with this plan-- not that they might capture and kill him, which they won't, but that they might track him back to whatever entrance he uses. He leaves those details to Trippel and Balen to bring up, though.
Balen looks at Trippel, who coughs. At least it's not bloody. "Windfall, check the status of the main gate, and if all is well there, that they haven't launched another attack elsewhere."
When the noble has left, Balen turns to Walker. "We keep the mapping of it as a family secret, but there is a passage beneath this keep that leads out to a grove far into yon wood. The dungeons below us are carved down to the deep caves of the mountain. One of the passages leads to caves. We have many of the entrances blocked with doors, used for storage and the like. One passage, and one door, leads out. I can show you the passage, and if you go past seven locked doors and then turn into the next, you will find your way to the grove, from where you can commence your spycraft. I will get you the key you need."
It is of very practical interest to spies, dramatists, and perhaps Trump Artists, how the exact same expression on the exact same face can mean very different things depending on what the viewer thinks they know about about the person to whom those things are attached. For instance, the look of skepticism that passes across the face of a grizzled groundpounder sergeant like Walker very plainly means, "I ain't buy your delusional noble nonsense." On a scion of Oberon such as Brennan, though, it just as plainly means, "You did not just imply to me that you have a Pattern Chamber in your basement, and your back yard is the Grove of the Unicorn."
They both let it pass without too much comment, although if pressed Walker promises to tell people he had to kill Trolls on the way out if anyone ever hears about it.
Trippel nods. "It's a risk you're taking, and that we're all taking. Do not open the wrong door, or you may find a doom for you and for us. Some are closed for a reason. We'll collapse the tunnel if any come back down it except you. The castle will fall if they get beneath us and we can't stop them."
[OOC: Brennan plays nice and doesn't deviate from the path. We can screw around with that later. But let's assume he's canny enough to be paying very close attention to the route in case the similarities run deep enough that he needs to recall it-- or a mirror-reversed version-- later.]
The doors and grates look remarkably similar. The one that should be the pattern room is closed, solidly. Brennan would have no trouble finding it again.
Brennan blinks in the sunlight of the forest grove. It has a large pool with an overhanging rock formation that are amazingly familiar to him. Despite the doings of the day, the clearing is peaceful.
Brennan throws the grove a highly accusatory glance. He has always wondered about this place... or the Real place of which he expects this to be a Shadow or a reflection. If Amber had a path out to it, he's always expected that Xanadu and Paris and the others would, as well. Tir-na Nog'th, always the possible exception, maybe, maybe not, maybe only at the full moon, or the new. But Rebma's would have to account for the air-water boundary.
His accusing glance turns slowly to the overhanging rock, and the pool.
This is likely more important than the details of the battle in the distance.
Brennan has as much experience with non-Family modes of travel as any in his generation, and substantially more than most. He brings his senses, his entire being, in tune with the Pattern written in his blood, and expands his awareness as much as he can. He recalls the feel of it when the Eater slipped his grasp and escaped into the Faiella-Bionin, and the interplay of power differentials he's learned to sense along the Great Road, and even the eddies and whirls of his own passing through Shadow under his own power. Brennan does not spare his attention on the grove as a whole, but it is the pool of water that bears the pointed end of his scrutiny. Is there, or could there be, a path under that pool that leads somewhere else?
He follows this up with a careful examination of the place with Astral vision as well, just in case, but it is the Pattern technique he's invested so much time in developing, that he expects to bear any fruit that can be borne.
And finally, he is alert, not just for the signs of a passage, but also signs that something has recently passed this area, especially in the metaphysical sense.
In the shallow end of the pool, Brennan sees a single cloven hoof print. Other than that, the glade and the pool have no more magical or mystical properties than any other pretty, sunny glen on a mountainside. There's no sign of anyone else in the grove and the only sign that anyone ever has been here is that there is a broken and rusted metal bolt clamped to the rock by the exit to the cave.
Maybe that's just to help the royal family find their way back in.
Brennan eyes the metal bolt with deep suspicion, too: People don't put bolts in rocks as markers. People splash paint, carve signs, tie branches, notch bark, and so forth to make markers. People put bolts in rocks to hold things in place, and people break bolts to get them free. Assuming there are no fresh tracks near the bolt, though, whatever was kept here and subsequently freed hasn't been here for a long time.
He's inclined to stay and investigate, but if this place were more than a shadow or a reflection, he'd feel it and see it. So he turns his attention to the immediate task at hand: Seeing what's what out in those woods. He's spent too much time in Rebma recently to limit himself to a two dimensional perspective, so his immediate thought is to scout from up in the trees if he can. Their sentries probably won't be looking up, especially if they're sailors by nature, and it'll be damn difficult for them to track him back to the grove through the trees.
He makes his life easier, and his scouting more effective, with a working of Gravity: He doesn't reduce his mass, per se, but he does prevent his mass from affecting the tree limbs and branches he traverses. This will keep the branches from sagging and swaying as he passes, and will give him far more avenues of travel. In principle, if the woods are thick enough, he could walk across the treetops like a highway-- he doesn't, obviously, as he'd have no sightlines down to the forest floor and would be utterly exposed from above. But in principle, he could.
He's also worried about whatever beasts the Corsairs are using in those woods. The last thing he needs is for them to smell him and given alarm. That's fixed with a remarkably simple working of Entropy that prevents his scent from diffusing. After a moment he changes the effect so that his scent diffuses straight upward rather than collect in a finger-thick bubble of sweat around him.
So prepared, Brennan moves through the middle height of the trees with all careful speed back in the direction of the battle.
From his vantage point on amid the pine needles, Brennan can see both the castle and the Corsairs. He gets a good estimate of their numbers and positions. They aren't exactly settling in for a long siege just yet--they have bedrolls but haven't set up anything more than a primitive camp. Numerically, they've got enough troops to keep the castle bottled up, but not enough to take it. Not unless the walls come down.
There are two interesting factors behind their lines. The first is that the officers seem to be corsairs like the soldiers, except for one who wears long robes that look inpractical for either sea-travel or fighting. The second is a small contingent of what look like naturally armored elephants. If they got amongst a bogged-down cavalry or any infantry, they'd do a lot of damage. They are the source of the beast smells and sounds Brennan heard.
The man in the robes is supervising something around the hole they dug. It looks like they're filling it with water by the bucketful.
Brennan mulls that over while surveying the scene. Water is tricky stuff, and if you're subtle about it, you can turn it into a hell of a weapon against stone and earthworks, as the Eater may some day come to learn. But this isn't quite how Brennan would go about it, unless their grand plan involves elephants spraying water from their trunks at the keep. Which, no, is not what Brennan thinks is going on.
He could, he reckons, wait for an opportunity and just shoot at the wizard-looking fellow. If it weren't a wizard, just an important general, he'd probably risk it, but the distance, the difficulty of the shot, the unknown capabilities of his adversary... he decides against it.
But he's not willing to just wait around out here to see what happens. He could have done that from the keep. He looks around (moving around, if necessary) for a sentry who might have wandered a little too far from the base camp, just a little bit out of sight. A pair will do, if he can't find a single one, but no more than a pair. From what he's seen, he doubts they're seriously worried about lone infiltrators; rather, they're probably worried about relief forces coming from off the mountain if they're worried about anything much in particular.
His rough idea is to circle around and/or above an isolated sentry or two, and drop down silently behind. If he can find a single one, he'll drop down behind and incapacitate him with something in the carotid hold family. If there's two, it will be dicey-- he'll have to pick his moment carefully and kill one quickly and silently, moving to the second before either can make much noise. But he does have the advantage of stealth, surprise, height, and a few centuries of experience.
If all that works, he can worry about transporting the captive a little farther away for a quiet game of Twenty Questions And A Knife.
All that works, perhaps too well. Brennan leaves one guard bubbling up his own blood and the second terrified man is dragged away. Brennan's own spell makes the dragging hard, but it is not something Brennan can't overcome. Brennan, his newfound sentry friend, and (optionally) his knife are ready for a chat in an out of the way bit of forest. The (currently) living sentry seems, in the late evening's light, to be quite young and quite scared.
Brennan doesn't clean his hands of blood before incapacitating the second sentry and dragging him off. Brennan keeps the young sentry as disoriented and confused as possible on the trip back to a safer, quieter locale, by the simple means of whacking his head on passing trees as they go by. Not enough to do serious damage, just enough to keep him from gathering his courage up enough to keep quiet later.
When he deems they're far enough away, Brennan braces him against a tree with his forearm, the young man's feet dangling a few inches off the ground to keep him from finding footing or leverage.
"Today's your lucky day," he hisses, still in Walker's voice. "You got a chance to keep breathin' in and out. Tell me who's the pointy-hat, where's he from, what's he doing with that water in the pit, and you can walk away." He eases the pressure of his forearm enough for the man to draw breath and give an answer, which for his sake better not be, "I dunno guv."
And Brennan actually means that bit about walking away, although not in the sense the sentry might expect.
"The wizard? He's a Maghee." The boy makes an effort to spit, but is apparently scared spitless.
Brennan Brandson, leader of men, takes solace in his ability to scare the spit out of a raw recruit.
But the wizard being a Maghee is probably news in itself, as Trip hadn't thought they were allied with the corsairs. But apparently, at least some of them are. What does Brennan know about the Maghees? Specifically, are they a group currently native to this particular island? Because Brennan's been tripping over them since they made landfall.
They're the gypsies of the islands. Magh is a legendary island that sank, ages ago. Or perhaps Magh was a defeated goddess. Or the valiant opponents of the Witch-King, He Who Must Not Be Named (Corwin). The people have become travelers. They're not well-thought-of, and often the first people who are looked to when a crime is committed.
Back to the matter at hand, though, he cuffs the sentry enough to get his attention, and holds the knife where he can see it-- pointed right at his eye. "Focus," he growls. "What's he doing with the water and the pit?"
The boy's eyes focus on the knife's point. He's breathing hard, but not unable to respond. "They don't tell us much, but he's got a monster. It's gonna bring down the walls. He's the one who hired us."
Two more pieces of useful information. Thus, the carrot, not the stick: Walker withdraws the knife a few inches and although he does not waver, he does laugh, "You bunch, taking orders from the Maghees now? Hah!" He gives the boy a chance to contradict that, but that's not his main focus... yet.
"Aside from those things with the snouts, you reckon? Got a name, this beastie?" Now that he's got the boy talking, Walker squeezes him for all the information he can about this great creature, looking for any or all of the following: Name, description, where it's kept, why it needs a personal swimming pool, etc.
Grunt sentry probably doesn't know much, but he probably is tapped into the camp rumor mill-- everyone is, in a situation like that. When they reach the limits of the kid's own knowledge, Walker will shift to rumors (if necessary) by asking broader questions, like, has anyone seen this thing used before, or is this the first time?
The boy hasn't seen it, but he was witness when the big draft animals were conjured. It's why he's afraid of the Maghee. This time the boy manages to spit properly. All he knows is that the thing is supposed to burrow under the walls, and it's supposed to be slow. Somebody said it was what brought down the Argent Towers, but nobody believes that. Just that it could've.
So, the hedge wizard has some skills. Also useful to know, and explains how they got those other critters on site without Trip knowing about it, and even how they're going to unleash... whatever it is they're going to unleash... without anyone knowing about it either. Brennan is still closer to curiosity than dread on that spectrum. It's unlikely a hedge wizard could summon anything that would provoke dread in him without a lot of help.
Although, there is still Moire to consider as potential "help."
Brennan figures he's gotten everything the boy can usefully tell him at this point, and he's promised to let him go. So, he withdraws the knife even farther and stops pinning the boy quite so aggressively against the tree. "Don't do nothin' stupid," he says. "You're near clear."
He takes the boy a short distance along a path that is-- superficially-- in the direction of his camp. Brennan's senses are aware at that superficial level and beyond. He pays attention to every detail of their route, including the tracks that the boy cannot sense which they are leaving over rocky, hard-scrabble ground. "You have done service to a better cause than you know, this day." He takes a sudden turn around an immense tree trunk, and strong-arms the boy with him, and they face a strong, swift-running stream that has no right being anywhere near Montparnasse, and whose roar neither had heard until just that moment. "I bid you, go," he says, pitching the boy headlong into the foamy water. "Go and take the blessing of Brennan Brandson and find a long life of peace and contentment such as does not exist in Avalon."
He watches the river carry the boy westward to what he hopes will be a better, if initially wetter life, then turns and retraces his fresh path back to Avalon and Montparnasse.
It is very easy for Brennan to move between worlds here. He' suspects that Avalon is bigger than Amber's world, but it's still near the shadow boundaries at the extremes. The boy splutters something into the water and disappears into the torrent. Brennan finds himself alone in the woods. There are sentries about, but no one has found his first victim nor missed his second.
Brennan trots carefully back to his point of departure, then moves stealthily back to the remains of his first victim and spends a few moments hiding the body-- it is extremely likely that there is a convenient hollow tree or natural shelter nearby where Brennan can move the body to at least keep it out of plain sight. Nothing more is required.
As he does that, ideas bubble and percolate in the back of his mind. He is in that mental state where an overall goal is accreting a constellation of pre-conditions and sub-goals about it; unfinished, incomplete sub-plans are wriggling around, trying to link and mesh with each other in his mental landscape. He doesn't have a full plan yet, but he's near the point where he'll have enough to improvise around a few general themes. But he needs a little bit more information, first, so he takes to the trees again to complete his reconnaissance.
This time, he is looking for specific information:
Very roughly, how many of those elephant-like creatures are there? Ones, tens, hundreds?
There are more than a dozen, but not hundreds by any means. There may not be a score.
Also, very roughly, how are they kept? Who minds them? Are there teams of keepers? Are they chained, roped, tied to engines, walking freely?
They are in a makeshift corral that they could clearly and easily break out of. There are keepers with them, men who neither resemble Maghees nor nor Corsairs. They are small of stature and have elaborate mustaches, waxed into distinctive shapes. The keepers may be their riders, as they look like warriors. There is tack for the creatures, and it looks like it includes distance weapons. They seem to be a combination of a trampling machine and an elevated firing platform. They would be extremely vulnerable to boiling oil, but by the time they got close to the oil, they'd've already done a great deal of damage to the castle.
Brennan wonders idly if the handlers got summoned too, or if he just got played by that kid. Doesn't matter. The things are real, and the hedge wizard being a Maghee is too insulting for the kid to have been lying about.
In general, when Brennan returns to the keep with his Walker persona, he'll want to have enough general information that he, Balen, and Trippel can stage a quick raid to shake the Corsair force up. When he's got it, he'll be ready to head back.
If Brennan can come up with a way to spook the beasts, they'd stampede, and if he can aim it at the camp, they'd trample it. That might shake them up.
Brennan ponders all that for a bit, with rival plans competing in his mind, all variations on a theme of raising holy hell with those war elephants and capitalizing on it. As he rapidly considers his options, he reaches one ground truth of the situation: Once he sets things in motion, all sides are going to act, and act with high competence and confidence.
Trippel and Balen haven't missed a trick since the siege started. Brennan primed them to expect sabotage when he left: if he gets those things wild and woolly right now, they'll be launching a raid on that water pit again before the first trumpet fades in the air, and the Corsairs will reorganize and counter-attack before Brennan can even make it back to the glade without Sorcery, much less back and brief Balen and Trip about what's going on.
Does he want that?
Well, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, and it's karmically churlish to complain that your fellows are too competent. But, they don't yet know that a Maghee wizard is in charge. This seems like useful information, to them, to Benedict, and to Brennan personally. So it would be ideal if the wizard met with a brick to the back of the head instead of a sword to the lung.
The other broad option is to head back with his intelligence and cook up a coordinated raid on both the beasts and the wizard. Ordinarily, Brennan would worry about the timing and skill needed to do such a thing-- it isn't easy. In this case, though, he'd be splitting Trip's forces three ways-- raid against the beasts, raid against the wizard, and defense of the keep. And Brennan would want to be in all three places at once, which is a bit extreme even for a Sorcerer of his caliber. And it just adds time to everything. It doesn't help to come up with an audacious plan if the summoned thing is already summoned.
His thoughts are rapid, and he doesn't dither too long: He's going to engage the sabotage from here... carefully.
He shows the war-elephants to Skiaza and causes it to understand that it shall soon-- at Brennan's command and not before-- be feasting on one of them. That one of them, to start with: Brennan designates one at the edge of the corral, whose screams should hopefully send the rest stomping into the Corsair camp. After it feeds and sows chaos, it is to withdraw back into the woods.
But before Brennan gives the command, he himself withdraws as close as is prudent to the site where the wizard is monkeying around with the pit. He wants to be in a position to dash out and join whatever force Trippel sends out.
When all is ready, Brennan sends Skiaza out to feed, and waits to see the results, ready to shape them further.
"Yes, Great Lord," replies Skiaza. It flies off, looking like a cross between Robin's Fire Lizards and a Mosquito. Brennan cannot see his affine's attack, but it does the job remarkably well. First Brennan hears animal screams and noises, then the forest shakes like no mountain ever should. The beasts trumpet and there are men shouting and possibly something has caught on fire.
The beasts break through the forest into the open and are charging straight at the castle's side gate. Skiaza is still with them, although now he seems to be larger, and hairier. He trumpets and the beasts reply. They will casually destroy the sheltered dig as they go by, but it's unclear when they will stop or turn, or indeed if they can. Skiaza seems to have very selectively fed, and these animals are much less capable than they once were.
At first, Brennan is pleased.
Then, when he sees Skiaza leading them instead of having withdrawn, he begins to frown. When he sees their trajectory intersecting the side gate, the frown turns to a scowl.
But if Skiaza has disobeyed, maybe he can try to use that disobedience.
Normally, when Brennan invokes the Godvoice effect, there is both an Astral and an Entropic component. The former serves to let Brennan's voice bleed over into the Astral where it can better resonate with-- for lack of a better term-- men's souls, while the later keeps his voice from fading into the distance. Now, Brennan does something similar, but much more specific. The Astral component carries his voice entirely into the Astral plane, and the Entropic prevents it from spreading out producing a tight beam-like cone of Astral-only sound focussed on Skiaza. The effect is as though Brennan is bellowing directly into whatever metaphysical part of Skiaza's new form passes as its soul:
"DRIVE THEM THAT WAY!!!"
All without any physical sound on the battlefield. If anyone sees him, it probably looks like Brennan is bellowing forcefully, but wordlessly.
It's a Hail Mary, but there's not much else he can think of.
Having satisfactorily concluded their conversation with Dear Old Dad, Fletcher suggests some refreshments to Folly and Martin while they wait for Brennan to call. Realizing that he should be ready to travel when Brennan calls, Fletcher also sends someone for the gear he would prefer to take with him.
Folly returns Benedict's card to Martin and runs a hand through her hair. "Yes, since we're all here, and awake, shall we send for...." She squints toward the heavy curtains covering the window, realizes she really has no idea what time of day or night it is, and so settles on, "...food?"
To Fletcher, she adds, "I'm interested in your take on this place -- Avalon, I mean -- if you're up for talking about it."
Fletcher replies, "Even if I do go with Brennan, I'll be back soon. I'm still interested in taking a walk downstairs. It seems a bit odd to me that on a metaphysical level this place is so similar to the Amber I remember, but so different in the physical world. I've heard no man is an island, but this island sure is Dad."
"Do it afterwards," Martin suggests. "If Brennan needs you, he's going to need you fresh. Either that or he's going to need a quick trump out, in which case it won't matter." He looks profoundly not happy with the entire situation, which is his right: it's some ungodly hour of the morning, he's been summoned from his bed to deal with a crisis, and there's nothing useful for him to do. Not to mention nobody for him to vent at. And his daughter--the younger one--isn't around to soothe his temper.
"This is your first time visiting Avalon, then?" Folly asks Fletcher. "I know you were away from Amber for a long time -- do you know if this place even existed yet, when you left?" As she speaks she gestures the men toward seats near the low fire. She settles with Martin onto a blanket-covered couch and wraps an arm lightly, soothingly around his shoulders.
"The answer to that question is apparently both 'yes' and 'no.' I'm led to believe that in the reality I experienced this place didn't exist yet, at least not as it is today. However, it also seems that if a place is going to have a Pattern that the future existence of that Pattern primes the place. I'm not sure what a 'Future Home of the Pattern" would like to an outside observer. It might only be noticeable to the family. How often does the family visit? As charming as it is, I imagine Paris and Xanadu are more comfortable."
Martin looks at Folly for some sort of confirmation, and says, "Talk to Paige and Reid, I think. I'd say Cambina, but she's gone now." Folly can sense the tension in Martin at that particular point. "Apparently they found what might be the place that was going to become Xanadu. Proto-Xanadu, I guess. But nobody imagines Xanadu is ancient. It didn't come pre-loaded with ancient history."
"Unlike Paris," Folly interjects in a no-seriously-what-is-UP-with-that sort of tone.
"And wasn't Avalon Corwin's place before it was Benedict's? I seem to remember hearing that from Merle when he was telling me all his Dad's stories. He confuses things occasionally, but I don't think he was confused on that one."
"Wait---" Folly blinks. "THAT'S the 'sorceror king'?"
She may have more questions, but they'll have to wait 'til she recovers from a sudden bout of giddy laughter.
Fletcher shrugs. "That fits. Growing up, I remember some pretty insufferable behavior. The castle was not always entirely pleasant when Eric and Corwin were both in residence." Fletcher silently ponders the relative levels of animosity in the Corwin-Eric dynamic and the Benedict-Emerald dynamic, but quickly decides to move on. "I suppose it's possible that, if one with sufficient awareness stumbled upon a 'Proto' realm as you call it he or she might decide to hang around a while and see what's up and generate some history. It could also be the luck of the draw. Dad was vague on the details of how he picked this spot. I wonder if the geometry of the Faeilla-Bionin was a factor."
"Don't look at me," Martin says and pulls out a few strands of his hair. "Blond, not red. That's why I'd say ask Paige. Or Reid, who's not a redhead but seems to have his own share of 'sufficient awareness'.
"Do we even know how old this is? I couldn't tell you for sure on my end. I know Avalon was here when I was a boy, but I'm not sure about the Pattern. I didn't know how to tell for a long time." Martin adds, for Fletcher's benefit, "I left Rebma after I walked the Pattern and didn't come back to Amber until the very end of the war."
Fletcher grins. "If it comes down to it, we may not have mignonette trees on Avalon, but I'm sure we could find some red dye if that's the only way to learn about these things." He continues, "If I recall correctly your departure from Rebma was within the last couple hundred years, correct? If so, I believe the Pattern was probably already here by that time."
"And given the nature of this place, you think it's your father's design, even if history suggests Corwin was here first," Folly says, then adds as if it's a continuation of that thought, "Is your father still much as you remember him, personality-wise, from when you were a young man?"
"Mostly. He seems to wince less without my mother or Granddad around to criticize him. In retrospect that may be why he enjoys his privacy so much. I guess that absence makes him feel a bit more responsible too. Still this?" Fletcher gestures to the fortress around them, "takes his inscrutability to new heights. Obviously it's not as flashy as Amber, or Paris. I wonder if it's more purpose-built."
"Even by your father's own description it would seem to be," Folly says. "A testbed for warfare scenarios rather than a land to be governed. But -- forgive me for asking if this is too personal a question, but would you be willing to describe a bit what life was like in Amber, and in your father's household, when you were a boy? I'm afraid the histories are a bit vague on that era. I don't even know whether your father's marriage and your birth came before or after the mess with Faiella, and Corwin." Although the question is mild, Folly is watching Fletcher's face to see if he betrays any visceral reaction to those names or that time. Martin, who knows her very well, might sense that she's latched onto the germ of an idea and is carefully probing it out.
Martin's eyes narrow here, as if perhaps he's caught on to what Folly is thinking, or maybe having some thoughts of his own along related lines.
Fletcher does react with sadness and perhaps a bit of horror at mention of Faiella, but quickly covers it. "I am somewhat older than Caine, but younger than Corwin. Imagine being an only child, but having grown siblings who were already trying to compete with you. That's the sort of thing Caine faced, and apparently Corwin before him. It impacted Court life, though it seems to me that the family's influence at Court has grown as the family grew. There were more nobles families and social institutions that held influence than seem to be in evidence in Xanadu. Why do you ask?"
"Well," Folly replies slowly, as if she's sifting ideas and carefully choosing her words, "although your father is, as you say, generally inscrutable, I can well imagine that historically there's little love lost between him and Corwin, given the bits I know about the politics of that time. It's interesting to me that in all the infinitude of Shadow, he should choose to make his realm in a place that used to be Corwin's. I found myself wondering if the ancient history of Corwin's brand-new Paris was somehow tied to the history, or the what-might-have-been, of this place. Which made me wonder which of them -- if either -- drew the Pattern here. Certainly this realm seems consistent with your father as he is now -- but I was curious if he had always been thus, or if scores of mortal lifetimes tending the former realm of his first enemy had made him thus."
Fletcher nods. "I wondered the same thing, actually. I don't think Corwin was quite his first enemy though. Regardless, I think this location was selected because of the neighborhood. Or at least the neighbors. I hear Xanadu is just two doors down. I haven't thought of a good way to test the strength of Avalon's link to Corwin. What have you heard about Dad's problems with Corwin?"
Martin gives Folly a look, but he's keeping his mouth shut on this one for the moment. There's a long list to choose from.
Folly returns the look; she'll share her thoughts, but he will need to fill in some important details -- particularly in stories that aren't necessarily hers to tell. To Fletcher, she says, "Speculation and hearsay, mostly, for my part. The histories speak of bitter partisan rivalries during those times, although generally they don't call out Oberon's children -- only the merchant families and other members of the court that supported them. In recent centuries, of course, they were both absent from Amber: your father here, and Corwin lost and presumed dead in Shadow. But when they returned... well. There was that bit with the mechanical arm and Greyswandir, for one. Have you heard about that?"
Fletcher is surprised. "I have not heard that one. Based upon the context I can only guess that Dad had a prosthetic arm and came to blows with Corwin? House rivalries rarely involved direct combat of Princes in my day. Was this at the same battle with the assault rifles?"
"It was about that time but not like that." Martin is shaking his head a little at some part of the implication. "Ben had already lost his arm. Corwin went up to Tir and had some fight with one of the ghosts up there. He came back with the arm attached to him, business end first, at dawn. Ben liked it because it seemed to have some useful properties and he decided to wear it, which seemed like a weird decision but makes more sense now." Martin gestures around him at the castle, in case his meaning isn't clear.
"A bunch of stuff happened--I think Ben used it to win a fight sometime when they otherwise couldn't--and then there was a second fight, later, in Amber, while Dara was present, which was a detail of the business on Tir, and it was cut off him and vanished. Basically the other end of the Tir fight with Corwin, distorted by some massive bit of temporal sorcery funneled through two places with Patterns, which I didn't even know you could do. I'm betting it was our grandfather's work."
Fletcher whistles. "Wow, that sounds like an expensive prosthetic to lose. What happened to it? Let me guess. It disappeared into Tir. Its a shame, one would think such a device could be a useful weapons against the Moonriders." In his mind he's running the odds of whether the arm went backward or forward in time. "Does anyone know what the fight was about?"
"From the retellings I've heard," Folly says, "it seemed to be about Dara and her role in Amber." She hesitates, as if considering and rejecting several options for what to say next, finally settling on, "Possibly they had differing opinions on how much to trust her." She exchanges another look with Martin; clearly she knows, or expects him to know, more details, but is unsure what -- or perhaps how much -- to share.
Martin shakes his head in the negative. "When I say it was the other end of the fight in Tir, I mean we watched Corwin's blade--no Corwin attached--duel Ben. If Ben could see Corwin, we couldn't. And he'd've had Corwin too, but for the fact that Corwin wasn't there. Between what I saw and what I heard from Merlin afterward, which was what Corwin had to say to him about it, it looks like a giant circular sorcery. Temporal and spatial displacement: a Moonrider kind of thing, almost."
Folly suspects he's not glossing over the Dara bit so much as considering it less important than the circular nature of the Corwin and Ben conflict over the arm.
While Fletcher is digesting that, Folly says to him, "I asked whether your father seemed much changed since you knew him years ago, but I suppose that's another question -- does Corwin?" It's not clear whether it is directly related to the Moonrider comment or not.
Fletcher thinks for a moment. "Corwin is somewhat different, but then it's good to be king. Of something anyway. Getting to the top and being at the top require two different mind sets though, so I suppose that much at least is natural. I think Eric's death may have had an effect on him too though. Or maybe it's just having so many younger people to deal with. I wonder about that circular sorcery. It may yield clues about the past, or possibly the future. Which Dara was it? My niece?"
Martin steps in to answer that one, since he's more familiar with the genealogical data and the Daras than Folly. "I'd be careful about calling any of Ben's descendants on that side of the family 'yours'. They're picky about possessive pronouns." Moving on to actually answering the question, he continues, "We're talking about Dara the younger; the elder Dara doesn't exist any longer. I don't know who the resulting offspring were for sure, but I think her last reproduction was--" Martin makes a face and settles on the least gross term he can think of "--fissile."
"You know... like... whole-body meiosis," Folly adds, as if that makes Martin's point perfectly clear. Then she turns Fletcher's earlier question back to him: "What have your impressions been about the problems, if any, between your father and Corwin?"
Folly pauses in her breakfast preparations to glance out the kitchen window at her husband and daughter, playing in the surf. Lark, it seemed, had finally got the hang of scrambling up onto her little surfboard by herself and riding the last gentle 30 or 40 feet of tide onto the shore. Martin, meanwhile, stood hip-deep in the water like a sentry, probably to keep Lark from venturing farther out to try her luck in the big waves... or possibly to deter any threats to his child -- be they human, jellyfish, great white shark, or triton -- with a swift punch to the face.
Folly smiles and moves to set the table. There hadn't really been much call for punching anyone in the face since they'd come to Lauderville. Equal parts surfers and scholars, with a vibrant and diverse music scene, abundant opportunities for intellectual pursuits, and beautiful warm beachy weather, it had been the perfect place to settle down for a while and figure out how to be a family. In this environment, Martin was even starting to seem... relaxed, almost. Folly had made progress on Trumps, and on harmonic metaphysics. And Lark, their little water-baby, really seemed to be thriving.
A delighted shriek draws Folly's attention back to the window: Out in the water, Martin is apparently satisfying Lark's need for bigger thrills by tossing her over and over again up into the air -- not as high as he could, nor nearly as high as she probably wants to go, but there are other people around and the adorable toddler proto-surfer has already drawn more than enough attention without launching her to impossible heights.
Folly is suddenly struck by how much Lark resembles each of her grandparents. From Brij, she has that perfect awareness of her own body in space, combined with Random's love of heights and speed -- or anything that feels like flying. Her deep and instinctual love of being in the water could only have come from Martin's maternal line. And from Huon.... Well. There Folly can only speculate, but at times Lark certainly elevated Getting Her Own Way to an art form.
Folly busies herself moving waffles and bacon and eggs from the stove to the table, and dirty dishes from the counter to the sink. As the last pan goes in to soak, she hears footfalls on the wide wooden porch. "Who's ready for breakfast?" she asks through the screen door without turning to look.
"Two very hungry swimmers. None of whom are caterpillars, regardless of how many pears, plums, and strawberries they claim to have eaten," Martin announces, to a giggle from Lark. He pushes the screen door open; somehow it doesn't squeak when he does it, despite the fact that it seems to for anyone else. They've already dried off most of the way and removed most of the sand, minimizing the dripping and the tracking of dirt inside the house. Martin's shorts are stll wet, though, and so is Lark's suit.
He brings her over for a kiss from Folly and then steals one for himself. "Something smells good. You want me to clean her up or shall we eat on the porch?" Lark is wiggling and squirming and ready to be put down so she can run around some more, but Martin has an iron grip and isn't exactly a novice at dealing with antsy toddlers. To Folly's maternal eyes, Lark looks like she'll run around some more and fall asleep about halfway through breakfast if they leave her be. (Assuming she doesn't get completely cranky and refuse to sleep, in which case tears will be the order of the day.)
"Oh, let's go ahead and eat now, while the food's still warm." After that, Folly thinks, if it's not naptime it will be bathtime -- which at least will help cheer Lark up if she does get cranky.
She cuts a waffle into quarters and hands Lark a piece to eat with her fingers while she and Martin are loading up their own plates to carry outside. "How's the water this morning? The beach seems a little quieter than usual -- or maybe it just seems that way because I've spent the last hour in the house where there are no little noisemakers running around...." She grins at her daughter, then at Martin. "I got some good painting done."
Brita is lingering in the hall, waiting for her brother....or Ambrose....or both. She is splaying her hands back and forth in the water - lazy figure eights as if treading water while her feet remain at rest on the floor.
Ambrose comes out of the chamber a few minutes later, having made his farewells and obesiances to the remainder of the group. He brightens visibly on seeing Brita. "Brita," he says warmly. "I'm glad that's over, and so successfully, too. I felt as spent by the end of it as Silhouette looked, and that from the sheer worry about her and the mirror."
Brita nods in agreement, but says "I was Curious to see What the Mirror Would have Reflected on The Pattern, but the Risk was an Unknown."
"I'm fascinated by the intersections of different magical--or I suppose I should say universal powers. I'd like to develop a theory about them. But not at the cost of one of our cousin's lives." Ambrose's expression is sober. "I hadn't realized what it was going to be like. How many Patternwalks have you watched?"
"Actually, Only this One, Unless one counts the Partial Walk of Uncle Pinnabello that I Witnessed." Brita cocks her head. "This was Different than Being On The Pattern. Knowing what I Saw; Wondering what She Saw." Brita turns to Ambrose, "My Trials helped me in Getting Over my Past. What about Yours?"
Ambrose nods, "Yes, exactly that, although perhaps not as you mean. It was a struggle for me against multiple forces. One was my desire as a sorcerer to combat the effects with my training in the recondite arts, which would have been disastrous. Another, the most significant of the others, was my father's teachings, which would have led me to hesitate and therefore be lost. Not to mention," he adds, with the slightest touch of black humor, "that my father's relationship with the Pattern was, to put it kindly, 'at odds'.
"I suspect that I will, eventually, become at one with my dual nature as sorcerer and Lord of Amber, but it's still sometimes difficult to know which set of reflexes to use. I have to overthink many problems, even today, to tell whether I should approach them as a sorcerer, as a scion of Amber, or, occasionally, still, as a god."
"Yes, the God Aspect can Sometimes be Useful," Brita agrees. "What are You Doing Next," she asks.
"I have committed to remain here for a time, or at least to base my work here, and to serve as a court sorceror to the Queen. She wants my metaphysical insights. I'm probably going to need a Shadow base to work on translating my father's papers. That might be one of your mother's facilities, since she has the places in Shadow that would be conducive to working with my father's code wheels. Other than that, I have no specific, immediate plans."
He looks keenly at Brita. "Do you have plans? Or commitments elsewhere?"
"My Brother and I Were to Go Seek A Dragon. I do not Know if That will Occur Soon or Await Other Things. Until Then, I will Remain Here."
"Dragons aren't entirely safe things to seek out," Ambrose observes, but not as a warning, since Brita is obviously capable of taking care of herself. "Why do you want to seek this one out?"
He gestures to her to move along, and [assuming she follows] they make their way down the halls of the palace of Rebma, with courtiers bowing and withdrawing from their path as they move through it toward the family wing where both of them are housed.
Brita begins to move, although her eyes stray back to the entrance to the Pattern at least once. "No, Dragons are Not Safe, But it May Be Necessary to Understand the Link to Dragons in All of Reality to Better Understand what Risks we Face." She grins at Ambrose, "I Go to Protect My Brother - Not that He Needs It, but it Will make Me Feel Better."
"That's a comprehensible reason--or pair of them--to face down something as dangerous as a dragon, or a half-giant, or some of the other things my father described meeting out in the madlands," Ambrose says agreeably. "And I can certainly understand the need to protect one's brother, although it tends to run the other way with me and Brennan. I just provide the code-wheel translation services for our father's papers. Speaking of threats to reality." The last sentence is added a bit drily.
Brita is earnest as she says, "What You Do is Important, Like Understanding the Dragons."
"When you get back from the business with the Dragon, would you like to visit your mother's laboratory?" Ambrose asks. "She gave me leave to work there, and I'll need to use the code wheels again soon."
"Certainly," Brita responds quickly. "Her Laboratory is a Good Location for Experimentation, besides being Intriguing in its Own Right."
Ambrose smiles broadly at her. "Excellent. I shall very much look forward to it."
A small group of guards arrive from the streets to escort Signy through the city and up to the glassine spectacle of Rebma's Jewel Palace. With the armed honor guard, a single huge Triton cruises effortlessly above the street as if a banner of protection.
The galleries of the palace are cooler, darker, but full of wonderful light and some dancing flames. Mirrors high up in the walls bleed waves light.
Signy and her men move through the city, taking in the new surroudings, only partially succeeding in not lookin like first-time visitors to Rebma from the surface. As they reach the palace, Signy nudges her men, pointing to the highlights of craftsmanship in its construction.
After a complex routing through passages, Signy is delivered to a well-protected doorway at the end of a large suite of outer formal spaces. The door is metal and twice the height of the tallest escort. It stands ajar sufficient to enter the room beyond but not see inside.
An escort scratches at the textured metal door surface with his gauntlet.
And then there is Celina stepping into view and holding out her arms with a large smile, "Signy! I hope your journey here was a pleasure and not a necessity. It is good to see you have time to visit us. Please come in."
Celina wears a brassy necklace, matching bracers, and tanga. Her hair is braided up. The brass flows as she moves, draping her neck and shoulders, her hips, with a thousand links of thumbnail sized scales. It looks very old and every scale has a different engraving.
A warm smile breaks out on Signy's face, and she strides forward, starting to open her arms in response.
"Thank you for the welcome. We were heading out, and I decided to see this city of yours."
She comes up just a step short of Celina, pausing, suddenly thinking that embracing the Queen of a Reality like a fellow soldier that she ran into at a tavern might not be appropriate.
Celina extends the beat of Signy's full stop for a single moment, like a rehearsed opening to a dance, then she completes the move by full body contact and a encircling hug of the arms. The pressure is full on and strong as the blood of Oberon. Celina laughs low.
Once the Queen steps back, she looks at the two companion men, assessing. "Informal introductions are in order. Who have you brought with you? Do you have time to chat before you tour the marvels of Rebma?" Celina figures that if Signy doesn't want the dismiss her fellows, or do Family gossip now, that's just fine. Tradition holds it is for Signy to go first but tradition doesn't demand the gossip is before hospitality.
Signy gives an infectious grin. "These are the two people that have known me longest, before I ever knew about this family. My teacher, Brother Tomat, and the leader of my warband, Red Fox Claws."
She indicates each man with a nod of her head.
Celina nods once.
Tomat's bow is courtly, Red Fox Claws' somewhat tardy bow is awkward.
Signy is still new, though she does remember her early lessons in the Family protocols. "I don't have any pressing demands on my time, as long as you're willing to put up with us."
"Oh, yes," Celina offers with a smile.
[Signy] glances at her men.
"Would you mind bringing our gear to our rooms? You should definitely check out the city, and see where the good bars are."
It's phrased as a request, but Signy doesn't seem to be expecting much dissention from either of them.
Celina gives the officer escort a significant look and adds, "Severius ap Ytes, please honor our guests by showing them the uptown sights today."
He nods. "Of course, your highness. Honored visitors, please come with me."
He leads the two men off into the palace, engaging them in pleasant conversation about nothing as they disappear from sight.
Celina uses her full body to ease the door back a few more inches. It must be heavier than it looks. "Come in and have something to eat and drink. No doubt you came directly from the Fire Gate to the Palace. How long was the trip? Don't let me keep you long if you double-marched here. You'll need to rest your men." The young queen seems quite eager to keep Signy as long as possible despite her words. News from the outer world must be at a premium.
Signy moves in to join the Queen, looking curiously around the suite as she enters.
"Thanks. The trip wasn't all that bad, just a couple of days. I Trumped to Paris, and left more or less straightaway to come here."
She pauses, frowning slightly.
"We did stop at the caverns midway here. That was...unexpected. There was a woman in my dreams, but I don't think she was just a dream. If that makes sense."
Celina turns to face Signy looking intrigued. "You saw a person? Could you describe her?"
Signy frowns, remembering.
"She wore a white robe. She just kinda hung in the air, with wavy red hair. There was some sort of white...ribbon that came off of her and stretched out into Shadow, but I couldn't tell where it went."
Celina seems even more interested. "So I suppose it might be awkward for me to ask, but a hostess does like to make conversation memorable...." Celina smiles, "are you well disposed to ribbons, slyphs, or redheads, Cousin? For I too have seen things in the caves but not to compare to what you have seen. It makes me think we all see just a little."
Signy offers a sober smile. "After our rescue of the Queen, where we saw the King kneeling to the Marshall, and we left with the Queen and a silver chain, I'm not inclined to dismiss these things out of hand."
She pauses, before giving the Queen a sideways glance. "I don't really know much more. The woman didn't really seem to notice me that much, despite my calling to her. I didn't spend too long trying to talk with her, since I was worried that in my ignorance I might cause more harm. She seemed to notice me some towards the end, and it felt like things were starting to shake some, so I used the Pattern to force myself out of the dream."
Celina taps her chin, spending some time sorting her thoughts. She sighs. "Well, good then. I also found myself in dreams there, though I did not see a redheaded queen. I did see a queen on a throne and found myself under her attention. I came away with scars. But that was mostly of my own desires. So a dream that is not really a dream describes it well. Did you come away with anything?" Celina sits and invites Signy to make herself comfortable by a wave of her arm at the various organic looking furniture sculptures.
Signy picks a seat next to Celina, leaning forward in her seat so that her knees almost touch hers.
She runs her hand through her hair, frustration in her voice. "Just a lot of questions. Who is she. What was at the other end of that ribbon. Is she being kept from Rebma, or is she chained near it for some reason."
She rattles off the list quickly, just hitting the highlights.
She thinks on Celina's words, before a thought occurs to her. "Did you have your vision before you became the Queen? I wonder if the woman that appears there is somehow linked with whomever is on the throne...."
"Yes, before I became queen," Celina admits. "It does not appear to be linkage to this throne, though there is a connection in other manner, so one could argue it matters to Rebma and I would agree. Our Family is often connected to variations of the theme of royalty, doomed or otherwise." Celina pauses gathering the hints and scraps of the Ghost Queen. She shrugs in frustration. "Well, there is and was a threat of some kind to Amber, from long ago, another Throne. A queen there who may be related to us all, perhaps even through the Unicorn. This queen sent the Moonriders against Amber and nearly took the Realm down. You have more experience with the Moonriders than I do. Somehow, in ways no one has explained, this Moonrider Queen either overreached and trapped herself, or more likely, she was imprisoned in the Realm of Tir. Tir was once as vital a realm as Rebma or Xanadu, but is now a Ghost City. I am supposing that between True Cities is a balance point between Patterns, and she is stuck Between, so she has some wiggle room at that Balance Point. They call her the Queen of Air and Darkness."
Celina looks at Signy. "I think you and Edan volunteered to seek out the Moonrider problem? I'll help as I can."
Signy mulls over Celina's words. "So...." She pauses, thinking things through again just to be sure. "So you're implying that whomever I saw was the Queen of the Moonriders? Presumably if she was the Queen of someplace that had a Pattern, then she must be Family somehow, no?"
Signy absently drums her fingers on the arm of her chair.
Celina nods once.
"I'd somewhat forgotten about the Riders. Uncle Bleys gave me a pointed suggestion towards the Tree, and I was hoping to go back and spend some time studying it. Though that probably should wait for a bit, unless you can think of a direct connection."
"Well, from what I have heard, the Queen of Air and Darkness is ....extremely dangerous. I'm not that eager to see you rush off to figure it out alone." Celina leans back. "If Edan was here, or Bleys, we could consult. But I have no Trumps. If you wanted to talk to them, you would best speak to Llewella, and ask to borrow a Trump. Of the Tree, I really know nothing. I cannot advise. However, I can say that long trips in shadow are likely to put you away from the many interesting things happening near the center. Uncle Huon surrendered to me." Celina implies that Huon is more interesting than the Tree, but does not appear relieved by this, she laces her fingers together giving Signy a chance to ask more questions.
Signy gives a wry grin.
"I was starting to get a little nervous that I'd somehow managed to start something I couldn't finish. I'm just glad I didn't have to come here to apologize for breaking something that I shouldn't have."
She sighs quietly, and gives her cousin a sympathetic look.
"And I'll bet that having Uncle Huon surrender is as much a blessing as having my father surrender. Where does he fit in the Family tree?"
Celina smiles and looks a bit puzzled at the parallel between Huon and Weyland. "Well... Huon is prince younger than Corwin and older than Random. I don't think his mother ever held court in Amber. He feels at odds with the Redheads. But he owes an apology to Bleys, if that worthy will accept it. I also think Llewella is older than Huon. That's a guess based on the way they seem to regard each other. Huon got on Oberon's bad side. I think that meant Bleys was sent to deal with him and that was how Huon got exiled into a shadow he could not escape. Julian and those who came after might not have really known Huon in their younger years." Celina looks at Signy. "I did not realize that your Father was at war with .....you? Or does surrender mean this is settled?" Celina lays a hand on Signy's thigh. "Just tell me it is none of my business if you like. Or I'll swap you questions about my parents and we can drink all night and throw things."
If Signy notices Celina's hand she doesn't immediately show it.
"No," she shakes her head. "It's not settled. We had...differences of opinion, and our conflict became rather forceful. Red Fox Claws was one of my warband during the conflict."
She grimaces, before offering a weary smile. "It's not so much painful as it is...unresolved. And I have a feeling that there's a lot more to the story of my father and the Family than I can guess at. He was the one that made the Pattern blades, and I don't think that this is something that would be entrusted to just any smith from Shadow, no matter how skilled they may be."
She sighs. "How well did you know your parents? Dierdre leaving was my first real memory, and my father has a lot that he hasn't even hinted at with me."
Celina nods with a pained expression. She gets up and moves to a shelving sculpture of metal and bone. Taking up several bulb shapes with rings atop their narrow ends, she returns to sit down next to Signy.
She spends ten minutes explaining how drinking and eating are accomplished in the realm of water. How you never laugh in a way that bubbles will escape your mouth. How wine bulbs work and more importantly the right way to collapse them slowly and evenly.
She solemnly splits the four bulbs between herself and Signy. "My sweet aunties raised me when my mother was lost in a storm. They were not really my aunts. They owned shipping. Mom was a brilliant captain in the Seaward. She worked for them since she was a deckhand. As a captain she had never lost a cargo or been boarded by pirates. She had a reputation for luck, and actually had gathered several pirate bounties for the government. When the Big Storm took her ship and all, I was maybe two years old. I did not remember her at all. I had pictures. I had her things. I had her tiny jewelry box. I had a cheap sketch of her she'd gotten done at a festival before I was born. As a little girl these were my treasures. The ladies, my aunts, took pity on me and saw me brought up as their ward. It was an easy life. Safe and secure. Good schools and good friends and humble origins."
Celina looks at Signy. "That was what I knew when I came to Rebma on a travel grant to study government. Lies. All lies." Celina twists the ring on the bulb and takes a long drink. She holds the bulb up in a salute. "Except I still believe half of it, even tho' I know it was all designed as a nursery tale."
Celina smiles a bit. "My real mother was Moire, Queen of Rebma. As clever and slippery a women as ever lived. She held the throne for hundreds of years without ever discovering a way to connect to the Pattern of Rebma." Celina smiles in admiration, lopsided. "She built the lies of my youth. She designed me as an orphan, being wary of raising me otherwise. What enemies she feared on my behalf I do not know even now."
Celina sighs and continues. "I came to Rebma and was dazzled. Such a City. The Queen was charming, knowledgeable, and rather layered in mysteries and promises of secrets to learn. Court was as complex and dangerous as things never imagined in books. Various things happened to put me in a good light. I got noticed. I earned privileges and became her ward. Moire took a shine to me." Celina looks a bit embarrassed. "I never suspected what was really going on.
"Forward a few years, now I'm a Lady of Court. I have no plans to return to Seaward, tho' of course I think I shall. An envoy from Paris shows up in Rebma. Moire is said to favor Corwin of Amber and correspond with him. The Amber troubles are serious. King Oberon is dead. Things on the surface have a way of murking up life in Rebma. I am tasked with escorting the Ambassador to the city tour. A job that was already in the hands of the Lady Loreena. Well, let's skip that. I get sent to Paris.
"In Paris, King Corwin reads Moire's missive from my hand. He passes it around to a few other men who are present. They all stare at me, then at him. They toss a few confusing comments to the King. Who then lets me read the letter. I am his daughter-----by Moire. She asks him to look after me for a bit, since things in Rebma are going to be dangerous."
Celina takes another drink. She squints a bit looking back at that scene. "So this is the moment when everything changed. Everything broke. The universe was beautiful but I'd always admired the sheet draped over it. I saw a shape. I knew nothing about myself or my parents. Nothing real. Nothing but beautiful lies."
Celina turns and looks at Signy, smiling now. "I got better."
Signy listens to Celina's tale, completely absorbed and not even daring to move as she speaks.
After she finishes, it's a long several seconds before she blinks and looks away momentarily as she twists open one of her bulbs. She raises it in a silent toast to her cousin before solemnly draining half of it with only an initial moment of fumbling with it.
"All of us have these stories, don't we?" Her flat tone removes the actual question, makes it a statement.
Celina taps her bulb once and nods slightly, watching Signy's face.
She sits, looking inward for a moment.
"Dierdre left when I was very little. I remember her leaving, but not much about it. Marius hadn't been born yet, I didn't even know that I was going to be a sister. I don't know why she left -- I don't recall them fighting, but at that age I might not have even noticed. Weyland would never talk about her, and eventually I quit asking.
"I grew up, and worked along side him in the smithy. We had the Dvarts to help us, and he taught me his craft. We butted heads on occasion, he could be short and tempermental when the mood hit him, but when we were in the middle of a project and at the forges working together, those were probably the happiest my father and I were together."
She casually drains the rest of the bulb.
"One day, we had guests arrive. Some of the people in the retinue were...odd, things I'd never really seen before. I found out we were having company just before they arrived, when Weyland informed me that Madoc was coming and I was to leave with him to be his wife. Then, I just assumed that this was just his response to whatever thing we were butting heads over at the time, but in hindsight I don't think that had anything to do with it. Weyland is a Master Smith, and he is a cold and merciless businessman. My engagement to Madoc was merely the negotiated price for something larger for him, though I'm not really sure if it was Weyland's condition or Madoc's."
Celina stays composed at hearing this, but her toes curl with tension.
"I engaged in the usual impetuous oneupsmanship that I did at that time, doing my best to thumb my nose at both of them with any slight I could manage, no matter how petty. For my pains, after Madoc left without me, Weyland locked me into my rooms in the Tower, and I stayed there until the Black Road appeared and in the disruption I was able to get free and join Red Fox Claws and the Band. We spent our time fighting the things on the Road until the War with Chaos ended it, and I took the Band against Weyland."
She twists open another bulb, and raises it in a mock toast. "Time moves differently in that Shadow. Red Fox Claws was a young warrior when I left, and he's an older leader of men now. I've heard that Weyland was out in Madoc's realm, and his old Tower is now a ruin. I wonder if he was there to salvage an old deal, or to strike a new one...."
She trails off, before taking a more measured drink of the wine.
Celina's voice is a husky whisper, "That's terrible. You thought you had a father, then discovered you were a valued object of his agenda. You never had a mother? No one to...." Celina stops herself and takes a long drink, emptying the first bulb. She throws it hard across the room. Despite the weight of water around them, it reaches the other wall with a thud, bounces and rolls back near her feet. She curls down, head closer to her knees, pressing the cool second bulb to her forehead for a few moments.
Celina sighs. "All of us have these stories. Each is more terrible than the last." Her words are clearly said but the voice is but a whisper still. She sits up slowly, speaking a bit more strongly. "You are so strong, Cousin. You are welcome to make Rebma your home, or your workshop, if that is your pleasure. I suppose it has been many years that you have been... sleeping under stars. But if there is value to having a place of your own things. I offer it to you."
Signy shakes her head. "I think all of us have had to be strong, and all of us probably have our parents to think for our scars. How many ended up like poor Pinobello, caught up in a game that they didn't understand and were consigned to be pawns, moved and sacrificed for someone else's game?"
She twists open another bulb, before raising it to Celina. "I was strong enough to hit back. How much stronger are you, that you've not come back here to hit back, you came back to protect?"
She takes a drink, before offering a rueful smile. "I certainly know that it's very easy to strike out with the hammer, or to find out part way through the process that your materials are flawed. Creation is hard on the heart and soul at the best of times, doubly so when you can't see straight because of anger or have to move softly and slowly around impure materials."
Celina recalls striking out at Corwin, threatening Moire, and arguing all night with Khela. She flushes with embarrassment that anyone would think she is calm of spirit. "That's well said. It gives me much to think on. Here, the Pattern is the heart of Creation. The impure materials in this case would be ...us." Khela's face sears to life in her mind and then she must close her eyes.
Celina nods and opens her eyes. "As a girl, an orphan, you don't express your anger, and you don't create a storm because you want to be 'worthy'. So my temper, it actually frightens me. I am working slowly to understand my impure points." Celina sighs and opens the next bulb. "Moire fled Rebma when Huon attacked with a large force accumulated across shadows. She went to Paris, but while she spoke to Corwin there, she quickly slipped away. She may have some shadow traveling ally, but those are hard to come by. We think she is nearby, waiting to see how the rebuilding of Rebma proceeds. I am queen upon Khela's death. I'm sorry if you had not heard. I have no intention of giving over Rebma to Moire again. And Huon has asked forgiveness of his attack against Family. I granted it with support of Random and Benedict." Celina's expression says that last was very hard to do.
Signy smiles. "But the Pattern is both a forge and and hammer and anvil, and does much to reshape us and hammer out some of the impurities."
Her gaze turns inward as she thinks back. "You already stepped up and mastered your first challenge, and granted Huon forgiveness. I still don't know what I would have done if I had managed to actually take the Tower and Weyland," she murmurs.
She sighs, and drags her vision back out and to the present. "The city itself seems quiet. If no opportunity is forthcoming, would she leave, or attempt to make one?"
Celina thinks on that. She takes another draw on her bulb. "Would Moire make opportunity? Yes." She thinks also about Lucas. "But then again, she has Florimel looking to make case for the death of Lucas. If I were to suppose a strategy for Moire, it would be that Moire must consider clearing Aunt Flora's wrath in some way before she hopes to settle down and become a factor in Rebma again." Celina sighs. "Have you met Silhouette? She would agree with you about Forge, Hammer, and Anvil. She is here as well."
Signy pauses for a moment, thinking, before twisting open a new bulb and taking a drink as well. "I'm afraid I don't know Aunt Flora that well. Is there anything that Moire could offer her to buy her off?"
She perks up slightly at the last bit. "I have met her once, in the smithy at Xanadu. She said we would meet again when we left. I trust she is well?"
"Thank Lir, she is very well." Celina smiles. "She walked the Pattern of Rebma and survived." The energy in Celina's voice makes Silhouette's health of obvious concern. "She'll be about after she recovers." Celina gestures in the direction of Paris. "Flora is not someone I know well. However, I doubt she could be turned aside by promises from Moire. I do not think Flora would consider Moire an equal, and she loved her son very much."
Signy brightens at the news that she survived the walk, before falling again.
"So much for being able to do anything other than go over ground you've already covered. I don't appear to be adding much to help you out."
She leans back in her chair a bit, before reflecting. "I wonder why more of our generation never rebelled against the elders, given their... gentle ministrations as parents."
"Oh, on the contrary," Celina resettles herself for a long talk, "we are some of us, you included from what you have said, rather rebellious in several senses. I expect there was less of it in our Elders because Oberon crushed those who displeased him. So for that, as I seek to be better than the example of my mother, so too, may some of our aunts and uncles wish a different approach with their children than the ministrations he routinely handed out." She shrugs, "Or that is wishful thinking on my part.
"As example, you recognized a line had been crossed by your Father and you went to war. Brennan escaped nefarious plans of his father and fled into shadow looking for the means to fight back. Hannah loves her parents but was the rebel against the entire system of authority that trapped her people. By reputation, Paige has done everything and anything to be free and curious and explore every shadow for her pleasure, regardless of censure. Martin fought free of his Legacy in Rebma and refuses to return there. Khela tried to introduce political reforms into the monarchy and paid for that with exile. Merlin overturned the training that was to set him against all of Amber, and it is hard to imagine how difficult that must have been, raised in Chaos itself."
Celina studies Signy. "Lots of courage and defiance. I admire them all. And really.... if you want to help me in that way, just coming around here in your adventures on a regular basis, letting me know about Family, these would be huge gifts. A queen doesn't get to wander far from her responsibility."
Signy looks briefly ashamed of herself. "It's easy to assume that the only way to rebel was the path I took."
Her eyes dim slightly, as she thinks on the various points of the conversation.
Celina looks openly curious as she considers other rebellions that Signy might have started or created. She gives her attention to Signy in full measure, leaning closer and sliding lower in her seat a bit more. There is a moment where the seat snugs closer to her and she becomes more the seat's dear friend. Or that's what it looks like.
"I can certainly come by with news. I've been thinking more and more about the forge, and the need to spend some time doing some honest work, and having a workshop with some smiths to oversee would certainly keep pulling me back a fair bit."
She takes a drink, thinking over her plan.
"And if there's other things that I could do for you besides just visiting every so often, you have only to ask. I presume that King Random would not mind overmuch if I do that assuming he has no pressing need for me at the time??"
"A forge can immediately be made available, and your mastery of it can be public or private between us," Celina nods. "Rebma is much more skilled with metal and bone than nearly anything in the Seaward. I have not traveled shadow enough to comment about a wider scope. I think it is given that when jewelry and fine crafting of delicate utilitarian items needs to be beautiful, then even Amber seeks answers in Rebma."
Celina adds, "It is not desirable for me to intuit King Random's mind overmuch. However, Uncle Random would certainly like to be bothered less by Family requests and also keep me doing more of his 'keep Family happy' chores." Celina smiles and starts laughing. "Did you see what I just did there?" She leans her head back and giggles covering her mouth.
Signy's face flushes briefly with delight. "I'll have to see if he can get me a list of the master smiths in Rebma, so I can talk with them," she mutters to herself. "Plus, find suppliers, and some good apprentices...."
She blinks, and tries to put the plans that she wants to make on hold for now.
"You know, you did just say that it wasn't desirable, not that you wouldn't do it," she notes with a mischevous look on her face. "Plus, if you're careful and only read it when it works for him...."
Celina laughs but keeps the hand shielding her mouth...and curiously no bubbles escape. Her eyes dance. "Uncle Random has a sense of humor I think. I'm not sure what sort of category that humor would be archived into, but judging from the rest of the family men I've talked to, it is bound to be... cosmic. He'll let us have our fun unless we get caught." She chuckles.
Composed a bit now, Celina waves a hand in Signy's direction. "So be it. I'll see that the list of master smiths is sent to your chamber tomorrow. What else do you need?"
Signy looks pleased. "I thank you, Cousin. I'm looking forward to this."
She leans forward, closer to Celina, resting her elbows on her knees, her hands clasped lightly. "One thing I was wondering -- earlier you'd mentioned the Moonriders. Do they have some connection to Rebma?"
"I do not think that we escape any connection," Celina says. "So what I mean is that the Family history connects us all. If there are broken or deceased Pattern realms, these are as much a part of everything as ...as the four-legged mother of Oberon. Amber will always be connected with us, even though its part in things has changed."
Celina pauses, realizes her bulb is empty, and reaches out with her foot to flip another bulb from the serving tray up into the water. Before the drink can fall from the top of the small arc of motion, her toes are under it grabbing and with a precise twitch, tosses the bulb along to her left grip. "What you mean is do the Moonriders have a reason to seek Rebma or a history here? Well, no, I do not think so. We are positioned relative to Amber, Paris, and Xanadu. As Amber drops from the Pattern sequence, then we are firmly between Paris and Xanadu." Celina stops in twisting the bulb open to drink. "Except in moving between Pattern cities... it does seem that there are gray balances, modulation waves, places where we can hear or see a path to ..." Celina sighs, "Oh pearls, I'm just jingling along now. Why do you ask? Do you have a thought about the Moonriders?"
Signy realizes that her bulb is also empty, and reaches over to snag one and open it, though without the artistry of her cousin.
"A thought? Ye..no. I.... I'm not sure." She takes a drink from the bulb, measuring her thoughts. "At times it feels like everything's related somehow, if I could just see a little more of the pattern I could fit all the rest of the pieces together into a complete picture." She pauses, and then fails to suppress a giggle at her choice of imagery.
Celina nods and looks very thoughtful.
"If Floaty Woman's linked to the Moonriders, then why is she somehow tied to something just outside your door, so to speak? Why the kidnapping of the Queen, unless King Random or Xanadu have something to do with their goals, whatever they are. Who killed Cambina, and why?"
She grimaces in distaste, before taking another measured drink.
"It is not clear to me how Vialle came to be in their hands," Celina speaks slowly as if she is still puzzling over some things Signy has said. "But regardless, it shall go against them. Likewise if it becomes more clear that the Moonriders had anything to do with Cambina's death, I wager they will be removed from existence. Floaty Woman will have no followers at that point. Cambina was a hard loss. There are knights of the realm who will measure that price against the Moonriders and all their tricksie time dodges will not save them."
Celina sighs. "As for why she had to die? Death is no mystery, Signy. Death is no answer, nor does the why of it make the loss then just." Celina squeezes the hard bulb with a worried look on her face. She frowns, her manner changes. "Cambina may have known her death and had no intent to share it. If such a thing is failure, I do not think she would have left Amber unguarded by her death. Rather I expect it was a possible outcome of something Amber needed. Better ask, did Xanadu and/or Amber prosper somehow from Cambina's death. What would we point to that remains in trade for that death? I would like to know, also."
Celina adds, "Do you know that we may deliver boons or dooms when we expire?"
Signy nods slowly. "I remember Eric used his against Chaos, according to her book on the war. Though at the time I had taken it as more of a rhetorical device. There wasn't any grand and immediate doom that fell on them at that time. I take it that it's more than just some poetic words, though?"
She takes another drink, and then blinks. "I wonder what Dierdre's was," she muses. "And if it was boon or doom."
"Yes, Cousin," Celina says with wonder in her voice, "poetry but also fate and will. In passing out of Reality, we make waves. Without knowing your mother, I cannot even guess. But I know I too wonder about it. And what Cambina did. And what my granddam, Moins may have done." Celina fiddles with the drink bulb but goes on, "We may die alone, but it will matter."
Celina points back at Signy, "So also consider, if Floaty Woman lives, it may be because she was too strong to kill and chance her blood doom. And then, it may be the Pattern itself that holds her to some separate Order out of time. The ultimate banishment. The Hand of Oberon in that I think."
Signy gets a curious look on her face as a thought hits.
"For a family that is so strongly bound to Order, we certainly do seem a pretty chaotic bunch. It's amazing that anything we've built has lasted as long as it has."
Celina's face does not react to this, but a shadow of sadness dims the light of her eyes.
Signy drinks a little more, examining the thought a little more, before letting it go.
"I guess if you're helping to set me up with a forge, it would only be fair to see if there was anything that you might want made. I'd thought to make a sword for the guardsman that escorted us into Rebma, but if there's anything Your Majesty had her eye on...?"
The mischievous glint in her eyes takes the formality out of the title.
Celina smiles and laughs. "Well.........." Celina spends the next twenty minutes describing a delicate piece of ornament that she would like to wear to certain events.
It is clear from Celina's description that the glove is a weapon, not just a symbol or pieces of jewelry. It is intended to be the loveliest asset to Amberite strength for personal defense. The chainmail will deflect blades.
Signy nods, asking some pointed questions to clarify some points around style and function. She doesn't taken any notes, but is clearly committing the conversation to memory, often going back to remarks much earlier in the conversation.
Silhouette is drawn from her sleep by a persistent scratching at her door. As she approaches the door, she can hear Brita saying, "She might Not Respond given her Walk. She appeared Utterly Exhausted at the End."
"I don't believe I've seen anyone end a Pattern Walk any other way." Conner observes. "I just hope this is indeed where she sent herself. I don't need to tell you about the temptation of unlimited travel."
The door opens tentatively; Silhouette tired face appearing, outlined by faint light. She smiles in welcome. "Cousins. How good of you to come. Please. Enter."
She opens the door fully, stepping back into the room. She wears a thin shawl, wrapped around her loosely. It obscures much of the dark 'wings' on her back.
She drifts over to the room's main table; its coral and driftwood top cluttered with several wax-tablets -- formulaic notes and engineering schema. There is a large plate of food and drink, as well. She sits and pours herself a restorative tea.
"Please, feel free to help yourselves."
Brita walks over to the table and sets down a closed basket she was carrying. She opens it to draw out various fruits and containers of fruits of the sea. "You Must be Hungry as well," she notes as she sits. "How Are You Now?" Brita cocks her head to the side as she examines Silhouette and awaits her response.
Silhouette dips her head, "Thank you, cousin. My Hunger is great." But Brita can sense she isn't speaking solely of food. She smiles as she assembles a large plate from Brita's gifts. "You are very kind."
She peels an oblong fruit, "I feel like a child again, seeing the world for the first time. Yet, I understand it as an adult." She sighs faintly, "I've been a fool." Her eyes meet Brita's gaze, humbled.
Brita glances at Conner, "Not a Fool - I Too was Separate, Raised in a Shadow of Reality with Shadowed Beliefs. Those Beliefs are Not Gone so much as Shifted. I Am an Asgard Goddess - My Abilities can Purify Water. But, I am Also More." She smiles slightly. "I Knew My Mother was More and therefore I Must be More, but it did Not Mean Anything Until I reached the Heart of The Pattern. By then, it was Engraved on My Heart with Each Step I had Taken."
"Brita has the right of it." Conner nods. "It is humbling to realize how little you understood but how exciting to learn that so much lies before you." Conner places a crystal decanter beside all of the gifts Brita as brought. "Something a little stronger than tea should the conversation warrant it." He explains.
Silhouette smiles, almost shy. Such a strange expression on steely lips. "Thank you, Conner. And, indeed, she does. I feel both More and Less. My life has been in service to false gods. But now, I am akin to one. A liberating and terrifying concept." She dips her head to Brita, "'Shifted' is an excellent analogy. I now recognize the Grand Design's limitations and failings. Yet, those teachings remain a part of me. And shall guide me still, even as I view it with new eyes."
A tilt of the head, "What did you both do afterwards? I remain here, as I promised Celina I would. But the temptation..." She hides the next words behind her tea cup, savoring its contents greedily.
"I Meant to go to Shadow Jutenheim - Home," Brita clarifies. "I Ended Up with Grandda Dworkin in His Pattern." She cocks her head - thinking. "I Suppose I was Thinking of Going Home as Visiting Family." She shrugs.
"Then the Pattern 'interpreted' your Desire?" Silhouette asks, intrigued. "Or do you believe your unconscious mind guided you? If we have achieved Apotheosis, does not our Will become Manifest?"
"We try to avoid referring to the Pattern in anthropomorphic terms." Conner replies. "However, it is true that the Creation of a Pattern is an act of will and a setting down of vision and instruction. It is possible therefore that an influence could be brought to bear." Conner shrugs. "I favor the unconscious desire explanation myself but it is just possible that our Great-Grandfather was responsible for Brita ending up in his domain. I am still envious that you have been there and I not, sister." Conner adds.
Silhouette sips her tea, attentive but silent.
Brita grins mischievously at Conner. "Younger Sibling Privilege," she says. She turns back to Silhouette, "I Tend to Think of The Pattern as having Some Will of Its Own - although I Allow that That Will or Personality Could come from Its Creator. It is Also Possible, that My Thought was just Not Specific Enough. 'Going Home' could have Registered as the Home Pattern - the Closest place that The Pattern Categorized as 'Home'."
She turns back to Conner, "What did You Think at The Center, Brother? Straight to Bed?"
"Yes as it happens." Conner replies. "Oh I had grand plans both times I walked but at the end of the day to travel into the unknown so drained and powerless is not wise." Conner wanders over to the food that was brought and arranges bits of this and that on a plate. "So cousin, has your walk brought clarity or more questions?"
"Enlightenment is an eternal journey, and every step illuminates new pathways," Silhouette says. "The Walk stripped away preconceptions, certainly. And broke my chains. Ones I did not know were there. Now, I wish to learn more of the Pattern and its interconnections with Creation. And how to utilize it to Forge."
She smiles over at Brita, "You are a Goddess of Water. I am of Earth. Has the Pattern empowered your magicks? Broadened your understanding of the Arcane?"
Brita laughs and notes "It is Interesting that a Water Goddess Walked a Land Pattern and an Earth Goddess Walked a Water Pattern. Walking Helped me Realize that my Goddess 'Magicks' were only Part of the Power I Could Reach." She waves a hand through the water around them. "The Asgardian Pantheon Allows for Only One Manifestation of Power per Individual. Our Reality is that I Could just as Easily Be a Goddess of Earth and You a Goddess of Water."
"Water tempers Steel," Silhouette says, smiling at Brita. "Perhaps, it was destined I walk the Rebman Path. It has cooled my Fire and opened my eyes to Falsehoods." She finishes her tea, refilling it almost as quickly.
"May I ask, if you are Divine, why do you still Serve? Why do any of us? Are we merely pawns in a pantheon of Gods now? Or are we allowed self-determination?"
"Why do we serve?" Conner echoes. "Tradition, necessity, obligation, honest desire to not bear the burden of ruling. Take your pick." Conner smiles. "At the end of the day, Family and those places that are Real are the only things that will endure as long as we will. So if you want to be a part of all that, then you navigate through the social constructs and centuries of personal history that reside there. By and large, Family is left to their own devices with the understanding that when needed, you will answer the call. After all, even King Oberon felt the need to disappear into shadow for months at a time to pursue his own interests."
Brita nods at her brother's points, "Family Service is Different than Just Service. It is a Tie Within Us. Besides," a definite twinkle in her eye although her face is serious, "If We do not Serve Our Uncles, We Cannot Keep an Eye on Them. They Tend to Get in A Lot of Trouble when On Their Own."
Silhouette laughs at this, immediately regretting it -- a dozen torn muscles flaring. The pain only makes her laugh the more. "Yes. I recognize their propensity for inspiring Discord. And general mulishness. I doubt I will be able to alter that trend." She peels another fruit, sampling its meaty interior.
"Speaking of Uncles," she says, a frown darkening her lips. "Your presence in Rebma suggests that your recent Service was a success. Huon has returned for punishment? And did so without too much incident?"
"Uncle Huon has Returned. There wasn't Incident on This End." Brita looks to Conner, "The Start - Collecting Our Uncle, well...." she grimaces and says, "I Hate Politics."
Silhouette offers a gentle smile, "It is said, 'No matter where Men travel, they carry with them their worst traditions, including Politics. Indeed, especially Politics.' Regrettably, they cannot be escaped, only endured. Or fashioned to our own Design." She takes another tentative bite of food. "Will there be Consequence for his return?"
"Undoubtedly, though I would be hard pressed to predict what it will be." Conner replies. "So far his submission to Rebman justice seems to be following the precedent of Random's time here. Which means that of powerful matriarchy half the population wants to smother him in his sleep and the other half wants to sleep with him. It remains to be seen if he ends up married to a Lady of the Royal Bedchamber or attempts to kill the King with a crossbow."
Silhouette raises a brow, "Such leniency? Our Queen is most generous. I hope it will not reflect poorly against her. She already faces challenges, without his presence. The Second Law, while useful, can be a dangerous sword's edge to walk."
Brita cocks her head in question, "Second Law?"
"I remember you speaking of that law during negotiations." Conner replies. "You emphasized how former enemies can become the greatest of allies though I never did press you to state the law in its entirety. So I'll trade you. The Second Law for the First Principle of dealing with family."
Silhouette nods lightly to Conner, "The trade of Enlightenment is always welcome."
She takes another draught of tea before continuing. "The Second Law, simply put, states 'One must never place too much trust in friends, and learn how to utilize enemies.' Friends can destroy you with ingratitude, whilst enemies can be a treasure trove of Enlightenment. In Huon's case, his gratitude to Celina will likely transform him into a loyal vassal. After all, he has more to prove to her and the people of Rebma. Sins to wash away through his deeds, as it were.
"However, if she remains too lenient, Huon could become a friendly shark. She could also inspire jealousy amongst those close to her." A faint shrug. "That said, it is prudent that one always has enemies."
During Rebma/s night-cycle, a Triton delivers an elegantly wrapped seaweed package to Huon's new chambers. A wax-tablet, bound - some private missive for him. It is accompanied by a new set of men's formal wear - adhering to the current Rebman trends.
The wax-table reads:
Allow me to be the first to welcome you to your new home. It pleases me that your journey concluded satisfactorily. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of that effort.
With your allowance, I would visit you for breakfast on the morrow. I wish to conclude our Pact, as the Way between us is now at a formal close. I still have something of yours in my possession, which I suspect you would prefer returned. An item best delivered in private.
I await your summons.
Blood & Honor,
The same tablet is returned, with the wax smoothed and re-engraved.
I await your arrival. I understand congratulations are in order.
In the morning, Silhouette prepares for her meeting -- well-ahead of the scheduled time. Her body remains taxed by her recent transfiguration, and not even purposeful stubbornness can fully overcome that diminishment. She selects one of her designer dress -- a breezy construction of shadow green; its seaweed fabrics like gentle chiffon. The smocked, laced bodice offers a more-than flattering fit and drape. Sleeveless, it reveals the burgundy tattoo latticing her arm -- and hinting at the dark wings upon her back.
Satisfied, she travels to Huon's "quarters", escorted by Orseas. She is grateful for his company. As much as it pains her, she must pause in her walk more than once -- leaning against his strong, alien body for support. "Forgive me, my friend," she whispers each time.
The triton does not reply.
By the time they reach their destination, her legs feel like she stands upon quicksand. It takes everything not to slip to the ground and never rise again. She nods to the guards and awaits permission to enter Huon's private chambers.
The suite seems quite extensive, and appointed with the decorations and trapping of Rebma's finest. It shows the centuries of prosperity and riches that the kingdom has accumulated. The outer chamber has no guards, just a single young woman, not even fully grown. "Lady Silhouette, his highness is expecting you." She stands, in the fluid Rebman fashion that keeps her from shooting into the water and walks to open an inner door. There is a short hallway and a porch that overlooks the city.
Huon stands, as do the two people with him. He seems to know how to stand in Rebma as well. He is dressed as a Prince of Amber, in a slashed doublet and hose. He looks as if he would be at ease leading an army or writing court poetry. He's been growing his beard out.
He smiles. "Ah, welcome. I hope your little adventure on my behalf was a suitable introduction to our family." He turns to the side. "Crispinus, can you fetch our guest some breakfast?"
The young man nods and heads back inside by a different door, leaving Silhouette on the balcony with her uncle and the two young women.
Silhouette raises a brow, smiling. "Incarceration suits you well, it seems." She floats over to him, lightly touching his arm. Her other hand seeks the balcony rail, steadying herself. She hates being weak, let alone allowing him to see it.
"Everything is to your satisfaction?" she gazes up at him, almost shy. She's not certain about the beard. Makes him look old. Even so, the urge to kiss him remains.
However he feels, he only takes and kisses her hand.
"Indeed. One could hardly ask for more pleasant accomodations. Crispinus is teaching me triton-and-net fighting and I intend to teach him some of my skills with the sword. I may even offer classes in airbreather martial arts to his unit.
"And how have you found the wider world you were thrust into?"
"It is much like the one I knew; although, the discoveries and disillusionments are far grander in scope," she says. A light shrug. "I lack Purpose for the moment, but one must expect such considering the transformation I've undergone."
Crispinus, who is both clearly a soldier and clearly at ease with the Prince, returns with a tray of covered foods. He puts it on the table and opens the covers. There are a variety of Rebman fruits and fishes, and several drink pods.
Silhouette thanks him with a gentle smile. She selects a restorative, seaweed tea for herself. "The Queen has been most generous with you. More so than I suspected," she says. "How do you intend to repay that generosity?"
Huon smiles. "You are so young. Between each other, we only keep score over the most trifling matters. This, you will eventually find, is a defensive reaction that allows us to protect what is really important to us from each other. It doesn't work, but it leads to a certain laxity of concern which allows us to live with each other." He drops the smile. "Or not, sometimes."
Silhouette shrugs faintly, "Employing the Kress First Principle might serve the Family well -- view each exchange from the other's perspective." She sips her tea, "But, as you say, I am young."
He picks up his drink pod and expertly extracts a large sip. "But enough of the past. You said something I'm curious about. Why do you think you need a purpose?"
She raises her eyebrow, "Purpose defines our place in Creation, my Lord. From demigod to ditch-digger. Without it, we are Hollow. And worse, superfluous." She gazes up at him, forest-shadows in her eyes. "Was it not Purpose driving you when you brought war to this place? Or was it merely an act of malice?"
Huon snorts. "Tools have purposes. We are forces of nature. We are much more unique than Gods, who are sometimes stacked 5000 at a time in the broom-closets of infinite shadow. You can fit everyone who ever has or could achieve your feat from yesterday in one of this castle's smaller ballrooms. We few are who and what we are and we have nothing so limiting as a purpose. I had an objective and a goal that the objective served, but purposes are for pawns.
"You will one day learn the difference and, I hope, resolve to live on the side of being a full member of this family. Anything else is beneath you."
Silhouette offers a bemused smile, "Forgive me, but that sounds not unlike the justification of a spoiled adolescent. I want what I want; therefore, I deserve it and damned the consequences. I've heard this time and again." She sets the drinking-bulb aside, shrugging.
"And yet, this 'pawn' has used the Kings and Queens to achieve her Purpose, whilst the 'rook' has been removed from the board." She folds her hands together, "Unless, your game is not yet complete. My lord."
Huon looks at her for a long moment. It's unclear if he is amused or annoyed. Depending on which it is, his smile is either kind or condescending. "You'll learn, or you'll die, or you'll never grow up. Each option is available to you." He turns to the young ladies sitting at the side table. "Archivist, do you know of an example of a King or Queen in Rebma's trading circle who has a purpose? If so, tell us."
The girl adjusts her harness, perhaps to gather her thoughts. "My Lord, I do. In the Neapward Principalities they tell of The King of Kumari Kandam, whose kingdom was a sunken continent situated on the back of a giant sea serpent. The King's purpose was to keep the serpent from deciding to surface and destroying the city."
"Did it work?"
The second archivist, the one whose skin is darker green, replies instead of the first. "Some of the stories say it did, but others say that the King became a dictator and was deposed and the serpent continued beneath the waves despite the lack of the King. Those tales are only told in the Principalities that are no longer monarchies."
Huon turns back to Silhouette. "A city on the back of a sea serpent. I may have to visit it some day."
Silhouette smiles faintly, unfazed. "Individual Power frequently creates despots. It is a common story, almost to the point of banality. Tyrants disguise their desires as Purpose; hide self-interest behind Moral Duty. All are invariably disappointed, and they leave ruin in their wake."
She picks up her tea, "The Pattern displayed my follies. But, finally, I know enough to regret them."
A dismissive wave. "No matter. My current purpose is simple." She extends her crimson-stained arm. "To sever our current connection."
He nods. "Hold still," he says, taking hold of her wrist. He strokes four fingers of his opposite hand over the mark, and it is gone. Nor are his fingers stained.
"Very interesting," asks the first archivist. "Sorcery?"
"Yes, minor," replies Huon. He lets her wrist go and looks up at her. "Are you now purposeless, or is there aught else?"
Silhouette examines her olive-skin closely, searching for traces of magic beneath. Finally, she gives a contented nod. Being free of the marks feels surprisingly liberating. "Thank you, my Lord."
She cocks her head slightly, "My Purpose remains, albeit viewed from a fresh perspective." She refills the bulbs. "Tell me of my grandfather? You are a true Elder in the Family, so your perception of him holds more value. I wish to understand his motivations better, and if I would have fallen under his gaze."
Huon laughs, dismissively. "I am young, although not as young as our liege, and I am less experienced than many. I have only seen Oberon's displeasure, at myself and my sister. I assure you that you have never been significant enough to fall under his gaze. He did, however, delegate his dirty work, so perhaps one of his agents came across your path. What makes you think he had an interest in you?"
Huon relaxes back into his chair. He takes another bulb of chilled fruit juice and begins to drink from it.
Silhouette swirls her drink, silently contemplating the thermoclines. She finally looks up, forest-green eyes ablaze. "My incarceration and torture were not random fate. It has been suggested that grand-father may have had a hand in it. More likely to harm Mother than myself." She swirls the liquids again, "It has also been suggested that you were to blame. And that remains a distinct possibility, considering our interactions.
"I care not for vengeance. But the Past has an ugly tendency of repeating itself. Self-preservation is my goal. You were the first to discover me, so your insights are more valuable than most."
"Your mother is a conservative creature, as most of us are. We've never needed to be anything else. Eventually, she will come around."
He sits back. "Oberon, who I hated, was soft in many ways. I was exiled for life because he was convinced that I had committed fratricide. We would've eventually reconciled. In the most part, because I had changed.
"If you're asking me if he would've killed your father and your family, but not you, possibly. It sounds more like his ancient history than his later days, though. If you're asking me if he would've knowingly left you a foundling in another place, I do not believe it. He was more of a master manipulator than that. And what would he have gotten from your mother that way? Even if your shadow-people were of no concern to him, you would have been.
"I'd guess it was Eric, and he wasn't skilled enough to recognize who you were and that you would inevitably survive. He had a hold over your mother that I never understood. I do know, that, at least according to ... my sources, she was very quick to offer to help betray Eric when she thought it might work.
"But my idle analysis is just that. What do you know that you will share that I can use to improve upon it?"
As he speaks, Silhouette remains perfectly still -- like a watchful stonefish. At his question, she stirs, nodding. "Llewella suggested that Oberon may have been tempering me as a weapon. To what end, I do not know. She also mentioned a shape-shifter cousin named 'Dara,' but did not expand upon her motivations. She briefly suggested your involvement, but vacillated; if you had such free reign, why not devote your efforts toward Bleys.
"Indeed, while she pressed me to discover who might be to blame, she remained decidedly vague -- more so than Family tradition dictates. It made me consider her motivations. Altruism is not one of our strongest traits. What if she was testing me to see if I'd discovered her involvement?"
She touches her chin, "Also, my mother's denial of my existence persists. Why? What is it that convinces her otherwise? And what - or who - prevented her from finding me in Shadow?" She frowns, "She's even suggested you created me. Which begs the question, 'Why would you even care about Flora?'"
Huon looks puzzled. "Why would you think that I do? It's true, though, that I want to know about her. Imagine that the world is a giant card game, and that the best players are good enough to hide their intentions from you. They also are more worried about the other players in their league, so unless it's tactically advantageous, they won't engage you.
"You can, in that case, learn quite a bit by watching the less-skilled players who the top players are allied with. Remember, it was Brand's intellectual curiosity about Flora's location and behavior that led him to find where Eric imprisoned Corwin."
Silhouette chuckles, "You forget, I know virtually nothing of Eric and Corwin's past, other than they hated one another. Brand is a complete unknown to me. Most of the Family's history remains hidden to me. And most of them make for poor historians. Still..." She pauses, considering something. "If you can't spot the fool in the room, then you are the fool."
She tames her unruly dress, "Tell me of Pinnabello?"
"No. Now you will take offense at this, but I consider that an advantage to your education. First, as a Prince of Amber, the story of my brother is mine to tell and mine to refuse to tell, as I see fit. Second, your response to the gift I gave you a moment ago was to brag of your ignorance, which I can assure you we are all well aware of. Third, family etiquette determines who may ask questions and when, and you are violating it." His eyes dart to the women surrounding him. It can only have been intentional. "And Lastly, I am done with my breakfast, so this interview is at an end."
He stands. "Thank you for coming, Silhouette. It was enlightening."
She floats to her feet, and then drifts over to him. The turbulent waters around are warm, not unlike those surrounding the hydrothermal vents of forgotten deeps. "And thank you, my Prince. I am forever grateful for your lessons. And your company. I am sure the currents will bring us together again. Until then..."
A light kick lifts her from the floor, allowing her to grace his cheek with a kiss. The whisper is intimate, furtive. And tainted with yearning. "They know, my love."
With that, she drifts away, as if carried by the receding tide.
The two women rise as well,
He waves at her, halfway between a salute and a benediction. Then slips an arm around the waist of each of his assigned minders and walks back into the villa. Silhouette hears feminine laughter as the Prince and his escorts depart.
"I thought I would see you off, cousins." Ambrose smiles at Conner and Brita.
"I have studied little of the forest, although it is visible from the altitude of the castle and parts of the city. Even if it is related to Arden, it must need be quite different without our Uncle's wardening."
He looks across at the black smear across the horizon, distinct from the low, smooth sea-floor that is the highway for Rebma's trading empire. Closer investigation might allow an observer to see motion as the kelp sways in the tides, but not from here.
"It is the home of the Sons of the Dragon, that I know. They are impressive beings." He pauses and seems sad.
"I wish I had a sealed Trump to give you, in case you need a quick way out of the great forest."
Brita smiles and pulls out a palm sized shell, "I Have a Trump of the Fire Gate. We Will Use it If we Need to Return Quickly." She gives Ambrose a hug, "We Will go to Mother's Lab When I Return."
"Nedra is uncharted territory in more ways than one." Conner comments. "I rather wish I had taken the time to learn Mabrahoring in my youth. I find that gap in my knowledge more and more vexing as I deal with the Sons of the Dragon." Conner looks to Ambrose. "Thank you for your concern Cousin. If you happen to see part of the forest erupt in green flame or something similar, feel free to come to the rescue." He grins.
"I'll do that," Ambrose says. He omits the shaking of hands that they'd do on the surface, as it does nothing but disturb the water in Rebma.
Brita, not one for long goodbyes, turns to Conner and says, "Shall We?" she pushes off and begins a slow backstroke towards the forest, still looking back to watch what Ambrose and Conner do.
Conner raises his hand to Ambrose in farewell and swims off after his sister.
Ambrose waits for some time while the two of them move off, watching them swim away into the distance, before turning back to the interior of the castle.
Conner speeds up his swimming to catch up to his sister. "Brennan reported an area of the kelp beds where he found traces of Huon's troops entering it. I though we would start there."
Brita makes a noise of understanding. She continues to occasionally roll over in swimming, to watch around them .. and back. "Why would Uncle Huon's Troops Enter the Kelp Forest? Where they Fleeing You and Trying to Hide? This was not done Before the Battle, was it?"
"After." Conner confirms. "There was much blind retreat from the battle including into areas where the breathable water ends." Conner pauses for a moment. "The incursion into the kelp forest is mildly troubling because part of the pact with the Dragon and her Sons is that Rebma should not expand towards the kelp forest. We don't want this disturbance to be taken as an attempt to do that. Nor ours for that matter."
Brita glances to Conner. "A Way to Ensure That would be to Announce our Visit, but To Whom would we Announce It?" She shakes her head, negating her own suggestion with, "No, Perhaps we can go in as Cleanup - Searching for Further Sign of These Deserters to Eliminate any Further Threat to the Sons of The Dragon or Watery Rebma. Of course, The Dragon probably does Not Need help in Eliminating Threats."
"The sons of the Dragon refer to this sword as the Paxblade, a sign of the peace." Conner replies. "I am hoping that will be token enough. Even the Tritons from the kelp forest recruited into Khela's army appeared to respect it rather than fear it. I hope the Dragon will see that way rather than as a threat."
Brita wonders aloud, "It seems Strange that Waving around a Blade would denote Peace, but Hopefully Their Respect will Suffice." Her shrug is verbal in the watery environment.
"There is much about the Tritons and their Mother that is counter-intuitive. If I am understanding the metaphysics of things, they are Chaos frozen into a Ordered form by the Pattern. So rituals and rules that don't conform to our logic sounds about right to me." Conner opines.
Brita makes an accepting noise in response to that logic. "What do You Think we will Find? Or Hope to find? Will They Deign to Speak to Us or Hide?" she asks as they near the swaying kelp.
The kelp is constantly in motion, and the boundary is clearly demarcated--there is kelp-forest and there is not-kelp forest. There are trails and it looks as if they exist both on the ocean floor and further up. It looks dark and uninviting, and it would be easy to get lost 5 feet within the kelp beds. The sea teems with life near and in the forest.
There is a small building on the last hill before the forest starts. It looks to be a Rebman outpost of some sort. If there are any occupants, they are quiet.
"Do we go in High or Low?," Brita asks as she examines the waving fronds. "I would Think maybe Low to Reduce One avenue of Potential Ah...pproach."
"Low." Conner replies. "I think this may be one of the few cases where getting lost in the forest is likely the best course of action. Though before that happens I want to see if we can find any trace of the deserters that Brennan told me about. Let's investigate this little outpost first though, hmmm? If there is the equivalent of the Rangers down here I would know of it." Conner starts swimming towards the structure.
The outbuilding is small, too small for a triton to enter. That seems intentional. It's all stone construction and someone has made efforts to keep sea-life from growing on it. It's empty, but it looks like it's been occupied within the last few months. Inside are two sleeping nets, what proves to be a medicine cabinet, some preserved foodstuffs, and weapons (spears and tridents).
There's a wax sheet that looks like some sort of talley sheet. It's hard to tell if it's for observations of Tritons or for games of darts.
Brita follows Conner into the building. [Does it look like older construction or newer?] "It seems Odd that this is Not Triton Sized. The Recent Queens of Watery Rebma would Not have an Outpost Designed for Only Humans, would they?" she asks Conner as she pokes around in the cabinets. "But it also does not seem Plausible that this could have been Built without Their Knowledge," she adds.
"You don't get a barracuda to guard the spawning grounds." Conner remarks. "If this is an outpost to watch for Triton activity at the edges of Ndera, you would not want Tritons as part of the observation post for fear of divided loyalty and if you fear the unbound Tritons of Nedra then you want a hardened building they can't enter for protection." Conner pokes about the medicine cabinet and foodstuffs idly. "This outpost has likely not been a priority for some time. No sign they left in a hurry but no sign of complete abandonment either. Recalled to join the fighting perhaps."
"Unbound Tritons." Brita repeats with a nod. "Those We seek. If those that Ran came through here and One or Two were Watching, would They Follow or Report? I would Follow." [Are there any obvious scents in the water in the enclosed space of the building?]
There aren't, which probably means it's been at least weeks if not months since people were here.
[While we are asking questions, where is this outpost relative to where Brennan said he found evidence of people fleeing into Nedra?]
The output is near where Brennan saw the evidence.
"From what I have seen I suspect they would cower and then report." Conner replies with a shrug. "Well there seems little to be gained here. Let's head to the edge of the kelp bed and see if the paths made by the troops are still visible."
Brita nods in agreement and gestures to Conner to lead the way. She swims after him towards the kelp and searches the area for obvious and perhaps non-obvious points of entry.
The obvious points of entry are obvious. They look like game trails. Above, the paths shift and change. Arden would be far more dangerous if the trees swayed as the great kelp does. Still, Brita and Conner begin to see blazes on rocks and at the bases of some of the great trunks of the massive kelp plants.
Someone has been here. Someone who wanted to be able to get around, at least in the fringes of the forest.
"Nice of Them to Leave a Trail," Brita notes. "Shall we Follow the Rabbit?" she asks Conner as she points to the marked trail.
Conner pauses for a moment then shrugs. "I was going to substitute the Rebman aphorism for going down the rabbit hole but I seem to have not learned that one. I shall have to ask Celina when we return. Yes, let's see where this leads. To nothing interesting would actually be the preferred discovery but I doubt they or we are that lucky."
Signy leaves her audience with the Queen and makes a direct line for her seneschal's office. She obtains the location of her new workshop, and while there also gets the names of recommended suppliers for the metals and gemstones that she'll need for her project for her cousin (and how far her Family connection will allow her to order supplies). As she leaves, she makes unobtrusive note of the seneschal's office, filing the details away for use later.
She makes her way straight to the shop (only getting lost twice on the way), getting there in enough time to meet the existing smiths and assistants. While introducing herself, she starts to sketch out some rough ideas for the first big commission, looking to see how the rest of the smiths react. She mentions the suppliers at various points, looking to see which ones elicit negative responses from the other smiths and if any of them suggest alternatives.
She is mostly absent from Tomat and Red Fox Claws for the next two or three days, while she immerses herself in the new environment. While there she finds the time to craft a steel sword for the guard that escorted them into the City, working with one or two of the more promising young apprentices to see which ones she might be able to teach and work with.
The smiths seem to think gems are for jewelers, but royal patronage is a thing not to be squandered. The main thing Signy learns is that the process is slower than smithing above water, perhaps twice or four times as slow. In addition, she finds her first work, while technically excellent and better than any normal smith of Rebma could produce, is not her absolute best. Re-doing the work will stretch the time to a full ten-day, but will produce a work that she can be very happy with.
Also, she's convinced that she'll learn better if she takes more time.
The extra time is...unfortunate, but he novelty of smithing on the ocean floor is its own reward, and Signy works long into the night after most of the smiths have gone home doing and redoing, slowly moving the finished product closer and closer to something better than just acceptable.
She finds a pair of apprentices, a boy and girl who are twins. They are recently arrived from the Seaward and have only made practical farmgoods before apprenticing to the master smilths here. She has the knowledge and he has the steady hands that put the hammer where it needs to be every time. They are named Hanno and Metucosa. They seem almost as tireless and Signy herself, and totally dedicated to the smithing trade.
She spends as much time as she can with the twins, pushing them as much as she pushes herself late into the night. In those late night sessions she starts to work some of her father's initial lessons in, to see if either of them is capable of...more. Being smack in the middle of Reality means that they won't be able to show any drastic talents, but the intuitions and feel are still there regardless. She also has Tomat come by the smithy, ostensibly to gauge their education but also to provide a second opinion on their ability to See deeper into their work.
Towards the end of the first week, when she feels that she has a good handle on the twins' ability and hers, she sets the two of them a task. She provides the two of them a rough sketch of a trinket box, shaped like a shell, crafted of silver and gold and inlaid with diamonds. The whorls and patterns of the box are one of two things that she insists on, so that it will look as if it was part of the furnishings in the office. The other is on a cunning mechanism for opening the box -- it can still be pried open with a dagger, but at the cost of the mechanism never working again.
Once they have the rough outline, she turns her attention to other projects, and lets the two of them work for a week to see what they come up with while she starts to gather the materials for the finished product to be handed to the Queen.
Within a mirror workshop, where shards of beautiful glass no longer litter the floor in dagger patterns. Another session of careful meditation, and the moment of pushing her will into the glass. Not unlike a slow dive into silver water.
Not too tired. Not discouraged yet. Never that. Her conversations with family sprung surprises and she was better now with the internal jolts that grew from her youthful bias and recent doom of accepting more and more responsibility for things she did not create or understand.
And that was the path---- For better or worse--- Until death do us part.
Celina knew the jewel. She knew the razor pain of it from her dreams. She'd seen it with Moire. She knew Moins' face from the Royal Gallery and the Archives and the poetry and the many surviving tribute works. Most of that did not involve much color, however. Stone and metal and poems that hinted and described without adding significant solid color for her to call personal history.
How like Rebma to hide legends in such beautiful incomplete puzzles.
The ocean overlays everything so colors change, and must shift spectrum. Dominated by the waters. Then on the surface you see colors overlaid by air, and so you think you shall see colors without overlay. But you are fooled. Air changes things too. True colors without overlay exist, but they are inside us.
This was session seventy-something. She wasn't keeping track but part of her counted anyhow, even if she didn't want to make it that important. Celina would succeed or not, regardless if she had to press the glass a thousand times. She runs her hands lightly over the beautiful mirror, so pure that even Rebma had nothing like it.
This mirror she'd dared to face to the Pattern. This glass had seen a successful initiation. Silhouette had a future again.
Celina steadied the quiver of image that came off the edge of the glass and began to collection in the silver liquid core. She sharpened her quest. 'The jewel I shall know better. The queen who first commanded it. Moins my mother's mother, let me see you sweetly embrace Rebma's jewel. Let me have that possible past.'
Celina pushes her will into the mirror, seeking Order in the threads of image forming.
Celina embraces the image with a slow steady dive into the colors.
As Celina lets the image respond to her will, there are flashes and swirls of color, starting at the edges of her vision. The colors are dark, and perhaps they are merely artifacts of the staring, but Celina does not believe that.
The colors pile up, more and more of them. Layer upon layer, each a thin veneer over the previous layers. Each blocking out some little fraction of the light, until Celina cannot tell if her eyes are even open. When there is light, if there is light, it is as the flashes of color inside closed eyes.
Eventually even this stops and the darkness is complete. The depths of the sea on a moonless night, an octopus' ink spray, deep caves far from the surface, The darkness so without form and substance that the mind starts to see things in it, for want of anything else to do.
Whatever it is that was asked of the stone by the reflective arts, it is not an answer that is easily given.
Celina exists in the dark, sometimes feeling there are currents moving through her eyes, deeper into her mind. It is terrifying to think she could be going mad or that there is nothing there at all. But she holds to her will and the ideas that brought her here. She engages the dark. Revisits the phantom colors. Time is slow.
This is more than she's ever found before in these sessions.
Eventually she knows she is tiring. The Dark has endless strength. She swims back out of the media. She surfaces.
Celina finds that she is on her knees still gripping the mirror, her face cold with the same temperature as the gazing glass. She pulls away. Part of her face is numb.
Celina blinks. "I don't think she's dead." But Moins may be mad or trapped in half death. Stasis. Like a dragon.
Color returns to her face and she gets to her feet. Why does this remind me of the Arden Dragon in trapped sleep? Celina does some soft and slow warm up exercises. Then she seals the room and returns to more mundane responsibilities.
Colored fabrics sway lazily in the bazaar's gentle current, like the fronds of an exotic kelp forest. Fish dart around the towers of silks and cottons and living cloth; few as vibrant as their surroundings. Scintillating strands of bioluminescence filter down through the cool darkness, casting the moving, living tapestry in greenish radiance. Buyers drifted through the market like shadows, the maze of textiles offering anonymity amongst a sea of people.
A perfect meeting place for dark words.
Two shadows move like predators through the delicate gloom -- beautiful and terrible in their manner. They exude their desire for privacy like a toxin, and few hawkers are foolish enough to approach them.
Silhouette pauses to examine a sheet of dying-sun red cloth. It feels warm beneath her fingers, as if recently lifted off the back of some magnificent beast.
"I believe I may have an answer to your question," she says to her aunt, Llewella. "But I cannot confirm the validity of it."
Llewella looks at it, too. "This is an excellent cover for me, since no one would ever believe it was actually me, here. As to the other matter, perseverance is often more important than immediate gratification. Are you ready to share what you've learned or do you wish to be more sure?"
Silhouette lets the fabric slip from her fingers, "Certainty may be unattainable, as the two core suspects are dead. However, of them, Eric appears to be the more likely. He wished to control my mother during the Interregnum. He also possessed the abilities and resources to conceal me in Shadow, if necessary. With his death, I would have been effectively forgotten."
She moves along, glancing over at Llewella for any signs of agreement.
Llewella frowns. "It seems ... neat, does it not? Perhaps the two events have different authors. Consider this speculation. If Eric was responsible for your father's death, he may have told someone. Say that someone knew of the possibility that Flora had children, perhaps because she had children of her own that she had hidden. When Eric returns and makes it clear that he now has a hold over Flora, she slips out of the palace and visits the shadow. Finding a child and unwilling to give it to Eric as a hostage, she moves you into shadow, fully intending to return.
"Then fate steps in, and she gets caught up in the war. She's taken prisoner, freed, and eventually dies at Brand's hand."
Silhouette drifts from stall to stall, listening intently to each word. There are threads of truth she finds most... intriguing. "Possibly. Her daughter also grew up in the forge's glow. Although, from what I surmise, Signy had her father's protection and guidance. Deirdre may have intended for me to be raised in a similar fashion." She taps her chin, thoughtful.
Llewella flips over the yards of fabric in frustration. "This is all inferior, is there nothing worth buying in this store?" she comments, loudly. "You can fit almost any of us into the second role, except Corwin, or me. That's why we all kept our children secret from each other. You may want to talk to Jerod about his father's interactions with Flora, and with Deirdre."
Silhouette nods in agreement, apparently at the poor quality of textiles. After a moment, she frowns slightly. "Jerod's attitude towards me is mildly... antagonistic. I would prefer an objective viewpoint, prior to that encounter. What interest did Brand have in my mother? Huon mentioned this in passing, as well. Brand kept tabs on her. But why?"
Llewella shrugs. "You're asking why someone who can see glimpses of the future decided to do a thing. Any number of reasons that we can't determine might be the cause. However, in gaming terms, there are only so many players to watch, and sometimes the way to find out about a stronger player is to observe his weaker allies. In the end, it led him to Corwin, so whatever his strategy, it was successful."
Celina smiles and says, "Come in."
She sees Ambrose and gestures him to sponges or lounging couches shaped like powerful waves. "Can I get you anything to drink? I have questions about the finer points of Order and Time."
Today Celina is dressed casually, her briefs and shawl are of bronze metal beads, that have oxidized to a greenish color... apparently a desired result of the maker, since many metals do not seem to oxidized in Rebma waters.
Ambrose is one of those surface dwellers who is never going to adjust perfectly to Rebman ways. He maintains surfacer-type clothes in his colors, he won't shave his head, and while he's not openly rebellious, he doesn't natively accept female authority: he stops and thinks of what he might want instead of merely accepting what Celina offers him. Or maybe that's a consequence of being born a son of Amber.
"I am, as always, at your majesty's service." He settles on one of the lounging couches. "And while talking is thirsty work, I think I'd best not try to talk and drink at the same time. Order and stress, sequence and time. They take up one's attention."
Celina also elects to use a lounging couch, she has a small drink in hand. She stretches out and addresses Ambrose. "I continue to feel my way around the Pattern, seeking better understanding. It happens that some of that work got me to thinking about the Dragon in Arden---- the Triton Mother in Nedra, and how one might immobilize powerful, very willful, sentients using Order. Has this line of thought interested you? Do you have philosophy you could share? They both seem relatively unharmed and yet were constrained for many thousands of years. The Dam of Tritons perhaps much less so. I'm curious how it was managed."
Last modified: 7 December 2013