Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Robin is quickly in her element: Deep woods that aren’t exactly the Deep Green, but that may not have seen a human in generations. The harts and hinds have no special fear of Robin, nor do the predators. Everything grows larger here, and the light filters down with a special quality.
Robin follows the directions Iron Eyes provided. She finds the landmarks he saw easily: a mountain in the distance, a ravine with a double waterfall, the remains of a forest fire from a decade ago.
It’s pretty shocking when she comes across what looks like some sort of animal trap: a spring loaded set of steel jaws that would pin anything smaller than a grizzly bear, and attached to a chain.
There are tracks where someone checked the trap. They’re probably 2 days old.
Robin frowns as she looks over the trap. Carefully, she leans forward to get a good scent trace. Then, taking a large stick, she first purposefully springs the trap. Then, equally purposefully, wrecks it in such a way as it cannot be repaired. A smile dances across her lips as she thinks of Silhouette. Her cousin would probably be more... graceful about the examination and disablement of a mechanic device, but Robin's methods work too.
As a child of Amber, Robin’s strength is more than a match for the trap. Not only will it never be used as a trap again, it’s also a clear message to whoever finds it.
Then she's off on the hunt. Robin is careful not to walk directly on the trail but to shadow it from nearby, where she has a clear view.
Robin continues along, the tracks go higher into the hills, and she finds the snow-line. The trapper isn’t bothering to conceal his trail. Robin comes across what might’ve been another trap site. It’s hard to tell, because scavengers have picked the carcass of the dead bear clean.
Robin’s frown deepens. It’s one thing to set a trap, it’s another to be wasteful of a kill.
The trail continues to a river, which has a trot line across it. There are no fish caught by it, but it should catch some soon.
Across the river, Robin sees a plume of smoke from the next valley over. It doesn’t look like a wildfire, so it’s probably people.
When Robin finds the trotline an angry buzz starts up in the back of her throat. In short order the trotline gets the same treatment as the previous trap: complete and definitive.
Robin is cautious as she crosses the river, using the firelizards as forward observers.
Once across the river, the Ranger-once-more climbs a likely looking tree to get a better view of the smoke plume. One campfire, many chimneys, burning wood or something else?
Robin sees a cottage in the center of the clearing. It’s not very large, but it may have two or three rooms. It’s a permanent structure, and the smoke rises in a single plume from a chimney or smoke-hole in the small building. The wood smells like it's dry, seasoned and slow-burning. There’s also the smell of smoking food in the plume. Part of the building may be a smoke-house.
The sun sets as Robin looks at the place. The fire is probably also for warmth. It’s getting colder as Robin watches.
Hmmm... Robin rubs her chin as she thinks. Deciding on her tried and true full-frontal reconnoiter style, she climbs down from the tree.
The Ranger takes a few moments to make sure both she and the firelizards are calmer before setting off toward the cottage. The firelizards get sent aloft with fond crooning to watch her flanks. And Robin tweaks the wind slightly to make it more difficult for missile weapons to successfully find their targets.
Then she sets out for the cottage fairly directly.
As Robin approaches the cabin, the door opens and a large, muscled man looks out. He may not have shaved since the spring. "Bonjour! Je n'ai pas vu deja ici. Entrez!"
Behind him is a woman wearing buckskin clothing.
"Merci Beaucoup," Robin says as she enters. She briefly sends her hope that the firelizards will stay outside unless there's an emergency. At which point they would be welcome to join her.
"I've been away and am just now returning to these parts," she continues as she looks around the interior of the home. She's especially looking for any little Ponca touches in the décor or the woman's clothing.
She could be a Ponca or a related tribe. It's hard to say. It is easy to see that she's pregnant.
The man closes the door against the cold and offer her a seat. There are two candles lit in the main room and a fire in the cooking corner, which can't be called a kitchen as such. "Are you? I don't know of any women trappers, in these parts or any parts, not white women, anyway. But you’re here, and that speaks volumes. Unless I'm wrong, and you're a castrati or something." He holds out his hand, "I'm Carles, and I'm the best fur-trapper on this riverway. Lorraine, please get our guest a warm drink. Something strong, I'd say."
Robin shakes the offered hand firmly. “Strong would be nice.
"I'm Robin. And I'm not a trapper. I'm a nature spirit." Close enough, she thinks.
"Nature Spirit, huh? Shouldn't you be getting ready to sleep through the winter? Šišóka šni kiŋ waná lowáŋpi."
Lorraine smiles as Carles' comment. She passes a mug of a very different kind of spirit to Robin. It is eye-wateringly strong. Carles takes one himself. "You are welcome in this house, šišóka," says the young woman. "Can we assist you? Why have you made the voyage from the blue world to ours?"
[OOC: http://mahpiyalutatimes.blogspot.com/2013/03/lakota-phrase-of-day-sisoka-ki-wana.html ]
"Merci." Robin takes a hospitable sip from the mug, before addressing the two seriously. "I come not-so-much from the blue world as from the Green one. There is a great deal of unrest in that world. Wars are brewing and being fought between family members. It is bad." She shakes her head sadly.
"Worse, the edges between that world and this world are blurring and shifting. Your traps, Carles," she nods to him, "have caught the spirits' notice. They are not acting as yet, but..." she shakes her head, "this is not a good time to come to the spirits' attention.
"I see that this is your home. And that you are planning a future here." She gestures to Lorraine's midriff. "And I am not fool enough to tell an edgeman to leave his place." She smiles at them both before getting serious again.
"But there is grave danger nearby and if you plan to remain, for the babe’s sake -- live as quietly and as unnoticeably as possible. Return to the old ways if you can. And be very, very careful of strangers." Robin smiles as she says this last and takes a heartier swig from the mug.
He laughs. "I’m not very good at living quietly, but I am very good at living. I take your point, stranger. I do indeed."
Lorraine smiles. "Forgive my husband. He, like you, is a nature spirit dreaming that he is a man, and sometimes he forgets how to be himself."
Carles rolls his eyes, but doesn't contradict her.
Robin chuckles into her mug. Momentarily she wonders if Carles is another of Daeon's progeny.
"That's good. It means you'll have some defense. But bad in that it means you'll attract more attention." Robin kicks back the rest of her mug.
"That being said, I should take my leave." She puts the mug down and stands. "I do not live quietly either." She smiles at Carles, "And I do not wish to bring unwanted visitors down on you with my trail."
Carles stands, but gestures to Lorraine not to get up, probably in deference to her pregnancy.
Carles looks at Lorraine. "We'll be here through the winter, and then move on come spring. If I need to dig in here to protect my wife and child, I will."
Lorraine looks grave. "What spirit or beings should we expect, Spirit of the Green World? We will pray and make offerings as the Spirits need. Grandfather Bear will protect me, but I cannot call upon him if I do not know what the danger is."
"The Dragon stirs." Robin says seriously, "And her daughters fight for or against her emergence. Beware of that which has more life than it should. And beware of the unseasonal." She smile ironically.
"The spirits I have fought have come in many forms but most of them are confusers of the mind. And liars of shape." Robin shrugs. That's the best she can do.
The woman nods. "Thank you for the warning, Spirit of the Green World."
The man looks grim. "Dragons are creatures of the Old World. These people don't even have those myths. I think I know what I need to do, Robin." He stops, briefly. "Robin is such an English word, and doesn't come easily to me," he says. "The French word would be Le Merle, which I think suits you better. I thank you for your warning as well, Merle. If you come here to look for us again, we will be gone before the thaws."
Robin bows. "Thank you for the name. Both of them." She smiles to Lorraine as well.
"I’ll take my leave then. Be safe." With that, Robin sees herself to the door and out into the cold night.
The night is cold, in a high-altitude, first-frost kind of way. If Robin were inclined to dabble with the probabilities, she could probably bring on an early snowfall. It might happen even without Robin’s nudging.
The forest is vast, but it's not Arden, and it's not Brocéliande. Robin could shift to either of those, if she chose to do so. Or she could explore here. There's a mountain range she can see in the distance, which would give her a good view of the forest and of what lies beyond. There's also just plain wandering, a Ranger on patrol, looking for interesting and dangerous situations.
Robin fluffs herself in the cold and greets the firelizards as she strides into the forest. Slowly, she begins to shift her way back toward Arden. But she keeps herself open to possibility. If there’s one new marked place, there might be others. And those are definitely something the Warden needs to know about.
Robin enters a clearing, sometime after she's shifted the snow back towards the Arden spring, and sees two things. One is a stone plinth with a basin on it, full of rainwater. The other, nestled in a crag on the side of a cliff, is a small castle.
A curious chirp escapes Robin as she cocks her head. Approaching the plinth, Robin looks it over respectfully and more importantly Listens to it. She's curious to know whom the plinth and the water is dedicated to and who dedicated them. She's also looking if there are any traces of Family or Enemies, which these days Robin has to grant are different.
To Robin's (non-sorcerous) glance, it's clearly something, but it's not clearly a thing of chaos or order. What it mostly seems to be is connected to this place. The surface of the water is still and reflective.
Peep lands on Robin's shoulder. She leans towards the water, and makes a curious noise, as if she wishes to get closer to the water.
Robin glances at Peep with a fond smile. "Okay," she says, "Let’s poke it and ask nicely."
Hoping that it's a ward and not a scrying pool, Robin touches the water with one gentle finger. "Hello, my name is Robin. I come with no ill intentions and for no purpose of harm."
The water bubbles a bit where Robin's finger touches it. Rather than damping down the water keeps rising and falling, like a tides. In the distance Robin hears thunder.
Peep wraps her tail around Robin's neck.
"Yep." Robin nods, "That's got someone's attention." [OOC - What direction did the thunder come from? And is it an ongoing sound or just one boom?]
[OOC: It came from the far side of the mountain that the castle is on. Or the castle itself.]
"Well, let's see what the guardians of this place have to say." Robin loosens her sword and nocks her bow, just in case. She's wary, but not looking for trouble.
A mounted knight, fully caparisoned and his visor closed rides into the clearing at the far end. His shield is green with a lion on it. He lowers his lance and points it at Robin.
"Really?" Robin says. "Not even a hail?"
Quick as a wink, there’s an arrow in her bow. If that horse or knight moves toward her, she intends to shoot the horse in such a way that it will fall, trapping the knight beneath it. (And she's not above tweaking local conditions to do so.)
If she gets time, she will tweak in such a way as do minimal damage to Shadow, horse and man. In that order.
The arrow flies straight and true and hits his horse’s breast slightly to the left of center, as if it were tracking on his heart. It makes no noise as it penetrates the steed, and Robin sees the arrow continue along its trajectory from his back and lodge itself in the trunk of a black tinted tree behind the horse and rider.
Robin curses under her breath as she scrambles out of the direct charge path. This reminds her so much of 'Uncle Ugly.' Now, in that situation, she could be seen and touched by her opponent. But she could not affect Dearest Uncle. That seems the best set of assumptions to operate under now.
So with that in mind, Robin is going to try and lure, distract or spook the horse (if necessary) into the stone plinth. That’s probably real and solid in everyone’s universe.
Robin stands so that the plinth is blocked from the view of the horse and rider. The rider charges, and directs his horse to the right of the plinth. Peep flies straight at and through the horse's face, scolding it as if it were a naughty trainee. The others join in and the rider and his mount seem distracted. He swings his shield up and knocks Chirrup out of the air with it. The little dragon seems more angry than hurt, as if it isn't fair that he can't rip the horse's eyeballs out, but he can get hit by the shield.
At the last possible moment, Robin leaps up and backwards, landing on a crag in the rocks behind her. Perched like an eagle, she watches as the horse tries to avoid the plinth and fails, knocking it and the basin over, spilling water over the rocks beside it.
[Card Draw: The Fish, glub, glub, glub…]
As soon as the water hits the ground the rains begin. It is the greatest storm Robin has ever seen, or it seems it. It's all she can do to stay on her rock, and her friends all teleport to her. They can't fly in this.
Visibility almost doesn't permit her to see what is happening, and it's again a testament to her family's abilities that she can tell at all, but the knight seems to be struggling to right the plinth. The water is starting to rise around the base. He might be calling out, but it's hard to hear over the rain and the thunder and the lightning.
Robin gasps in surprise and indignation as she is suddenly and thoroughly wet. Again! For a moment, she just scrambles to maintain her perch and protect her amazing and so clever friends (especially making sure that Chirrup is no worse for the hit.)
But as she starts to peer and listen through the pounding water, Robin curses softly under her breath. A friendly territorial scuffle is one thing, knocking the bung out of the canoe is another.
Quickly arranging her pack to make as decent a firelizard shelter as she can, Robin instructs her friends to stay there and stay safe. Then she splashes down from her perch, as unhappy and bedraggled as any wet raptor ever was. Slogging over to where she remembers the plinth being, Robin will lend her family assets to whatever the knight seems to be doing.
The knight, his helmet lost in the downpour, is trying to right the plinth, but he is only succeeding at slipping in the mud. With Robin's help, he gets the stone vertical again and replaces the basin. It rapidly fills with rainwater, but the storm does not abate. The knight points to himself and then to the castle halfway up the hillside behind them, then at Robin and the same castle.
He seems to know that he can't be heard over this type of storm.
Robin's soggy eyebrows rise. Really? Ah well, following phasic folk worked out so well for her last time, she might as well try again. Doing her own pantomime over the roar of the storm, Robin indicates that she will follow but she has to get something first.
The girl curses as the flooded ground sucks at her boots, but she makes it back to her perch and gently gathers her pack and firelizards to herself. Once everyone is a bedraggled but secure mess, Robin turns back to the knight.
He starts to lead his horse back around the hill, towards the stone edifice he pointed out earlier.
Ticking her tongue at herself, she follows.
Robin's friends are quite happy to see her again and do not like this weather. Wet dragon skin is pungent.
Robin completely agrees about the weather and wet ranger may not be as pungent - but it carries its own bouquet.
Robin catches up to the knight as he's waiting for the castle gate to open. It does and he leads her into the stable, where he starts taking care of his horse. The knight looks young to Robin, no more than his early twenties.
"Thanks for the help, Lady Knight. I am Ywain, husband to the lady of this castle. I offer you hospitality and shelter from the storm.
"I apologize for attacking you, much less without letting you arm or armor yourself. It is my curse."
"I am Robin, a Traveler, and I accept your offer of hospitality and will abide by guestlaw." Robin says formally. The apology she waves away. "I know a thing or two about living under curses. Consider it forgotten."
For all that the stable is large enough for a score of horses, there are only two, and there are no servants in sight. There's no way one knight could maintain it, but the castle doesn't show any signs of having additional occupants.
A smile lines Robin's lips as she looks around; ghostly knight, abandoned castle, storm of the ages. Ah, the classics. "Is that the Lady's blazon you wear?" She asks pointing to the lion.
He nods. "The Lady Laudine will greet us when we go inside. I have been her husband since I disturbed the Fountain of Barenton and fought her prior champion. I am the champion on the Fountain."
He sighs, blowing water out of his mustache. "At least I was. I had never been defeated."
"You haven't been defeated yet." Robin says, "The game was called on account of weather." Robin's smile says that being irreverant doesn't mean that her statement isn't true.
Then concern lines her face. "Is there anything we should be doing about the storm? Or will it blow over of its own accord?" Because, you know, sometimes they don't....
"Now that we've repaired Merlin's Fountain, it will stop, eventually. My Lady will tell you more of it." Ywain reaches for a towel and gestures for her to take one as well, if she wants. Apparently the stable needs those frequently.
"She will also know if I am relieved of my duties as champion." He frowns. "The magic, Lady Knight, it does not listen to reason. One cannot bargain with it, defy it, or escape it. I know. I tried."
"Ah." Robin says as she shrugs out of her backpack. Various legends swirl around in her head as names and situations begin to align.
Taking a couple of towels, Robin sets herself down on a convenient bale of hay and begins to pat down and dry off her brave and oh-so-pungent little friends. "Then I take it your service is not entirely voluntary. And that this place," she gestures around to the whole of the castle area, "is a knight-trap?"
He sighs. "One's duty is seldom completely voluntary or involuntary, Lady Knight. I killed My Lady's husband, and took up his role. I have left in the past, but I would not do so again.
"The Fountain will have a champion, but must it be My Lady's husband? That I do not know. As long as I have been the champion, I have been summoned when the waters are disturbed to fight the summoner."
Robin nods with understanding, duty is something she's familiar with. And just perhaps, Venesch, Castor and Vere are starting to rub off on her because she decides to let the honorable knight be.
Once she's dried the firelizards to a more pleasant odor and herself to a state where she won't leave muddy footprints & puddles all over the faerie castle, she stands and gestures to Ywain to lead on. "Well, let’s see what the Lady Laudine can tell us." She says with a smile.
Ywain leads the way to a door at the back of the stable. Apparently the castle is designed with most spaces covered to keep off the rain.
The castle is large, open, and for the most part empty. The walls are hung with rich tapestries showing forests in the rain, seascapes in the rain, cities in the rain, battles in the rain, and hunting scenes in the rain. There's a single motif, as if whoever decorated thought about rain quite a bit.
Ywain leads her to a sitting room. A woman is waiting there, in a long blue dress that seems old-fashioned, even by Amber standards. On the table is a complete tea service, with a pot of tea steaming on it and a plate of cakes and sandwiches.
The woman rises. "My husband?," she says, her voice full of questions.
"The Lady-Knight Robin, who I faced at Fountain this very night."
The woman makes an effort to put on a welcoming face, but it's clear to Robin that she is worried.
"I am Laudine of Lothian, Countess of Landuc. Welcome to Trécesson."
Robin gives a nod of respect. "Thank you for your welcome, Lady. Your husband is an honorable man whom it was my pleasure to face. And your home is quite lovely."
Robin and the firelizards are in what she and Castor have designated as 'formal presentation mode': Chirrup rides on her right shoulder, Ooot on her left with Peep curled into the crook of Robin's left arm, leaving her right arm and hand free for formal... thingies.
"May I present my familiars, Peep, Chirrup & Ooot?" She notes each with a nod of her head.
Robin finds the worry on Laudine's face comforting. She's not arrogant about it, it's just a good sign that the Lady might have a clue regarding the stakes involved when Robin's around.
She looks confused, then perhaps a bit frightened. "A knight... with familiar creatures? Is it permitted to ask if you are Fae, Lady Knight? This very castle is the seat of the treaty of Lake Barenton and I wish no mischief or disrespect on Lady Viviane’s kith, kin, vassals or peers."
"It is permitted and I am not Fae, Lady." Robin nods again in understanding. "I am a Traveller and as such, have picked up a variety of... differing skill sets. I do not know Lady Viviane so I am no kith, vassal or peer to her. Kin?" Robin shrugs, "My Family is vast, widespread and fertile. It's possible but I am not aware of any relation."
She nods, her concern fading. "Then with your permission, Lady Traveling Knight, I shall tell you of our circumstance here. This castle has not always been the isolated forest realm you see today. At one time it was the front line, with the Lady Viviane's Crystal Castle across the Lake being the furthest outpost of the Fae realm. It was, in more peaceful times, where she gave birth to her son Merlin.
"But later war occurred, and the lake was black with evil between us. Eventually my first husband Esclados the Red drove out the invaders when their black tides failed them. The Fae created the magic fountain as an alarm and as a symbol of the peace between us. If it is disturbed the magic rains assault the land. If it is ever destroyed, the Fae will come at us caprisoned for war.
"After Sir Ywain slew Sir Esclodos, he married me so that the defense of Broceliande would not fail. My husbands, both of them, have been magically compelled to protect the fountain and thus our peace, for many years."
She sighs. "We do not know what happens next. The Champion of the Fountain of Barenton has never been defeated, except in death. That has us both nervous." She straightens her shoulders. "But we will not let our worries about the future prevent us from providing hospitality as befits a knight of the Rangers of Broceliande, who we knew of old. You are gladly welcomed to this castle and may freely stay and freely go, if the magics so allow. This rain will not let up until morning, so at least stay the night. You can tell us news of the outside world.
"Please, sit,and have some refreshments."
"Thank you, Lady." Robin bows. "For both the invitation and the news."
Robin sets aside her pack, settles the firelizards along the back of her chair and seats herself. Watching carefully as Castor has taught her, she follows the cues of her hostess for appropriate manners in this setting.
"Let me repay you with what I can say of the outside world. Though, as a Traveller, my news may be outdated or irrelevant.
"I know of the war that turned your waters black with evil. It was fought between the denizens of the Eternal City and the Forces Primeval. That great war spanned across many, many realms. In the end, the Primeval were defeated, but not without great cost to the Eternal City. The One King gave his life to protect the City and his descendants. Yet despite that, the Heart of the Realm was sundered and she has lost much of her former greatness." Robin still finds that hard to accept and the sadness in her eyes is unmistakable. But she carries on.
"From the King's sons, two new Realms have arisen: Xanadu, a city of excitement, growth and music - direct heir of the Eternal City. And Paris, a city of artistry, civilization and... those kind of things." Robin smiles at her own lack of understanding regarding the benefits of civilization.
"It is the King of Xanadu whom I serve and I am an... unconfirmed Knight in the first Order formed after the Fall of the Eternal City, the Order of the Ruby." A wry smile dances across Robin's lips as she thinks of what Brennan might have to say about that.
"In the wake of the Great War and the diminishing of the Eternal City, many old enemies with old grudges have come to light. They circle around both new Kingdoms like jackals, probing for weakness, striking when they can. The new Kings, Random and Corwin, are not without power and craftiness, but they are not the One King and their Realms are young. Many see this as a sign of weakness and times are perilous across the land as opportunists strike where they can.
"The Kings have responded by dispatching their brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces" Robin gestures to herself, "where and when they can, to keep the lands safe from those that would see the Fall of the Eternal City as a chance to create whatever mayhem they wish.
"My own feet are well-suited to the Green and so I find myself travelling the wooded paths. When I came across the Font, I announced myself as peacefully as I could. Please know that I hold no rancor whatsoever with your husband or his actions and I have no desire whatsoever to kill a defender of peace and order.
"But also please know, that while I do not wish to disturb your ways or bring the wrath of the magic or Fae down upon you, as a descendant of the One King I cannot be compelled by anything of this land without grave peril following." Robin shrugs sadly, she's a walking time-bomb and she knows it.
Ywain nods. "If we fail here, then Magic will be released into Broceliande and It will affect the great realms of Avalon and Paris. Please make sure Arthur is told of this." The man frowns. "Unless I mistake, he will think me long dead, and perhaps in a way I am." He pauses and forces a smile onto his face. "And tell him to get around to knighting you, on my say-so Lady Knight. You are clearly deserving of it, both martially and in honor."
Ywain receives a smile laced with both gratitude and humor from Robin.
Laudine reaches out and puts her hand on Ywain's knee. "My husband speaks the truth. Our bastion of order here may well be about to fall." She looks quite upset.
"Hmmmm... " Robin leans back in her seat. "Well, given that I am just one being, though not without differing skill sets, and that I cannot reside within your Realm for long, how can I help?"
Laudine sits still for a moment, and then leans forward to speak.
As she is about to, Ywain interrupts. "You can't. You should leave this place and go very far from here, and not return." Laudine looks defeated. "We won't drag you into our curse."
Robin nods to both Laudine and Ywain. She sits back in her chair as she thinks about it. When she's come to a conclusion, it's Ywain she addressed. "Can you explain this curse without tangling me in it?"
Laudine considers. "I think so, Lady Knight. It is the bond of a vassal to her liege. We cannot abandon our duty to hold this place for the defense of the realm, and yet we cannot hold it.
"Like Hruodland at the Roncevaux Pass," adds Ywain. "And like him, I mean to take many of the Fae knights with me.
Lauding continues. "As do I. The sorcerer-knights of the fae-lands will threaten Avalon and Amber again, Lady Knight, if we fall here..." She looks at her husband. He is silent.
Robin rubs her chin and thiiiiiinnnks about it. "Well, I think there is something I may be able to do. Though it is not without risk to this land and yourselves. And though we barely know one another, it would work better if I were at the Heart of this land."
She sits forward. "I may be able to strengthen the order within the land. I don't know what effect that may have on the Fae and I suspect it'd piss them right off. Buuuutttt, if you are facing a losing battle anyway....” She shrugs.
Ywain frowns. "This is why you should leave. If you are here when they attack, you will be overwhelmed by our curse."
Laudine smiles, "But not tonight. No one will ever be put out at night into this. And we will all feel better after the rain stops and the sun rises."
"And the moon sets", adds Ywain.
Robin raises a Julianic eyebrow at the moon comment, but nods her head in agreement.
Leaving more weighty subjects behind, Robin spends the rest of the evening eating heartily, chatting with her hosts about hunting and rain, and getting the firelizards fed and oiled.
Once within her chamber, Robin wanders over to the window (if any) and casts her gaze out of the sodden land. She lets her gaze wander aimlessly and gently begins to Listen. She' not doing anything active, just trying to get a sense of and a feel for this Shadow.
The forest here is old, ancient like the great primeval depths of Arden, the places where no one patrols because it is too old, unchanging, and eldritch to enter. The places where, even if a person enters, they are like an insect on the surface of a lake.
Robin hums in delight, happy to be an insect on the surface of a lake. In the cities, in the castles, it's too easy for people to think that they are all that's important in the world. That the world exists to serve their purposes. Here, and in places like it, the world just exists. And it is balm to Robin’s soul.
Such a forest sings its own song, primal and rhythmic and free of melody or tone, but likewise undisturbed by anything so ephemeral as a castle or a human. This is a forest that knows only forest, and has not yet learned the modern things that may soon afflict it.
As Robin hums along, she hopes that the maybe-coming affliction will be as ephemeral as possible.
It is quite a lullaby and Robin returns to her bed and lays down, her eyes heavy and the tuneless tune in her head. Her fire lizards all lie around her, their breathing soft and regular and just faintly echoing the refrain of the valley and the lake.
It was the sound that woke her. It was always the sound. She looked around her chamber, in the crystal castle, and put on her armor. She knew she had no choice. The water all around made her arms and legs heavy, but she knew the trick of making through it. Her joints moved fluidly and she slid around the difficult places. The moon shone in, through the lake above and through the castle, bathing her in the familiar silver and making her feel more whole. More like herself.
Armed and armored, she quickly made her way to the sable, and was mounted and out of the castle and headed for the bottom of the lake.
A human knight stood before the fountain of air, further disturbing the bubbles. The knight, a woman, turned, She picked up her shield and mounted her horse and charged. Her coat of arms was a Unicorn over a great tree. She sat her horse like an expert and they crashed their lances into each other, and both were unseated. The interloper's helmet flew off and she lay unmoving on the ground.
Robin saw that they shared the same face, but she didn't remember if she was the attacker or the defender. One of her was dead.
"Peep", says Peep, in Robin's ear, before proceeding to lick it clean. Robin awakes in a cold sweat and short of breath, in the castle of the Countess Laudine once again.
"Oooooggg." Robin says as she rolls over to nuzzle her little ear-cleaning marvel. Followed by "Bleah."
Still loggy from her dream, Robin slumps up into a sitting position. "Yay, prophetic dreams..." her voice is heavy with sarcasm. The whole thing probably means something -- maybe a warning. A fond smile dances across Robin's lips as she thinks how much Vere would enjoy discussing it.
The water though... that makes her think of Rebma. And reflections. And mirrors. And maybe the issue isn't the Fae but the curse and its Liege. Maybe she should ask her hosts a little more about that....
Raven awakens. She’s in her bed on her ship. She's sore all over, like she’s done a turn aloft in a typhoon. The ship is quiet, resting at high-tide in the harbor. Out the porthole she sees dappled sunlight on the calm harbor waters.
She recalls what she did last night.
Raven groans and levers herself out of bed reluctantly. She reaches for clean clothes then, changing quickly until she strips off her shirt and comes to a dead stop at the sight of a very fresh, very unexpected tattoo. On her arm. Where there weren't any before.
She considers poking it to see if it's really there, but she recalls other sailors with fresh tattoos and decides not to instead. The design is a compass rose; as she studies the shape, the direction indicator ticks to a few degrees off northwest, and then moves again to point south. Well, that's... new.
She finishes dressing after a minute or two of staring and heads for the door. Food and something to drink sounds good. And she should probably track down Jerod and her coat.
Raven emerges from her cabin into a hot, sweaty night, as if the weather is considering storming, but was still recruiting heavy clouds. The ship smells of a ship at harbor: all pitch and cargo and what the city dwellers throw in the bay. It would be a good time to get out of port. The city beyond the docks is lit up, in pools of gaslight, and the castle above looks to be electrified. The boatswain is an old hand named Herald but some of the other crew left on deck look like replacements.
"Captain," Herald says. He's clearly being loud so that the rest of the crew can react to the officer. Typical boatswain. She'd've done the same, two years ago.
Raven smiles faintly at that. "Mr. Herald," she answers. "Anything I ought to know about?"
Men are climbing aloft, finding duties elsewhere, or become highly absorbed in their very important scrubbing.
"No Captain. A Lord was down from Castle looking to know if you were aboard. Featherstone told him you were, and asleep. He ordered us not to wake you. After he left, the Mate decided that you really shouldn't be disturbed, so we did not. Do you need a meal, Captain? Cookie is below, even if half the crew is ashore."
Raven nods. "Aye, I can guess which Lord that was. How long ago was that?"
"He didn't give his name, and I am not familiar with the local lords, Captain. I was born at sea and never lived in Amber. As to the visit, it was around midwatch," he replies.
Raven nods. "Right." She considers for a moment. "Send some of the lads out looking for Lord Jerod, tell him we're leaving. Castle, I guess, and," she rattles off an additional list of suggestions. "And call up the rest. Let's see if we can't catch this tide."
With that, she heads off to eat something. There are a thousand things that need doing before the ship can actually leave, but food comes first for its captain today.
The crew moves and the captain eats. All is going according to plan...
By the time one of the messages reaches Jerod and he arrives back at the ship, she's back on deck and supervising the activity.
Jerod arrives a short while later with a pack over one shoulder and one of Raven's lad in tow. He is wearing clothing suitable to a merchant accustomed to being on the seas and smells of stale beer, no doubt from the hours spent at the local dive where Raven's messenger found him acclimatizing to the speech and ways of the locals.
Once at the top of the gangway, having spotted Raven long ago, he stops. "Permission to board."
"Come aboard," Raven answers immediately. She's dressed appropriately for the kind of captain that might be accompanying Jerod's merchant to sea - even if most of it comes from her actual wardrobe over the last few years. It's all a little scuffed and worn, some of it looking more well-used than well-loved. "Told you I'd come back here."
"You did." Jerod says, moving onto the deck. "Not everyone follows up on what they say though. Freedom can be...tempting."
"How long before you're ready to sail?" he asks, checking the tides and wind even as he asks.
"Not long. Better not be long, anyway." Raven doesn't add that loudly, but she does glance pointedly at one of her officers.
He looks at the deck, the sky, and holds up two fingers.
"Any more detour orders while I was out?"
"No, nothing like that." Jerod replies. "Beyond his Majesty mentioning that he seemed rather amused with your walk, he didn't say anything else of importance. We're to proceed with Gateway and make sure that gets resolved. If it means doing nasty stuff to the individuals who messed with Marius, then we proceed. I'm rather looking to see if we can confirm if the old guard was involved for sure or just displaced by those helping Huon. If the latter, and they're still around, a palace coup might be in order. Re-install the old government or a suitable fascimile and they give us the new guard as prisoners in exchange. Plus suitable penalties to be decided upon.
"If however, the old Chancellor was involved, then we need to do some pruning. Can't burn down the entire Shadow." then he pauses and frowns. "Okay, that's not true, we can but it's a lot of work. And they're still potentially valuable."
Raven snorts. "Glad someone was amused." She jerks her head in the direction of the cabins and then heads that way; it's not like the crew really needs to hear plans to hold a coup... yet. "Ain't got a problem with any of that," she adds dryly, "though I'd rather you didn't manage to set fire to the ship, if you don't mind. I still got a word or two to say to the Harbormaster; he might be a place to start. He was too slick on making things look normal until we was in his office to not be on the side of whoever's in charge. Man that's not in favor of what's going on - thugs and guns or not - I think I'd've seen something."
"If the new guard are any good at their jobs, they'd have subordinated the people in key positions of physical power or information." Jerod says as he walks with Raven. "The Harbourmaster would be key to knowing the ins and outs at the port. They'd have been smart to co-opt others as well who are in similar positions. You can bypass anyone with just a fancy title or a bit of influence - those with serious influence or just brute force strength are the ones you want when you're tossing out the old government.
"This Harbourmaster is likely to be on the lookout for us, or others like us. Enough time will have passed since you were gone that they'll know Amber will be looking to respond. They know we can't let this slide."
"And he'll know my face." Raven snorts. "Or he'd better, anyway, since he was pointing a weapon at me for a while. That ain't going to help." She pauses, clearly thinking, and then adds, "Side point - if it would help anything, I can probably find where we were being held once we hit dock."
"It might." Jerod says. "We'll want to play it by ear, see what comes up. The first thing is to get a lay of the place, see who's doing what, how things are running. If the old Chancellor is still around, or associates, then we would want to feel them out. Finding out who is still in if we can't find them, means we might want to talk to your Harbourmaster and get him to...cooperate. But that would be a risk we'd want to be sure we can take. If we have to go the salt and burn approach, then we can also talk to him as well, get any info we can.
"We will have the Weir with us, so they will provide some additional resources."
"How much of a problem is the magic thing going to be?" Raven shakes her head and adds dryly, "Can't say as how I've ever put this much thought into how to sneak into Gateway. I'm sure I'm asking things you've already got handled, one way or another."
"Sneaking into Gateway? First time." Jerod says with a slight smile.
"Magic is problematic. It's a power like any. If they're aware of us or paranoid, they might be looking for us. There are ways to scry for individuals but they have to know about us. On the way out I intend to do some adjustment to Shadow to shield us, make us blend in so if there are divining magics they'll be harder to locate us. Our biggest problem is that we're Real. We stand out. Individuals with power tend to notice us if we're close by.
"We need to act like we don't and stay away from those with power until we've got an idea what's up. Then we decide who we're going to approach and how. I also need to build some contingency plans in the background in case things go south and we need to flatten the place.
"We also need to give you some exposure to how to shift probability and use the Pattern, find your way with it."
"Right." Raven shifts her weight, her expression a little uncomfortable, and shoves her hands in her coat pockets. "You brought that up, I guess you get the question. How much of what was going on while I was walking on that thing was from somewhere other than the inside of my head? Or was it all in there and I just ain't figured it out yet?"
Jerod smiles. "You mean was the Pattern messing with you? Secretly adjusting you for it's own use?
"No, it's all us. There's a lot of different interpretations to the Pattern...I had a discussion on one those in fact with the King while you were doing your walk. He brought chairs and booze...never had that before."
He pauses for a moment before continuing. "Think of the Pattern, like a crucible. We think it burns away impurities in whatever you put into it. But it doesn't get rid of it. It...hardens...defines what and who we are. Not in stone though. More like a defining edge, less blurry. Sharper, clearer. It's what helps to define us as real in comparison to the rest of reality. It gives us the ability to recognize that difference, and to use it.
"What you brought in is still there, floating around inside your head. How you approach it, how you deal with it...whether you deal with it...that's all up to you. Walk the Pattern again, you'll get a different set of images, different things to consider.
"Something you're worried about?"
Raven snorts and gives him a look. "I just had my head turned inside out," she says dryly. "Aye. There's more than a few things that got aired that I ain't too sure what to do with. Some of it - well, there'd be a long explanation to go with talking about it. So here's an easy one: Max showed up. And he shot me. With a gun. Pretty sure I deserved it for daring him to, since he ain't me, but I can't say as how I'm okay with it."
Jerod lets an eyebrow go up briefly. "Max shot you? I'm presuming this illusory version of him had a reason? Given that he was Lucas' I could think of a few but I'd prefer not to speculate."
"Pretty sure it was because of me refusing to agree to avenge his father's death," Raven answers. "Which ain't happening in my head or outside of it. He's too young to know what he's asking for."
"That's not surprising." Jerod says. "Vengeance seems to be an essential element of our nature.
"Now, you know it's not real, so what about it bothers you?"
Raven scowls. "Some of it is the same questions from before, with the bullets," she admits. "Whys and the like. Some of it - he tried to hide the gun from me at first. And he had decent enough aim. Like he'd put some thought into it, and he'd had some training in it. Ain't entirely sure where that idea's coming from, but I don't like it."
Jerod is silent for a long moment.
"You think maybe there's manipulation involved?"
Raven hesitates. "I don't know. I guess... I can't say as how I'd leave bits of a weapon waiting for someone if I hadn't made sure that someone knew how to use it. Or unless I meant to teach 'em."
He nods. "Possible. Have you considered the possibility that it was left as a cache by Lucas for his own use and not for another?"
"Why'd it have Max's name on it, then?" Raven asks. "Can't expect a person to not open something with his name on it if he finds it, most of the time. Thought of another reason, but I like it even less than these other ones."
"And that reason is?" Jerod asks, leaning against a table.
"Somebody else left it." Raven scowls. "Which is gonna mean that someone else knows about Max that I don't know about."
"Assume there is someone." Jerod says simply. "We don't know who, but for the moment, I'd keep that in the back of your mind and bring it out periodically to look it over as time passes."
"Max is still young. You have opportunities to be involved and make sure stuff doesn't happen. So long as he's under Family protection, and observation, then it should be okay for now."
Raven just plain makes a face at that. "I ain't used to thinking that long-term. Not about family stuff, anyway. And I ain't quite yet where I am with some of those lads out there, where I know who to trust with what. So that he'll be watched is good and all, but... it ain't quite comfortable yet." She pauses, and then shakes her head and gives him a small smile. "Argued with an image of my ma about whether to trust you."
"My mentor told me once that we are the greatest opportunists in existence." Jerod says. "Opportunism usually means being flexible because you know you can't always control everything around you. You'll get used to the long term...though like most of us, I doubt you'll like it. And we're never comfortable with it where Family is concerned."
"And I'm curious as to what argument you would have had with yourself in the guise of your mother. Rebman in background and...attractive enough to gain the attention of Family is quite the combination." he says, his use of the word attractiveness not seeming to imply a conventional meaning.
"What do you think is important enough to require trusting me? Not that you can't of course. I am completely trustworthy in all things." and the last comment comes with a slight smile, hinting at sarcasm.
Raven smiles a little at that. "Heh. I ain't that new to the way things work. You find somebody that believes that line, tell me; I got some 'talking fish' to sell 'em."
"All of that, that's what I was talking about that needs explaining. Ain't going to make a lot of sense if I don't, I think." She hesitates, the smile gone. "Some of it, I don't talk about much. Might take a while. You need anything else before we leave dock?"
Vere briefly considers the idea of taking the quick route to Amber through the Deep Green, then rejects that as needlessly foolhardy when no extreme need for speed has been suggested for the dispatches he carries.
Instead he commandeers one of the the small boats of the Rangers and sets off down the river. Once he is out of site of the camp he begins shifting shadow, turning the deep forest around him to something closer to the trees close to Amber.
He also tries something new, experimenting with actually shifting the nature of the boat he is in as he travels, so that the closer he comes to the mouth of the river and the sea the more it resembles his sloop Psyche.
The boat becomes, gradually, the sloop. Vere cannot tell any difference between this sloop and Psyche. Vere arrives at the mouth of the river, and can sail from here up to Amber. The weather is clear and he can see Cabra in the distance. If he were to stop, he might find the cairn of stones that once marked the path to Rebma.
Vere sails out into the ocean, and for a short time simply delights in the feel of once more being upon the sea. He gives the sloop her head, feeling the way she moves, and shaking his head in bemusement when he finally determines that her every little trick and idiosyncrasy perfectly matches the Psyche of his memory.
Then he turns her towards Amber.
A sloop is better at sailing into the wind than any square-rigged ship, so the Psyche is an excellent choice for Vere’s sail back up the coast to Amber. He arrives to a gorgeous sunset, the sky a wash of reds and oranges tinging into blue. He comes up to his regular berth and does not see the Psyche. In fact he doesn’t even see slip 12, where he last left her. The dock ends with slip 10, which is empty.
The Psyche glides smoothly into slip 10. Vere ties her off and steps onto the dock, pausing for a moment to regard the harbor ands the city, comparing it to his memories, judging how the city and its feel have changed.
The city seems as he left it, although a few weeks closer to autumn that it was when he left.
He will wait a few minutes to see if anyone approaches him, officially or otherwise.
A young man comes striding down the dockside. "Good Evening, my Lord. Admiral's Complements and may I summon a remise for your use?" He looks to be one of Caine’s young officers, or a man who wishes to be one of that lot.
Vere nods a greeting to the young man. "Aye," he answers. "Where is the Admiral right now?"
Rather than guess which Admiral, the young man just rattles off the top two. "The Marquis is at the Naval Club." He looks up at the castle and spots the pennants flying there. "The Regent is in residence. I have not heard he is in the city, so the castle is the most likely place to find him. I can send runners, if you wish."
"Do so," Vere replies. "And another to the Marquis, to inform him that I would like to call upon him if the Regent permits. I will go ahead and begin to travel to the castle. Have someone intercept me if it is determined that the Regent is somewhere else."
The young man nods. "As you wish, My Lord. I will accompany you to the carriage house."
He glances at the end of the dock then back to the young man. "Is my memory at fault or was the dock not longer in the past?"
"The... recent past, My Lord?" The young man looks back at the dock. "It has not been longer than that that I recall. Perhaps before the sundering, but I was a child then."
Vere drops the subject and allows the young man to escort him to the carriage house. He silently looks about him as they walk, and once in the carriage will keep the curtains open and observe the city as it makes its way to the castle, looking for any other changes that have occurred since he was last here.
Amber seems greener that he remembered it being when he recently left. There is more green space, as if some buildings have been demolished. There's nothing Vere can point to and say that a particular building was gone, but there's a lot of growth, and in places overgrowth.
As Vere looks ahead, the path up the mountain seems more overgrown than it used to, as if no one was clearing the spring growth off of it regularly.
Vere frowns, then closes his eyes and opens his third eye to regard the greenery. Is it more than natural overgrowth caused by neglect?
Vere sees no signs of the incursion of the Deep Green, but it's possible activity from that front caused more growth in Amber. Plus, there are more vacant lots.
It's also warmer and wetter than this time of year usually is.
Vere briefly considers experimenting with making slight alterations to buildings as they drive through the city. Then he considers Caine's possible reaction and chooses to refrain.
He regards the castle carefully as the carriage approaches it.
They've done more work repairing the defensive fortifications that were damaged when the family tower collapsed in the Sundering.
The staff seems diminished, although the guard seems to be at full complement.
Vere's carriage is met at the inner bailey by a footman, who may or may not be a sailor on other occasions. "Welcome to Amber, Prince Vere," he says. "The Admiral is in the Library. Shall we open your room?"
Vere gives him a nod in greeting and replies, "Not yet. I may or may not be staying dependent upon the desire of the Admiral. I shall see him immediately." He will pause a moment, giving the footman the opportunity to lead him to the Admiral if that is his order. If not, then Vere will head to the library on his own.
The footman doesn't seem to have any such orders, and Vere take the well-worn steps to the library. It's diminished, of course, since Random moved the family library to Xanadu, but there are still books, both on shelves and in crates. There are many sea-charts as well. Caine sits at a table, reading some sort of report in a folder. He's shaved and had a recent haircut.
"Welcome back," he says. "How was your voyage?"
He seems distracted.
"The voyage was quiet, sir," Vere answers. "And it was quite pleasant to be on the sea again, even if I never did get out of sight of land." He lays the dispatches on the table.
Caine looks at them, as if they're not what he expected. He slowly picks the fist dispatch up, opens it, and looks at it. His eyes don't look like they're tracking the writing on it.
Caine picks up the rest of the dispatches. "Interesting. Where did you get these?"
"I have been working with the Rangers," Vere replies. "The Warden needed someone to bring these to you."
He tilts his head slightly to one side, regarding the Regent.
Caine's head tilts slightly, as if he were a mirror of Vere. "Oh, yes. My brother. How is he?"
Something is not right with the Regent. He leans his hand on the table beside him, puttling his weight fully on it. He is either about to spring up to the chandelier or collapse to the ground.
"Quite well, as always," Vere answers, giving no sign that he has noticed anything unusual about the Regent. He glances off to one side, opening his Third Eye, then slowly returns his glance to Caine. He doesn't want to blind himself by gazing full on at a member of the Royal Family if this really is Caine.
It's not Caine, or if it is Caine, he's lost whatever light and energy differentiated him from a non-royal person.
Disturbingly, the floor, walls, and ceiling of the library are also glowing, in a way that buildings almost never do. To Vere's Third Eye, the library looks like an extension of Caine.
Not-Caine lurches forward towards Vere.
Vere falls back, avoiding Not-Caine. "Is this necessary?" he asks, while reaching through the Principal of Space to recover the dispatches from the desk without approaching Not-Caine. "Can we not discuss matters?" His eyes flit over the room, gauging potential exits.
Ossian goes to his rooms in Xanadu, freshens himself up, and then pulls out his Trump of Corwin. He frowns. The news he carries are not good at all, and the questions he wants to ask are of the prying kind. Whatever.
He calls Corwin. "It's Ossian. I hope you will bring me through."
Corwin takes a moment to respond to the initial Trump request, and then, once Ossian has identified himself, he takes a moment--which Ossian guesses is to find a private place--and then brings Ossian through. The King of Paris is in a lounge which Ossian takes a moment to realize is probably part of a public restroom somewhere.
"We're in a cafe in Paris, after the opera. What news, before we join the others again?"
Ossian bows. "Short version then: We returned to that monastery. Things went bad, but we got Reid's body and destroyed the place. But they had a Shadowpath."
Ossian pauses "To Greenwood Hospital."
Corwin looks broody on a good day, but something about the way his expression changes when Ossian breaks the last bit of information out for him tells Ossian this is no longer a good day. Evening. Whatever.
"Greenwood Hospital? The same one where I was a patient for a time? Because that's very much not good news. Who have you talked to about this? Specifically have you talked to Bleys or my sister Florimel? And Random. I'll assume you've already talked to Random, to tell him about Reid."
Ossian frowns and makes a face. "Random knows. And a number of cousins. I have not talked to Bleys or Florimel, but too many people to keep it secret in the long run, I'm afraid.
"What are the dangers?"
"No, we don't need to keep it a secret. I just need to be the first to question my sister and brother about it. I need their memories as fresh as I can get them, and you to tell me all about this." Corwin makes a disgruntled noise, and adds, "So much for my pleasant post-opera evening. Mme. Hardwind will be devastated but understanding, no doubt.
"And the dangers have to do with--well. Scientists can learn some things from our blood, but the sciences of Shadow aren't entirely reliable. Sorcerers and mad intershadow monks are an entirely different problem."
Corwin is about to drag Ossian off for a moment when he gets That Look again. "Wait," he tells Ossian then, "Hello, Martin. Yes, send her through." He reaches for whoever Martin is sending through.
A moment later, Folly appears in a rainbow shimmer. "Thank you, Uncle," she says as she emerges from the contact. "I've got some news that I thought you would--- OSSIAN!" Her face lights up when she sees her cousin -- but then a small crease appears between her brows. "Forgive me -- I hope I'm not intruding."
Ossian grins and steps towars her to give her a hug. "Welcome Folly!" Then he stops "But where is your child?"
"She's safe with her father," Folly replies as she closes the distance and gives Ossian a warm hug. "She's not quite ready for court appearances yet, we think. Soon, though." Mindful of her waiting uncle whose evening she has just interrupted, she releases Ossian and turns back to Corwin with a slight bow of apology.
"Ossian has just joined me. He has family news as well--and I think I need to make my farewells here and summon a council of war tomorrow. It's after the opera, so I doubt we'll get a full house tonight." Corwin takes in her costume and Ossian's and says, "Fortunately we'll be in a carriage so nobody will notice your appearance. Unless your news is an emergency that I need to deal with immediately?"
"I don't think my news is that kind of emergency, no," Folly says. "It's a possible threat, but most likely not an imminent one." She smoothes the skirt of her not-quite-gown absently.
Ossian nods."I'm happy you are here. I have missed you. And I think you should hear my piece of news. And I hope you have something to tell me about it too. "
He turns to Corwin." I guess we have inconvenienced you enough for the moment."
"The duties of a King are never-ending. Fortunately, my royal prerogatives include leaving my own parties to deal with them." Corwin ushers the two of them out into the main chamber of the cafe and toward the door.
The maitre d'hotel runs to present himself to the King, tails flapping behind him as he races toward the royal presence. Corwin excuses himself--royal business, family arriving, please have my coach brought round and let my guests know, scribbling a quick note to his hostess--and suddenly people are moving at speed to deal with the King's requests.
A few minutes later, Corwin, Folly, and Ossian are ensconced in the (closed) royal carriage for the trip back to the Louvre. "We've got a few minutes. Folly, you tell me your news, Ossian, you tell her your news, and then we'll sort out what's to be done by whom when we get to the palace."
Folly nods. "My news is a bit complicated, but here's the main gist: As you may know, Brennan is currently in the vicinity of Avalon -- a place called Montparnasse, to be exact -- looking for possible Rebman or other outside involvement in a conflict there. I joined him via trump for the interrogation of a hedge wizard he'd caught -- fellow by the name of Cameleopardis Findanus of the Maghee clan." Folly watches Corwin's face as she says the name to see if he gives any sign of recognition.
"His clan claims descent from those who sank the silver towers -- and their own ancestral home, Maghdeburg -- beneath the sea many generations ago. Which is important, because when Brennan asked how he came to be laying siege to the castle at Montparnasse, his story started with a trip beneath the sea to the ruins of that other castle. There he saw a vision of a man walking a path of light and sparks, with the Sorceror-King and the Protector dueling in the midst of the sparks. He passed out, and when he awoke he met someone matching the description of and claiming to be Dara, who seemed awfully keen to join forces to bring down Sorceror-King Corwin's new realm. He described seeing what sounded exactly like the Dara-and-Benedict side of that weird business in the throne room with Greyswandir and the mechanical arm, which story I'd heard already from Martin. Then Dara made him sleep, and told him that when he awoke a priestess of Lir would give him further instructions. He was not able to identify that person exactly, but when shown a picture of Moire he thought it might have been her. She gave him ships and sent him to Methryn's Isle."
Folly pauses, frowning thoughtfully. "There are several reasons to believe this Maghee, and several parts of his story, were unstuck in time, somehow. But there were enough elements that concern you -- your history, and possibly also plans against you -- that I thought you'd want to know." She inclines her head respectfully toward Corwin.
Corwin listens to Folly's story with apparent concern, though he's difficult for Folly and Ossian to read. Not so much deliberately so; more as though he's just generally difficult to read well. (Perhaps it's all the brooding.)
"I'm glad you came to tell me that, Folly," he says after a bit. "That's a lot to digest. Ossian also has some news, some difficult news that you may not have heard. I think you should hear it and then, when we're back at the palace, we can discuss calling a council of war."
Ossian nods. "Funny what my father tells different people. On the other hand, he could be trying to protect me.
"Well. I'd better start at the beginning. I am kinda-sorta the guardian of Reid's daughter Jasmine. Yes, he has a daughter. So I went looking for him in Shadow."
Folly nods; they had briefly discussed Jasmine before her own child was born.
"Finally I ended up at a monastery belonging to the Klybesian monks, a society that sells and buys information. They had Reid's body, and more. I bargained my way out, coming here, without the body."
Folly opens her mouth in shock, or perhaps to ask a question, but closes it again immediately, certain of what he's implying. Even in the dim carriage it is clear that she has gone a bit pale. She lets Ossian continue:
"The Klybesians seems to be very interested in our kind. Inappropriately so, in fact. So Random ordered me back, this time with Jerod and Raven. It turned out that 'Brother Hannibal' who spoke with me the first time was a fellow called Dr. Chew." Ossian lets that sink in for a moment, waiting for Folly's reaction.
Her jaw has taken on a hard set. She fumbles in the pocket of her gown for a small sketch pad. She quickly scribbles something -- several hard, angry lines -- then rips out the page and hands it to Ossian.
"That Dr. Chew?" she asks, her voice low and dangerous. It may be only a quick caricature, but it's unmistakably him.
Whatever Corwin has to say, and he clearly has something to say, is waiting on Ossian’s response.
Ossian nods. "We realised it must be the same man. Jerod wrecked the Shadow badly. But the monks escaped to a place called Greenwood Hospital as far as we know. Dr Chew included." Ossian looks at Corwin.
"I don't think that's where we saw him," Folly offers, "or at least that name doesn't sound familiar. And anyway that place got slightly blown up." However she might have felt about that at the time, there is not a trace of regret in her voice now.
She too looks at Corwin, eager to hear what he has to say about all this.
But Corwin's not finished with the story as Folly has told it. "You encountered this Klybesian where? And what was he doing that it got _slightly blown up_? By whom?" He gestures to her to go on and tell the story and fill in the missing pieces of Ossian's news.
Ossian is also interested. "Jerod didn't say much. But I take it wasn't a pleasant encounter?"
"That's putting it mildly," Folly says with a bitter laugh. "I don't know the name of the place, unfortunately. High-tech, lots of glass-and-steel, skyscrapers. I'd just figured out I was pregnant and caught up to Martin there. We---"
She hesitates and stares out the window of the carriage as she sorts through the unpleasant memories. "I've never much cared for hospitals. But we went to get me checked out, make sure everything was progressing more or less the way it was supposed to." She gives her head a little shake, as if to clear it, and looks at Corwin. "This Dr. Chew was one of the people we saw. He wanted to run more tests, he said. Nothing to worry about, totally routine. And I couldn't tell you why I thought so, except that I really don't like hospitals, but it just felt... off. Wrong. I knew I had to get out of there, so I trumped back to Xanadu, and Martin stayed behind for a little while to destroy any blood and tissue samples. With extreme prejudice."
"Greenwood was where I was taken after Brand tried to murder me. I was shadow-lost and my memories were gone. I had to walk the Pattern at Rebma to recover them." Corwin is frowning. "Brand arranged to have what they called electroshock therapy applied to me. He didn't want me to remember who I was or anything else. The idea that the people he was working with were Klybesians is--" Corwin pauses, and finally settles on, "bad.
"I don't remember how long they had me, but it would have been long enough to get samples of anything they wanted. I knew better than to give blood, but I didn't think about destroying the hospital. I should have."
Ossian frowns. "Greenwood looked kind of modern." he pulls out his sketch book "Could this be the same place you were in?" he asks Folly, showing a few sketches of the control room. "Of course you were not in a room like this."
To Folly, the level of technology appears to be much lower in the sketch than what she remembers of her encounter with Dr Chew. Greenwood appears to be a little retro even to her own sensibilities as a Texorami native; Shadow Tyrell was higher-tech than Folly's home. Tyrell was minimalistic and that's not the case with the sketch of Greenwood.
She shakes her head slowly as she inspects one of the sketches. "Not unless this is some forgotten sub-basement with technology that hasn't been updated in a century or so." She returns the sketchbook to Ossian. "You said the monks escaped to this place from their monastery. How? From what you said, it kind of sounded like they weren't even in the same shadow."
Ossian grins. "It was some kind of shadow path. It makes sense that Chew would stay away from the hospital where Martin blew things up. And my grandfather could very well have established that path back when you were in Greenwood." Ossian looks at Corwin.
"That's a lot of effort to put in," Corwin says, "unless he owed them a big favor. And if it wasn't him, I definitely want to know how the Klybesians got that path. Because it's too pinpoint-precise to have been an accident, and it should have been unmade by the storm." Corwin is really scowling.
He reaches out and thumps on the ceiling of the carriage to tell the driver to get on with it and get them the rest of the way back to the Louvre.
Folly grips her seat, bracing herself for the anticipated burst of speed. "I've got ideas, but they're mostly speculation that can wait until the meeting, when we have a greater depth of collective experience to vet them."
Corwin has summoned the members of the family in Paris, who appear to be Florimel and Solace, though Solace is excused for reasons that Ossian and Folly suspect boil down to "not a Pattern initiate". Florimel arrives looking as if she's just come from a soiree, and doesn't appear to be entirely pleased to have been summoned from it (or perhaps the summons suggests news she won't like).
Ossian and Folly have time to change into appropriate Parisian clothes, particularly Ossian, whose wardrobe is intact from the last time he visited. (Also there was time for a brief trump exchange, and one for Folly if she wants to check in with Martin in summary.) The meeting is held in Corwin's study, and some food has been set out--finger foods--and there's wine and whiskey, since those things may be needed. Florimel has her Trump deck with her, which suggests that Corwin requested it.
Folly does change clothes -- into something soft and Art Nouveau-inspired rather than one of the more heavily corseted styles, if she can manage it -- and checks in briefly with Martin. She fills him in on the news about Reid, and particularly on Dr. Chu and the shadowpath between the monastery and Greenwood Hospital. She offers to bring him through if he wants to join the family meeting (although since it would require bringing Lark, too, she is not expecting him to take her up on it), or to keep a trump line open if he'd like to join that way. If not, she'll check in again once they're done.
Martin is Not Pleased. He's not willing to bring Lark through to Paris, but he'll take a check-in when Folly is done. (Clearly, he thinks, he should have done a more thorough job of murder and mayhem in Shadow Tyrell.)
When she arrives at Corwin's study she exchanges pleasantries with those who have arrived before her; her tone and manner are rather more subdued than usual, though, and she is not inclined toward idle chitchat unless she senses it would help ease the tension.
Ossian dresses in slightly more color than current fashion dictates. He takes a small glass of white wine. A gentleman as usual, he will kiss Flora's hand, but like Folly he stays quiet for the moment.
Florimel is dressed in a softer gown than one might expect given the current fashions, but they are en famille here. Like Folly's, her dress is also influenced by the curves and designs of Art Nouveau.
The King has also changed into a black and silver smoking jacket. (Black velvet; silver trim.)
Once they have gathered and greetings have been made, Corwin explains what they're here to discuss. He summarizes for Florimel the stories that Ossian and Folly have told them, with particular emphasis on the Greenwood Hospital part of the news. All of this appears to be news, and a bit of a shock, to Florimel, who disclaims any knowledge that Greenwood was affiliated with the Klybesians.
Brand might have known. He'd been the one who suggested that Corwin be put into the hospital there.
"I suppose Brand could have seen that as a fair trade," Folly muses. "Give the Klybesians an Amberite to experiment on, and in exchange they keep a meddlesome older brother out of the way of his schemes. But I'm not sure I buy that, unless his connection to them ran so deep he trusted that they would never try to use whatever they learned against him."
She hesitates, frowning, and looks at Corwin. "Or perhaps you were the price of something he learned from them. But I imagine it would have to be something awfully big." She makes a gesture inviting the rest of them to speculate further or poke holes in that idea; after all, they all knew Brand, and she didn't.
"Oh, I bet they had things to tell him. My grandfather was curious to a fault. I do wonder about Chew's position in the order. What was his role when you met him, Folly?"
"He presented himself as a doctor," Folly says. "He didn't run any of the actual procedures, but he's the one who came to talk to us when we went back the next day to get the test results. Told us some of my results were abnormal and that he recommended I be hospitalized until they could run some follow-up tests. In The Machine." She shudders visibly; these memories are clearly upsetting to her, but she pushes ahead:
"We started asking questions that he was not very forthcoming about answering, and that's when it started feeling very, very wrong. Wrong-er. He left us alone for a few minutes and I was in the process of calling Random to trump us the hell out of there when someone or someones came in the room and scuffled with Martin. He told me to go on, so I did, while he stayed behind to, you know, punch people in the head and blow up labs and stuff...."
Folly hesitates, and then says. "Terranova. I think that was the name of the hospital. 'New Earth' and 'Green Wood' -- possibly just a coincidence, but it's an interesting one."
Corwin is increasingly disgruntled as Folly's story continues, and by the time she's finished, he's openly frowning. "Is there anything else about the Klybesians or Greenwood or Terranova or this Hannibal person that anyone wants to contribute? Because we're past the point here where Random and I need to discuss measures, and if there's no more to add, then I'll take any suggestions you have on how we should deal with them."
Ossian shakes his head.
Folly says, "I will just add this, which you may well already have thought of: As much as I would love to see the Klybesians unmade, there is a very real possibility that they could have a Pattern initiate among their ranks -- possibly a long-forgotten and disgruntled one, if they are as ancient an order as they want to seem. That would explain how that shadowpath might have come into being even without Brand's help; all the other alternative explanations I can think of seem rather less likely. If that's the case, dealing with them as if they are a mere shadow problem could be not only ineffectual, but dangerous."
She makes a small gesture, palms up, to Corwin and Florimel: she's ready for them to call in the other players, if that's what comes next.
The room falls silent after Folly's words, quiet enough that the slightest movement sounds obscenely loud. Florimel blinks, slowly, and turns to Corwin. The Prince in Silver and Black raises his hand.
"I hadn't considered that, but if he's fallen in with them again, we have to act immediately. I certainly hope you’re wrong."
Flora's eyes are wide and she is sitting very, very still.
Folly's brow creases with concern. "Who?" she asks warily.
"Caine," Corwin says to Folly and Ossian.
Flora's expression suggests that she has had a very ugly suspicion confirmed.
"Oh come on." Corwin turns back to Flora. "Dad never told you why he pulled Caine from the succession? Why he threw all the religious out of Amber?"
"That kind of talk wasn't considered suitable for the dinner table when ladies were present, and you know it, Corwin," she ripostes sweetly.
Corwin has the good grace to look mildly abashed.
A smile flashes over Ossian's face. Then he turns somber "How old could that path be?" he asks.
Folly drops her gaze to her hands folded tightly in her lap to hide a momentary glint of amusement in her own eyes. She looks up again at Ossian's question and adds, "And for the benefit of those of us who weren't even around to hear that particular story from Oberon, what happened, if you don't mind filling us in?"
"Caine was deeply involved in one of the old martial orders attached to the Church of the Unicorn. They were involved in the old troubles between Cymnea and my mother--and Caine's--Faiella. Even I don't know all the details of how he annoyed Dad so much; as you say," Corwin nods to Flora, "it wasn't dinner table talk. And I was much out of Amber at the time. It was after my mother had died, but before Dad married Clarissa, I think. The net result was that Dad ordered all the religious out of the city, stripped them of their citizenship and goods, and Caine was out of the succession.
"He didn't get rid of the Unicorn, and now we all know why, but there were no more priests, and the Knights were purely secular."
It takes Corwin a moment to remember that he hasn't answered Ossian's question. "It could be old, depending on how much spying they were doing on Flora, or me, during my exile there. But the real question is how it survived the Black Rain."
"It was underground, if that helps." Ossian says, frowning. "Is there any way to find out who layed a certain path?"
"Or could there be anything else about the place -- inherently or by design -- that could have ensured it would stay somewhere on the natural paths between Pattern realms?" Folly says. "It didn't feel... pre-Patterny or anything, did it?"
Ossian shakes his head. "I don't think so. Jerod said nothing about that either, and he's way ahead of me."
Folly frowns thoughtfully. "I suppose it's possible that Caine -- or maybe Brand -- worked out some other way to ensure that spot stayed on the natural paths. We do seem to exert some sort of metaphysical gravity on the shadows around us; perhaps---" she nods at Corwin "---keeping you in that place, your psychic energy, somehow reinforced that effect. But that's just speculation.
"It does occur to me, though, that if Caine really is working with the Klybesians -- and if he also was somehow in on the scheme to keep you in that hospital -- it casts his actions in the recent war in an interesting light. Perhaps the true purpose of his fratricide was not so much to save the universe from Mad Brother Brand as to take out the one person who knew enough about his comings and goings to out him to the rest of the family."
Flora ponders this question. "Caine was apparently friendly with Brennan at that time." She glances at Ossian, but holds the question for now.
"Oh." Ossian says.
Folly's frown deepens. "In your experience, does Caine have the kind of skill with Pattern, and the curiosity to experiment with it, that might let him make an especially enduring shadowpath, or create some kind of anchor in shadow?" She hesitates, thinking, and then adds, "And does he have any other interesting metaphysical skills he might be sharing with the Klybesians that we should be on guard against?"
"Caine's the most skilled user of Trumps I've ever seen. He can spy on people with them, and that's a skill most of us can't match," Corwin explains. "He's almost as old as I am, and he's one of our Admirals. I don't know that he has any special skills in forging paths, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did. He wasn't one of the original pathmakers, but he learned from them, and he's been doing it for a long time.
"But it doesn't have to be him for all of it. He could have made the path for them centuries ago, before Dad forbade him any further involvement with the religious. Or he could have taught some royal bastard, his or someone else's."
"Probably not his," Flora says and gives Corwin a knowing look. Corwin shrugs.
Ossian frowns "I'd like to ask Ambrose if he has met the monks. Not that he could have laid the path.
"Silhouette has agreed to help me investigate at Greenwood. Unless you kings decide something else, of course."
"If Random approves it, I see no reason why you two shouldn't investigate together. Emphasis on together, since we don't want any more of you disappearing and it sounds as though the Klybesians can take one of you if they want." Corwin rises and moves to his secretary desk to rifle through it, presumably for his Trumps. "What about Ambrose? Brennan's brother, Brand's son?"
"Given that the monks have been involved with Caine, my father, me and Brand, I wouldn't be surprised if they contacted Ambrose, or that mad sister of his. It's just a hunch."
"Well, and if they've managed to piss him off the way they have the
rest of us, he might be easy to recruit to your mission, if you think
he could help," Folly says. "But -- how were they involved with you,
Ossian? I'm afraid I missed that part."
When Ossian breaks off the Trump contact, Brennan takes a moment-- a very long moment-- to gather himself. To master himself, really.
Regenleif? Yes. Yes, that's more than possible. Despite never having even had the thought, it feels right. With Ossian turning up first in an orphanage and then as a ward of Brand, he'd simply assumed that Ossian's mother was long dead, and to the extent that he had thought about Regenleif, he'd simply assumed she was alive and hale, even decades later. She is, after all, a Valkyrie. Blind spots. Stupid blind spots.
And the Klybesians. The only thing keeping him from bellowing in rage is pride. Pure hard pride. He is not going to yell like a fool. He is not going to throw a tantrum in the armory and break their practice dummies. He is not going to give Balen any reasons-- well, any more reasons than she already has-- to think Brennan is other than who he says he is. And he is not going to completely break the cover he's clung to steadfastly for the past several months. Too much is riding on this, for Benedict, but especially for Celina and for himself.
Luckily, there is violence on the horizon, and more than enough for Brennan to rein in his rage now, the better to direct it properly soon.
And the first part of that is dealing with that stupid Bobbitt worm. Preferably in a way that advances his own aims. Brennan finds-- conjures if need be-- a good pair of protective gauntlets and puts them on. He might or might not need them shortly and doesn't want to need to conjure something in the middle of Sorcery. Then, although he doesn't perform a full astral projection, he does open his third eye and repeat the clairvoyance performance from a few nights ago, this time getting a good close look at the worm and its container. He inspects the handiwork of the spell keeping the thing in its present form, and any ancillary spells that might be on the container.
During the inspection, he is primarily looking for triggers that would cause the spell or spells to be broken prematurely.
He is also curious if this looks like the work of the same person who doomed Cameleopardis, or not. (If not, Brennan will assume the obvious-- that it is Cameleopardis' own work.)
Finally, he wants to understand how the spells work so that he can reinforce them.
Brennan gets a good look at the thing. It's shadow magic. Whatever is in it is miniaturized. Water, air, worm, etc. If you reached in for the worm, you'd find your hand miniaturized and probably too small to make a good Bobbitt snack. There are tides across the top of the water.
There look to be two ways to activate it. Either the jar could be poured out, or it could be smashed. It’s perfectly serviceable shadow magic. It looks like something Camelopardis, if he really was a sorcerer of a tribe of sorcerers, would be able to do. Things that Brennan could do to stop it include making the jar shatterproof and putting a lid on it. Of course, neither of those would help if the magic was undone and a vast amount of water appeared in a tiny jar...
Oh, that's clever, Brennan thinks-- the magic is on the container, not the worm itself. That's almost elegant.
It is still a tradeoff of weaknesses, though. True, any object placed in the tank will also shrink and face the same challenge. But Brennan is a Sorcerer of an entirely different octave, and not limited to physical objects... no matter how satisfying it would have been to twist the thing's head off. In fact, since Cameleopardis has gone to the trouble of shrinking everything in the container, he's really just made it easier for Brennan to affect the whole thing. Or the water in it. Or the air dissolved in the water which the worm needs for respiration.
So, Brennan decides on a subtle touch-- he simply causes the dissolved air and oxygen in the water to turn solid, precipitating gently to the bottom of the tank, and in any case completely unbreatheable. The worm might recognize, in some remote part of the nervous system that passes for a brain, that it is suffocating, but by then it will be too late. Suffocation is followed rapidly by slumber and then death.
Brennan watches to see how this turns out, ready to tweak the worm's metabolism up to hasten the suffocation if necessary.
Brennan is glad he set the duration to a watch, because the creature is a natural burrower, and can likely last for some time without air. However, his spell blocks the breathing holes on it with the solid air.
The creature becomes increasingly frantic and struggles inside the vessel, eventually knocking it off the table where it was resting.
The glass container plummets to the ground and shatters, releasing an immense quantity of water and a thrashing, suffocating giant worm-creature.
The water and a significant portion of the camp are washed away, as is the bobbitt worm. It may have ended up in some deep ravine off the side of the mountain.
If it didn’t die before it got out of Brennan’s spell, it might’ve burrowed into the ground or swam downstream to the sea.
The besiegers lost perhaps a quarter of their troops, half their supplies and tents, and their primary weapon. They seem angry, like a nest of ants that has been disturbed.
Brennan doesn't need to feign surprise, here, since that is not at all his intended result.
He throws one Hail Mary spell at the worm as it disappears, a quick working of Space on the solid air particles blocking the creature's respiratory system, expanding them a bit so that they don't dislodge as it's washed away. Even a five or ten percent increase should be enough to wedge those things in so tightly the worm would need a hammer and chisel-- and hands-- to get them out. And, hey, if he's really lucky, he'll give the thing an embolism. Given the situation, though, Brennan can't even think about waiting to see the effect of that.
The spell is cast. Brennan is not aware if it succeeds or fails, or merely annoys the creature. It probably depends on how long a mud-burrowing giant worm can go without breathing.
Just long enough to be annoying, is what Brennan figures. But in the ultimate scheme of things, he reasons, every moment it is staying active, it is burning oxygen. And if it had tremendous reserves, it probably wouldn't have panicked so quickly.
Walker charges into the courtyard, near the gates. He doesn't wait to see where Balen is, much less what she's doing, before bellowing orders. He intends to capitalize on this as quickly as humanly possible. The basic gist of the orders goes like this:
Infantry are to form into two very uneven groups, one to stay and man the defenses, and a larger one to carry the attack. Cavalry are to support infantry. And a very small group-- a dozen or so-- are told to get long hunting spears, climbing gear, commandeer some oil or pitch if possible, and remain ready. Walker adds his considerable force of personality to the mix to get things done as soon as possible. He wants the attack launched before the Corsairs can recover. Walker keeps local equivalent of sergeants in line, as they get the men formed up.
Burl can stay with the defenders, since his position as town guardsman should give him some insight. Radish is with Walker in the main group, whose goal is to overrun the Corsairs entirely, slaughtering as many as possible and driving as many more possible off the cliffs after the elephants.
Kim and Chiu can go with the horsemen, whose job is to support the infantry. One quick rush against the Corsairs to start the panic, and then they are left to the discretion of their commanders-- either help herding the Corsairs off the cliffs, or, if necessary and prudent, keep them from dispersing past the tree line.
Unless Brennan stops him, Trippel plans to lead the cavalry. It's unclear if this is militarily or medically wise. On the up side, he looks healthier.
The squad with the hunting spears stays put, to be ready when Walker gets back or if the worm shows up.
It's not a complicated plan, really-- hit hard, hit fast, use the confusion, run them off the cliff, and keep them from running away.
Unless there is some obvious defect in this plan (including resistance from the Montparnassians) Walker sets it into motion. Walker is with the main force on foot, crashing into the wet, bedraggled Corsairs.
And, while Brennan has been extremely reluctant to have Walker display any knowledge of or talent at Sorcery, he is more than willing to show Walker's martial skills, as both a field commander and a warrior.
There's remarkably little fighting. Some of the enemy run before Walker’s troops even reach them, others seem content to surrender after token resistance. No one actually flees towards Elephant's Leap.
The Montparnassians seem perfectly willing to break the siege and let the rabbits run away. They are convinced they won't be a threat again and that they are already broken. Walker may have to give a speech to convince them to slaughter surrendering corsairs.
Brennan is mad enough at recent events-- the revelation that his son did not just "end up" in an orphanage but was kidnapped by the Klybesians, and the strong implication that if he successfully kills all the Klybesians he may end up killing other kin in the process-- to be looking forward to some good, honest slaughter and bloodshed. It's not as though the Corsairs don't deserve it.
But he's sufficiently in control of himself to take critical stock of the situation: The Corsairs have lost their mage. They've lost their biological battering rams. They've lost their biological sapper... as far as they know, anyway. They've lost a quarter of their forces before any major engagement. They've lost at least half of their supplies before the siege is even three days old. The Montparnasse forces, by comparison, have lost relatively little.
By any definition, it's been a military debacle for the corsairs.
If they want to surrender, and Trippel and Balen want to accept it, that's their call. And it sounds like they've made it.
Walker directs his battlefield energies to making it stick: Walker can tolerate small to middlin' numbers of Corsairs running away, but he does direct the cavalry to cut off escape into the woods if it looks like large numbers of them, especially officers. He wants Trippel to accept surrender from Jellicoe personally. The remaining supplies are also either confiscated or destroyed on the spot, as soon as is practicable. Scouts are sent into the woods to make sure they're not gathering for a counter-attack. Trippel should know if they have any larger supply caches out in the woods, as well-- that knowledge is sent along with the scouts.
Walker does put the word out (including to Trippel) that Jellicoe or his highest surviving subordinate should be taken alive.
Jellicoe and a small band surrounding him surrender last. It's Walker's estimation that they're not fighting to win, but to delay Trippel's forces from following those who fled. Some do, but Walker and company catch a number of the remaining force.
That is what the cavalry are supposed to be doing, with or without Trippel.
Jellicoe himself comes forward to negotiate the surrender. He wants to withdraw from the mountain with his men and swear to never return.
Trippel and Balen call Walker into conference. "Here's what I propose, brother," says Balen. "They are given until nightfall tomorrow to gather their dead and leave the mountain, on pain of death. They pay us weregild for everyone they killed. They pay ransom for their own release at a pound of gold a head, or suffer my curse if they do not deliver it to our agents in Port Methryn by the Feast of the Harrowing of Lir."
Trippel nods. "Your thoughts, Captain?" he says to Walker.
Walker leaves himself out of any wrangling on prices.
"Any reason we ain't keep Jellicoe and a few of his boys as surety?" Walker asks. "Gives us a chance to talk, all neighborlike." If his smile is neighborly, Jellicoe shouldn't be eager to meet Walker's neighbors in a dark alley at night.
That is Walker's opening position. What he actually wants-- and he will whisper in Balen's ear to make it clear to her-- is to question him for at least the period that they are gathering their dead. He especially wants information about Cledwin, and will remind Balen about the Moire angle if she needs reminding. He doesn't think she does.
Between magic and the tradition of honoring parole, neither Trip nor Balen seems inclined to keep Jellicoe, but as an officer, he can be invited to the state dinner. Balen suggests that Mayness and Crisp should be invited as well.
Trippel smiles at the thought, and asks if that would suit Walker's needs.
It's not exactly what Walker had in mind, but he senses that he's not going to much better than the offer on the table. Although, if the state dinner can be postponed until tomorrow, so much the better. Walker suspects no one will argue since it fits with the timeline given for the removal or burial of the dead.
And, significantly, it gives Walker time to go make sure that worm is dead.
Walker borrows a horse from Montparnasse’s stables and rides in search of the beast. He tracks the worm down the ravine, which is easy enough to do, even with the damage of the accompanying flooding. It takes several hours, and Brennan expects he’ll either find a corpse or a very angry worm at the end of the route.
The borrowed horse is a nervous mountain animal, and not at home in the riverbeds downstream from the castle. It balks at dodgy footings, and possibly at some completely safe footings.
If the horse is that skittish, Brennan will leave it roped to a tree somewhere along the way. Being thrown while hunting a giant, castle-destroying worm is not in the cards today, and he judges that it is extremely improbable that anything will wander along and bother it.
He's also cagey enough that he looks to make sure he's not being followed. If the worm is alive, he doesn't plan a conventional battle. He might want to call Fiona by Trump when he's done, as well, and is not interested in anyone seeing him do that.
Brennan comes around a bend and finds the Bobbit Worm. It had been eating something... furry, like an elk or a deer. Its facial mandibles are covered with blood. When Brennan rides into sight, the worm rears up. It is approximately the height of the castles walls of Montparnasse. It roars out a challenge or a warning.
It might be able to strike Brennan from here. It's mostly neck, after all.
For the first time in weeks or months, Brennan is unconstrained by observers and he is in no mood to mess around with this thing. He scans the mountain face above him, and selects a nice head-sized stone or something a little larger, moves it with the principle of Gravity until it is over the worm, then drops it. As it drops, he uses the principle of Space and (again) Gravity to make the rock massive and heavy enough to crush the thing's spine as it hits, and to guide it so it hits true.
The worm pays no attention to the rock moving like a cloud above his head. Brennan sends it hurling down, faster than gravity and growing exponentially larger.
It strikes at Brennan, who dives upslope. The rock hits the creature in the spine, just at the juncture where the body is on the ground, severing the spine and breaking the chitinous armored beast clean in half. The head and neck, with all the momentum from the strike at Brennan, continue on, unfettered by the body. Brennan keeps rolling to avoid the corpse.
He rolls to a stop and scrambles up, coated in the ichor and internal parts of the worm. They don’t seem to be toxic or even caustic, but they are nasty.
From the ridge above a voice calls out. “Brennan?” The owner seems surprised to find him here, or at least in these circumstances.
Benedict is atop the ridge on his striped horse, his scythe-like weapon strapped to his back.
Brennan is just considering the very minor dilemma of how best to remove ichor stains from his outfit when he hears Benedict's call. He is, initially, as surprised to hear his real name used as the voice is to be using it these circumstances. He turns, scans the ridge, identifies Benedict and steps back from the worm-corpse. If he is discomfited by his appearance, it doesn't show.
"Uncle," he confirms, in much the same tone of mild surprise. "I have much to report, but if you don't mind I'd like to get one of these mandibles as proof that this thing is dead, before I clean up."
If Benedict permits it, Brennan will remove one of the mandibles as though he were removing a drumstick from a particularly vile turkey dinner, using a knife so long it might properly be called a machete. If it's too large to transport, he'll settle for breaking off a tip the length of his arm.
Regardless, this is the report that Brennan gives, when he gives it:
"I've passed two reports to Folly by Trump since I've been here, but time is strange-- you may not have gotten the second one. I'll start at the beginning and add more detail after the time of the first report. My scouting method is simple: pose as an itinerant, backwoods mercenary, get hired on in the region of interest-- here, on Methryn's Isle-- and follow what looks interesting from a strategic point of view."
He goes on to describe his major encounters and activities up until the time of the first conversation with Folly and Martin: Taking the name Walker, hiring on as a guard with Cledwin and Crisp as the later made his way to Montparnasse, watching Crisp dealing in arms and eventually ending up wedded to Mayness. Brennan gives a sketch of the route they took so that Benedict has a clear idea which areas are flooded with new weapons, and makes it clear that he can give a very detailed accounting of the Who's, the Where's, the How Many's and the What Type's if Benedict requires it... but he knows better than to drown someone in details while giving a report.
He also describes the encounter with Balen and her aura reading in some greater detail: "Her first guess was too close to the mark to be random chance-- she made me for your agent immediately, but she kept it to herself until we were alone. From there, she leapt to the conclusion that you sent me there, directly, for the express purpose of supporting Montparnasse. I chose not to acknowledge any of it-- I can't be effective as a scout or a spy if half the countryside knows your redheaded nephew, or even your agent, is tearing around the area. Besides, she spent so much time poisoning her sister Mayness' well that I had to wonder about her, too."
"This," he adds, "is about when I spoke first to Folly. And this is where things get complicated."
He takes a breath and pushes forward with part two, the siege. "Reconstructing it after it happened, and allowing for how it was disrupted, the Corsair plan was this: First, Cledwin let a small group of assassins into the keep to kill Prince Maibock. Curiously, his son Trippel had somehow embedded with that group. If his plan was to disrupt their attempt, the best that can be said is that it didn't work-- we disrupted each other. Maibock is dead, Trippel is wounded but alive and running the defenses. Balen is alive and healthy. Crisp and Mayness were taken into custody. Cledwin escaped.
"Second, the main force arrived shortly afterward. Very shortly." Brennan gives a brief description of the quality and quantity of men in the besieging army, then adds, "and along with that, they had a force of elephants, a hedge wizard, and," he gestures to the dead worm, "a bobbitt worm. That's in retrospect. The worm was magically shrunk in a container and the elephants were behind the tree line so it took some time and effort to sort the situation out. It happens that there's a passage under and out of the castle known only to the royal family, and, now, to me as they let me use it to scout the opposing force. In the course of that scouting, there was a good opportunity to disturb and stampede those elephants, so I took it. They did some structural damage to the keep, but mostly they ended up running off a cliff before they could be used. In the confusion, there was a chance to take the wizard captive so I did that, too. It was a disaster for the corsairs, but nothing that couldn't be explained by plain bad luck. That almost ended the affair right there, with the Corsairs agreeing to pay a ransom for their wizard and simply be gone from the theater.
"Then I started questioning the wizard. He died during questioning, and it's not," Brennan emphasizes, "what it sounds like. There's a separate story there that I'll get back to. But what we learned for the battle was that they had that," he gestures to the worm, "magically shrunk in a small container for use as a siege weapon. The full plan was apparently to prepare the field for it with earth works during the siege, let it loose to undermine the keep walls, and follow it with the elephants to batter the rest into rubble.
Brennan exhales sharply. "As I said, though, the wizard died, and with him the truce and ransom arrangement was going to collapse. Balen and I discussed the matter, and I left to see to the defenses and come up with a plan. I contrived to be alone briefly, because I had a Trump call from my son, which you'll want to hear of as well. When the call was over, and since I knew what the worm was and how it worked, more or less, from the Maghee wizard, I worked a small Sorcery of my own, which resulted in a lake's worth of water washing the worm and portions of the besieging camp off of the mountain. We capitalized on the confusion, rode forth from the keep, broke their will and took their surrender. There will be a state dinner tomorrow with the surrendered Corsair captain Jellicoe, as well as Crisp, and the three children of Maibock. Which brought Walker to this place, making sure that," another gesture to the worm, "is really dead."
Brennan lets out a long breath, having summarized the military situation. Then he takes another and continues:
"But this wizard is where things get very interesting, and probably more important than anything I've said so far. The wizard named himself Cameleopardis Findanus, of the Maghees, a tribe which by their telling descends from Lir's castellan after he raised up the Silver Towers and then departed to fight in foreign wars. Be that as it may, they say their ancestral home, the city Maghdeburg, is on a sunken island along with the ruined Silver Towers. This Cameleopardis the wizard was exploring that place, looking for knowledge and history, by his telling. He described some of the things he saw-- a forest of kelp, a throne room with a throne of solid sapphire-- before describing a vision. He didn't use the words, but what he described could only be interpreted as a man walking a Pattern while fighting another man. You, who he named only as the Protector. And the Witch-King, who he properly named as Karol Le Magne, Corwin."
Brennan spreads his hands: No, wait, there's more.
"After that vision, he passed out. When he awoke, the Pattern was gone from the floor, but a woman was on the throne, the Protector at her side, and rune-carved blade hovering handless at her throat, although she addressed the unseen wielder as Corwin. The Protector and the unseen figure fought, the Protector lost and subsequently regrew his arm, and the rune-blade sank below the floor, apparently with the unseen Corwin. The vision of the Protector vanished also, but the woman remained, turned to Cameleopardis and identified herself as Dara who sought to bring down the new kingdom of the Sorceror-King. Given the Sorcerer-King's reputation, he readily agreed, so she put him to sleep and bade him wait for Lir's priestess.
"Now, part of Walker's cover story," Brennan explains, "not that anyone has yet bothered to ask, is that he is a soldier displaced from his home by the Black Road War, giving him some motive to pay heed to rumors of fey and eldritch things that might be able to return him home. I also had some mundane images of Dara, Moire and Moins from Folly and a cover story for those as well. I showed him the images. Dara, he identified immediately. Moins he recognized as a legendary figure. Moire... he hesitated. He seemed to recognize Moire, but could not say how or when, and we both came also to believe that he hd been bewitched. We asked Balen if she could undo this, and she did, but at a cost. I believe that Cameleopardis was far older than he realized and had been kept alive by Sorcery. When his memory was returned, the other Sorcery collapsed and he began aging rapidly. But he lived long enough to identify Moire as this priestess of Lir, the one who bade him to take her ships and attack Methryn's Isle, which apparently led him to here. Long enough to repent and repudiate Moire, as well. He did not live long enough to explain the obvious involvement with Cledwin, though. It was very quick."
Brennan pauses, with the sense that he is leaving something important out. Then he has it. "I should add, Folly was with me by Trump for most, but not all, of that interrogation, should you require another perspective.
"Which again brings me to here. Cameleopardis did repudiate Moire at the end. Before I broke the worm's container, I dropped a few hints to the effect that he had done something to the worm that would help us. And since there is no possible way someone like Walker could defeat something like that worm... as far as I'm concerned, it was like that when I got here, or worse. Cameleopardis did it before he died. So. Nothing has happened here that could not be explained by bad luck, betrayal, and treachery." Which sounds like a normal day in Avalon, to Brennan. "It is possible to guess, but nothing screams out that a scion of Amber was here guiding the defeat... except for Balen and her uncanny ability to read auras. I don't know exactly what she thinks right now," probably that Brennan is an idiot, he doesn't say, "but everything I did broke in her direction so there hasn't been any reason to question it, so far."
An astute listener may note that Brennan's lengthy report was long on facts and events, with an overlay of his motives and goals, but short on analysis, interpretation, or speculation.
He waits for Benedict's inevitable raft of questions.
Benedict and his striped mount come down the slope during Brennan's report. "I'll ride with you back to Montparnasse. I need to greet Trippel. What do you think Moire's rationale for having Corsairs attack this castle might be? Did she know of your involvement?"
Benedict pauses. "You may want to clean up before retrieving your horse. She won’t like the smell of that creature on you."
Brennan nods agreement. "I crossed a stream not far back," he says, "where we'll find some clothes that match these." He eyes flick down at himself. "And some soap," he mutters.
"To the best of my knowledge, no, Moire knows nothing of my involvement under my own name. I took pains to avoid it. We can't rule it out, of course, but even if she got lucky and saw me through a mirror or had a description from Cledwin, I'm not sure she'd recognize me.
"As to motives... with my current understanding of geography, if I were in her position and trying to retake Rebma by force, I would open operations in the kelp forests that Cameleopardis mentioned in his tale. What he told me led me to believe that it is Nedra, and lies roughly between the fallen towers and Rebma. If the Maghees have other wizards of comparable skill and all follow her, they may have the strength to support an army, or at least strike teams, long enough to reach breathable waters.
"At the same time, I would want a force to approach along the Faiella-Bionin proper, as we discussed before. If Montparnasse falls or is pinned, it cannot support the low-lying coastal areas. If the coastal areas and port towns fail, they cannot protect the sea lanes or project force toward the veil to Rebma. The balance of power in the region shifts in such a way as to leave that entire region exposed. If she thinks you are distracted, she at least increases the chances of a force reaching that region unmolested. Otherwise, she presents you with a strategic dilemma: Defend the Isle of Apples and other key allies, or protect the Great Road.
"If forced to give an opinion which of those attacks is the feint," Brennan hesitates, considering it again, "I would opt for Nedra. That would be my feint, because I do not fully understand the dangers that it presents or its relationship to the Dragon of Rebma. But then, I don't understand Moire's relationship to it, either, so that conclusion's not worth much."
"I will point out, though, that those fronts would be best if coordinated. The arrival of the Corsairs, the arrival of Crisp's wedding party, and the assassination attempt were all too tightly coordinated to be chance. I find it very likely that Cledwin or Jellicoe have some ability to communicate with someone, whether Moire personally or not. This attack may also have served as a test of their ability to coordinate. If so, then despite the overall failure of the mission, I'd call the test itself a success.
"What I do not understand at all," Brennan says, "is Dara's role in all this... if any. And finally, I came here-- to Avalon, not to Montparnasse-- with the idea that Moire would use it as a staging ground for an invasion. Despite the evidence, I'm aware that everything I've said merely confirms a pre-existing notion, and that bothers me. But, for the moment, it is my best analysis. It fits the facts I have."
The Protector dismounts and walks his horse, who doesn't seem to be bothered by Brennan's ichor-soaked clothing. He accompanies Brennan as he cleans up and recovers his own horse, and sets out for Montparnasse with him.
"I am working to neutralize Moire, because it is more important to me to prevent the wars of Avalon from spilling into Rebma. Moire has several options here. She can gather an army of competent soldiers here, which would be helpful in a straight fight. She might be able to bring them in inside the walls, if she could get them to the Faiella-Bionin. Or she could go the other way, work with the tritons, and attack from outside.
"Or, she could hope to emulate Corwin. She could set up a threat and arrive with an army of her own to relieve Rebma, just as Celina is shown to not be up to the job. She might well be restored by acclamation, and convince everyone that she had to leave the city to her daughter to save it now."
Brennan nods-- either of his two basic scenarios fit Benedict's observations if combined properly.
"The difficulty for Celina is that she has to guard against all these assaults, while pleasing her subjects and keeping those who lost in the battle from being disgruntled enough to go to war.
"It’s an exhilarating prospect. I envy her."
"Let's not forget hold Huon in custody," Brennan says.
Benedict nods casually, as if he’s not particularly concerned about that angle.
The uphill ride through rough country is difficult, but Benedict's striped mount seems to have a penchant for finding a good path.
"Did you get any sense of when Dara was here, or how long ago Camelopardis went to the towers? His name is legendary in the lineage of the Magees."
Brennan seemed about to make a comment on Benedict's other observations, but answers the direct questions instead.
"Yes," Brennan says slowly, "but not with great precision. Much about that story bothers me, so I've been giving it much thought.
"Cameleopardis referred several times to the fall of the Towers as something achieved by his ancestors. It was an historical event, not part anyone's living memory. On the other hand, when the spell preserving him unraveled, all the effects came undone, hence the rapid aging. That didn't end when he died. We can look at the remains or ask Balen about them, if there are any. An educated guess... centuries ago. But at least a century after the Towers fell.
"Dara, though," Brennan continues, "made references to Corwin's new kingdom. Now, Cameleopardis could only interpret that as a kingdom here in Avalon, but it must have been a reference to Paris." He walks that back a moment later: "If you want to stretch, it could refer to his time in Amber, but that's an odd turn of phrase for it. It sounds post-Amber to me.
"At the risk of adding unnecessary complications," he adds, "I can conceive of a scenario where Dara actually has not been here yet." The last five words are enunciated carefully, to show that they are considered carefully as well.
"Dara has been here once, at least. And long enough that she was able to trick Corwin. She's also been in that throne-room vignette, but I have no idea if it was anywhere or if it was reflected into multiple throne rooms."
Benedict pauses and nods to the west. Brennan can see a trail that looks to have been made by a man or men running down the mountain towards the coastal plains. It might be corsairs.
Brennan angles his horse to get nearer to that trail, because he wants a better look. His instinct is that this could be the route Cledwin fled, and he is looking for evidence to confirm or deny it. Numbers, mainly, and if possible, time: If the trail is made by one man or only a small number, that's a good indicator; if it was made by many, it might just be part of the general route. Likewise timing: If it's a weathered trail that's been here some time, well, Cledwin might have used it, but he might not. If it's only days old, that indicates Cledwin.
It's probably hours old. Fresh breaks in the plantlife and signs that it was a small number of people fleeing down-mountain. It's too new to be Cledwin, but of course the new trail could cover an old one.
On foot or on horse? It doesn't matter too much, because there is no doubt that Brennan can move faster than they can. It matters a little though, in terms of how long it will take them to get where they're going.
Foot. They ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles and they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go.
But Brennan can outrun or outride them.
To Benedict, he says, "Is there any reason to think that it wasn't reflected to every throne room?" That must have made fascinating viewing for Moire, if so. "But in this context.... other than these visions, or vignettes as you say, is there reason to believe that throne room is or was associated with a Pattern?"
Benedict shakes his head. "It was a unique event, so there is not reason to think it was or was not reflected in other throne rooms. However, there is no throne room for a pattern throne at the bottom of the western sea, so the point should be moot. There can't be a pattern this close to mine. It would move.
"One might wish to question Dara on the matter, though. If indeed it was not a reflection of her as well."
Even unique events follow principles, Brennan thinks. But he does agree, so he nods when Benedict speaks of moving Patterns: "To a place along the Faiella-Bionin, if nothing else," he agrees.... and frowns. "That was my understanding, but given what happened, I had to ask."
He glances at the trail and then back at Benedict. "This was made about the same time as we broke the siege. They left during or just after, I'd say, probably trying to get a message back to their beachhead. If they're not using magic or Mirrors to coordinate, it won't be long before they know the siege is broken beyond recovery. If they are..." He shrugs. Then they already know. And they will sooner or later anyway, if all communications go dark.
Benedict doesn't seem too interested in the trail down the mountain, even though he says he is. "I am somewhat curious about who is captaining the ship or ships, but if they regroup, gather reinforcements, and come back, then you and I will both be waiting. That could be interesting."
He turns to ride up the hill. "Unless you wish to pursue? We could split up."
Brennan turns that over in his mind, but ultimately decides, "No. If I have their strategy right, they wouldn't have left any reserves nearby. This is the lynch pin of the plan, they'd have brought everything they have. They might lead me to Cledwin, but he has days of lead on me. And we have at least one captain captive at Montparnasse-- Jellicoe of the Gazellicorn. I've spoken with him briefly but haven't had the opportunity to question him at length. Also, we have Crisp, the merchant captain. That alone should make for interesting dinner conversation."
Brennan follows Benedict.
Bendict's path leads them back to the main mountain road to the castle. Benedict stops, and pulls a banner from his saddlebag. He attaches it to a long, complicated bladed weapon he is carrying strapped to his back, giving the effect of a flag. He intends to approach the castle flying his personal colors. He offers to find one for Brennan as well, but understands if "Walker" is not so equipped.
Walker is not so equipped, in fact.
Before they make their final approach, there is one more item on Brennan's agenda. "There is more news, though. I mentioned my son Trumped me earlier today-- Reid is dead." Brennan waits a moment before proceeding, out of respect for Reid.
"Jerod and Ossian recovered his body from a Klybesian monastery. Apparently, at least some of their bases are built on Shadow paths."
Brennan cannot read Benedict's body language, which is probably intentional. "The monks overreach. Or else someone else is manipulating them to make them appear to be incautious. Were I to wish to distract us as a group, I would want us to find an old enemy suddenly intolerable. Have the Klybesians offered explanations?"
"Unknown, but I don't think there is one we would accept," Brennan says. "Reid's body was not intact. They took tissue samples. And when Ossian followed a Shadow path starting under that location, he ended up in a place called Greenwood. Apparently this is a facility that held Corwin for a time before his return."
"I mislike the Greenwood connection more than the monks, who may have been playing at being a known quantity. Corwin was there and unconscious, if his tales are to be relied upon. Did Flora buy their services or did Brand? I don't believe that it can be a mere coincidence, nor do I believe that they are still there because of luck. They could be doing many things, including buying more guns from Corwin's supplier."
Brennan narrows his eyes in skepticism-- would that powder be useful anywhere but Amber proper?
"I suspect they have spent a very long time convincing us to underestimate them. Or else someone else wants us to think so."
Brennan shakes his head, slightly. "Or a moderating influence has been removed," he says quietly.
Benedict looks over at Brennan and nods, absently. "What do you and your son propose to do?"
The answer, surprisingly, is a long time coming from a man who is rarely without a plan or a theory or an opinion.
"My first instinct is to go to the place called Abford, gather the stuff of it to my heart, and burn a hole through the tissue of Shadow down to the fundament of Creation. Let it serve as warning through Eternity that Family is inviolate, for they have also taken something of mine. But I am a Lord of Amber, and I move by my will and the words of the Kings and Queens of Order only," he says.
"And my will in this matter is to act decisively.
"As the situation is, we cannot," Brennan says. "They are too dispersed, too mobile. They must be made to commit to a decisive engagement or we will be centuries hunting them down, or more. We don't know how to draw them out, yet."
Brennan pauses to reflect, then adds, "I share your mistrust of coincidence, but my son said something more trenchant than he may have known. In addition to having some command of Sorcery and motion through Shadow even if only along pre-existing paths... they tend to show up too often, he said. They tend to show up too often around us," he enunciates carefully. Then, looking back directly at Benedict, he asks, "What does that sound like to you?"
He's not quite sure if that's a a rhetorical question when he asks it or not. But if Benedict doesn't answer it, Brennan will: "To me, it sounds like a description of how Family keep meeting each other in infinite Shadow." Brennan hasn't directly answered the question, yet, but that's necessary context for it.
Benedict nods again, encouraging this line of thought. "You know that Caine sends away most of the blood from Amber, I assume? He is acting on my advice. The more of us congregate somewhere, the more of us are drawn there. And not just us. Those who are more real are more capable of putting a strain on a place, deforming it by their mere presence. You could study Corwin’s Shadow Earth in depth, if you wished to see what we did to a shadow without even using our powers.
"If this did not happen, it would never be possible to search for someone in shadow, and it is also the basis for following someone through shadow, even if we cannot express what it means to cause a deformation in a dimension that we cannot see."
Brennan nods, but not impatiently. He knows all this, but it is necessary to the question he anticipates from Benedict.
"So what does your conjecture imply about who the Klybesians are?"
"Us," Brennan says simply. "In some number, to some degree, the simplest answer by far is... they are us. Limited command of Sorcery and the too-often nature of our encounters are the hallmarks, and the frequent use of Shadow paths is highly suspect. And the obsession with tissue samples, blood, and orphanages speaks to an intent to maintain or increase that degree, at great risk. There are other answers-- despite our own self-obsession, there are other things that are real besides Family-- but it's the simplest and the best one.
"But if true, that's something that must have had a beginning, a time before which it was not true. Was that before or after Oberon banished them from Amber?" Brennan asks.
"Nothing is what it was 2,000 years ago, no matter the name or supposed continuity. Even I am not as I was two millennia ago, and I at least have the advantage of being a single person. Organizations, made up of shorter-lived people, are likely to change. Sometimes they change more than once in a person's life-time. They are organic life-forms, of a sort.
"Reid's mother, Pastoral, was a supporter of the monasteries of her homeland. She imported them to Amber and the support was mutual, for a time. They made themselves useful to the court, as scribes and scholars. It became tricky during Faiella's time, but they survived, and even began attempting to regain influence at court."
Benedict frowns. "They went too far, and paid for it. It was inevitable, of course, but nonetheless tragic."
He looks at the castle they are approaching, appraising the damage, as well as one can from the distance. "I did not grant them asylum in Avalon, if you were wondering. And I haven't rescinded their ban with Father gone, either."
Brennan gives Benedict a sidelong Message Received glance at that last comment. "I hadn't thought you did," he says. Among other things, that would have been a breach in relations with Amber that Benedict already claims to have striven to avoid. "I've seen no evidence of them in my time here, but that means little since I wasn't looking for them in particular, and wouldn't know what to look for if I had been. Other than a few names and locations from Ossian, I have no way of seeking or recognizing them."
Benedict rides on. "They tend to stick to shadows where they can follow a monastic rule. That's all I can offer. I haven't studied them."
"If my conjecture is correct, that some of them are our own descendants," and Brennan obviously thinks that it is, "then that complicates things tremendously. But if it's not, it needs to be discarded, as quickly as possible. Although it would be hard to prove a negative across the organization." He frowns, hesitates, then decides to press on even if he may be treading sensitive ground. "My understanding is that you have the ability to tell if someone is able to survive a Pattern walk. If I may ask, is that understanding correct?"
Benedict sighs. "I am not your best source of family arcana. I cannot say if someone will, because some factors are beyond my foreknowledge. I could say you can, but then if you don’t, was I wrong or did you mis-step? Or were you too young or flighty to have the discipline to complete the task?
"In some cases, we can tell when someone cannot walk our particular pattern. I would have said it of Dara, but I was wrong."
He shakes his head. "It is a grim topic; we love life too much to give it up easily. You may want to see if Brita can detect their scents. She has unusual powers."
That both is and is not the answer Brennan expected-- he'd expected that whatever the Scribes' ability was, though, it wouldn't run deep enough to help directly with the dilemma of the Klybesians. "Even so, you have my gratitude for the answer. In this, practical experience trumps theory, I think. And when spoke with Ossian, I passed word that Rebma should Trump me as soon as they might. Not only because Celina needs to hear the news of Moire that I reported, but because I believe Brita is still is Rebma. As you say, her abilities may be useful. And she has another advantage over me. I know that-- somehow-- I am already known to them, as of course is Ossian. It is at least possible that Brita is not.
"And granted," he says, "that two thousand years is a long time, even for an organization, but organizations are made of people and people often make decisions based on sentiment and tradition. Do you recall where Reid's mother Pastoral called home before she came to Amber? If the place still exists, it may be worth examining for any number of reasons. In our copious collective free time."
Benedict gets a distant look in his eye. “That was a long time ago, and was a scandal at the time. Pastoral was from Amber. There were … questionable circumstances. If there were more details, they are in Amber. The librarians should know."
Brennan nods. "Noted. There may be nothing worth finding there, but... it's a hunch."
He lets out a long exhalation and says, "And, while we're on the topic of Family history-- it may be important later, and I may not have the chance to ask. I've inferred that he was one of us, but... who was Lir?"
Benedict smiles. "You're convinced he lived? Who he was depends on who you ask, I suppose. An ancient ancestor, from Weyland's generation, perhaps. Moins' firstborn, some say. A child of a long-forgotten golden age. A relic of the past, in all accounts.
"There's a tomb, legendarily lost. I didn't believe in it, until Khela found it. It might be lost again, with her dead."
Brennan is mildly surprised for a moment, and doesn't bother to hide it. Then he thinks it over in the light of what Benedict just said, and answers, "Yes. Subject to later review, but yes, I am convinced he lived. When shown a picture of Moins, Cameleopardis described her as Lir's lover. His holy book described Lir as having departed to fight with his kin against a horde of fish-demons. Dara claimed to be of his house and lineage. All of those, especially that last, can be explained away. But they also fit very well with Lir having been a real kinsman who fought with Rebma in the Triton Wars.
"On that basis, I'd considered perhaps a son of Osric or Finndo, perhaps even a pseudonym of Cneve. But Weyland's generation..." he trails off for a moment. "Oberon's siblings? Or just children pre-dating Finndo and Osric?"
Benedict looks distracted. "The children of the golden age are not historical figures, very much. They were. Now they are myths and legends of long ago, and it's not even clear which legends were real and which just attached. Did Orolando Furioso die at a massacre at Roncevilles, protecting the rear-guard of Paris so that they might escape? I cannot say. I have made a study of battles and I do not know if that one even happened. Some things are unknowable."
Wisdom is knowing when to say 'I don't know'. It is also knowing when not to parrot someone's words back at them, so Brennan absorbs that in silence.
"The Princes of the Golden Age are no more. They are all dead, save for Weyland, and he has hidden himself from most of us for many years."
"Perhaps," Brennan says. "Or perhaps the next time I find myself near a Pattern, I'll find myself conversing with a vision of Lir or Moins or Orolando." He smiles faintly at the thought. "I don't like the idea of all that history being lost... but I don't think I'll spend my life waiting for that to happen.
"Weyland, though... we're not finished with him, or vice-versa. Signy and Marius notwithstanding, my business with him is not yet concluded, and-- " Brennan's thought virtually screeches to a halt, as he plays part way through a conversation from long ago which drives his previous thought completely out of his mind.
"Has Weyland," he asks Benedict, "ever tried to create an Avalonian Pattern Blade?" The question is out of his mouth before he can stop to think of a politer way to ask it.
Benedict looks at him, eyebrows raised. "Excalibur? I'd kill him if he tried."
Brennan frowns in thought, more deeply than normal. He's sufficiently caught in his own thoughts that if he recognizes the name of Excalibur, it doesn't matter much. "He didn't give it a name," Brennan says. "He just made reference to the three blades we all know about, a fourth one that failed in the forging, and a fifth that he would never attempt. Judging by your reaction, I'd guess that makes yours the fifth."
Benedict nods. “I hope the message has been clear and consistent. I will not ask family to take up the duty and doom of my Realm."
"Understood, but that wasn't my point," Brennan says, somewhat distractedly. A beat later he seems to realize what Benedict may have meant. "My point was, if yours is the fifth, whose was the fourth? Dworkin's?" Brennan's expression is skeptical of that, at best. It may or may not be metaphysically possible, but it's hard to imagine Dworkin wanting or even permitting such a thing, either.
Brennan and Benedict reach the last turn of the switchback leading to the castle, and Brennan assumes that the flurry of activity is in response to his Uncle’s unexpected arrival.
As they are unhorsing in the courtyard, Trippel and Balen come out to greet Benedict. There are smiles and handshakes all around.
It's hard for Walker to engage in handshakes while he's still manuvering the worm's mandible on horseback. After he dismounts, he props the big disgusting thing up like an awkward spear and says, "It's dead." He gestures behind him to acknowledge the carrion birds gathering in the far distance. "Dead when I got there. I reckon it was something the Maghee did."
[It was like that when I got there. I didn't do it, nobody saw me, you can't prove anything.]
The nobles and soldiers (and assorted castle servants and whatever is left of the caravan guards Brennan accompanied here) of Montparnasse are less impressed with Brennan after the second sentence than they were after the first.
Walker doesn't notice, Brennan doesn't care.
He brightens, somewhat, adding, "Where's that Jellicoe fellow? I got a present for him."
Brennan is directed to guest quarters They are rather near his own. Apparently captives get decent treatment, possibly better than caravan guards.
As morning makes its way into Rebma, it finds Signy finishing a long vigil at forge in the back of the shop.
She's not quite sure how she ended up there. The last thing she really remembers is the breakup of the Family meeting, with Ambrose's casual, off-hand remark tossed out there to sit out there in full view of everyone. She suppresses yet another momentary flash of irritation at him just tossing that out, as she finishes the last quenching of the dagger that she had spent the night crafting.
She pulls the blade back out and eyes her work. The blade doesn't reflect much light, a dull grey sheen that just seems to kill the light that does reach it. Much in the same way that the glances that she occasionally caught from him over the years as he taught her slowly withered away and stopped, especially after the conflicts between her and Weyland became more overt, more confrontational.
She looks at the edge, razor-sharp, a mean curving expanse that ends abruptly but more than capable of slipping between someone's ribs to reach their heart. She wonders if there was something similar happening those years when she was locked away at her father's whim, that kept Brother Tomat coming by the door to her quarters where she was locked away. He never really spoke, or made any overt noises, but he was out there. Just how she knew when he had come by she wasn't too sure, but she knew he did. She supposed the visits stopped when her father sent him back to the Order.
She rolls her shoulders, stretching muscles cramped from the night at the forge.
An ugly blade, for an ugly mood.
She slips behind a wooden partition, and quickly changes into a fresh set of clothes that she leaves here, and works on putting away the traces of her night. She looks at the dagger, before slipping it into a plain leather sheath and then tucking that into the small of her back, held in place by a plain leather belt.
Both Edan and Tomat should arrive shortly -- she dispatched pages last night to find them both and ask them to meet her here right around now. She quickly grabs some bread and cheese and sets it out on a table. Plain fare, but she also doesn't think that people will much feel like eating, either.
Edan arrives, wearing the trunks and belt that are so common in Rebma. It reinforces just how thin and spare he is, as if all the water were burned out of him long ago. That, and his cinnamon-brown skin, look completely out of place here. He wears no weapons. He inclines his head in greeting, and moves to seat himself at the table. "Cousin. Thank you for arranging this."
A few minutes later, Tomat shows up. He has also adjusted to Rebman clothing: he's wearing shorts and a shirt-like thing that's made mostly of metallic chains in a fine gauge with large opening, so it's light, and looks mostly like a large piece of metallic cloth with a hole in it for Tomat's head. There's a belt holding it around his waist. It drags a bit in air, but Signy and Edan can see how it would drag less than a cloth shirt in the waters of Rebma.
"Am I late?" he asks Signy. "I'm sorry." He looks to Edan, whom he does not appear to recognize. "I'm Tomat," he adds by way of introduction.
Edan stands and extends a hand, though the act is still uncomfortable for him. "I am Edan. Bleysson. I have asked my cousin Signy if I may speak with you."
Signy offers a brief smile of encouragement. "There are some questions that have come up about the Order, and we were hoping you offer some answers based on your time there."
"I'll be glad to help however I can. What questions do you have? I was involved with negotiating with agreed petitioners when I left the Order. I never was raised any higher in the Order's strategic counsels, so there are many things I don't know." Tomat looks from Signy to Edan and back again. "But I will tell you anything I do know, gladly. The Order will have named me an enemy for leaving with Marius; I have no reason to keep their secrets now."
"I am sorry that a powerful organization has named you enemy, but I was kind of hoping it would be like that. There are many things I would like to learn." Edan doesn't know how well Tomat reads people, but he suspects he's about to find out; he deliberately relaxes his own body language, or tries to. "There are things you will not know. There are things you do. There are things you might suspect. I would learn all of them. The Order has attracted our attention, lately, and I will share the circumstances with you, but I think it best if we started at the beginning. How did the Order start? What are its connections to the Paresh, who once dwelt in Amber?"
Tomat has to think about the answers to those questions for a moment before answering. "The Order dates to the ancient of days. Legend has it that the Order was originally sponsored by Oberon of Amber, but I don't know whether that's true, or whether that was an ancestral order of monks of whom Klybes, the founder of our Order, was once a member. The Order is tied to many religious foundations across shadow. I don't know the Paresh in particular, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn the Order had ties to them, or even received reports from them. The Order has wanted eyes and ears in Amber ever since Oberon banned the religious from the city."
Signy silently lets out a breath that she didn't realize that she had been holding.
"If Oberon sponsored the Order originally, what is their take on why they ended up getting caught up in the ban?"
Edan smiles at Signy. "It is almost exactly what I was thinking. An organization, it is not just created from air. It has a dogma. A belief. A goal. A...purpose. What was its purpose, at the beginning? If the man who sponsored them banned them, how did that purpose change?"
"With all due respect, my life is not so long that I could answer that question well, sir." Tomat looks at Edan curiously. "I would think the princes of Amber would know better why their father banned the religious orders, but that was many centuries ago. I do know that members of the royal family were welcome in our company of old. Legend has it that Prince Osric's wife, Princess Pastoral, was among them, and she died long before the banning.
"If I had to guess based on what I do know, the old Orders all have played the Game of Thrones, as the princes were wont to do. Both of you know the rules of that game as well as anyone: you win or you die."
Edan looks like he was about to ask about something else, but now he pinches the bridge of his nose as if he's getting a headache. "Osric was Reid's father," he says for Signy's benefit, "and I am willing to wager Pastoral was his mother. Tomat, the Order has our cousin Reid's body. Was he a member?"
Signy nods slowly at Edan's question, before giving Tomat an encouraging look. "And was there anyone else in the Family that they had ties to?"
Tomat looks back and forth between Signy and Edan, frowning as he picks through the pieces of his memory, rumors and legends.
"I know some of the Princes were in the martial orders. Legend has it that one of the sons of Oberon attempted to become a religious and was removed from the succession for his trouble. That might have been a part of the banning if it's true." He pauses to pick back through what he's been asked. "I don't know Reid, nor do I know a brother by that name. Sometimes people change their names when they join, though. If there's an image, I might recognize him, but--" and his voice is troubled here "--I didn't know everyone. There were many brothers who didn't come to the Chapter House."
Edan clears his throat. "Well, that's one small thing we may can settle. I know what Reid looks like, at least." With a cheese knife and a hunk of cheese, he rapidly whittles a likeness.
Tomat watches Edan work at the cheese sculpture until a likeness is completed. "As best I can say from this, I don't know or recognize him."
Edan nods his acceptance. "Very good. Let me switch, then, to the question of communication. I am under the impression that the Klybesian Order is spread out across shadow, yes? A Chapter here. An army there. A body here. How are they communicating? We are aware that the Order has taken possession of Trumps. I was not aware that such things could be used outside of Family."
"Most of the Order's communication is sorcerous, or messages delivered by the brethren in person, either along the Shadow paths or through place Cards," Tomat explains. "Only the most senior brethren I've ever seen have the Cards--Trumps as you call them--and not many of those. The cards they have are always of places, and not of the Order's sanctuaries. Just places close by. Anyone can use such cards, though I'm told that it's easier for those who have even the slightest touch of Amber blood, no matter how thin it runs."
Signy's eyes narrow slightly, though her voice remains mild. "Were there many who had Amber blood in the Order, do you know?"
Edan nods his agreement. "And these cards- if you were fortunate enough to see one used by someone in the Order, I'd be interested in knowing what the backs of the cards looked like."
"I've seen a couple of them, over time, in the hands of the seniors like Father Sebastian. They weren't consistent. The backs, that is." Tomat looks at Edan, then at Signy, then back to Edan. "They probably were gathered over time. As in, centuries of time."
He turns his full attention back to Signy. "Most of us have some distant Amber blood. It runs thin in most of the brethren, but if you want to ascend to any kind of higher rank, you must have enough to perform sorcery."
Edan nods again, and switches gears. "Do you know of a Klybesian monk known as the Turcopolier?"
"I'm not acquainted with the brother who holds that office, but I know what he does. He's the seniormost of the brothers who deals with the branches militant. Now they're mostly mercenaries," Tomat explains, "but there was a time centuries ago when we had martial priests among the Klybesians and we were closely associated with knightly orders.”
He’s still mostly looking at Signy.
Edan leans forward. "Now, that's interesting. These militant branches, they would still take direction from the Order, yes? This Turcopolier has Trumps that I need returned. I don't think a polite request will be sufficient incentive."
Signy returns his gaze calmly.
"And what was the relationship between the Turcopolier and the militant arm and my father?"
Tomat is still looking at Signy, so it's her question he answers first. "He did business with your father on behalf of the Order. I don't know all of the terms of the bargain, only that I was sent to train you in Sorcery and anything else you might need to know as part of it." Then he turns his attention back to Edan.
"The militant branches have, as I said, mostly failed, but there are still warriors, mercenaries if nothing else, who follow the Turcopolier and act on the Order's behalf. Sometimes a condotta captain will come to the Order with a request and bind himself for a time as part of his own bargain. In other cases, the Turcopolier hires them outright for a price from the treasury. True Knights militant are rare, though many of the brothers have a little sword or staff training, or a little martial magic. It's too useful not to have some of one or both."
Edan nods his understanding. "They are the place I must go, then. One more question: if this man, this Turcopolier, could be said to have a permanent place of residence, where would I find it?"
Tomat closes his eyes briefly. "The office attends the Father Superior, but our--" he pauses, and then emphasizes 'their'. "...their leaders may never see each other until it's time to elect a replacement for a dead officer.
"If you wish to find him, he is where the Order is fighting." Tomat glances at Edan. "You might do well to consult the Bronze Legion."
Signy frowns slightly. "What is the relationship like between the Order and Chaos?"
Edan smiles. He looks a lot like Bleys when he does so. "I can answer part of that, since I have already been to see the Bronze Legions," he says. "They say the Order wishes to recruit them for their strength and their abilities. The relationship might be somewhat strained, however, since they claim the Order raided a group of them to obtain the deck of Trumps I was looking for. Sent them back to the Mountain, they said. It is a... somewhat... dismal place."
"The Turcopolier conducts 'independent diplomacy'--" a phrase that Tomat doesn't air- or water-quote, but the way he says it suggests something of the same meaning "--so I can't be entirely surprised. A deck of Trumps is a valuable prize. It's exactly the kind of thing all parties--the Bronze Legion, the Order, anyone with cross-Shadow interests--would try to claim by force.
"Not that I'm asking for myself or the Order, but what price do you think such a treasure would fetch? Even if the Order meant to trade it away to a rebel Prince, or someone like your father, Signy, you can both understand the value of the deck."
Edan's smile starts to fade. "More than they anticipated, I am afraid," he says. "because I have been tasked with getting it back. The question then becomes, 'what would they take for it?' or in extremis, 'how much trouble will we be avoiding by returning said item?' I do not think the Order would have wanted to draw the Family's attention this way."
Signy gives a thoughtful frown.
"What would the Order have, though, that would get such a prize as a Deck? Would they be in a position to threaten to take such a thing?"
Tomat considers that, and frowns at what he comes up with. "Depends on who had it. I wouldn't put it past them if they thought they could get away with it. As for what they have--they collect things and knowledge, and have been collecting them for centuries from across Shadow. They're owed a lot of favors. Sometimes they exchange those.
"I helped them make bargains, but only for knowledge. Nothing so rich as a deck. The Order likes to say they bargain fairly, but they come in with an advantage. Anyone who seeks them out has already demonstrated that they'll go to a great deal of effort to obtain what they desire from the Order."
"They had to know we would come after a deck of Trumps," Edan says. "If it's that rich a prize to them, if they're that desperate to keep it, I don't see this ending well." He sits up. "Then again, there are still questions to be answered about cousin Reid."
Signy pauses, considering both Tomat's reply and Edan's.
"Surely The Order had to know given who they were...interacting with, that there were good odds that they'd get on someone's bad side. What were their plans for when that happened?"
"Wait until Amber's fit of temper blows over?" Tomat shrugs. "Losing one chapter house to a prince's fit of pique isn't that terrible of a blow to the Order at large. If the King wants that deck, he can be brought to the negotiating table for something the Order wants."
"That's a bold plan," Edan says, "but risky. You've described the best case scenario for the Order. Let me describe another one. The King decides the insult is too much to bear. One or more of us are sent to systematically dismantle and destroy the Klybesian Order until it is decided the price of a deck of Trumps is too high." His head tilts. "That is, under the best case scenario for Family. But we have many enemies who have made their appearance, neh? Why waste our strength on the Klybesians when there are so many others ready to take advantage of our distraction? The Order would know this. It might even have been planned that way." He leans forward, and his alien eyes lock with Tomat's. "Especially if the Order had made alliance with one or more of Amber's old enemies."
Tomat is silent for some long moments, in a way that Signy associates with an internal struggle to find the right words to answer one of her own difficult questions. He does not look away from Edan, though, he shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "If I understand Amber's history aright, and forgive me if I am wrong, or impertinent, but I speak of things as the Order sees them--the worst enemies Amber has are its own Princes, are they not? I speak not merely of the bitter politics of the court here, though the legends say that would be enough to derail or distract from the sort of effort it would take to get rid of the Order. But also, how many times has a Prince of Amber rebelled outright against the Crown? How many are in exile, or otherwise missing, now? Can you be sure all of them are truly loyal to Amber, and couldn't be swayed by what the Order could offer?"
Signy nods soberly.
"Did the Order have other arrangements with members of our Family, like the one you had with my father?"
Edan nods in agreement with Signy's question.
Tomat shakes his head in the negative. "Not to my knowledge--but given that I was deeply involved in the arrangement with your father, I doubt I would have been told more. I can't imagine that none of your aunts or uncles or cousins had come to the Order before Marius did, though. Especially if they had something that they wanted badly."
Edan nods his understanding of the response, but he doesn't look happy. Rather the opposite, as he internally follows several lines of reasoning to their logical conclusions. "I thank you for your candor," he finally says. "Now you know that the Order has possession of a deck of Trumps, and may or may not still have possession of cousin Reid's body. We're going to be wanting them back, and there will be those of us who will want the Order to answer for it. You already have heard or seen what the Family is capable of, when roused. Knowing this, do you have anything you would like to share, some form of advice, perhaps, along those lines?"
Tomat thinks about this, and looks to Signy for a long time before returning his gaze to Edan. "Consider these things, which I offer as advice, not as threats: the Order is old and deeply rooted in Shadow. It has many chapters, and exterminating several of them will do nothing to destroy the Order itself. Some of the Brothers are old and powerful in their own right, and the Order has allies and debtors that I know I can't begin to list. Not to mention the resources that they've hoarded across the centuries. I pray you, do not underestimate them."
"The wise man does not underestimate his opponent," Edan agrees. "Such a simple thing, but so often forgotten. I thank you, Tomat, and I will bring your words to the King. I thank you, Cousin, for permitting this interview."
Signy gives Tomat and Edan a thoughtful look. "What or who is at the top of the Order?"
Tomat doesn't bother to look at Edan. "I know there is--was--a bishop above my abbott, and there have been archbishops above that, but I don't know who they are, nor how to find them."
Edan simply watches to see if Signy has a followup for that. His expression is politely quizzical, as if thinking the Order sounds more like a collection of spy cells than a quasi-religious bureaucracy.
Signy pauses for a minute, considering what he's said.
"There were never any visits from the higher-ups to check on the Order? All organizations have politics. There were no brothers that would discuss the policies or...foibles of the higher-ups, or who the next bishop or abbot would be?"
Tomat shook his head. "The only time I ever saw the bishop, and that briefly, was when I was sent to your father. Sometimes we thought he must have come, because the abbott was not at dinner. I know there were other abbotts because I saw the abbott's volumes of letters from them and was told what they were, and of the possibility that I would be sent to another House of the Order when I completed my duties on the Plain.
"Now as for speculation about the next abbott, that was constant, but only among ourselves. The abbott had been in charge for many years, though he didn't seem to age as quickly as some of the other Brothers did. And some of the more--accomplished?--Brothers seemed as if they might be likely candidates to take his place if he were elevated."
Edan bows his head; when he lifts it again, he is using the Third Eye, something he wasn't willing to do before. He's mostly checking to see if Tomat has some form of geas upon him to prevent talking. He also will be looking to see if Tomat already has his own Third Eye open.
"The Order sounds less and less like a sacred organization and more and more like a spy group," he says. "No central dogma? No one knows who's in charge? The Chapters are far removed and half-hidden in Shadow? The problem with this cell structure is that they're not very effective unless someone has good communication with the boss. Or bosses. Otherwise, they're all off doing their own thing and working against one another."
He leans forward. "Perhaps I'm asking the wrong questions. Let's start simply. What was the name of your local Abbott? Where in Shadow is your Chapter located? A detailed description of the place and the environs would be sufficient."
Signy lets Edan speak, though she doesn't seem happy with what she's gotten in reply from Tomat.
"Did anyone in the Order remember Abbots other than the one you had? Was he promoted from the Order, or did he just arrive one day?"
Tomat is, Edan is certain, a sorceror of some power in his own right. He has some minor enchantments on his person, but they're all protective or of some miscellaneous use (for instance, one of his carrying pouches is larger on the inside). He does not appear to have any imposed sorcery or enchantment on his person. Nor does he appear to be using his own Third Eye at the moment.
He considers this round of questions. "Our purpose, our dogma if you will, is that we must gather knowledge. Because the order of the universe must be known, to perfect ourselves and make ourselves as the Unicorn would have us be. The Order itself must bargain for knowledge because some of it is deliberately hidden and obscured, not least by the scions of Amber. To the extent that they keep the secrets of the universe to themselves, they are inherently enemies of the Order. Do you see?" He pauses there for an answer before going on to the other matters Edan and Signy have questioned him about.
Edan nods. "I understand. In many ways, the Order are like marids."
Signy's eyes blink twice, before narrowing slightly in thought.
"Does the Order believe in Fate?" She asks him this quietly, but still stresses the word, makes it more of a real thing than an abstract concept.
"The Order believes in the Unicorn's power," Tomat says, looking at Signy. "But it also believes that there are those who oppose it. There's no guarantee that the Unicorn's way will prevail. It's why, or at least one reason why, the Order struggles as it does." He doesn't ask if that's what she means, but his voice is a little uncertain.
It takes him a moment to pull his eyes away from Signy and turn his attention back to Edan. "Why do you say the Order is like the marids?" It's a simple question; Tomat doesn't seem insulted by the comparison, nor unclear on what marids are.
"The marids I know are information brokers," Edan says. "They will go to great lengths, sometimes offering themselves into long service, in order to procure knowledge. Of all the djann, they are the most patient, and the most open to barter. The djinn are too capricious, the dao too secretive, and the afriti," he smiles a little at this, "too full of pride."
"The Order has dealt with the marids," Tomat says, nodding his agreement with Edan's assessment. "I can see the likeness when you put it that way."
Signy maintains a thoughtful look at Tomat's last couple of answers.
"If the Order is concerned about perfecting ourselves according to the Unicorn's wishes, how do they view the Unicorn's children and grandchildren?"
Tomat doesn't hesitate on this answer. "There are things you and yours know--or that the Order thinks you know--that you're withholding from the rest of the universe. The Order wants to know what they are. Once, sorcery was known only to the princes of Amber, but the Order learned it from your family in ages long past. The Order means to do the same with the rest of your secrets."
Edan sits back. "The Order deals in information, neh? If someone wants something the Order has, they must go to the Order and offer something in return. Has the Order not tried this tack with Family?"
Signy takes a deep breath.
"Take my Father -- was I the price for the Order, or the prize?"
Tomat shakes his head, rejecting the implications of Signy's question. "My service as your tutor in sorcery was the price he claimed for some service your father did for the Order, or something he created for them. I don't know what the other part of the exchange was. Nobody ever told me. But I was the one sent in exchange. Never you."
Edan sits and listens and politely waits.
Signy shakes her head. "It seems like the opportunity to get in close to one of the Family, especially one that was young, and teach them would not be something that the Order would have that much of a problem with. I don't see my father considering that to be a good price for one of his favors."
She leaves unsaid the thought that the Order would not have just sent someone out to such a role without any supervision or...other orders.
Tomat shakes his head again. "The price of tutoring in true sorcery is not cheap. Apart from the other work a sorceror could do for the Order over the time that it takes to train a young woman to learn the skills and disciplines. There aren't so many of us out there, save in the royal family of Amber, who can teach it. And your father was either unwilling or unable to go back to them.
"The Order wouldn't have been sorry to use me against you, one way or another, in due time." Tomat looks Signy straight in the eye. "But I was given no order with respect to you other than to teach, to learn about you, and to earn your trust. That I was spied upon to the extent the Order could manage is something of a given. But I obeyed the charge I was given, and did no more. I didn't understand until afterwards how they might use you, not until I saw how they meant to use Marius, and then when I had the chance, I fled from the Order."
"How they were going to use him when he came to the Order with Dierdre's ring?" She doesn't disguise the surprise in her voice. "What were their plans?"
"And how did they manage to spy on you in a place where a Sorcerous method could so easily be circumvented?" Edan asks.
"I don't know. I don't know the answer to either of those questions." Tomat stretches his hand across his face for a moment in a long gesture that ends with his fingers and thumb pinching the bridge of his nose. "But your father is a smith and a maker of items of power." That term seemed almost to merit a spoken capitalization. "Even apart from commissions of their own, there are many ways they could use him, and the knowledge he must have, to their benefit.
"As for spying--I assume there are secrets I was not privy to. One of them would be how to spy on people like me. Sorcery is one of the Order's skills, but not the only one."
"I am pretty much out of questions," Edan says, "but one thing caught my attention. The Order believes in, well, Order. And the Unicorn's power, as you said. Did that come directly from the Unicorn, some time in the past? Or, perhaps, translated from some individual, some prophet, who claimed to speak the Unicorn's will?"
Signy's eyes harden slightly at Tomat's immediate contradiction of what he had just said, but holds for his answer to Edan.
"The original texts were taken from the Church of the Unicorn. The one in Amber that was suppressed. The inner secrets of the Church live on in the Order, expanded." Tomat is still watching Signy, and his tone grows uncertain.
Edan was expecting some weird vibe between Tomat and Signy here, considering what he heard yesterday, but Tomat sounds nervous at times Edan doesn't expect. He looks back and forth between the two, trying to figure it out.
Signy's voice hardens slightly, and Weyland starts to creep into her voice ever so slightly.
"So you had no choice but to flee the Order because of how they were going to use Marius, but you don't actually know how they were going to use him?"
She locks Tomats eyes with her own and crosses her arms, waiting on his reply.
Stung, Tomat leans forward, not dropping his gaze from Signy's. "I didn't need to know exactly what they were going to do with him to know it was going to be terrible. They didn't mean to recruit him. They meant to use him, and he didn't bring much other than himself to offer. If he'd brought an army, or a blade of power, or some special skill or power like your father's, it might have been different. They might have been afraid of him. But he came as a suppliant, alone, and he’s not one of the princes of legend. You've traveled with him. You know what I mean."
"So the Order made Marius a sacrifice for Huon's benefit. Or gave him to Gateway to do the same. You can be damned sure Marius will have an army now. And he won't be looking to trade the Order information with it. Are you aware of what was done to him?" It is decidedly warmer around Edan now.
Signy leans towards Edan slightly but continues to hold Tomat's gaze. "It sounds like the Order is nothing so much as a threat in the Shadows, and our choices are to either hunt them down like rabid dogs, or always have to worry that they'll be around every corner looking to pick us off one by one."
She shifts her attention back to Tomat. "You may not have known exactly, but it sounds like you may have a bit of an idea as to what they may have been capable of." Her voice is quiet, but Weyland is still lurking in her tone.
"I don't know what you want me to say." Tomat still hasn't dropped his gaze. "I know I don't know all the secrets of the Order, any more than you know all the secrets of Amber. Do you have to know everything your elders can do to know when they mean to do something terrible? You know the legends of your father--how true are they? Would you trust him not to abuse someone who had something he wanted very much? If not, why do you tax me for doing the same?"
Signy sighs slowly and looks away for a moment, thinking, before turning back to Tomat. "I may not know what he is going to do, but I can make some guesses, at least as to what he is looking to get."
She sighs again.
"What was the Order afraid of?"
To Edan, it seems that this conversation is equally exhausting for Tomat.
Tomat's reply, when it comes, is halting; he's pondering his words carefully. "As the Order? Very little in the short term. In the longer term, that the house of Amber would do as you've suggested and hunt them down, before they obtain the mystical knowledge that will perfect them. As individuals--the Order breaks all ties of family, precisely so no one can be influenced by threats. But every man, every sorcerer, has desires and dreams, and equally fears that can be exploited. No man wants to die. No man wants to see his dreams destroyed. No man wants to have his chance at perfection destroyed."
"Some of the Family believed enough in it to join, if Pastoral is among them," Edan says. He looks over to Signy to see if she has anything to add about Weyland's plans.
Signy shakes her head in the negative in response to Edan's unspoken query. "I thought I had a handle on him, but after finding out about Dierdre and the Family and the Pattern, I'm at a loss for the moment as to what his goals were."
Especially with her is left unsaid.
"How many in the Order know of Amber, and of the Order's designs?"
"Everyone knows of Amber, and everyone knows that we strive to become perfect. The details of how we will perfect ourself are inner secrets of the Order, and we learn more as we increase in power and usefulness. And loyalty." Which part Tomat explains with resignation, finally dropping his gaze from Signy. "This is why I only know so much. After my time with your father, my loyalty was--not exactly in question, but considered to require confirmation and refreshment. I would still be in the Order's chapterhouse, with no hope of moving onward, had I not fled with Marius."
"Seems wasteful that the Order would send you on such a task, and then shelve you after it was finished," Edan says. "You never did tell me where this Chapterhouse was located."
Signy still seems genuinely surprised at Tomat's words. "And what happened that caused the Order to view you this way?"
"I don't know exactly. They made it out to be a standard procedure, but I knew it was a punishment. Or--if not a punishment, an unusual method of handling matters." Resentment colors his tone. "I might have expected to be sent on another assignment, or even to a different chapter house. But I was not, and was given no sign that I should expect a change."
Tomat stops there and turns his attention back to Edan. "But you asked where the Chapter House was located." He gives a description of the paths he used to go to the Plain of Towers--natural paths, apparently--a description that rings true to Signy.
Signy looks at Edan and nods in agreement to Tomat's directions.
She pauses then as the implications of his response to her sinks in. "Does this mean you know where other Chapterhouses are, or that there's couriers that move between the Chapterhouses?"
"I know some names, though I don't have accurate rutter directions to all of them. I do know the Abbott sent messengers to them through secret means that were kept in the depths of the mountain." Tomat seems uncertain of something about that last answer; not as though he's lying, just as if he doesn't understand the means that he's discussing.
Edan rises. "Again, thank you, Tomat," he says. "And you, cousin, for allowing me to ask questions. I will pass along what I have heard to Random. If you think of more, please send it along to him."
Signy rises as well. "Thank you, cousin. If the King has other questions he wants to ask, please let us know."
She doesn't look at Tomat, but also doesn't seem like she's quite ready to leave the shop yet, either.
Tomat rises with Edan, as the interview appears to be over—but then Signy does not immediately dismiss him and he’s left awkwardly standing as Edan departs.
As the door closes behind Edan, Signy finally allows herself to exhale deeply, her shoulders slumpling slightly.
"Thank you for doing this," she says as she turns back to Tomat. "That couldn't have been easy."
Tomat is still standing, a bit at sea after the length and depth (and breadth) of the discussion, or really, the interrogation. "It was necessary," he says after a moment. "If I am to prove my trustworthiness. The Order is opposed to your family, so I must prove that I have no more loyalty to them. Which is difficult to do when so much has been concealed from me, so that I cannot divulge it to you." His expression is tight.
"I am sorry about the death of your kinsman."
Signy nods distractedly.
"Thank you, though I never met him. His death did hit some of the others in the Family hard, though."
Her cheeks puff out slightly as she exhales.
"I have to leave Rebma briefly, to attend to something in Shadow, so I hope that this answered any questions that there were at least about where you stand in all of this."
She looks at him soberly.
"I do want to ask with Edan not here, though, if the reason you fell into disfavor with the Order had anything to do with me," she asks, not unkindly.
Tomat has an impulse to look away from Signy, which he visibly quells, so he's looking in the eye when he answers her. "I believe the Abbott may have decided I was likely to act in your interest if a conflict arose with the Order. I had spent long enough in the Plain of Towers, away from the brethren, that it was a concern." He shouldn't have to swallow thickly in Rebma, but Tomat does.
Signy swallows the question on the tip of her tongue for the moment.
"For you to leave with Marius makes it seem like there was no way to repair that bridge."
She pauses for a second, before continuing the thought she does voice.
"And was the Abbot expecting there to be a conflict?"
"Not that I know of. But I wouldn't, would I?" Tomat's smile is a little bitter. "So I must assume that they expected one, in the future, in the near enough term that my loyalty would be an issue. Or that I would tell you something that would redound to their discredit, or make life otherwise difficult for them. A prophecy that turned out to be self-fulfilling."
Signy shakes her head in confusion. "And they did nothing to try and bring you back into the fold?"
Tomat shifts restlessly. "They brought me back to the Chapter House and immersed me in the work, in the company of my brethren. I could obtain and use all the knowledge that I had lost--had missed--in my time on the Plain of Towers. I was given responsibility and access instead of freedom."
"I don't like having to leave now, but I have to go with Ambrose to look at something for him and unfortunately I won't be able to bring you or Red Fox Claws."
She pinches the bridge of her nose briefly, thinking that she might just be ready to see if she can go back into her father's Tower.
"Maybe it would be helpful if you could start writing down details about the Abbey and life in the Order, in case the details mean something to others," she suggests. "I should be back soon, and then we can see where things are at."
She looks at Tomat to try and gauge how he takes being left behind.
Not well, but not terribly. "If you think that wise. Obviously you must go where you will, or are bid by the Queen. If you wish a diary of my time there, as best I can remember, I will write one.
"As your sworn man, in your absence, I am under the protection of the Queen, am I not?" Tomat sounds a little worried about this. Apparently being questioned has rattled him more than he was willing to let on. "And Fox Claws as well?" he asks, not entirely as an afterthought.
Signy nods to the last.
"I will be making sure to remind her as well before I leave. She is a good person, and I trust her wisdom."
She gives him a reassuring smile.
"Besides, you can always point to your tutelage of the kids here at the smithy as your pennance for any misdeeds," she offers up drily.
The reassurance seems to do some good for Tomat; at least he's not as nervous about the idea as he had seemed. Or at least he's putting on a good front.
"I will continue to work with them, then, and await your return."
Nestled deeply within a ring of coral walls, the Lower Market seethes with activity - as vibrant and colorful as any living reef.
Boisterous hawkers offer up the sea's rich bounty; sponges, squid, crustaceans, and fish of every shape and size. Makeshift kitchens allow patrons the benefit of a quick meal, each serving as a tiny community of people. Daring fish dart around these diners, ever-hopeful for a spare morsel. Nothing goes to waste here.
Beyond the food stalls, dozens of shops of every ilk and size crowd together - their owners vying for business. Clothiers, jewelers, pharmacists, repairers, toy makers, wholesalers, and more. Like deep-sea predators, they use their wiles and glamour to lure in the unwary, siren voices leaving people confused and lighter in the purse. The cramped space drives some to attacking each other - exchanging harsh words that question parentage and intelligence. Patrons simply smile and enjoy the posturing show, rewarding those with the inventive vocabulary.
And so, as Edan drifts through this tide of humanity, it's odd that a singular voice rings out over them all. A siren call, otherworldly and delicate, woven with exotic words and harmonies.
When he rounds a corner, he discovers a small crowd circling a dark-haired woman and a young, male street musician. Although dress in Rebman garb - a sheer dress of sea-mist green - Edan immediately realizes she is from the Above. Smooth olive skin, and hair as dark as volcanic ash. As she sways in time to the music, the water around her lithe body shimmers almost imperceptibly, not unlike a hydrothermal plume. There's also something... familiar about her, a ghost-impression that nags at the brain.
When her song ends, the crowd applauds, offering up money for the performance. She politely waves it off; instead, making certain all the monies go to the young man. They briefly exchange pleasantries before she disengages and steps back into the crowd.
It's then her forest-shadow eyes find Edan.
A curious smile curls Silhouette's lips, recognizing another Outsider.
It is an easy task; for the man she sees is as out of place here as the burning sun. At first glance, he could be a twin to Bleys or perhaps Brennan; but his skin is a cinnamon brown, and he is as thin as if the sun had burned all the water out of his body. His eyes are a bright, molten gold. Even in the scaled shorts that are so commonly worn by Rebman men he is out of place; but he carries himself with the hauteur of a prince. Those curious passers-by drawn by the sensation of this alien man look their fill and then quickly move on, proving that he is certainly not the first remarkable foreigner in their memory.
Edan heads directly to Silhouette, ignoring the stares from others. He has the slightly confused expression on his face that one would associate with trying to remember something.
"Forgive me. You...look familiar. I feel as if I have seen you in another place, but I do not recall the meeting. Who are you?"
With all the allure and wickedness of an angler fish, Silhouette smiles widely. "I am whomever you desire me to be, my lord." She dips her head, chuckling. "But until you decide who that may be, you may call me Silhouette."
Edan's jaw drops; he distantly hears it click shut. "Then I have seen you another place. It was in Paris, at Lucas's funeral. I am Edan ibn Bleys ibn Oberon al-Kehribar al-Salaam al-Djinn-al-Ghanii. As I recall, you were Huon's envoy, and claimed to be Florimel's daughter, Eidothea."
Silhouette nods, placing her hand over her heart. "Sabaahal-khayr, Edan ebn khali. Eidothea Kabeiro ap Cadmilus is a name I've not used for many years." She cocks her head, enjoying his reaction. "Some day you may ask why."
She offers him her heavy bag to carry. Even in this aquatic medium, the fragrant nature of its contents cannot be understated. Musky, earthy, almost sweet - with a hint of mossy decay.
"Walk with me, and let us cleanse the Way between us," she says. A sly smile. "Unless you fear me to be a shedim in disguise, of course."
Edan nods his acceptance of the burden. "I do not know this word shedim, but I suspect I've been called one more often than you have. I should mention, if this is some badly-planned effort to kidnap me for Huon's benefit against my father, you will find me suitably prepared." Edan looks like he's only carrying a boot knife, but his words sound earnest.
Silhouette chuckles softly, lightly taking his arm. Her skin radiates warmth like sun-drenched brass. "How disappointing. Now whatever shall I do with the bindings I brought for just that purpose?"
She leads him away from the crowds - although that's relative when one considers the market's bustling population. "I am no longer in Prince Huon's employ. Whatever plots he has for your father remain his and his alone. So, rest easy in that regard." A slight smile, "And, as such, if you have intentions against him, I am not your avenue. We did not part well."
"I have no such designs. Either against him, or you. Whatever issues Huon and Bleys have, I am happy not to be in the middle of them." He gives Silhouette a sideways look. "So, then, you are a free agent? I had not heard of any vows made to Xanadu, but I have been away for a time. Perhaps you have pledged your loyalties to Rebma."
Silhouette lightly dips her head, "In a manner of speaking. I've offered my proper allegiances to our Kings and Queens, as the Grand Design dictates. And, yes, my loyalties are stronger to Queen Celina - as she allowed me to claim my birthright." A pause, weighing her words. "But, in truth, I still serve Creation above all else."
She cocks her head, "And you, Edan. Whom do you serve?"
"My allegiances are to Random, King of Xanadu and Amber, and Bleys, my father. As is proper. I am de facto Sultan of the Seven Tribes of the Dar-es Salaam, so my loyalty is still to them. As it is to all our family who hold the same allegiances that I do. In other words, if you have made vows to Random, and you call upon me for help, I will do all I can." A pause. "Not terribly long ago, cousin Lilly and I came across Ambrose, who was leading his people ahead of a pursuing Chantico and her army. Chantico is his sister, by Brand. Lilly and I felt a duty to lend our aid to Ambrose- he had made these vows to Random and Family, and she had not."
"She's Brand's daughter, then?" Silhouette says softly, almost to herself. "That may explain..." He voice drifts off, lost to the currents.
A slight nod, her hand squeezing his arm. "So, is that what brings you to Rebma then, Ebn Khali? Or do you have other matters to attend to here?"
"I came here to have words with cousin Signy, among others. And explore a little of Rebma, as I have not been here before." He turns his head towards Silhouette. "I was going to ask you about this Grand Design you had mentioned. But I would rather hear your thoughts on this Chantico."
"Ah, Signy, yes. We shared a forge once, and I was quite taken with her," Silhouette says with genuine respect. "Quite the craftswoman."
She guides them away from the crowds, down an alley flanked by walls of azure coral. From asymmetrical windows, Rebmans casually glance down at them like lazy eels inspecting their domain.
Her voices drops slightly, "As for Chantico, I know very little. She is likely involved with the Lady Dara - a Chaosian shapeshifter of some repute. Both may be supporting the former queen, Moire. Also, if she is Brand's Get, then I can only surmise she has traversed the Pattern at some point. Which may explain how her mother remains out of reach. If she possessed an army, it raises several considerations. Not the least of which, what her intentions are toward Rebma and her sister?"
"If you're talking about Chantico, she styles herself as a fire goddess. I doubt she'd be interested in...excuse me, who are you talking about? Who is her mother? I'm sorry, you'll have to be more specific with names."
Silhouette thinks on this, "Her mother may be Dara. Or, at least, that's what I can gather from discussions with our cousins. And she also has apparent ties to Moire, the former Queen of Rebma."
A distant look comes over her face, as if she is in another time and place. Her voice is mechanical, metallic as blood on the tongue. "'Chantico is a goddess of flame. She is my father's daughter in all his deeds, and has attacked me in the past in the hopes of mastering his legacy and destiny in Uxmal. Apparently she's moving on to a larger stage.'"
The tenor of her voice resumes its sensual undercurrents; an apologetic smile on her lips. "Cousin Ambrose's words, not mine," she explains.
Edan's mouth opens, then closes; he stops dead in the street for a moment, then continues. "Chantico and Dara. Clarissa hinted at the possibility. That Dara might 'eat' Chantico if she were no more use. Like Chaosi are wont to do with their affines, or progeny. I thought of Chantico as merely a tool; I did not have the wits to see the rest." He walks a few steps more and adds, "I do not think Chantico had walked a Pattern when I met her, but she may have since. I was not ready to take that risk at the time. It was one of the reasons why I did not try to kill her."
Silhouette sighs, "Pity. We may suffer for your mercy. But opportunities missed cannot be mourned. Only reacquired."
A faint smile, "Apparently, it was suggested that I am Dara and ate Flora's daughter." She cocks her head, "Can you Enlighten me further on your experience with Chantico?"
Edan shrugs. "It came down to a one-on-one fight between Lilly and Chantico. Lilly didn't know, I didn't know at the time, that Chantico had cheated; she wasn't completely there all along. Only part of her. So I drew her and her cronies fully into the fight, and eventually leveled the battlefield with an explosion.
"It has been mentioned, and more than once, that I should not have used fire. Chantico is a fire goddess, and I should have known she would survive. I counted on that knowledge; what I did was deliberate." Edan looks sideways at Silhouette. "I meant for her to survive. I do not know you, Silhouette. Florimel declared before Family that you are not her daughter, and she has not recanted that claim. But if she is wrong, if you are Family, then mark this well; killing each other is not tolerated. Even beyond Random's moratorium, it is not done. We may embarrass each other, injure one another, fight one another, even lock another up and burn out their eyeballs with hot pokers. But if you kill, the rest of the Family will line up against you, for all of eternity. Brand's death was something of the exception that proves the rule, but no one will ever look at or interact with Caine the same way again. He crossed the line that should not be crossed, even doing what had to be done.
"I gave Chantico a gift. I treated her like Family, because I knew she was Brand's daughter. I embarrassed her in front of her kin and her followers, hurt her with her own specialty. I stopped her plans. She will think twice before engaging me or Lilly again. But I did not kill her. If you are as you claim...that is our way."
Silhouette's expression shifts throughout Edan's description, from respect to disapproval and back again. In the end, she nods in appreciation. "Killing for me has always been a matter of causality," she admits. "So, it will take me time to adjust to the Family Way. But adjust I shall. Even if our adversaries - Family or no - do not adhere to the same conventions."
They turn another corner, entering a wide marketplace, one of refined tastes and people She appears to be heading them toward a shop - its windows are dark, no signs or symbols to reveal its purpose beyond a green door.
"You are a creature of Fire, then?" she says, a low, yearning tone echoing behind her words.
"Among other things. I am part afrit." He points to one of his eyes. "I speak the language of fire. And you? What are you a creature of?"
Silhouette pauses, considering her companion for a moment. "I am unsure," she admits. "And hesitant to guess."
As they approach the green door, she breathes out, as if under a great weight. "I once believe I was a daughter of Draig-Talamh. The Earth Dragon. But I am told such things are creatures of Chaos. Even mentioning such an association places me at risk. Beside, Chaos is... abhorrent to me." She looks into his eyes, "All I know is I died and was reborn in flames. And now, they hold no threat to me.
"Perhaps, I am a phoenix given flesh. But such an idea is better suited for legends, not cold truths."
"We are the cold truths from which the legends grow," Edan says automatically. "And if you know of the Pattern, then you probably know how to quash whatever rumors you hear circulating about you. For what it is worth, I didn't start any of them." He tilts his head. "What is this place?"
Silhouette gives a quiet laugh at his admission, but from a creature of steel and brass the sound is resounding, musical. "Well, I am certain many will pluck your thoughts after this meeting."
She opens the green door to a small airlock - another door offering egress from water to air, once room drains.
"This is my home. And soon my business," Silhouette says, stepping inside. "You shall be the first visitor. I would enjoy playing hostess, if you'd oblige me."
"Very well." Edan steps in with her. "I am interested in hearing of this dragon you mentioned, and of your philosophy."
After a thankful smile, she leads him inside the building...
Sometime later, they are on the second floor - a dry, desert-warm environment. Austere, the single-room loft appears to be more workshop than home. The dining area is little more than a table surrounded by four chairs, crisp settings placed before each. Currently, the contents of Silhouette's packages sit to one side, brightly colored bottles of ambergris.
The main area is dominated by several tables and bookshelves, as well as a workbench. While most of the tables are covered with scraps of fabric and sewing materials, the workbench hosts a canine-shaped construction of brass and wires and glass. Its blunt muzzle is lined with razored teeth, which gleam in the phosphorescent lights. Though lacking eyes, the empty sockets still seem alive - as if something is staring out from the metallic darkness.
A small area of two spongy chairs and a coffee table serve as the 'living' space. A Shatranj set sits on the table, its beautifully glazed pieces standing in perfect formation.
Beyond this, Edan sees the sleeping area, a space consisting of little more than a plush bed, a chifforobe, and nightstand. A Muk Yan Jong sparring dummy and mat floor finish off the area.
Silhouette is in the kitchen area, cleaning a batch of prawns for her royyala iguru curry. "I have some white wine from Paris, if you'd like to open it," she calls to him. "I have glasses as well. Perhaps it is unjust to Rebman culture, but one cannot appreciate enjoy fine wine out of a bulb's sphincter."
"I will try," Edan says. "Glass bottles of wine are not common where I come from. But I have seen the procedure done multiple times when I was in Paris." Mostly, Edan is hovering over the construct on the table. "Did you build this thing? Is it art?"
Silhouette glances over and smiles knowingly. "It's one of my Mechanika. A Hunter-Killer, to be exact. Do be careful of the teeth. There may be a trace of poison on them."
She drops the prawns into a marinade of garlic, turmeric, and sea salt. "I've been adapting its heart to burn materials more conducive to Rebma paradigms. Ambergris, in this case. Enlightenment always calls."
She cleans off her hands, and then fetches the vegetables. "Speaking of which... you had questions for me. Which shall I answer first?"
Edan shrugs. "That's easy. What is this Grand Design you speak of?"
Silhouette begins chopping the onions and tomatoes, "To explain the true precepts of the Grand Design would take far longer than we have. Briefly, it is the sacred duty of obtaining Perfection. The World is a Machine. And any Machine is only as great as the sum of its parts, and thus is invariably flawed. To obtain Perfection, these parts must be understood and tested. This may only be accomplished through Action. And Action is inspired by Purpose."
She sighs, "Regrettably, my recent Patternwalk has given me somewhat of a crisis of Faith. But Enlightenment comes when we least expect it."
"I am not unfamiliar with this crisis of Faith," Edan says. "My entire life, I was brought up to believe in the Merciful One. And then I discovered that he was but Shadow." He turns away from the construct. "But where does this dragon of yours fit in?"
Silhouette beckons him over, so she doesn't have to continue straining her neck while she cooks. As he approaches, she gestures to the bottle of wine.
"When I was a slave-child, I lost nearly all hope," she admits, unable to meet his gaze. "The death of my father and sisters, coupled with exhaustion and the beatings led me to despair. But when I could escape the barracks, I went to the foundry and watched the iron dragons in their final stages of construction. They were magnificent creatures of cold-iron and flame. Even incomplete, I sensed them stirring like children about to be born. Impossible, I know, for all their grandeur they were little more than automata of cogs and pneumatics. Yet, the more I watched them, the more I saw evidence of life. Idiosyncrasies of movement and function that hinted at individual personalities, dare I say... souls. Behind those glass eyes something looking back at me.
"And then one day, I had to adjust one of their mainsprings. There, deep inside the dragon's heart, I felt its presence all around me. A harmony of gears and wheels and steel that flooded me with its simple majesty. A wondrous impossibility that verged on the divine. That day, I knew that something lay beneath the veil of reality, an underlying Truth begging to be discovered. Being only human, limited to human words and concepts, I named it. Draig Talamh. The earth dragon."
She sets the food into the skillet. "And thus began my study of the Grand Design... and she was my teacher."
"I see." Edan looks down and away. "I tried to find God in mathematics. It sounds ridiculous, neh? But studying the essential formulae that encompass the Pattern and Order, I found room for God to exist. But I was wrong. The universe, as we know it, is held together by a brooding composer and a manic drummer. And beyond that is Chaos." He smiles, thinly. "The idea of a dragon, a creature of Chaos, sounds incongruous with something that sounds intrinsically Ordered."
Silhouette pauses in her work at the mention of mathematics, her eyes lighting up as if Edan has just recited the greatest love sonnet. Then, as with most things of the heart, everything turns to wistfulness - reality intruding like a cold wind.
She stirs the onions and bay leaves, "I know it is not wise to question our Elders, but I struggle with the concept of dragons being creatures of Chaos. They are the Aspects of Nature, which is the truest representation of Order. Then again, the unenlightened generally view Nature as being chaotic. And, I have not witnessed the dragons of which they speak. For me, they are more esoteric constructs defined by geomancy and other arcane studies."
A weighed silence, then she speaks in a hushed tone. "There must be something beyond the world-view of our Family. I cannot believe that Creation is little more than the imaginings of a vain and hollow people, each blinded by aeons of self-righteousness. Where I seek Enlightenment, all I discover is half-truths and veiled threats." She glances over at him shyly, "I fear there is no room for a gnostic in this murder of crows."
"Many of us are searching, one way or another." Edan's head is bowed, but he still manages to look at Silhouette with a sideways glance. "My search has ended. My proofs were incorrect. Overall, I found that all I was doing was limiting myself with rules that did not apply to me. To be one of us, that is to embrace a whole different set of rules." He smiles, slightly. "Perhaps you will be more fortunate with your own search. May you find what you seek in that regard."
"Thank you, Edan," she says, dipping her head. A gentle smile curls her lips. "And what do you hope to find? Enlightenment? Purpose? Although one search has ended, you must begin a new one. Otherwise, you invite Stagnation into your heart."
The smile broadens, "I ask because you remind me of myself in many ways."
"Oh, I have enough to keep me busy for a time," Edan says. "I have tasks Random has asked me to pursue. I have projects of my own, that take some occasional attention. I have to take time out to appreciate some of the gifts that have been given to me. How do I remind you of yourself? I would say that I am far different than almost all of my cousins."
Silhouette begins stirring in the shrimp, "Even though the previous laws of Creation no longer apply to you, I sense the desire to serve something greater than the Family. Order, perhaps? Not the manic precepts our cousins and parents pretend to dominate, but the Truth behind the facade or Reality." She flips the pink shrimp, "Even Gods can answer to higher powers."
"There are members of my Family that would disagree with you," Edan says. "They would say our only limits are within ourselves...or each other. You're looking for an answer to it all, a secret Truth behind the universe as you see it. As I did. I did not find it. Any answers I seek at this point, they will be within myself."
"Or the Patterns," Silhouette offers. "And the Mysteries thereof."
A simple shrug punctuates the last statement before she removing the food from the heat. She gathers two plates, spooning jasmine rice onto them from a rice-cooker in perfect mounds. The royyala iguru is added next, a colorful, fragrant juxtaposition against the white. She carries them to the table, setting them down. "Tell me, how far do our Familial Laws of 'mercy' extend? Only to Blood? Or are our Intimates equally protected?"
Edan joins her at the table, makes a gesture of gratitude for the food, and holds a chair for her. "First off, have you walked a Pattern? I would not do it again. It is like a great storm that blows through your entire universe and could kill you without pity or remorse. I would not take that chance, unless my need were greater than my desire for life."
She sits, smiling at him in thanks. "It was a taxing venture," she says, the mechanical tone of her voice doing the task no justice.
He goes to the wine he opened after Silhouette is seated (OOC: if she does, or we can adjust) and pours. As he brings the glasses back to the table he adds, "As for Intimates, I am not sure what you mean. Many of us have others in our retinue. To interact with them, I was taught to first call upon those who are responsible for them. Let me give you an example. There is a man, named Chi-lin, who once was a vizier in the Land of Peace. He visited much suffering upon the tribes of the Deep Desert, who were under my protection. I heard that he was in Amber, and under other circumstances I would have killed him there; but I also heard Brita was responsible for him. So he remains alive, simply because he is under my cousin's protection. Does that answer your question?"
Silhouette nods, "It answers the core of the question, yes. As such, I will need to reexamine certain permutations. And further confounds me in some regards."
She spears a prawn and pops it in her mouth. After delicately eating it, she continues. "Query. Hypothetical. If you knew a person with Familial protection would cause the Family great harm would you preemptively dispose of said person? Or would you allow said person to cause great harm, and then allow the Familial to deal with them?"
Edan only slows a second on the way back to his own seat. "I suppose," he says slowly, "that would entirely depend on the nature of the great harm, as well as the person under protection and the person protecting them."
Silhouette waits for Edan to sit, "Let us say that someone's continued existence would lead to war, and possibly damaging one of the Patterns. Possibly even the murder of a cousin. But the perpetrator is the paramour of an Elder."
Edan raises an eyebrow at that last. "Ah, so. Your thoughts are going the direction I expected. I hope you have proof."
"Proof?" Silhouette says softly. "We're speaking hypothetically, are we not? I'm simply adding certain perimeters to the questions."
She dips her head, "However, yes, if such a situation existed, I would acquire proof prior to Action."
Edan frowns a little. "So you have...a hunch? Were I in such a situation, I would wait. Only if I had proof, would I go to that Elder. And I would tread carefully."
It's Silhouette's turn to frown, "Thank you. But I assure you, if Action is required, there will be more than enough proof to justify it." She sighs slightly, "All causalities would need to be examined, as well. I will not make the same mistake I did with..."
A trouble line etches her perfect brow. "Huon has not - nor will - give up his vendetta against your father. A million deaths are not enough for our uncle. Only the One will satisfy his bloodlust."
"I won't wish him luck," Edan says. "That is between my father and Huon, and Father is aware of where Huon is and what danger he represents. I am not involved unless someone brings me into it. Or if Huon succeeds, which I am sure he is well aware of the case for vendetta on my part. Until then, it would be an insult to my father to assume he could not take care of himself."
He is casual and pleasant about it, but Edan waits until Silhouette eats and drinks before trying his own food and wine. "This is delicious."
Silhouette smiles brightly, "Thank you. It's rare that I eat, let alone cook. So sharing a meal with good company is a cherished gift."
She eats with polite grace, more interested in Edan's enjoyment of the food than her own. "Do you know what began the vendetta between your father and Huon? I did not realize it was such until too late. Otherwise, I would have refused his patronage. But now that I am associated with this conflict, any Enlightenment you offer is welcome."
Edan shakes his head. "Huon earned royal displeasure to the point that he is not spoken of. I believe my father was given the duty of either watching over Huon, or driving him away. Or both. I do not know the details."
Silhouette raises a brow, "And what does he say of me, I wonder? Considering your initial reaction to me, it cannot be... positive."
Edan looks momentarily confused, and then he says, "I see. The royal displeasure would have been Oberon's displeasure, so I could not ask him. He is dead. But for what it's worth, Huon earned Random's and Celina's displeasure as well. Just not as much of it, apparently. You've spoken to both Random and Celina, neh? What is your opinion of your own standing with them?"
Silhouette sets her fork down, thinking on this. "I believe Queen Celina has grown fond of me. She sees beyond my past associations and activities to the woman I've become. For the moment, we must remain distant in most aspects. I serve her from the shadows. And shall continue to do so, as I believe she is a Potential.
"King Random's feelings are difficult to assess. He has been benevolent, accepting, even protective at times. But I am a comely woman, and he is... Random."
"Perhaps he knew all along that you were Family," Edan says. "Or not. I've not tried to understand him. Each time I've met him, I felt like I was being tested, somehow. The first time, we played drums and I danced." His head tilts a little. "What do you mean by Potential?"
"In the Grand Design, there are Potentials," Silhouette explains. "In simple terms, they are avatars of Change. Their actions resonate through Creation and move it closer to Perfection. They are like living hinge factors, if you will. Turning points in history.
"Celina is one such Potential, and because she is connected to the Pattern, her influence will be wider felt."
Edan looks like he's about to say something, but stops. "If you have walked the Pattern, as you say, then I think you should learn the Maths. Then I think you would see that history has no turning points, only branches that go different directions in the web of probability and Shadow. My father would be able to say it more eloquently. But let's start simply. What would you think is Perfection? And what if someone else's perception of Perfection is different than your own?"
"The underlying principle of Perfection is encouraging and maintaining the Greater Good," Silhouette says. "The Greater Good promotes societal harmony, Enlightenment of the masses, and the unification of the Whole toward the betterment of Creation. It provides Purpose and inspires Order.
"However, one must recognize that Perfection is an unobtainable goal. Creation can always be improved, otherwise society will fall into Stagnation. And the Greater Good does not and cannot provide Perfection for all. Some must suffer for the Greater Good to be maintained. Those who promote Disharmony must be brought to heel, or better yet... utilized as a unifier for the Masses. Society must have an Adversary."
"The need of the many outweighs the need of the few," Edan says without emotion. "And if you're not with us, you're against us. Tell me about Chaos, and why it's so bad."
"Order - like any Machine - cannot function properly when exposed to Chaos," Silhouette says immediately. "I do not speak of randomness, the purview of Nature. That form of chaos is an inherent part of Order, and can be of great benefit.
"I speak of True Chaos. Entropy. That Which Destroys Without Purpose. Unconfined, it can bring dissolution and ruin to all Creation."
She sips her wine, "Have you heard of or encountered Dara? She is a manifestation of what I speak."
"I have not encountered her personally," Edan says, "but I have heard the stories, especially what happened at the Coronation Ball. I have met other entities of Chaos. Dragons. Lords. It has been my experience that this manifestation you speak of stems from the attitude of individuals, not their origin. Are you aware of the history of our Family? And our ancestry?"
"Very little," Silhouette frowns. "Huon offered up only pieces, and they were tainted with his prejudices. The remainder of the Family have not illuminated me as to our past. I know there was a Great War of some kind that destroyed our ancestral home. We've made numerous enemies, including the Moon Riders. And that we are descended from a man called Oberon. But beyond that, nothing."
"Oberon, yes," Edan says. "He was my father's father. Sire to all our elders, including Huon. Many of whom intermarried and bred with those of Chaos." He smiles, just a little. "I am of Chaos, descended from Clarissa. She named me a Lord of Chaos and of Order, and I will accept that title."
Silhouette raises her gaze at this, "You are of Chaos?" A sad smile touches her lips. "Then, I suppose, I should not feel entirely guilty poisoning the prawns. I promise, it will be painless. Almost restful."
She sips her wine, hiding the grin behind her glass.
"And I thought it was the curry," Edan says. "I hope you kept some extra, though. If you are of the Blood, then chances are..." He lets the rest drop. "Did you walk the Pattern here?"
Silhouette smiles, "So, Chaosians possess a sense of humor. Intriguing. I wonder what other traits you possess."
She sets her glass back down, "But, yes, as to your question, I walked the Pattern here. I'm curious about the others. But do not intend to attempt them in the foreseeable future. Which did you traverse?"
"I walked the Pattern at Tir-na Nog'th," Edan says. "I would not want to attempt any of the others. One was enough."
"The Ghost City?" Silhouette says, her tone unconscionably dubious. "Tell me of it. How did you avoid the Riders and their Queen?"
"It was some time ago," Edan says. "The Riders were not in Tir at the time, at least not that I saw. Are they there now?"
Silhouette shrugs slightly, "To that, I am unsure. Apparently, the King has forbidden any travel to the Ghost City, much to my academic disappointment. I wished to see the City for myself; one of the reasons I agreed to be Huon's representative." She smiles gently, "What is it like, if I might ask."
Edan has finished his food, and is sipping on his drink. "Why mention the Riders if you haven't been there? The City of Dreams is...well...it is like the Shadows. Having walked the Pattern, you now have the power to walk to whatever you can dream or imagine. Tir-na Nog'th is like a piece of Shadow in the sky. Whatever is in your head, conscious or subconscious, you could encounter it there."
Silhouette rises to clear the dishes, "I've been told that the Riders intend to return to the City. And this might be a concern. But, as you point out, much of what I am told by the Family is... clouded by opinion."
A wistful smile, "I would very much enjoy to travel there. To encounter my dreams... yes, I find that very appealing."
She returns from putting the dishes down to soak, "Did you find your dreams there?"
Edan's eyes are unreadable gold coins, and his smile is enigmatic, for him. "I found myself. My subconscious is a strange, wondrous place. When our Elders visited the city in the sky, they usually did so to receive visions. It is argued that these visions were really the manifestation of their own inductive reasoning, but who knows? Perhaps they were subtle manipulations by some outside force. What about Rebma? How did it affect you?"
"In many ways, I experienced a similar self-discovery. Although, my visions were more nightmarish from the sounds of it," she says, gazing off distantly - remembering. "The Pattern stripped away many of my preconceptions and beliefs. Or, maybe, it provided me the strength to escape the comforts of self-delusion. Whatever force underlies that realization, it cleansed the Way. But is not that the essence of Water? Purity and Intuition."
She tilts her head, smiling. "The flames forged me. The Pattern tempered me."
Edan smiles in return. "That, I think, is about the best description of a Pattern walk that I have ever heard. Congratulations. Cousin." He stands. "If you find yourself in Xanadu, look me up. Perhaps we can discuss the differences in the Patterns that we have walked."
Silhouette stands, extending her hands to him, palms up. "I would very much enjoy seeing you again, Edan," she says, savoring the name on her tongue. "Thank you for your company this evening." A smile. "You are welcome here whenever you desire."
Celina waits for Brita in her office while tending to a long list of requests from Families of the City.
When the scratch comes at the door, she calls, "Come in Brita."
The door swings in to reveal B'nath. "Your Majesty, the page has not returned with your Cousin yet. However, the Archivists ask for more time to narrow down the matter of the funeral attendants."
"And the Tritons have your message about the request for battle histories. There was no return response. Shall I ask the Heirophant to the palace?"
"Oh no," Celina shakes her head. "I'll go there if we hear nothing by tomorrow. I actually like getting out of the palace." When B'nath inclines her head in silent permission to withdraw, Celina waves her fingers with a theatrical walking motion and smiles. "Send Brita when she arrives, even if someone else is with her. And we will need some light edibles."
The Queen goes back to her lists once she is alone.
A short while later, there is another scratch at the door and B'nath ushers Brita inside when bid. Brita is carrying a large bag. She greets Celina with a head bow and "Queen-Cousin, I had Thought to give you a Choice of Medium for Your Trump." The bag disgorges several shells, coral chunks, and small pieces of slate. Most of the shells are fairly flat with fluted edges, but there are a couple of long ones with pearlescent insides. Brita picks up a piece of slate and pulls out a dark stick of charcoal. She begins to sketch as she continues, "I Can of course Do a Traditional Paper Trump, but I Thought You Might Want One that was More Durable - Like You." Brita smiles slightly, although she is still focused in her sketching.
Celina comes to look at the many materials in the bag. "How interesting. Yes, why not?" She examines the shells and admires the heft of the rock types. Her hands flow and dance over the offerings, testing each sample and then moving through them all again. Finally she takes up a dark piece of slate and licks it. She smiles. "From common clay, under pressure and ordered heat, given a dark smoothness, layers of rough scarring can make it more beautiful and warm." Celina laughs. "That's me all right." She looks at Brita. "But not as durable as you."
Brita's brief smile is more of a grimace. "I Feel as if I Have gone Through Ragnarok Again. I Feel Adrift and Alone....and afraid." She shakes her head. "And So Very Angry - Ready to Drown Those Responsible in an Ocean of Acid." The charcoal stick snaps in her hand, pieces floating and darkening the water until she waves impatiently at it to disperse the bits.
Celina draws much closer but moves slightly behind Brita where she will not interfere with the artist's arm motions and the sketching. She touches Brita lightly on the neck. Her fingers trace the muscles there, following the tight anger in Brita's body down her back. "We create. We define our lives, or we are defined by our enemies. Anger creates more anger and less definition of what we need to move past the agony."
If Brita does not resist, Celina brings up her other hand and traces tight shoulder muscles on her cousin. "I am often afraid. When asleep, I have nothing to solve, nothing to fix, nothing to keep my hope up. So the nightmares start. Yet living in a nightmare is still living. Still creating. Better than the alternative. Fear can be a blessing. It shows your weaknesses to you. Anger is a subtraction of your own Ordered Will, unless you are Gifted with Clarity within your Anger."
Celina starts to massage Brita's muscles, easing the dammed energy into Brita's blood and frame to redistribute. "You are not alone. Your brave words build the bridge. I walk across it and embrace you."
Brita tenses at the first touch, but does not shrug it off and eventually relaxes for the massage. "Better than the Alternative. Yes. My Anger is Definitely Not Clear." She shakes her head. "I Must Move Forward. Keep to the Pattern and Move Forward - Never Stop. Our Will will Bring the Chaos Created by These Enemies to Order. It Will Be So. We Will Make it So." Brita smiles over a shoulder at Celina with a shark-like grin. She turns back to her sketches and gestures back to a seat. "Come sit so I can Capture Your Image. The Slate is a Good Choice for You, I Agree. It will be Easier to Paint On as Well. I Am Planning on Going With Cousin Ambrose when he Travels to My Mother to Work on His Translation Endeavors." She throws in the last as she continues to sketch.
Celina works Brita's muscles a bit more, occasionally tapping a TaKhi point to make sure the paths are clear. Cousin Brita has an impressive physique. As Celina finishes the brief massage. She marvels at how many of the things Brita has said often run through her own thoughts at night.
And why not? They've both chosen Never Stop over the Alternatives.
Celina moves past Brita to the seat. "Can an artist make a Trump from a Trump, Brita? If this work of yours was stolen---could a Trump artist make another before the original was retaken?" She sits down arranging her limbs as if she was going to have a morning of Court. Those mornings can be long and her pose is one she can hold all day if she has to.
"Unlikely. The Image is Flat and gives one Little Information about the Personality, the Essence of the Person. I Suppose Grandfather Could Tell what the Artist Intended in the Strokes and Decipher the Meaning Behind It, but I Doubt Others could. Knowledge of the Artist may also be Necessary to Interpret the Trump. It is Why I Cannot just Copy Another's Work." Brita has pulled out another, slightly larger slate to sketch on.
Celina swishes that idea around in the water for a bit. "So if I want a Trump of me in the booth at Xanadu and one in Paris and one in Avalon, then I'm asking you to do this favor three times over. That is a lot of work. I'll understand if you have to leave before you can accomplish all that. Ambrose told me that he needs to work on his Translations before the mechanisms break down." Celina watches Brita's hands moving and limning away. "What favor can I return you for this Trump work?"
Brita looks up quickly with a startled expression. "I do Not...," a distracted look crosses her features. "Trump Contact," she says as she sets the slate aside and rises, reaching her freed hand out to Celina. "Who Calls?" Brita asks the aether.
Celina's expression shifts from surprise to a fierce look. She stands and steps to Brita and takes her hand. Her other hand digs into a hidden pocket in her tanga and she readies three bead crystals.
The contact with Ossian feels cold and clear, like a mountain stream in the spring. A whiff of sadness can also be felt.
"Ah, Celina also. " Ossian says "Greetings my cousins.
"Since time seems to be important, I will try to stay brief.
"Brita, there is no way to say this gently. I went through shadow looking for Reid, but I was too late. We do not know who killed him, but we know the Klybesian monks greedily held his body. It is in Xanadu now."
Celina relaxes her defensive stance.
Brita, conversely, tenses back up. "Master Reid's...Cousin Reid is in Xanadu," Brita seems a little relieved. "Cousin Edan had Relayed The First News. He Said Some Were Sent to Seek Retribution. Were You One?"
"Yes. Me, Raven and Jerod." Ossian pauses.
"We recovered the body, but there are still Klybesians around that need a lesson. I will try to investigate more. A certain monk called Chew seems all too interested in collecting tissue samples of Amberites."
Celina's emotions at Ossian's comment about Chew spike through the contact. She's appalled and then very angry. "So you gave a lesson, but feel the lesson is incomplete? Do you have further authority from King Random to investigate? Do you need help?"
"Yes, yes and yes. It would be unwise of me to go there by myself. Not that I am wise."
Brita's emotions feel like a suddenly becalmed sea. "Samples of Amberites." She repeats. "Could the Samples...." She becomes very focused on Ossian, "As a Fellow Artist, Do You Think Live Samples would Retain the Connection to a Trump?"
"I have no idea, but the thought has occurred to me. That would be disgusting, wouldn't it?" For some reason Ossian grins. He then turns somber again. "I think we should ask Merlin. There is the distinct possibility that just making the call would kill the sample."
Celina looks sideways at Brita and then again at Ossian. She wrinkles her nose. "I do not support a universe where Trump is so enamored of Contagion that Trump links to inanimate flesh. Ossian, beware of traps. These monks are experienced with Family retribution. They certainly have a ....contingency for pursuit. You should not follow into shadow alone. If Jerod is still available or working on this, that would be better. Have you heard from Brennan? And who is Raven?"
"Raven is a new cousin. Random-approved, of unknown lineage. A sea-captain I think. I just spoke with my father. He needs you to contact him as soon as possible."
"If You Speak with Cousin Merlin or Grandfather, Ask Why a Trump would Remain Cold for One Deceased. Who Will You Need to Investigate These monks?" Brita asks.
"I'm not picky. I got Jerod last time." Ossian smiles wrily. "But preferrably a sorceror."
"Perhaps Cousin Edan Could Assist or Cousin Ambrose - but he Plans on Decoding His Father's Writing. I am Not Skilled Enough - Was Master Brennan Available?" Brita asks.
Celina bides a moment waiting for that answer.
Ossian shakes his head. "No. His siege seems not to be going well. He wants you two to call him. Preferrably Conner too, if he is close. Do you have a Trump of my father?"
Celina responds, "No, I have no trumps at all as yet. Do you have one you could lend us?"
"I Have sketches and could Make a Sketch Fairly Quickly," Brita notes.
Ossian nods somberly "He did seem to think it was urgent. I do have a sketch that I could lend you. I hope it survives the transfer." Ossian suddenly has his trump deck in his hand.
Celina holds up a hand, "Wait." She smiles, squeezes Brita's arm. "Brita is wise in this. We are in the waters. Your generous offer touches my heart Ossian, but keep your sketch for when it's value is most assured. We shall contact Brennan when we may if Brita has time to work a sketch here. We hope to talk to him soon. Meantimes, I think Conner should very much like to hear your story. If you are leaving to further explore this matter of Reid and the Monks, give me a day to mention this to Conner. He certainly will have advice even if he does not have time to help directly."
She looks at Brita and then back to Ossian. "If that suits."
Brita nods in concurrence.
Ossian nods too. "Work quickly, Brita. He might need help. And if Conner knows things I will listen. I need all knowledge I can get."
Celina nods once. Ossian can feel through the connection she is satisfied. "Expect Conner to get in touch then."
Ossian nods: " Take care, lovely cousins."
Celina shakes her head. "So much going on. And a lot seems to be resting on your shoulders, Brita. I'm glad you came to Rebma and will be sorry to see you go."
Brita smiles. "My Shoulders are Fairly Sturdy. Shall I Will Work on a Sketch Trump of Cousin Brennan first? I Will use the Slate for Both Your Trump and the Sketch to make them Viable in the Rebman Environ."
Yes, I've noticed the shoulders. Celina nods and smiles. "Please. Brennan says something is urgent and he needs to talk. This can only mean a situation fraught with complexities and third order dangers. Let's put his needs ahead of mine."
Brita nods and states "I Will Start Now." She proceeds to do just that, pulling out colored oils and beginning on an image on the slate. "I will Need a Space that is Part Air as well," she notes. "Some of my Studies of Master Brennan are On Paper." She appears to be working on the general shape, first outlining an area that quickly becomes a shirt followed by the shape of the face and hair above.
Celina nods once. "We have such an Air Chamber. And we'll move there when you are ready. I'll make arrangements." Celina moves off to get food and drink sent to the Airy Chamber in the palace. She'll also send a Triton messenger to Conner, even if he is doing rounds in the City, he should be found.
The message is: "Brennan may need assistance. Ossian has asked for your help. Direct communication maybe within the palace soon."
Conner will pretty much drop everything and seek out Celina when the messenger finds him. He arrives at the airy chamber carrying a slate in one hand and a piece of chalk in the other. He takes a moment to adjust to breathing air once more and then enters fully.
Celina has changed to casual clothes and orchestrated a sideboard of food. She nods and welcomes Conner. Brita appears to be hard at work with papers and tools and slate.
Conner nods to them both. "Your message was most intriguing, Cousin. What have you heard about Brennan and Ossian?"
Brita waves a hand holding a pencil at her brother although she does not look up from what she is doing. She has a fairly deep basin of water next to her and her other hand is in the water. She puts her hand with the pencil in the water, glancing back at her open sketchbook. Then, after a few minutes, she dips her face in the water as well although only for a few seconds before glancing back at the book.
"We spoke with Ossian, who gave us the news again of the death of Reid and recovery of his body from the Klybesian Monks. Reid's body is now in Xanadu awaiting farewells." Celina begins with the most difficult parts of this and describes the party sent by Random to recover the body. She does not skip the details of how Reid may have been in a lab for 'sampling' by the monks---or that almost all the monks escaped through shadow, and that Ossian speculates they will need to be brought up short as they are taking such liberties.
Conner's hand tightens around Halosydne's hilt as Celina describes what Ossian found.
Then she switches to Brennan's request for communication. "And Ossian said Brennan's siege in Avalon is not going well and he hopes to talk to you and I. To which I speculated that Brennan would not say he needed to talk to us, or that things were 'not going well' unless the implications were very serious. Ossian did not disagree or offer anything else. Though Ossian did say he is willing to take help in going after the Klybesians to learn more and he mentioned you.
"So Brita offered to immediately work on a Trump sketch of Brennan." Celina crosses to Conner and hugs him. "Welcome back."
Conner didn't realize just how tense his muscles were until Celina's embrace caused him to relax a bit. "It is good to be back but from the sound of this news, I shall soon be away again." Conner sighs. "Though I think it more likely it will be Avalon rather than wherever Ossian is bound much as I would see these Klybesians punished."
"I understand," Celina says softly. "And it is Avalon that can more closely impact Rebma, so I do not disagree." She looks over her shoulder at Brita focused on her work over the piece of slate. "She knows we are here. She's just been very focused."
"I have not been here for her as I should have been." Conner murmurs softly looking over at his sister. "Professional hazard I suppose. I would think she'd be answering Ossian's call honestly."
The trump drawing will, Brita advises them, take a number of additional days.
Brita works on her sketch, keeping at it for the remainder of a ten-day. She finishes, and the sketch is properly cool to the touch and should be usable to reach Brennan. Brita wonders if it might be slightly less durable than she had hoped, but it should certainly work, for now.
When Ossian gets to his room at the palace in Paris, he pulls out his sketch book, and flips up a page with a picture of Silhouette he has been working on. He adds a few more brush strokes. " Not as beautiful as the real thing."
Then he shrugs and touches the sketch lightly with two fingers. "Cousin."
A moment later, the familiar coolness of the contact opening touches him. Silhouette tentatively smiles. "Ossian. You are well, I hope. I've missed you." She sits at a workbench, wrapped in a sheer nightgown. A spot of oil caresses her cheek.
Ossian smiles. "We are separated all too much.
"I hope I am not interrupting your work." Ossian obviously tries to figure out what she is working on. "I have some news."
The bronze construction resembles a child's toy - if said child embraced psychotic tendencies. Its serrated teeth slowly shut and open, too much like a shark's mouth to be coincidence. Glassy eyes move back and forth, as if searching for something. Its metallic guts are exposed; Silhouette likely working on its timing mechanisms.
Ossian smiles. He probably likes the thing.
"Your company is never an interruption, my poète maudit," she smiles, cleaning her hands with a rag. "Do you require transportation here, or must you remain where you are?"
"I must remain here for at least a few hours. I think Uncle Corwin would be quite disappointed otherwise." Ossian looks sad "As much as I would like to talk with you about art and construction, I sadly have more urgent matters to discuss. Have you ever met the Klybesians?"
Silhouette's smile dissolves, "Yes. I am familiar with them. They murdered our cousin, Reid, and have been a thorn in the Family's side for some many centuries. Blood mages, possibly. Interested in our physiological make-up for some dark Purpose. Uncle Corwin and I were discussing possible strategies for dealing with them. Have you learned more of them?"
"I wouldn't say that the murder is proven. But they have been very interested in tissue samples. Both from Reid and other family members. And they have had all too much to do with my upbringing." Ossian scowls for a second.
"Jerod destroyed their monastery, and they fled. I followed them, very probably to the hospital were Corwin was held.
"Did you come up with any ideas for dealing with them?"
"We need a decisive and unforgiving strike against their core leadership," Silhouette says. "However, we have much to learn of their intentions and capabilities prior to the strike. Otherwise, the opportunity would be wasted. We're dealing with an enemy well over fifteen centuries old.
"Corwin and I discussed placing a spy within their ranks. Or allowing the captured member of their Order to escape and follow him to the source."
She cocks her head, "Do they have your blood, Ossian?"
Ossian frowns again "If their interest in blood is not newly found, I should say yes. Although only from when I was a child, which could matter. I have to consult Random on that one.
"That is, I have not given my blood to them, but they were responsible for parts of my upbringing."
"That's unfortunate," Silhouette says softly. "Will your former association with them be a benefit or a hindrance to subsequent actions against them? Even during my incarceration, I had close friendships with some of my masters. Enough to mourn their passing."
Ossian shakes his head, smiling. "I was too small to remember them and they worked by proxy. So I guess it's neither.
"I do intend to go back there to investigate more. But maybe I should await the developments here in Paris. Anyway I'm looking for people stupid enough to join me." He grins.
"Ah. So, when you considered potential simpletons, my name came to mind," Silhouettes says. "I'm flattered."
A sly smile curls her perfect lips. "What are your intentions, my poète maudit?"
"I was in the basement of Greenwood hospital, but chose to retreat. Probably a wise move, considering how dangerous the monks are. But I think the place could give us more leads. I'm not sure how to proceed, however.
"And in the end I want to obliterate the order, or transform it utterly." The last is said with more passion than is usual for Ossian.
"Then I am with you," Silhouette says. "We shall track these monks to their source and eliminate them as a threat."
She pauses, weighing her words. "You do understand the weight of my involvement in this, Ossian. I do not believe in half-measures."
Ossian laughs. "That suits me well. I will volunteer us then."
Then he smiles "Last time I confronted the monks with Jerod...who certainly have a flair for destruction. But I believe we will be a better team. And prettier too."
Silhouette smirks, "Destruction without fashion sense and perfect teeth is pointless."
She dips her head, "I will request an absence from the Queen. Will you be speaking with other cousins?"
"I will. But I suspect many will be busy. This is only the first leg though."
"Very well. I believe the sooner this matter is resolved the better," Silhouette says. "I await your next contact." A smile. "And it is good to see you again."
Silhouette's investigations of supporters of Moire--various nobles and their underlings--lead her to many different characters as time passes. One of the most prominent, and elusive, is a gentleman named Lamell, a close confidant of the now-vanished Princess Rilsa. If anyone has any insight into where Moire is likely to be, Lamell would be it.
Rilsa, Moire's daughter (and mother to Jerod) has retired from Rebma to a shell in the Seawards, Rebma's equivalent of the Golden Circle, and Lamell is one of the agents left in charge of her extensive dealings (financial and presumably otherwise) in the city. Reputation makes Lamell one of the few mere males who dared to speak to Rilsa as anything like an equal. He was one of Jerod's tutors, a sorcerer, and a Knight of the Coral, one of the knightly orders that paralleled those in Amber.
During her investigations and her time in Rebma, Silhouette has made a number of connections who could offer introductions. As a Patternwalker and a Lady of Amber (or Xanadu, or however she claims to introduce herself), Silhouette could bypass the formalities and simply summon Lamell, or invite him to the palace herself--he is intimately familiar with the place.
How does Silhouette go about meeting with him?
After making some preparations to receive guests, Silhouette sends Lamell an 'invitation' to her home within the Lower Market, delivered by her current triton assistant - Leal. The intimidating creature is ordered to remain until an answer is provided.
Written in wax:
Ser Lamell. I am Lady Silhouette ap Cadmilus. It has come to my attention that your scholarly skills are without equal in Rebma. A statement confirmed by members of my Royal Family. As such, I would employ your services as mentor, so that I might learn more of Rebma's greatness. Enlightenment is the greatest currency, and I reward its gift generously.
Please accept this invitation to my home, so we might speak further of this possible arrangement. If you would prefer another arrangement, my assistant will convey your request.
The triton returns with the same piece of wax, now cleared and written upon with a spidery hand.
I am currently in the employ of your cousin Conner, attempting to protect him from the many charlatans in my profession. If I may be of assistance to you, you may call upon my skills at your pleasure.
At the moment, I must tend to a particular potion that cannot be brewed without constant attention. I beg your indulgence, and I will attend to you at 4 bells tomorrow, if that is convenient for you.
Silhouette waits for his arrival, respecting the need to complete one's Work.
At the appointed hour, Lamell arrives, and is shown to a sitting room in Silhouette’s home in Lower Market. He fits the typical wizardly description of a spry old man, save for that he wears the traditional braces and scaled short pants garb of a Rebman. His eyes are bright and alert, and he seems to be doing a good job of inspecting Silhouette’s furniture without doing anything so gauche as standing up and looking at it.
Silhouette is informed of his arrival.
Silhouette enters the room, taking full advantage of the airy environment by wearing an exquisite blending of Parisian and Rebman fashion. She smiles at him in welcome, patiently waiting while her assistant sets out green tea and a selection of amuse-bouches.
When they are alone, she sits and offers him some tea. "Ser Lamell. Welcome to my home. And my thanks for accepting my invitation. I do hope your alchemic Work met with success."
"Thank you, Lady Silhouette." Lamell bows to a degree that Silhouette can tell is calculated perfectly to her rank in royalty, which she might gather he already knows, either from his association with Conner or from other sources. "My efforts were a success. I hope I can be equally successful in whatever work I perform for the royal family."
Silhouette smiles, "Of this, I am certain, Ser."
After they've served themselves, she sits back and regards him with her unwavering stare. "Like you, I wish to serve the Royal Family to the best of my abilities. At this time, however, I find myself wanting in certain Aspects of Enlightenment with regard to Rebman history and politics. And this is why I seek your aid, in particular.
"I am keenly aware of the gender differences in Rebma. Being male, you've earned your reputation, rather than having it simply provided you. As such, your perceptions and observations are more valuable to me. And, I suspect, they are unfettered by prejudices attributable to the body politic." She blinks mechanically. "Am I correct in this?"
"I have several reputations, My Lady, as do all who make a ripple in the sea around them. Amongst the magicians and wizards attempting to climb to power in the pearl of cities, I am thought to be a problem. Amongst the courtiers and ladies of high position, I am a rude man who does not know my place. Amongst the royal family, I am a tolerated and useful servant, both for my skills and for the rudeness aforementioned."
Lamell opens a small, silver case, and takes out a cigarette. He offers her one as well.
The sometime court wizard taps the end of the cigarette and it lights as if he'd touched a match to it. The smoke heads out the window and the cigarette does not have a noticeable odor.
Silhouette takes the cigarette, nodding in thanks. She mimics his display - although, more than likely, through means different than Lamell's. She breathes in the heat and smoke, sighing happily.
"No one is without prejudices, My Lady. One who is completely without such is without a frame of reference will never make connections or see patterns. The ideal is to be able to know your prejudices and know when to use them to your advantage and when to set them aside."
Silhouette smiles at this, "Indeed. It is a refined skill, to say the least. And, I suspect we fall under the same trappings when it comes to societal perceptions. Yet, is it rudeness or simply unwanted truths mistaken for vulgarity?"
She taps some ash away, "So, speaking of prejudices then, how do you perceive the current changes in Rebma? With historical comparison, if possible. Also, allow me to preface, you may speak freely and without concern that your words shall reach others. I honor my confidences above all else, including Family."
Lamell chuckles. "I am not so much of an archivist as an inventor. I know little of history, except where it suits me or provides me information I can use. As to my demeanor, I make up for rudeness by being absolutely useful to those who need someone like me and are thus willing to protect me.
"I take risks, My Lady, but they are calculated risks. For instance, I am, despite evidence that his family is not in favor, in the service of the Prince Jerod. This has not kept me from helping the Duke Connor with his projects, nor would Jerod have discouraged me from doing so.
"This is, My Lady, an old court, built on intrigue and rumor and desperate deeds done in the darkest of tides. The late Queen's security agents were ruthless, and amazingly independent, and not even the royal family could protect themselves at all times."
The magician takes a long drag on his cigarette. "Not that I am going to completely rebuff your offer, but please don't treat an old man who has thrived through all the changes in Rebma as if he were dry-behind-the-ears.
"So perhaps you wish to make me an offer and see what my terms are rather than ask me to speak freely. Speaking freely so seldom is, you see."
Silhouette nods, "Good. Everything has a Cost." She drags on her cigarette, the ruddy light reflecting in her dark eyes.
"I question your characterization of Moire as being 'the late Queen,' or her agents being in the past-tense. Her memory and influence drift on the currents like blood, and I wish to find the source before other sharks do.
"You can help me in this." It is not a question, but a statement.
"This shared discovery would benefit us both. So, name your terms."
Lamell nods. "Her being dead would be too convenient. For free, I'll tell you this. Those agents of hers are going to be your key. Find Bend and you either have the Queen or you have a path to her.
"Here's my price. Spare Bend, and I'll help you."
"A fair price," Silhouette says. "And I shall not inquire as to your reasons for this request."
She taps the final ashes from the cigarette, "Tell of the Bend and how they may be of assistance to me."
He blows a particularly elaborate smoke ring, inside a toroidal bubble, and then snuffs out his cigarette. "It's a matter of public record. She’s my daughter.
"She and her brother, who is dead, spent years being the Queen's most trusted troubleshooters. They were connected, powerful, and ruthless. If she is protecting the Queen, then the Queen is well-protected. If you wish to contact the Queen, Bend would be your best option for doing so."
"I see," Silhouette says, nodding. "You know her manner, I hope. What is the best way to approach her in this? Will she place the Greater Good over Loyalty? Otherwise, it may be difficult to fulfill your request."
Lamell blinks, slowly, and replies in measured tones. "Please don’t misconstrue my price as a request. I am not looking for a 'best effort' here, but a success. We don't have a deal unless my terms are met. If it were easy, I wouldn't consider the offer. If it's too hard for you, then you may need to offer to act as go-between with someone who can meet my terms."
He moves his hands with a smoker's reflex, as if he expected to have a cigarette in his fingers.
"Your biggest obstacles will likely be Prince Martin, Queen Moire, and Bend herself. Possibly the current Queen if she won't grant Moire her life.
"I hope you didn't think you came to me with a small problem."
Silhouette offers a thin smile, "Not at all. If it were small, it would have been solved by now."
She stubs out her cigarette. "Do not mistake my Intent. Your daughter will be spared, whether she wishes it or not. I'll make certain of that." The edge in her voice could etch glass.
"The Queen's heart remains untempered, so she'll be easier to deal with. However, my cousin Martin remains a mystery. What obstacle do you believe he will pose?"
He sighs. "They didn't tell you much, did they? Martin killed Bend's brother, Montage. I believe it was a bad combination of the Prince holding a grudge and the little sh*te deserving it."
"The breadth of my Family's abridgement possesses an epic scope," Silhouette nods. "Do Martin or Bend still hold a grudge against one another? I'll need to know, as Bend will be my responsibility from this day forth."
"You'll have to ask them. I know of no reason they would forgive each other's assorted trespasses. And they're both as stubborn as sea-turtles."
Lamell looks at her, slightly impatiently. "As you're one of them, you have magical communications and transport that I'll never be able to duplicate. You'll do well to use it."
Silhouette nods. "Indeed. I'll require some idea of where Bend is located at the moment. Or have word sent to her that I am extending my protection to her. The sooner we meet, the sooner I can fulfill my promise to you."
"I have no idea where she is, but mirrors are going to be your best tool here. I have a way to signal her to call me. You'll be able to see and talk to her, but not reach her. It's the best I can do. I can't guarantee she'll answer, just as I can't guarantee she's alive, but I believe both of those statements.
"Are you ready?"
Silhouette nods lightly, "I understand. What must I do?" Secretly, she prepares to defend herself. She has little intention of becoming the next victim of Mirror Magics. But the opportunity to witness its use cannot be overlooked.
Dolphin I would like you to act outside the normal palace channels to see how much you can learn of Loreena's movements after my coronation. I'd like to know if she ever left Rebma. How did she leave? If you find indications she is still here, I'd like you to puzzle out where she is and with who she is working.
Conner has ultimate coordination of these efforts.
If you agree to these responsibilities, come to the palace and discuss with Conner and I. This is not a capture mission. This is a puzzle to be solved for the health of the city.
Silhouette arrives at the palace in short order, dressed in the attire of a Rebman noblewoman. She is accompanied by an unpleasant-looking triton - its face a piggish mass of scars and malice. With a nod, she silently dismisses the creature.
"My Queen, you desired me?" she says, curtseying.
Celina restrains a laugh and manages a smile. She wags a finger at Silhouette to acknowledge her wordplay. Celina walks around Silhouette once checking her couture. "Is this your own work ....I hope. I like it. Very conservative and at the same time, harkens back to an older regime." She nods once. "Walk with me. I'm going to see Conner and Brita. A Trump to family is in order. It certainly shall be educational."
And as they walk, Celina will put back on the mask of court formality.
Silhouette falls in beside her, "Thank you, my Queen. And yes. My current work draws upon classic styles; a touch of glamorous remembrance. Thus far, this vintage styling appears suitably popular amongst the nobility."
Celina speaks to Silhouette, but she does not turn her head, there would be no seeing her lips from long views in any gallery above or behind. "You should understand clearly that the treasure I'm asking you to find and tally is precious and not to be damaged. I would treat harshly with you if this went badly despite your best efforts. I would have to."
Silhouette offers a thin smile, "You wound me, my Queen. I am no mere assassin."
Celina arrives at the airy chamber in response to the message that Brita is done with the Trump. At her shoulder is Silhouette dressed like a head of house in Moin's court.
Before meeting Silhouette, Celina did send a message to Llewella, saying such Trump contact would be possible if he Aunt wanted news from Avalon and Brennan. Celina more than half expects Brita, Conner, and Llewella to be here ahead of her.
Brita is lying on the floor with her legs propped up on a wall. She glances back at the duo as they enter and, sighing, gets up off the floor. "I Finished the Sketch, but it is Not what I Wanted. It Will Work, just not As Long. I Need to Find a Fast Shadow to get the Trumps Completed."
Silhouette curtsies to Brita, "Cousin."
A page girl scratches at the door, then enters with a message for Celina. “My gracious Queen, the Princess Llewella has taken a brief visit out of the city to see an old friend. I must send her regrets for your invitation. She will be informed of your invitation upon her return. Regards, Cloisonné, personal secretary to Princess Llewella."
Celina nods and sends the page off with no return message. She crosses to Brita and mirrors her stand. "But Brennan is an elusive subject, isn't he? We'll do just fine. We'll just tell him right off that our conversation may be shorter than expected. He'll be glad to hear from us at all." Celina smiles at Brita and then turns back to Silhouette.
Celina gestures to include Silhouette, "Brennan went out to Avalon to scout for trouble. Ossian told us by Trump that Brennan needs to speak to Rebma, which implies that he found trouble. We'll wait for Conner before making the attempt."
Silhouette raises a brow, "Are you certain that he desires my presence during this discussion, brief or no? We are not... close."
Conner enters at this point in the conversation. "My apologies for being fashionably late, cousins. I was trying to find Edan to invite him in on this conversation but I could not locate him. Perhaps he is still adjusting to the new environment." Conner grins. "It is a big change after all."
Silhouette smiled warmly as Conner approaches. "Edan briefly mentioned traveling to Xanadu when last we met."
Celina directs a huge smile at Conner just for lighting up the room. "Edan may have already left, he told me he needed to continue his tasks and could not linger. And Llewella cannot join us today." Celina looks to Silhouette and addresses her question. "I cannot answer for Brennan and whether he wants you in a Trump connection. However, look at it this way: Brennan requested Rebma make contact. Rebma invited you to the conversation. There is no conflict unless you craft one." She quirks an eyebrow humorously, as if to say, 'want to start something?'
This draws a soft chuckle from Silhouette. "As always, I defer to Rebma's wisdom."
Celina looks around at her cabinet, "Shall we allow Brita to start?"
Brita relaxes slightly when Conner enters and moves to his side. "We Need to Not Build Dams Like Our Uncles that Impede Each Other," she notes to Sillouette before she lifts the slate in her hand and begins to concentrate on it. Her free hand moves to hover near Conner's sleeve - allowing him to make contact as he will.
"Cousin Brennan, it is Brita in Airy Rebma with Others," she says as the image begins to shift. "Are you Free?"
Conner takes Brita's hand and lends his mental strength to the task of reaching Brennan.
Brennan's image forms to show him walking through the interior hallway of some cramped, fortress-like structure carrying.... something... over his shoulder. Too crooked to make a good spear, too jagged to be a tusk. He does not appear to be in a brilliant mood, but when the contact firms up he mouths, "Bide," and continues walking-- probably past his original destination, turning once or twice and finally entering a room and closing the door behind him, locking it if it has a lock.
The room is private quarters in somewhere comparable to Amber's level of technology and style-- rough stone walls, flicker light from a fire, a narrow uncomfortable looking bed and a positively cramped writing desk. As he enters, Brennan glances around quickly-- and, Conner and Brita may be able to discern-- with the third eye, to make sure nothing is amiss.
(Like someone on the other side of the wall listening in, but hopefully Brennan and Jellicoe don't share a wall.)
"Cousins," he says, in a very low voice, almost a whisper. "You're two of the three people I need to speak with, but while I have some time, I have little latitude. I trust my son reached you?" He gauges Brita's reaction, in particular.
Brennan, for his part, is about as non-descript as he can make himself-- a three day scruff of growth that one would be hard pressed to categorize as a beard or not, hair cut short enough that the shock of red isn't quite so apparent, serviceable but non-descript armor which he starts to remove. And all of that layered with trail dust and the grime of recent battle. It's clear, though, that as a scion of Oberon, if he looks this way, it's because it suits his purpose to look this way.
Celina remains poised until it is obvious Brita invites her.
As Brennan walked the halls, Brita had glanced up at Celina and Sillouette, a nod and crooked brow inviting them in. When Brennan finally focuses on Brita, he will likely note her standard braid is a mess and she looks tired, her brief smile of greeting a pale shadow of Conner's. "Yes, Your Son Reached Us," Brita is whispering in response. "Two Other Cousins are Here and would Hear Your News."
Celina moves and touches Brita on her other side from Conner, thereby opening to the Trump.
Silhouette lightly touches Conner's wrist, opening herself to the contact.
"And now we have all three," Brennan says, still in that voice barely above a whisper. "Brita, you have my condolences. Let's make sure everyone starts on the same page: What news did Ossian convey?"
Celina summarizes, "Ossian told us Reid was dead, his body held by Klybesian monks, led by a monk called Chew. Reid's cause of death was unknown, but the monks performed analysis and subtractive tests. Family returned the body to Xanadu. Edan said several Family tasked the monks in retribution and Ossian confirmed this. They did not give specifics. However, Ossian asked for a sorcerous Cousin, if available to aid tracking down the monks." She pauses then, "Edan has left here. Ambrose prepares to leave on timely business. I think Brita will be going with Ambrose. Llewella is not in Rebma at the moment." She stops, leaving space for others to comment or correct.
"Glad I asked, then," Brennan says. "There's more. He must have been in a hurry. This Chew is definitely a person of interest, as he ran afoul of Martin and Folly some time back. At least some of the Klybesian facilities are connected by shadow paths. At least one of those is a facility called Greenwood, which had a part in holding the King of Paris. By Ossian's account, they have at least one Sorceror. And by 'subtractive tests,' I take your meaning to be the tissue samples that were removed from Reid's body."
Those come one after another, followed by a pause for digestion. Into that silence, Brennan adds, "Just so we understand the gravity of the situation. If anyone knows anything more, no matter how trivial it seems, now would be a good time to share."
"Cousin Signy Knows one of them," Brita notes. "Others Spoke with him. I... I have Hope that it is Cousin Jerod that Goes to Deal with Them. Our Best Sorcerors Should Go." She is not pleading for assistance, but the question is in her eyes.
"And what of the rebel from their Order?" Silhouette inquires. "Unless this 'Chew,' is the rebel in question. Uncle Corwin and I discussed utilizing this rebel as bait. After extracting as much information as possible from him."
Conner frowns slightly. "It occurs to me that while we left the questioning of Signy's pet monk to Signy and Edan I have heard nothing of the results of that meeting. Has anyone here?"
"I have not," Celina answers looking peripherally at the other's faces. "The lapse may be mine. There was a lack of time for Ambrose and Signy to prepare for their trip, certain elements are time critical. I did not follow up with Signy---expecting to speak to Ambrose and she before they left." Celina pauses, "Tomat is the man's name. I believe he has sworn as Signy's man. We can follow up on this later. Tomat's situation is for Signy to determine."
"Ah, yes. Tomat. I had almost forgotten about him," Brennan says. It doesn't sound as though Tomat will be forgotten again. "I might have liked to speak to him, perhaps to evaluate him as a Sorceror. It would be interesting to know, for instance, how the Order even knew of her existence, that they attached a retainer to her. Whether or not tissue samples were taken from her as well."
Brennan's hushed voice grows steadily tighter and more controlled as he speaks.
"And I would know how my son came to be found in a Klybesian orphanage. So perhaps," Brennan says, "it is for the best that someone else handled that interrogation."
"Perhaps, though I suspect we would all actually know the results of the questioning had you performed it." Conner grumbles. His slight frown remains unmoving as he send his thoughts into the contact. "I shall make a point to track one or both down to ask a few questions."
"Do not forget Meg," Silhouette adds. "She and Ossian were in the same orphanage. Even considering our gravitational 'attraction' to one another, it is highly suspect. It would not be outside the realm of possibility that their blood is now in Klybesian possession." She pauses, weight the political correctness of her next statement. "May I ask, considering the potential threat posed by these agents, should we not define the limits of our questioning now, rather than later?"
"Yes," Brennan says. "Yes, we should." His tone is still calm and controlled, but the words are clipped.
"Ossian raised the point more generally, that they appear too often for simple chance. It seems very likely to me that there is a connection to Family for at least some of them. Where and how that connection began..." he shrugs. "Two thousand years ago, a hundred years ago, unknown. But it explains much. It does not explain how my son ended up in one of their orphanages." Anyone who cares to observe it can see Brennan's jaw muscles twitching as he pauses.
"We-- all of us-- don't yet know exactly what we're dealing with. Most of us are ill-equipped to do so. This needs to be coordinated with Xanadu and Paris," Brennan says.
"Rebma makes effort to keep Paris and Xanadu involved. I do not object to coordinating a response." Celina offers quietly. "We move through shadow in groups as possible." Celina does not speak ironically to Brennan who left Rebma alone. She's just letting him know she stays wary of ambush of resources. "Let us assume that the matter of limits is a joint answer from the Family thrones. Something we will resolve as soon as possible. What else is on the table for us right now? Do you need more from Rebma where you are?"
Brennan breathes deeply, and makes a visible effort to make his paper-thin veneer of calm sink to at least the full depth of his skin. He achieves at least some level of success. Tense, but some measure of something that might be called calm. Celina's question he answers directly: "Materially? I would request a Trump of you, or permission to have one made if possible. I understand the gravity of this request."
While Celina formulates a response, he turns to another cousin and says, "Brita... do you understand why I will not take up arms at this time?" Very tense, with some measure of something that might be called very calm.
"Perhaps the Same Reason I Must Not?" Brita asks and her eyes are a blazing green fire. "Now, I Would Rage Across their World and Lose the Trail to their Heart and Hearth. And I Want That - their Heart - More than I Want the Immediate Revenge. I Will Be a Tsunami - Pull Back from the Immediate Fight to Completely Overwhelm them When they Least Expect."
Conner smiles briefly at his sister's watery imagery and he gives her hand a squeeze. "I presume your current situation also precludes a swift change in course." Conner thinks to Brennan. It is not quite a question but is definitely an invitation.
Silhouette raises a brow, speaking in an indifferent tone. "Might I ask why butchery is not in our best interest? Diplomacy and exile have done nothing to dissuade the Adversary. After fifteen hundred years, perhaps it is time to send them a definitive message. Crush them utterly and prevent them going to ground by removing any ground with which to retreat to. Blood for Blood. Continued acquiescence will only embolden them further."
Celina watches Brennan to see if he will react further. However, Brita can feel from the physical contact with Celina that emotions within stir and curl like a complex current working at a set of foundations. Sadness, anger, and somehow the feeling that Rebma's queen is trapped.
"Whose blood will you shed, Silhouette Florasdottir?" Brennan asks, coldly.
"Any and all Klybesians involved in these blood rituals - if they can be called that," Silhouette states. "How deeply ingrained this 'interest' they have in our Family goes, I cannot say. That would need to be determined before any decisive action. Locate their leadership, determine their communication and logistic structure, and uncover their true Purpose. However, the longer we hesitate, the greater risk those of our generation and the next will become lab rats."
She shrugs, "That said, discussion of military action may be moot, at this point. Cousin Jerod has already destroyed one of their monasteries. If history serves, the Klybesians will flee and obfuscate their current activities. For decades, if need be."
"But you've said it yourself, Silhouette," Brennan says. "It's not outside the realm of possibility that our blood is in their possession. Think this through to its logical conclusion. They have and use Shadow paths. They have and use Sorcerers. They show up 'too often.' They prey on isolated and unknown Family members. This facility that Ossian found was in your mother's Shadow, the one where your brother was raised."
Brennan lets that hang in the air like a horse thief, before putting it out of its misery.
This catches Silhouette's attention, but she allowed him to continue.
"Should we go rampaging through Shadow, can you be assured that no unknown niece or nephew of yours will be killed?"
Silhouette says. "You do not strike me as the rampaging type, Brennan. And I, for all my capacity for violence, do not kill indiscriminately. If we - and our cousins - combine our efforts, I believe we would reduce the chance of unfortunate casualties." She glances at the others for confirmation.
Conner nods. "Brita has a gift for sniffing out family after all." Conner smiles at his sister. "Given the chance we can separate the wheat from the chaff."
Celina shakes her head once in negation, her expression is neutral. However, again Brita can easily read (through the trump connection) that she holds no hope that Conner and Silhouette are right about casualties being controlled once they start.
"It is a Risk to Rely on My Senses - a Threat may Not be Discernible by Blood Alone," Brita notes.
"It's a risk to rely on any gift that is not understood," Brennan agrees. "But should you choose to lend your gift, it may prove decisive."
His attention snaps back to Silhouette and, peripherally, Conner. "Make no mistake-- I want this group to be unmade, perhaps to be made into something else entirely, or perhaps into nothing at all. But, 'butchery,'" he repeats her word back to her. "Perhaps this word carries a different connotation for you. And 'reduce' is not 'eliminate.' What is your plan? And what is your plan for failure?"
Silhouette glances over at Celina, a glint of something in her forest-shadow eyes. Regret, perhaps. Hesitation for stripping away the veneer to reveal the true creature lurking beneath? Whatever it may be, it is snuffed out as quickly as it appears. "At the moment, Ossian and I intend to investigate one of their former bastions. Hopefully, we can learn where they've retreated to, as well as their capabilities and what their intentions truly are. They remain a mystery to us. This fact is far more dangerous than their more overt activities. I wish to identify any and all allies to their organization. As you've mentioned, they have the ability to move through Shadow. That speaks of someone of Power. We do not wish to wake a sleeping giant. At least, not until we are ready for it.
"Once Enlightenment is acquired, their infrastructure can dismantled accordingly. Leaders must be killed or reformed, as well as those who spring up to replace them. Any safe harbor or partnership will be deprived of them, as the fox cannot hide in a burning forest. Finally, if they cannot be reformed, the Fifteen Law must be employed. Crush them utterly, in body and spirit. Not only to prevent their return, but any future versions of them as well." She smiles at Brita, "Rage across their world, as it were."
Silhouette straightens, "Enlightenment before Action will reduce the chances of failure. That said, if we do fail, any possibility of their return must be dissuaded. Propaganda and prejudice are excellent tools for accomplishing this. And such dark seeds are easily sown and tended.
"Even so, any plan I formulate at this point is hollow. We do not know what we're dealing with."
"Not knowing what we are dealing with seems to be the crux of so many matters." Conner points out. "I find myself wondering if one group of information brokers might be a gateway to another or even if they are one and the same. In the Land of Peace, there was a Marid I bargained with for information about the Tritons. He too was interested in information about the Family either for its own sake or knowing the trade value of it. That might be another avenue of approach."
"You're right," Brennan says. "For perhaps the first time in this conversation, we are agreed: We Do Not Know Enough." He chews each word off carefully. "That is the first and most important reason that butchery does not serve us, convolved around the possibility of Family involvement. And that convolution is what makes coordination with Xanadu imperative. When considering your plans for failure, consider the result of accidentally killing someone's son or daughter or brother or sister. You can not say you were unaware of the possibility." Brennan holds her eyes long enough to make clear that he is perfectly, humorlessly serious about that. "And second, as we all know, because they will simply go to ground. If your mission is investigation, not butchery, so be it."
Silhouette meets his gaze, but says nothing further.
Brennan looks over at Conner, "These Marids may be useful. Or they may be a resource on which the Klybesians are already drawing. Maybe both. In the same spirit, I'll offer that-- historically, these monks were introduced by Reid's mother Pastoral, who had family ties to some other Shadow. Knowing that Shadow, and its current state may prove useful."
Silhouette cocks her head, "Clervaux, perhaps? According to my sources, it was in flames the last time Reid 'fled' there. I'd intended to travel there, but other matters took precedence."
"Beyond that, let me do my best to turn this from a list of aspirational goals into a plan with this thought: No war was ever won without understanding its geography. Finding or creating a map of their shadow path network would be very helpful. I would consult with Xanadu on this matter. Gerard, in particular, after the King."
"A good start to a worsening situation shall be to advise Xanadu we are taking action. I have spoken to my father in Paris. It is well we do not talk to the Marid until all the realms are in accord." Celina nods at Brennan. "Edan came from Xanadu recently and has returned there with Rebma news, so Random has a recent view of things. Are you able to Brief, Benedict there from our comments or would that ruin your working disguise? You may tell Benedict that Rebma's posture on the Klybesians is defensive. And yes, you may have a Trump of me made. There is one in progress here, but it is not ready yet."
"We Need to Move Faster in All of This - Discerning Their Agenda and Locations, Making Trumps, Solving the Issues of Dara and cleph," Brita is frustrated by it all. "I Could Go to a Faster Timed Shadow to Create the Necessary Trumps, but How do We Learn All that we Must for these Monks to be Unmade?"
Silhouette shares her cousin's desire for expediency. "Thanks to Jerod's attack, we cannot wait for permissions or counsel. The Adversary likely retreats, as we speak. I will travel with Ossian and any cousins he has employed on his fact-finding mission. Hopefully, we can uncover the beginnings of their network and proceed from there."
She nods to Brita, "If Trumps could be provided, they'd ease our communication difficulties. We can coordinate with you, while cousin Brennan consults with Xanadu and other Elders.
"And a means of expedient return would be most advantageous. I have an assassination to plan, dresses for two weddings and three graduations, and an entire fall line to get out. Time is money, yes?"
"No," Brennan says. "I have no means of contacting Xanadu or Paris, and I am needed where I am. This conversation, vital as it is, already runs too long." And despite his considerable anger at the Klybesians and the entire situation, Brennan has never raised his voice higher than a slightly vocalized whisper. A very intense vocalized whisper, perhaps.
"I may," he answers Celina's question, "be able to get word to our Eldest uncle, but not instantly, and not freely." He turns to look back at Silhouette, "Nor am I interested in playing a game of Whispers Over Trump-- that is a recipe for failure. I would consult with Gerard about Shadow paths _if I were going_. You will get the same information, and you will get it faster and more directly, including perhaps some understanding of Jerod's situation by speaking directly to Xanadu. You will have the liberty of asking questions pertinent to your idea of the mission, instead of being stuck with mine. And of course, you still need to join my son."
He turns to Brita and Celina, "I may have another source for a Trump of the Queen, but we needed permission to do more than consider the possibility. So that removes a small burden, at least. As to speed... we should move as quickly as we can, but not rashly. The time spent in coordinating pays dividends in the long run."
The campfire is cheery, especially to Edan. After so long underwater, he had almost forgotten how good the warmth of a fire could feel. It's been a while since he's made a camp on a beach, the waves crashing nearby and a treeline perhaps a hundred yards away. With the sun setting, it wasn't worth juggling shadows to find a horse, but there was fire and smoke...he waves his hands, forming a horse-shape out of the campfire, giving himself lots of time to form a solid steed that he can ride onwards to Xanadu. He snorts as he realizes he's painted Aramsham with his spell, and promises himself that he'll take his horse along next trip.
The horse forms, and snorts smoke out of its nose. While it seems nebulous at the extremities, it seems solid enough to ride on. It's warm to the touch.
Edan is very pleased with the results. In the morning, he breaks his camp, gathers his few things, then sits astride his magical construct and guides it onward. He keeps it at a gallop, and doesn't bother following terrain as he periodically wrenches at the surroundings to match it with what he remembers of Xanadu.
Edan rides on his smoky destrier, making the land more and more like Xanadu. It's not quite hell-riding, no matter what observers of the fiery prince on the smoky horse might think. Eventually, Edan and his horse arrive at one of the many rivers along the coast near Xanadu, looking at the burgeoning young city and the impressive castle by the waterfall above.
No point scaring the populace. Edan will ride the smoke-horse closer to the city, then dismiss his sorcery and walk in. If he doesn't encounter someone beforehand, he'll check in on Aramsham at the stables and then walk up towards the castle.
Aramsham seems quite pleased to see him, and would like an apple or sugar cube or some similar treat. He has been well cared-for and looks eager to ride. He doesn’t seem to like the smell of smoke that lingers on Edan.
[OOC: whenever he heads to the house.]
Edan is greeted at the door to the house, and asked if he needs refreshment or if the staff can open up his room for him.
Edan provides the treat for his horse, if he has one. Once reaching the castle, he does ask for his room to be prepared, and also asks for word be sent to Random that he has returned and craves an audience.
Edan is led to his room. His instructions to always have a fire when he is in residence have been followed and while it is not roaring yet, it is at least welcoming. Water and fresh clothes are also available.
A page arrives and informs Edan that the King is in the library and that he should join him there, at his convenience.
Despite having been completely immersed in water for quite some time, Edan takes the opportunity to bathe himself, trim his beard, and change clothes. He dresses in his colors of white and crimson, a sashed robe and turban and soft slippers. He leaves his weapons in his room and commands Kyauta to stay there as well; then he heads off to the library.
Random is sitting at a drafting table, covered with lined paper. The messy half of the table is full of what look like completed musical scores. Random smiles when Edan comes in.
Random looks up. "'Welcome back', he said, hoping he hasn't forgotten that the Prince had previously returned." Random replaces his quill in its inkstand and pushes back from the drafting table. "How'd you enjoy the water?"
Edan hesitates. "It was good to see Family," he says. "I may visit again. Someday. Rarely. I do not especially enjoy being surrounded, inundated by water. But I did track down Signy's man Tomat, and interviewed them regarding the Klybesians."
Random gets up and leans back on his drafting table, which doesn't break, somehow. "I tend to think of it as defeating the water, at least temporarily. But I tend to think of breathing as defeating the air, so nobody listens to me.
"What did you learn from this 'Brother Tomato' person?"
Edan smiles, but only briefly. "Tomat claimed that he was not high in their counsels, so he did not offer much that was not coaxed out of him. The location of his chapterhouse, for instance, or the specific members over him. But there were several...interesting...items. They use the place Trumps, of course, if they did not barter them away. He claimed the Order was originally sponsored by Oberon. That a number of Princes had been martial members. That one in particular was to become 'a religious' and was removed from the succession for it. The Order might have been banned from Amber for it."
Random looks at Edan for a moment. "There might be something to that story. It was long before my time, but one hears stories.
"Anyway, I think Fletcher was one of those martial members. We should talk to him.
"Aside from what Tomato said, what did you learn of him? What's his game?"
Edan glances away, then back to Random. "What I know or have guessed comes from several sources. Tomat was Signy's mentor, ostensibly in Sorcery, as a payment or gift from the Order to Weyland, mediated by their Turcopier. Or a spy for them. Or both. Then he returned to the Order for a time. Then he left the Order with Marius. He is Signy's man, in her retinue. He is in love with her, according to Ambrose. I am no expert in these things, so I do not know the extent of their relationship; however, they did not sit together and answer me at interview. Indeed, Signy participated in asking questions of Tomat."
Last modified: 20 December 2014
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.