Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
The king closes the connection and Llewella and Robin fade from sight.
He stays balanced and standing. "Going to get dark soon. We should get back, so you lads can make your climb. Sorry to keep you so late the night before the big school dance, Edan, but it's hard to argue with Caine. And honestly, I'd like to know how the city above fares, and if we should consider re-opening it. People are starting to think there are secrets up there..."
Edan smiles and points to the red stripes on Random's flotation ring. "Not to worry. It gave me time to mentally review my routine for tomorrow. And watch you play Red Row Vere."
Vere smiles back. "Thank you again, Cousin, for agreeing to aid me. Your majesty, can the trump of me be detached from its place and used for this task?"
Random holds out a finger at Edan, but turns to Vere. "Short answer is 'yes'. Longer version is 'take the whole board' Now, excuse me, I have to exorcise the worst pun of the day."
The King springs into the air, gaining an impressive height for someone jumping off an air-filled rubber tube. He does a brief jackknife and hits the water with barely a splash.
The King surfaces, pushing up the back of Edan's tube, lifting it high above him.
Edan gets almost a whole second to ponder the problem. Is it considered lese majesty to not participate in a pun exorcism? He's pretty sure drowning the king is considered bad form, too. Then he's out of time and does the diplomatic thing: he chooses to be surprised and dumped with a squawk. But Vere and Random can both see the dumping is more of an acrobatic flip, and not a drop of his bottle's contents are spilled.
Presently, after his head breaks the surface, he adds, "Now I'm disappointed. I thought there would be a gold star for that, or something."
Vere settles down onto his tube, judging it politic to observe and admire the king's wit. He watches Random's actions with a slight smile on his lips.
Random barks out a laugh. "Your gold star sunk, like your pun. You should dive after it!" The king puts his hands on Edan's shoulders and shoves down, while kicking up. Given that he is a small king, mostly he pushes himself out of the water with this maneuver.
Edan's a dancer, not a wrestler, and he decides grappling is probably not to his advantage. Add to that he didn't get a very good breath before being pushed under, so that's not good, either. Maybe an abject apology at the beginning might have been a better idea? Hah, too late now.
To play to his strengths, he drops a shoulder and does an odd little twisting pirouette (albeit in water, and no support for his leg) that he discovered in practice some months ago, something the king probably has not seen him do yet. The purpose, of course, is to get out from under, kick out for some distance, and hopefully get his head back above water for more air.
Since the king isn't actually interested in drowning Edan, he easily kicks free and gets more air. Edan's birthright allows him to go longer than a normal mortal without air in any case, but he takes in enough for some time.
Random treads water, waiting to see what Edan does.
Vere quietly paddles his tube a little farther away from the royal action.
Vere is safely out of the action. For now.
Vere likes that position when the king is in a playful mood. He paddles just a little bit further away.
Edan, for his part, shakes some of the water off his head and then holds up his hands, palm outward. "On second thought, that was a pretty bad pun, neh? One might even tender an apology, if it's not too late."
Random treads water, honoring the momentary peace. The surface of the water barely moves. "You're letting a perfectly good gold star go to waste at the bottom of the lagoon..."
Edan raises an eyebrow as he stares at the king; then, he tilts his head, giving Random a sideways look as if he's pondering that last statement at a different angle. Then, with a deep breath, he does a jackknife surface dive towards the bottom.
Vere raises an eyebrow and leans over the side of his tube, staring down into the depths of the lagoon.
Edan swims downward, his dancing skills providing an economy of motion that quickly bring him to the bottom of the lagoon. Embedded by one point in the muck is a large golden star. It's shining brightly, and Edan could see it before the water even became dark. He can probably get his arms around it, he thinks.
He's just not sure how he's going to raise it to the surface.
Edan tries anyway. He gets his arms around the thing and tries to lift, just to get a good idea of the star's weight. For all he knows, it could be full of chocolate...
If Edan were to guess, he'd guess it was made of gold. It may weigh half a ton. Edan can, by dint of his heritage, lift it. He can't swim with it.
Vere glances over at the king. "A star, your majesty?"
Random turns towards him, giving the young man in the tube his full attention. "A star. He said he deserved one for that pun, which wasn't the worst one ever told to me. Sometimes, when you are in a position to do anything for anyone, you have to be careful about what you do and for whom, if you see what I mean. It doesn't matter, to some people, that I paid for Edan's new army, or that I let my best friend hold a party for him, or that I granted him an order of knighthood.
"Some people need to see something shiny, like a star."
"I see." Vere tilts his head to one side. "In fact, politically, he public perception of a royal gift may be far more important than the gift itself, correct?"
Edan surfaces at this point, sputtering. "A real gold star! Thank you, your Majesty. I'd love to hear the story about how it got there. Er, if that was somehow an application of Pattern, of course."
Celina is damp at this point, but the towel she's been using as a mantle for her hair is soaked. She leaves it at the doorway of the room Corwin has indicated has good light for a sketch session.
Celina settles herself on a spindly white piece of furniture with silver traces. It seems more solid than it looks. Still it seems less practical than something her Father would like, so she thinks of Alice and Flora and which one moves what furniture around in the palace.
Celina looks to Folly. "Oh, what joys you have had, gone such a short time. How is your daughter?"
"My daughter is glorious," Folly says with a wide grin, "and very much her parents' child. She's got her daddy wrapped around her little finger." She has settled cross-legged onto a cushioned bench of similar design sensibility; her pencil moves over a page in her sketchbook in long, fluid, confident lines. "It's been much more time where we are than in other places, I think, so she's already walking and talking. And surfing."
She falls silent for a moment as she concentrates on a detail she wants to get just right; when she speaks again, her tone is more subdued. "Our goal was to keep her away from court -- any court -- for as long as possible. Not just to let her have a normal-ish childhood, but to try to keep her away from the scrutiny of those that might use her. But all that talk of queens in exile on the one hand, and queens looking for a new host on the other...." Folly gives a little shudder. "You've studied... metaphysical techniques, I guess you'd call them... beyond just Pattern and Trump, right? Do you know of techniques that might be used to find someone of our bloodline even if that person were unknown to you?"
Celina radiates happiness, her thoughts of the thrill of shepherding young Lark, but it dims when the questions start. Celina considers how Martin is so much more qualified to answer, and yet her friend does not ask a redhead or a blonde this time. "Well, I think you'll be disappointed. Family Blood is like the Center, and around us build up reflections or echoes of truth, whether we think that way or not. Metaphysics fractals as we stay in a place, I think. Less so if we just pass through. So no, the best I have for you is logic and patience and discipline to assist finding a path to a Blood unknown. While a true Master of Pattern might get some small advantage to finding an undiscovered relative, I think it is like more like singing cetacean opera to a shark. It does not entertain the shark and reminds him he is hungry all the time." She offers her palms to Folly with a look that says, 'I know, not helpful.'
"That's... kind of comforting, actually," Folly says. "I mean, for all that it would be useful for us to track down certain of our relatives, I'm glad to hear it would not be so straightforward for others to use those tricks to find my daughter. And I think in this analogy I'm married to the shark, so...." She gives Celina a lopsided smile.
After a moment, her expression grows more serious. "So... am I completely mad for thinking maybe I should try finding your mother without bringing an army to back me up?"
"No," Celina offers simply. Her face sets into a complex emotion that is not worry or confidence, but something shaded between hope and bitterness. "I've tried to imagine how I shall reconcile with her. So it is not mad at all to open some diplomatic overture. The madness starts if she doesn't think she has leverage against Florimel unless she gets Martin (or Corwin) on her side. If she took you prisoner to parlay a defense with Martin or my Father, it would not sit well. Someone could get dead."
And because she thinks Folly already knows this, she just adds, "Lucas did something very bad. Maybe there were complications in what he tried and Moire thought he was going to kill her. If Moire has some version of events that we should hear, it is more likely you would get it and get out than almost anyone I can think of."
Folly is quiet a moment, thoughtful, as she works carefully on some small detail of her sketch. Then she says, "Though it happened after he left Rebma, I suppose she knows what happened to Martin. It's not out of the question that she could've thought Lucas meant her harm, at the very least, even without 'complications'. And from what I understand of her nature, a preemptive strike in response to a possible threat like that certainly seems within the realm of possibility." She gives Celina a querying look, inviting her opinion on that point.
Celina runs her fingers through her drying hair a few times. She's obviously working on describing her mother and it is not easy for her. "She's as old as many of the Elders of Amber, except she's a planner, unlike what history seems to say about my father, and some other princes. She certainly has the experience not to make impulse decisions. I have no clue why Lucas thought he would not be caught at what he was about, but yes, in such a dire case, she would be quick. She was quick.
"What I mean to get across is that she is not preemptive as a matter of course." Celina tilts her head and adds with much warmth, "I would not support you talking to her if I thought she would overreact to threats. For half a hundred reasons, I would not expect it. I threatened her once and she just grinned at me."
Folly can't help but grin at that herself. "Well, I can think of half a dozen ways she might've reacted like that, and not all of them necessarily imply that I would be safe... but on balance, that's comforting." She hesitates, thinking, then asks, "Do you think she intended that you would succeed her as ruler of Rebma? Assuming she didn't just expect to rule forever, that is."
"She ages," Celina responds even though it badly answers the question. Instead she forges ahead. "Yes. Moire expected to train me; did train me in her own cursed fashion. But you should understand I would have been one of her plans, perhaps not the main one. I was a plan that was not ripe. And whether a lie or a cloud of squid ink left behind by Mother's departure, there is a prophecy Queen Celina shall not live out the year. Moire shared it." Celina shows the shadow of a grin, "Loreena tends to use her sharpest words when she's most angry. She'll be pleased to dance in my shrine and water my remains."
Celina flips her hand as if to say, 'nevertheless'. "Moire has reason to think she'll be safer where she is, but needs to be ready to return in triumph upon my death."
"A prophecy," Folly repeats with a frown. "Does Moire cast cards as we do, or something similar -- which, as you know, can be difficult to interpret exactly? Or is this from some other source with a more direct and unambiguous line on what the future holds?" She pauses in her sketching and focuses on Celina, watching her body language as much as she listens to her words.
"Prophecy by Mirror is not a part of my learning," Celina says. "Nor would I want to have spent years chasing fleeting images of other possible Celina's. The few I've seen have been enough for me." Her body is anything but tense. It appears she could talk to Folly for days and days.
"So, whatever is glimpsed is just one possible future, you think?" Folly asks, to make sure she's following. "Which means the sharing of it was meant to warn you or rattle you, or maybe both...?"
Celina watches Folly's hands and smiles. "Such would not be useful unless you could steer into better possibilities. So as the crafter pursues images, you find those with more focus, additional layers that make them more probable, easier to find. So yes, it is a possible future, but at the point where you are acting upon it, it is a refined image, collecting hints from the various possibles." Celina adds, "Of course, Loreena shared it because it fit best with her own vision of the future, while taking away from me any chances of making Rebma thrive through my actions. What she did not consider was that knowing my life may be short, I have found greater faith in Rebma being whole for whatever time I have."
Folly smiles, looks down at the sketch, and adds several long, strong lines. "So, one possibility is that 'Queen Celina does not survive' -- which, with that phrasing, could imply merely a loss of title rather than personal death -- but either way, Moire lies in wait to return in the wake. But you spoke of imagining how you might reconcile with her. If you could make that happen, what do you think that compromise would look like? And how would you try to talk her into it?"
Celina doesn't quote Loreena's hard words on Celina's death since it was more than possible that her words were chosen in anger. Yet, Folly has put a finger on the high threshold for saving the situation with Moire. Celina gestures as if sculpting a plan out of the air of Paris, "She could not hope for forgiveness of the military, nor many of the families. For all the Huon did, he's managed well in Rebma's justice, so something like that could work for Moire. Since there is the matter of Flora's vendetta, it might work that Moire is in service at Xanadu rather than Rebma. King Random may have the greater claim and larger reason to make two and twenty years of service stick." Celina looks at the ceiling, turning more ideas into words, "But it might actually help Rebma more if Moire were to take a lesser role, and swear to release all Tritons, Children of Lir, and Llewella from previous oaths. I could see Moire as Special Archivist. Hmmmm."
"And what do you think would be the best way to convince her to submit to such justice, in either scenario?" Folly asks. "Would she only acquiesce under force or threat of force, or are there gentler appeals to reason that might work?" She hesitates, then continues, "I think I'm really asking what you think are her primary motivators The approach -- not to mention the chance of success -- is rather different if she's mostly motivated by a desire to wield power, or a love of Rebma, or...." She lifts her pencil from the pad and draws curlicues in the air as if they were invisible blanks to fill in. "Or maybe," she adds in a faintly ominous tone, "she does what she does for metaphysical reasons. Which... is a lot of why I want to talk to her."
Celina pauses a long time.
"I fail at every turn to understand her. She likes that." Celina cannot take the bitter edge out of the words, though she makes an effort. "Her reasons are her own. But I have learned that Moins was a much more fearsome figure. So you can imagine that power is quite important to Moire. The children of abusive ruthless people are shaped to defend themselves."
Whatever question or comment Folly intended to follow up with dies on her lips at that last sentence. She goes a bit pale and stops sketching to look at Celina, her expression grim as she sorts her thoughts.
After a long moment's silence, she flicks her gaze about the room as if to make sure they really are alone and unobserved. Then she says, hoarsely, "Martin doesn't know what happened to his mother. Neither does his father -- but I do. What I don't know, though, is was it by her own volition? Or did your mother put her up to it?" She watches Celina's expression closely to see if they're on the same page.
Celina looks a bit wary, "You know? He doesn't?" She pauses then sorting the phrasing and the defensive look about the room that Folly made. Celina reaches into her gown and tosses three crystals on a nearby tabletop. The crystals begin to release their power to scintillate, rising slowly into a glare that fills half the room.
Folly watches with interest; when she understands what Celina has done, she gives a nod of appreciation.
Celina gets up and crosses to Folly then, sitting the floor at her feet and putting a hand on her knee. "It was, I believe, of her own volition. She was counseled against it and would not listen. She would not be stopped any more than Khela. If she was driven to have that Power by circumstances, then yes, you can blame the Queen for the circumstances. In this Family, you can always blame the Throne. But no, I do not think Moire planned to discard Morganthe in such a way."
Folly blows out a breath that she probably didn't realize she was holding, and lays a hand over Celina's. "Thank you for that. I hope it will help me face Moire with more sympathy and less anger if and when the time comes. It's not so much that I thought she would intentionally cause her daughter harm; but I had wondered if she might've put her up to it because she thought it would work. Since it's a power she cannot master herself, I believe she lacks the insight to know whether others can do so. If there were any reason at all to suspect her daughter might have a chance, I figured she might've risked it for the good of Rebma -- but I can also well believe Morganthe might've come to it on her own."
Folly hesitates, and stares upward for a moment as if gathering her thoughts; her lower lashes seem to glitter in the glare of the crystals. "I hinted to... to Random a while ago that I knew something, but this is the first time I've come close to saying it out loud."
"My mother is pretty good at finding ways to make people angry, I think she figures it puts her ahead," responds Celina. "Do not let her discover so much about you. Be politic but not political, I suggest. If Moire has already committed to alliance with Chaosi or Moonriders, she may be more bold than you think."
Folly nods and squeezes Celina's fingers. "I'm not the poker player some of our relatives are, but I try to play my cards close to the vest... right up to the point that I think laying them on the table gives me more of a tactical advantage. With Moire, though -- and her supporters -- I shall try to be careful to reveal them sparingly." She seems on a more even keel now; she leans forward and lays a sororal kiss on Celina's forehead.
As she straightens, Folly asks, "If I do try to use Bend as a path to Moire, what other advice do you have?"
Celina frowns, "Bend is mortal. I find that in the Court of Rebma, the long vision of a queen may be understood as pure ruthlessness for the sake of power, hence I think that Bend and her brother only emulated what they felt were the strengths asked of them. Were they full of the will of Moire. Yes. Did it change them. Most certainly yes. I think Bend would do anything for Moire, and that gives advantage to you, if you can sail in that wind." Celina speaks more softly, "If Bend thinks you bring advantage to Moire, she will make sure you get there safely. If she thinks you represent a danger, she will never aid you."
"That may be an argument in favor of laying at least some of my cards on the table," Folly opines. "My own personal agenda should not be seen as any sort of threat, and I may be the least likely of my cousins to take an invitation to tea as an opportunity to raise an army to further my aims. But the bit about Bend's particular brand of ruthlessness is good advice; it sounds like perhaps I should work through some worst-case scenarios ahead-of-time, along with options for how to navigate around them."
She casts a glance at Celina's scintillation crystals to make sure they are still active. "On a completely different topic, I have one other thing I wanted to make sure to mention to you. It's about Caine, and the Klybesians. There is a possibility he could be involved with them: According to Corwin and Flora, way back in the time of Cymnea and Faiella he was involved with a religious order that eventually got kicked out of Amber, and that got him kicked out of the succession over his activities with them. And also, apparently he knows how to use Trumps to spy on people. So... until we know more, perhaps be careful what you tell him about any Klybesian investigations -- as well as what you talk about over trump, particularly to anyone whose card would be in his possession."
"Hmmm," Celina frowns, "good to know. I just offered him assistance in keeping trade moving to Amber. He did not seem particularly interested. So if there were old secrets there, the Monks may already know routes into Rebma."
"What were his interests, if I may ask? Assuming he showed any, that is." Folly gives a wry smile at the poker-faced ways of their elders.
Celina lowers her voice, they are sitting so close now. "I told Caine what the Monks had done to Master Reid and Marius. He seemed to know. I told him the Monks were considered enemies of Rebma. He was interested in caviar. Especially if I could send the sort Dem Harga'rel used to set aside for him. It could have been a code."
"...Or maybe he just really likes that caviar," Folly counters with a wry smile before they trail too far down what could be a rabbit-hole. "Still, it's... curious... that he should speak of the relations between Amber and Rebma by calling to mind a high-ranking Rebman who was murdered at a coronation in Amber. And what he misses is the caviar, not the man who sent it." She frowns. "Was trade with Amber part of Harga'rel's regular duties? Were he and Caine just really great pals? Or was he trying to stay on Caine's good side?"
"Yes, it made me curious," Celina agrees. "Enough so that I want my people to ask those questions. But also, I want them to do so without my hearing about it from the Families of Rebma, or from my Family of Amber/Xanadu." Celina smiles, "Because I'm not enamored of the entire throwaway comment being there as a measure for Caine to see how good my intelligence capabilities are. If you see what I mean..."
"Yes, and that does seem exactly like something he'd do," Folly agrees.
Celina nodded at the tiny glaring spheres, "The beads are about to fail, is there more? I can set out some additional..."
"No, that was the most important bit. I'm glad -- but not surprised -- to hear you are already exercising some caution on that front. I'll keep you posted if I learn more... but perhaps by some means other than trump. Speaking of which...." Folly smiles conspiratorially at Celina and taps the end of her pencil against her own nose. "Perhaps we should discuss what you would like your trump image to convey, if you have any thoughts on the matter...."
This last appears to catch Celina by surprise. "Well, it should convey me marrying Rebma." She gets up and sits by Folly. "What cautions do you have?"
"About trump images?" Folly asks, then continues, "Mostly that regardless of the style or the pose or the costume or the surroundings, it should in some way reflect your unchanging, core essence -- not just who you are now, or who you hope to be, but the you that is still you regardless of your circumstances, if that makes sense. So to your response, I ask: What is Rebma to you, and what about Rebma is deeply part of your essential being?" She grins. "You know, to start with an easy question."
Celina spends some time thinking. Finally she sighs, "I'm still learning about Rebma. However, I think there is something about both of us that is the same: at the moment of trial, when it seems the light shall be overwhelmed, we reveal our reserve of strength."
Folly's eyes sparkle. "I am suddenly reminded of the day we met. I plaited your hair and we talked of the symbolism of keeping one's power hidden until the correct moment. I don't think either of us could have predicted just how portentious that turned out to be."
She takes Celina's hand and squeezes it gently. "That gives me a pretty good idea what direction to go with your trump image, though."
Ambrose leads Signy into another chamber where the code wheels are. They're stored on stands not unlike the rotating bases for maps. There are perhaps a half dozen of them, all made of metal and covered in strange symbols that Ambrose explains are Uxmali glyphs. He takes one and shows Signy how they work, physically, in the sense of how the rotations link the Uxmali glyphs.
Then he shows her a fairly simple glyph structure and unwinds it for her, which takes some time. Then he shows her a complicated page, where it's not immediately clear to Signy how one glyph ends and another starts, and says, "This is one of my father's simpler pages, or, rather, a copy of it. You can see how we need the code wheels to decipher his writings even though Brennan and I are native speakers."
Signy watches Ambrose work, watching and asking a couple of questions but mostly just letting him speak. Once done, she looks more at one of the wheels, examining it with a jeweler's loop though not yet touching it, studying the mechanism up close.
[Any thoughts on the material that it's made out of? Can she see the innards of it?]
The mechanisms are hidden. To see how the inner mechanisms work, Signy is going to have to disassemble one of them. Materials appear to be some kind of bronze-type metal, but without the sort of corrosion she might expect, possibly due to sorcerous influence.
[What about the glyphs? Inlaid, stamped, etched, or other?]
[I had to think about how to describe this but I have a very specific visual in mind and they’re actually sort of like the type balls in an IBM Selectric.
The rotations are all horizontal—not that Signy can tell that natively but Ambrose shows her and the way he’s holding it makes the rotations horizontal.]
After studying the wheel for a couple of minutes, she glances up at Ambrose.
"Where does the sorcery fit in on these? Clearly they're not all mechanical...."
"Part of the magic is in the preservation, which wasn't initially clear to me. It's one of the things that's failing. You can't keep sorcerously preserved things near a Pattern for too long, and in any case the preservation enchantments were designed specifically for Uxmal, which no longer exists."
Ambrose probably ought to sound more upset about it than he does.
"The other major sorcery on the globes is complicated and possibly not repeatable, though I suspect it's transferable from one globe to another. I think they're--not sentient, exactly, but--they seem to have some way of limiting the number of glyphs based on the set of interlocking patterns. They're still complicated, and difficult to use for a non-native speaker if not outright impossible, and there are multiple meanings that work with some of the glyphs, possibly because my father wrote things with two meanings. Or more. He was like that. But in any case, there's some sort of intentionality there, if that makes sense."
Signy frowns at this.
"How 'close' are we to a Pattern right now, though? Could we move them closer to Ygg, and make them last longer? And are they sensitive to Sorcery? I may need to take one apart, but before considering that I'd like to probe it a bit that way if you think it would be OK?"
"I don't understand the theory exactly, but we're obviously within the broad influence of Patterns or we'd be on the far side of Ygg. There's definitely a nearer field of influence for each of the Patterns, though, in which there's much less flexibility of, well, sorcery, or at least in Amber there was. And that's the circumstance that seems to be so degrading to the code wheels," Ambrose explains. "We could try moving them closer to Ygg, but for storage, Fiona's lab seemed the best place to put them.
"And," he adds, "while it doesn't technically require sorcery to use them, I think they might be, as you say, 'sensitive', to it."
Signy shakes her head distractedly. "No, here's probably best for now," she says in a quieter tone of voice. "What happens when they start to break down? Do they give the wrong answers, or just stop working altogether?"
She pays partial attention to Ambrose, as she easily brings up her Third Eye, simply looking at the device for a moment.
"There's a certain grinding in the gears, is I suppose the best way to surprise it. None of them have failed to the extent that they don't work physically, and the translations make sense, which if they were failing on a sorcerous level, they certainly shouldn't--" here, Ambrose trails off, as if he's considering some unspoken question. "At least they shouldn't as far as I know."
What Signy sees in terms of magical patterns with her Third Eye can best be described as fractal geometry of the non-Euclidean variety. No Lovecraftian beasties in them, though: if the code wheel is an affine, and it might be, it's not hostile.
Signy's look alternates between appraising and impressed. "These are incredible. And Brand came up with these all by himself?"
She gazes at them with her Third Eye for a moment longer, noting the details and allowing herself to be caught up in the sheer wonder.
She slowly extends her sight down into the device, looking at the structure internally [is there anything there, cogs or gears, or is it all done with Sorcery?], before cradling the wheel with her fingertips and raising it up just past her eyes. Her fingertips lightly brush the surface of the wheel without disturbing the hold of the device, as she sings softly to the device of metals and forges and castings, and listening for its song in return.
The sight, so often unclear or misleading, shows a mixture of gears and cogs and magical bindings and tensions. The device is remarkably well composed and internally elegant.
"Careful!", Ambrose warns. "These are delicately balanced. Adding either additional entropy or stasis will likely cause them to become unstable!" He pauses. "My father was trying to keep these things secret from both his family in Amber and his allies in Chaos."
Signy nods slowly. "Has anyone been able to figure out anything about how they're put together?"
Ambrose shakes his head in the negative. "I'm the one who's worked with them the most. Brennan has also used them, but I don't think he's tried to do more. They were my father's creation and so far as I know, we're the only two of the blood besides him to try to use them." After a moment he reconsiders. "Bleys and Fiona may have used them as well, and Fiona has had access to them, but I don't know how thoroughly they've delved into them. My father's relationship with them was complicated; we'll have to ask our aunt ourselves."
Signy winces slightly, thinking about having to talk with her aunt so soon after annoying her in their last conversation.
She spins one of the wheels, watching the interplay of the forces through her Third Eye as she forms various glyphs at random and without direction, then again while thinking of different words, images and concepts.
"I do wonder what my father would make of these, though."
[Anything standing out to her from her crafting skill?]
Signy is able to spin it at random in ways that make no sense and observe the mechanism, but without a basic knowledge of the language, it's hard for her to tell what she's getting when she tries to form glyphs with the wheel.
What is immediately obvious to her through watching the code wheel is that it would take a crafter of her caliber, one familiar with sorcery and craftsmanship, and possible Pattern as well, to build something like this. If her father could make the physical object--and he could, easily--it's not clear to her that he had the sorcerous knowledge to make an object work this way. Unless he's been lying to her about that for all these years, he doesn't have the sorcery for it.
Signy slowly releases her Third Eye as she puts the device back down, before looking at Ambrose.
"How long would it take to learn a little of this language? I could make the device, I think, but without that I don't know that I'd ever be able to make it work, at least not correctly."
"I don't know, exactly. I've never taught it to anyone, spoken or written, and the written language was something I learned as a child. It will take some time, but this is why I'm here: to teach you," Ambrose says. "Uxmali is not a dead language, exactly, but the number of competent speakers and readers is very small. Mostly my father's immediate family, and not in the half-blood either. You'll be the first one of our cousins to learn it.
"I assume you’re a quick learner," he adds with a bit of a smile. "It runs in the family."
Signy smiles distractedly, starting to go through the project in a little more detail. "Will the time here be sufficient, or would we want to find another Shadow where time moves faster for that?"
She gives Ambrose a quizzical look. "And does our Aunt have a forge that I could use to start experimenting with making the physical structures?"
"Your Aunt has a forge but it's not usually present in this location, although I can arrange for that to happen." How Fiona joined them in the room without being noticed or overheard is a bit of a question, but perhaps Fiona is just like that in her own place. "And it will take some time for you to learn Uxmali, but I can give you a head start, if you like. You'll be risking a bit of a headache, but it beats the old-fashioned way that involves years of speech and writing practice. Don't you think, Ambrose?"
Ambrose says, "I've had some--direct lessons--from Grandmother. The knowledge is useful. The headache will last, however."
If Signy is surprised at Fiona's sudden entrance, she hides it extremely well.
She notes Ambrose's endorsement, before looking back at her Aunt. "I think in this case the ability to bypass a few years of language lessons is probably worth risking it," she says simply. "If you are willing to help me...us with this, I am more than grateful."
She pauses, and looks back and forth at the two of them for a moment. "What's the best way to begin?"
"Oh, nothing in particular, other than that we should sit down. Ambrose, you've done this before with Mother, haven't you? You can assist with the spheres. Are all of them here?"
Ambrose nods, and says, "All seventeen. Though only the one is presently in need of repairs."
Fiona opens a lab drawer and produces some paper and brushes and pens of a sort that Signy might expect to see used for painting or perhaps calligraphy, to the extent that she's familiar with the art from Tomat's teaching.
"Now let me show you the basic glyphs," and thus Fiona begins.
After what seems like a couple of hours of discussion, with Ambrose's assistance, Signy feels as though she has mastered the first and simplest of the code wheels, the one she has been speaking with Ambrose about.
Without windows, though, there's no way to discern how much time has actually passed.
Signy sits back, rubbing the back of her neck absently.
"That...didn't seem too bad?" she offers the two of them. "I think I've got this first one straight. Mostly."
She brushes a lock of hair back behind her ear, exposing a healthy smudge of ink from previous attempts at coralling the wayward lock during their session.
"Does the next wheel in the sequence build off the first? How do they all hang together?"
"The vocabulary and the structure of the glyphs becomes more complex, but they're not in a specific interlocking sequence, if that's what you mean." Ambrose is clearly the expert here; Fiona has let him do a surprising amount of the talking. He looks a bit droopy about the edges, as if he's done more of it than Signy recalls. Possibly he has; it takes her a moment to realize that Ambrose is speaking to her in a language that isn't Thari.
He's speaking in Uxmali.
Signy's eyes narrow slightly as she takes in his condition, though she doesn't say anything just yet. "So the complexities add wheels?" she responds back, making a conscious effort to stay in the language.
She shakes her head, and works her way through the response again. "So the wheels. Add complexity. Depth?"
Better, but it's going to take a lot of practice to get it right.
"What otherness could Uxmali be used for, besides reading Brandpapers."
She winces slightly. Maybe better was a bit hasty.
"Your vocabulary is improving," Ambrose says, in what passes for liquidity in the harsh language of Uxmal. "But you don't have the trick of structuring your sentences yet." There's a way of phrasing that he has that Signy knows she can't duplicate just yet. It occurs to her after a moment that he's centering certain words in the sentences, just as certain sigils are centered in glyphs.
You could build up complicated sentences that way. Very complicated paragraph sentences. Expressed in very complicated glyphs.
It's Fiona who answers the actual question. "Directly, not so much. It's a good language for certain sorcerous applications and you might find it broadly useful for creating spell structures. It'll give you some new insights into your creative skills. How is your head? We should eat and drink, if you're up to it, and then you should rest for a while."
Signy can't quite control the brief look of disappointment at an end being called to the session. The low growl from her stomach was probably just a subconscious response to Fiona's words, as is the nagging feeling of pressure somewhere behind her eyes.
"Do you have any of Brand's papers here, or anything that I could use to practice on?"
She sneaks an involuntary glance around, on the off chance that there's a table of food nearby.
But just a brief snack. Not that she's hungry.
"I have some simple things you can use to test your ability to translate," Ambrose says. "After we eat, though. Or at least have some chocolate." There's what looks like a coffee set on the table nearby. Signy doesn't remember it being there before she started her lesson. It smells delicious.
Ambrose is already moving to pour some chocolate for them from the pot.
Fiona holds up a hand. "I'll fetch us something to eat. Both of you should sit down, though. This is hard work. Do you have any specific preferences, Signy, or will anything hearty do?"
Signy pulls over chairs for all three of them before dropping into it a bit quicker than she may have liked. "Anything hearty."
Gratefully she accepts the cup that Ambrose pours for her, but manages to wait until the other two have a chance to seat themselves with cups before drinking a huge mouthful of the melted chocolate, not noticing the heat.
"This wasn't really all that different than working with my Father -- how much time actually passed," she asks. "After the first year apprenticed to him it took a couple of days to notice that we hadn't really had a break, though."
Of course, the Dvarts would have had a table full of food for when she or Weyland did notice that they could use food. Maybe she just missed the servants that brought the drink here.
"Proper study is taxing, and I find it harder now that I am initiated into the mysteries of the Pattern. Energy is expended both suppressing the self and re-writing it. True knowledge is like a fever, one is resistant to it in small doses and succumbs to larger onslaughts."
Ambrose looks solemnly over the top of his steaming chocolate. "It is always worthwhile, and the skill of learning is a precious and hard-won thing. Few in Chaos value it."
Fiona walks back into the room, carrying a try with a small feast on it. She couldn't possibly have prepared it in the moments she was gone, so perhaps she does have servants somewhere after all.
Signy nods. "I imagine that it's much like how the iron feels after it's been hammered out and tempered."
She pauses for a moment, while Fiona puts the tray down. She manages to restrain herself while Ambrose and Fiona serve themselves, before quickly balancing an improbable amount of food on the small plate herself.
"Though learning is much like creation. True creation changes the craftswoman as much as the object being created."
Ambrose waits until Signy has taken a share to fill his own plate.
"There will be more if you're still hungry," Fiona advises, "so eat your fill." From the looks of her plate, she plans to. How a little woman can pack that much food away is a bit of a mystery.
She continues, having heard Signy's last question: "How do you account for the changes in yourself when you create, given that you're of the blood of Amber and initiated into the mystery of the Pattern? Do you think the solidification of your reality makes any difference?" She holds a finger up to silence Ambrose; this is Signy's question to answer.
After Ambrose fills a plate with whatever he chooses, Signy deftly leans over and refills her plate, though neither of them remember seeing her eat as much as she clearly did.
She doesn't eat right away, however, putting the plate next to her on a small table before unsheathing a small, functional dagger.
"The act of creating is often an act of discovery. I wanted to create a dagger, so I made this. But I did not picture this when I made it. I wanted to create something functional, something that would simply serve a simple purpose, and this is what I got. I didn't picture it, but when I was done it was there."
She leans back, focusing on the dagger. "Nothing really changed with me, that I know of. Yet, when I tried to make something Real for the Queen, and failed, I changed. I grew, I learned. I changed. And even if I had succeeded, the end result would have been the same, I think. When creating, the creation often speaks as much of the one that creates it as the one that views it."
"Reality," Fiona says, "is decidedly more difficult to tamper with than most anything else." She, too, is consuming far more food than her birdlike size would seem to require, or even allow. "A tool you make will travel with you easily, Signy. But something real, something with the Pattern invested in it, has a particular essence. Just as it's difficult to impossible for someone else to change you, it's difficult to make something Real, to invest some of our own Reality in it, as it were. When you think of it that way, it's not surprising that making something Real changes the maker."
Signy considers Fiona's statement while she finishes a mouthful of food.
"Yeees," she says slowly. "But even if you're not trying to make something Real, making things reveals things about the creator. A sword I made when I was mad at my father looked much different than one I made for a client, or because I was trying to learn a new technique. It was...uglier. Meaner. Even if it was as well-crafted as any I had made, there was something of me in it."
She idly pushes some of the food around on the plate, playing with it a little bit while she considers her next words.
"Every act of creation still requires you to invest something of yourself in it, whether you will it or no."
"There's a difference between that kind of investment, and the growth that comes with it, and change as we discuss it in sorcery," Fiona replies, not at all fussed by Signy's disagreement. (Perhaps to Ambrose's surprise.) "Your essence remains the same, particularly now that you've taken the Pattern. We do evolve, but slowly, and from deep roots. But change comes from us, and isn't imposed from the outside, the way we change objects and beings, particularly from Shadow.
"Changing beings of Chaos is different, of course, but that's what becoming a Lord and taking affines means: you control what they are."
Signy sits back, thinking. "Then maybe I'm not able to answer this question fully yet. I have attempted to make something Real, and it has changed me and given me a deeper understanding of some of the ways that I have failed to understand Reality. But it may be that until I have actually succeeded that I won't be able to fully answer this."
She thinks a bit more, before idly noting "I would be curious to know what my father says about this, given that he has made the Pattern blades, or perhaps what someone that can create a Trump thinks of this."
Ambrose, perhaps more out of a desire to change the subject before Fiona gets annoyed about the fact that she can't make trumps than personal curiosity, asks, "Do you think he'd give an honest answer? And if so, to whom?"
Signy's eyes harden slightly, and her mouth curves in a hard smile. "There's honest, and there's honest. He would never tell you an outright lie, but there may be some convenient...omissions."
Ambrose makes a face that says he recognizes that technique.
She pauses, and recalls her surroundings before continuing.
"I think he would be very candid in saying that there is a price, but the details of what needs to be paid or the full implications of the costs may not be as obvious."
Her smile becomes slightly more bitter again. "I don't know that there's anyone that I ever saw my father consider a peer, to be honest. Possibly Madoc, but I was a little busy to be overly observant of how they related. Certainly never anyone from the Family, other than a brief parlay with Brennan while I was laying siege to his Tower."
"My brother can channel our father's div--imperiousness when he wishes," Ambrose says. Like Signy, Ambrose appears to reconsider his words about halfway through the sentence.
Signy gives a knowing nod to Ambrose as he speaks. There's a lot of shared heritages in this Family, it appears.
Fiona is smirking at both of them, but not unkindly. "Nobody expects a full accounting of a price for something like a Pattern blade. I can't see any way the maker would know the price. The part that's paid to the maker, yes. But that's only a small part of wielding it." She turns to Signy. "They make all sorts of assumptions about the price your mother paid for the axe. Of course you wouldn't know the actual bargain, particularly not if you were part of it, but there's no reason to suspect it was as simple as people want to make it out to be."
Signy sighs softly, looking at Fiona. "Do you know anything about her relationship with my father? After she left, it wasn't something that was wise to bring up."
She pauses, before adding quietly, "Though there were some times....."
Fiona nods. "Bleys and I found out about you and your brother through Uncle Madoc, actually. After Ambrose's father failed to destroy Martin and the pattern, it became important to prevent him from finding any other children.
"Madoc is actually close to your father, which says something as it is quite difficult to be on good terms with that Uncle." Fiona looks over at Ambrose. "You may correctly assume that Bleys and I know the difficulties that you have with your Uncles and have long vowed not to be as difficult as ours were." Ambrose can only nod.
"In any case, the story as I understand it was that your mother changed the deal, perhaps because she found that being married and living with your father was not the thing she had hoped it would be.
"Your father apparently decided that one full-time daughter was better than nothing, and kept you to raise himself, over your mother's objections.
"If that sounds biased towards your father, it's because I only know Uncle Madoc's version and I can't ask your mother. Oh, I strongly suggest that you do not ask Vere to arrange for you to do so."
Signy nods slowly, the axe forgotten for the moment.
"If you know ...Uncle Madoc, do you know why he would be interested in me as a bride" she asks in a quiet voice.
Ambrose looks at Fiona, as if waiting for some signal to answer or defer. Apparently he receives it, because he speaks up. "An alliance with Weyland would gain him nothing from his nominal Chaosian allies, except perhaps Grandmother, who is always a special case."
Fiona raises an eyebrow at that, but there's a quirk of a wry smile at one corner of her mouth.
"It almost looks as if he's shoring up power against most of them. And without turning directly to Amber, as it were, in an act of open treachery to his Chaosian heritage. You're a sorceress as well, so you'd make a fit consort. He might need the power after he spent so much of his on making Aisling. Saeth," Ambrose concludes, correcting himself.
"Marriage alliances," Fiona adds, "are not made on personal charm. Unless you're Oberon, or Mother, in which case you do what you want."
Signy nods slowly, hoping that her eyes haven't glazed over in bewilderment at having to think about Chaosian politics now as well, before deciding to move back to perhaps safer ground.
"Was the axe bound to a Pattern?"
Signy mentally runs through the list quickly. Uncle Corwin had the sword for Tir. A sword for Rebma, but that was lost maybe? Bleys has one. And Patterns in Tir, Amber, Rebma plus the one for Grandfather Dworkin.
[OOC: I'm assuming that this is covered in Cambina's book, but if not we can simply snip the thought at Rebma.]
"It doesn't seem likely that marriage would be a price that someone from the Family would pay for a normal weapon, even one crafted by him."
Fiona looks at Signy for a moment. "No, the form of the protector-weapon is traditionally a sword, and the shadows cannot lie to make it other than what it has to be. Besides, those weapons are controlled by the Kings and Queens of those realms, not your father."
Ambrose continues. "Do not assume that the trade was merely two-sided. It need not be. And recall, also, that your father is old enough that he is likely to know things that no living being does. Perhaps your mother's deal was with the Klybesians, and they traded her favor to your father for something else."
Signy looks slightly unhappy at that.
"I've asked Brother Tomat, but he professes to know nothing of the deals that brought him to be my tutor."
She pauses, before looking at Ambrose.
"Do you think he's being truthful?"
Inwardly she winces that she's even entertaining this thought.
"He'd have every reason not to be," Ambrose replies, "but--" and he trails off thoughtfully, "On the other hand, if the Klybesians really do run an inter-shadow espionage service, they might keep their field operatives ignorant of significant information. What do you think, Aunt Fiona?"
"I think," Fiona says, "that if you want an answer, Signy, you can always give him to me and I'll get it out of him."
Signy blinks, nonplussed, at her Aunt's offer. Failing to think of a response to that, she looks away for a moment.
"I'll...maybe. He's with Queen Celina right now, so maybe she's getting a better read on him."
She pauses before steering the conversation back to the reason they're sitting in the lab of their Aunt in the first place. "What do you think the next steps for these should be," she asks them both, nodding her head towards one of the wheels. "Is there more to learn? Just practice?"
"You've had some very basic grammar lessons," Fiona says, "and as I'm sure Ambrose is too polite to tell you in so many words, you've got a child's grasp of Uxmali. It's enough to make a start on a simple wheel, but the complex wheels are still far beyond your capacity. But a combination of tutoring and work should bring you up to speed for some of the more complicated wheels over time."
Ambrose flushes slightly at Fiona's statement. "The glyphs are like a form of poetry. It takes practice with the language to work out their meaning, both from the complexity and from the allusions, which will be difficult for someone who knows little of Uxmal to comprehend. If it weren't for my father's papers, I think those of us who know it would be content to see the language die off now that Uxmal is destroyed."
The session with Aunt Fiona and Ambrose finishes up with some remaining small talk before they leave the lab. Signy goes back to her room and drops onto her bed to sleep without any delay.
The morning light outside slowly rising over the trees hits her face and wakes her the following day, still somewhat tired and light headed from the previous day's work. She lies on top of the bed and blinks for a moment before recalling where she is, and rising to make her way back to the lab.
She loses track of time, working on Brand's code wheels. Stacks of documents translated into and out of Uxmali, hours with Ambrose reviewing her translations, hours of drill and repetition that seem to slowly move past the basics. At some point she starts talking to Ambrose almost exclusively in the language, spending less and less time conversing in other languages.
The time with Ambrose is broken up rarely with a surprise visit from their Aunt, who seems to have a knack for dropping in when there is a subtle point of the language that needs clarification and expansion.
At some point a collection of pieces of balsa wood and a set of sharp, well-work knives appears in the lab. Slowly the pieces of wood start to form into smaller shapes, wheels and arcs, and slowly begin to fit together into small spheres that spin and twist and rotate in a manner somewhat similar to one of the first wheels she was introduced to. Over time the wooden sphere is somehow disassembled and the knives come out to shave and dig and scrape, only to be reassembled just as quickly.
She moves on to working with the larger wheels, but when she isn't working the real thing the wooden one is in her hands, being spun and manipulated like the real thing, the surface becoming shiny and smooth from the constant handling.
At some point she spends most of the afternoon looking at the wooden sphere, not really manipulating it, just thinking about the pieces and how they fit together. How they would fit together if they were metal. Where one might inlay magic like silver filigree, to construct the runes and glyphs that would become words and phrases and concepts in Uxmali. What would it need to be made of, sturdy enough to hold that much weight yet light enough to allow it to move, to be able to shift along almost any axis as needed to form the symbols that were needed.
The sun slowly goes down as Signy sits perched on a stool, simply gazing at the rounded piece of wood on the bench.
Signy works on this project for weeks, and finally decides that two things she suspects must be true.
First, some part of the wheels translate through a fractional dimensional transition, allowing things that are not congruent to be so in some partial place.
Second, while it looks as if transitions are reversible, there are sub-surface changes that do not necessarily always stay the same.
It would be possible to define the mathematics of the way this works, but determining what that is would be the work of years. That would be necessary to master the design, although Signy thinks she could get a working knowledge faster than that. (Fortunately, this is probably a fast-time shadow; Fiona undoubtedly encounters the same problem from time to time.)
Signy sits as the late afternoon slowly deepens into early evening, tossing the wooden sphere idly with one hand while looking at the array of wheels, thinking things over.
As the lights in the lab start to come on through some mechanism that is only known to her Aunt, she sighs quietly and catches the ball after one of its lazy arcs up and down and stands.
Walking quickly, she heads to where she knows her Aunt has to be and quietly slips into the library. She walks quietly enough to not disturb her if she is deep into the book that she is reading, and stands just close enough to be spoken to when Fiona is ready.
Fiona delicately closes the book she's been perusing, putting a ribbon in it to mark her place. She looks around as if she has been elsewhere, and only now noticed that she was in the library with Signy.
"How are your studies progressing, Signy?" she asks.
Signy hooks a nearby stool with a foot and drags it close enough to perch on the edge. She doesn't yet look at her Aunt, but holds the wooden sphere perched on her fingertips while she regards it soberly.
"So, I think I understand how they work." She quickly outlines her theories on how the wheels work to her Aunt, before continuing on.
"But I don't know how easy this will be to translate into making new wheels. The underlying math will take some time to work out, unless some shortcuts that look like they should be there are."
"The mathematics of the Pattern are my brother's particular delight, but the mathematics of Chaos are mine. I'm sure you understand the irrational and the unreal and their use in mathematics, and that in sorcerous mathematics the usual properties of stable numbers do not apply." Fiona looks at Signy, measuring Signy's response and her understanding of the basic principles of sorcerous mathematics as she speaks.
[OOC: Fiona is talking about math not having basic properties for sorcerous purposes, e.g., A+B does not equal B+A, or A+(B+C) may not equal (A+B)+C and so on with all the usual properties of stable math. In the same way, in Chaos, two paths that ought to lead to the same place often don't, and going from place X to place Y and reversing your course may not lead you back to place X.]
Signy nods her agreement with what her Aunt said.
"You see that in how they operate. The wheels seem to allow things that shouldn't be together to come together, and while you can get back to any point you want with the wheels the path isn't always the same. It may actually never be the same."
She pauses her study of the wooden sphere and finally looks at Fiona directly. "But I don't see a quick way to get from here to there," as she waves vaguely in the direction of the lab where the actual code wheels live. "I'm pretty sure that it can be done, and I can do it, but...the time."
At this last, she pauses looking equally frustrated and lost.
"We're immortals, Signy. As long as we don't get ourselves killed, we have all the time in the worlds," Fiona reminds her. "That my brother's way of thinking is impenetrable, or at least very difficult to penetrate, is no surprise. Brand was a mad genius who came up with a way to remake the universe according to his whims. It's taking his two sons, who are two of the very few members of the family who speak Uxmali, years and years to decipher his papers. I'm glad to help you, but it's going to be some of the hardest work we ever do. That's how it always was with Brand. Just when you thought you'd peeled the onion down to the core, you found another layer."
Signy steels herself before replying to her Aunt.
"But time still means something. No matter how different the time flows, it still flows for all Shadows. What good is solving this if we find that it takes us out of the picture for so long?"
Fiona smiles patiently at Signy. "You're immortal, Signy. I admire your determination to move forward as quickly as possible, and in a time of upheaval, that can have value. But you can also choose not to involve yourself in family affairs for a time, and come back with vast successes under your belt. This is how it was done for centuries under your grandfather, with all of us wandering Shadow at our will.
"Each of us can only judge for ourselves whether the time we spend in Shadow, where it often passes quickly compared to Amber, or Xanadu, is worth it. I can lay out the pros and the cons, but only you can say it's worth it or not."
Signy frowns and shakes her head.
"But I think the answer to the question is if it's worth it is one that I need help with. I've read everything I can, and I can't tell what the value is. Brand was a genius, but also seemed more than a little mad. What do you think? Will we be unlocking TRVTH, or just chasing our own tail down the rabbit hole?"
She pauses, before musing aloud "How is it with Dworkin?"
"With Dworkin it's hard to tell. He likes it that way." Which Fiona says with rueful affection.
Turning to the other subject, Fiona takes a moment to consider the answer. "Brand was mad at the end, yes. And much of what will be in his papers is madness. But already we've learned useful things we didn't know. For one, Ambrose found that Ossian was Brennan's son. Brennan had no idea. And that's led us to some other connections with lost children with Chaos heritage. So we don't know what we'll find when we translate more of his papers." Fiona sighs; this is as close to an uncomfortable subject for her as one might find.
"That's not the real treasure we're hoping for. And by 'we', I mean less myself and Ambrose and Brennan and more Random and Corwin and myself and Bleys. Brand had an idea about how to fix the damage to the universe. It's not necessarily that we think we can solve a problem he couldn't, but we're not even sure what the extent and nature of the damage is. Brand was so far ahead of us on that front at the time, and even now, having learned from his failure, he knew more than we know about Tir and could do things that we don't understand.
"Nobody wants to be caught flat-footed the way we were in the last war again. And it's clear that Dad's death has loosed other things that were bound, which compounds all our problems. So we don't know. Not you, not me, not Random, not Corwin. Possibly not even Dworkin, though he's more likely to obfuscate than admit it."
Signy looks slightly surprised. "Do you think that what's happening now is on the level of the Patternfall War?"
She thinks further on Fiona's words for a moment, before adding "and in talking about Tir, do you think that the Moonriders and the Queen are the biggest threat at the moment?"
"Honestly, for all that I say it's the last war, I don’t think we're finished with it. We're making the Patternfall peace."
Fiona has to consider her answer to the second question. "If they're not, it's the Dragon in Arden. Or the Tritons and Moire in and outside of Rebma. But the fact that they're all three such huge threats, even if the immediacy isn't obvious, is the reason I think the war isn't entirely over yet. We beat Borel, to be sure. But there were more things wriggling their way out from under rocks than any of us imagined." She frowns in a way that Corwin might have besottedly described as dainty, but to Signy just suggests thought. "That's probably the biggest threat. The not knowing."
Signy's frown mirrors her Aunt's.
"Do you think the groups are acting in concert? If not, how much of a threat is that?"
This requires more thought from Fiona. "I think any two of them might be: Moire with the Tritons, or maybe the Tritons with the Dragon. Or one of the three with the Moonriders, which are no small threat in and of themselves even if they're not on the level of the Tritons and the Dragon. The thing about universal powers is that they sometimes want to give each other--" and here she smiles as if this has some personal meaning for her "--a good hard punch in the jaw." More seriously, she adds, "I don't think any of them are as big of a threat to the universe as Brand was. But regardless of what we think, we're not the universe."
Signy files this away. "Since you mentioned him, I do have one last question. If Brand's original goal was to fix everything, what do you think happened to cause him to go mad so that he was willing to bring it all down?"
Fiona smiles, tightly. "My brother was artistically inclined. It is a tendency of artists to decide, at some point, that a work that is not working should be destroyed and a fresh attempt made. As he worked closer and closer to the damage and madness of the Queen of Air and Darkness, that impulse may have become amplified. That might explain it.
"But when I am most worried about the universe, I wonder if he was merely reflecting one of the multi-faceted opinions of Dworkin."
Signy hopes that her inward wince doesn't reflect outwardly, as she recalls the gauntlet.
"How do we guard against this? We have...Trump artists, is this something we need to worry about? Many of my father's things are works of art as much as functional, like the Pattern blades."
"Worry about which part, dear?" Fiona turns her full attention back to Signy from the musing she's been doing about the state of the universe. "Artistic solipsism? Or against what Brand tried to do? The former--I think Brand had the wrong temperament to have the kind of power he had. He wasn't invested in the world or in his children other than as means to an end. It's true that we're real in a way that other things aren't because of the Pattern. But it helps when we behave as though we're not.
"As for the other?" Fiona gives Signy a look that combines with the slightest of smiles. "Be careful about taking Trump calls."
As the the cousins walk to the door, each with an unconscious mage over their shoulder, they hear a voice behind them. "Free me."
It is a gravelly voice, and fitting for the emuraptor, if the emuraptor had actually had vocal cords.
Brita is not completely convinced it isn't the emuraptor, but drums up a bobbing sorcerous light to move around the room to see what or who else they have missed.
Raven stops, pivots on her heel, and also looks around. Since Brita has the light covered, she goes for the direct approach. "And you are...?"
The bird shouldn't be able to talk, but it does. "I'm the damn fool that got transmogrified into an emuraptor. It was my fault, I see that now. But I don't deserve to die here."
Raven looks at the bird. And then she slowly turns to look at Brita. "You," she says, "get to explain this. Do you see a key, or are we breaking open the cage the hard way?"
Brita shrugs and says with a grin, "He's a Bird. It is Highly Probable that the Key is On the Cage Just to Taunt Him." She will let Raven search for it while she looks at the emuraptor with her third eye - can she see the spell? Does she scent any difference in his blood? She will be looking for a means to undo the transmogrification and wants to make sure she does nothing worse.
The key is exactly where Brita expects it to be.
When Brita looks at this emuraptor with her third eye, he seems to be a human being, albeit a small one. Brita thinks she could undo it with the Principle of Time. At worst, it might reverberate to the original magician, but the victim is unlikely to be affected.
"Thank you, my Lord, My Lady. You shall have my eternal gratitude, an' I survive the night."
"Surviving the night isn't the issue." Jerod says, catching the last bits of the conversation from the shadows. "It's the eternal gratitude part," which he does not immediately follow-up on with an explanation.
"Quiet night in Valhalla? Need some stress relief maybe?" he asks Brita with a slight smile, motioning at the surroundings.
"I like the sound of eternal gratitude," Raven says as she drops the mage she was carrying by the door. She heads for the key, although she's not unlocking anything quite yet. "Anybody arrive to break that mess up yet?"
The mage goes "Oof!" when he hits the ground. He might've been about to stir, until he was dropped...
Brita nods to Jerod and gives a slight shrug. "The Games were a Might Boring at first, but they Livened Up near The End." She looks back at the emuraptored mage and asks "What is your Name and How Long have you been Transformed?”
The Emuraptor dips its head. "I am Phillippe, called 'The Mouse' by most, or I was when I wore the shape of a man. I have been transformed for a few tennights, I think. No more than a month. I was cursed for stealing from the Governor. Well, that and escaping from his jail. You are the first people who can hear me speak. I beg your help recovering my true form!"
Jerod listens for a moment, but decides to let Brita take the point on the Emuraptor, directing his comments to Raven.
"No, nor are they likely to. They are going to be occupied for a time on the other side of town. That said, I wouldn't recommend remaining. There's a limit to how long we can mess with stuff without getting real notice."
"We were leaving," Raven says dryly. "We were waylaid by a rescue, as you can see."
She's more than willing to let Brita continue to talk to the giant bird as well.
Brita has walked around the cage to examine the Emuraptor/mage from all angles. She stops back in front and gets a far off look on her face for a few heartbeats while Raven and Jerod talk around her. Finally, she shakes her head and drops her own mage (gently) to the side. She takes a nearby hose and fills a small bucket with water. She swirls her hand through the water, purifying it as she was taught by her Father. She moves back to the cage and says "I do Not Know if You will Retain All Memories, but I Will Do what I Can. Don't Move." She walks slowly around the cage, counterclockwise seven times, dipping her fingers in the water at each side of the cage and sprinkling the emuraptor with the water. At each sprinkling, she thinks of a day of the physical transformation spell washing away from the mage. As she moves back to the front of the cage on the last rotation, she takes the remaining water in the bucket and douses the man in the cage to wash the last vestiges of the spell away.
As the water washes down the bird's body, he transforms back to a man. Or perhaps a boy. He's small and scrawny, and looks underfed. He gasps in shock and shakes water from his thin fingers. He steps forward and opens the cage and steps out, stark naked. "Thank you! Thank you your honors." He shakes hands with anyone who doesn't physical stop him. "I must be going, this place isn't safe for any of us. I am so grateful for all you've done for me. If you ever need my aid, please don’t hesitate to call..."
Jerod will shake his hand, and not let it go. His grip is firm but not crushing.
He looks over at Brita. "Useful possibly?"
Brita cocks her head and gazes at the Mage. "One with Knowledge of Workings Around the Government Would be Useful," she notes. To the newly transformed Mage, she intones, "Your Human Life is At My Will." She seems very serious - perhaps channeling Jerod or Brennan or an appropriate Uncle.
Raven nods in agreement.
He keeps pumping Jerod's hand, but it slows somewhat in frequency.
Phillipe's smile fades a bit, and then come back on just as strong. "Ah, more of a 'capture' situation than a 'rescue'. Still, it's an improvement and a trade-off, because where there's life, there's hope. My first useful advice is that we should leave very soon. Do you want me to carry your other prisoners?"
He doesn't look as if that is possible, much less a good idea.
Brita shakes her head and picks up Slagfirth to easily sling him back over a shoulder. "I have Got Mine," she notes as she makes her way towards the door.
Jerod releases Phillipe's hand and gestures to follow Brita. "You will find a leather satchel just past the door." he says. "It will contain suitable non-descript clothing to fit you. Put them on." and he makes sure of it.
Raven checks to make sure that Hat-Hatul isn't bleeding again before she collects him from the floor. If nobody objects otherwise, she'll be the last out the door. "And answer me a question, if you don't mind. This being turned into a bird and sent off to fight - that a normal thing around here?"
Philippe shakes his shaggy head. “No Sir, that takes special talent. One must first be caught stealing from the governor, so that one is placed in a cell, then one must escape the cell and use the opportunity to rob the castle, and get caught again, this time by the governor’s guest, who was the person I was hoping to rob. Then, and this the key part, once transformed and released in the forest, get captured as a bird and brought in for the games. I attribute the last of those to my lack of experience as an emuraptor.” Philippe grabs a whole loaf of bread from the table by the door.
"You, Lady and Sirs, are my fourth captors in a month, which I hope will be the end of that."
"Who was the governor's guest?" Jerod asks, his tone shifting from neutral to very focused.
"And what where you trying to steal?" Raven sounds more curious than anything else.
"And Who Turned you Into an Emuraptor?" Brita throws over her free shoulder as she leads the way outside.
Philippe busies himself putting on the clothes that Jerod so kindly arranged for him. 'Nondescript' is a perfect term for how easily he seems to blend in and look like no one important.
"I can, and will answer your questions, noble saviors. But first, I wonder if we could get a bit further away from the scene of the rescue? I advise this only out of desire to keep you from being accidentally arrested for consorting with me.
"As to my story, it is a tale worth telling, and I do not know if I can do it justice before I get some food that is not made of gobbets of raw meat. My diet of late has been rather too raptorious."
"Grab something on the way." Jerod says. "I'm sure one of your handlers was probably getting ready to eat something before all hell broke loose. We'll find it on the way out."
And Jerod is sure that they will.
Philippe reaches for a haunch of some large bird, but instead grabs a loaf of bread and some cheese. "Turns out I don't want a drumstick," he says to no one in particular.
He eats heartily, but it's clear when he steps out into the night that he's more familiar with shadows than the streetlamps. He's quiet when he steps out the door.
"And so the tale. Normally, I spend my time in Gateway. So many more opportunities for an enterprising young man such as myself, even one who isn't skilled in magic. An old friend, a woman to whom I owe a life-debt, asked me to do her a favor, and thus starts every tale told round the alehouse table.
"She had a tip from a mysterious benefactor that a rival mage was coming to this port and that she might be able to act against her here, where she had less protection. The plan was not simple, but I have told you the outlines of it. I was to get arrested in the keep, escape, do my friend's task, and cover it up with a simple but audacious robbery, which would be foiled so easily that they would just throw me back into my cell and I would escape again.
"Simple, yes? My target, as I am sure you have guessed, is none other than Dexamine, who my friend, Mage Harper, would see fall from power. One of the negatives of relying completely on magic is that it is difficult to see a more straightforward approach.
"The only frustrating part, now that I'm not an emuraptor, is that I don't know if Harper's plan succeeded or failed."
"Don't happen to know how long you were a bird, do you?" Raven asks.
"Not so long as to develop a liking for it, Captain. Two or three tendays. It's hard to know for sure." Phillipe looks out in both directions. "Would you like me to lead you to safety, or do we want to stand here and wait for trouble?"
"You were going after one of the Triumvirate?" Jerod asks. "And just exactly what was your little task that would be covered up by the robbery. Please don't squelch on the details."
"And if walking and talking ain't one of your skills, then aye, we can keep standing here while you answer," Raven says dryly. "Otherwise, let's do both."
Brita is walking backwards away from the group with her free arm up as if to say 'Well? Let's get a Move on!'
Phillipe is walking away in the same direction as Brita, but with a clear eye for the darker parts of the street. "My Lords and Ladies, You are aware that this quarter has a fair share of muggers and pickpockets, and that you are perhaps the most conspicuous party I have ever seen."
Raven snorts at that, clearly amused.
"Your Honor," he says to Jerod, "I was indeed, and if I knew what my mission was, it was removed from my mind by my patroness, who would not wish to endanger herself or her friends by letting me know too much. Suffice to say, the only reason I knew who the victim was to be was that Dexamene thinks everyone is after her, and so there is no need to hide it if you actually are.
"I will add that I have heard that she doesn't sleep anymore, and I believe it."
"Is that a magical effect she's chosen to accept or because she believes the Amberites are after her?" Jerod asks.
"Why do you believe it?" the captain adds. "Guessing it ain't just that she caught you."
He smiles, a self-effacing grin, and probably well practiced. "While there are those who say that one would have to get up very early in the morning to capture 'Phillipe Le Mouse', that is not the reason I think that, your honor.
"No, the reason I think that is that during the first three days of my captivity, I entertained the hope of escaping, while I was still in human form. I am no spell caster, but one does not succeed in this world if one does not recognize it when one sees it. If she had slept, she would've needed to use a different spell than the one she had encased me inside. My evidence is circumstantial, but convinces me."
"An unsleeping spell caster. Eight extra hours of being busy." Jerod mutters, then looks over at Brita. "You know if there are any ways to capitalize on this?"
Brita shakes her head, "I do Not. I Assume that Whatever it Required to Maintain the Sleepless State would Wear on her Resources for Other Spells, but I Cannot be Sure. I Also assume that there will be Repercussions When the Spell Ends - an Accounting." She asks Phillipe, "Do you Know if the Sleepless Spell was her Own Casting?"
Raven, having no particular theories on the magic itself, listens quietly.
"If you let me introduce you to my mistress, I am sure she can tell you more of the spell. I am a man of mostly practical talents, and philosophy and spell craft are best left to those who do not mind being turned into emuraptors.
"From what little I saw, she was stretching herself. She had some sort of potion or medicine that she took before public appearances in order to calm down. I suspect that your suggestion of 'repercussions' is very astute, your honor."
Phillippe looks around. "Are we just walking down the street to avoid talking in one place, or are we headed someplace particular?"
"What, you didn't get enough standing still as a bird in a cage?" Raven says dryly. "Whose rooms are we using as a place to chat?"
"My room is Fine," Brita notes. "There is a Back Door in the Hallway past the Kitchens and a Back stair we can take. It will be Easier," she concludes with a slight jiggling of the Mage over her shoulder.
The mage makes a slight moan. He's going to wake up bruised.
After a short walk (it is not a large town), they end up near the back of the inn, near the hallway and the stairs. Philippe says "It would be wise to distribute a small handful of coins to busboys and footmen in the inn, to remind them that they haven't seen you. If you would like to provide me with some coin, I could take care of the matter for you. Even were I to keep half of what you have, I would surely save you from the perils of both overpaying and underpaying."
Jerod drops a small pouch of gold into Philippe's hand, smiling just slightly when he realizes how many coins are in the pouch. "Don't spend it all in one place."
Brita's grin is Conner-bright. It is good to have 'Rich Friends' or at least Pattern-Wise Cousins.
She leads the way up the stairs to her room and, not ungently, drapes Slagfirth into a chair. She spends a moment to see if he is going to rouse anytime soon. If so, she does a quick spell - rubbing her hands together slowly near his ears to mimic the sound of gentle ocean waves, she hums a soft lullaby that will calm him and send him into a gentle, recovering sleep. If Raven's Mage appears wakeful, she does the same for him.
Raven helpfully deposits her mage in a chair near Brita. She checks to make sure he's not bleeding again before moving out of the way to let Brita do her spell.
Phillipe has a short chat with a young man in the back hallway and coins drop twice.
"Not only do we have privacy for our personal time, but the young bravo is interested in not having to split the tip. He'll keep the others well away."
The young man looks around the room. "We'll have to send out for food or drink." His gaze returns to the two competitors. "How does your plan require two of Thule's mightiest competitive wizards?"
Brita shrugs and looks to Jerod. "Thought Perhaps that His Lordship Here Might be able to Use them for Something, since they are Knowledgeable in the Magic of This Area." She looks back at Phillipe, "Besides, I'm Annoyed with This one," pointing at Slagfirth, "for Blowing Up a Perfectly Decent Emuraptor. Shoddy Play, in my mind; Practically Cheating."
"Shadow Mages are like cats." Jerod says. "They don't get along with each other. If these two are the mightiest of Thule, and that's not saying a hell of a lot, they might be persuaded to use a situation of opportunity to their own advantage, and create one for us. Dexamine is powerful, but that she already has your...patron...gunning for her proves she has enemies prepared to take advantage of risky situations." and he looks at Philippe. "A few more might help. Besides, I'm sure once they realize the situation, they'll be looking to be on the winning side. Or at least, to appear to be supporting the winning side when it comes time for retribution to be handed out."
He looks back at Brita. "Good call picking them up, by the way. I always thought having a redhead around would be a good idea." and he drops into a chair. "Oh, but if you tell your mother that, I'll deny it." and he pauses. "Or Bleys. Conner....he's okay, you can tell him. Brennan already knows so he's okay so that won't be a surprise."
"Also, maybe they'll be extra helpful because we didn't leave them to bleed to death in a riot," Raven says dryly. "How open are we being here? I mean, we got a confessed thief - no offense - and two mages that I'm pretty sure are gonna remember us from before they got knocked out. We talking about everything else we got going on with these guys?"
Philippe looks at them. "First, they are the best battle mages available on a Thirdsday evening, not by any means the best mages in the city. Second..." Phllippe goes over to Slagfirth and checks his pulse and eyes. "He's probably got another few hours of sleep in him, unless Your Honors choose to help him awaken sooner. Same for his competition.
"Aaaaand," he adds, "if your plan is bad for Dexamene, remember I do hold a grudge and would offer my highly skilled services at a discount."
"Mmmm...that is tempting." Jerod replies. "Except for the part about the discount. Cause in a tight situation, those who are easily bought with a discount tend to change sides at the wrong time.
"You may rest assured that those who serve well are remembered well. In ways beyond gold, though that's easy to provide as well. We were discussing your patron I believe?"
Raven takes a seat to listen.
"Well, then we are agreed upon full price," says Phillipe, smiling, "I am certainly worth it, and my patron agrees. Do I take it her fame is greater even than this shadowed realm?"
"No." Jerod says simply, with a slight smile. "If it were, I wouldn't be asking."
Phillipe nods. "As you wish, Your Honor, we'll do it as you wish. The Mage Harper was a part of the government that preceded the triumvirate, but was not in Gateway when it fell. Dexamene personally imprisioned her sister, who died in jail. Harper considers her vendetta to be in the best interests of the country."
His eyes dart between the three of them. "She also hopes to present Dexamene's head to Amber's forces, in the hopes that they will be satisfied with that outcome."
"Ah...that Harper..." Jerod says, memories filtering back. "It's been a little while. Wondered where she got to." and he leans back into his chair.
"And what do you think? Do you think the forces of Amber would be satisfied with Dexamene's demise? Given the severity of Gateway's actions? One could argue that Dexamene and her cohorts could not have been so powerful by themselves as to compel the entire kingdom to act against Amber. One might say that there would surely have been others who thought they might profit from that situation. who acted willingly. Forgiveness is not a quality that is noted in the Princes and Princesses as I recall... though vindictiveness is."
Philippe takes a big bite of bread from a plate that was on the table. He ignores the jug of wine. "Well, let me put it this way, Your Grace. If they are not satisfied, there is nothing I can do, and my own and my patroness' enemy shall die before we all do in an eschaton of Dexamene's instigation. If they are satisfied, then I have saved my world. If one excludes third options, I know which of those two I would try for."
Brita is leaning against a wall, legs crossed at the ankles and arms akimbo, her head down as she mulls over something. "Saving the World is Always a Noble Goal," she interjects, so she is obviously still listening.
"It is," Raven agrees.
"Indeed." Jerod says. "It's less messy in the long run, fewer bodies to clean up, cities to rebuild, that sort of thing.
"Though, I wonder if her demise might be sufficient. I've heard they're big on getting answers to questions. Her being dead would be relatively straight forward I suppose. Her being a prisoner... now from a merchant's perspective, we're talking some serious product value."
"I suppose it is noble if one has the option of fleeing, but most do not, and saving the world may well be a side-effect of saving oneself. I will accept the benefit of the doubt, if it is on offer. I like my world and do wish it to be saved, possibly because I know of no other." Philippe shrugs.
"As a merchant, My Lord, you have to weigh the advantages of your gain versus the risks and costs of not killing her immediately. She is tricky, and she might escape you, and then the forces of Amber might assume that you were not 'capturing' so much as 'aiding and abetting'. So you would want to minimize your delivery time. And, fairly or unfairly, if it went badly for them, they would remember you."
Jerod laughs, partly to himself, though giving a partial look to both Raven and Brita as he continues. "Indeed, I have no doubt that they would. I suspect that Amber's king would definitely be one to remember me were I to be considered as 'aiding and abetting'... I've heard he's a rather strange bird, but I suppose it's expected for a King."
"I think that we'll keep both options on the table. Certainly there is risk vs gain, but so long as the delivery of Dexamine, alive or dead, can be obtained, that I think is certain to go a long way to alleviating Gateway's position in the eyes of Amber and her Princes."
Brita comes off the wall and moves to the table of food stuff. While desultorily picking up a small sampling (i.e., a large pile of options) she notes, "She Could be Asleep. If We Bring Time to Bear at a Faster Rate than she is Expecting, We could Accelerate her Spell and Force Her to Sleep."
"If we can, probably ought to see if we can figure out how long she's going to have to sleep," Raven suggests. "Not that she can't be kept out once she gets there, but it'd be nice to know how much time we got to work with."
Phillippe is silent, letting the group talk.
"Would we do that magically, or use other means?" Jerod asks, not bothering to mention the Family gifts. "I'd also wonder if she is using a magical ability to remain awake, what would happen if magic were simply to stop? Would that have the same impact on her?"
Raven shrugs. "Magic ain't my thing. Just haven't met many that couldn't be knocked out with a good whack on the head, eventually. Probably wouldn't hurt to know what kind of protection she's got besides that, too, but I might be able to get some of that from some of the friends I've made." She snorts and tilts her head at Phillippe. "Or from a thief."
"It Could be Magic or Other Means. Taking Out her Power would Prevent Repercussions. I am Not as Skilled as Some, but We Could Manage," Brita grins.
Phillipe's eyes widen. "If you were to block her path to magic, whatever is keeping her going would probably fail. That's probably safer than just a strict kibosh to the head, but it'd have to be quick. If she detects you and counters your magic, you might wish you'd been turned into an Emuraptor."
"There would be no detection." Jerod says simply. "And it would not be magic so she would not be able to counter it."
"You are the Lead in This, Master Cambric. It is Your Call." Brita is more than willing to let Jerod 'play'. Should be interesting to see a minor Ragnarok.
Raven nods. "Ain't all that excited to make that big a noise right off, but if that's the best way, that's the best way."
Phillipe nods. "At this point, I would like to suggest that informing my mistress will have the beneficial side effect that someone would be ready to pick up the pieces for the good of Gateway. I could go do that, my Lords, if you so wished." He smiles, encouragingly.
"Let Harper know that you'll be proceeding against Dexamene." Jerod says. "You may advise her that you have allies."
Brita considered the discussion closed and moves to get more food. She also wants to find out what is happening with their fourth Horseman....
Raven stays put, keeping an eye on their new friend until he's out the door.
"As you say, Your Graces. Thank you." He pads right out the door and runs into Weyland. "Excuse me, your... bulkiness," says the boy, and scampers down the stairs.
Weyland looks down the stairs, then back into the room. "Is the riot at the bird-pit part of the plan, or just a way to spend a slow Thirdsday?"
"There was a Riot?" Brita seems genuinely surprised as she munches on a thickly proportioned sandwich.
"The youngsters were bored." Jerod says with a slight smile. "Can't take them anywhere. However, riots are sometimes useful in finding useful things...like the urchin who just scuttled out the door."
"So it's part of the plan now, I guess," Raven offers dryly. "Wasn't quite what I was aiming for."
The unfortunate part about being a Prince, Jerod muses, working his way through a large piece of sugar candy purchased from a local vendor, is you can't really have full size meals when you're trying to be inconspicuous amongst the Shadows. The sheer volume of food that a Prince can tuck into even during a routine sit-down is sufficient to give a regular person pause, not to mention if you need to load up on energy prior to getting into something where a bit of extra work maybe involved. A serious give-away if you're not careful and your enemies are wondering about Amberites on the loose.
Good thing he can eat on the ship, he thinks with a slight smile. With luck, the Weir won't be too put out that he ate one of their sheep for breakfast, though he's pretty sure they will completely disagree with the whole cooking part of the process.
He stops at a street corner as the last of the candy is consumed, looking ahead to his destination at the castle. His expression does not change in the slightest, the slightly bemused look of a merchant looking to complete an expected deal, but the mindset shifts, aware that he is walking into the lion's den. That the others on the ship and amongst his merry band are warned and ready is a single piece of data filtering in the background, the movement of the crowd, signs of surveillance, guards, threats and portents galore...all the preparations are completed as best can be done - now comes the time to see what life really has in store.
He shifts his belt slightly, settling the sword more comfortably, letting the cloak fall just right to allow for freer movement, before continuing forward to the castle and his appointment.
Jerod is let in, smartly, by the guard. The man is expecting him, and seems to want to ask questions, but keeps his face impassive. Jerod is led to a small room off the main hallway and is asked to wait.
The room is well but sparsely furnished, with two chairs and a small table between them.
The symposium is packed, and is apparently part of a series. The Abbot is the host of the event and spends some time rehashing the importance of the series and the history of the brother who will give the main presentation.
The room is arranged to have a slightly sunken stage, surrounded by a few rows of benches with writing tables attached to them. There are folk standing at the back, but Dalfeen and Sigurd are shown to reasonably good seats. "Ah, I'm glad to you made it," says Brother Alois. "Frere Jacques is assisting, so we get slightly better seats. Can you see the operating table?"
There is indeed a table being wheeled in to the room, followed by Brother Jacques and Brother Smee, the speaker. Smee speaks once the applause dies down. "Thank you. You may remember my planned experiments from last year's Symposia on Electro-Pathology regarding the chemical nature of photovoltaic reactions. I have two demonstrations for you this afternoon. In the first, I will demonstrate the generation of galvanic energy from chemical substances exposed to light. In the second I will demonstrate that the eye of a corby generates electrical impulses when exposed to light. Thus I will prove the galvanic nature of vision in animals and humans, with implications for galvanic diagnosis tools and electro-thereputical inventions."
The applause starts again and Smee gracefully acknowledges it. "Afterwards, we will entertain questions."
Smee and Jacques go on, using in the first place a galvanometer and several covered and uncovered chemical soups and then a eyeball recently extracted from a crow or raven to show the properties he means.
This is basic research at a level appropriate for the shadow. It's far ahead of anything Abford knows, but in other shadows, would be nearly two centuries out of date. He ends by showing that the bird's eye sees more than the human eye by filtering out visible light and still triggering the photovoltaic reaction from the eye.
When the applause dies down, Brother Jacques asks if there are any questions about the research. This seems to be what everyone was waiting for. A dozen hands shoot in the air, waving slightly to get Jacques' attention.
Ossian raises his hand. Mostly to see if he is singled out to ask among the first.
The question is, "So light becomes galvanic impulses. And no doubt what we see can touch our soul. Is our soul also galvanic?"
Silhouette remains silent during this, busy studying the more mechanical aspects of the demonstration. In some ways, it reminds her of her own research, if rudimentary in design.
"No doubt, young scholar? Interesting. But we will take your assertion as an axiom for the purpose of discussing the issue you raise. We will not even go into different meanings of 'touch' between the physical and the non-physical.
"Let us start with the basic premise. Light is translated from something (and let us say we do not know what) into galvanic impulses in the eye. Yes, that was demonstrated. The galvanic impulses are transmitted somewhere in the brain, we know that because we can trace the optic nerves. We can see and measure that galvanic reactions happen in brains, and seem to move to different parts of them. You are following, yes?
"Good," he says, not waiting to see if they are, "So we saw light transformed into energy, and your question is 'does this mean that because there is energy involved that the soul is also based on that energy?'"
"The answer is 'We don't know.' I'm sorry if you were hoping for a more direct answer, Assuming there is a soul at all, a question that the probative arts has not been able to detect a clear answer to, then it is possible that it is based on galvanic energy and it is possible that the energy that we so crudely detected here is transformed again.
"I personally think that the answer to your question must be 'no', because we are able to capture, measure, and create galvanic energy and I do not think the soul is a thing we can measure, create, or dissipate."
He looks at Alois and then back at Ossian. "What is your opinion?"
"What happens in the brain is of course a mystery. But I know it is full of nerves, which I guess means galvanism." Ossian says. "I assume that when we perceive beauty with our eyes, something is transferred from the eyes to the soul. Which I assume exists, of course. How it works? No idea."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "Might I ask then how you take account the effects of observation on such a quantum system? The instant we observe a quantum particle, it behaves in a rational manner. However, unobserved the particle acts outside concepts such as causality and determinism, as revealed by the Most Beautiful Experiment. Could we therefore state that by observing the soul, we actually alter, if not dissipate, its existence?"
Brother Smee matches her faint smile. "This is one of the reasons the Quantum Hypothesis is controversial. Still, the Mach–Zehnder proposal cannot be tested until someone can collimate a beam of light."
He looks at the rest of the audience. "You seem to be well-informed on the edges of theoretical physics. I would be pleased to discuss it after the conclusion of the lecture."
Brother Alois leans over. "I hope you'll stay after. He doesn't honor many guests with such an invitation."
Brother Jaques nods up at Silhouette. "Are there other questions?"
The remaining questions are more typical of medical students, ranging most in the practical range of voltages and power and equations, and less in the relationship between energy and the soul.
Silhouette touches his leg reassuringly.
She smiles softly at Brother Smee, "Oh, many, but I am certain they can be discussed in full at the lecture's conclusion. Thank you." Turning the smile to the other brothers, she whispers, "And thank you both, as well."
[OOC: Do you stay/leave early/flip the tables and riot? You have a zillion options...]
Ossian is inclined to stay. This is a nice opportunity.
After the lecture, the citizens and most of the monks leave, with a few staying behind. Jacques begins breaking down the demonstration and putting things away.
Alois brings them to meet and talk to Brother Smee. "Ah, yes the young lady with the quantum theory. It's very advanced for this shadow. Have you met Doctors Mach or Zehnder?" There seem to be quite a few monks watching Silhouette's reaction.
Silhouette shakes her head, "I do not believe so. Most of my studies into the interference effect stem from Dr. Young." She smiles softly, "I've always possessed an advanced understanding of quantum theory. Perhaps that stems from my education in various philosophies."
Ossian looks surprised. "I do not understand. What Shadow?"
Smee smiles at Ossian. Ossian gets the feeling that he thinks the pair of them have slipped up. "We'll get back to that, but first, I wish to hear this young lady tell of the philosophies she has studied and the experimental work of Dr. Young."
Silhouette inwardly smiles. She's caught their attention, for good or ill. Now to play the Game, in earnest. "We were initially discussing how observation itself could affect the underlying mechanics of a quantum system, such as the movement of light particles. Young showed that light passing through two-slits behaved different when observed and when unobserved. When allowed to behave unobserved, the light beams produced logical bands on the opposite side. When observed, the bands changed, to the point that defied logical analysis.
"If observation, our key method for understanding Creation, alters its fundamental principles, how then can we believe the Truths it provides?"
Ossian nods, but seems a bit lost in thought.
The monk nods. "I have never been comfortable with the leap from 'this is unexplained' to 'this is unexplainable'. The Merciful One, in his ineffable mercy, has made a world that we can puzzle out, but has not made it easy to do so. We are no smarter than the scholars of the oldest days, but we know more and can get further, precisely because of the tools they and those who came after them created for them.
"Is it not a simpler solution to the problem that you and Doctor Young are working on that you have simply not observed some other force acting upon the light?" It's unclear if he believes this theory or if he's just probing to see how Silhouette responds to being challenged.
"Personally, I believe it may be a relativity issue," Silhouette says softly. "The act of Observation alters quantum reality, placing it within our own frame of reference. The particles acquire aspects of this Realm, thus altering their basic properties. The 'interference' observed is simply a reflection of that alteration." A pause, "Perhaps the Divine allows us only to see so much of Creation, for to gaze beyond that veil would tread upon his Dominion.
"We may seek Perfection, but never obtain it... but the journey itself is what defines us, not the destination."
Smee taps her hand, once, as if she isn't paying attention. "No, child, first we must be assured that observation is best explained by your explanation before we delve into the murky metaphysics of the relationship between The Merciful One and his creation.
"I have posited that your phenomenon may have an explanation that does not require the quantum theory. There's nothing wrong with the theory, but before you build upon it, you must set your foundation clearly. Why do you think your and Doctor Young’s experimental outcome proves your theory?"
Silhouette blushes as if mollified. "Prove? I do not believe it does. Proof remains elusive for the time being. It is a working hypothesis until a more logical solution can be found." She cocks her head, "Do you have a theory of why such an interference would occur?"
Ossian smiles. "Observation. How is that defined?"
Smee turns to Ossian. "An excellent question, is it not Dalfeen? How was it defined in the experiments you studied and any you yourself did?" Now he's trying to see just how much detail he can get on your experimental knowledge of this theory.
Silhouette nods lightly to both, "Observation is the noting and recording the qualia of natural phenomenon through the senses, as well as with instrumentation. That observation is utilized to create and test a hypothesis. This is how Young conducted his experiment."
Ossian nods. "It's hard to experiment on unobserved phenomena."
"Indeed. But that is the heart of Dr. Jong's experiment, is it not?"
Smee turns back to Silhouette. "Do you think you could reproduce this experimen t. Here, for a small audience of my fellow scholars? Perhaps we could be of some use in describing the experiment to audiences more used to our terminology."
"With a little effort, a steady light source, and a few simple tools, I could replicate the two-point interference aspect of the experiment easily enough," Silhouette admits. "However, without more refined equipment, I would be unable to test the complementarity principles we've been discussing." She blushes brightly, apparently not accustomed to attention.
Smee smiles. "Excellent, it's settled then! Tell us what you need and Alois will arrange it. Would you care to stay the night here, or do you already have accommodations in town?"
"It should be a relatively simple list," Silhouette says. "I don't believe we've had the opportunity to find lodging. But we'd hate to impose."
She glances over at Ossian for confirmation.
Ossian nods. "That would suit us. The nature of light and its counterpart is intriguing."
Brother Smee looks pleased. "The Order considers hospitality a duty, and so we are always ready to house guests, especially visiting scholars. I will try to shield you from the more zealous brothers, who would talk through your demonstration all night, if they were allowed to do so.
"Frere Alois, can you take care of Dolphin's needs and schedule a suitable time for her presentation?"
Silhouette raises a brow at that name usage. Having been with her for some time, Ossian might notice this subtle change.
Alois nods. "Of course, Frere Smee." He turns to Silhouette. "Delfeen," he says, emphasizing her pronunciation, "please tell me what equipment you need. If you wish to provide diagrams or equations or lecture notes, I can arrange for a sciptivist to make a clean copy and replicate it for our scholars."
"The most difficult item will be a consistent light source, as I will need to create a pinhole beam of light," Silhouette explains. "Beyond that, a thin piece of card - paper or otherwise - with some form of suspension. Measuring tools and a screen onto which the light beam can be projected. A carbon-coated glass slide with two closely spaced etched slits is the preferred tool, but may not be available."
They discuss the pieces, outline the apparatus, and agree to the carbon-coated slide, but it will take until the next day to arrive. Brother Alois is excited and interested in seeing the experiment. He also delicately asks if you two need separate sleeping quarters and if your have any dietary restrictions. He is the ideal host.
"Separate rooms shall be acceptable," Silhouette says. "Thank you for your accommodating nature. I'd not expected such a warm welcome."
She smiles at Ossian, "I'm sure we could do with some food though."
"That would be most generous" Ossian says. "The double slit is of great importance. I wonder if there are animal eyes using its properties."
Alois looks at Ossian. "I am not a zoologist, but I can ask one to speak to you of this matter. What does the slit arrangement do in an animal eye? Will we need one for the demonstration?"
The monks are very interested and word of Dolfeen's demonstration has spread. At dinner, brothers ask her about it. They seem keen to understand the mathematics behind the theory (if they can be explained) and they seem reasonably well-versed in the concepts of optics and are interested, as Smee is, in why she thinks this is such an important experiment.
Silhouette engages them as much as possible, eager to discuss the various properties of light waves and interference patterns - as well as what they might mean for the underlying principles of scientific observation. She also provides them with the equation she'll be using for measuring the waves during the experiment.
You can find the experiment here along with the equation she cites.
Some of them seem to 'get it', and some seem to want to see the experiment before they invest in Silhouette's oddball theories...
[OOC: You can do the experiment tomorrow or the next day, as you wish. Anything you want to get done before it happens?]
OOC: Sounds good to me, unless Ossian wants to do some old fashion sneaking around.
[OOC: Do you? It's a long night and they have labs and offices and papers and such. Who knows? You might even find a crypt...]
[OOC: Oh, shiny. Ossian don't think they'll find much here, but there is one thing he wants to check: How suspicious they are about him and Sil.]
Ossian will indeed leave his room for a walk round the place. Will Sil join him? The first (and maybe only) goal is to see if the monks are following him.
Silhouette is waiting for Ossian to arrive, as if anticipating his arrival. "If you know this building, I suggest you lead us. I may be able to keep us obfuscated, if magick works here. Otherwise, I suggest extreme caution, followed by pleading ignorance if that doesn't work."
The building is dark, mostly, with dim electric lights on in the stairwells and main hallways. The kitchen seems to be a 24 hour shop, although it is quieter at this hour. There seem to be two areas that are more secure than the others. The first is what looks like offices for the Abbot and other figures, and the second is a locked door in the basement. The door in the basement seems very sturdy and well-made.
Ossian looks at the door. To Silhouette he whispers. "Can you see through it in some way?"
Silhouette draws two pieces of wire from her sleeve, and kneels before the door. "When you're a slave, you pick up a few skills or you do not eat." She begins to work on the lock, instinctively feeling for the tumblers and mechanisms.
The wires are like old friends in her hands, and the tumblers are easy to find, even without looking inside it. This lock seems to be about average for a shadow like this, so picking it is not a difficult task. Soon Silhouette has it open. The hallways beyond it seems newer, and perhaps nicer. The lights are more steady and the floor seems slick.
It reminds Ossian of the labs of the Klybesians, or what the offices at those labs should have looked like.
Silhouette listens careful, making sure they've not disturbed any late night researchers or a security guard. Glancing over at Ossian, she gives a slight nod - ready to follow.
"This smells like the Klybesians" Ossian whispers as he steps inside, "I wonder what they are looking for here. Traces of Edan?" He'll survey the place for short whole before looking more closely on anything.
This area seems to have offices. The air is noticeably cooler, as if there's some sort of heat exchanger or air conditioner. That would only be a little ahead of where this shadow is now, but it's at least culturally out of place. At the end of the hall is a door with no markings. The signs on the nearby doors are not in Thari.
"Then we're on the right track," Silhouette says. "We should be quick about this. We're already under observation. For all we know, we're being allowed to proceed."
She begins scanning the desks for paperwork or notes of interest, making her away toward the end of the hall.
Ossian whips out his sketch book and copies some of the writings from the doors. Is there any way to detect if they are moving through Shadow as they walk down the hall?
The character-glyphs are the same as Thari, but it's as if they're somehow intentionally encoded. Or else they're just stringing nonsense together.
Ossian doesn't feel as if he's changing from one shadow to another. There aren't changes in atmosphere or gravity or light. If he is changing shadow, someone went to some effort to make it seem seamless.
The door at the end of the hall is different, and seems more like an exterior door. Or a bulkhead.
There are several books open on the tables to what are clearly discussions of optics and lenses, as if someone had been researching the material for the upcoming lecture.
Ossian looks in the books. Do they look like standard University text books, or research reports? What language are the books written in.
The books are in many languages. Most here are in the languages of this shadow, but some are in stranger tongues.
None are specifically in Thari or in any other immediately obvious language of Amber or Chaos.
Some of them might be in a language that looks like some of the Runes Brita reads.
"Why have they coded the doors?" he whispers "Seems unpractical."
Silhouette finds the research material both upsetting and complimentary. At least they are attempting to be on the same level as her... or trip her up. Either way, the challenge is acceptable.
"Possibly they've marked the doors to indicate ranking or specify various projects," Silhouette says. "Communal research generally notates the phases and goals of projects, compartmentalizing them for efficiency."
She heads over to the exterior door, examining it carefully... first for alarms, then for locks.
Both. The lock is mechanical, and tricky but not dangerously so. The alarm? It's a closed sensor, electromagnetic in nature. It's hard to tell just how sophisticated it is.
Silhouette sighs faintly. With the alarm on, this would be troublesome, but not insurmountable. She checks the mounting for the alarm, and then uses her tools to open it up. As with most closed circuit alarms, there are two wires creating the sensor circuit. She inspects them for single and Double End-Of-Line resistors, which would prevent a bypass.
Silhouette can tell there's some sort of tamper-resistant electronics in there. She's also pretty confident in her abilities. It may take a few moments to bypass it, though.
Ossian watches. "They seem fond of this kind of security. I bet on a Shadow path on the other side of this door. Poor Edan."
Ossian hears footsteps in the prior corridor, but no one actually comes to look.
The conversation has been rounded off and the Trump contact ended. Conner and the two warriors have come through to Brennan together with their supplies.
[OOC: They have a number of things in their hastily-prepared luggage, including some "wonder what that is?" that may be useful to Conner later in terms of conjuring things. They do not have horses.]
Sir Firumbras stands out as foreign by style and weaponry; to Brennan's eyes, he looks like he's almost a little futuristic compared to the Maghee Brennan has been dealing with. The same is true for Conner, but of course the Shadows lie for him. And Regenlief looks like, well, a Valkyrie, so maybe from the next couple of principates or dukedoms or other little places over?
When their goods are handed through, Sir Firumbras comes first, Regnelief comes second, and Conner comes last. And then the contact fades and the four warriors are left standing in the night.
Regenlief does not appear to have immediately recognized Brennan.
Once everyone is through and briefly acclimated to their surroundings-- something like a tent which is by the sound of it on the edges of some fair, market, or other such gathering, and evidently at night-- Brennan gestures everyone to sit, or to make themselves at rest as they please. There are folding chairs of canvas, and cushions. Observant eyes will see three bedrolls, making four seated occupants somewhat cozy, but not uncomfortable. If the other two occupants return, space will become a premium.
"Welcome," Brennan says, "to Avalon.
"If I understand correctly, no single one of us knows all three of the others. Some introductions are in order, then my cousin and I will explain what we're about and you can decide if you wish to remain. My name," he says with some mild emphasis, "is Brennan, son of Brand, son of Oberon. In the past, I've used the name Ramble, but in this place, for the moment, call me Walker."
Brennan is too polished a communicator not to have made eye contact with everyone in the tent, but most of his attention is on Regenlief.
Regenlief clearly understands the import of the introduction and is deferring it for later. Brennan thinks she's recognized his voice now that he’s talking.
Sir Firumbras, either because he's got a penchant for stepping into the middle of awkward situations or because it's a good moment to allow Regenlief to recover her equilibrium, speaks up. "I am Firumbras, formerly of the court of King Carol of Paris, now serving King Corwin. It is his wish that I aid you, and so I shall. Though," he says, looking around, "I expect to need to conceal my features." Because he looks like he has some Altamerean blood in him, or something related to it, or even some Moonrider with the pale silvery white skin, the height, and the slightly inhuman features.
"I'm Regenlief of Asgard," says Regenlief, who, unlike Firumbras, will pass in these parts as a simple warrior. "Walker and I have met before. I'm also in service to King Corwin at the moment."
"I am Conner, son of Fiona, daughter of Oberon. I now bear the Pattern Blade of Rebma and have sworn the oath to be her Knight Protector." Conner states. "And if an alias is needed, refer to me as Rooker." Conner looks over Sir Firumbras. "Where are you from, Sir Knight? Your features remind of the people of Altamar."
"We have. Well met again, Regenlief," Brennan says, and though his tone and expression are mild, they indicate quite eloquently that they will talk privately later.
Oh yes, yes they will.
"And well met, Sir Firumbras. Before we delve into our purpose, let me give a warning: Serve the King as you will, but the names Corwin, Karol, Carolus, and all the common variations are unwise to speak here, and less wise to affiliate with. There is a history in this place-- a man by that name once ruled, and ignited such a fury in his peoples that they sank an island to be rid of him. We will not advertise our kinship with him."
Sir Firumbras looks like he'd like to protest this, but he nods his agreement without argument. He's got enough potential problems without advertising he works for the Sorcerer King.
"That said," he continues, "Some recent history: Some time ago man called Huon of the Horn-- our uncle, in fact-- laid siege to the Realm of Rebma. Its then-Queen, Moire, abandoned the city to find its own defenses. Conner and I played a role in that defense, with three cousins. One assumed the throne and gave her life for the good of Rebma. Another is occupied with other tasks related to that war. The last, daughter of Corwin and Moire, occupies the throne now; you may have met her in Paris.
"The siege was broken, although the damage to Rebma is considerable. Huon currently enjoys the extended hospitality of Queen Celina of Rebma. While out of Rebma, Moire has also killed another member of Amber's royal family, another cousin of ours, and fled further still." Brennan pauses as if to suggest a shrug-- it's a big family. "She seeks to reclaim the throne she has failed to defend, and we would spare the city further violence and destruction."
Brennan turns the narrative over to Conner.
"To this end Rebma has sent out agents, questioned former supporters and asked the family to keep an eye out for any traces of the former Queen." Conner replies. "Her last known sighting was in Paris when she appeared in the middle of a company of Rebmans under service to our cousin Vere. Several of them left with her. Enough to be a bodyguard as opposed to army. There had been no further sightings or leads to her location until Brennan started investigating things here in Avalon."
Conner gestures for Brennan to continue from here.
Neither Firumbras nor Regenlief seem to have any problem following this.
Brennan picks up the tale by reaching for a map tube, opening it, and spreading a map of the surrounding isles on the table.
"Just as there is a road by which anyone can walk between worlds from Rebma to Paris, so there is a road from Rebma to Avalon, although much less known and more securely guarded. My supposition was that Moire would walk that road-- or send an agent-- and come out roughly here," he indicates the area, "on the coast opposite the proper isle of Avalon," another gesture, "ruled by our uncle, the Protector. I spoke with him, explained my suspicion that Moire would use his realm as staging ground for a surprise invasion, and he agreed it was plausible and undesirable.
"Avalon is constantly at war. Activities here, around Methryn's Isle," a gesture toward Montparnasse, "was part of a complex feint to leave this area of the coast-- and the road back to Rebma-- exposed and undefended. That activity has been shut down, although the Protector's allies may feign weakness as part of a trap." Brennan stresses by inflection that this course of action is not certain. "Along the way, I questioned a man who had been put under a geas by Moire to force him to serve her in this regard. Unfortunately, breaking the geas-- which allowed him to identify her-- also ended his life. I've tracked down a second member of this plot, whose mind has also been tampered with, who has identified an agent of Moire's acting in Avalon as an Admiral Stratum. We are stepping carefully so that we might learn more, save his life, and preserve him as an ally. There is a third man whose mind has been clouded, a fleet captain named Jellicoe, still at large." He does not go out of his way to stress it, but neither does he hide it: those who know Brennan can pick up on his contempt for the brainwashing and mind-clouding techniques that are being used, here.
"I also learned there is a second, though more difficult, route from Avalon to Rebma," Brennan says. Which seems like a good place to turn the story back over to Conner.
"The details are still sketchy as the story Brennan was told contained dream like elements similar to those in Tir. But the short version is that the man Brennan questioned, a Maghee wizard from these isles, was brought to an underwater throne room by a group of people that lived in a kelp forest. While there he encountered another cousin of ours Dara and later ex-Queen Moire. It was the ex-Queen that sent the wizard with forces to attack Avalon. More concerning to us is how exactly Moire and this wizard were able to meet in the first place. There is a great kelp forest on the edge of Rebma. Within that kelp forest lives a Dragon and her Sons, the beings known as Tritons. We now suspect that the other end of that kelp forest comes out here in Avalon and represents another path to Rebma that the ex-Queen could exploit in her attempts to usurp the Rebman throne. One of my tasks is to try and locate this route."
Brennan nods emphasis at several points, especially the mention of Tir-na Nog'th and Dara. He also puts the various images he's collected from various sources on the table.
"And mine," Brennan continues, "if warranted, is to cover the direct road on the coast across from the Isle of Apples itself. Jointly, of course, we need to determine if Moire is here in person as I suspect, or if she is working only through intermediaries, and adjust our plans when we get new information. The true goal over all of this is: Capture Moire and turn her over for justice. I will emphasize that: Capture. Not kill. Simply disrupting her plans and spoiling Avalon as a base of operations is the minimal acceptable outcome.
"A few wrinkles, though," Brennan says. "First, We haven't gone out of our way to announce that we know Moire is active here, or even that we're here. That subterfuge is rapidly nearing the end of its useful life-- Jellicoe has no reason to know who I am, but he's seen my face and report it if he reaches his Admiral. Second, we have as yet no writ from our uncle to field an army... although when we can be more precise about Moire's plans I expect that will change. Laying the groundwork seems in bound, though. Third, beware mirrors. Moire and her agents can use them for spying. You won't even find a shaving mirror in this tent."
Brennan looks to Conner-- anything else for the summary before they start actually planning?
Nothing more from Conner. On to planning.
Regenlief has a look on her face that Brennan knows of old: she's doing a lot of tactical considering in her head. Before she can speak, though, Firumbras says, "I have questions about Moire of Rebma; she is not the Queen of Rebma I know of old. The true Queen of Rebma is a formidable foe. I do not understand this about abandoning posts and other Queens. Either she is the Queen or she is not. Can you explain this to me?" His eyes flick from Brennan to Conner, who has the sword, whose power Firumbras seems to understand. He adds, after a moment, "But your cautions about mirrors are duly noted. I shall make certain nothing is mirror-polished."
"I shall try," Conner replies, "but much of the history of Rebma has been lost or reshaped by the Archivists. You may be able to fill in some gaps for me. I presume that the true Queen of Rebma that you remember is Queen Moins. In a time long past, she died on the battlefield protecting Rebma during a time of war. Her daughter Moire stepped into the breach and claimed the Queenship and ruled for long enough that many only knew of her as the Queen of Rebma. However, there is evidence to suggest that while she claimed the temporal authority over Rebma, she did not have the metaphysical ties to the land that mark a True Queen of Rebma."
"Moire has a younger sister, Llewella, daughter of Moins and Oberon. Llewella, ... had, a daughter, Khela." Conner pauses for a moment. "She found the blade I now wear and by this token of rulership rallied many to her side. She marched against the false Queen Moire who fled before her. Khela also repulsed an assault upon Rebma led by Huon of the Horn who came to claim the Pattern Blade of Rebma. The people of Rebma accepted her as ruler and swore homage to her, but Khela wanted to be a True Queen and so sought to bind herself to Rebma. She failed and she gave her life in the attempt. She had named our cousin Queen Celina as her heir. The people of Rebma have sworn an oath to accept her as Queen. By her authority, I was bound to the Pattern Balde of Rebma and made its Warden. The land responds to her as it would a True Queen. So, as far as I am concerned, there is but one Queen of Rebma and it is Celina. Does that make things clearer?"
"Not entirely," says Firumbras, "but clear enough for the work we mean to do."
Brennan nods along as the professional diplomat explains things. He has little to add to Conner's explanation, although he is carefully observing Firumbras when Conner relates the fact of Moins' death. "Sir Firumbras, who were the Kings and Queens in the time of Carol?" A moment later, he adds, "Do not name the Queen of Tir-na Nog'th, please, just indicate if it is this woman," putting the sketch of Maeve and whoever the other person is on the table.
"That is the Queen of the city of my birth, though I do not know who the man is. Moins was Queen of Rebma, Oberon of Amber, and Carol of Paris," Firumbras answers. And now, as I understand it, Random is King of Xanadu, and of Amber--" though Firumbras sounds like he's a bit doubtful on that point, "--Corwin is King of Paris, Tir is broken, and Celina, as you say, is Queen of Rebma. Is there more you wish to know that would be relevant to our current plight?"
"I do have one question." Conner nods. "In your time, how did one travel between the Pattern realms? Were there paths you could follow or did you have to be led by a royal?"
Firumbras answers, "There were roads and gates, but to go quickly, the best method was for a royal to lead you."
Brennan throws Conner a glance at that, but doesn't address it directly.
Brennan lets Firumbras answer that question, then adds, "I would add Avalon to your list. Our uncle styles himself the Protector, but he bears the same relationship to it as the others to their realms. And I do have a question that may prove relevant: Does the name Lir mean anything to you? Either of you?"
Regenlief, who has been enjoying the show and perhaps Brennan at work, shakes her head in the negative.
"Lir was a knight of Rebma, the equivalent of a peer in Corwin's court. He was of the Blood Royal. I never had the honour of meeting him in person, but I was acquainted with knights who had served in Rebma and did know him," Firumbras answers. There's an implicit why? at the end of that.
Brennan is clearly in team-player mode: "I mentioned that this place has a history-- someone named Lir was a part of it. Whether it was the same man of your time, or a shadow of him is not clear, but many tribes and folks of Avalon place a Lir in their histories, far enough past to be more myth than anything else. The Maghee, who we'll meet shortly, credit him with raising the Silver Towers and later joining his kin to fight in a war against sea-demons." Brennan will relate the whole tale as the Maghee tell it if anyone asks.
"Aside from my insatiable curiosity for history," Brennan says, "knowing everything we can about Lir could provide much leverage with the local folk when and if we mobilize them into an army. I'll be glad for anything you remember, but especially his full lineage."
"While you are pondering matters of Rebman history, I would also know of one called Cneve." Conner puts in. "He was the last to bear the Pattern Blade of Rebma and much of his history has been buried."
"Prince Lir was the son of Moins, and I do not know his father. That was the custom of Rebma in those days. Rebma only counts descent through the mother's line." Firumbras is being very clear on that point. "I have heard that he was dead, but not the details of his demise. He was still living when last I knew Rebma. As for Cneve," and here Firumbras seems a bit uncertain of the pronunciation, "I do not know him. He must have been after my time."
Regenlief is beginning to look a little bored.
Conner nods to the knight. "Thank you, Sir Knight. That satisfies my curiosity for the moment." Conner turns to Regenlief. "At some point, I must introduce you to my sister. She is also of Asgard, Brita, daughter of Vidar."
Brennan is slower to respond, turning over Firumbras' statement in his mind. He allows some mild surprise to show on his face, the better to underscore his words. "I thank you as well, Sir Firumbras. I can see now that the subject of Lir may be delicate ground. Suffice to say that, while I believe you, the myths of Lir and Moins-- whom I have heard called the Dido and the Elyssa-- have drifted enough to be not only mutually incompatible, but in some cases mutually offensive." Brennan doesn't bother to explain, because he knows that the details are not important at the moment, only the warning. "When this task is behind us, I hope to spend some time exchanging the oldest stories of Amber for the newest."
Firumbras nods gravely. He doesn't look exactly troubled, but it's clear that Brennan's words have gotten his attention.
[Brennan] gives Regenlief the opportunity to respond to Conner if she wishes, but if not he looks set to exit briefing mode and enter planning mode.
"You're not the first person to mention her to me," Regenlief says to Conner. "I look forward to meeting her.” She turns to Brennan. “What do we do next?"
"All roads lead through the Maghee," Brennan says. "They should be finishing up with Cledwyn by the time we get there, which will inform my next task-- figuring out where Moire is and what her plan is. And since the ones we'll meet include the lorekeepers and magicians of their people, they're as good a place as any to start looking for the sea routes," he glances at Conner.
"Absent any shocking development, I propose we split up: Conner, with Firumbras' ancient knowledge and possibly some local Maghee guides to investigate the water route; Regenlief, Cledwin, Sessile and I to act on whatever else we learn in tracking Moire and organizing on land." He looks to Conner to see if that meets his satisfaction.
Conner nods his approval of the plan.
Then as an afterthought, "The Maghee won't be expecting guests-- we'll have to tell them something. Your call on how you handle your identity, of course."
"I presume this place is remote enough that travelers newly arrived isn't a good enough story?" Conner asks. "We can always lay the blame on me as a magician of your own people who arrived belatedly to your call for magical advice."
"Actually, it's a regional horse fair," Brennan says. "Organized mostly by the Maghee, but large enough that traders come from far afield, as I understand it. I thought it would be a good place to see what these folk would look like as a military force, and to get their hedge wizards involved, but a chance meeting of old acquaintances is plausible enough.
"These particular Maghee to see, though, are the hedge wizards I hooked into a meeting with an historical relic of their tribe, and are the sort of folk who arranged a meeting in the dark, away from the rest of the fair, and came wearing face-occluding ceremonial masks." Brennan gives a rather sour smile at that-- he's not fond of masked cultists, all things considered, but it is what it is. "Nothing we can't handle, I just want to give you enough material to work with." Brennan has nearly unlimited faith in Conner's ability to smile and charm his way past any difficulties.
"That should do nicely then." Conner nods. "I'm no Prince Garrett but I can haggle over a horse convincingly enough. If you can get me into your next meeting with these hedge wizards, I should be most interested. Else the three of us can nose around the fair and see what we shall see."
Regenlief volunteers, "I'm all right with horses. I can negotiate if you're busy."
"I'll need some magic of concealment, most likely," Firumbras offers.
"I very much value your opinion of these folks," Brennan says. "The opinion of everyone here, in fact, but hustling one person in will be much easier than hustling three, so let's see if we can split the difference: Conner, let's see if we can talk you past our hosts for the remainder of tonight's activity. If that goes well, either the nature of the meeting will change, or there will be a second one at a later date. Cousin, perhaps you are something in the neighborhood of an historian or other scholar? Something suitably vague as to your sorcerous abilities, but with enough useful information of other realms to hook their attention?"
It's an off-hand suggestion-- Conner is competent to handle his persona and Brennan will follow a different lead if Conner has a different of better preference.
"That sounds like a reasonable plan. Meanwhile, Regenlief and Sir Firumbras can try to get the lay of the land. Once we tend to his disguise of course." Conner takes whatever time is needed to drape a warp and weft of altered light around the knight's features to let him pass for normal for a few hours while Conner and Brennan are off with the Maghee. Brennan's help with this will be much appreciated of course.
Brennan has no applicable Principles so his help is limited to watching what Conner does with interest, critiquing and otherwise kibbitzing. Maybe this will work better than his own not-entirely-successful attempts at letting the Shadows lie for him.
Conner's spell is simple and temporary. Sir Firumbras appears no taller than Regenlief, which is tall for these people, but not extraordinarily so. They could be brother and sister, and Firumbras says as much. Regenlief agrees and they quickly work out a story of traveling mercenary relatives looking for horses and weapons.
"Shall we count on you to find us again after your sorcerous meeting, or shall we plan to meet here at sunset?" Regenlief looks as if she has unfinished business with Brennan, but is willing to put it off for the moment.
"Best to meet here at an appointed time," Brennan says. "Sunset works. Hard to say how long we'll be here. I'm not planning on being run out of the fair by an angry mob, though, so probably at least one more day."
Speaking of getting run out of the fair, Brennan does have the presence of mind to ask to see their currency, to make sure they're not accidentally passing around shiny, newly minted Parisian Witch-King-Heads. If they need cash for that or any other reason, Brennan conjures some good old fashioned Protectors for them, or whatever currency suits their emerging story.
[OOC: I'm just *assuming* Corwin has his face on his coins.]
Regenlief and Firumbras depart to scout the faire.
Ramjollock is at the entrance to the tent, dealing cards, face-down in a standard layout-of-six. "Welcome back, Walker." He says. He doesn't get up, or stop blocking the entrance to the tent.
"I trust all has gone well in my absence," Brennan says. His tone is fractionally more chill than the words they cover, but only a small fractional. So far, the man is only impeding him socially not trying to do so physically. "I've come back to rejoin Sessile and Cledwyn. I bring with me Rooker, a learned man of my acquaintance. It is a chance encounter to find him here-- I expect him to have some common purpose with the Council."
Brennan begins gather the Pattern to himself, in preparation of a manipulation of probability if necessary.
"I greet you as one keeper of knowledge to another." Conner smiles brightly at Ramjollock. "I see that you seek wisdom from the cards. It is a practice I also turn to in times of uncertainty." Conner crouches down to see the back of the cards closer.
"Oh yes? How interesting. Would you cast for me, Rooker?"
Ramjollock squares the deck and offers it to Conner.
Brennan-- somewhat intrigued by that turn of events, in spite of himself-- metaphorically stands back to let Conner deal with that as he may.
And immediately stops gathering the Pattern to himself, so as not to bias anything that happens.
Conner hesitates for a moment. "In my tradition, it is unusual to cast with cards that belong to another. But if that is what you wish." Conner shrugs and accepts the cards. He begins shuffling them slowly, getting a feel for them. "Do you wish to ask a specific question or just a general read of the future?"
Ramjollock squints at Conner. "If you please, tell the future of our collaboration with you. How do the Maghees fare in such an arrangement with you and yours?"
Brennan is, if truth be told, interested to see how that one falls out, too. But, while he is not at all averse to cheating on his own behalf, considers it a serious breach of etiquette to stack the deck for his cousin. Instead, he merely watches.
Conner simply nods and shuffles the cards until they feel right. Then he casts them in the standard pattern.
The cards turn out as follows:
The Fool (reversed)
Fearing Shadows (reversed)
Drowning in Armor
Overlooking the Diamond
Conner looks over the cards before him and smirks at the straightforward yet ambiguous statements before him.
"The Fool reversed speaks of an isolated past. I know not if this is by choice or circumstance but just from what I have seen here, it clear you keep yourselves apart. The Present shows Authority, and the Future Order which would indicate to me a relationship formed from respect of power deepening to one of respect or even loyalty."
"That brings us to the Twins here: The secrecy and separation between us serves no purpose and may even prove harmful."
Conner places his finger atop the last card with its peasant and shining gemstone. "There is opportunity here in this alliance. If we are wise enough to reach for the Jewel instead of getting lost in the weeds."
Brennan looks over to Conner and says, almost conversationally, "Since I first set foot on this isle, the Diamond has been following me. It has been present in every hand I have cast, every hand I have even witnessed. It would begin to feel personal, except that this cast is not about me," he turns his attention back to Ramjollock, "but about Ramjollock's people. My interpretation is much the same, but in different words."
He begins with the upper trio of cards: "The strength of the Maghee people is not in doubt. That has been tested for generations. But these three cards speak to tests of will, of wit, and of wisdom," Brennan touches the Virtue, the Fault and the Fate cards in turn. "Fearing Shadows is a test of will through a test of fear, and the opportunity to banish fears as decisively as one steps out of Shadow and into the light, while Drowning in Armor is a test of wit, of realizing when old defenses are no longer equal to the tests of the day, realizing when they do more harm than good. And Overlooking the Diamond is the test of wisdom that balances between them. Somewhat banal as an interpretation,but would I be wrong in thinking that they represent facets, or factions, of an on-going debate for your people?"
Brennan waits long enough for Ramjollock to respond, even with a head-nod or head-shake, but continues regardless.
"But these on the bottom, these puzzled me. These are all representations of your past, aren't they?" This time, Brennan's question is purely rhetorical. "Lir, your lawgiver. The king-- not the Sorceror-King, or this would be at best reversed, or likely the Usurper-- is the result of those laws, the kingdom that endured after his departure." Brennan quotes from memory, respectfully, a passage of Cameleopardis' book which equates various of the Silver Towers with various of the virtues which Lir codified. "And the isolation, the scorn suffered even after the sacrifice your people made in ridding yourselves of the Usurper. Viewed as history, they are in the wrong order. But tell me, Ramjollock, do the Maghee people have prophecies of rebirth?"
Ramjollock smiles and moves aside. "Forgive me for testing you, but there are so many who know not the power of the cards. Some who will just attempt to read the subject and apply general principles. You can see how that would lead to false trust in a charlatan. I wanted to know before I sent you back in.
"You, Sir, are correct," he says to Conner. "We maintain a vigil, in case the old harms our ancestors sacrificed so much to defeat return to these lands, in case another Sorcerer-King arises here."
He turns to Brennan. "Rebirth would mean a return to war, or so we have always been told and so we have prepared for. And yet, this is Avalon, and rebirth is central to the land."
"So, too, is war, Ramjollock. So, too, is war. But these are heavy matters best discussed in a council, not in twos and threes."
Brennan enters the tent, and unless there is reason not to, seeks out Cledwyn and Sessile and any who might be with them, introducing Rooker as necessary.
Brennan enters the tent and finds it as he left it. Cledwyn and Sessile are off to the side, Cledwyn is sketching on a new pad. "Are we ready? I am steeled to whatever it does to me."
Conner enters behind Brennan and moves to stand beside him. He gives the two men a reassuring smile and waits for Brennan to make any needed introductions.
Brennan sets an aromatic package on a table (the ground, if need be) near Cledwyn and Sessile, and unwraps it to reveal a fortifying late night meal: The last skewers and pastries of day, some wrapped sausages, some bread and cheese, and fresh skins of water to wash it down with. "Eat," he says, not unkindly. "It's been a long day." There's more than enough for Conner to share if he so desires, but Brennan seems to be-- unusually for an old campaigner-- fueling himself mostly on the anticipation of what they're going to learn shortly.
With the meal unwrapped, Brennan makes the introductions: "This is the man I told you about, Cledyn, and this is Sessile. Men, this is an old friend I had not expected to see here. Rooker is a wise man, and knowledgeable. I trust him, and once we see what we see, he'll be a party to our talks with the Maghee." Then, addressing Cledwyn's question directly: "If the Maghee are ready, we should proceed. No point in waiting. I don't know what you'll experience, but my advice is this: Pay attention to faces, especially the Admiral's mother, Syke, if you can. A sketch of Syke could be even more valuable than of the Admiral. Pay attention to the background, too, if you can. Faces of advisers, servants, whatnot. But especially Syke."
Brennan will motion the Maghee spokesman, Skogen, over and make whatever introductions are necessary.
Skogen accepts Rooker as an associate of Walker's and a magus who will observe the casting.
The potion is ready, and on a poorly-lit table in the tent, with shadows lengthening outside, they begin to cast on it. It is the same pigeon-creole of Thari and something else. The potion lights up, but that might just be an effect.
Eventually, they bring the container to Cledwyn, who smiles, and has a sip.
Cledwyn turns and looks at Brennan. "Captain Mondieu, so good to see you again. Have you considered my offer? I can get your patron the best price in Northport for his goods." He turns to Conner. "A mug of water, if you please. I don't recall being this parched." He pantomimes drinking and then his arm falls to his side. "Admiral, what are my orders?"
Sessile is writing down Cledwyn's words.
Cledwyn pauses, and prepares to drink again.
Brennan turns to look at Conner with an expression of mild non-plussery-- this was not exactly what he had expected-- before turning back to Cledwyn.
"No orders until you debrief," Brennan says. "From when last we met, tell me where you have gone, who you have seen, what you have said and done to carry out my orders."
Conner shares Brennan's look of confusion and awaits Cledwyn's answer.
Llewella lets go of Robin’s hand after the trump drops. She pulls a bottle out of a bucket on the floor. It’s not iced, but it seems cold. She offers it to Robin.
Robin looks at it for a moment and decides to behave like an adult. "Thank you." She takes a drink.
"Your home is lovely, Aunt Llewella. And I am very, very grateful for your hospitality. I did not mean to be disrespectful. I just... really don't like being soaked. And," she adds with a rueful laugh, "am young enough and tired enough to make sure everyone knows it... my apologies."
"It's technically Celina's hospitality. She's in Paris right now, though I expect her to return soon on my Trump. She left me in charge, though, so I accept your thanks on her behalf. And I'm glad you brought the seahorse through to us, because they don't do very well on land." Llewella smiles wryly. "I do understand, though, because I always feel like my skin is sandpaper after too long ashore. Different strokes and all that."
Robin nods sympathetically, feeling desiccated in air makes sense if one is aquatic. She's just got... all her feathers weighed down right now.
"I do think you should stay until Celina returns, if only to give her all your news. I don't think it will be very long; she left for Paris by Trump and wasn't expected to stay even so long as overnight."
If she noticed anything else in the conversation that she wasn't supposed to, and she must have, Llewella is politely not noticing that she noticed it.
Robin nods again, "Of course, we will stay -- barring emergencies. After all, Queen Celina is whom I was hoping to bring them to."
Not noticing is a Ranger skill too. After all, tent walls...
"Iiiiii suppose I should get back out into the wet and reassure Sir Ophiuchus that his Liege is well." Robin decides to leave it there. 'And safe,' doesn't seem right.
Llewella nods her permission. "Go ahead. The dry rooms aren't equipped for sleeping, but I'll make sure you have access while you're here. You're not the first person to wish they were bedrooms even if most of the family doesn't admit it." She adds after a moment, "Of course I'll let you know as soon as I hear from Celina about the time and date of her return. I can always Trump Corwin if it becomes urgent. Otherwise, you and Sir Ophiuchius are free to enjoy the hospitality of the palace." She pronounces the knight's name perfectly.
"Thank you." Robin says with sincerity and a slight bow. She adds a sigh as she re-dons her wet accoutrements. With a little apologetic wave for the mud spatters and whatevers she leaves in her wake, Robin exits the dry room and traces her way back toward the balcony table. For all that it is wet, at least Rebma is easier to navigate through than Amber Castle.
Llewella politely lets her go, giving her directions back to where they left Sir Ophiuchius, which happens to be in her suite.
When Robin arrives, Sir Ophiuchius has been fed and watered in the Rebman style, with which he seems comfortable. He rises to greet her. "Well met, Sir Robin. The Princess Llewella has provided a small feast for me. Will you share it and give me whatever news you have?" he asks hopefully.
Unlike Robin, he's pretty happy to be in Rebma. It's similar enough to his native environment for comfort.
"Of course!" Robin says happily. After all, she's never been one to turn down a meal. Also, it cheers her somewhat to see Ophiuchius comfortable, given the turmoil she's brought into his life.
Robin drops into a chair with only a little bobble-float, and helps herself to whatever red meat she can find.
"I spoke to Vere. He and the others are well. He said they had a little adventure along the way, but I don't think he means the same thing as I do by 'little adventure.'" Robin says reassuringly. For herself, a 'little adventure' means flesh wounds only. For Vere, it probably means something more like 'an interesting conundrum.'
"Lady Morgne, Lady Laudine and Sir Ywain are all at Amber Castle enjoying the hospitality of the Regent there, my Uncle Caine." No editorializing, she tells herself firmly. "Prince Caine sent Vere onward to Xanadu to speak to King Random and to perform a... small adventure for him." Robin's eyes narrow briefly. That 'small adventure' has too much potential to become 'a great deal of fun' for her taste.
"It should only take a day and then Vere will be headed back to Amber and will contact us when he gets there. In the meantime, Princess Llewella has granted us guest rights here in Rebma while we wait for Queen Celina to return. It seems that her Majesty is currently in Paris closeted with King Corwin on something that I have no knowledge about. But Llewella expects her to return sometime today.
"Soooo, you and I are on our own for a while. And, unless you have any better ideas, I was thinking to go back to the stables and poke around some..." Robin shrugs casually. But there's a gleam in her eye that says 'Seahorses!'
There's not a lot of red meat since that's kind of a special treat and anyway probably not something an underwater dweller would ask for. But there is definitely more meat-textured fish or other seafood that Robin can eyeball and then eat.
Ophiuchius nods and otherwise signifies understanding--nodding not being the best gesture underwater always, depending on the currents--as Robin tells her tale. "If it pleases you to visit the stable once we've finished our repast, Sir Robin, I shall be glad to accompany you as we wait for Queen Celina." He hesitates, then asks outright, "Is this much travel between the realms usual for your family?"
"Weellll," Robin drawls as she thinks, "there didn't used to be this many realms. At least that we knew of. So historically, no. But as a Family, we're in a period of... turmoil right now. And I think that's made us band together more than usual. It's certainly proven that we need to keep in contact with and track one another better. So I think this much travel between realms is probably going to be the new normal for a while. Personally, I don't know how the King is managing it. But then, maybe that's why he's King." She finishes with a shrug.
"And yeah, stables. The other alternatives are messing with the Tritons or gallivanting around in Nedra, the local big bad forest, aaaannnnnddd I think both of those things would probably be frowned upon. Especially given my tendency toward, uh, large happenings. So I was thinking the stables would be safe. Unless you want to go shopping or visit a gallery or something..." Robin's brows furrow at that.
"I would not make trouble for my hosts, or for you, Sir Robin. If you prefer the stables, the stables it shall be. Besides," he adds with a wry smile, "I have no money to shop in the market, nor any idea what I shall need until I reunite with my lady. And I would be neither further in your debt nor in the debt of Rebma." He gestures to her to lead the way when she is ready, unless she wishes to say more.
Last modified: 6 June 2016
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.