My Dinner With Elder Germaine

Germaine leads Lucas to a long room on the other side of the main hall, where a large number of tables have been set up. The room could easily seat 100, although perhaps half that number are here now. The seating seems to be haphazard, and Elder Germaine does not seem to be afforded any more honor than anyone else. Lucas recognizes his crew of sailors at the table, eating and talking with the robed figures. They seem to have quite an audience. As Germaine gestures for Lucas to sit, Solange and Kyril also arrive and Germaine gestures them over.

The woman who called Lucas and Germaine to dinner gestures to a group of six seats together. "Well come, friends from Amber. Please eat before we discuss your visit. While life and work and spirituality are all as one, we also prefer to be undisturbed while eating. Disputation at table is a sure way to curdle the digestive juices."

"I couldn't agree more," says Lucas with warm approbation. "You really would be surprised at the number of times I have been moved with the desire to speak to my relatives over the dinner table, and remonstrate with them - gently, of course! - on their unfortunate choice of topics. Topics that could, I assure you, positively curdle a good bechamel sauce. Alas, I am by nature of so mild a disposition that my attempts to spread family peace and harmony go largely unremarked upon."

Solange was about to ask what would probably be designated as a disputative question, but at the woman's proclamation she abruptly shut her mouth, exchanged a look with Lucas, and shrugged marginally. When in Rome...

Lucas smiles seraphically.

Elder Germaine nods and says "Good point, Sister. It shall be as you say."

She introduces herself and Kyril, then takes a seat across from Elder Germaine, the better to see his face as he talks.

The woman names herself as Patent, and passes trays of food from the table's head.

Lucas is the perfect dinner guest, swiftly picking up the customs of the table (if they eat with utensils, he'll do that, but he'll prove equally adept and elegant with fingers, whether both hands or right hand only; if they pass the port to the left, he'll do that; if they help the ladies first ... oh, you get the picture). If innocuous remarks are permitted, he will praise the excellence of the food and beverages; if they are expected to eat in silence or listen to a pious reading, he will pay either the proper attention. He refrains from playing footsie under the table with the woman who summoned them to dinner and - even if she is extraordinarily attractive - appears not to glance down her shirt at all.

Germaine ignores the prohibition on conversation and starts right in. "Lord Lucas, you never did tell us what brings you from Amber to Asiria. Other than what we have already discussed, what can we do for our neighbors and one-time trading partners?"

"The resumption of friendly relations and trade would be an excellent beginning," says Lucas, "especially as the seas in this part of the world might be ... hazardous. We found ourselves blown rather more off course than we were expecting. And, of course, our ship sank, which was a little irritating. However, I am sure we could find a method of communication and an exchange of goods that would prove mutually beneficial.

"Our main interest, however, is to seek enlightenment on two matters that have proved vexatious to us. One - as we have discussed - is my wife's health. The other is the health of the father of my cousins, Lady Solange here, and Lord Vere. You, I daresay, know Prince Gerard well."

Solange stops eating to watch Elder Germaine's reaction, fork still in mid-air.

Germaine's fork is also in the air, and he seems to be drawing with it. "The line of Kings is a tormented one, and those who died in and under Amber were some of the least settled of the messengers who came to me. The vision of the harbor, so choked with bodied that a horseman could ride from one side to the other, the story of the port abandoned for weeks until it could be re-entered. It is the end of the City. Does Gerard die there? So many did." The movement of the slice of turnip on the end of the fork is almost hypnotic.

Patent looks exasperated.

"No, Gerard did not die there. Does not die there. Whatever," Solange replies a bit irritably, touchy on that particular subject. "I want to warn him not to be in the castle when the Sundering happens. You remember, the big earthquake? Lots of people died? Gerard was injured, his legs crushed? I want to warn him not to be there, so that he was never injured. Is that possible?"

Lucas is content to let Solange speak - and Elder Germaine answer, but he shoots a thoughtful look at Patent as he raises his wine glass to his lips and sips.

Patent rolls her eyes.

Lucas gives her a quizzical, but wholly charming smile.

Elder Germaine says "Many things are possible, but you would be better off looking for ways to allow the past to be what it seemed but not what it was. I would think it better to steal his body from the past, before he was injured and trade it for the injured one. It is a moral dilemma, of course. You would have to be the immediate cause of his injuries, but doing so to get rid his injuries a decade later, it might not be a problem. In no other events were also caused by the change, in you might judge one harm against the other... Hmm.

He nods. "I can ask the spirits if they have a way to do this. Unless you have magics to hand yourselves?"

Solange lowers her fork and stares at Elder Germaine, her thoughts whirling. " magics. That's why we're here asking you. Sure...ask the spirits, see what they say. If they come up with a way, we'll need to know exactly how it's all going to happen. We'll need to see the math."

"Or, indeed, the spirits," says Lucas.

"Indeed," Solange agrees.

Elder Germaine hands his plate to Patent, who looks annoyed. He leans back and closes his eyes. "Are there any spirits here who would speak with Lucas the Sincere or to Solemnia, daughter of Spear-hard? Come to me, and I will pass you their questions." He opens his eyes and takes his plate back from Patent. "That may take some time. Perhaps you can tell us all of Amber while we wait. Many of us are quite interested in knowing the story of the end of our old home." He smiles and, for the first time, so does Patent.

Solange's look to Lucas clearly says WTF?

Lucas's return look at Solange is positively cherubic - Botticelli's fingers would be itching for a crayon. His cousins, however, might favour something larger - and heavier.

"I think I owe Kyril a vacation with eggs," she states, then turns to Patent and smiles. "May I talk to you outside for a moment, please?"

[Patent] stands, and leads the way out of the door into the sparse hallway.

"I will be happy to tell you all about Amber," [Lucas] says to Elder Germaine expansively. "At least - all that has befallen her since your departure, up until the time I fondly conceive as 'now'."

Germaine stands. "Brothers and Sisters, my guest the Lord Lucas of Amber will tell those who have ears to hear it, tales of the last days our home that was, the dead city of Amber. Those who wish to stay should come closer."

A significant fraction of the audience comes over to the table where Lucas sits. Germaine looks over to Lucas. "You may begin, Lord Lucas. We await your tales."

"But of course," says Lucas, looking around with approbation. A small and discerning audience is what he favours most - failing that, an enthusiastic one will do. He'd never played Shea Stadium - but he'd spoken in some other venues equally impressive. Similarly, he had held forth at more intimate venues of no less renown - and with equal success.

He clears his throat.

"Arms and the man I sing," he announces - and then he launches into an account of what has happened in Amber since they left. He makes them laugh (if the Paresh do laugh), he makes them cry, he mkes them gasp ... or, at the very least he has a dam' good try. He covers the principal events not only chez nous up at the Castle, but down in the City too. He is extremely careful to reveal nothing but what is in the common domain and yet - with consummate skill - does so in such a way that no-one should notice the gaps. He never lies, although he may occasionally be economical with la verite.

They are (generally) fascinated and appreciative, although it's clear that the Castle details that interest them are downstairs, not upstairs.

Lucas adjusts accordingly - and smoothly - it would be clear to any outsider that either Lucas' staff keep him well supplied with below stairs gossip, or he undertake assignations of his own on the other side of the green baize door.

He concludes with speaking of the exodus to Xanadu - at least those detail of it which are known to the general citizen.

There seem to be two distinct groups. One group wants to know what happened to Amber and the other is interested in what it is like now. The latter group asks about laws and rules, especially in Xanadu. It's very clear to Lucas that they're trying to figure out if they'd be arrested for being religious in Xanadu.

Lucas, with all the tact at his command, suggests that while the commendable industry and pioneering spirit so amply displayed by the Paresh might be very welcome, any attempt to proselytize for their faith is liable to be received with marked disfavour by the Powers That Be - but that nevertheless, the possibilities for trading with Xanadu could be exciting in the extreme. As long, of course, as the cargo comprises this rather fine Merlot that Lucas is drinking, and not religious tracts.

Elder Germaine looks at the group. "As it was, so shall it be. An we return to New Amber, we shall help the poor, if it is allowed by the King's law. It is our way."

"Erm," says Lucas. "I'm not too sure about the King's position on this, but I'm pretty sure that some of my contemporaries are going to be doing their utmost to see that the demographic stops somewhere around the lower middle classes. And, you know, a word to the wise here ... but I have a feeling that referring to the place as New Amber might gain a rather old fashioned look in certin quarters. Xanadu, that what we're calling the place."

Germaine makes no reply and doesn't seem to have noticed Lucas' comment at all.

To the other group, so eager to hear about what has happened to Amber, Lucas simply says sombrely, "Nothing. As yet."

He has no desire to undercut the words of their beloved Prophet or their current leader.

Germaine looks to the door that Solange left through. "What are your plans, Lord Lucas? How long will you be staying with us?"

"Well," says Lucas, "hopefully until the spirits have had a chat with you and revealed the answers to our most pressing questions - the Lady Solange's father's and my wife's state of health. But if you feel we should all be making a contribution to the upkeep of the establishment in the mean-time, I'm sure something could be arranged to general satisfaction."

Elder Germaine smiles. "Lord Lucas, this is a farm in height of summer, we work hard, but we are rich enough to afford time to study and meditate. We want nothing more than good relations with our neighbors." Germaine looks Lucas over. "Did you ever consider being a missionary, Lord Lucas? You are extremely well spoken, and there is nothing like ministering to other's physical needs to heal your own spirit."

"You are too kind," responds Lucas, "and I fear too generous. My career thus far in those fields has not been an unqualified success. Indeed, I have made it my mission for at least the last five years of my life to elevate the sartorial standards of my cousins, but I fear there have been little discernible improvement. However, if you feel this would be the most useful return we can make for your kind hospitality then I shall, of course, be delighted to shake or indeed bang a tambourine out there with the best of them."

"An you climb to the caves atop Mount Asir, you would find if missionary work was your true calling. They can tell you there how best to serve the other realm."

"Ah," says Lucas. "Climb every mountain, ford every stream. All part of finding your dream. That really does sound an excellent plan. Would you be joining such an expedition yourself - or should I choose a few good hearted men and true from amongst your stout band here?"

He looks around at the assembled Pareshoners.

"I envy you, Brother Lucas. So much to discover, so many questions unasked that you may yet ask. You have such potential."

Kyril coughs, once.

"Thank you," says Lucas, modestly.

Elder Germaine stands. "Let us retire to the reading room. Perhaps we might find the spirits ready to speak."

"That will be delightful," says Lucas with enthusiasm, although some may suspect that the spirits he would be most desirous of finding in the reading room after such an excellent meal would be more in the nature of a good armagnac or a fine single malt.

[Elder Germaine] looks around. "Where is your companion? Does she not wish to hear the words of the other world?"

"I'm sure she does," says Lucas. "But she's a helpful soul, you know. She's probably rushed off to volunteer to help with the washing up or something. Perhaps, Kyril, you could find her for us."

He looks towards Kyril with one quizzically raised eyebrow.

"Oh, yes, that'd be just like her." He gets up and dodges out into the hallway.

"Shall we go to the reading room then?" prompts Lucas, who has not yet completely abandoned the hope that it will contain spiritous liquors as well as loquacious spirits.

"Certainly. After you, Lord Lucas." He gestures towards the same door by which they entered. [Blocking note: This is not the door by which Solange and Kyril left separately.]

At the far end [of the hallway] are stairs up and down. [Patent] turns to face Solange, waiting for the (apparently) younger woman to speak first.

"I don't mean for this to sound rude, but have you known something Elder Germaine predicted to have actually come true?" Solange asks seriously.

She looks at Solange for several moments, considering her reply. Finally she says "He has never to my knowledge been wrong, but he is often irrelevant and apocalyptic. The brothers and sisters from Amber consider him a great man, and he did indeed lead that flock through hard times." She smiles, thinly. "I don't have to like the man to acknowledge that he has a gift."

Solange spreads her hands, acknowledging Patent's statement. "You said he's never been wrong that you know, but didn't he proclaim that the end of Amber has come and gone? He described massive devastation and bodies piled up in the harbor so deep you could walk across them...

"This did not happen. Amber is still there--it's not dead."

She shrugs. "He speaks to spirits and they speak to him. All want something, some want things that involve deceit or harm. They tend to be unleashed by time, but I've never heard of them being flat-out wrong." She pauses. "He may attract the more aggressive ones, though."

Solange shrugs. "I dunno. What I do know is that he prophesied Amber would be destroyed spectacularly some time ago and it did not happen."

"As you say, My Lady. However, some of his visions have proven true and none have proven false."

"These spirits he talks to... does anyone else here talk to them?"

In her mind, what Solange is really thinking is that she wants Vere here.

"Here? Possibly in Asir Port. Our people usually have no more than one Prophet in a generation. Elder Germaine thinks he saw another, though, in Amber. One of the castle people who came to see him." She pauses.

//Vere, I really need to talk to you.// Solange sighs, perturbed.

"Are you sure it did not happen? In that case, I would be very worried that it will."

"Yes, I am sure it did not happen," Solange snaps impatiently.

She passes a hand over her face and sighs again. "I'm sorry. Patent. I'm upset and disappointed and I don't mean to take it out on you."

She shrugs. "Being Paresh is not for the weak. It is a lifetime trying to open inner eyes that others refuse to acknowledge exist. We get used to rejection, or we stop being Paresh. Is there anything else?"

Solange shakes her head. "Would you please ask Kyril to come out here? He's the blonde with the grey eyes sitting at the table next to me."

"Kyril is the blond in the doorway, actually." He is true to his word, and leaning against the doorframe. "Germaine and Lucas sent me to fetch you, since you're obviously helping with the washing up. I have never seen two people talk as resolutely past each other outside of a faculty senate meeting. I think Germaine must have tenure."

Patent looks confused.

Solange laughs and rubs the bridge of her nose tiredly. "Ah, Kyril, I've missed you. It's good to have you back." She touches his mouth lightly with her fingertips as she passes him on her way back into the dining room to join the others.

The suction on her fingers is light, but detectable.

Elder Germaine is exiting the far side of the dining room.

Shortly they are across the hall. "We are no longer in Amber but so many of the brethren are, in their hearts, of Amber. I thank you for speaking to them of it."

"Not at all," says Lucas politely. "I was gratified to speak to so intelligent and receptive an audience - a combination that is rarely my lot, believe me."

[Elder Germaine] settles into a chair sitting before an empty fireplace, wholly unnecessary in this tropical clime and gestures to another similar chair for Lucas.

"Shall we wait, or would you converse immediately with the other realm?"

"I'm all for conversing immediately," Solange announces as she enters the room, Kyril behind her. "Did I miss anything of import?" she continues as her gaze settles on her cousin.

Lucas moves to offer the chair to her, nodding his thanks to Kyril for finding her. Then, if conditions permit, he'll take another chair - or else stand behind Solange's, so that he can watch Brother Germaine fully.

"A potted history of the last five years in Amber," Lucas says, "and a suggestion from Brother Germaine that I take up mountaineering to improve my level of enlightenment. I'm intending to mount a modest expedition to the summit of Mount Aesir over the next couple of days, weather permitting. Unless, of course, our visitors from the other realms choose to recommend against it.

"So, Brother Germaine," he adds, "let us proceed to converse with the spirits, if they will."

"Spirits will come if they choose to, and pay no heed to the timetables and needs of men. Indeed, they are seldom bound to any time and those that are find the past their home. Sit quietly, Lucas, and we shall see what comes to us." Germaine closes his eyes.

Kyril raises his eyebrows and sits after a bit, he whispers to Solange "if he starts snoring, I'm getting a marker and drawing obscene pictures on his arms."

She looks down and covers her mouth to avoid laughing out loud. After a secod or two she lowers her hand and looks back up at Germaine, a smile on her face.

The wait lengthens and the darkness outside consolidates its hold on the farm. The noises of the house gradually settle and the rooms lamp is a small outpost indeed.

Kyril gets up and walks to the sideboard, where he picks up a pitcher of water and fills a glass from it. He turns and looks questioningly at Solagne, and drops the glass on the floor. It shatters noisily. Germaine is up like a shot, looking out the window Kyril is by.

"Her!", Brother Germaine says and points, rather unnecessarily, to a floating, translucent woman in a long white robe. Her kinky red hair is spread out in a corona around her face and she is looking towards the distant mountains, but not moving. She seems utterly unaware that she has been spotted. She has her hand over her eyes, as if she is shielding them from the rain. She is leaning forward and emanates a feeling of anticipation, dread, and immense distance.

Solange stands and stares at the woman, her eyes wide. "Apparently someone else thinks you should go to the mountains too, Lucas..." Without taking her eyes from the woman, Solange continues, "Elder Germaine, is she here to answer the question you posed at supper tonight?"

Lucas has started slightly at the first appearance of the apparition too. He remains seated for a second, and glances around the room, as though to assure himself that no other spirits are hiding behind chairs or, perhaps, calmly perusing the bookshelves. Then he rises and makes his own way to the open window.

"Indeed," he says to Solange, "it does seem that 'Excelsior!' is the favoured watchword for my humble self tonight ... " He gazes out at the floating woman.

"Live you?" he says softly, "or are you aught that man may question?"

There is no answer.

Kyril says "I don't believe in ghosts. I'm gonna see what she's made of. Who's coming with me?" He steps out the open window onto the porch.

"Ah," says Lucas. "The direct approach. I do find it refreshing in a doctor. His bedside manner must be something to be seen. And coupled with a healthy scepticism too. Do you want to grab his coat-tails and haul him back from the precipice or shall I?"

Solange is already moving in that direction, following Kyril.

There is enough room for her to get by Elder Germaine and out the window onto the porch without shoving him out of the way.

[Lucas] will move through the window too, if that allows him to go on speaking to Germaine - otherwise he will stay close to the window within the room. He is looking at the woman's features with close attention - does she remind him of anyone in the family?

She's a redhead, but the hair texture is different from Bleys, Brand, and Fiona. Her hair is kinky rather than straight. He doesn't associate the bone structure and features with anyone in particular.

"So she doesn't speak and she keeps the others off - that's a shame," says Lucas, mildly. "Can you tell us anything more about her - when you've seen her before, for example? Did she accompany you from Amber, or has she just appeared here on the island? And have you discerned any reason for her oppressive unsociability?"

Elder Germaine's brow furrows and he makes no move to exit the room by either the window or the door. "There are descriptions of her from my predecessor's journals, and she was in my worst vision ever, looking at all the bodies in Amber's harbor. I do not know if she is a stormcrow, or a storm in herself, but seeing her is a bad sign, Lord Lucas."

"Lovely," says Lucas. "Hearts and roses wherever we go."

Outside the window, Kyril jumps down off the porch and runs toward the floating woman, Solange at his heels. He's waving his arms and yelling at her in hopes of getting her attention. His efforts are in vain at first.

[She can pass him if she likes.]

"Subtle," comments Lucas. "One presumes he favours the axe over the laser in his surgery too."

Solange keeps pace with Kyril, staying beside him.

Then the floating woman turns toward Kyril and Solange. Kyril she ignores. But she looks at Solange, who feels as if she is caught in the other woman's--being's--gaze. Her eyes are big and luminous, and Solange feels as if she can see whole universes inside them. She is looking for someone, seeking her, and measuring Solange to find out if she is the one who will bring her journey to an end.

Can Solange get a sense who this person is that the woman's seeking? She has a gender, but anything else? Name, face, anything?

She only has a sense of being measured. And that she's not the right person--whatever quality the woman is seeking, Solange doesn't have it.

Kyril grabs Solange by her arms and shakes her. "Solly!" he cries, and it's clear he thinks she's in danger.

Lucas sees Solange collapse and Kyril catch her, calling out to her.

"Oh, well done, Doctor," mutters Lucas. He steps out onto the porch now himself, keeping the floating woman within respectful view, and moves to where Kyril holds Solange, checking to see if she's unconscious, or merely dazed by the doctor's somewhat rough and ready methods.

Solange is not unconscious, but her attention is elsewhere. Kyril has lowered her to the ground and is supporting her back.

Then he looks up thoughtfully at the floating woman.

"If you can't speak," he says, "perhaps you would care to indicate the direction I should follow."

The floating woman releases Solange from her gaze. To Solange, it is as if a terrible pressure has been removed from her psyche. She almost feels as if she's been engaged in mental combat through a trump.

Solange draws in a sharp breath, as if she'd just remembered she could breathe.

Lucas she ignores utterly, and begins to float away, or rather off in a different direction from that whence she came.

"Solly?" Kyril says softly, ignoring the departing apparition. "Solly? Speak to me, if you can."

"I'm all right," she says, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Thanks for catching me." She rises and stands, accepting Kyril's help when he offers.

Kyril does.

Solange glances over her shoulder at the retreating ghost, then at Lucas and Kyril, then up at the sky. "I want a drink," she says in a determined voice and starts off back toward the reading room.

"Excellent notion," says Lucas. "Brandy taken inwardly for medicinal purposes. I'll join you shortly."

Kyril follows Solange, remaining between her and the spirit. He helps her in through the window, where Elder Germaine is still standing.

"I'm all right," she tells Kyril.

Once they're inside, Kyril insists on giving Solange a brief once-over, making sure there's no physical injury.

"I'm all right," she repeats, yet relents to his ministrations with good grace.

He nods and continues his ministrations. "Oh, yeah, and doctors are the ones who are bad patients. Have you ever considered taking up medicine?"

She smiles but says nothing.

For the moment [Lucas] continues to follow the floating woman - at a discreet distance, also making sure to note the reactions of any of the Paresh that he sees.

The Paresh are all inside, Lucas thinks.

He chases the floating woman for a time, then she fades without ever seeming to have noticed him. The way back is easier, because the moon rose while Lucas was following her.

When/If she finally fades, or it becomes impossible to follow her any more, he'll join the others back in the reading room. If Elder Germaine has failed to offer spiritous liquor by now, he'll offer his own hip flask as a contribution.

By the time Lucas returns, Kyril has determined that there's nothing physically wrong with Solange and a tray with small glasses of a medicinal cordial--some kind of sweet fruit liqueur--has been brought.

Lucas snags a dainty glass (or two) as soon as it's socially acceptable. He drains the first, and then asks Solange, "What happened? I didn't have you down as the swooning type, so I'm going to assume that something more than the sight of a spectre occasioned your keeling over like that."

Solange remains standing and flexes her fingers. If she had fur it'd be bristling. "I'm used to our family being at the top of the food chain," she replies to Lucas. "It's disconcerting as all hell when an entity I don't recognize as a family member examines me like a bug on a pin.

"I don't know about you," she continues, indicating the cordial, "but this isn't doing it for me." She sets the empty glass down, glances around the room, then heads for a cabinet built into one of the bookcases. She intends to find a decanter of aged whiskey inside, and will forcibly bend the universe to her will to make it so.

[OOC: Does she find the whiskey?]

The universe bends in a predicable way, and where she expects there to be whiskey, there is whiskey. Her best guess is that it came from Amber with the Paresh.

It's a pretty blue decanter and the whiskey inside is mellow and smooth, the color of sun shining through amber. Solange pours it almmost reverently into her empty cordial glass and performs a like service for anyone else interested. Three of these glasses go down in quick succession before she decides to sip the fourth.

To Elder Germaine [Lucas] says, "Now that she's gone, is it possible that someone else might like to come and talk to us?"

"Anything is possible, in time. However, I have seen spirits flee from her before. Did you notice the moon?"

"No," says Lucas.

Solange shrugs, having been preoccupied with other things at the time. "What about it and why is it significant?"

Elder Germaine looks at them both. "She departed as soon as it rose, as if she were afraid of it. Perhaps it could be used to protect against her, if she is a danger."

Kyril looks skeptical, but doesn't reply.

Solange nods at Germaine. "Thanks for the tip. However, it could just be that she'd not found in me what she was looking for and simply decided it was time to move on."

Lucas walks to the windows and looks out thoughtfully.

"Well," he says. "A lovely night - and a full moon. Just the sort of night to climb a mountain, as we tend to say in Amber." He flashes a grin at Solange. "Do you want to come? I fancy getting to the summit of Mount Aesir ... oh, before the moon sets."

She frowns and gazes about the room like a trapped animal, imaginary fur still bristling. "No thanks. I want to go back to Amber and talk to my brother. Waiting around for another spirit to show will put me right over the edge, I'm afraid."

"It is likely farther than you think, young Lucas," says Elder Germaine. "And some who set out for the peak as youth do not reach it until they are old men. Do not undertake this lightly."

Lucas nods.

"Believe me," he says gravely, "nothing could be further from my thoughts."

He turns to look at Solange. "But before I decide ... cousin, might we have a quiet word?"

He indicates the porch area outside where they should be able to speak privately.

Solange downs the rest of her fourth whiskey and follows Lucas. Once outside, she looks at him expectantly, waiting for him to speak.

"Your hackles are showing," says Lucas calmly. "It's unflattering in this light. Hackles should be worn lower this year. You think our work here is done, don't you?"

Solange doesn't lose her tenseness. "I feel an inescapable need to do something. I suspect this is a dead end, but I wanted to talk to Vere first--he understands Germaine better than I ever will. I don't speak their crazy moon language."

Lucas smiles. "It's a dialect I'm not fluent in myself," he admits.

He takes out his cigarette case and flips it open to reveal the gold-tipped black cigarettes he is so fond of. Courteously, he offers them to Solange before taking one for himself and striking a light.

She declines and turns partly away, crossing her arms, and looks out toward the horizon.

"Me, I'm not so convinced. I'd like to perform one last test before leaving."

"What?" Solange asks, still facing away.

"In the time-honoured words of stage magicians everywhere ... pick a card, any card." Solange will hear a small click! behind her - the click of a secret compartment of a cigarette case being opened. "Single card draw. Aces wild. Do you want in?"

Solange looks over her shoulder at him, then turns to face him fully and shrugs. "Sure, I'm in." She pulls out her own trump deck. "Do you want to mix the cards?"

"I always knew you were after my secret trumps," murmurs Lucas. Nevertheless, he slides his own slender deck from his hidden compartment, and holds out his hand to to take Solange's deck too.

(OOC - if she's agreeable, he'll shuffle both packs together, dextrously, cut them in two and leave her to select the half she wants)

Solange gives her trumps to Lucas.

"Did I ever tell you about my time on a Mississippi showboat?" he says conversationally as he shuffles. "Not that it would mean much, unless you've visited Shadow Earth. But it was an object lesson in the best style of boot to conceal a dagger in.

"Ladies first," he adds, and waits for her to draw.

"Is it worth my time to stay here and pursue my current quest?" Solange chooses the top half, then picks a card at random from the middle and turns it up.

Solange draws Sowing Stones.

She looks at the card, shakes her head, then lays it down for Lucas to see. "Well, that's pretty definitive."

"Indeed," says Lucas. He takes a long, thoughtful draw on his cigarette before drawing his own card - and blows a few musing, interlaced smoke rings.

"So," says Lucas. "Shall I climb my mountain?"

He takes the second half of the deck, fans it out, selects a card and turns it up to lay beside Solange's selection.

Lucas draws Brand. He comes out of the deck reversed.

He regards it with all the favour he would give a jacket in last year's style that Gaston has inexplicably left at the back of his wardrobe.

"Huh. He showed up reversed in your trump reading, too," Solange says. "Still think you've put him behind you?"

"He's a part of me, for good or ill," says Lucas. "Being Brand, it should be for ill. But reversed ... I'm beginning to wonder if the cards aren't urging me to make good out of ill and use them a little more creatively. After all, he was the one who taught me, although I flatter myself that I have bettered his instruction since. Not, of course, his skill. But certainly his instruction."

He begins to sort the cards back into two packs.

"At all events, someone so momentous showing up suggests that I should take Elder Germaine's injunction - about taking this climb seriously - to heart. By which, being Elder Germaine, I doubt he meant I should climb with a goodly supply of crampons and some spare ice axes. If I need them, doubtless I'll find some friendly Sherpa in a small shop at the bottom. But I suspect this challenge will emphasise the spiritual over the corporeal."

He takes his own cards and begins to fit them back into his cigarette case.

"I'll contact you in Amber if I need you - or will you be going straight to Xanadu? You might as well take the others with you."

"I'll take care of the men. I'm not sure where I'll be... After talking to Vere I'll probably check in with Father to see how he's doing and go from there." Solange pauses and looks at Lucas quizzically. "Are you sure you want to do this? I've never really taken you for the soul-searching type."

Lucas looks up her, and for a moment a flash in his eyes suggests he was startled by something she said. But then he smiles, his usual urbane self.

"Then you must set it all down, ma chere cousine, to my innate and overwheening curiousity, ne c'est pas?" He leans forward to brush his lips against her cheek. "Make my apologies to Elder Germaine, will you, and tell him, if all goes well, I shall see him for breakfast."

She smiles warmly at Lucas, looking in his eyes for the space of a heartbeat or two as if searching for something, then lowers her gaze and retrieves her cards.

He considers this. "You might as well pass the word to the cooks as well. Elder Germaine will probably have the bacon sandwiches set out for me a week ago."

Solange chuckles. "Indeed. Take care, cousin. Don't forget you have my trump if you run into trouble. Will you give me a call when you finish? I'd be curious to hear what happened."

"I will," he agrees. "In fact, I'll probably be soliciting you for my ride home. Less explanations than dropping straight into my rooms."

"Please do."

He stands up and stretches. "A fine night for it. Enjoy your doctor, cos. Don't let him get too sanctimonious." So saying, he lightly vaults the rail of the porch, then turns and sweeps her a flourishing bow.

"Until we meet again."

Solange nods at him.

Then he turns and sets off towards the mountain.

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Last modified: 5 September 2006