Catching Up

Martin and Brennan drift away from a gaggle of little cousins.

"I think our letters crossed in the mail," Brennan says.

"Undoubtedly," Martin replies. "I'm glad we didn't miss each other this time. We have a lot to talk about. Let's find a quiet corner and do that, shall we?" He glances around, and it's clear to Brennan that he doesn't know the layout of the place yet. "This way," he suggests after a moment.

"I'd have borrowed a Trump if I had to," Brennan says, following Martin's lead.

"I'd have taken it."

They find a quiet sitting room. There are no windows; they're in the bowels of Xanadu here. There is artificial light, though, because Martin hits a switch and Brennan can see the recessed lights in the ceilings. There are also electrical outlets in a couple of places, although Brennan can't tell anything about the tech behind them at first glance.

"Electricity," Brennan muses. "Nice, but it's going to take some getting used to. So, how much have you already picked up from Random?" Since there are chairs, he sprawls.

"Some. From a variety of people. I understand your Order is down a Knight-Commander. You have my condolences, for what they're worth." Martin frowns as he settles into his own chair.

"Thanks. And yeah, Aisling is dead. Here's the thumbnail of events, if you haven't gotten them all: I dragged Aisling up to talk with Gerard and Caine about her pre-war activities. None of that is good, by the way. Part of the fallout of that conversation was Caine's discovery of undisclosed guns-- the Corwin kind-- in one of her hiding places."

Martin nods, once.

"I looked through another and found the place ransacked with evidence of Sorcerous tampering. When I went to go find Aisling, Caine had already put her in a safety deposit Shadow, and she'd already gone missing from that. Imagine the Family Council on that one.

"Flash back to the Masque, when Brita went missing. My brother took custody of her and, perhaps wisely, took her to Grandmother's Court, who used her to extort a family reunion of her own from Fi, Bleys and the rest of us. Flash forward again to that reunion, and we were all introduced to Aisling's very new daughter. Saeth."

Brennan watches Martin's expression.

None of this seems to have been news to Martin with the exception of the brother, which gets a blink of surprise, and Saeth, which gets the sort of grim line that says a nasty suspicion has been proven out.

"What an exciting affair that must have been," Martin says after a moment.

"That's one way to put it. Grandmother seems to have sprung Aisling out of Caine's prison to lure Madoc to the party. What she ended up with was Saeth." Brennan throws an eyebrow-- does Martin need details on the genealogy?

"Do we know if there were other spawn yet? And what did Madoc have to say about that?" Martin asks. Clearly he already understands the lack of mating habits among Chaosians.

"Madoc was pissed. The most uncomfortable moment in my recent past was standing between Grandmother and Madoc just as he learned what happened. He took Saeth and went-- I assume-- home. No, we don't know for certain that Saeth is the only one. Dammit. Caine says he found no evidence of others, but that's a slim margin for me," Brennan says. "What keeps me up at night is the idea of Dara finding another shard and taking its memories."

"If we're very lucky, any other spawn were too small to be sentient. Or maybe Clarissa ate them." Martin sits back in his chair with a gust of breath. "That is all bad news. Gerard told me about the guns. We've been really lucky so far. Dara certainly found the rifle in the attic hideyhole--it was cleaned out the first time I checked it, after the Sundering--and she didn't storm the coronation with a machine gun. We can't count on that luck continuing. But I have no idea how to look for a small Aisling-spawn." He grimaces. "So the redhead was your brother? Who does that make the guy who grabbed Brita?"

"Yeah, Ambrose is my kid brother. I had no idea. The bruiser who took Brita is Dara's baby brother, Cleph. Caine and I speculate that he's the result of Borel's fight with Corwin. Do guns work here?"

"I don't know. I sure hope not," Martin says. "I need a drink."

Brennan reaches behind his chair, then curses. "Sonofab1tch. I hate that. Anyway, we'll have to find out-- Corwin's in particular. I hate having to be the one that obsesses on bad news, but we have to assume that whole branch of the family knows how to make them. Oh, when you and Aisling were getting in to it, did someone start in about papers she was burning?"

Martin starts at Brennan's sudden curse, but once he's taken a moment to process it, he gives Brennan a look of rueful recognition. He stands up and moves over to a likely-looking sideboard, opening its doors to inspect the contents.

"I did," Martin says, over his shoulder. "Aisling came over and asked me about letters left in the hideyhole. I didn't see them if they were there; I can only assume Dara got them when she cleaned the place out. If she gave them to Grandfather, I never found out where they were. But it was the one it was burning that worried me."

"Dara has them." If Martin comes up with anything useful, Brennan will have some. If Martin comes up with the fixings for Irish coffee, so much the better.

Martin comes up with two tumblers and a decanter of something amber-colored. He pours a generous amount in one glass and hands it to Brennan, then repeats the procedure for himself.

"Which ones? The hidden ones or the ones she unburned? Or both, more likely." Martin has a swallow of his whiskey.

"You caught the unburning, then." Brennan is satisfied beyond measure to be talking to someone who Gets It. "Both. It's extremely unlikely that she found the gun without finding the other papers, and that she gave any of them to Grandfather."

"I was assuming that much. When I went back, the place had been already been scoured. Nothing, not even the marks inside the fireplace. Dara was thorough."

"Exactly. So was I, or I wouldn't have noticed." Brennan lifts his glass, then drinks.

Martin joins Brennan in the toast and has another drink. While he enjoys the aftertaste, he contemplates the bottom of the glass before looking up at his cousin.

"While we're on the subject of Aisling's activities, did you or Caine or Gerard ever figure out what the hell it was up to sniffing around me?"

"Depends. What do you mean, sniffing around you?"

Martin meets Brennan's gaze as he begins speaking. "Between the time I left Amber to pick up your back pay and the coronation, I had three people tell me about Aisling asking questions about me and business of mine. Two of them volunteered the information; the third I asked, but I got a story I really didn't care for from her. I didn't have time to dig any deeper, and haven't since, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were other stories out there."

Brennan blinks in surprise-- this is news to him. "I had no idea. Wait, I guess that's not true, if Cambina is one of your sources. I didn't know it went beyond that, though." He shakes his head in annoyance. "Stupidity as an alibi only gets you so far. I have no idea what was up with that."

Martin nods. "I suspected as much. If it had just been the poker thing, I might not have thought so much of it. I was halfway expecting Paige and Cambina to decide to crash the party instead of--or in addition to--Valeria. But Aisling had already gotten crosswise with Merlin."

He sets his glass on the arm of his chair and leans forward, elbows on thighs, steepling his fingers and resting his chin on their tips. "I didn't like it."

"Yeah, I know there was little love lost between those two. I'm almost afraid to ask why. We did find a letter from her to you that fell behind her writing desk, though." Brennan discloses the content of the letter. "This was after Caine grabbed her."

Martin shakes his head. This is clearly news to him.

Brennan gives a for-what-it's-worth shrug. "So, you're caught up on the Aisling mess, with the only good news out of it that Brita was returned safely."

"Yeah, that was good news. I didn't even know she was gone at first, Dad whisked me out of there so fast. I'd say I'm glad we got off so lightly with getting her back, but I didn't have to go to Clarissa." There's a slight quirk of the corner of Martin's mouth, which flattens as he continues, "So what about your brother?"

"That's a long story that isn't finished yet. He's young. Also Uxmali, like me. Still lives there, unlike me. I hadn't been back to Uxmal since I left the first time, and Brand kept him sufficiently under his thumb that leaving was difficult. He's not walked a Pattern, yet," Brennan says. "But he wants to."

"So does mine," says Martin, and closes his eyes. When he opens them, he adds, "I suspect your brother is closer to ready, based on what little I saw. What's your take on that?"

Brennan flicks an eyebrow when Martin mentions his brother, but shuffles it lower in the deck, for later. "If by ready, you mean unlikely to vaporize himself on his first and only attempt, I agree. He's as ready as he's going to be. I think Brand shared some of the theory with him, as well, and you already know he's a Sorceror. If by ready you mean ready to join the Family a little more constructively than Dara....

"...Well, I'm not perfectly objective, but I'm not stupid, either. I believe he's ready, but I don't know, if you see the difference."

"I assume you won't take it personally if I say that my gu--first response is unfavorable." Martin winces at his unintentional pun.

"Not really. It's a hell of a gamble to make, either way. His part in the Masque debacle was a gambit on his part to walk a Pattern. He claims awareness that Dara's intent was to kill him there, and I can just barely believe that he's sure enough of himself to do it anyway. Not that it matters. So we can refuse and push him back toward Dara's camp, or accede and risk that he's still got a mad on over Brand's death.

"Or we can engineer a way for him to prove himself," Brennan adds.

Martin nods once, slowly, and sits back in the chair. "You sound like you have a plan in mind."

"How attached do you think Merlin is to Dara?"

There is a moment of absolute silence as Martin's breath stops and his eyes widen. He opens his mouth as if to say something, then decides on another swallow of whiskey instead. That buys him enough time to say, "That's one hell of a proof, Brennan."

"Yeah. It could go very, very badly. Several ways."

"I've worked with Dara. There's no way that kid is competent enough to do her alone. I wouldn't try it alone. And he's not even an initiate."

Brennan scowls, then understands. "No, not alone. I'm not stupid enough to send the kid to do something I wouldn't try. I think a team of four to six-- the right four to six-- is about right."

"Who?" Martin asks.

"Understand, this is still spitballing stage. I haven't decided to do it, and I haven't spoken to anyone on the short list. Me. Lilly. Brita. Conner, if I can get him. And Ambrose. It's risky, but it's a lot of birds with one stone. No more Dara to worry about. The Aisling damage contained. A strong message back to the unruly side of the family that screwing around is counterproductive. And Ambrose off the fence and in good graces."

Martin takes a moment to process that. "You could do it. You've got a broad range of strengths there. But Merlin ... I don't know. It's his mother. She scares him, but he's human. And she wasn't--" Martin searches for the right words and ends up shrugging. "During his childhood, she was a bad mother, but she was a mother to him."

"She didn't abuse him, you mean," Brennan says. "I figured as much. Tactically, I'd like to have him on the team, but even I'm not going to ask someone to join a hit squad for his own mother. That's just too much. Do I read it right, by the way, that she wants to reabsorb him? And for pity's sake, are there better terms to use than the ones I've been using?"

"'Eat' him. That's what they called it. Eating something, like you'd eat a steak. Just ... raw." Martin grimaces. "I read it that way, tactically: that she wants to eat him. But for her, that might be what passes for love."

That's something Brennan never even considered, as evidenced by the moment of horror that crawls across his face. "And Merlin doesn't see it that way? The ingrate." He knocks back the rest of his drink.

"Merlin's human," Martin says, as if it's an argument he's had many times. "Dara's not." He finishes his own drink and rises, extending his hand toward Brennan to take the other man's glass for a refill.

Brennan hands him the glass. "Obviously. Sometimes I wonder about Merlin, too, but you know him a lot better than I do, so I won't argue." Then he muses, "Any chance you could sound him out without actually telling him that I'm thinking about killing her?"

Martin moves over to the sideboard again, and as he refills both glasses, he says, "You understand that would put me in a rather awkward position. He trusts me because I don't lie to him, and he's likely to ask why."

Brennan grunts. "True. It was only a thought. But if Dara keeps going like she's been going, then someone is going to take matters into their own hands. As far as I'm concerned, she tried to murder my brother, and failed only because she wouldn't get anything out of it."

"I can see that," Martin says as he returns with Brennan's drink. "The Rebmans are the same way. It's only a matter of time until rough justice gets really rough." He plops back down into the chair, miraculously without spilling his drink. "And Caine proved with Aising that jail is not an option."

"Not with Grandmother creeping around tearing people to pieces for family picnics, no. And what Grandmother does for a lark, others can still manage for serious purposes." Brennan takes the drink, and sips at it.

"Of course, it's a moot point, unless she does something egregiously stupid," Brennan says. He sounds like he almost wouldn't mind seeing that happen. "His Majesty has decreed: no kinslaying. And 'merely' bringing her to justice, without killing her, means I need to revise the plan. If you happen to speak to Ben, can you pass along word that I'd like to speak with him for some advice?"

"I will. I tried him earlier today, though, to see if he wanted to witness for Lilly, and got nothing." Martin frowns.

Brennan changes the subject. "So do we have any good news, other than Brita?"

"Card is supposed to be good news," Martin replies. "It's the kind of good news that involves a lot of work for me, but it's still good news."

"Yeah, that promises to be a headache. Can I ask who your other members will be?" It's clear that Brennan isn't volunteering for the Order-- that sounds too much like a conflict of interests.

"I don't know yet," Martin says. "That's up to me. My plan is to knight the rest of the Regency Council, since my father didn't do much to distinguish them in the Coronation honors. I suspect all of them can make at least a nominal showing on the field, but Card will probably work out to be more of a political honor than a martial one."

Brennan nods, and runs up and down the list in his head. "Pretty large crew, that, but there's some solid people in there."

Martin expresses his agreement with the last in with a single nod. "It's not that large if I leave myself sole KC and only knight the Regency people. Not that there's much KC-ing to do with an order that size; I'd be happy to leave actual decisionmaking, such as additional members, to the order at large. My other thought, and I think I can make this work, is to include in the charter of the order the purpose of protecting the royal person. Then we could set up Lilly as an informal liaison between the two orders by making her an honorary member of Card. That should help us avoid any possible ... unpleasantness between the returnees and the home guard, as it were."

"For a minute, there, I thought you were going to put Lilly out of a job. But it's not a bad idea, all in all. I haven't noticed too much in the way of organized rivalry, but two rival Orders... no, not a bad idea," Brennan says.

"Better to solve those problems before they get out of hand," Martin agrees. "It would have made things difficult if I'd actually had to call Aisling out to convince it to leave me alone. As it is, I only have any hard feelings that may be left over from the business at the ball to deal with. I don't want those, if there are any, to carry over to Card."

Brennan shrugs. "I don't think any of the others are looking for a fight, in that regard. The news that she was hiding Corwin's toys and that she didn't disclose them threw a lot of cold water on any fire that could start along those lines." He pauses. "Despite that, she was one of us. I've asked the King that she be remembered with honor. Quietly. Best for all if that all stays buried."

"I'd prefer that too. Ruby is my father's order. To the extent that it succeeds, it reflects well on him. I want it to reflect well on him." Martin raises his drink. "To well-reflecting knighthood."

Brennan raises his glass to the toast, and drinks. He takes that as an end of topic note, and says, "So... Garrett?"

"Was as much of a surprise to me as everyone else," Martin says, after he swallows and puts his glass down on the arm of his chair again. "In retrospect, I feel like an idiot for missing it. My little brother has spent the last five years handing me my horses and I never even noticed. He looks like Dad, too."

"There is a certain resemblance," Brennan allows. "But how often do you look for a King's son in the stables? How's he taking it?"

The ambiguity is intentional.

"The boy's young enough to adjust. It's not easy moving up from the stables to the big house, but if I have my way he'll be here for a while. The longer he has between the time he left as a stableboy and the time he returns as a prince, the more easily people around him will adjust. Also, he's going to need a hell of a lot of training."

Martin doesn't appear to have noticed the ambiguity, but with his poker face, how would Brennan tell?

"The more time he's away, the more people will tailor their expectations to a returning Prince, too. It's only natural." Then, "You say that like you're going to train him yourself."

"My father has suggested that I might do well with a squire," Martin replies. "I think he'd do better with as many teachers as he can get, but I guess my previous success in prince-training, such as it is, puts me in the lead for this job. Nothing's settled, though."

"He could do worse," Brennan says. "And being your squire doesn't mean no one else can talk to him. I don't think I envy him, though-- I'm sure he's got all the natural talent that comes with the lineage, but that's a lot to learn under all that pressure."

Martin nods. "And in his shoes, it would be easy to set yourself up for failure by trying to measure yourself against someone you can't hope to match because you don't have the experience, and won't for centuries."

"Yeah. I think Ambrose has the other problem-- other than Brand, he's had damn little experience with people who can kick his @ss up around his ears. He's going to need to adapt down. Way down."

"Most of us who lived in Shadow had that problem. Those of us who've spent some time in Amber, or dealing with family, have tended to get over the problem. It usually takes a bloody nose or two to make the point--then they get along."

Brennan nods, and almost smiles. "A little odd to have someone in the family who treats the Aunts and Uncles like figures out of legend, though. But he'll adapt, too."

"If nothing else," he adds, "He'll Walk eventually, which is perspective-changing, to say the least."

"Yeah, but he's way too raw for that right now. Although he's picked a fast way to have to grow up." Martin leans in and says conspiratorially, "Have you seen the looks he's throwing at Lilly?" He's grinning.

Brennan gives a smirk that even Bleys would envy. "Yeah, but I value my kidneys too much to needle her about it. Yet."

"Wait too long and you'll be defending your kidneys from him, too," Martin opines. "They seem extremely attached."

"Please. I pick my battles carefully. For instance, when Lilly and I are in Amber, and you and Garrett are here," Brennan says.

Martin nods once, still grinning, and changes the subject. "So, back to your brother. Assuming we rehabilitate him, through Plan D or otherwise, what then? I can imagine what kind of place Garrett will make for himself, or more likely, have made for him for a while yet. Your brother would have a different set of challenges to face, I'd imagine."

"Good question. Too bad I don't have a good answer. There's more to not having experience with the Family than an unhealthy self-confidence. He also doesn't have any peers, as such. I told him that, and I think he gets it intellectually, but not viscerally." He stops and thinks, then realizes he left something out. "Well, there's Chantico. But I don't think she counts."


"My little sister. His big sister." Brennan scowls, very deeply. "I didn't know about her either, until Ambrose and I went back to Uxmal to talk things out, and she was in the process of an attack on our ancestral home. I don't think she has a clue what her true nature really is, and Ambrose and I both want to keep it that way.

"He's got some challenges back in Uxmal," Brennan says.

"Sounds like. What are the local technological and magical conditions?" Martin asks.

"More magic than technological, with a strong emphasis on theurgy. The place is positively god-ridden, and Chantico descends directly from that. Ambrose and I, much more indirectly." Brennan quirks a suspicious eyebrow. "What lines are you thinking along?"

"I don't have a line yet, but parameters are always useful," Martin replies. "If the tech level is low and he takes the Pattern, with his Sorcery, he's pretty much won, hasn't he?"

"That's my read. That's his read, too, and he wins on some personal levels, too, which are probably more important to him. Be paranoid, though-- what would you worry about most in my place? Other than Chantico and Daeon being in the same Shadow at the same time?"

Martin winces at whatever image Brennan has invoked. "I can think of four or five things right off the top of my head that scare me sh1tless, and I don't even know the girl. But the first is whether or not your brother has mentioned her to a certain relative on the other side with a mad-on for the guy with the other new Pattern."

"He says not. Neither of us has a reason to think either of them even know about the existence of the other. But they're both Sorcerors, and the universe is a very perverse place," Brennan says. "My knowledge of my sister is scant, and most of it is filtered through a few conversations with my brother. But she's a bastard child that Brand never acknowledged or kept around.

"My suspicion is, she wasn't planned, but was a result of one of Brand's... episodes. So she doesn't understand what she is, or the scope of her Family. Uxmal is it, for her. She's also a real nasty piece of work-- tried to kill us when we spoiled her little party. Needless to say, I didn't get a chance to talk to her, which is too bad."

Martin's eyes narrow and his jaw tenses as if he's grinding his teeth slightly when Brennan speaks Brand's name. He takes some moments to digest all this. "We can't let a blooded child run loose," is what he finally comes out with.

"I'm not sure we can bind her to the Family," Brennan says.

Martin doesn't have any words for that.

Brennan responds to what Martin isn't saying. "Yeah, I know. Hell of a reputation to get for myself, though."

Martin nods slowly. "We may face similar problems on the Rebman side of the family. Llewella's daughter. That's more complicated--I can't blame her for her mad-on since I share it--but I worry about what happens next."

Both Brennan's eyebrows raise. "Llewella's got a daughter?"

"She was dead, or I thought she was, before I left Rebma," Martin replies. "She didn't come up in casual conversation."

Brennan gives the room a practiced look over for reflective surfaces, and doesn't bother disguising it. "She have a name? Or is that too risky?"

"Khela," Martin replies. He sits back and takes another swallow of his drink.

Martin adds after a moment, "She was my friend."

Brennan grunts from the back of his throat, thinking into his glass. Then he decides, and asks in a let-me-know-if-I'm-pressing-too-hard fashion, "Talk about it?"

"Not much to say. We were on the wrong side of a political argument. A bunch of people died, some of them ... important to me. I thought Khela was dead too. I got off lightly: a decade of house arrest and, ultimately, when I walked the Pattern--against my grandmother's will, I might add--self-imposed exile.

"The complications--you met Celina, Corwin's daughter? Also Moire's daughter? Moire concealed her in the Seawards, which are kind of like the Rebman equivalent of the old Golden Circle treaty kingdoms. Khela sought her out and was instructing her. In magic, among other things."

Martin picks up his drink, looks at it, and back up at Brennan. "I see a civil war." He takes another drink. He looks like he needs it.

This time Brennan stands up to refresh the drink, even though he's not finished with his second, yet.

Martin tosses the rest of his back and hands his glass to Brennan.

It gives him a few minutes to let that stir around in his head. "Too many damn Sorcerors popping up, all of a sudden," he muses. "It's enough to make an honest man nervous. That this Khela would just wander on-stage in time to train Celina is beyond the pale. You think Khela is playing Moire, or Moire is playing Khela?"

"I think they're both trying to play each other for keeps and the winner will the one who's still alive at the end of the game."

"Sounds about right," Brennan says over his shoulder.

Also, "You've heard Vere's army is Rebman men?"

Martin leans forward and puts his head in his hands, rubbing his temples for a moment as if he has a headache coming on. Then he runs his fingers through his hair. "No. That's just lovely."

Brennan isn't even going to try to keep up with Martin in terms of hard drinking. His own glass gets a splash and a lot more ice; Martin's gets the same strength as he'd been pouring all along.

He gives Martin his glass back and says, "Isn't it, though." Brennan spitballs: "Was Triton liberation by any chance an issue with a gender split? Good opportunity for Moire to purge Khela's supporters, if men played any role in it. Or hold a lot of hostages, if it's the other way around."

Martin takes a sip of his fresh drink and considers the matter.

"Libertism was viewed in Rebma after the last purge with all the enthusiasm that you might find in Amber for an excess of religious sentiment. It went to the margins. The kind of people you'd attract to the cause are those with nothing left to lose. They might be the sort who'd take a foreign job. As for my grandmother, she'll have picked those men for some political reason. She thinks like our uncles: nothing without at least three reasons. I don't immediately see the angle to do with Tritons, but I don't rule one out. I have insufficient data for a reasonable hypothesis."

Brennan gives a facial shrugs, and drinks. "All I know about Rebman politics is what you just told me-- I have nowhere else to look for angles. I was just thinking, though, that if," Brennan emphasizes the conditional, "there is a Triton angle-- or more generally, a contra-Khela one-- then look at it from Khela's perspective: She and Moire are dancing around each other, gearing up for war. In waltz Jerod and Vere, giving Moire a strong hand to set Khela's plans back. Vere is nominally safe, now, out of Rebma and away from the fray, but Jerod is still there last I heard. And Jerod seems... stubborn."

"The Rebman court is larger than Amber's and very status- and title-conscious. There are always dozens of petty intrigues and a handful of major ones. Most of my intelligence is a century and a half stale and we've seen the perils of stale intelligence altogether too many times recently."

Brennan grimaces in sympathy.

Martin frowns. "I still haven't figured out how to warn Jerod without going down there myself, and that would be lighting a match to a powder keg. As it stands, I'm engaged in a low-level intelligence fight with Rebman agents in Amber that's probably about to turn into a bloody turf war, all over my grandmother's flunky's ham-handed attempt to intimidate me into shutting up. If I went back to Rebma, Lir only knows what would happen."

Brennan grunts. "No one has any Trumps of Jerod? If he's got one of Cambina, I can pass word back that way and hope he calls her. Of course, then I'll worry that she'll pick up and go there, herself."

"Yeah, that would be the last thing we all need. There are no Trumps of Jerod--just a sketch that Merle is using for a model while he makes one. If we use it and it goes poof, Merle is back to square one. It may be worth the risk, but what happens if we find out something worse?" Martin's frown morphs into a full-face scowl.

Brennan doesn't have an answer to that, and so does not try to fake one. Warning Jerod is Martin's call.

Also, "I assume your grandmother's flunkie was off the reservation, then. The other alternative is that your grandmother both misunderstood and underestimated what it is to be part of this Family-- nothing else explains an intimidation attempt."

Martin looks at Brennan, surprised. "You don't know about my mother and my father, do you?" It's only half a question.

Brennan shakes his head.

"The story as it's told in Rebma is that my father seduced my mother and took her out of Rebma. She returned, pregnant with me, and a few months after my birth, she killed herself."

Martin takes another drink.

"This was maybe three hundred years ago Amber time. My father never returned to Rebma in all that time, not until the war. And then he lucked out of his death sentence by being married to Vialle instead. My grandmother has absolute power in Rebma and an odd and uncanny amount beyond that. Rumor has it her sapphire is connected to the Jewel of Judgement somehow. Her man is crude, but I doubt he's off the rez."

He sits back in his chair and smiles, sharklike.

"Besides, there are always buttons you can push. Everyone has their weak spots. If you were going to strongarm me, Brennan, how would you do it? From their position, of course."

"That would be Folly," Brennan says it without missing a beat, but the phrasing is obviously considered. "But that doesn't clear up my question: you said you were being warned to keep your mouth shut. Were you in danger of opening it? Or did they only provoke a response?"

"A little of both. Montage was trying to scare me good before Celina showed up. Unfortunately, I didn't scare. It turns out she needs my help, and it will pay off an old debt of mine, either of which would have been sufficient to obtain my aid. On the other hand, Montage showing up at Red Mill to put me in my place would have been enough for that, too. If I weren't pretty sure that the form of the warning came from Montage, I'd suspect my grandmother of reverse psychology." The sharklike smile returns, tinged with bitterness.

Brennan nods, slowly. Now he understands.

"If he weren't your brother," Martin says, "I'd consider suggesting we send your little problem to deal with mine. It would give our team a sorcerer, which could only help, and a tangle with a Triton would teach the lad a little humility. And it would serve well to prove his loyalty, assuming he's clever enough to make it through."

"What would you do, pin a letter of introduction to his mitten for Jerod? 'Dear Jerod, this is Brennan's little brother, Ambrose, who you may remember from the Incident at the Coronation. He's a Sorceror. He's here to help.'" Brennan shakes his head.

Martin snorts, amused, at the image.

"Interesting idea, but for the time being, I think I'd like to keep him involved in something I know a little more about."

Martin holds up his hands. "Oh, no, I don't think it would work, and for a bunch of other reasons. Sending your father's kid to deal with Llewella's kid is almost as stupid as ... well, sending Eric's kid. Except Eric's kid is also a local. No offense to your brother, but a kid fresh off the turnip wagon from his home shadow would be a bit out of his depth. Even Jerod--he's more sophisticated, but he's used to being in Amber and dealing from a position of power. In Rebma, he's only a boy, even if he is the queen's grandson. And swimmers hide their teeth in Rebma. Until a fish is ready to bite, you don't know whether it's a dolphin or a moray eel."

Brennan spreads his hands-- no offense taken. "Martin, I'm not without my sense of pride, but I'd be out of my depth in Rebma. I don't know the history, I don't know the customs, and I don't know the politics. What little I know puts me behind the eight-ball with respect to Llewella's influence, and I haven't even a clue on her view of the situation. Besides, what I'm after with Ambrose is something between a loyalty test and a baptismal certificate, not a test of his abilities, as such. He'll forgive me for it later, I hope."

Brennan readjusts his sprawl, and the topic of conversation. "How much have you heard about what's going on in Arden?"

"It's a bloody mess. No specific details, though--other than a couple that relate to Paige's pregnancy. I know Adonis is missing."

"Bloody mess describes it fairly well. I don't have all the details either, but it seems to be running into a general war in Arden and Arcadia," Brennan waits to see if Martin questions the term, "with I'm not sure how many factions involved. And Paige has it in her head that she wants her children to meet their father."

"Paige wants the happy family she never had," Martin opines. "She's wanted it as long as I've known her. And the Unicorn help the poor fool who gets in her way. Adonis would have a tough row to hoe even if Arden weren't at war." He contemplates his whiskey and indulges himself in it again.

He doesn't seem to attach particular importance to the name Arcadia; perhaps he thinks Brennan will explain if it's relevant.

Brennan sighs. "I realize my perspective on parental relationships is a little bent, but I can see where she's coming from. In the abstract. But now is not the time to be wandering through Arden to get to Arcadia and be screwing around with Finndo's brood. I think she realizes that, now. I won't say she's a changed woman since Brooke and Leif were born, but I think she's changing. Hard to say, with us.

"She was asking Jovian and I to borrow some of those flowers, so Merlin could track Daeon down Sorcerously."

"What did you say? And what do you mean about Finndo?" Martin asks. Clearly he's more interested in the answer to the second question than in the answer to the first.

"Jovian flat refused and told me he'd be sending the flowers to Caine for safekeeping." Brennan can't keep from rolling his eyes a little bit. "They ended up with the King, instead. Would have been nice if I'd known going in-- this was the same meeting where we discussed Dara, and there the flowers were, sitting on his desk. I won't bore you with the details, but I think I stalled things enough to buy some time. I think.

"And apparently, the Arcadian pantheon of goddesses are Finndo's daughters. I was hoping you'd know a little more, actually-- in terms of Finndo, and the King's position regarding Arden. This isn't a complaint, as such, but it'd be a lot easier to figure out how best to further the realm if we knew what he wanted."

"The King hasn't enlightened me on his plans for Arden. I think he's mostly interested in matters Xanaduvian, myself, but that's where he's aimed me for the moment. I could be mistaking my preoccupations for his," Martin replies.

Brennan silently mouths the word 'Xanaduvian' to himself. "Well, you've made his speech patterns your own," he drawls.

Martin looks at Brennan, starts to say something, and decides against. Instead he runs his fingers through his hair, pushing it back out of his face. "You know Merle will find Adonis if he sets his mind to it, right? And that telling Paige no is a fast way to get her to do something?"

"Hey, am I the one that slapped her wrist and sent her to bed without a cookie? No. Jovian thinks he's made it impossible for Paige and Merlin to get there, without running into and getting stopped by Julian." Brennan obviously doesn't buy that.

Martin tosses back the rest of his whiskey. "If you have a basic grasp of the Principles involved, you already know how dumb that is, so I'll spare you the lecture. I'm not sure I'm the right person to get involved in the matter, for a number of reasons. But the lessons a couple of decades of dealing with Paige have taught me include the idea that it's easier to channel her than to forbid her. If you don't want her to do something, make it unnecessary, not harder. Hiding the flowers with one of our uncles is a waste of time."

"I know," Brennan says. "Problem is, channeling her into her children-- the obvious target-- leads back almost directly to Daeon and Arcadia. It's another thing I need to keep on eye on." He gives a very rueful grimace and says, "I'm not even good at being an older cousin yet. Being a big brother..." he gives a slow exhalation sigh.

Martin nods once. "I don't have a lot of advice on that either. Paige ... I assume you've already talked to Cambina about her. Maybe you should ask Folly. She'll want to help, and even if she can't talk Paige out of doing whatever she's gonna do--" which from Martin's tone, he expects to be the case--" she might have some insights into how to get her to do it safely. Either that, or you guys should deputize someone to go get Nature Boy."

"Ahead of you, there-- I spoke with Folly not long ago. Turnabout is fair play," Brennan says. "We can send Garrett. You done training him, yet?"

"I haven't even started yet," Martin replies. He sounds like he thinks it will be quite a task.

"He's actually asked me for swordsmanship training," Brennan says. Then he spreads his free hand. "Not every day a Prince asks me for training. But he's your brother." Brennan is going to follow Martin's lead in this.

"I think he should get as much training as he can handle from as many different teachers as will have him. How long are you planning to stay here?"

"Good question," Brennan says. "Deserves a good answer, too, which I'll give as soon as I have one. Right now, Amber seems almost depopulated of Family. That may be your father's intent, but it makes me nervous. My first thought was to have him run with the Army, but he says he's already had some training. He might be past that, already."

"I'd say he is if only for speed and strength. He'd need someone like old Venesch or someone of the blood to really make him work."

Brennan snorts. "If I train him, I intend to work him like a dog. I haven't really said yes, though-- I seem to be picking up commitments left and right, and I don't want to do wrong by half-@ssing it."

Martin eyes Brennan speculatively. "If you're staying the night, perhaps we can spar tomorrow morning and show the lad what he's getting himself into. There will be court at noon, and I'll have to be there, but I'm free before that."

"Until tomorrow, certainly. I think Cambina and I might like to watch the Moon rise. Let's do it."

Martin nods once, abruptly.

Brennan reaches the bottom of his glass again, looks from it to the liquor cabinet, then decides against it. "We should be getting back out there, before they're convinced we're up to something," Brennan smirks, and stands up. "One last thing though-- this Celina girl? Is she really as wide-eyed as she's playing at?"

"Oh, I believe it. I was very wide-eyed in my own way when I left Rebma. My grandmother had forbidden me the Pattern and I walked it against her will." Martin's jaw sets in a hard line for a moment. "I have no trouble believing her daughter has been kept, let us say, selectively ignorant."

"There's naive and there's naive," Brennan says, "But I'll bear it in mind and try not to hold it against her. There's only so naive I can believe a Sorceress to be."

Martin nods. "I see your point, but if I read the timing right, she's barely older than Garrett and she was raised a hick in the sticks. It's only in the last few years that she's had to learn anything at all about Real power, and fewer than that since she came to court and learned politics. If she'd been taught sophistication early on, she'd have seen through the maneuvering that put her in place in my grandmother's court. She could be faking it, but my gut says no."

He sets his glass down on the arm of the chair and says, "If you're suspicious of her, see what Cambina makes of her."

Brennan nods.

Martin rises, leaving the glass behind. "I know a back way down to the studio, which is where I suspect they're going next."

Brennan rises and follows.

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Last modified: 30 April 2005