Civil Conversation

Some time on the day after Brennan's return to Amber, Brennan sends Dignity to initiate the proper invitations, acceptances, and synchronization of schedules required for a friendly, informal chat between Brennan and Lucas. Perhaps a light lunch.

Lucas, therefore, is free to determine how hard Dignity works on that day.

Lucas is charmed by the notion.

"But you had better consult Gouter about my dietary requirements," he adds.

Gouter is to be found adjusting the seasoning on a nourishing chicken broth that the kitchens have sent up for Solace. A mournful man (being Lucas's foodtaster/travelling chef is no sinecure) with exacting standards, he breaks off from his culinary task to tug thoughtfully on the waxed points of his moustache (casting David Suchet as Poirot). Behind his back, Solace's page, Pert, grins at Dignity and pulls faces, clearly designed to upset Dignity's equilibrium.

Dignity, having lived with his parents' choice of name for nearly two decades, is more than equal to he task of enduring Pert. In a moment unobserved by Gouter, he gives Pert his very best squirely Flat Stare, and makes a mental note to enquire after the lad.

"Monseigneur has been on a black and white diet," announces Gouter. "It has been exacting ....

"One might serve caviar, for example - with sour cream ... and blinis made with the whitest wheat. Oysters are also acceptable, as black rye bread ... white fish, white flesh ... salisfy, onions ... cream. Figs. Grapes. Pasta coloured with squid ink and served with a cream truffle sauce won Monseineur's commendation ... "

Behind Gouter's back, Pert makes a realistic mime of throwing up.

No matter how he might agree, Dignity accepts the dietary data with no outward expression, but shifts the meeting to a late breakfast, or perhaps a brunch.

"But Monsigneur is generous," Gouter goes on, supremely unaware of the imitation. "He will understand the limitations of a soldier's table."

Dignity returns a perfectly expressionless, but graceful, smile.

Once they are together, Brennan inquires politely of Solace's health, and the wellbeing of the children. As genuine as the interest is, however, it is likely apparent to Lucas that Brennan does have another topic on his mind.

Lucas is a charming guest. He eats sparingly of whatever is set in front of him (regardless of colour) unless Brennan is serving tripe. Lucas has Strong Views about tripe.

The table is set, for Lucas, with acceptably tinctured breakfast foods: Cottage cheese and bacon, burnt black and crispy as it should be; black bread and perfect white butter; coffee and cream.

For Brennan there is also ruby red grapefruit, strawberries, and eggs. There is enough fo everythign for Lucas.... if he chooses.

Lucas takes some strawberries - and admires the colour contrast against the black and white. He compliments Brennan on his good taste.

He responds to Brennan's questions - Solace is much recovered, though still somewhat weak (OOC - unless the GMs decree otherwise), and Lucas rations himself to one amusing anecdote about his children.

Brennan expresses some relief at Solace's health, and inquires whether the reasons for the episodes are known.

"We are still exploring possibilities," says Lucas. "We are perhaps a little further along the road with 'how' rather than 'why'. But it is 'why' that intrigues."

Brennan nods. No doubt they'll turn the conversation back around to that subject in the fullness of time.

He also asks about the success - or otherwise - of Brennan's journey - and appears interested in his comments on Chaos (if Brennan makes any). Responses to anything Brennan tells him display a certain shrewdness and an encouraging interest.

(OOC - how much would Lucas know about the trip by this point? Presumably word has got around to some extent).

(It's only the next day. Brennan's been casting it as a moderate success, so he can probably infer Brita's release, at the very least.)

(And, dropping out of summary mode, in which we can handle anything Lucas would like to ask about the trip in general....)

Lucas is interested in information about Chaos ... (does Brennan mention Uxmal/Dworkin?)

(Pardon my dangling participle. I meant, once out of summary mode, we can handle Lucas' questions about the trip, if you please.)

But if this line of conversation produces tepid results, Lucas will allow Brennan quite soon to introduce the topic that clearly interests him.

"You never told me, Cousin, that you knew my father."

Lucas' dark eyebrows lift fractionally.

"You never asked," he points out. "Still, as you know, being a modest creature, quite indistinguishable from a violet by a mossy stone, half-hidden from the eye, I prefer not to name drop.

"Besides, I wasn't aware it was a secret."

Brennan clucks tongue to teeth in mock disappointment. "Perhaps, perhaps not. But I do take a certain interest, now, in reconstructing and untangling all of his many and varied schemes. They do have a way of... surfacing... with unexpected sharpness."

Brennan savors the crispness of a shard of bacon.

"After the dreaded family reunion with my Grandmother, Ambrose and I departed for our birth home. Among Brand's effects, Lucas, was a Trump of the dashing Lucasian form."

Brennan washes the bacon down with coffee, watching Lucas' response.

Lucas was lifting a cup of coffee to his lips. His hand pauses infinitesmially ... and then he sips.

"After all this time," he murmurs. "He never called ... never wrote. And all this while he was treasuring an image of moi."

He sets the coffee cup down - and he is frowning slightly.

"You cannot believe how intensely irritating it is to have to begin to suspect that my Mother was right."

"Yes," Brennan says between mouthfuls of egg, "It can be distressing to discover one's forebears may have been correct about something. But how would she have known?"

"Because," says Lucas, "she breezed into Paris on one of her whistlestop tours, and found out that her dear elder brother had ... attached himself to yours truly."

Brennan finds this all positively fascinating.

Lucas sets the coffee cup down and glares at it. "You know, I can get you something a good deal mellower than this if you want. I'm sure that in the army you have to put up with a beverage that tastes as though it's been strained through old socks, but really, even among the ruins of Amber we can do better than that."

"I brewed that myself," Brennan says, mildly. "Some of us like it strong."

Lucas frowns at the coffee cup again, but refrains from further comment - on that at least.

Brennan takes a deep, manful swallow of his own, and pours himself more. He does not sweeten it, but there is a container of pure white bleached sugar for Lucas' pleasure.

"I suppose you should hear the whole story," says Lucas at last. "It's not something that makes a regular appearance in the Lucan anecdotage. For one thing, I was - and remain - displeased with the whole thing. For another, it's always been fairly clear that boasting a prior acquaintance with your pater has never been seen as a strong selling point."

"That depends on who you ask," Brennan says, thinking briefly of Paige. He remains in a posture of attentive repose.

"Paige?" responds Lucas, seemingly reading Brennan's thoughts. He isn't - but the inference in Brennan's words was pretty strong. "Yes, well, when you have a reputation as the family bicycle, you might hope that an association with the blackest sheep of the family might actually lift you a trifle in the popular estimation."

Brennan carefully controls his features, and says only, "Careful, now-- Hell hath no fury, et cetera. She's delivered her children, too," he adds.

Lucas selects a black fig from the bowl and begins to slice it carefully.

"I don't know how much you know about my mother's pet Shadow," he says. "Earth. A large and varied Shadow. Actually, even if you know parts of it, or certain times, that still might not help my story to make very much sense."

Brennan does not interrupt, merely shaking his head slightly to indicate that Flora's Shadow was outside his sphere of knowledge.

"I'd been around the place all my life," Lucas goes on, "which at that point was about just around a hundred and fifty years. I had, not unexpectedly, cottoned on to the fact that there was something ... unusual about Maman and me. Our failure to age, for one thing. And while I was not too personally surprised by the fact that I was faster, stronger, more intelligent and so on among those I met, I had realised for some time that this might be due to something apart from the inherent perfection of moi. But my mother, who was clearly blessed with similar attributes was determinedly ... mum about the whole thing.

"At the time of my tale, she had settled in America and was enjoying the luxuries of a brownstone mansion on, I believe, Fifth Avenue in New York, two doors down from the Whitneys. And I had settled down to a rather different style of life in the garrets of Paris.

"Have you ever been to Paris, Brennan? Oh, not the Paris that Corwin has created, but the original? That Corwin has taken it as the model for his Amber should tell you something about the power of the place ... I'm not sure if I want to see it, myself. To be there ... and yet not there ... "

As Lucas has begun to talk about Paris, Brennan might be aware that he does it with an unusual fervour. This place, wherever it was, clearly means a lot not only to Corwin, but to Lucas too.

"As far as I know, I've never been to your mother's Shadow. I'd spent a considerable time keeping a distance from the family, much of which was near or beyond the Tree. Thus, I've visited neither Paris."

"You've missed something then," says Lucas. "It was called the City of Lights. Sometimes - and I've known those times too - it's been a City of Darkness. And Blood. Sometimes it's grown fat and complacent and horribly bourgeois ... and I've fled it, vowing never to return. But it's always called me back."

Brennan's posture concedes the point.

Lucas settles more comfortably into his chair, twisting the stalk of the fig between his fingers to ease it from the fruit.

"Time periods ... well, they mean little, don't they? Shadows have their own individual calendars. Let's just say - as the Shadow reckoned, it was a new century. The old had died in decadence ... that was what had initially drawn me back to Paris ... those little cafes and the absinthe, Les Fleurs du Mal and that beautiful sullen boy with the full lips ... ah, Arthur. What a waste that was. What he saw in that aging fool Verlane, I'll never know.

"But I digress. Let us say ... I was drawn back into a world of decadence, fell into a deep, drugged sleep, and awoke to a clear new world of experimentation and adventure. Art, Brennan, art - that was the driving force, the motivation. A city full of passion and energy and wild-eyed young men on the edge of starvation painting like angels ... well, not angels perhaps. Taking art to the very edge ... and then kicking it forward, kicking and screaming and complaining. Outraging the dullards with a pot of paint ... it was glorious. Days in studios, nights in cafes, composing lofty manifestos about Art. And drinking ... mon Dieu, did we drink."

Brennan raises an eyebrow that might harbour some scepticism at the outrage quality of artwork, but seeing Lucas in a talkative mood, he does not interrupt.

"Maman came once and then no more. It was not her style ... although she provided a useful conduit for selling the art to wealthy Americans ... ah .. America was a country of wealthy philistines some distance from Paris. They deplored the art and bought it in great quantities for vast sums of many out of fear that it might actually become valuable. Which it did. Ah, Brennan, you should have seen my apartment in Manhattan later that century. It overlooked Central Park, naturellement, but the paintings! Ah, Pablo himself swore I had the best ... "

He glances at Brennan and smiles faintly. "No matter. You want to hear of your father. But it's important, I think, that you should understand the context."

Brennan nods expansively, and begins to section a grapefruit.

Lucas sets down the fig, and places his hands together, fingertip to fingertip, his expression thoughtful, considering.

"To be honest, I can't remember when I first became aware of him. It was in the darkened corners of cafes - on the edges of the little squares - a figure on the far side of boulevards. There was something about him ... A dark cape - very full, very ... dramatic. The hair, bien sur. And the beard - he wore it neatly trimmed into two little points. A devil's beard. Matisse... he had a good eye ... he took to calling him M'sieur le Diable .. it was a name that caught on."

He smiles faintly. "You should understand my role within the group, cos. I was ... ah, the animateur. The one who made things happen. I did not paint nor write myself ... but I had a small gallery where the works were displayed, a small press where the manifestos were published, and even a jornal - La Banniere Rouge. I was editor and publisher of that - an enfant terrible with a solid financial background. People ... sought me out. They knew that mine was a power that could make their reputation as an artist ... or break them utterly.

"So when M'sieur le Diable took an interest in me, I presumed it was because he wanted something from me. A book published, a painting in the gallery .. a sculpture perhaps."

Lucas takes up the coffee, now half cold, and drinks it unsugared, apparently not noticing its bitterness.

"I was entirely correct ... although I had no idea - at that point - what he really wanted."

"Really," Brennan says in a tone heavy with the irony that he wasn't quite able to keep out of it. "And what was it he actually wanted?"

"At first," says Lucas, "it seemed he merely wished to become a member of our coterie. From the fringes he moved in ... closer. I began to hear others talking of him ... speaking of him with enthusiasm, with excitement even ... with awe." He frowns slightly. "You should understand my emotions, mon cousin. This was a little society where I ... which had had a clear centre. And now ... it was unbalanced. A little muddied, as though a new current was disturbing the water. I was a little ... irate." He gives a Gallic shrug. "And yes, I will confess. Perhaps also a little intrigued."

"I've found Brand often had that effect on people. People tend to love him or hate him. Many manage both at the same time," Brennan says, in a tone that makes clear that he's never had that particular problem.

"Whatever his faults, he had enormous presence."

Lucas acknowledges this was a wave of his hand and resumes.

"Eh bien. From the fringes, he moved closer in. Always ... he deferred. He was the measure of politeness. Courtesy ... pah, he had no equal. And yet ... sometimes, I felt - even in the middle of a crowd - that it was he and I alone together, possessing some higher knowledge, and that those who surrounded us were fools ... negligible. Of no account compared to us.

"And then other times ... I felt ... "

He is silent for a long moment, staring down into the nearly empty coffee cup.

"As though I were prey, being stalked. Circled."

"I rather expect you were, cousin. One of my principle regrets is not having come to Amber and made clear Brand's plans. Much would have gone differently...." Brennan muses.

"But that's neither here nor there. Brand was Brand. Where, if you please, was my Dazzling Aunt during all this?"

"New York," says Lucas with a fatalistic shrug. "The far side of the Shadow. Amusing herself with parties and dalliances ... It was a long way .. travel was primitive. And I was a somewhat fitful correspondent, san doute.

"At all events, the situation had been continuing some weeks - perhaps months. We were in a favourite cafe. It was late at night - and the argument was heated. Representational art ... as opposed to abstract. It was the height of the Fauvist movement ... ah, bah! That means nothing to you. Well, it was a movement that went in for a strong primitivism. Heady, while it lasted, which was not long.

"The argument was, in itself, a strange one. Representation ... we despised it. Why we should even be giving it consideration ... I think now it was he that started it, that had set the cat among the pigeons. Yet he said nothing. I remember him, sitting there, his face half in the shadows, and a half smile on his face. It was I who was heated, I who became passionate, declaring my credo, my belief ...

"And then he learned forward and said - quite low - yet it silenced the room ... 'Sit for me, Lucas, and I shall paint you a portrait the like of which you've never seen before'."

Brennan throws Lucas a rueful smile around the last of the grapefruit. "I've seen Brand use similar tactics among the gods of Uxmal. It was one of the many tactics he mastered. The best defence against his tongue that I'd found was total disregard... a maddening exercise in itself.

"And no doubt this was the Trump I saw in my brother's possession."

"I imagine so," agrees Lucas. "I never saw the completed portrait. In fact, I never knew whether he had completed it or not. Three days into our sittings - at a time when I was feeling rather disappointed with what appeared to be taking shape as a rather dreary exercise in an almost pre-Raphaelite fidelity to detail, Maman swept into town."

"It was a flattering image," Brennan says, "and as you say, it paid very close attention to detail."

"It took Maman about half an hour to grasp what was happening, and then she hauled me to Amber, much to my indignation, and - en effet - threw me onto the Pattern. I believe we have rarely - if ever- exceeded the level of mutual vituperation we rose to on that occasion. I must be the only person to have ever walked the Pattern literally shaking with anger. I shoved my way through each Veil in turn so I could resume yelling abuse at her.

"As you can imagine, it is not a period of my life that I look back upon with any marked favour."

"I would image not. And did she explain why she chose that moment to introduce you to your true heritage?"

"Protection," says Lucas briefly. "M'sieur le Diable was her brother Brand, and whatever he was up to, it could be safely filed under the heading of 'No Good'. She wasn't sure what he wanted - she did explain trumps to me, and Shadow - most of it in a hissed undertone, I seem to recall. I was largely furious that - if I was meant to be so vulnerable to the whims of any passing kinfolk - she hadn't warned me of this before."

"No doubt she thought she could keep you hidden an unknown for centuries more... although, from what I gather, her Shadow of choice was known to several, if not all of the Family," Brennan says. "Still, your reaction was sound, and Flora's determination of Brand's intent... prescient."

He looks at Brennan a little curiously. "Apart from the fact that any relative would undoubtedly desire a flattering image of moi for their collection, do you have any particular suspicion why he went to such lengths to collect mine? I have my own theories, of course ... but I would be interested to hear yours."

Brennan's eyes go cold and flinty for a moment, but for whatever reasons, he chooses not to beat around the bush. "He wanted you dead, Lucas." He pushes his plate away, finished with breakfast, but he keeps the coffee close. "Not personally, of course, but you were present and convenient. I suspect you will understand why.

"I find myself exceptionally fascinated, though, by Brand's subsequent behaviour. Did he ever attempt to use the device? Or did he simply file it away with the rest?"

"I don't know," says Lucas. "He never attempted to trump me ... well, you may be rather surprised to learn that despite the widely acknowledged charm of my company, no-one has ever attempted to trump me, as far as I can ascertain." He frowns suddenly as though thinking of something.

Brennan smiles into his coffee cup.

"I suppose he must have filed it away," he says, a little absently, as though his thoughts are running on another track. "He found a better target, peut etre. Or so he thought."

"That, I think, is an answer that is not an answer. Of course he found a better target-- he would not willingly use anything other than the best target that he had. The question is, what caused you to be an imperfect target?"

"I would suspect Maman," says Lucas. "He might have ruled her out of the picture - her siblings often do. But she is a shrewd operator for all that. Her intervention might have served as warning that I was not so unprotected as I appeared. Brand certainly would have known that Maman was in Eric's camp - and he might have wished to avoid attracting attention from that quarter."

"...Conceivably," Brennan says. "I would expect to have held Eric in higher respect than your mother, but the only Family members he truly feared or respected were Benedict and Caine. Do you know what was happening in Amber at that time?"

Lucas shakes his head. "Only from what I can reconstruct. I was in too much of a paddy to bother with political finesse at the time - a shame, sans doute. The Pattern walk was done at dead of night - she seemed to have the right of entry. When it was over, she ordered me back to her side. By then I had worked out enough to take myself away altogether, and found a rather nice Shadow to my tastes. Ah ... those roller skating nuns dodging in and out of the trolley cars ... the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence."

Brennan's face registers a certain amount of confusion at the notion of ordering someone who had just walked the Pattern back to her side... until Lucas demonstrates how he disregarded the command.

"After a while, I wandered. It was about fifty years before I returned to Maman's Shadow ... we met again at a little festival I was organising on my friend Yasgur's farm a few years later ... but that's of no matter.

"As far as I can reckon, at the time when I met your father, Maman was acting as guard to Corwin on Earth. Only she, Eric, Caine and Julian knew he was alive. If Caine and Julian were in on the secret at that point - they might only have been told once he started becoming troublesome. But Brand would certainly have been aware of the family fault lines. He might have started to focus his interests on finding Corwin on Earth by that point - or it may have come later. I might have been his target ... or an incidental amusement."

"A very interesting question-- did he find you while searching out Corwin? Or vice-versa?" Brennan asks. It has the sound of a rhetorical question-- unless Lucas actually knows the answer.

Luacs shrugs. It's clear he doesn't know - although Brennan might suspect Lucas has speculated on that himself a number of times. He looks speculatively at Brennan.

"Which raises the question ... if you will forgive my asking ... why did he feel he did not have a perfect target somewhat closer to home, cos?"

"Have I ever told you how I left Uxmal, cousin?"

"No," says Lucas. He pours himself another cup of the despised coffee. "Do tell."

"Hmm." Brennan consults his coffee cup for a moment, then proceeds.

"I left because I chose not to be the perfect target close to home. Leaving aside the meticulous details of how, let it suffice that I learned what Brand's plans for me were. The whole reason for my being, in fact-- to live, to grow, and then, to die. I would have been some fourteen years old when I managed to convince myself that I was not mistaken. Not deluded. Not misunderstanding and putting myself in someone else's slot. Leaving aside some others of the Cymnean line-- and they were hardly suitable targets at the time-- I don't think there were any others at the time."

Lucas' eyes loose a little focus - he seems to be calculating for himself before he nods his agreement, his attention back on Brennan.

"So I left. Brand had never been a fool, despite his madness. He rarely spoke of the Trumps and certainly never attempted to train me in them-- why would he train me to create my own means of escape?-- but I knew what they were. And when he was in one of his transitions from mania to depression, he came upon me painting a cityscape of Amber reconstructed from things he had said and descriptions I had given.

"I told him I wanted to go to Amber, and I let him draw all the reasonable inferences from there. His immediate attempt to begin my training lasted only a few short, disappointing hours. I left dodging palettes and paint pots, but having swiped his true Trump of Amber, and one of myself in preparation, and... perhaps... a face card that would give him pause."

Lucas' eyebrows lift at this last, but he says nothing.

"From there, I used the Trump of Amber and made my frantic search for the route up Kolvir that would lead to Tir-na Nog'th. Have you ever been to Tir-na Nog'th, Lucas? Leave it at this-- the moon rose, Tir-na Nog'th appeared, and accepted me, and I walked the Pattern there and disappeared far into Shadow."

Brennan takes a long sip of his coffee.

"Sacre bleu," says Lucas, with real respect in his voice. "You were young, cos, to attempt that. Fourteen? At that age I was first venturing to smuggle harlots into my school dormitory. Climbing Kolvir is not the easiest of tasks - let alone what followed. They must breed them tough in Uxmal."

Brennan inclines his head. "Desperation breeds boldness. And even the boldness served its purpose. I had hoped to trigger him into a deep depressive episode, seeing his plans vanish before him. He often had trouble Painting when in that state, and I had taken what I believed was the only Trump that had even been begun. I left him with no immediate way to find me, and an infinity of Shadow to search.

"And he could hardly ask any of his relatives. Had I gone to Grandfather? Grandmother? Had I been believed? Had I gained Benedict's protection? Would I be missed?" Brennan gave a smile that was beatific in its enjoyment of Brand's suffering. "It must have been excruciating for him, trying to ask about a son that almost no one knew about, in a Family cagey enough that no one would ever admit not knowing something important."

Lucas' smile shows his appreciation of this ruse, as Brennan continues.

"And then, discounting all that, if he decided no one knew, or no one cared, or that he didn't care... how would I have prepared for him in the intervening years? I was determined enough to walk the Pattern unprepared simply to leave, after all."

Lucas takes a meditative sip of coffee. "And your brother?" he asks presently. "Was he too bred for the role of sacrificial lamb? Or was he predestined for some other fate, do you think? Perhaps - seeing his alliances - to throw him into the Abyss instead?"

"Ambrose is young," Brennan says. "I don't know where his birth falls with respect to the True Calendar, but he must certainly have known of other targets-- you and Paige, at the very least-- before Ambrose's birth.

"He may have been intended as an heir, seeing how poorly the sacrificial lamb role worked the first time."

"Yes," says Lucas thoughtfully. "It seems he had a little list, and patiently worked his way down it. I wonder what made him cross out Paige's name. Perhaps you should ask. Or perhaps you have already."

Brennan gives Lucas a long look. "Bleys," he says simply. "You may have seen him around the Castle? Strapping, good-looking redheaded fellow with a fast left hook."

Lucas shrugs. "Then why make contact with Paige in the first place? Surely best left alone?"

"I'm sure she had her uses, even after Bleys made his protection clear," Brennan says obliquely. And perhaps archly. Perhaps.

He starts work on his fig again. "You said she's whelped already? I thought she'd not be too long."

"Brooke and Leif," Brennan says. "Partly their heritage, partly Grandmother's desire to see them at the family reunion."

Lucas shudders a little. "And I thought Harmony Vesper's demands excessive."

Brennan gives a faint smile.

"Do you have my trump, by the way?"

"Why, no. I hardly had a reason to dispossess my Brother. Did you want it back?"

Lucas frowns faintly - the merest wrinkle between his brows.

"Why should I? After all, I must be more than delighted to have it left in the careful vigilance of someone who rather recently was involved in a murderous attack on me."

"Ah, yes, how is the ear, anyway?" Brennan asks.

Lucas looks at him. It is a look that makes an ice storm in Antarctica look a cheery and inviting place to go for a naked swim. It is a look that suggests that further reference to this topic would not be welcome.

The warm glow in Brennan's heart weathers him through this storm.

"At any rate, it did you no harm to have it in the Brand's admiring possession for a period of decades, and I deemed it unwise to deprive a young art lover of his most collectible image at precisely the time I am trying to terminate his association with the more excitable branch of the family. I can ask for its return he next time I see him, if you wish."

"Thanks," says Lucas. "You may take it not as some idle whim, but as an urgent instruction. You may have a warm glow in your heart with regard to your younger brother and your hopes for his reformation. My sensations are closer to dyspepsia.

"Going by the empirical evidence ... your brother is a son of Brand - and, with all due respect for you, cos, that is not a bloodline guaranteed to inspire confidence. Besides, as you admit yourself, you fled at an early age, put yourself under the guidance and direction of Amber, and showed yourself a hero in the late war - a war largely of your father's making, incidentally, and have continued at every conceivable opportunity, to demonstrate your urgent desire to be One of Us."

One eyebrow raises at this characterization.

"Your brother, on the other hand," continues Lucas, "lurks in the Shadows with your father, and after his death allies with forces within Chaos who have long declared their intention of crushing us utterly - usually accompanying such boasts with the kind of bravura laughter that is rarely heard outside the most barnstorming of melodramas. He joins them in forcing an entrance to a peaceful family celebration ... well, apart from Harga'rel's murder. But then, what's a good party in Amber without something to break the ice?

"Anyway ... your brother is instrumental in forcing an entrance that leads to the death and maiming of various worthy citizens of Amber, and the kidnapping of Brita ... unless that was your grandmother's idea of a pressing invitation?"

"I expect not, as I doubt Grandmother was even aware of her until the event," Brennan says. "And the boy is aware, now, that he stood a good chance of ending up a blood stain in the basement, a testament to our principle opponent's aggression." Brennan's eyebrows draw down. "Don't assume I'm a fool, Lucas; even were the keys of the kingdom mine to give away, I would not. Not without assurances better than a handshake. But in the mean time, as I am working to split him from his allies permanently, I thought it wise to refrain from commandeering pieces of his inheritance."

"I feel so honoured to play my meagre role as your sacrifice on the altar of brotherly love," says Lucas dryly. "When your brother decides, in a fit of pique, that he stands a better chance on the other side and to fritz my brain once and for all as a gesture of goodwill to his allies, I shall expire with a happy little smile on my lips, treasuring the thought that I've aided your desire to see your father's estate keep in one piece."

He pauses. "Pieces ... he had a set of trumps? May I ask who else my image was rubbing shoulder with?"

Brennan looks to Lucas for a sign that the question is an end to the peevish reproach, not just a continuation of it, before answering.

Lucas' expression suggest a forbearance that is little short of saintly - and an interest in the answer.

All right, then. "Paige, and a few others I did not know," Brennan says. "It was a very small deck of irregulars."

"What he could get, sans doute," says Lucas a little bitterly. "Very well."

He sets down the remaining quarter of fig uneaten.

"Tell me ... did you ever use that stolen face card?"

"A boy has to have some secrets, Lucas," Brennan scolds, mildly. "Do I detect a heightened interest in the use of Trumps?"

"Let me just say, in my own secretive way, that it's striking rather close to home," Lucas replies. He rises to his feet - an unusual sign of restlessness for the indolent Marquis - and walks to the window.

Brennan remains seated, but there is no way he could miss Brennan's look of questioning interest before he stands.

Yet Lucas gives no sign of seeing it - which in itself increases the oddness.

"Do you make a long stay in Amber now, or will you be off again?" he asks, absently twisting the cord of the window blind (OOC - if there is such a thing) between his elegant fingers.

"Unless something comes up, I expect I'll be staying here for a while. Half of everybody seems to have business somewhere in Shadow, and half the remainder seem to be shuttling to Xanadu on a regular basis. I'm not yet ready to abandon this place to the creep of Arcadia and entropy, though... and even if I were, I don't think abandoning the place en masse is a good idea."

"Indeed," says Lucas. "But I suspect some of us will have commitments both here and there for some time ... the evacuation will take a little time to accomplish.

"I think I might take a house for myself outside the Palace in Xanadu. Vent is looking rather askance at the number of rooms a growing family requires - I think he sees it as a series of increasingly aggressive territorial demands.

"Maman, of course, will be in residence in New Avalon. If I could persuade her to accept Harmony Vesper as a Lady in Waiting, my cup would runneth over .. And Solace ..."

A sharp crack. A pause.

"The blind cord was weaker than it looked," says Lucas, his tones level.

Brennan's green eyes narrow. "Okay, out with it." The tone is not entirely unsympathetic, but it is firm.

"Why?" says Lucas. "Perhaps you have other sibling stashed away you want to offer me up to?

The eyes remain narrow; and the tone remains low, carefully measured: "Lucas, what are you talking about?"

Lucas's expression is suddenly arrested. He comes back to the table and lays his hand flat upon it, the fingers slightly spread.

"I believe Solace has been attacked through a trump," he says softly, his eyes never leaving Brennan's face. "Just how many siblings do you have, Brennan?"

Brennan's expression is pure surprise-- the eyes lose the almost dangerous narrowness, and blink a few times, processing the information. "At least three, including an elder brother who died in childbirth before he was given a name. Ambrose, the youngest. A middle sister named Chantico, opposed to Ambrose, who is very dangerous even though she does not know what she is.."

Brennan puts his hand on the table. "If Ambrose had a Trump of Solace, he didn't show it to me... and I think he would have. I'd have told you, if he did. It would have been as unexpected as finding a Trump of the stableboy. What makes you think she has been attacked by Trump? Or that that's even possible?"

Lucas hesitates, the fingers curving up as his hand tightens. With an effort he forces his hand flat again.

"Let's say ... the rumours about my wife's bloodline seem to have some basis in reality. Rather more so than the usual court gossip."

Brennan passes no visible judgement on this, and almost shrugs. His continuing association with Cambina would make it difficult for him to cast a stone, even if he were of a mind to do so.

"I see. I won't say anything." Brennan makes a shrewd guess: "Does Solace know?"

Lucas raises his head with a certain hauteur. "She prefers not to have it spoken of. Discussion of the issue upsets her."

"Understandable." Brennan seemed about to add something, then thought better of it. After a moment, he says, "So you're wondering if my sister has a Trump of Solace? I couldn't say for certain. The first and only time we met, per se, she was storming my ancestral home and tried to kill Ambrose and I, both. It was a much more determined effort than Dara's attack, too. One of the many reasons Ambrose is in a poor bargaining position right now is that the sister bedevils him.

"But since Chantico is fighting for possession of Brand's estate and effects, it seems rather unlikely that she'd have a Trump of Solace. I wish I could say it was impossible, but it seems very unlikely.

"What makes you think it was a Trump attack?"

Lucas hesitates.

"I can't help if you don't tell me." Brennan says. "No guarantee I can if you do, though."

"We ... I ... had no idea until Solace was ill a second time," Lucas says at last.

Brennan's eyebrow twitches fractionally, probably shifting a bunch of family members out of the potential category of 'we.' He remains silent.

"But the second illness was like the first," Lucas says finally.

Clearly Brennan is still missing something, but he lets Lucas get it out at his own pace.

Lucas sighs.

"How do you think I know Solace has Amber blood, Brennan?" he says.

Brennan looks at Lucas for a long moment, clearly not understanding, but thinking deeply, moving the pieces around. His hand has come off the table, to steeple with the fingers of the other.

"Nothing as simple as asking her mother, or the right knowledgeable gossip, I assume."

"No," says Lucas, with a faint shudder at the mention of his mother in law.

"And you certainly haven't put her on the Pattern as a simple test," Brennan continues. "But you say you know. So you think you have a way to prove our blood...."

His eyes widen, marginally. "Trumps can only be made of Family members? There's a useful piece of information."

Lucas watches him thoughtfully, not speaking.

Brennan takes that as an affirmation, and stows the information away. "Were you simply trying to test her heritage, or did you already have reason to believe there were Trumps involved?"

"Let's put it this way," says Lucas, "would I have had Merlin check her for sorcery if I suspected the cause?

"More than that ... do you think I would have put my wife through that ... twice?"

"No, but I had to ask. It's part of being thorough." Brennan slumps back in his chair, keeping his fingers steepled. Lucas may or may not know Brennan well enough to recognize that he's in his thinking posture.

"I admit Brand is a tempting suspect. He had the motive to suss out her heritage, if the rumors ever reached his ears. Can we establish they did? Did Solace know him? Has she ever reported an incident such as this before his death?"

Lucas shakes his head. "No," he says simply.

"Why not?" It's a bit of a rhetorical question, but it invites speculation.

"I suspect that Lady Vesper was very discreet," says Lucas thoughtfully. "If, indeed, that is where the blood line starts. Solace is very delicate, cos. It is possible the Amberite in her bloodline is not her father, but her grandfather, or her great grandfather."

"That wasn't really the point," Brennan says. "Focussing on Brand, if it were he, and he had completed a Trump of her, why would he not use it, or test it, provoking the same response?"

It is Lucas' turn to steeple his fingers. "I admit that Brand is not the most likely candidate to have created the trump," he agrees. "He may not have known about this.

"But you have suggested a motive for why he might have Solace's trump, even if he never used it. The same reason he held yours and mine and ... and others.

"Brennan - are you sure your brother showed you all he had? Are you sure your sister doesn't have her share too?"

"I'm not conceding that Brand wasn't involved. He's a highly likely candidate. There are things I don't understand, though. As for Ambrose, I suspect he did show me what he had, if only to see who I recognized and who I didn't. Chantico is an unknown. It seems unlikely, but it's not certain.

"She's your wife, Lucas. I'll play this they way you want, within reason. Do you want me to ask my brother about any of this?"

"I want you," says Lucas with feeling," to get my card back. Or at the very least, arrange for me to meet him for myself.

"Then I can decide how to proceed."

Brennan looks at Lucas with a rather sour expression. "I understand, Lucas, that the concept of Ambrose is somewhat abstract for you, right now. And I understand how you feel. But you're equally abstract to Ambrose."

Brennan puts his hand on the table. "Why is he going to give you your Trump?"

"Because you ask him," says Lucas calmly. "And because, from what you tell me, he needs you.

"But, in fact, I would be content with a meeting with him. Then I shall know whether I need my trump back - or whether it is safe."

Brennan considers.

Brennan considers for quite a long time, as a matter of fact, turning over possibilities over in his mind, fitting them together like Uxmali glyphs. "I'll see what I can do," he says at length. "I think there may be a way to work it so everyone benefits. Maybe."

Lucas nods, his face grave. "I'll be guided by you, cos. For me to say, as an Amberite, that I trust you might be a little extreme but ... " He shrugs. "I am willing to leave this to you. And if you feel my meagre efforts might be of some help in bringing your brother to what we might term 'our side', then count on me."

Brennan nods. "I will, and I appreciate it. The trick is making both goals reinforce each other, if we can."

By his change in posture, Brennan considers that topic closed, at least for the moment. "Tell me, cousin, did Brand ever do or say anything that, in retrospect, might lead you to believe that he knew others of the Family who were hidden?"

Lucas leans back in his chair, frowning slightly.

"It's hard to say," he replies at last. "You have to remember - at that point I was still particularly self-regarding, and entirely ignorant of Amber. I had a sense that I was not alone ... but that there should be a complete family of us ... that had not occurred to me.

"Brand's technique to win me over was to stress my ... our uniqueness. He alone in the Universe truly understood me, that approach. I am embarrassed to tell you how successful that was." And there is a distinct note of chagrin in Lucas' voice.

"It would have rather shattered his wonderful illusion if he'd then whipped out trumps of half the family and said, "Oh ... by the way ... "

"I'm quite sure he would never have said anything that would make you think of cousins at the time. But in retrospect, knowing what you know now... perhaps," Brennan says. "The web of partial knowledge our parents shared fascinates me, recently. Not only for Brand's pathologies, but for past alliances and machinations they haven't bothered to mention to us."

Lucas shakes his head. "Nothing," he says. "He managed to imply that even my mother was a flawed deviation from the perfection that was moi.

"You can imagine how amused she was when I shared this notion with her.

"And speaking of my mother," Lucas continued, "have you heard that she has accepted a position in Paris? As chatelaine to Corwin, no less."

"Really?" says Brennan. "You must tell me all about it."

And so Lucas does ...

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Last modified: 7 November 2004