Freeday Fraternizing


Jovian's list for the day:

1) Find out from Kourin what supplies are still needed and round them up

Not all the swords are ready. The merchants claim it takes time, but what they mean is they want more money.

Without *overtly* mentioning that it's a bad idea to breach contracts with a royal, not to mention the hand that guides 40 tons of firebreathing carnivore, Jovian indicates that he's not inclined to alter the terms of their agreement. However, considering that the goodwill of the King's First Air Corps could mean a significant boost in business for the weaponsmiths, a reasonable gratuity in the way of capital for business expansion might be arranged. In exchange for some consideration on subsequent commissions that Jovian personally sends their way, naturally.

They endeavor to complete on time and in fact will do so.

(If their work proves of good quality, Jovian will put drop their names with Lucas as industrious entrepreneurs who could do well in a new market.)

It is high quality. That is one of the causes of the delays. Cheap stuff is available in warehouses in Amber.

Very good. I suspect Xanadu will more than make good on Jovian's intimations of new business coming from his endorsement.

Lucas, who's got a little list (vide G&S - he's got a little list!) will be suitably and graciously grateful.

V'laren has been experimenting with shields, although he's found that dragon-mounted archery is beyond him.

Worth, theoretically, a shot. Also worth, theoretically, covering the board in something flame retardant. Wherhide would be nice, if we had whers....

Not surprised - a small matter of windage, after all. Might have better luck with the shorter bolts of a crossbow, but accuracy will suffer over distance. Especially with the unfletched bolts repeater crossbows take. (On the other hand, if we're reduced to riders fighting sword 'n board from the back of a flying beast well supplied with tooth and claw, we're at worst-case scenario planning anyway....)

V'laren thinks the board might protect him from something nasty done by one of those crazy flying women. Or not, but it can't hurt.

[Plus, your seatcushion may be used as a flotation device in the even of an unplanned water landing...]

No time [for flame retarding], but maybe it can be accomplished in the isles with local materials.. V'leren wants to ask these soldiers, when they get somewhere that they can talk.

First order of business when we get back to the Dannan is a rendezvous with the loyalist forces under Vere's mother, so we should be able to cover that among any other business. Including getting their priestesses to check M'corli's eyes.

2) Brief wingleaders on time and location of tomorrow's meetings

done

3) Contact Sir Archer or his appointee re: landing site in town

Sir Archer wonders if the dragons can land on water, as there is a very vacant harbor where one is only likely to scare the poor and foreigners. Or else somewhere in the Temple Quarter, perhaps...

Jovian explains that he hopes to spread word in advance and make a public relations event out of it, letting the middle and upper class see the dragons up close and underlining the point that they're safe among allies. As such, he'd prefer if an open area can be found somewhat more convenient to the Naval.

[The Naval is, by it's nature, near the water and is something of an upper class enclave in a portside district. If you're looking for an upper class audience, they're not near your destination. There is a nice, empty pier that will work, though. Or else, as Archer suggested, a building in the Temple Quarter that was destroyed in the earthquake and not rebuilt. Better quarters are more likely not to have large piles of rubble anymore.]

How far is the Temple Quarter from the portside district? If it's more than 5-10 minutes' walk, the pier will do well enough.

The pier it is.

4) Bathe and oil Canareth

There is a hint of patchy skin! Perhaps it's the stress... But you oil it until it's better.

5) Possible further Fionality

No amount of effort on Jovian's part seems to make this work.

For Freeday:

- Finish #1 above if necessary
- Meetings and working dinner
- Other preparations for Starday morning departure as prove necessary

all done

- Give mail for Folly to Random

"Sure," says Random. "You're sure you don't want to trump them and give it yourself?"

"I'd love to," Jovian admits, "if for nothing else than the view over their shoulders. But I'm busy as hell getting the Corps ready to lift, and I know if I Trump Folly - or Martin - it'll be a long conversation."

"Gotcha. Good luck in there, by the way. It sounds like it's not going to be a cakewalk."

"Honestly? My biggest worry is still who'll stop the rain," Jovian admits, abashed.

"Based on your descriptions, it's either going to fix itself or it's not. Do you all have a way to get in touch if you need help?"

"The only Trump I have is of my father," Jovian admits ruefully. "And I, uh...don't expect him to be receiving." There is more than a little left unsaid there, but it shows only in a certain tightness around the eyes.


Vere finds a quiet table in a back room of the library. He slips his father's trump into his newly acquired fortune deck, and shuffles them repeatedly while thinking to himself.

Robin? Solange? What good would it do? If the cards say they are well, what more would he know than he knows now? And their current welfare indicates nothing about their future. If the cards indicate dire calamity, what can he do? He cannot turn from his current course. Eventually, he shrugs. There is nothing to be gained by asking about either of them.

"Focus," he tells himself. "There is a single mission in front of you know, concentrate on that. There is no time to worry about murders, wicked plots, or missing ships."

He straightens in his chair, and shuffles the cards three more times, concentrating now on his question.

"What will the situation be in the Isles when I arrive?" he whispers, laying out the cards.

The cards slide from Vere's fingers with precision into the familiar positions on the table, and Vere takes a breath and turns them.

The first rank of cards:
Law reversed, The Phoenix reversed, The Unicorn reversed

The second rank of cards:
War reversed, The Smith reversed

The final card:
Spring

"Ah," he says. He shakes his head and smiles, thinking to himself, "Never ask if you do not wish to know.

"The past," he says, tapping Law. "Treachery. Obvious enough, but interesting here in that it is not mere treachery, but the overthrow of the natural order. As well, her use of ancient tradition to overthrow her vows, to overturn Right in the name of mere Law, is in keeping with the meanings of the card." He smiles once more. "To put the best face on it, I can argue that it is the clearest possible statement that the Spider's betrayal was unjustified, and an affront to the natural order of things."

The smile fades as he regards the next card. "Destruction in the present. Destruction to the Isles?" He shudders slightly, recalling what Robin had told him of the way she and Jovian had ripped at the fabric of his homeland. "Perhaps it is merely the usual destruction caused by civil war? Surely that is bad enough, and I need not conjure any worse image?"

Still, the image of his homeland's total destruction remains with him as he turns to the card representing the future. "Temptation. Whose temptation, and who or what is the tempter? And suppose that the Unicorn represents both? The Unicorn's blood lies in the Isles, and Robin's mother fell to the temptation of power in her life." He shakes his head, a thought too terrible to contemplate running through his head. Resolutely he puts it aside. "It could refer to a temptation that will come, or it could refer to the importance of those of the blood of the Unicorn. Or perhaps even to a temptation to use the power of that blood in an ill manner." He nods slowly. "The temptation to use my newly gained powers over the substance of shadow, the greatest weapon I have. But in this dangerous situation..." and he taps the Phoenix, "...that may well be the blow that will slay the home I seek to save."

"The Virtue. Effort misspent. But more than that, war itself, misapplied. How can this be a benefit, a factor acting for me?" He considers this puzzle for a moment, then tentatively, "Perhaps... the war effort that is failing is the Chancellor's? It may be that she is squandering her forces, which must still be reeling from the blow struck by the dragonriders. For if it is not, then the only other answer is that the forces that should be aiding my cause, my mother's warriors, are the ones who are being misspent. And surely that cannot be the case...."

His finger lands lightly upon the Smith. "And the Fault is evil effort. Clearly this is the Chancellor, or the Witch Queens should those allies have proven to be too canny for her, and their own plans now have come to the fore. The Smith is often a card of magical effort as well, which can apply to the sorcery that stands against us." He shakes his head. "But surely the priestesses and sorceress did not all betray their oaths. Some, perhaps even the majority, must still be loyal." He waves that question aside, it cannot be answered here. "In any case, great power is being moved against us. I knew this already, it is not a surprise."

He sits back and considers the final card for a while in silence. "Spring," he muses. "Stagnation or Renewal? The war is not merely about who shall reign, it is about the very future of the realm. Shall it fall deeper and deeper into the darkness of its own past, eventually choking itself to death in its own exhalations, or shall it look outward to a new and glorious future?" He laughs. "Oh, and how my nurse would chide me for my vanity, to consider that one of the meanings of my very name is present here. Was I born to be the one to bring the Rebmans to the Isles, the first wedge to open that land to the greater vistas of reality?"

He glances back down the pyramid. "Temptation, indeed, to think myself so central to the matter." His smile grows even larger, and he laughs again, "Ah, but one fear is resolved. If the fate of the Isles is to be either stagnation or new growth, then I need not fear the destruction I saw in the eyes of the Phoenix. The Isles will survive this battle, at least physically."

He stands, gathering the cards, and considers that last thought. "Yes, physically they will survive. But this war will be for the very soul of the Isles. What will emerge will be something new, and better, or else nothing but a dark, doomed specter."

The cards go into his pouch, and his hand idly strokes the coloured locks of hair over his right temple. "One step at a time," he whispers. "The way to walk, the secret of how to live. Take it all one step at a time."

And he walks from the room.


[Fiona] steps back and contacts Bleys through his card. "Bleys," she says, "Brita is with me. You are in Amber, aren't you? Can you bring her through?"

After a moment, she passes Brita through to her uncle. Bleys is in the library somewhere.

"Goodbye, darling," Fiona's voice says.

"Goodbye, dear sister," Bleys says in exactly the same tone, even though he must have known the comment was directed at Brita, and not at him. He smiles, his eyes twinkling with mirth, and shakes his reddish locks a little.

Brita's, "Goodybye, Mother" comes at the same time as Bley's comment and she seems a little confused before noting the twinkle in Bley's eyes.

"Welcome to Amber, Brita. What news is there for me, and what news would you have of me?"

"Uncle Bleys, I was in contact with Conner just a moment ago. He wishes me to watch one Chi-Lin held under house arrest here in Amber. He believes that Chi-Lin killed Lord Har'garel and that Chi-Lin is in line to be double crossed now. He wants to see if we can see through the mirk and find the well-head of the plot. I was hoping for some means to place an alarm on Chi-Lin or his rooms to assist in this endeavor. Mother noted that mirrors should be monitored or perhaps removed..."

"It's good to hear that Conner is still interested in solving this little problem of his." Bleys smiles. "Conspiracies involving Chi-Lin tend to not go so well. Well, we can reel him in for questioning. Did you find out who is supposed to do in the poor man, or how he was supposed to have killed the late Rebman Lord? Or why? It seems like more ambition than he normally showed..."

"Lord Conner thinks it may be from underwater. He supposedly used a magical servant for the actual murder. He mentioned a Valeria" Brita says in a questioning tone, "and the surprise she exhibited at his hint caused him to believe the double cross might be sooner rather than later."

"That would be a single-cross, Niece. Valeria would be within her rights to dispose of Chi-Lin. But that would leave us the vexing problem of proving that your brother was not his partner. Negative proof is always so hard to find."

He looks at Brita. "Perhaps you should go have a talk with Chi-Lin."

"I am not as versed at interrogation as other Cousins, Uncle, but I could try. Would you have any suggested methods to Attack the situation?"

"The lack of that kind of experience is not a flaw and a willingness to try is a virtue. I'd start by telling him who your mother is, and suggesting he tell you what he knows. He is here at our sufferance, after all. There are less mild and less subtle measures that can be brought to bear, but I find that many people will do more harm to themselves considering the possibilities that they choose to respond to my mildest requests."

Brita thanks her Uncle for his assistance and, with her uncle's advice in mind, Brita will make her way to wherever Chi-Lin is kept.

He's in a little room in a boarding house. He doesn't answer the knock on the door.

[Was there anyone to ask if he was in? a guard?]

[There's a landlady, but not a guard.]

[She would have checked with the landlady after making the vocal attempt]

The landlady doesn't know whether he's in.

Brita will make a vocal effort: "Ward Chi-Lin! Brita, daughter of Princess Fiona and Lord Vidar, wishes to speak with you."

Brita hears a whimpering from within. It would have been too quiet to be heard by anyone without exceptional ability.

Brita is in the room in the next instant with no regard for the state of the door or lock.

Brita tears the door half-off its hinges and is inside. The room is small; it has a cot and a chair and table. Chi-Lin is huddled on the floor in the corner behind the bed, trembling. When he sees Brita come in, he starts whimpering more loudly. "Please, I didn't mean to! Please don't kill me!"

Brita is suddenly very calm, as if she hadn't just ripped the door off. She sets to door back in its frame and turns back to Chi- Lin. "Didn't what?" Sorry about the door; I thought you might be ... In Trouble," the final two words carry more import than normal small talk.

Chi-Lin starts at her last words and pokes his head up above the level of the bed. "Trouble? From whom? Are they coming for me?" He crawls over to her and puts his arms around her legs in the classical gesture of a supplicant to a god. "Protect me from them, Lady Brita, I beg you!"

"I can," Brita says, "but for what purpose?" she seems to be musing to herself. While she is speaking and Chi-Lin is grappling her legs, Brita will scan the room with all three eyes. Are there any mirrors about? "I had heard you were a cunning man and, perhaps, you could assist me in clearing my Brother's name. It is, of course, my highest priority at the moment. Once that was settled, I would be free to protect you from the Tempest headed your way."

There are no mirrors, but in a small chamber like this there might not be. Brita doesn't think it's too unusual. Her third eye catches sight of a ring that somehow seems to glow. There's something wrong with it perspective-wise, almost as if it's bigger on the inside than the outside.

[Is he wearing it or is it just sitting around?]

[Wearing it]

"Clearing your brother's name from what?" Chi-Lin asks, a bit of craftiness coming into his voice beneath the terror.

"I assumed you had heard about the Murder during the Masquerade Ball. You were present weren't you? My Brother stands accused. The True Murderer will likely suffer Grave Consequences when found. The longer it takes to clear My Brother's name, the worse off the True Murderer will be as more of my Family will get involved and they are not all Pleasant People." Brita is looking serious and right at Chi-Lin through this discourse, but then she pauses as if catching a stray thought. "Of course, the actual murder was probably instigated by some hireling, someone who cannot truly be blamed for their actions as they did not likely know the Import and were only seeking monetary reward. That person could perhaps find protection from my Family if they were able to relay information on the True Murderer. You could help me find the hireling and track the Lines of Truth to the True Murderer."

[Snort. Brita is _so_ bad at this. She gets it from me. Where's Jerod when you need him? Off swimming in the Deep Blue sea.]

Chi-Lin swallows. "What if the murderer is dangerous too ... or the people behind the murderer?"

Brita raises a single eyebrow. "More dangerous than _Us_? I can introduce you to Lord Jerod, Lord Brennan, Master Reid, or even Princess Fiona if you need to readjust your scale of Dangerous."

Chi-Lin gulps audibly.

"They will protect me if I help you?"

"Certainly, although I can place your case before them if you wish to make sure. We will have to find you better quarters until the door is repaired."

Chi-Lin looks over at what's left of the door and back to Brita. "I will go to the Castle with you, but you'll have to help me. If I talk, they'll kill me!"

[From Conner, I thought Chi-Lin was in the castle, but y'all mentioned a land lady. Is he located in town? If he is, Brita says "We will have to find you a room in the Castle until the door here is repaired." And she will pay the landlady for the door.]

[Paige didn't say she was sequestering him. She said she was keeping an eye on him. So he's in town.]

Brita gestures to Chi-Lin to gather his possessions as she says, "How do you think I can best help you?. We will get you to the Castle so you can talk." She pays the Landlady for the door, murmuring words about not knowing her own strength, as she ushers Chi-Lin out.

Chi-Lin is understandably reluctant to talk in the street about confidential matters, so they speak of other things on the way up to the Castle. Chi-Lin can tell her about his sojourn in the Land of Peace working for Bleys if she likes.

Brita will listen to him ramble. Her mind is half on other things, but she responds and asks questions, so she is listening.

Brita finds a room for Chi-Lin in the castle that is not too far from her own. She studiously inspects the room for mirrors and makes sure they are removed if any are found. She is also storing into her memory the layout and contents of the room. She makes sure he is settled and has access to a page before she departs. To the guards - a set of four men, one a former Ranger, that she sets up in shifts of two to provide round the clock coverage - she indicates the need to act first and ask questions later. If they hear anything odd, they are to enter the room en guard, assess the situation quickly, and decide their best route from there. She reminds them of the attacks before that left one man a shell of his former self. "Do Not let that happen to you. If _Cleph_ or Dara are in the room, leave immediately and find a Lord or Prince to assist. If it is a Rebman, act as you must to secure them without doing Mortal Harm. If it is Other, I leave it to you to decide your best course of action, but we wary of Sorceries." She leaves them drawing lots to determine who has first watch.

Brita then returns to her quarters to prepare a little spy glass of her own. She pulls out her paints and clears a space on one wall that is facing the direction of Chi-Lin's new quarters. With her Power, she sketches a window with panes and beyond are the furnishings in Chi-Lin's new quarters. She spends a full two and a half watches on the picture, detailing the low bed with green and blue sateen coverlet, the table and three legged stool, the satchel that Chi-Lin brought tucked under a wash stand holding a ceramic urn and basin. She then returns to Chi-Lin's room, noting the two guards that won the first shift have stationed themselves one at the doorway and the other at the bend of the hall two doors down. She knocks on the door, adding a "Protected Chi-Lin, it is Brita." When he opens the door, she enters and scans the room to ensure all was as she remembered. "I only wished to ensure you were settled well. Is there anything else you would need for now?" He indicates that he just sent the page off to inquire about a meal, but has little else to request at the moment.

Brita sets a time to meet with Chi-Lin the next day before the midday meal and returns to her room. She critically assesses the drawing, adding a few minor touches. She then tries the Sketch.

The image comes clear and Brita could step in, if she choses to do so.


Shortly after Vere's return to Amber, Lucas' lugubrious manservant Gaston delivers an invitation to a Children's Concert, to be held very shortly in one of the larger music rooms.

On the reverse is a note written in Lucas' decisve had (in his usual thick black ink):

"You may be interested (as per. in your note left upon your departure), that G - who I believe is a mutual point of contact - has indicated to me the values of thrift. I may be at your charge in this.

Perhaps we might meet to discuss this further? At your convenience.

L."

Vere reads the invitation and smiles, then reads the note on the reverse and tilts his head to one side. He looks at Gaston. "Lord Lucas is quite recovered from his injuries?" he inquires, waiting for a reply before continuing.

"Quite recovered as to spirits, Sir," replies Gaston judiciously. "And in physical terms, with the exception of the Unfortunate Aberrarion regarding his scaphoid fossa and helix, I have never known M'signeur to be in better form.

"It is Madame's health that has given rise for some concern recently."

If asked, he informs Vere about Solace's fainting attacks.

"I would be pleased to meet with him. At my convenience would be..." he pauses, considering, then continues, "In one half watch from now. If his lordship is available, of course. I will not be leaving the castle between then and now. If I do not hear differently I will be at his quarters at that time, if he is unavailable at that time or prefers another location please so inform me. Thank you." And he nods his head to Gaston, waiting to see if he has anything else to say before dismissing him.

Gaston bows gravely and withdraws.

Vere receives no contradictory message, so he can assume the time is acceptable to Lucas.

As he approaches Lucas' quarters, he will be able to hear them well before he sees them. Hope had nearly mastered the opening of Mozart's Horn Concerto, and is taking the opportunity to practice. Phillippe is attempting to mark time with a mornful drum beat. It appears that he is obeying the traditional invocation to beat the drum slowly, even if Hope is not playing the fife (or rather the bugle) lowly.

Fortunately, Lucas' rooms appear remarkably well sound-proofed on the inside.

Vere smiles at the sounds of eager students studying their art, and knocks upon the door, loudly enough to be heard over bugle and drum. Once the door is open he nods and requests that Lord Lucas be told he is present.

Gaston answers the door, and shows him through to Lucas' study, announcing "Lord Vere, M'signeur" with all the gloom that one might apply to the arrival of a plague victim. Lucas, however, is all affability as he rises from his desk. He is wearing the trousers and waistcoat of a light tweed suit in a rather attractive pale coffee-coloured weave over a wing collared shirt; the jacket has been carefully placed aside. The slightly full sleeves of his shirt have been drawn up by arm bands [I hope some of the costume experts know the proper name for them] to alleviate the danger of getting ink on his cuffs.

"Welcome home, cos!" he says warmly. "Although I can scarcely be the first to wish that. Will you take tea? Coffee? Some wine?"

"Tea would be very welcome," Vere replies with a smile. "A small amount of honey, no cream."

Whatever Vere expresses a desire for, Lucas will nod to Gaston to fetch (with slightly raised eyesbrows if Vere decides on something along the lines of the first pressing of the Gallian sea cucumber, blended with the milk of a virgin hippogriff).

"Your mission to Rebma proved successful, I trust?" Lucas asks, when Gaston leaves them. "The physical proof of it, of course, is encamped at our doors, I believe. Will you be arranging an inspection of the troops to delight the ladies, and to give the rabble a chance to wave enthusiastic flags?"

He speaks lightly, but then adds, "People's memories of armies at the fringes of Amber are not exactly happy ones, cos. Some sort of jamboree, even a small one, with military brass bands - or whatever instruments the Rebmans play - or I suppose we could drum up one of our own Army bands - well, that would soothe the more nervous spirits within the city. And a ceremony like that might hearten your own men before they depart.

"Especially if they do depart at the end of it."

Vere nods. "An excellent point. I do not think the lads will cause any problems in Amber, certainly far fewer than those caused by the returning men of Amber. I was also hoping that we can arrange for the officers, all men of excellent families, to dine at the castle. I shall be hosting them at the Naval, as well."

If Lucas has reasons of his own for not welcoming a large army of Rebmans on the edge of the city at this particular juncture, it does not show in his demeanour. Perhaps he derives a certain amount of perverse enjoyment at the irony of the situation.

"I fear," he says with regret, "that the delicacy of my wife's health will preclude our hosting any formal dinner parties in the near future. Otherwise, I would be delighyted to offer my one small moiety to the general gaiety. Perhaps a compromise might be to have the children learn a Rebman folksong for their concert. It should please the Queen too.

"And should you wish, I am sure we can arrange an evening at the Red Mill for those among your officers who might appreciate its more ... ah ... arcane delights.

"Do you have a standard, by the way? It occurs to me that it is something the common people might enjoy displaying as a sign of support ... fraternity, and all that. And we could ensure that the street urchins were supplied with those little flags to flap vigorously when your soldiers passed by. Always a delightful sight - especially if you encouraged the judicious scattering of sweetmeats."

"I have been thinking on this," Vere answers. "The men have shown an interest in birds since they have arrived on the surface. The entire idea of flight fascinates them, so like and yet unlike swimming. It had crossed my mind that a swan might make a fitting image for our band." He smiles, as if at a private jest.

Once Gaston has returned and served whatever Vere wishes (Lucas has gone for a pot of Assam tea, incidentally), Lucas says, "As you have presumably guessed, I have a particular reason for wishing to see you.

"In the missive you left before you departed, you asked me to undertake three tasks. Dame Aisling and Martin - well, events rather overtook me there, as no doubt you have heard."

Vere allows a small frown to cross his face, and nods his understanding.

"Harga'rel ... the investigation has moved forward a little - but I have been reluctant to tread on other, doubtless more able toes."

Vere sips his tea and does not allow any expression to show on his face.

"But the estate of the late Lord Hardwind ... I have busied myself there a little. I believe I have an answer ... and a solution. And they are not the same thing at all."

"A pity, but that is too often the case. I would be grateful to hear both."

Lucas smiles. "Mais certainment, cos. I must tell you, however, that I am by no means certain I have arrived at the full elucidation of the mysteries I have been presented with. Indeed, I am hoping that you yourself might be able to throw some light on these.

"Between us, perhaps, we shall reach a fuller understanding. More tea?"

"Thank you." Vere allows his teacup to be filled once more, and silently breathes in the fragrance of the tea with obvious pleasure. He waits for Lucas to speak.

"My investigations of the Hardwind accounts - oh, not surreptious, I assure you! Aunt Felicity solicited my aid herself. At all events, they led me to a most unexpected area ... the Temple Quarter." Lucas sips delicately. "I believe you preceded me there, by several years. Perhaps on a similar errand?"

Vere raises an eyebrow. "Certainly not on anything connected with the Hardwinds. At least not in any way that I was aware of. My only ventures into the temple district involved the Paresh, their prophecy concerning the end of the world and the destruction of Amber, and a later mission with Princess Fiona to consider whether the site should be sold by the crown to the embassy of Gateway, who offered a high price for it."

"Do you know what led her to decide against it?" Lucas asked, interested.

"Only so far as I know the arguments that I presented against it. While I have little knowledge and less skill in such matters, it appears to me to still be at least potentially mystically active. And, of course, the tunnels underneath it appear to connect with those underneath Kolvir. Both of these might be reasons why Gateway would wish to have it, and both seem to me to be reasons not to allow it to leave royal control."

Lucas nods, thoughtfully. He makes no comment on Vere's level or lack of skill at this time.

"Then at the time of your investigations, you were unaware of any connection between the House of Hardwind and the Paresh?" he asks.

Vere blinks and remains silent for a moment, considering this statement. "I remain unaware of any such connection," he says finally. "I came across no information at the time to lead me to believe that the Paresh had any connection with any of the noble or mercantile families. I confess that I was not looking for such a link. Looking back at everything I learned, I remain unaware of anything that would indicate any connection."

"I wondered if it was that which had caused you to investigate the Paresh in the first place," says Lucas. "I believe I was out of Amber at the time of their exodus ... From what you say, they took no-one of good family with them? Nor was there any suspicion that nobles were involved?

"You see ... my investigations have led me to suspect that there may have been forces moving behind the scenes here."

"Indeed? No, I saw none of this in my brief investigation, and there was nothing to indicate that any current members were of families of such import." Vere pauses, considering. "When Fiona and I went there we saw the footprint of a woman's boot in the basement, near the mound of ash. It had not been there when Jerod and I were there earlier, the day the Paresh left the city. I thought it might have been one of the women from Gateway who left it, but that was merely a guess. But it does show that someone else took an interest in the building." He pauses again, and lets his eyes drift to somewhere past Lucas' left shoulder.

"Would it add to the confusion to say that there are indications that, in the very distant past, this building, or rather whatever building was upon the same spot at that time, was the temple of priests who served Pastoral, wife of Prince Osric?"

"It would add," says Lucas. "More tea?

"But that's not to say that it isn't interesting in itself. Reid's mother, wasn't she? Do you think that the cult organised by Pastoral had any bearing on the later manifestation of the Paresh - or did your investigations not lead you so far?"

"I suspect there might be a relationship, but that is based more on supposition than anything else. There is a vague statement that these priests, not _exactly_human I might add, although close, came from a city whose name begins with the syllable 'Par.' Suggestive. Of many things."

"Well, yes," says the erstwhile denizen of Paris, and son of the new chatelaine of the new Paris. "Quite."

He sighs. "As you can see, this entanglement offers an understanding of the Hardwind situation - but no solution. Although I hope I might contrive ..."

Vere raises an inquisitive eyebrow, but allows the ellipse to stand without question for the moment.

"I'm impressed you discovered those tunnels in the course of a brief investigation. When I was there myself, it seemed to me that they must have been rather well concealed. Or did you have prior knowledge of their existence?"

"I has evidence from my earlier visit with the Paresh, when I was a dinner guest and apparently a potential recruit, that there was a secret passageway behind the wall on the first floor. Once we had found that and gone down into the underground chamber it seemed reasonable to search for other such secret doorways." Vere takes another sip of tea. "Did you enter the tunnels? Jerod and I heard things moving around in some of the passageways while we were investigating them, and we know that many years ago one of the Paresh died fighting a monster in those tunnels."

"I didn't," says Lucas. "I must admit I missed the passageway on the first floor - such a shame. But the attics proved intriguing, didn't you find?"

Only the faintest sibilant stresses the plural.

Vere laughs. "I missed something, I take it?" he asks with a rueful grin. "Was there anything of interest in the other attic? Or were there more than two in total?"

"A trunk of old religious tracts," said Lucas, gloomily. They did go in for a rather apocalyptic belief system, didn't they? One wonders what attracted apparently upright members of the nobility to them.

"Unless, of course, they were being blackmailed."

"Is there any evidence of such blackmail? Their leader was a very charismatic man, and had the added benefit of deeply believing everything that he said. I am of the opinion that he did have true visions, but he interpreted them through the lens of his own belief. From my discussion with him I would say that he interpreted everything through that same lens, if it did not fit with what he believed he simply perceived it in a way that made it fit. And they were right about the destruction of Amber, after all." Vere gestures around him with his right hand. "This is not the same place that it was before the Sundering. And it appears that it never again will be."

Lucas nods thoughtfully. "When did you aspire ... no, when did you appear to aspire to become a cultist?" he asks with interest. ""What led you to the idea?"

He looks at Vere with a rare touch of earnestness. "You see ... if it wasn't blackmail, there must be another reason why Lord Hardwind would give so large a proportion of his wealth to the Paresh."

"A secret member of the sect, or at least a sympathizer," Vere muses. "Or else he has a relative or close associate who is or was a member. There is also the fact that they were able to come up with sufficient funds to purchase a ship and provisions, and to pay their pilgrimage tax. That latter was a not inconsiderable sum, a sack of gold coins. We did not look into the source of the money at the time."

Lucas looks thoughtful "Do you know where those accounts might be? It could be interesting to marry them with the Hardwind books and see how far the two tally."

"I handed the gold and the list of names of all members of the Paresh who were leaving over to Paige." Vere frowns and tilts his head to one side. "I recall thinking at the time that they had obviously consulted with a legal expert, their actions were within the Episcopacy Laws, but only just. And considering the complexity of those laws it would take an expert to skirt them so closely."

"Paige takes her legalistic duties seriously enough to have preserved all written documents," says Lucas. "I think I'll have a word."

"As for my potential membership, that is an interesting story. The way I originally thought it had happened was that when I came to interview the Paresh I made a few statements which led Elder Germaine to believe that I was not merely perceptive, but actually had visions of the spirits similar to his. This led him to think that I might be a fledgling prophet, and he asked me to stay to dinner with them so that they might answer my questions. I was interested in their beliefs, of course, and happy to do so. It all seemed very straightforward at the time. And yet, later, I came across information leading me to believe that when he was quite young Germaine had a vision in which he saw my likeness. Surely this would have made such an impression on him that he would have recognized me when he saw me these many years later." Vere shrugs slightly. "Or, of course, it may be that a Lord of Amber in the flesh, so long after the vision of his childhood, would not be immediately associated with what he thought to be a spirit visitation."

"Indeed," agrees Lucas. "Although it is interesting that one so seemingly perceptive as this Elder should have come to such a conclusion, don't you think? After all, he must have been used to seeing Lords of Amber even if they do, by and large, stay out of the Temple Quarter.

"Might I ask what was the information that led you to this belief? I think, you see, that I might be able to confirm it."

"If you were in the attic you may have seen a drawing made by young Germaine." Vere smiles. "Perhaps I should have removed it, to spare later visitors from unpleasant worries. But I dislike disturbing things when I am unsure of the situation. In addition to the evidence of that portrait, Jerod and I experienced an odd phenomenon in the caverns beneath their temple. During this, I saw Germaine as a child, and he spoke to me. I believe that after this he drew my portrait, thinking I was a spirit giving him advice."

Lucas gets up and walks to his desk. With a long key from his pocket, he unlocks a drawer and takes out a slim but rather elderly volume. He locks the drawer again and walks back to hand the book to Vere.

"This one?" he asks.

The book is called The Witnessing of Thrift - and seems to have been printed outside of Amber. It has a date in the front cover (and a name, as well). It looks to be over 50 years old.

Lucas opens it to the inside back cover, where there appears to be a drawing of Vere, or perhaps someone who just looks very like him, wearing a stone around his neck.

"What was the stone?" Lucas asks coversationally.

Vere slips his hand into his pouch and pulls out a smooth polished stone on a leather cord. "Elder Germaine gave me this on the dock the day the Paresh sailed away," he says. "Fiona says there are no enchantments upon it, at least none she could detect with a casual investigation."

"I didn't know Fiona did casual," says Lucas. "I'd have thought that would be on a par with telling my mother to wear her scruffiest old things and come to a pot luck dinner.

"May I?"

If Vere permits, he'll take the stone to assess its aesthetic qualities.

Vere hands it to him, then lifts his teacup to take another slow sip.

"And so you were wearing it when you visited the Paresh," muses Lucas. "So the child Germaine saw it around your neck, and so gave it to you as an old man so that you would be wearing it when he saw your earlier ... don't you just love time paradoxes? Fortunate it goes with anything in the tones - it could have ripped apart the whole space time continuum if you'd decided it really didn't go with your jacket that particular day."

Vere smiles pleasantly.

Then he says, "Vere ... do you believe that ship was sunk? I think it unlikely ... although I'd like to know what really happened to the Amber vessel which followed."

"As would I," says Vere. "I mislike sending men to their deaths with no knowledge of what became of them. The captain was told to follow at a distance, not letting them know they were being followed if at all possible. He could have faced no military danger from them. Magic? Possible, though I had seen little to make me think they were following such a path. Still, their temple was built upon foundations where magic had been practiced... what was it Fiona said? Ah, yes, 'The place reeks of magic, inexpertly performed layer upon layer for centuries.' So it cannot be said to be impossible that they destroyed the ship. Still, death and disaster can overtake one in so many ways upon the seas."

"Ah," says Lucas. "This rough magic ... but perhaps they didn't abjure it. Perhaps they used it ... "

He is silent for a moment, considering. "Do you know what route they took? Have any followed it up since?"

"They went northwards, following the coast. While they were not incompetent sailors, my impression was that they were not preparing to travel far out to sea. When the naval vessel did not return after seven weeks I sent a small, fast craft to scout along the coast, looking for any signs of a settlement or wreckage. They found nothing save signs of a wreck far to the north, almost six weeks travel. It was an old wreck, though, and either they sailed back through time, Amber skipped forward in time far faster than they, or else it was an unrelated wreck." Vere's voice gives no indication of which theory he prefers.

"It was around this time that it became obvious that the trade mission led by Jerod and my sister was overdue in returning, and other concerns took precedence. I allowed the matter to drop, and never had a chance to undertake any further investigations."

"Perhaps now is the time," says Lucas. "Oh ... that's not a suggestion to you, my dear cos! I am fully aware that you have pressing matters of your own. But it's a while since I've stretched my wings ... Or commissioned others to stretch them for me.

"If I undertook this, what would you suggest I looked out for?"

"First, try to discover the identity of the lawyer who advised them. I have a suspicion there may be a link there back to Lord Hardwind. For some reason the name Octave occurs to me, but that may well be simple wishful thinking. You might also look into the splinter group of the Paresh that Oberon had suppressed." Vere taps the book. "As I recall, their head priest was named Thrift, and Oberon had him hanged. There is clearly more of a story there. If you can find any information on the founder of the Paresh, a man named Elder Scale, that might also be useful. As I recall Scale lived until shortly after Eric's coronation. Or, more precisely, I was told that the news of his death reached Amber shortly after Eric's coronation. It is possible he died considerably before, or, of course, that the report of his death is a fiction. There was some information that possibly linked him with a sailor named Solvent, who lived somewhat over 500 years ago."

Vere thinks for a few seconds before continuing. "Before the Sundering the Paresh were accustomed to travel to their sacred island, the same island where Scale supposedly had his visions after having been washed overboard from one of Amber's naval vessels. They travelled to this island via a land called Asir. Finding information on this land, speaking to anyone who might have travelled there, might be useful. Supposedly other members of their order dwelt in Asir. Their sacred island appears to have had a time differential of several months to a week in Amber, which they of course considered miraculous."

"Those are the threads I would suggest tugging upon to begin with. If any of them lead anywhere, then I suspect other avenues will open up. Check with Paige, of course, regarding the money and paperwork turned in by the Paresh."

Vere turns a palm up and give a small shrug. "Nothing else suggests itself at this time."

Lucas smiles.

"You've been as thorough as ever," he says, "for which I thank you.

"The people I can check out. The land ... I suspect both the island and Asir will have changed since the Sundering. But it may be that the Paresh found a way through - a way through that drew the Amberite ship.

"And it may be that the age old peasant's response to directions might apply - 'To get there, I wouldn't start from here.' Now that we have Xanau as a starting point, it might be more fruitful to start exploring from there, rather than from here. And you are right - anyone who might once have travelled to the isalnd would be extremely valuable. Although I don't see them as being particularly willing to claim their former association." He pauses, considering, and then smiles. "But your information has, as ever, been extremely helpful. Thank you, cos.

"Now ... shall we have another cup of tea?

"And tell me, how go your plans for your mother's lands?"

"They go well, and speedily. If I have my way, we shall be leaving by Starday morn." Vere settles back in the chair, content to let the conversation turn to generalities concerning his men and their provisioning.


Brita would love to attend [the children's concert]. She sends a late RSVP saying:

"Proud Parents Lucas and Solace and Talents Hope and Phillip, I am sorry for the late response, but I would love to attend your concert if I am still welcome.

Sincerely,
Brita"


Dignity brings Brennan a letter, which he has procured in the expected way. It is written in a fine Uxmali hand, which is to say the glyphs are well-fitted and organized cunningly. These are the contents:

Brennan,

I hope this finds you hale and well. Matters proceed apace here. I am still working on the translation of our father's papers. I have made some progress on the local wards and spell-matrix, but not enough to imperil my sanity. I have no conclusive results on the papers you brought, either.

There is no word from Chantico, but my scrying suggests she is gathering her forces for another thrust. She burns my eyes with her flames, but I persevere. None of her magics have done me serious harm so far.

Neither is there word from beyond Ygg.

Mother is well, although she has started resting in the height of the afternoon.

Remember me to our cousins, and our aunt and uncle.

I will look for news where I left this message.

Your brother,
Ambrose


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Last modified: 30 January 2005