Arden is cool-- It is always cool, no matter the season. Something about the age and youth about it keeps it from ever becoming balmy or stifling. The forest is usually peaceful, but today, there is a tenseness about it that only a seasoned Ranger can feel...
Irmin stands off to the side of a woman who stands slightly shorter than him. Her hair is done in hundreds of braids down her back, and her face and clothes are dusty from weeks of living in the trees. She is the woman who gave him life, and she is named Lledra. The two of them lead a shadow regiment in Arden, large, and unknown by any of the Amberites, save Julian.
The guard has grown increasing nervous over the past few years. One dark night, Julian left Amber and Arden, and has not been sighted since. Brief absences were common, but he always came back... Arden was his heart. A man cannot live without his heart.
Lledra paces in front of her men, lining out a plan of attack. She's lured an Amberite to the forest, the one she is convinced drove Julian off, and perhaps even killed him. They will get their answers today, Blood Curse or no.
Irmin turns to his mother. "Do you think Uncle Corwin will have back - up?" Irmin reaches down and scratches the top of Vlar's head.
She laughs. "He has a guard, all right. Jebin and Dale. My men. They all feel so safe here... They _think_ it's their land. Don't worry. We've been watching him for an hour now... He doesn't have anyone else with him."
Irmin smiles. "Good. For I will know what has happened with my father. If I have to go through the whole family to do so."
She nods at his resolve, then draws out her crossbow, keeping an eye on the road below them. "We'll have to get his sword and deck off him immediately. You don't want to get close to a Pattern blade, and he's deadly with any weapon. He's better than your father, Irmin.
Don't try to go one on one with him."
Pulling out his longbow "Fear not mother. Father was wise to let me be raised hidden away from the family. He has also warned me about many of the family." Irmin looks around to make sure everyone is in place. "Though I do have the best chance to get his items away from him."
"I agree. I'll cover the sword, you severe the deck. Are you ready?" She tucks a black cloth in her belt, and nods to the men surrounding them, and they leave, moving to secure the road.
"As ready as I can be. Lead on mother." Irmin responds as he goes to follow her.
The climb down from the post, and Lledra keeps her eye to the path that Corwin chose that morning. In the distance, a man on horse appears, trailed by two more mounted soldiers. "On time. Just like a king."
Notching an arrow Irmin takes aim on the strap to Corwinís saddle. "King or not I will have my answers today." Then waiting till Corwin is within the perimeter of the trap he lets fly. Immediately he drops the bow and pulls out his sword. "Lets go mother."
The sword falls, and Irmin sees Corwin turns his horse tightly... Only to see two arrows pointed at the centre of his forehead. A hand goes to his deck, but is hit as Lledra looses a quarrel, knocking it to the dirt.
He holds his hands up as Lledra approaches, another quarrel already loaded.
"Dismount, or I'll kill the horse." He slowly moves to the ground, his eyes locked with hers.
Quickly retrieving the dropped items Irmin pockets the deck and passes the sword off to one of the rangers standing by him. "Keep this thing out of sight." Then walking back to his mothers side, he turns towards Corwin. "I believe my mother asked you to dismount."
Corwin's feet hit the ground. "What's the meaning of this?" His voice is steely and hard. Lledra moves forward, a black cloth in her hand. She passes her bow to one of the other rangers nearby, and ties it around the king's eyes.
"You'll not be shifting away, will you?" She stands back and retrieves her crossbow.
"Where's my husband, cur?"
"Mother. I think we will be safest talking about this back at the tree in Saxony. With him blindfolded like that he can't discern where we are going." Irmin says as he binds Corwinís hands and feet.
She nods. "Leave his feet. He won't run if he knows what's good for him." She turns her gaze to the blindfolded king. "And the second I see a rainbow around that head of yours, your family will be pulling back a king with an arrow through his forehead, understand?" Corwin
nods stiffly, seething, but resigned.
Lledra leads them to a side camp, a few miles off from the main one. The men from their regiment are everywhere, faded into the brush and trees. At the camp, Corwin is seated and bound to a tree.
Irmin makes all the preparations for the journey before reporting back to his mother. "We are ready to move out when your are mother." He then turns and snarls at Corwin before spitting on his boot.
"We won't be going far." She looks at Irmin. "The more we move out of Arden, the more we're compromised. And he's not moving. You know what Amberites can do when they move." She paces in front of the bound king.
"As I asked before, where's my husband, cur?"
Corwin raises his head to where he thinks Lledra is. "And who would that be?"
"You know we speak of Julian. Now answer my mother before I lose myself and hurt you" Irmin snarls at him.
He straightens as much as he can, and when he speaks, his tone is even and calm.
"I haven't seen Julian in several years. I had thought he was simply in Arden."
Lledra narrows her eyes and paces again. "I know what your murdering bunch are like. Julian's told me enough to fill me for a score of lifetimes."
"YOU LIE! TELL US NOW WHAT YOU HAVE DONE WITH MY FATHER BEFORE I
START TAKING PIECES OFF OF YOU!" Irmin yells, as it is obvious to see that he is short tempered.
"Irmin!" Lledra's voice cracks like a whip. "Calm yourself!" She puts a hand on his chest and pushes him back slightly.
"I won't have you living out a blood curse, boy. You heard what it did to that brother of his." She turns her gaze back to Corwin, and he seems to sense it.
"I did not even know Julian was married," he says, "Or that he had a child. He was a private man, and we left him to his forest when he seemed to wish it."
The obvious strain used to keep himself under control is evident in Irminís tense muscles and popping veins on his forehead. Then in as calm a voice as he can muster. "This is the exact reason why he did so. My father wanted me kept away from all of your bickering and infighting. He raised me off in shadow to be his replacement should the day come. Well that day seems to be upon us a little to soon." Pausing to take a deep breath. "I will find out what has happened to my father, if I have to go through every last one of you to do so. So for everyone's sake here. Tell us what has become of my father or in the very least everything you might suspect or know so that the correct person can be found and made to pay for what they have done."
"I've told you-- He left, and we had assumed that he was in Arden. We didn't even know he had a wife-- or son.
"He was ordered to attack my daughter. This left a good amount of bad blood between us, but not enough to kill him. Ellie was only bruised, and--"
Lledra's eyes narrow as she listens to his story about his daughter, then widen as he stops. "A trump?" He nods after a pause. "Answer it," she says, putting a hand to his temple. They're silent for many moments.
While Lledra is occupied Irmin steps behind a tree to shortly reappear with one of the rangers at his side. Once he notices that they he can speak to his mother. "What is going on mom? What did they say?"
"He was talking to his woman. And they're getting the whole family together.
"If you happen to come across a little redheaded woman, it's beginning to look like that's where we're supposed to start."
Irmin pulls out the trump deck he confiscated from Corwin and starts going through it to see if he can find a redheaded woman. Finding the picture of Fiona. "Is this her?"
Irmin turns to the ranger standing next to him. "I think it's time to leave. Can you open a way to Saxony and pull us through?"
The ranger nods and pulls a card from his pocket. He stares intently at the picture and he slowly phases out, then a hand reforms and beckons to Irmin.
As soon as Irmin sees the hand. "Come on mother grab him and letís go." He then turns to the ranger next in command. "As soon as we are through bring the men through." Irmin then grabs his mother in one hand and his other hand takes the hand that is extended through the
Lledra shakes her head. "You go. There's more to be learned from the others. Don't unmask him, and close off what you can. There's likely to be one or two hunting after him."
Lledra nods. "Aye. She's dangerous. Keep your distance as much as you would any of the others, no matter how small she is." She looks away, and her look grows even darker as she walks out to the centre of the camp.
Irmin looks around then turns to the ranger at his side. "I don't think that we are far enough from Amber. Do you know of a safer place?" He then pulls out the card of his father from the deck he confiscated from Corwin, and starts concentrating on it.
The ranger nods his head and pulls another card from his pocket, after gazing at it for a moment he says, "Father, my friend may have gotten himself into a little bit of trouble. Do you know of a secure place we can stay?"
Delwin appears, sitting in a garden at sunset, a book on his lap and a floating ball of light over his head.
"What kind of trouble? He could stay here... It's secluded enough."
The ranger looks somewhat surprised, "Thank you father, but there may be some individuals searching for his captive and I don't want to endanger your home and privacy. After all, people don't just ignore the abduction of the King of Amber. Are you sure or do you know
Delwin places his pen down very deliberately and meets his son's gaze.
"The King of Amber? I certainly hope this is a different Amber than I believe you're talking about, because in that case, you have quite a few nasty things on your trail."
The ranger just shakes his head and says, "If only it were father, if only it were. Unfortunately my dear cousin Irmin believes that Corwin was involved with the disappearance of his father. That is why I clarified our position here. I have a feeling that we are going to have many angry siblings on our trail. We are hoping it turns out for the best, but I don't particularly want to implicate you if thins go awry. It seems he thought too much with his heart and too little with
his mind. Do you have any advice?"
"If he is thinking with his heart rather than his mind, he's Julian's son indeed.
"Make sure Corwin can _not_ shift shadow. It would be too easy for him to shift to break his binds, or startle your horses. You need to go where you are strongest: Arden. There, Rangers are supreme.
"Do _not_ kill or harm Corwin, and make sure your friend doesn't either. At this point, under Amber law you are both protected. You haven't hurt or maimed him, and your reasons are valid."
Taking a moment Irmin rifles through Corwin's deck, pulling out the cards he does not recognize from the ones his dad showed him. "Who are these other trumps of?"
Corwin smirks slightly. "There's this thing over my eyes that's making me answering a tad problematic. So you'll understand if I keep my silence."
Irmin smiles, expecting the obvious humor, "I am sure you are well aware of who is in your deck. All you need to do is give me a name and quick summary after I describe them to you."
He sighs. "Very well. Begin."
The descriptions begin: A young woman with dark hair and eyes, smiling out of the trump. "Eleanor, my daughter."
A stocky blonde haired man, with a well trimmed beard. "Wraecca, Clarice's son."
A blonde woman, dressed in pale mauves and blues. "Imogen," his voice softens slightly, but then hardens again. "Deirdre's daughter."
A woman with brown hair and ruddy skin, dressed in leather and rough cotton. "Esta, my sister."
Another woman, lighting a cigarette, sporting a leather jacket and cropped short hair. She glares out of the card. "Clarice... also a sister."
A young boy, smiling broadly, hands in his pockets and a book under his arm. "Mouse. My brother."
Irmin takes in all of their pictures, memorizing the details. "Thank you, now hopefully we can hurry along and get this whole mess behind us." He looks over at the ranger who is still engaged in a conversation that looks serious. Keeping his eyes squarely on Corwin he waits patiently.
"Thank you father, sorry for the interruption, please enjoy your reading." The ranger closes off contact and looks at Irmin, "He said that we should return to Arden and I an tempted to agree, there we can stay under the watchful eyes of your father's hounds and of course your men. Did you find out who they were?"
Irmin looks at the ranger out of the corner of his eye, "Yes, I think the one on top will do best. Let's go back and find a good site. I'll keep an eye on him while you take care of it." He then hands over the new cards to the ranger.
Looking at them all and committing them to memory while Irmin explains who they are the ranger pockets all but the top one. He then reaches into a different pocket and pulls a trump, as he gazes at it he slowly starts to fade. He then pulls Corwin and Irmin through together and keeps going until the other rangers are there as well in the middle of Arden. Afterwards he replaces the Arden trump and studies the other card, he whispers "Ellie, can you hear me?"
In Castle Amber, Ellie feels the coolness of a contact, someone not familiar to her at all, and the soft words 'Ellie, can you hear me?'
Cautiously Ellie replies, her mental voice clear and soft *Who is this?* moving one of her hands to hover above her own trump should defence prove necessary.
*Do not be alarmed, you do not know me nor does anyone. I am with your father and wanted you to know he is safe. All I want is some help. I don't know if Corwin was involved in Julian's disappearance or not, but those I am with believe so. I need your help in finding Julian. Can you help?*
*I appreciate your kindness and I am quite happy to help. However, perhaps some proof that my father is still alive? May I suggest he be allowed to make a brief trump call to the person of your choice? We may then more fully discuss what help it is you wish from me.*
*I am sure you'll understand if I don't let a man as powerful as him hang on to a trump. But I think I can work with this. You must be alone with a single person you trust implicitly. I will contact you in ten minutes and give you a trump of myself to give to them, I will then bring you to see your father. If you are not back in 5 minutes that person can feel free to give my trump to whoever he wants, to gain vengeance. Agreed?*
Ellie hesitates *That could be considered extremely foolish of me given that Rangers have just recently attempted to assassinate me.*
*That is news to me! I assure you we knew nothing of an assassination attempt. I can understand your conflict and so I make this amend, here is my trump contact me when your are with only the one ally.* He then drops a card into her hand without exposing his body to her side of the connection, it is of a slight gentleman who is very bland looking, there is no name or identifying marks on it other than the portrait. *I trust you will not dishonour the faith I have shown here. I pray you won't.* Contact is then abruptly ended.