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Math looked out the tiny window (tiny due to clutter piled up next to it, not because of architecture) and groaned.
Dworkin toiled on behind him, oblivious to Math's dismay. Math had studied under the dwarfed hunchbacked sage since he was barely old enough shave. The old man had taken him for his pupil the day before he was to attempt the pattern, much to everyone's surprise. Dworkin, while he had tutored all of his aunts and uncles, seemed to stay away from the younger generation.
They lived in a bachelor's harmony in one of Dworkin's estates in the Golden Circle… Actually, it wasn't much more than a large lab with kitchenette and beds, but it served. Math often wondered why they didn't reside in Castle Amber, but only got a disgusted snort from his teacher whenever he asked.
It was a quiet life, peaceful (as long as Math didn't get too creative), and it was crashing to an end. A knock sounded at the door. His mother was in town.
Mathonwyr did his best not to groan. Not that he did not love his Mother, for he certainly did, but no one really sought out one of the Master's residences unless they were after something. He stands from his seat and his work, knowing the Old Maker will not even think to answer it himself, and reminds himself that in all his time as Dworkin's pupil, Flora did not come a-calling.
He moves smoothly to the door, straightening his slightly dishevelled suit, pushing up his spectacles, and smoothing back his longish hair. he plasters on a Flora-esque smile, having been gifted with some of her better genes, and opens the door.
Flora is, of course, perfect. While it's common knowledge that the universe would end if the pattern was destroyed, there are those that joke that Flora having a bad hair day would yield the same result.
She smiles, and places a light kiss on his cheek. The smile fades, though, as she spies the ever present mess behind him. "Mathonwyr! I raised you better!" She enters and shakes her head. "You've been living with the odd one for too long. Are these breakfast dishes meant to be science experiments? Really, I thought I sent you here to learn the more delicate arts." She eyes your clothing. "And I'm fairly certain that was a part of your wardrobe when you left. Its a few shades dingier, but I know the style." She sighs tragically. "My son, the tramp. Oh give me strength." She holds the pose for a moment, the returns her gaze from heavenward.
"I'm afraid to ask, but do you have tea? I'm parched."
Math kisses his Mother back, and rather boldly gives her a hug with a bit of a chuckle. He had forgotten how delightfully snooty she could be. He steps back to wave her in, cleans of a chair for her to sit on, thinks the better of it, and reaches into his pocket for a Trump he had drawn for this purpose. [Dworkin was notoriously rough on furniture.]
He makes contact, shimmering in rainbows, steps through the Gate quickly, and then back through, bearing with him a clean and perfectly comfortable wooden chair. He gestures for his Mother to have a seat, and then steps back through the Gate, which then closes.
A moment later, there is another shimmer, and Mathonwyr steps back through with a tea service. He checks a pile of books for solidity and sturdiness, and then places the tray atop it. "Some folks will be missing their tea, but-" He shrugs, as he serves his Mother tea as she likes it. "-we are a bit low on such niceties."
"So, what brings you out, Mother?"
She regards the spot where the Trump gate had been. "You have been busy. I guess you turning into a recluse was worth it." She flashes her smile like a knife. "Nothing I can't fix."
She takes the tea approvingly and sips. "I would have stopped by earlier, but that damn Corwin always finds something for me to do or arrange... he likes to keep the people he _thinks_ are his subjects busy. But he's off in shadow now, probably making more Amberites for us to worry about." She rolls her eyes. "No offence, dear, but I can't stand the idea of more of your generation milling about. It's just exhausting to think about."
A shout comes from upstairs, and Math knows he's finally missed. Dworkin shambles down the stairs. "Math! You can't leave trumps half- finished! I told you about the..." He notices Flora, and island of cleanliness in his sitting room. "Oh, so you're distracting my student." He chuckles. "A suitable punishment. Oo!" He takes a few sugar cubes off the tray and munches them. "Did you bring any other sweets, little Flora?"
"Only herself, Master, only herself." Math chuckles, and prepares a cup of over-sweetened tea for Dworkin, and a regular for himself. he smiles and says, "Mother was just going to say why she came to this bachelor's paradise..."
She sighs. "First and foremost, I wanted to get away. Castle Amber is wonderful, but..." For a moment, her eyes grow distant, and Math sense an aura of sadness about her. "You were born too late. You can't understand what it once was. The glory..." She shakes her head and takes another sip of her tea. "It's nothing like it was. Not with one of _us_ at the helm. Or with that little witch..." Her eyes flare, but she smothers it quickly. "Not that this place is much of an improvement, but it is _out_, is it not?"
"But yes, there is an official reason. Corwin seems to have developed an interest in his nieces and nephews. I'm not sure its a healthy concern, but once he's seen you're all quite unthreatening, I'm sure he'll let you go home."
Dworkin takes his tea and slurps it noisily. Flora makes a face, then shrugs. "I guess the drippings can only make the floor cleaner."
Mathonwyr frowns at her sarcasm , "Mother, please, this is the home of Dworkin the Maker, after all." he breathes, "Honestly, Mother, King calls or no...it is up to the Master whether I can attend this gathering or not."
Flora stares at Mathonwyr for a moment, then turns to Dworkin. "I don't know what little magics you used, but you have brainwashed my son. I am not pleased." She purses her lips. "Maker, feh. Maker of messes, more like it. People find out you've made a universe and they start falling over themselves to follow you." Dworkin chuckles.
Mathonwyr shakes his head, "Not 'a universe', Mother, for us, it is 'The Universe', the one True Realm." He smiles, "If we are going to pick nits, let us at least call a 'spade' a spade'."
Math looks around, "As to the mess-" He shrugs, "We've a Trump we toss it all through we it gets in the way...not he books, of course...but plates are eminently replaceable, as are piles of dirty laundry..." His eyes light up as if just recalling something, "By the way Master, you did say you would clear the laundry room today...the Trump is in the case on the mantle..."
"I may have brainwashed him... I always forget what I have lying around, and the boy has curious fingers." He peers at Math. "Must have been a subtle one. He looks fine to me."
Math rolls his eyes, "That is because I AM fine, Master..." He turns to Flora, "Mother, I have not be brainwashed, and if I have, I do not recall the process." Math chuckles, "You are rather pretty when you look startled, Mother."
She looks back at Math. "Brainwashed or no, we're going shopping."
"Shopping?" Math asks, as if being sent into battle.
Flora smiles winningly. "Yes, shopping. Good god, you don't think I'm taking you out like that, do you?" She pouts a bit. "Besides, you haven't seen me in ages. We should catch up, don't you think?"
Mathonwyr looks down at himself, pushing his spectacles back into place, "I fail to see anything wrong with how I am dressed, Mother...it's casual, and rather comfortable....business casual actually." He adjusts his tie. "And I do think we should catch up, but over 'shopping', Mother? I'm afraid I did not inherit your zeal for the task, when I inherited your good looks."
Dworkin takes the cleaning trump off the mantle and regards it, then the floor. Shrugging, he puts it away. "Bah. I can still see the floor. Hard to concentrate if it's too clean." He grabs the sugar bowl off the tray and continues snacking. He grins a sugar-coated grin at Math. "If you're trying to get me to save you from your mother, forget it. She's too tricky."
Math smiles, "Are you certain, Master, no chores that need completion?"
Flora smiles at that. "I was going to rest up here, but I think I've dirtied my dress enough. Shall we away, Mathonwyr?"
Math sighs, and holds up his hands in mock surrender, "Very well, Mother, let us away...but by Oberon's left eye, no talk of haircuts." He finishes his tea, and offers her his arm.
She takes his arm. "Haircuts? Never. But a trim would do you well." She ruffles her hand through his locks absently. "But shopping is a must. You did inherit my looks, and I hate to see them tarnished in something as mundane as 'business casual.' This isn't some singles' bar."
Mathonwyr sighs, "very well. You win, Mother." He smiles, "As usual."
Dworkin disappears up the stairs, only to return with Math's unfinished trump. "Sorry," he grins, "Finishing this isn't keeping you here either. I know how devious your mother can be... Keep her here too long, and she'll redecorate."
Mathonwyr accepts the pasteboard card, and pockets it, after moving to his desk drawer and pocketing a whole case inside his jacket. he then finds a slim metallic case, flicks it open, and inspects the folded sheets of paper and pencils within. Satisfied his drawing case is well stocked, he slips into a pocket at the small of his back expressly made for this purpose. "I shall call thee, Master, when I am free."
Flora starts shuffling through her trumps. "Where to go, where to go... oh!" She stops, and looks at a trump in a distant, melancholy way. "My house..."
Mathonwyr steps up and takes his Mother's hand.
Dworkin chuckles and dismissed his young student with a wave of his hand. "Course she won. She's your mom, isn't she? Probably been planning this for weeks."
As Math looks at the card in her hand, he notices that it seems to be a bright sitting room with a few tasteful tables and chairs arranged about the room. He recognizes it as her breakfast nook from her home on Shadow Earth. She looks at it for a few more seconds, then concentrates.
When they step through, the room is no longer cheerful and impeccably decorated. What furniture that is left is covered in white sheets. A thick layer of dust covers the room, giving Math the feeling that he's standing in a room of ghosts.
Flora moves about for a second, as if lost, then straightens herself with a certain resolve. "It's not too far from here to get to town. The phones should still work, at least if the people I hired to keep the bills paid are better than the ones who were supposed to clean."
Mathonwyr tries to be cheery, "And we'll have to update that Trump, Mother, imagine my disappointment." He pats her back gently, "Let's be off, unless you feel something is amiss here..."
For his part, Math opens his senses, trying to feel for anyone else in the house, or any energies other than their own.
Flora cringes slightly at the mention of changing her trump, but quickly replaces the look with one of purpose. She walks over to an old-style rotary phone, thinks for a second and dials.
While she orders a taxi, Mathonwyr's awareness spreads throughout the house. He doesn't sense anyone, but passes over the occasional mouse. As his search finishes, his mother turns. "They'll be here in a few minutes. Lets go down and see if that gardening service I set up was worth the small fortune I dropped for them."
Mathonwyr nods, "The House is empty Mother, save for a mouse or two." He pauses and looks around, "When was the last time you were here?" Then he moves to follow, keeping his senses open, but the are much smaller and more personal.
He follows Flora out of the room and down a flight of stairs, her tsk-ing all the way.
Outside, the landscaping does not disappoint. She seems a bit happier that something has been kept up. The tulips (her favourite, Math notes) are in bloom, and the trees are beginning to unfurl their green. She stands quietly, looking around. "Do you remember this place, Math? You were so young... but I remember how you used to run around, picking my flowers." She smiles and giggles. "I fussed, but as long as you said they were for me, I didn't really mind. Flowers always grow back."
Mathonwyr returns the smile, "I recall it well...in fact, I keep a Trump of it even now." He points at the wood-timber playground set. "Of that old 'Castle' of mine. Makes me think of you and simpler times."
He sounds wistful, but only slightly so...he had traded time with his Mother for time as Dworkin's Student, and while he was extremely satisfied with his choice, and indeed, his Mother's choice; The little boy inside him wondered how he would be different had Flora continued to teach him the ways of the worlds.
A taxi pulls up in the driveway and honks its horn, stirring Flora out of her reverie. She glares at the driver, then looks at Math. "I guess that's our cue, dear."
Mathonwyr nods, and moves towards the taxi to open the door for his Mother.
She awards him with a smile and enters the cab. She gets comfortable in the seat beside him, and directs the cabbie to a set of prestigious boutiques nearer to the city. Mathonwyr cringes as her recalls childhood days of women in too much make-up fussing over him and countless outfits of impeccable style.
As they drive, she stares out the window and talks. "So, how was your tutelage with Dworkin, dear? It was no small effort getting you there, you know."
Mathonwyr nods, "An effort I can never repay you for." I drop the 'Mother', because to the cabbie, there would be no way the gorgeous woman beside me could be that, but I kiss her on the cheek nevertheless. "As for my tenure with the Old Man; It was educational"
Math grins, "I've learned quite a bit about the Universe and the Powers, and am likely the most familiar with Trump in the family this side of the redheads."
She raises a perfectly manicured eyebrow. "Cocky are we?" She turns back to the scenery. "I wouldn't get too full of yourself. There are still plenty of flavours you don't know. Your pedantic little recluse isn't the only teacher, you know."
The taxi rides on, and the countryside turns into a cityscape. Flora studies the storefronts, a look of concern on her face.
Math smiles, "No, but he is THE teacher. Who better?" He raises his own eyebrow in imitation. "Not to worry, Mother, I know my limitations."
She shrugs indifferently, a graceful action. "There are other teachers. Everyone has a different way of experimenting. Some keep it as an art, some make it a part of them, some use it as a science. All trumps have a different flavour, so do all of those of the art." She fingers a delicate chain around her neck, and Mathonwyr notices a small ring on it. "It's too bad-- some of the best I've known you'll never know."
Math nods in agreement with her words, "Art is art, I do agree." He pats her hand, "I do not have a big head, Mother, but I am rather proud of what I have accomplished."
He looks about, "So which shop will it be?" He decides not to mention shopping was an unnecessary luxury, as The Pattern could provide all they wished, but he figured his Mother did nothing without reason.
She cups her chin in her hand. "Mmm... there's a Maccio's up the road. And there should be a XandOs nearby. Unless, it's closed of course. I feel like a little breakfast. I've missed the food here. Having it conjured just isn't the same."
She directs the cabbie to pull over after a blocks, and gets out, tossing him a few bills. If he notices that her outfit is a bit fresher than it was upon her getting in, he doesn't show it.
She strolls up to a glass and steel fronted store, silently appraising the mannequins in the front display.
Mathonwyr follows patiently, recalling this routine well. "What am I shopping for? Formalwear or Eveningwear?"
She laughs gaily, tossing a look over her shoulder back to Math. "Everything. Looking at you, Dworkin completely leached you of your sense of style."
They wander in, and she moving her hand over shirts and jackets, feeling the material. "The summons sounded a bit general to me, so I'm making an educated guess that there'll be some more of your generation there... Not that I can recall any of the others reproducing. Maybe Benedict. He just loves hiding things off in shadows. But, really, I'm the only one that didn't have a choice about hiding, with you being born on Shadow Earth." She picks up a linen shirt. "Grey... that's a nice colour on you... Or did you have some other colours you prefer?"
"Mother, I learned long ago never to question your fashion sense." Math smiles, "Besides the grey is akin to the silver in my Heraldry..." He reaches into his inner pocket, and drew out one of his Trumps to show his Mother the back, and his chosen symbol of the scales and the fleurs. "It honours you, I think...subtle, but there."
She smiles as she studies the back of the card. "I take it back, then. You do still have some style." She regards him once more. "Well, not all of it." She rethinks the grey shirt, and picks up one of a deep red. A second of searching, and she matches it with a dark grey jacket. A few more selections fly into her hands, which she transfers to Math. "So, what do you want to do in Amber? It won't take long for them to gawk at you."
Math smiles at her correction and dutifully holds all the goods, "back in Amber? I am not sure...would you mind finding a little sailboat and going on a short trip...say to Cabra and a little fishing?"
Flora makes a face. "Fishing? No. Not me." Her face gets dreamy. "Sailing, though... Haven't done that in a while. Maybe I can call in a favour or two with Gerard... All the times he's left me to baby-sit Random, he owes me a few." She moves over to accessories.
Mathonwyr laughs, "How about I do the fishing, and you look beautiful and sun yourself. We'll bring folding chairs and whatnot and make a day of it...picnic, and all."
"What do you say?"
She laughs and tosses her hair. "I could use the fresh air. But don't you dare gut them around me." She traces her fingers over a fine platinum chain, her own hand going reflexively to her own necklace. She sighs. "You never met Vialle, did you? She was one of the ones that could have taught you something the old man doesn't know..." She looks a little misty as she directs a salesperson to box the chain up.
Mathonwyr smiles at her laughter, "I will be mindful of your delicate sensibilities, Mother." He balances the packages with innate skill. "No, I have not met Vialle...though the name strikes me as Rebman in sound and origin." He cocks his head,"Is she well, Mother? You suddenly look melancholy."
She shakes her head. "No, she's not." She wrings her hands and continues. "Your uncle Random... you remember him dear, the one with the horrid taste in music that smoked all the time... well, he was forced to marry this Rebman girl. A sweet thing, blind though. But very soft spoken, and tolerant. She needed it with that cretin. Anyway, it was no small miracle that the marriage worked out, and Random actually started acting a little civilized."
Mathonwyr nods, "I recall Random, Mother, and his music." He left out that the music was called 'jazz, and that he rather enjoyed it...especially good blues...nor did he mention that he had learned to play the electric guitar while gallivanting for a bit with the King of Kashfa. "Imagine that, Rebma finally caught up to him...and when they did, he falls in love."
She moves over to some jewellery. "It wasn't long, and she found herself with child. I actually began to like him, you know? I've been trained in midwifery, so Vialle asked me to be there."
Mathonwyr could already tell that this tale would not end well.
She picks up a simple silver loop. "She was sweet. Very sweet. I really liked her."
Sighing, she sets the loop on the growing pile in Mathonwyr's arms. "The labour was difficult. Her body just couldn't take it... We called Dworkin, but..." At this point, Math notices some tears in his mother's eyes, which she quickly wipes away. Motioning to a register she says, "Put them down here, dear."
Mathonwyr silently does as told, uncertain how best to comfort his Mother in this setting, "Oh, M-" He eyes the cashier. "Oh, Flora, I am so sorry..."
While their purchase is rung up, Flora once again goes to the chain about her neck. "Random hasn't been sober since. I miss her."
Mathonwyr sighs and shakes his head, "A tragedy..." He looks up, "What of the
Child, Mother...did the Child survive?"
She shakes her head. "No... he was still-born. We ended up burying them on Mt. Kolvir, facing Rebma." She sighs. "I go there from time to time, but I think I'm the only one." She holds up the pennant, and Mathonwyr notices the ring is a small spider, with a pale green stone for a belly. "This was hers. I found it after the funeral, and decided to keep it."
She accepts the package from the cashier and hands it back to Math. "Clothes done. Now to Amber." She starts to walk out.
Mathonwyr nods solemnly, and moves to follow, "To Amber already?"
He smiles slightly, "Shouldn't I change first?"
She stops abruptly. "Oh... yes. You should do that, shouldn't you?" She looks back, and he can't help but notices she seems somewhat distracted. "You can most likely use the facilities here." She looks at a sales clerk, and he nods, leading the way to the dressing rooms.
He'll wait for he answer, and then go change into one of the dressier outfits Flora purchased for him. Transferring all his Trumps and equipment to the new attire, before returning to his Mother's side. "You have been distracted. Is there something you are not telling me?"
She smiles a bit wanly, unusual for her. She shrugs as they leave. "It's just old memories resurfacing. It's been a long time since I've been in a place that was truly happy. Most everything nowadays either reminds me of how far downhill things have gone, or how far away those days are." She looks around. "How about a cup of coffee? What they import to the castle isn't as good as what you can find around here."
Math nods, "I think I remember a place around the corner here." he scratches his chin and looks around, if there is not one, he uses the Pattern and the short walk to put a nice cafe where it is needed.
"Do not be sad, Mother, I shall be returning to Amber...and I'm bound to add some spark top your day." He smiles, "besides, things will get better...because they must. I mean, how long can we allow Amber to slip into decline before one of us acts."
They round the corner and finds a Bread and Chocolate, one of his mother's favourite haunts. His too, as he remembers their chocolate covered cannoli‘s.
His mother laughs ironically. "Who's going to act? Me? I'm god at parties, dear, not running the universe. Gerard's never been a leader. Random, we wouldn't sit on a throne, we'd pour him into it. The rest have run out of town."
Mathonwyr finds them a table, and then orders at the counter...including a cannoli. For himself, he orders a Mocha Cappuccino, tall, and for his Mother whatever he recalls being her favourite, then he brings both and sits down with her.
He ponders her answer for a long moment, "Why no one of the next generation, Mother? Someone with energy and drive for the job?" he pauses, "Is there such a person? I have no idea how many cousins I may or may not have..."
She looks at Mathonwyr for a moment as if he had suddenly grown antennae out of his forehead. "One of the babes? The youngest of my generation is a handful of millennia old, and we still can't seem to keep up with the standard Oberon left." She thinks. "Your generation... Merlin, Martin, you... any others I don't know about. Merlin already has a kingdom to run, and Martin... he's a nice enough boy, but I don't think he's really bright enough." She looks at him warily. "Are you suggesting yourself?"
Math nearly spews his cappuccino, "Me!?" he shakes his head, "Not at all. I would serve in a more advisory role, if I served at all." he shakes his head. "Whatever gave you such an idea!?"
"I merely mentioned the only remaining alternative you had yet to explore." He shrugs, "Even some sort of noble Council is better than a bad King or none at all." he breathes deeply as he calms himself, "I'd be willing to play at 'Senator', but not at King."
She raises her eyebrows. "Oh. So now we're modest? I thought you were the guy studying under the master of the Universe, who, by the way, can barely remember to brush his hair once a year." She sips her iced latte (caramel). "It just sounded like you were trying to lay down a line of reasoning, where the only conclusion was to sit you on the throne."
Math smiles, "You mistake a desire to remain free for modesty." He chuckles, "No, I think I could do no worse for Amber than what She already has, but I do not wish to be tied down. My talents serve Amber best in the field, and again, that would be if I chose to serve." He pauses, "I would make a remarkable trouble-shooter...very mobile, diplomatic, but with enough steel to use when necessary."
She nibbles at a cannoli. "You know, I never really appreciated all that my father did while he was on the throne... How long has it been since you've seen him?"
Mathonwyr falls silent, remembering the day...
Mathonwyr gets an image in his mind... The day of the battle at the Rim, when his mother had left him to stay with Gerard at Amber. The day it went dark, so dark he wondered if he, in fact, existed. Then the brightening as light was restored, and he knew Oberon had done it, had fixed the pattern.
His relief had been pervading, and recalled even Gerard's whispered thanks. Math chose to stay close by his Uncle, whether for protection or curiosity, he cannot recall which.
And he remembers Gerard bringing the old man in, a shadow of himself. Gerard had to walk the pattern to get him, and did so, thinking the old man was dead. But he lived... shallow breaths, weak eyes, but a content smile on his lips. The only smile Mathonwyr ever saw on him.
Math smiles, the same melancholy expression he noted on his Mother earlier, and not strangely, the same sort of mood. His eyes are distant, and a bit sad.
He remembers being pulled close, and the old man whispering something in his ear, but to this day, he can't remember what.
"It has been so long, Mother..." His tone is low, almost reverent as the memory washes through him. "He said something to me, Oberon I mean..." Math squeezes his eyes shut, and calls on over two decades of discipline to try and recall just what Oberon imparted to him all those years ago. "I only wish I could recall it...his last words to his great-grandson..."
She smiles a bit as she sips her drink. "Well, you'll get more words. Those don't have to be the last. The old coot is still alive. Talks too. His general condition isn't any better, but he's not getting any worse." She looks pensive. "I know it seems odd, but I think I like him more now that he's a bit off in the head."
Math smiles, "I just wish I could remember what he said at the time...it seems important somehow." he finishes of his beverage. "What else is new?"
Flora rolls her eyes. "Corwin can't seem to get rid of Fiona. She runs more and more of the scene these days. She's getting to be a real bitch, too. I avoid her when I can."
Mathonwyr nods, "I will take that into advisement."
She finishes her drink. "We should get going. The time differential isn't that great back at home, and I don't want to leave Gerard too long with Random."
Mathonwyr sighs, "Very well, Mother." He stands, gathers the packages, and then offers her his hand. "Shall I move us, or have you someone to call for the return trip?"
She looks a bit dreamy and sad as she gets up. "Mind if we walk?" she asks, "I haven't walked the shadows in a long time, and we're not fretfully far off." She takes his arm and puts her head on his shoulder. "This is nice. You most likely won't be in Amber long."
Mathonwyr smiles, "Then why not go in style."
As they walk, Math shifts to allow for a hansom cab. A white open carriage with enormous white stallions pulling it, and a liveried driver. He stows the packages, helps his Mother aboard, and if allowed, will fall into a companionable silence, arm in arm with his Mother. Math will shift them back to Amber, taking his time.
As they grow nearer to Amber, Mathonwyr grows increasingly distressed. The shifts he tries happen, but not exactly like they should. The flower is not the right colour of blue. The sky is a shade off. The trees are nothing like those in Arden.
Flora looks off, oblivious to any of his troubles. The sun dips in the sky, and the driver reigns in the horses. "They have to rest, miss," he says, looking back at a distracted Flora.
"That's fine," she replies, "I need a stretch anyway." She climbs out of the cab and walks around, rubbing her neck. Mathonwyr is started when he hears a slight rustle in the bush somewhere behind him.
Math had been contemplating the trouble when he heard the rustle. Already on edge because of the odd behaviour of Shadow, Math leaps back, and drops into a crouch, prepared for trouble. "Mother!" He calls in warning.
Flora spins just in time to see a woman on a brown and white horse jump out of the surrounding forest. The woman's horse rears, but she holds on masterfully.
Marrek has enough time to note she carries a broadsword in one hand, and a quarterstaff on her back. On the horse's saddle a cross-bow is bolted and cocked. "Put down any weapons. You are in Prince Terran's land!"
Mathonwyr sighs, and with incredible aplomb replies, "We have no weapons, O Mighty Warrior, and were merely passing through...if there is a toll, we shall pay it."
He gestures from himself to, Flora, "We are but weary travellers, resting out horses a spell before moving on..."
She dismounts in one easy motion, sheathing her sword. Math now sees her more clearly.
Tall, lithe, and composed, her brown hair shines in the setting sun, and she has a ruddy complexion that implies a life spent outdoors. She moves with an easy grace while she eyes Mathonwyr and Flora. Math realizes that the driver is no where to be seen.
The lady appraises them silently, and apparently assuming they are no threat, sheathes her sword. "Then you should be more careful. There are thieves in these woods that would prey upon such... careless opulence." She nods at the carriage. "It grows dark. I'll accompany you to my lodge. You can room there for the night."
Math smiles warmly, the inherited charm shining from his expression, "I thank the Lady, but that will not be necessary." He gestures his Mother and himself, "We are far from defenceless, and must continue on our journey...I do appreciate the gesture of hospitality, however, and hope that perhaps another time, we can partake of it."
He nods slightly, "We shall be on our way..." he motions for Flora to mount up, and then climbs into the driver's seat himself.
"No." A hand catches him on the shoulder. "You are in the woods of the Prince, and I am his head guard. I'm not fond of collecting bodies in the morning, robbed and raped. So if you don't mind, you will be coming with me. I doubt a young man and lady, unarmed, will be able to dispatch of 15 or so robbers in the dark of night, in unfamiliar territory." Her hand, while slim, is unusually strong.
At her touch, Mathonwyr gets the oddest sensation of someone whispering in his ear...
Mathonwyr sighs, shifting probability enough to put a couple of longswords, and a crossbow beneath the carriage seat. Once he's sure that they are there, he steps back carefully, and gestures at the weapons in the cache.
"We are prepared to handle brigands." He smiles, "Should such a large band attack, we are not without other resources."
As he speaks, he attempts to follow that whispering sensation back to its source, gazing into the warrior-woman's eyes, and gently opening his senses to sort of passively ascertain the truth of her intentions.
She raises an eyebrow at the cache, but looks sceptically at Flora and Mathonwyr, as if dubious that they could use the weapons without more seriously damaging themselves.
Mathonwyr eases his awareness out, testing the lady's mind. He lets out a small gasp involuntarily. She's Real.
Mathonwyr eyes her speculatively, and raises an eyebrow fro his Mother to notice. He regards her, searching for a resemblance to the Family, and says, "I assure you, M'lady, that we can handle ourselves...and, not all battles need to be one with a sword's edge."
He smiles, " 'There is more in heaven and earth than exists in your philosophy', M'lady."
Math eyes the sky, and reaches into this Shadow to get a better feel for it, invoking the Pattern, and seeing if this woman's 'Realness' had made this Shadow that much more difficult to travel through. "Let us at least be mannerly, I am Mathonwyr." He bows, "This is my Mistress, the Lady Florimel Dauphine. I serve the Lady in an advisory capacity, as well as insuring her safety."
Flora leans against the hansom, looking puzzled at Mathonwyr's reaction. A small smile lights her face, and she winks at him. "Yes," she says, nodding. "He's been my servant for years. Lovely boy, he is. Rich, too. My sole heir."
Mathonwyr smiles as brightly.
The woman nods back. "I am called Esta Vordun." She eyes Mathonwyr. "'More in heaven and earth?' A sorcerer then. I pull them out of ditches also."
As she speaks, Mathonwyr calls up the pattern, sensing the area around him. Thinking back, the shadows had become more difficult, but he has assumed that was because they were nearing Amber. Now, he realizes, that his place, while quite real, has none of the flavour of a border shadow. Shadows close to Amber tend to resemble Arden, and this forest... it seems a bit too balmy, and too tropical.
Interesting, Interesting. Mathonwyr will move over to stand near to Flora, "What do you say, Lady Vordun?"
Flora flashes a smile, one of her ones she gets when she has a secret and is relishing it, and replies, "Our journey needn't be in so much haste. Surely the company of another would lighten the mood of the ride. Perhaps a rest would do us well." She yawns, and Mathonwyr notices it seems a tad fake. "Perhaps even dinner." She winks again, and enters the hansom.
Esta goes back to her horse. "If I need to take you back at swords length, fine. But I see your lady is more willing to listen to advice." She mounts in one spring, and nods to Mathonwyr to start driving.
As they drive, she takes a position beside the hansom. Flora pretends to be exhausted (Mathonwyr knows better. When Flora is tired she drips acid). Mathonwyr takes a second to study her.
Her profile is noble, there's no doubt about that. There's a grace, and a beauty about it that's hard to describe. Her eyes are dark in colour, but lively, and highly intelligent. He watches her scan the environment as they ride, searching for foes.
She smiles at him, and he hears the whisper again.
She is attractive, Math thinks, of that there is little doubt, but is she kin? He thinks she almost certainly has to be, but why out here in Shadow? And why so relatively close to Amber without being collected by her Parent or Parents?
Math smiles back, even as he hears the whispering. He leaves his senses tuned, to detect any brigands he was warned of, but also to try to sense any enchantments about Esta, as well as find the source of that confounded whispering!
"Have you served here long, Lady Vordun?" Math asks innocently.
She pauses for a moment, and a smile plays on her lips. "Yes. Quite a while." She tosses her hair. "Where do you travel to? Perhaps I can suggest a better route."
Math smiles at the hair tossing, recognizing what Esta likely does unconsciously as a small 'flirt', a move he has seen Flora use quite consciously. He briefly meets Esta's eyes, and looks away, a male gesture similar in message to the 'hair-toss'.
He decides to test the waters, "We journey to her Holding's in the Vale of Garnath in a Realm called Amber."
Math hears the whisper again, rasping, and realizes it doesn't come from the area around him, but from his own mind.
Math's brow furrows, and he turns his sense and Power inward to find the source and the words.
Esta's brow furrows. "Amber? Garnath? I don't know these places. Do you have a map? You must be mistaken. I know this coast like I know my own home."
"I am afraid it will not appear on any map, The Lady prefers her privacy." Math leans over to her conspiratorially, "This ahs caused us no end of difficulty in the past. I have begged her to allow the cartographers to put it on the maps, but time and again I am asked to obfuscate the lands to keep unwanted suitors at bay."
As Math turns his pattern inwards, he does notice something... very faint. Almost like a thread running through his being...
Math falls silent for a moment, plasters a pleasant smile on his face, and internally follows the thread to its source.
Esta looks displeased. Looking back at Flora, "My lady, that is against the law of this land. You have to allow your land to be charted."
Flora looks up and smiles apologetically. "I'm terribly sorry. I wasn't aware. Perhaps you can come out to the keep for a few weeks while you correct the situation?" Esta looks surprised at the easy agreement, but nods.
Mathonwyr only smiles and nods, "I was under orders, Lady Vordun, do not judge me to harshly...and the Lady Dauphine would, indeed, be flooded with unwanted visitors."
The thread seems to twist about him and his pattern... never seeming to have a beginning or end.
Mathonwyr studies it a moment, hoping the 'thread' was placed there by his Master. He will try to touch the thread, and hear whatever it has been trying to whisper to him.
His study is interrupted by Esta pulling back her horse a bit, a look of confusion on her face. "Where--?" She looks at Flora and Mathonwyr. "I'm sorry, but I seemed to have lead you astray. My home should be visible from here but..."
Math frowns, and looks back at Flora raising his eyebrow questioningly. He stands on the carriage footrest, and surveys the landscape, again opening his senses...checking to see if they are still in the same Shadow wherein they found Esta. "Take a moment, Lady Vordun, and get your bearings..."
Esta looks with her eyes as Math looks with his power-- indeed, the shadow has shifted. It's not longer as real, but, he notes, more like Arden. The sky is a bit brighter, a bit more vivid. The plants more deciduous.
Flora looks about, and he sees her pattern come up. "Math," she whispers, "Why are you taking us to Amber?"
"Me?" Math asks incredulously, shaking his head, "I thought it was you..." He looks around, "We are definitely nearing Arden...wait..."
Math once more uses his senses to take a look at the thread...he will even psychically 'tug' at it, to ascertain where it is anchored. He suspects IT is drawing them to Amber, but he will try to verify that.
"You had your pattern up first," Flora points out.
"I was checking into something, not fooling with Shadow." Math answers back, and continues to do just that. Mathonwyr tugs at the string, and does, indeed, feel a shift. The flora and fauna look healthier, the colours a bit more vivid. Only Flora hears his curse, "Unicorn!"
Esta looks uneasy. "We're near your home?" She looks around, and Math realizes she's finally starting to notice the differences.
Math decides to drop the pretences, "I am afraid so, Esta...we are near the place called Amber." He turns to Flora, "I do not believe we came to Esta by coincidence, Mother...we were guided there, to her Shadow, into her path. As I Shifted us home, I encountered certain oddities, but before I could look into it, Esta made her appearance. I would also add that the driver's sudden disappearance is most suspicious as well." He pauses, "Someone has laid a 'thread' into me, into the Pattern I carry within me. It is not an enchantment exactly, for Sorcery withers when touched by Pattern, but there are likely only a handful that could manage it...this thread has pulled us to Esta, and in turn, to Amber."
Math gestures at Esta, "She is REAL, Mother, though untested by the Grand Design...she is Kin to us and Royal to Amber."
For a moment, both women stare at him in mute shock. Flora turns her gaze on Esta, and her eyes widen. "She is real..." she whispers.
Esta looks nervous, her eyes darting. Mathonwyr gets the feeling that she would run if she knew where to go. "What do you mean real? Of course I'm real. And what codes are you using? Design? Threads? Shadows?" As quick as lightning her hand goes to her saddle and releases her cross-bow. She levels it at Mathonwyr. "I dislike petty magics as much as I dislike being kidnapped."
Now, Math is a nice enough fellow, for his Bloodline, but he is a Prince of Amber, and as much as any, the education and the fine features inherited from his Mother hide a core of steel. Also, no one likes being aimed at by a missile weapon.
Already in the Pattern, Mathonwyr presses his will into probabilities, pushing for the crossbow's string to snap, or for the bolt to fall away loosely, or even for her horse to be bitten by an overlarge fly, throwing of her aim and doing all of the above.
Mathonwyr manages to suppresses a sigh of relief when Esta's horse rears suddenly, forcing her to drop the cross-bow in order to calm her horse. She reaches for her sword, but by that time, Mathonwyr has started speaking.
Once essentially disarmed, Mathonwyr will shake his head, knowing he can call on other resources at any time. "This was not my doing. And without us, you will never see home again." he pauses, "So either relax and let us figure out what is going on, or resolve yourself to life in exile."
He sighs, and looks into Esta's eyes, "Believe me, Esta, I had no idea...I would not knowingly tear someone's illusions away so cruelly."
Esta considers for a moment, the slowly re-sheaths her sword. "Why do you think I'm family?" she asks slowly. "I know my family. And you are not of it."
Mathonwyr eyes her carefully, regarding her silently for a long moment, and finally meeting her gaze, "Please understand that what I say, I do not say out of cruelty...an external hand has seen fit to tie our three paths together, and now I am left with little choice but to shatter some of the 'fact' you have likely held all your life.' He sighs a bit sadly, "You were likely fostered, while it is possible one of your parents is a parent in
truth, one is not, or you are wholly adopted by them. By your demeanour I would say this; You have excelled in nearly every endeavour...particularly on the field of combat. I would guess that few are your equal back home, if anyone is, and overall...your life has been relatively clear of direct challenges to your physical and mental superiority."
"Am I right so far?"
Esta looks uneasy. "My parents were my parents. They never claimed to be anything else." She looks about nervously. "I wouldn't say I'm the smartest person in the world-- I've met many wise men and women in my day and would never compare myself to them. But combat-- I'm still un-bested. But that's more to-- " And she breaks off, apparently stopping her tongue seconds later than she wanted to.
Mathonwyr nods, "I am betting I could show you half a dozen men...and women, that can give you a solid challenge, if not dismiss your skills altogether." He holds up his hands, "I do not fancy myself a swordsman, I do not even carry a blade, but I can guarantee you I am the better of nearly any soldier in your home Realm."
"It is a LONG explanation, Esta, one better left for when we are in Amber proper." He smiles and tries to meet her eyes, "I know it is strange, and possibly a little frightening, but we are not kidnappers, nor did we mean to bring you hear against your will...a greater power is at work here, and again, Amber is the place to puzzle that out."
"Will you keep your weapons sheathed, and accompany us?" Mathonwyr sounds earnest, as his brings the force of both is good looks and his psychic presence into play. "You have my word that if you choose to return to your Lands, I will do all I can to return you there...even if it is only to say goodbye."
She looks wary, but he sees a steely flint when he mentions possible opponents. She nods. "I will. I don't see any other way, at this point." She smiles. "Who is my first opponent?"
Mathonwyr sits, and gets the group moving towards Amber again, this time actively 'tugging' on the thread. "Your first opponent, Esta, is yourself...you are about to learn a great deal about who you really are, and how the Universe really works...you will have to discard much of what you hold to be irrefutable truths...and you will have to open yourself ta an infinity of possibilities." He sighs, looks back at Flora and says, "Remind me to thank you for raising me in and around Amber..."
Flora smiles. "I didn't have much choice, dear."
Esta looks pensive. "This... this is something I've been looking for, for quite some time now. I hope you are truthful, since it would answer many questions for me." She looks at him. "When your life makes little sense, you tend to hold onto few universal truths."
Mathonwyr considers a moment, before responding, "Well, think on this Esta. What have I, indeed, what have WE, to gain by lying to you." He pauses, "Before you say 'our lives', recall this; I and the Lady here can travel through Worlds, which is not the least of our skills...we were never in any real danger from brigands, or from you."
He smiles at her, "As for your life not making sense, tell me a little about it on the way, and I will see if I can fill in the gaps ere we reach Amber."
Esta rides along, studying the changes around her. "Maybe you wouldn't have been in danger. But my arrow was cocked in the saddle, and I had seen you long before you noted me. I could have neatly slain you and your lady and been on my way. But I am no robber."
Mathonwyr only smiles enigmatically, and marvels at the arrogance of sword-swingers.
She reaches out and plucks a flower from a vine as she passes it. The forest grows more an more like Arden with every step. "My life started many lifetimes ago. I'm considerably older than anyone I've ever known."
"That would make sense." Math nods. "As we are essentially immortal." He pauses, "Since we have 'come clean' so to speak, our names are what we stated...I am Mathonwyr and this-" he turns to gesture and smile at Flora, "-is Florimel, or Flora if she prefers...My Mother."
She looks between the two. "Amazing. You indeed don't age. I would have taken you for siblings."
Flora smiles winningly. "I like her, Math. We _must_ keep her in Amber a while."
Mathonwyr laughs, a rich and honest sound, "It would seem, Esta, that you find yourself favoured by a Princess of Amber. High Honor indeed."
Esta examines the flower a bit more before sticking it in her braid. "I realized I wasn't going to age after a while, so I pretended to disappear. I've been looking around for answers to what I am for centuries-- but none ever surfaced. Being on the road made me vulnerable, so I took up the sword to protect myself." She smiles slightly. "And after a while, I found I enjoyed it. It gave me something else to think about besides the mysteries of the universe choosing me as a focal point."
Mathonwyr regards her quietly as she speaks, "That sounds like a lonely life. It is unfortunate that you had to suffer it...I hope the wonders that await you balance the scales." He continues to reel the 'thread' in, curious if it would lead to the person that laid it in him or if it would lead only to Amber.
Esta makes a contented sound, as if remembering. "Not as lonely as you think. I had many companions-- after a while I started to take death more philosophically. At least their memory would live a long time. I'm something of a walking memorial."
"Still and all, that's a bit of a burden when you do not know why." Mathonwyr comments.
She bows slightly to Flora. "Your highness." She looks back at Mathonwyr. "If my parentage isn't correct, then do you know who fathered me? I'm fairly certain my mother is correct."
"Unfortunately not." Mathonwyr smiles, "You do have noble bearing, but your Mother's beauty occludes what I might see of Family resemblance." He meets her eyes as he says this, "You have heard us mention the Grand Pattern or Design, it is what allows my Mother and I to see the truth in your Blood."
"So, while I am sure you are of Amber's Royal Line, I am not sure which branch you fell from."
She smiles prettily at the compliment. "If I do fall from a branch, that would make us what?" She rides on. "And as for burdens, you choose which ones you want to carry."
Math smiles, "Cousins." he pauses, "Well, if one wanted to be more precise...half-cousins." he laughs, "It's a large family, and you will soon learn why." He continues to reel in the 'thread', casting his mind ahead for any threats or surprises, or the inevitable approach of Arden's Rangers.
She smiles. "Well-met, then, cousin." In the hansom, Flora keeps an eye on her son while pretending not to pay attention.
The forest is now most definitely Arden. Mathonwyr is glad his mother is with them-- she gives them automatic passage through without being harassed. He, however, is a face less known.
Esta grows quiet and appears to be listening for something. Her hand strays to her cross-bow. In one deft and almost invisible motion, she reloads it.
Math spreads out with his senses, and pulls the larger crossbow from beneath the seat to set it beside him. "It is likely the Rangers of our Uncle, but there is no sense in not being cautious." He opens his senses, as he did in his Mother's House, trying to sense whom or what is around, and if the intent is hostile.
Esta nods. Mathonwyr begins to wonder how fast she really is with that thing...
As he feels out, he does indeed feel Julian's guard. He almost sighs in relief when all he gets is boredom, wary attention, or the odd somewhat off colour thought about his mother.
"It IS the Rangers." Math confirms. "I can sense them. They will let us pass...they recognize my Mother." He glances once at Flora and raises an eyebrow to indicate that the Rangers do more than 'recognize' her. "The City is not far now, and then just beyond it on the Mount is the Castle."
Flora notes his look and flips her hair, assuming a more attractive and winsome pose. She winks at him.
As they top a hill, the castle comes into view. Esta gasps. "Its--" She struggles for words. Finally finding none, she simply looks at Mathonwyr. "Tell me about it."
Math smiles, "Welcome to Amber, M'lady...The Eternal City, The Golden Realm, Blessed by the Holy Unicorn." he gestures grandly. "It is the Seat of Order, The Keeper of the Grand Pattern, The One True Kingdom of which all others are mere Shadows."
He laughs a bit, "And it is utterly and fantastically enormous. Imagine a Keep and a Palace and a Citadel rolled into one...entirely defensible, and perfectly appointed. It has stood for millennia."
She nods, still in awe. "It has the look of something epic..."
In the hansom, Flora sighs. "I suppose my outing is over then-- Let me call Gerard. I hope he hasn't had too hard of a time while I was out." She flips through her deck as Esta watches her, puzzled.
Mathonwyr smiles, "The cards are called Trumps. They appear as a Tarot Deck would appear, if you have those in your home, save that the Great Trumps depict family members...in the standard deck anyway." he pauses, "One need only focus on the image of the individual they wish to make contact with it, the card will grow colder and colder, and soon contact will be made...then they can converse or transport one to the other or vice versa."
He grins, "I was apprenticed to their Maker, and am yet his Disciple. Our Great-Grandfather, Dworkin." Math watches Esta for a reaction, "Do not worry, if it is a guide you need, I am luckily at hand...Mother recently called me home."
Esta smiles ingratiatingly at Math as Flora moves off to conduct her conversation. "I think I will need a guide. It seems there isn't anything yet that's self-explanatory." She pats her horse on the head. "So if you're an apprentice, what are you learning?"
Math smiles back, meeting her gaze cheerfully, "You touch on a favourite subject. I learn whatever the Master is willing to teach me." He pauses, "You see, it was Dworkin that, in the truest sense, created Amber."
Math lets that sink in, "For now, I learn all I can about the Trumps and their function and creation. In fact, I can create one of you, when the time comes." He pauses, "Unfortunately though, you are quite correct in your assessment, I do not foresee anything being completely self-explanatory...particular not the Pattern." He raises his hand to forestall another question, "You will see soon enough, Esta...Seeing is far easier than describing."
She nods and goes to respond, when a string of curses erupts from behind them. Esta turns, startled, and looks with worry at a raging Flora.
Flora breathes deeply a few times, then speaks to Math without looking at him. "I'm sorry, dear, I have to take a shortcut to the castle. Why don't you keep following that thread while I go kill your uncle, okay?" With that, she steps, and is gone.
Esta looks at Math. "I hope she wasn't serious!"
Math fails to comment on this. "Let's get moving." He smiles, "I would like to find the source of the fireworks we just witnessed." So, he tugs on the 'thread' and moves them onward.
The thread leads them forward, to the castle, it would seem. Esta is silent, drinking in the scenery, the people. "Any idea on where this thing is going to lead?" She takes out her quarterstaff and begins twirling it around idly. "And you never said what opponent I would have."
Mathonwyr nods, "I do so, I said it would be yourself...I was being metaphorical." He smiles, "As for testing your skills, I did not actually mean you would have to battle anyone...you will be made welcome, Esta, I will see to that." He continued the 'pulling on the thread', "As to where the thread will lead...I have no idea."
She frowns a bit. "I wasn't talking about killing anyone. It's just been a long time since I've had a good fight. You know, I haven't lost in 6 centuries." She does something terribly complex with her staff, then puts it back. "Gets a bit boring after a while." The thread goes along, defiantly to the castle. They reach the steps.
Mathonwyr laughs, "There will be time for that."
He follows the thread after dismounting, gesturing for her to follow. "This is an amazing bit of work, but I am left to wonder what made the enchanter think it would be useful to attach this to me in particular." Math smiles at Esta, "Not that the encounter was not most pleasant, but...it just gets curiouser, and curiouser."
Esta shrugs. "Hopefully this isn't some wild goose chase."
As he follows the string, the whisper returns, a chill at the back of his neck. He can almost hear the words now-- "Fie---" in a gurgling rasp.
"Me too." Math's eyes narrow as he hears the first word, still uncertain who it is. He keeps following it, wondering if Oberon might be the source.
Esta leaves her horse tethered at the bottom as they continue up. She continually looks back at the view behind her, or up at the castle in front. She dances up and down the stairs in some odd exercise as Mathonwyr concentrates on the thread.
At the top, some guards nod at him. He is known in the castle, at least. The looks appreciatively at Esta, and she awards them with a small smile of her own.
Inside, the whispering increases, almost making Mathonwyr's head hurt. He wonders how long he'll have to keep his pattern up.
Esta doesn't react to the splendour like Math expected her to. She nods at it, but doesn't look overly impressed or interested. Instead she seems to concentrate more on Math and his direction.
"Try and keep anyone from interrupting me, tell them Prince Mathonwyr is undergoing a trial for his Master. That should stall them." Math squints with the effort, and keeps following it. "Someone really wanted you here, Esta."
He moves on.
She looks concerned. "Wonder why they didn't come themselves then?" She puts her hand on her quarterstaff and looks menacing, an act, Math is sure. He notes, though, that it does keep people at bay. None of the house staff bother him.
Math shrugs to indicate his ignorance on that point.
He moves off to a rarely used corridor, dark and quiet, less fancy than the rest of the building. The whisper becomes a throb, and now he feels as if he is no longer pulling, but is being pulled.
The thread goes through a door near the hallways end.
Math pauses to get his bearings.
Whose room is it?
And then enters it without much hesitation.
He tries to remember, but he can't even remember being down that hallway before.
He reaches forward and grasps the doorknob. It is cold. A twist, and the door opens.
It takes him several seconds to recognize him. Mother was right. They years had not been kind, but he wasn't dead at least.
His mind spins as he remembers the day of the battle at the rim... the old man whispering in his ear. A surge of power he had forgotten until now... or maybe was just not supposed to remember.
The dozing Oberon looks up and smiles wanly. "Esta. Its been a long time."
Math, while not entirely surprised, gasped a bit anyway, as he recalled the Geas placed upon him so long ago. "I was meant to find you, Esta, because he willed it so..."
He moved towards the bed, smiling, and gesturing for Esta to follow, "This is the King of Amber, Oberon, the man that built and founded a dynasty of Lords of Order...the man that saved Amber from certain destruction.
" Math pauses, "...and your...Father."
Esta looks stunned. "I- I don't know him..." She shakes her head. "What does this all mean? I'm a king's daughter? That makes me a-" She gasps. "I think... I had better sit down." She manages to get to a simple wooden chair and promptly puts her head on her knees.
"I don't know what I expected--"
The old man in the bed watches in vague amusement.
Math hides a smile, "His Majesty, Oberon, or more accurately the King 'Emeritus', as in retired, is indeed your Father it seems. Your age would bear that out." He pauses, "But I will let His Majesty explain, if he is so inclined."
Esta brings her head up, but Oberon simply looks at her sadly. He opens his mouth to talk, but can't seem to find the words. He shakes his head, and looks at Math. "Thank you..." His eyes grow heavy, and he falls asleep again.
Mathonwyr goes cold in the pit of his stomach. He hadn't realized how much damage fixing the pattern had done. The man looks no more regal or epic than the boy who shovels manure in the horse sheds. Something in his eyes is wrong-- no burning intelligence or far sight.
Math realizes his pattern is still up, and sees what is wrong. There's no pattern in the old man at all...
Math drops the Pattern and considers Oberon for a long moment, a number of possibilities careening about the corridors of his mind. he rises, tucks the aged King in, and tugs at Esta's shoulder for her to follow.
In the Hall, Math shuffles out his Trump of his Mother's sitting room. He gently takes Esta's hand, "You do not look like you want to walk around over much, this will take us to a comfortable place...we can get some food and drink...and talk."
With that, he stares at the card, reaches for contact, and brings Esta with him.
Esta doesn't show much of anything as they step through the trump. She sits dully and looks out a window.
"What's wrong with him?" She sighs. "I'm sorry... I just-- a little room in a dark hallway. I expected something more-- something more exotic for damn close to a millennia of questioning and searching. And a dying old man? I knew my father. My mother too-- she wouldn't have cuckolded him. They were a strong couple." She sighs. "That-- that was just too real. Before I could say it was a dream, but now..." She sniffs, and he can see tears in her eyes.
Mathonwyr eases Esta into a comfortable chair, nodding sympathetically. He then moves to the door, opens it and rings for a servant, he orders a meal to be sent to the room... sandwiches of all sorts, fruit, hors d’ouvres, and coffee and tea, and water. Math glances back at his distraught guest, and then asks that a bottle of wine be pulled from the cellar and brought hither after it has breathed, and a bottle of 10-year old Scotch. After all, a good host
tries to anticipate his guest's needs.
Then he moves over and sits beside Esta, after a moments debate he takes her hand, and pats it gently.
"Oberon was indeed a man and a King out of Legend." Math pauses, "Some time ago, one of his Sons, a powerful-well-I am not sure I can really categorize him neatly, but a man named Brand, driven mad by his experimentations, attempted to destroy and erase the Pattern.... thereby opening the way for him to recreate the Universe in his own image. Thankfully, he was stopped by an alliance of his squabbling sibling, but the cost was high. While a war was
raged, Oberon attempted to repair the damage to the Pattern, the most primal design of Power in our corner of reality. It was thought that it killed him, instead, it left him bereft of his strength and reduced to what you see now."
Math shuffles out Oberon's Trump, and hands it to Esta, "This was as he appeared in the height of his power..."
She sniffs and takes to card, regarding it a long time. "He was a king, there's no doubt about that." She touches it sadly. "I wish I could have known him then..."
"My Mother says that nothing has been the same since his fall, that our Golden Age passed when our enduring King went into retirement." Math offers her a handkerchief from his breast pocket. "He lives on, I hope one day to recover..."
Putting the card down, she glances at Mathonwyr again. "Does he have other children? Maybe I should talk to them." She puts a hand to her temple. "And I don't understand about this... pattern. What is it? Magic? Why was it so important as to resort to suicide..."
Mathonwyr breathes deeply, "You have asked an enormous question." he regards her for a long moment, still holding her hand gently, and the says, "I will do my best to answer it."
When the food and drink arrive, he'll serve them both, deferring to her preference, whether win or scotch, and joining her in whatever she decides to partake of. Then he'll pull his Mother's coffee table closer, clear it off, and break out his Trump Deck.
He'll lay out each of the member so the Standard Deck, and starting with the oldest, describe them, their Mother and line, and how they are related to her...for example.
"These two are Osric and Finndo, the eldest of us all. Believed dead over an offence lost in the dust of the ages. Their Mother was Cymnea...the Cymneans are survived by the Eldest living Prince, Benedict, Amber's greatest General and Her greatest warrior."
And so forth, until he gets to himself on the Family Tree. Then he'll go on to explain the Pattern...how it allows them to walk Shadow, how it provides inarguable proof of their Bloodline...and how it anchors this half of reality.
He'll skim over the Black Road War, Eric and Corwin's rivalry, and get to Oberon saving the Universe, and Why he was the only that could do it.
And then here we are...He'll fall silent for her to absorb it all.
She surprises him by taking the scotch and downing it like he's seen Gerard do. She listens to his tale silently, nodding every now and then. Finally, after a few moments of peace and another fifth, she speaks.
"This is a huge mess I've walked into."
Math nods in agreement, "You are handling all this surprisingly well. Tell me, were your dreams filled with this sort of imagery? These people even?"
She smiles quietly. "Although I would like to meet this Benedict you say is so good..." She studies his picture. "Kind of scrawny to be a great general, isn't he?"
Math smiles, "He once held a pass against the invasion of the Moonriders of Ghenesh... single-handedly." He begins to collect his cards, leaving one that he had made himself out of the deck he put away. "When he fought Corwin, with only one arm due to an injury, he was more than a match for him...only Prince Corwin's trick of the terrain saved him." He leans back in his chair, "None are his match...whether in Amber or the Courts of Chaos, other swordsman stand in his long, albeit scrawny, shadow."
Math eyes her, "Surely you have more questions..." Then he drinks his own scotch, and leans forward to hand her his Trump of himself. "It is a Trump. Keep it, all you need do is focus on the image and soon you'll have contact. If the card grows colder, you know you have it right." He smiles, "Use it when you like; if you need an escape or a sympathetic ear."
He regards her a long moment, his smoky grey eyes on hers or watching her face, "Corwin has called a Gathering, I would be happy to sponsor your attendance...if you think you are up to doing so.. I know this is a terrible shock."
She nods. "I'm coping. In a way-- there had to be something else, did there? I'm older than anyone. I've seen nations rise and fall. Ages come and go. I've watched my lovers and friends grow old and die. There was nothing else like me, but I didn't feel all that special. Just like any other vagabond." She looks around. "It's beautiful, but that's all it is. Had I found it on my travels, I wouldn't have thought it important, just a prosperous town and fancy castle." She
pours another drink. "I didn't expect it to be so... mundane."
"That was not the song you were singing when you first laid eyes on it." Mathonwyr smiles, "But I suppose it does seem normal on the surface, or to one that would prefer it to be so. No fairies prancing down the Halls, the Unicorn not in for tea, no dancing lights or otherworldly beings...We're people, immortal and sometimes outrageous, but prone to the stuff you see everywhere else...what makes it different is we are Real, all else is Shadow."
"So, what would you like to do? Stay awhile and meet the others, or return home to your wandering?"
She smiles. "I didn't mean to insult your home. It is beautiful, but for it being the base of the universe, it's still only a better version of what I had at home." She picks up a sandwich. "I suppose there's no harm in meeting my brothers and sisters. Perhaps there's a place for me here, perhaps not. I know about it now, and that's all that you need sometimes." She takes a bite. "Where do we start?"
Mathonwyr smiles, and laughs a bit at the personal irony of his response. "Clothes." he regards her carefully, appreciatively even, but not at all lewdly. "Or armour if you prefer it...but if this is going to be your 'Coming Out' party, I want you to make an excellent impression...as your sponsor, it will reflect on me if I allow you to only quietly appear."
He stands, and gently gets her to her feet. Math smiles, and circles her, "Nothing of Mother's will do." He shakes his head, "You certainly have an excellent figure, but you're built differently." His tone manages to mix clinical with the complimentary. "Something form-fitting...in Oberon's colours of green and gold.. though for your colouring, I'd say predominately gold with green for accents..." Math pauses in front of her smiling into her eyes, "You are beautiful, you will not need much in the way of makeup, just a touch here and there to enhance your natural gifts."
"How about something on top in gold...with a green sheath dress, or better...green leggings, tight...with a gold split-dress..."
Esta looks a bit taken aback. "Coming out party? Who said anything about a party." She laughs, a bit self-depreciatingly. "I'm no courtier. I spend my days in camps and barracks, or under the stars. I can't even dance. And I can't remember the last time I wore a dress..." She smiles and looks at herself. "But thank you for the compliments."
She looks up. "I don't know this place-- perhaps I should do as the Romans do. Are balls always thrown when you find a new sibling?"
Math grins, "Not really...but this Gathering will likely turn into an event...so we may as well do it up right." He continues mentally tailoring her outfit. "I think you can even wear your sword, though the staff will have to be left behind here..."
"Would you like to accompany me on a short shopping trip? I mean to acquire what is needed in Shadow...and we may as well do it now, as the Gathering is likely this evening."
She nods and says something, but its lost in the chill feeling of a trump contact... Flora.
Math smiles, "Mother calls...bide a moment."
Mathonwyr answers the call, "Yes, Mother? I take it you and Gerard settled things amicably?"
Flora rolls her eyes. He can see she's somewhere else in the castle. "Well, you still have an uncle Gerard. And a new cousin too-- big muscular boy named Tommy." She smiles. "I see you still have your clothes on. Good. Wouldn't want you to jump back in to a social life
too quickly. So, where did our little mystery lead?" She puts a hand forward to be pulled through.
Mathonwyr laughs a bit as he pulls her to her own Sitting Room, "Straight to Oberon, straight to Oberon...as I suspected."
He smiles rather smugly, "I am bringing Esta up to speed...we were about to go 'shopping', I've imagined the prefect attire for her appearance at the Gathering, and we were going to fetch it hither."
"Unless you have other ideas?"
Flora steps through, her face in an attractive state of shock. "Oberon... you'd think the royal crew were enough for him." She looks at Esta in a new light. "He complained about us enough. I wonder why he wanted her to be found... Did you know him dear?" Esta
shakes her head.
Flora walks about the room, deep in thought. "Mathon, you may be going about this wrong. Have you introduced her to anyone?"
Mathonwyr shakes his head, "No, I have not. I figure she can make a splash at the Family get together, and we can be around to keep the sharks from circling too closely." He pauses, "Were she of my generation, I would introduce her around...since she is not, being Oberon's Daughter carries with it a certain onus, particularly in the eyes of those jealous of their current power...I though slapping the news on everyone at once was not only politically prudent, but
He grins, "Do I ere?"
She smiles, and the true Amberite in her surfaces. "You don't ere, my son. I just have a better idea. We should know more about her before we start showing her off. She could be a valuable asset, and I think the crown is a bit paranoid right now. Have you forgotten how to keep secrets?"
Esta looks confused and a bit worried. "Um, I'm still in the room..."
Mathonwyr gives her wink to indicate all is well, and he knows she's there. "Esta has told me her story, us her story, if I recall...no details of course, but we know she's a warrior and that she's lived nearly 1000 years in a Shadow ignorant of her true heritage."
"What did you have in mind?"
Flora takes a seat at the table, and moves near to Esta, leaning towards her in a friendly manner.
"My dear, do you like games?" Esta shrugs. "Well, you've just joined the biggest game in the universe, and my dear, new sister, it has gotten stale. Our king is a paranoid figurehead, his advisor a power-sick redhead and her lapdog. Even the rumours about them have gotten old. Everyone has run off to shadow, and there's nothing to do but watch over drunks and remember the old days."
She pats Esta's hand. "If we pull it off right, you can be our key to a good time."
Esta looks far from convinced.
Mathonwyr sighs and takes a seat, "I think you had better explain it a bit more, Mother...I've filled Esta in on the players, so she'll know whom you mean."
"And by the way, "I may have a theory on healing Oberon...it will require some research."
Flora eyes him sceptically. "Research? Are you sure this isn't an excuse to run back to Dworkin?"
Math smiles innocently, and pats his Mother's leg, and replies to her using a tone she uses often. "I don't have to run, Dear, I have Trumps."
She turns back to Esta. "The game is politics, intrigue, and secrets. We keep them all, but recently, Corwin and his gargoyles have ruined all the fun by ferreting them out and quite blandly telling us they know them. Now, we have a secret again, and it's one that is due to
upset the whole family balance."
Esta shakes her head. "I'm no good at politics."
Flora smiles. "You will be."
Mathonwyr sighs and frowns a bit, "What I have not yet told you, Esta, but did indeed mean to tell you on our short trip, is this; You are now a commodity. An unknown and possible ally in a carefully balanced high wire act...whether you know the players or not, you will be called upon time and again to take a position on something."
He nods to Flora, "My Mother knows the lay of the land better than I, and I do trust her judgement on most matters...as Amber is truly her first concern...but I have been removed, and quite honestly, have a higher calling that allows me to defer such alliances."
Flora nods back to Mathonwyr. "You always did know when to defer to a Master, dear." She studies Esta. "We will dress you up, but we won't let people know who you really are... not yet, anyway. We have to give you a chance to study them... Our kind tend to treat each other
differently than we do shadow people. A good example is dear Bill, one of Corwin's confidants. Such a heart, I don't know why he stays with that ass. But even though we know he's faithful to Corwin, we're friendly with him. We're not scared, you see. He's the interesting
sort, wonderful to catch an evening meal with."
She touches a strand of Esta's hair. "And what better way to get to know the family than by being an interesting, albeit innocent shadow girl that Math dragged in?"
Esta sighs. "I don't know. Subterfuge? Why can't I just say my hellos and be gone from here? I'm not the politico you're looking for to stir things up."
Mathonwyr regards Esta thoughtfully, and not without a little compassion, "Well, you have trusted me this far, Esta...and I know it is asking a lot...trust me a bit further." He pauses, "I had no considered it, but publicizing your lineage might place you in significant danger... perhaps Oberon knew this, and that is why he placed you in our hands."
"You will have the advantage of anonymity, and you will be able to judge your new family on their own merits, or the lack thereof, as the case may be."
She twists a napkin in her hands and thinks a long time. Flora pretends not to notice the young woman's turmoil, instead indulging in a cup of tea.
After a while, Esta puts the tortured napkin down. "I'll do it. But only under the condition that if I don't like what I see, you'll let me go back to shadows anonymous."
Flora nods. "Wise decision."
Mathonwyr nods, "I agree. We do not wish you torn from that which you know as home." He pauses, "And you will always have the means to contact me should you wish to return."
"Are we agreed then?" Mathonwyr pauses to describe the outfit to Flora, "If so, we can gather what is needed, and be back in time for the Gathering...actually..." He pauses, "I believe I could even paint it, and Trump it hither."
He thinks back on his training-- a full trump would take too long, but a trump sketch... that would work. It's not as if he'd need the dress again...
Unless he planned to trump it off of her...
Mathonwyr laughs, and then shuts up. He smiles at an unrevealed joke, and waves off any questioning looks.
Flora nods approvingly at the description. "Gold is a good colour-- although we will need to send her to the baths. She has a bit too much the air of a country bumpkin."
Esta grins. "Madam, I _am_ a country bumpkin. I've never pretended to be anything else." Flora sighs.
Math smiles, "I'll take care of the dress, Mother, you take care of the baths." With that, he breaks out his Artist's kit, moves to his Mother's writing desk, and gets to work on the sketch-careful to add detail and colour.
"Well, at least she'll be different." She glances at the empty bottle of scotch. "You and Gerard should get along swimmingly."
He sighs, "I had some too...now go bathe."
She raises an eyebrow. "Ordering around your mother? My, my, we are cocky." She takes Esta by the elbow and leads her out the room. "Now, you aren't shy about yourself, are you dear?"
"Oh no," she responds, "Most militaries or training camps have a creek or river in the ways of getting clean, so..." Their voices trail off.
The trump is easy enough. He spends maybe an hour getting the colours and the details right, fixing it for size, imagining the fabric. After a while, though, it is done, and he finds himself still alone.
Women. Always taking forever.
Math focuses and pulls the dress, still on the tailor's dummy, through to his side of the contact. He sets it where the ladies will definitely see it, and has it cleverly framed by the window's view.
He then takes a seat, after collecting his materials, and serves himself a bit of wine and some appetizers. Then he settles in to wait...after a moment, he decides he must ask someone a question.
Math shuffles out his Trump of Dworkin and presses for contact.
The dress comes to him, and he is not disappointed with the results. He arranges it to show off both its simplicity and detail.
Appetite sated, he concentrates on the trump...
He gets contact, and the image of the hunchback becomes more real. He sees Dworkin bent over something looking up. "Ah. It's you. She's driven you mad yet? I see she's already made you unfit for the lab. I'll drag out your old stuff. I'm sure she'd have a fit if you got that dirty." He holds out a hand.
Math smiles, "I'm afraid she'd skin us both if I returned, Master." He pauses, "Things have grown quite interesting here, and I do think one of us should be in attendance." He pauses, "I called to ask a question; Can someone physically infirm acquire a Pattern Initiation indirectly somehow?"
Dworkin's eyes cloud, and he looks back down at an unfinished trump. "You speak of my son, don't you?"
"I do, Master." Mathonwyr never lied to Dworkin, and doing so via Trump never occurred to him. "I have looked at him...and it seems that having the Imprint torn from his form, left him as he is...I would help him if I could. I will if there is a way."
Dworkin looks up, and the sadness in his eyes replaces his normal unnatural vitality. "Let sleeping kings lie, Mathonwyr. We did all we could." He looks back down. "Why suddenly concerned with him?"
Math shrugs, "Because I saw a glimmer of something in him. Because I saw hope." He pauses, and looks Dworkin in the eye, "And because Amber needs him...or a man as great. The fruit withers on the vine, Master, as the covetous continue to manoeuvre about the
empowered...and the empowered grow ever more jealous of their station and status. I know not what lies ahead, but I am not certain the King of today, is the King for Amber's future."
Dworkin looks unimpressed. "Mutiny? Ah, well, I suppose the young had to get up in arms sometime..."
He puts down his work and looks at Mathonwyr seriously. "You never spoke of Amber when you were here-- What has your mother done to you?"
"My interest is purely academic, I assure you, Master." Math pauses, "With a dose of careful
self-preservation." He smiles, "I serve you, the Pattern, and ultimately the Balance of
Power...Amber's manoeuvring is beneath me...yet I feel something less than noble about this 'New Generation' recall."
"Do you recall that cable channel you were fascinated with on Shadow Earth? The Discovery
Dworkin nods a bit. "Animals doing all sorts of things." He smiles wickedly.
Math smiles, "Recall how they radio-collared a certain species of bear so that they could keep track of their movements...and whether they were a threat to the local park are not? My Generation are the bears...Corwin and Fiona may represent the park."
He sighs. "It's a crown's prerogative to keep track of threats. Oberon didn't keep track of
Brand, and he paid the price."
"The situation there was a tad different, I believe, but I see your point. I just do not think that
is it." Math replies, "Why pull in those whom ignorance shields? Why not leave theme be in
whatever Shadow they are ensconced?"
"Pfft. Who says they're ignorant. Just because you're raised in Amber, you think you
know everything? There's not much that can't be trained in Shadows the same as in the castle. And from what I hear, my granddaughter Llewella delights at letting vagabonds walk her people's pattern."
"Llewella?" Math asks, "Which Rebma's? or Tir na-Nog'th?" He pauses, "And to know enough to know they can or must walk the Pattern indicates they are under someone's guidance." He shrugs,
"Perhaps it is the sudden interest that pricks my suspicions. We were not all 'suddenly' discovered."
Dworkin laughs humourlessly. "No, I suspect that they've been collecting information on your lot for years. Secrets are all they have, and all they care about some days. As for your aunt's people, she's a Rebman. The green hair gives it away, boy."Mathonwyr sighs at his sense of humor,
"You were speaking of Llewella, of course. I will monitor the situation and keep you apprised of any world-shattering events..." He pauses, and then, "Whenever it seems prudent...I do not think Fiona would risk eavesdropping on your calls, Master."
He laughs. "I would know if anyone was being that rude."
"I figured." Math pauses meaningfully, shuffles through his cards, and checks for possible
eavesdroppers. "Would you mind insuring that? I have some news I should impart..."
"Oh really? I thought the coup was it."
The cards don't seem to betray any nefarious activity.
"Oberon had me find another daughter of his...Esta Vordun by name."
The old man looks at him a long time. Finally he whispers, "She lives?"
"Yes." Math's eyes narrow, "Why is your tone so dark?"
He frowns. "My tone was nowhere near dark. I was surprised..." He looks thoughtful. "I
thought he would have terminated her after he gave up on that project."
"Project? What project?" Math asks, "And your tone, while surprised, was indeed not 'happy', if not 'dark'."
He smiles, not answering. "How did you find her?"
"Oberon laid a Geas on me." Math frowns, "What Project?"
He nods, once again ignoring his student. "Of course. He always was fond of those. Fancied
himself the grand manipulator. Course, I told him that if he really was all that great he'dve been able to stay in retirement. Any idea when he laid this one you?"
"After he repaired the Pattern." Math pauses, "You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"After the pattern? Well, that is interesting. Could have been a slip in his mind. Or maybe he hadn't left it after all. Who knows. He was obstinate. That's what happens with only children
Math frowns, "Will you tell me the whole story, or keep it behind your amused and innocent
"What in the world are you talking about, Mathon? The whole story of what? The pattern. I've
been through that too many times. If you go to the library, I wrote it all down for those of you with poor memory."
Math sighs, "The 'Project' involving Esta." He pauses, "The senility act stopped working a few
years ago, took me awhile...didn't want to offend the Master and all..."
"What do you think of her?" Dworkin smiles.
Mathonwyr smiles, raises an eyebrow and says, "Think of who? My Mother? Oh, she's nice
enough, I suppose, perhaps to concerned with how I dress, but otherwise I find her utterly endearing."
He laughs. "I always thought so too. Lovely to teach though. Has a very quick mind, you
"Yes, I do." Math sighs, "Well, Master, since you are being reticent on that subject, I'll leave
it be for now...I should break contact lest Mother think you further 'corrupt' me even at this distance."
He winks. "I could say the same of her, Mathon." And the link goes dead.
Math reshuffles his deck, and since he is still waiting decides to do a Trump scrying...
Mathonwyr shuffles his deck, thinking on the recent recall of his generation... his generation. How many were there? A few days ago he had only known about 3, but seeing how many Amberites there are and their licentious nature, he was surprised more hadn't turned up.
He lays out the cards and concentrates-- He sees the queen of Pentacles at the centre, inversed. A magician? Someone distrustful? He sighs. That could be any elder.
He also notes a few elders in the spread: Benedict, Flora, Eric, Random... even Corwin and Oberon. Odd. Even more peculiar, none seem to be in very important positions in the spread.
Many of the cards are inverted, but none to the point of expressing danger. Paranoia?
He gets the sense that the reading is incomplete-- that there is something missing. Perhaps cards?
Mathonwyr is able to draw a few logical conclusions from the reading, despite its lack of clarity, and such scrys are never crystal clear, which satisfy his curiosity for now. He reconstitutes his deck, and after secreting it in his pocket, considers the implications of his reasoning.
His Generation is large than he had anticipated. Indeed, likely larger than any anyone might have guessed.
Mathonwyr thinks to himself, "Benedict, Flora, Eric, Random, Corwin and Oberon." He pauses, "Flora has one child, myself, I would say Eric might have had time for a Child, possibly two...same for Benedict and Corwin. The fertility odds are with those that have lived the longest...Oberon, of course...Random I would give one."
He adds up the numbers, "Possible as many as 9 more Amberites...Interesting."
Then he decides he has waited long enough. he lays out his new clothes, and settles onto his Mother's bed for a nap.
He awakens to Esta peering over him curiously, touching his nose. "Your mother told me to wake you up."
Now bathed, she looks much more presentable. He notes the controlling hand of his mother has curled her hair and added the slightest touch of make-up to her face. She wears the dress he pulled out of shadow, and before thinking, smiles. He definitely approves.
"So, where to now?"
Mathonwyr grins at Esta as he rises, "You look fantastic!" He bows in a courtly manner, "If M' Lady would allow me a few moments, I shall change into more suitable attire...and be honoured to escort thee to this evening's soirée."
He smiles, and moves back into the Sitting Room where he had laid his evening wear out. After retrieving the suit, he will move into a side room and change...Trumping various needs from his cache back 'home'.
Once dressed, and primped, he returns to find Esta and Flora.
"When does the show begin, Mother?"
He finds Esta and his mother in the hallway, quietly discussing something. His mother shrugs. "I certainly don't know. I normally would have been in charge, but Corwin hasn't said a thing to me about it. I was planning on asking him about it now."
Esta takes out a thin elegant foil and starts testing the balance of it, fencing an invisible opponent. "So, when do I get the grand tour?"
"Now, if you like...I thought the whole thing better organized." Math shrugs, and then offers her his arm with a smile. "I can show you the gardens...always best to begin with the grounds for such things." he looks to Flora, "Mother can always Trump us if something is actually scheduled...and being seen on my arm will only enhance the 'disguise' we have laid out for you."
She puts up her sword. "And where to first?"
Flora thinks as she opens her purse and takes out a day planner. "Well, I had hoped to introduce you (meaning you, Mathonwyr) to Corwin around dinnertime. Knowing him, he'll be in a hurry to eat, and the meeting will be short and sweet."
Esta fusses at her skirts again. "And what should I introduce myself as?"
Math considers for a moment, "Why not introduce me now?" he asks, "then I'll show up with Esta at dinner, and no one will blink about my bringing a dinner companion."
"And in the meantime, I'll show our guest around." He grins and winks at Esta, "I'd say you would be safe in saying you are Estella Vordun, a Lady of Begma."
She taps her finger on her lip. "I suppose you could meet him now. I was hoping to wrap up the whole thing in one unpleasant experience though. Your uncle isn't all that fond of me, and I return the sentiment. But what do we do with Estella?"
Math considers, "Very well, call on me when dinner is to be served...I shall show Estella the grounds and the gardens." He grins, "That will allow us to unify all our various agendas." Math offers Esta his arm again, "Shall we be off then, M' Lady?"
She takes it and smiles. "Certainly." She looks about the hallway. "So, what is this Begma place I'm supposed to be from?"
Math smiles and describes the place as they walk, "Begma is a Golden Circle Shadow...the Golden Circle is a network of nearby Shadows or Nations that Amber trades with or deals with regularly. Essentially Amber provides a clearinghouse for goods, and in return offers Begma
support against hostile invasion...a commercial alliance, if you will." He pauses to hold a door open for her, "Begma is the largest, oldest, and richest of the trading partners, and as such enjoys nearly as deep a history as Amber herself."
Math escorts Esta/Estella out into the Gardens, filling her in as they walks.
She listens distractedly, paying more attention to her surroundings, cataloguing, in a way. After Math finishes his brief history of the Golden Circle, she clears her throat and speaks.
"So... how old is my father?"
Math falls silent, not that he is surprised by the question, more that he is attempting to consider the enormity of the answer. "Oberon's age is as immeasurable as my Master's, his Father." He pauses, "Oberon is the son of Dworkin, a rebel out of the Courts of Chaos, a place so ancient and dusty with time that as aged as Amber Herself is, She is but an infant by comparison. Oberon and Dworkin fled Chaos, and it was Dworkin that created The Pattern of Amber...indeed, Amber itself. I am not certain I can measure the age of either Dworkin or Oberon in terms that would mean anything to either of us...several millennia does not quite break the surface of all that they are."
She curses. "Damn. I was hoping to get some kind of idea of a lifespan. He looks pretty near the tail of his" Her voice catches a bit, but she continues. "So I thought he might be a fair indicator. Of course, the who pattern fixing mess most likely had more to do with his state than anything." She crosses her arms across her chest and shivers. "Has anyone here died of old age? What's your master like? Young looking like the rest of you?"
Math smiles, "You cannot judge using the Master as your yardstick. He can look like whatever he pleases. Currently he's chosen the guise of a crotchety, if sage-like, older man." Mathonwyr shakes his head, "I AM young, though with travel who knows...Mother is several hundred years old, if not older...she'll never tell."
"Amberites simply are. Those that have died, met their ends in violence...despite immunity to the vagaries of time...a sharp sword still does the trick." Math pauses, "If the damage is enough, even we can die."
She sighs. "So we're immortal? That's quite a load to carry... I was hoping I was simply long-lived." She sits on a bench and looks about her. "Is there any reason why we're given this gift?"
"To see that Amber survives?" Math shrugs, "Better to ask 'Why do we exist?', it amounts to the same existential maddening gobbledygook...its a matter of personal philosophy, Estella, we must make of our lives what we wish...and our lives are what we make of it. Be they infinite or miniscule."
She smiles a wry smile. "The centre of reality, and philosophers still cop out." She stands, then narrows her eyes. "Who's that?" she asks, looking off into the distance at a lone figure amongst the trees of the Amber orchard.
Math laughs, "Until you have an answer to those timeless questions, I'd say we all cop out." He turns at her look, to identify the figure in the orchard, narrowing his eyes to better their distance vision.
Who is it?
Esta smiles and heads off towards the lone figure, who Math can see is shuffling through a trump deck. As Math follows a bit, he realizes who it is.
Math catches up to her, and takes her arm again to play escort. "This is Benedict, Estella...be certain to stay in character. He's sharp, and likely to notice your more martial edge...calluses on your hands, etcetera." He pauses, "He'll not press now, but he may later...or he may find me and press me. Be prepared."
"But I want--" she begins to protest, then sighs resignedly. "Fine," she concedes, pulling on a ladylike pair of gloves from her belt. She walks forward, whistling quietly.
Benedict notices them out of the corner of his eye, but waits a moment before reacting. He straightens and nods to Math. "Mathonwyr, was it?"
"Yes, Uncle, Mathonwyr." Math nods in return, "This is the lady Estella of Begma, we met shortly before I was called home, and so I brought her along."
"How fare you these days, Uncle?"
He executes a small bow to Esta, who smiles in turn. "Passing. I fare passing. This has not been a pleasant visit back." He touches a trump card almost without thinking. "And yourself?"
Math shrugs, "Well enough, Uncle, well enough." He gestures at the card Benedict is holding, taking a glance to identify the card. "Perhaps I can be of some assistance with that?"
He notes Esta's blade. "You fence?"
She smiles the smile of a simple country girl. "A bit. But I'm terrible. I could use a lesson, and a new weapon. The balance is pitiful on this." She unsheathes it and hands it to him.
Math turned to hide his scowl from Benedict, trying to signal Esta by his expression that now was not the time for a lesson.
He tests it out, Esta watching carefully, then hands it back. "I agree. This is from our armoury. It's a ceremony blade."
Math sighs, "I believe my Mother thought it went better with the ensemble..."
Benedict hands the card to Mathonwyr. "I don't believe you can. It's my daughter. She's not accepting trump." He shakes his head. "We had a disagreement."
Esta replaces her blade. "That's too bad. Can I see yours?" She points to his sword. He shrugs and gives it to her.
She swings it about a few times, a bit awkwardly, Math notes. "Nice," she comments. "Flora wouldn't let me keep mine. Didn't match." She hands the sword back to Benedict.
Seeing that his escort is beyond his help or instruction, Math accepts the card from Benedict. His fingers gaze upon the image, and gently brush the surface...trying to ascertain the current state of mind of the person in the card.
The feeling he gets is confusing-- fuzzy and electric, like she's in a place that's not conducive to trump. A person not skilled in the art would most likely assume it was a simple refusal.
Esta plucks a peach off the tree. "How lucky. An early bloomer. You like fruit?" Without a look she tosses her peach in Benedict's direction. He catches it effortlessly.
"Not really." He tosses it back, and she fumbles, smiling.
Math shakes his head, again, making certain only Esta can see him. He wags his finger in the negative at the patently obvious testing of Benedict's reflexes.
Math thinks, ~My Eldest Uncle was no fool, and likely suspected something already.~ he eyes Esta, ~Can she be this foolish? Was my description of Benedict lacking in some way that she would choose to test him so, and blow her cover while at it?~
The Son of Flora breathes a sigh, and taps Benedict's shoulder. "Your daughter does not refuse your call, she simply is not in a place conducive to Trump contact...I suggest trying again later."
He takes back the card and nods. "Thank you." He bows slightly to Esta. "Lady Estella. A pleasure. But I must be on my way." He walks off, a solitary air about him.
Esta watches him leave, smiling an unsuccessfully suppressed smile. "He is good..." she mummers.
Math shakes his head, "I'm glad you think so. He likely has pierced the facade we so carefully built, at least minimally." He sighs in exasperation and offers his arm again. "And he's not 'good'. He is simply the best you will ever see or hear off."
He smiles slightly, "Tossing fruit..."
She looks at him innocently. "Oh, do you think he's guessed? Guess that means he'll have to track me down and test me out, won't he?" She takes his arm. "And then I get to see how good 'the best' really is, won't I? Pity. Just a pity."
Math shakes his head, "Luckily, Benedict is a tad reticent, so he is unlikely to speak of you unless he feels you directly pertain to a particular matter at hand."
Mathonwyr stops at a scenic spot in the gardens, casts about with his mind to make certain they are alone, and then asks her to sit with him. "Look, Estella-" No sense in not being careful. "-We are not just being sneaky and politically adept with your true identity, we are being cautious." He pauses, "You could be seen by a handful as a rival for power...and it is always better to eliminate such rivals while they are ignorant of their true nature."
"And in Amber, it's not just swords you have to fear." Math breathes, "Recall when you aimed your crossbow at me, and your horse got bitten and not only threw off your aim, but spilled the bolt from the weapon...that was my doing. Recall when I said we were unarmed, and then I showed you the weapons cache...the weapons had not been there seconds before."
"And that was something more powerful and subtle than Sorcery." Mathonwyr states, "So, please, if you think there is the slightest chance that you might want to return to a simpler life... do as I and my Mother have asked you, play the noblewoman from Begma...it will be for your own good."
She sighs and takes a bite out of her peach. "I've lived too long to be swept under a rug. I can play the part... if I must. I'm not interested in these games you all play." Another bite. "May be just an answer to why."
Math sighs, "Your interest is not what you should be worried about. For I can guarantee, if your relationship to Oberon is revealed, you will be part of the Game, whether you think so or not..."
He offers her his arm, and continues the tour, eventually entering the Castle via the Main Hall.
She looks about, but seems a bit listless. "I hope this isn't all there is." She fusses at her skirt again, and Mathonwyr realizes she's uncomfortable, but had been too polite to show it. "You spend a few hundred years parlaying with philosophers and wise men about the nature of the universe, and find out it's just a nice vacation spot with sharks in fancy clothing."
Mathonwyr actually looks a bit insulted, and he makes a sort of sour face at her harsh words. After all, she's only met three 'sharks'...Flora, Benedict, and him. He remains silent though, instead hiding his expression by standing, and shuffling out a particular Trump.
"Where to next?"
"To the only thing that really matters." He offers her his hand. "I have something to show you, and if we're careful, no one will know."
Math focuses on the card, and transports them to The Grand Pattern of Amber.
She blinks a bit at the sudden transition, but recovers well.
Math looks over, expecting to see a look of awe, Esta finally cowed by something so great, so powerful, that she would be impressed with something Amber had to offer. He is greatly disappointed.
She looks intrigued and moves closer, stooping down to peer at it. She's quiet for a minute, then rises and folds her arms.
"Well, this is a bit more like what I was expecting. Abstract, impressive... I'll assume this is the pattern?"
Math shakes his head, finding her studied jadedness rather annoying. "Yes, in truth, it is the Key to all Reality." he pauses, "And you're Birthright...in the truest sense, this is the Root of All Things. Even you."
She nods. "It is beautiful..." She paces about it, waving a hand over it now and then, but mostly just watching it. "Don't you find it odd to be standing so close to the centre of everything? The answer to all the big questions?" She laughs. "I've spent so much of my life at the feet of wise men, looking for the answers, and now, here it is. Plopped in the middle of the floor." Her laughter grows harder. "I mean, it's absurd, isn't it? All those long winded tracts about the nature of reality and the universe I endured, and it turns out it's a blue line in the floor?" She sits and gives in to one long bout of laughter. "And here I am! I'm part of it! All those cranky old men so full of themselves, and here, they were hoisting off their overblown opinions on one of the members of the centre of the universe!" she wipes away a tear.
"I'm sorry, but don't you think it's funny?"
Math watches her carefully, taking her laughter for manic emotion, "Funnier still when you consider your Grandfather drew the Pattern from nothing, using the Eye of a creature older than time itself." He pauses, "That old man is now my Master..."
He eyes the Pattern, "It will be the hardest task you have ever faced, but once it is yours, you will have your answers."
She looks up from the floor. "What are you talking about? What do you think I'm going to do?"
Mathonwyr steps over to her, and guides her to the beginning of it, keeping himself between her and it. Enough to stop her if he had to.
"You want answers, the Pattern is the Key. When the time is right, you must Walk upon the Grand Design, none can deny you your birthright...some may try." Math pauses, "The risk is ultimate, but in exchange for nearly losing your life, you will gain knowledge and Power."
"There are only two axioms, ignoring either means death. They are this: Never Stop. Never Step off the Lines."
"The task seems deviously simple. I can assure you. It is not."
She looks at Mathonwyr, then the pattern. Math. Pattern. She takes a step back. "I'm not walking that thing. I don't know how old you are, but judging by your use of altruisms and such, I'd say you're not too old. And I'll tell you one thing. I didn't get to be as old as I am by screwing with every magic artefact I stumbled on without learning a bit more about it." She turns and spots the door. "Ahh. So, where are we exactly?"
"The depths beneath Castle Amber." Math states, "Altruisms are for optimists and the close-minded, I am neither of those things. What you mistake for altruism, are simple irrefutable facts."
He pauses, "You are right to be 'cautious'." Though as he says it, his tone means 'afraid'. "It is indeed a task of Sisyphean proportions. When I did it, it nearly killed me...I was perhaps, too young to assay its length."
"One day, you will have to shed your past like a skin. For it has given you few tools to deal with what you will learn, and it narrows your view." Math smiles, "To quote a fine piece of literature, 'You must unlearn what you have learned.' The Master loves that one."
"That door will be locked. I am not supposed to have a Trump for this room. We will return to the Main Hall."
She cocks an eyebrow. "Oh. Aren't we the smug one? The only powers this pattern seems to give you, from your telling, is the ability to walk your shadows. Is that a truth? No. I can give you a crossbow and you might still not know how to shoot it. I can teach you to hit a mark, but it doesn't make you a warrior. Walking a pattern won't tell me anything more than what you've told me today. And before I step on it and change my life forever, I'm going to learn a bit more about why a man upstairs knew my name." She holds out her hand. "Do you have one of those cards for your teacher?"
Mathonwyr regards her silently for a moment, and then begins to laugh, the sound echoing eerily in the Pattern Room.
"I'm Smug?" He shakes his head, the mirth subsiding. "You continue to make assumptions based on prior experience, even a millennia of prior experience, that for the most part, has no bearing on what you are currently trying to absorb and handle. And I'm Smug?" Mathonwyr speaks very clearly, and with great certainty. "I offer information and sound advice, as well as true history, and I am accused of spouting platitudes and 'altruisms', and now I am Smug?"
"I have done my best to attempt to pass on all the details, so that you can be equipped with the precise enormity of the situation you now face, and you insinuate that compared to you, I am naught but a 'babe in the woods', and *I* am Smug?"
Mathonwyr meets her eyes sternly, "Assumptions are dangerous in Amber, Esta, and right now, they and you are your worst enemies." He pauses, "This is not a situation you can neatly categorize, and place in the proper box for classification...neither are you siblings and relations, all of them defy typical labelling...to the last one, they are all dangerous, and utterly 'more' than my simple descriptions of them make them out to be."
He breathes deeply, and gestures at The Pattern, "And yes, the Pattern is Truth, in its highest form. That you are only aware of one of its Gifts, does not make that the only one it provides...and that is just one of your incorrect assumptions. How many more have you made, or will you make, Esta?" Mathonwyr's expression softens, "I like you Esta, as does my Mother...we are not keeping you hidden to be politically scheming, we are keeping you hidden to keep you safe."
Finally, Mathonwyr turns away, "If you are willing to listen, I have learned quite a bit about your origins...and suspect quite a bit more...and perhaps, I have a path to some of the 'answers' you seek." He begins to shuffle out his card for the Main Hall, "But if a millennia of life has taught you only to remain stagnant and static in your thoughts and actions, then may I die forever young, fluid, and adaptable."
She sighs. "Look at it from my perspective, Mathonwyr. I've lived a life among men. _Normal_ men. And now, after centuries of looking for answers in obscure and obtuse books, I've found it, and it's so simple. Simple to absurdity. Everything I know has been dumped out and stomped on, and I think that despite that, I'm reacting rather well. I'm not walking or joining anything until I know more." She looks at the Pattern. "I don't know how I fit into things here, or if there's a place for me." She smiles at him sweetly. "Now, if I don't walk it now, are you going to dump me off somewhere in a huff?"
Math smiles, "I never said you had to walk it now, only that it would be difficult." He pauses, "But your dismissal of my words borders on insulting...young by your estimate or not, on Amber, I am the expert of our pairing."
He leans against the huge doors, "Shall I tell you what I have learned? You will not be pleased, I suspect...and it may very well goad you into Assaying the Pattern anyway." Math shrugs, "I will not abandon you, Esta...nor will I slant what I have learned to harvest a desirable action from you. I have dealt with you plainly, out of respect for your Father, and my former King, and I will continue to do so."
"But I must warn you; If you think you are confused now...you've not heard anything yet."
She is silent for a moment, but then walks over to him and places a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry if I've insulted you. I just feel as though I've walked into a dream where everything is nonsense and I'm walking though the trials made by an over tired brain. Maybe I died back on that trail, and this is a corpse's dream. I'm coping." She steps back. "A handful of hours isn't much. Go ahead, confuse me more."
Math pauses a moment, and nods in understanding. Then he gestures for her to join him by the door. He pulls out his store room Trump, and brings in two rickety folding chairs. Math gentlemanly guides Esta to one, and he takes the other.
"Okay, what I am about to tell you is 1 part fact, 3 parts educated theory." Math pauses, "I am rather good with puzzles, and you represented one right away...as such, I have been working on You since we met."
"First, your connection with Oberon seems to be true. I have verified it by means that I must apologize for not being able to discuss." He pauses, "Apparently Oberon was enacting a theory of his own in your home Shadow, a pet project if you will. Likely your Shadow is a product of Oberon's seeking specific attributes in a given place...to what end? I know not, perhaps to sire another child." Math shrugs here, "However, based upon what you have told me about always feeling there was something more, I have come to other conclusions as well." He leans forward in his chair, "What you described sounds rather similar to what I have heard our latest King describe, when asked about his time trapped on Shadow Earth."
Math takes her hand, "Now here's where it gets tricky. I submit, Esta, that you in fact are fully aware of your heritage...that Oberon did know you, and know you well, and that for some reason he saw fit to sublimate your memories and to fabricate a past that may not be your own. All of your 'feelings' that there had to be something more, all your questing to find it... it leads me to believe that at one time, you KNEW there was something more. And that something changed that."
Mathonwyr meets her eyes, "And here is the final kicker; If you Walk the Pattern, and I am right...you will get all of it back."
She looks at Math, half stunned, half sceptical. "I-- I'm an experiment? Why? To what end?" She shakes her head. "I'm sorry, but I have to inquire about who told you such a thing. This is my history, after all." She looks out at the pattern. "How... would that thing restore what I don't even know I've lost? Why would someone do something like that to me?"
Mathonwyr stands, "The only way to know for sure if I am right, and the only way to have all your answers...is to Walk the Pattern." He steps forward, and takes her hands, leaning over. "It IS a gamble, Esta, nothing worthwhile has any guarantees...but as your only friend in Amber, I do not see another way to as swiftly ensure you place in this Realm or any other."
She shakes her head. "Not today. Please. Let it all settle for a while. I need time to think." She raises also, and looks tired. "Let's go back. I think I've had enough for one day."
Mathonwyr nods, helps her to her feet, and after a moments of internal debate, gives her a brief embrace of reassurance. "I am sorry, Esta, but as I said on the road...your life is changed forever. Whether or not you ever Walk the Pattern, how can you return to what you once had?"
"In this alone, am I in disagreement with your Sire." He pulls out the Sitting room card, and transports them there.
Flora isn't there, but it's apparent by some used tea cups she's been by recently. Esta paces the room. "You talked about your teacher. Do you think he'd know any more?"
Math carefully shakes his head, "No, I have tried...some mysteries must remain ours to solve." He gestures at the armchair, "Here. have some tea...and we can talk on this for bit...or something else if it is easier."
He serves her some tea, and regards her silently.
She sips the tea quietly, and her face becomes blank as she stares out the window, at a fading day. Mathonwyr begins to wonder if she still remembers if he's in the room when she talks again.
"So, these grand plans for me... What are we doing? I meet your relatives, be the simple girl, and then decide if I want to join it or run off?" She sips. "These people you think would destroy me. I think it would be prudent to have their names, don't you?"
Math nods, "I've given them to you, along with brief descriptions of each. Not all that I listed will be your enemy, but some will, of that I am sure. As to precisely who? I cannot divine the future."
She laughs drily. "That's a pretty tall list of enemies. You really don't trust anyone here?" She puts down her tea. "Some existence. Isn't there anyone you care for? Or at least someone you can shake hands with without looking for a dagger in their boot?"
Mathonwyr considers a long moment before answering, "I trust my Master, Dworkin-" He smiles, "-for the most part. Then my Mother, of course...my friend Luke, to some extent, though he has his own worries. You, Esta, are also trusted." He pauses, "I am in a unique position. As the Master's Disciple, I am far more likely to be allowed to act and move with a larger degree of freedom, as to assault me is to assault the Master."
"It is not that I do not trust any of them, it is that I cannot fathom all their motives. And again, I am not in your position...I am the Son of a highly placed Princess, whom has stepped outside the game by dint of his education." Mathonwyr regards Esta, "I do no represent a threat."
"Is there someone I care for? Certainly. My Master, Unicorn Bless his changeable form...My Mother, I worry about Luke at times." He pauses, meaningfully. "And you, despite your newness to me..."
She smiles at her cup. "That touches me. Thank you." The smile dissipates. "They're a deep bunch, aren't they? Being...," she chokes, "immortal is hard enough. I can't imagine sharing eternity with a brood of unruly siblings. You're lucky." She pauses.
"Lucky?" Math grins, "Because I share eternity with unruly Aunts and Uncles, and few pending cousins?"
"As your master's disciple, you are protected. However, once you're graduated from his teachings, wouldn't that enter you back into the game?"
Mathonwyr nods, "Possibly. But that will depend on how I parley my education. I would be a valuable advisor to any in Power, save for those that share my education...by this I mean Fiona and to some extent Bleys."
She turns her head as her ears perk, and she stares at the door. Moments later it opens, and Gerard and Flora walk in, her talking, him looking worried. "...might know something about it, but if she did and was willing to share, she'd have put something out by now. I've never looked my-" Flora notices Mathonwyr and Esta. "Ah. Back so soon."
Mathonwyr raises a questioning eyebrow, "Trump travels fast, Mother." he nods to Gerard, "Uncle, faring well I hope?"
Gerard nods back, then looks at Flora. She disregards an unspoken question with a wave of her hand. "They're fine, Gerard. You know Mathonwyr. And this is Estella of Begma."
Esta nods, smiling, but still silently appraising. "A pleasure."
Math stands by 'Estella', as if very pleased with himself.
Gerard bows quickly, and Flora moves next to Mathonwyr. "Math, you don't happen to remember anything Dworkin told you about broken pattern, do you?"
Thinking back, he remembers Dworkin mentioning something about lesser reflections of pattern, but he seemed indifferent to their importance.
After a moment of reflection, Mathonwyr answers. "Useful to Shadow Sorcerers, as I recall, but utterly powerless in the face of the True Powers."
Flora echoes the question wordlessly in a glance at Gerard, who leans back against the wall and takes a moment. After collecting his thoughts, he starts.
"Well, I found these people swimming under my dock." He looks at Flora. "No further, Florimel, right?" She nods and takes a seat on a settee. He takes a breath. "Well, it's two women and a man, and two of them, mother and son, have broken pattern. They claim they have family in the area."
Flora taps her lip with her finger. "Do they know who their family is?" Gerard shakes his head.
"Nope. Just asked to be sent to the lady's father's land. And they ended up here."
Math muses silently a moment, "Did they give their names and their point of origin?"
Gerard shrugs. "Their names are Clarice, Wraecca, and Lillian. Clarice and Wraecca are the mom - son combo. The other is just some shadow girl who's apparently a therapist. Didn't see much of her. She was drugged up. And they came from one of the broken patterns. I didn't think they had names."
"Was Lillian brought in against her will?" Mathonwyr inquires, "In light of her state, I mean."
Esta looks calm, but her fingers twitch anxiously under the table. "Where are they? Are you planning on bringing them to the castle?"
Gerard shakes his head. "Nah. Probably get themselves into too much trouble asking around. Don't seem to be the subtle type."
Mathonwyr sighs, "Well, Broken Pattern is no reason to suspect them of being Royal, though coincidence and fate being what they are around here, I am not ruling it out. Broken Pattern is accessible by Shadows, without either of the Real bloodlines in them...these three individuals could simply be Shadows mislead by a fractured Design."
Gerard looks uncomfortable a moment and cracks his knuckles. "Well, the whole royalty thing... they may not be too far off. The woman, Clarice, hit one of my men. According to Wirt she sent him sailing with one hand. I saw them pick him up off the ground, and I think his jaw might be shattered." He looks at Math. "Shadows don't make 'em that strong."
"Incorrect, Uncle." Math's tone is respectful, but firm. "If I chased a Shadow of you, for example, he could never match the real thing, but he'd be more than capable of roughing up your men to the extent you have indicated." He pauses, "I do not wish us to make assumptions in this...when they can be tested easily enough by some of the more knowledgeable Adepts."
"Where are they now?"
Gerard glares at Mathonwyr and Flora stands. "I think I've been in shadow long enough to know what's normal and what isn't." Flora walks over to him and places a hand on his chest.
"Well, technically, he is right. It's rare, but it can happen." She looks back at Math. "It's just too many variables coinciding at once."
Gerard keeps his glower on. "So, besides pushing them on the pattern and crossing our fingers, how else do we find out if they're family?"
"Fiona could likely tell." Mathonwyr answers, ignoring the glower, "I could with much more effort...or we could simply ask the Master, after letting him get an eyeful." He shrugs, "Other than that, the Pattern is the fastest way, but even an unprepared Amberite can die upon it, leaving nothing proven."
"Depends on what you are willing to do, in order to identify them." Math pauses, "But, since they have taken the Broken Pattern, they do display at least the Will to attempt the real Pattern...it is an order of magnitude more difficult, and the Blood prerequisite will tell."
Math pauses, "Or we parade them before our kin, and see who squirms."
At the mention of Fiona, Mathonwyr notices the slightest exchange of glances between Flora and Gerard.
"I don't like the idea of parading them," says Gerard, "They could have been abandoned and not lost, and then all we'd end up with a handful of bodies to bury."
Esta breaks in. "I like the idea of seeing Dworkin about it." She looks at Math with a wide smile. "You've told me _so_ much about him, I'd _hate_ to miss a chance to meet your mysterious teacher."
Gerard shrugs. "Eh. Why not? Think you can get a hold of him?"
Mathonwyr nods, "I can certainly try." He shuffles out Dworkin's card, and focuses for a long, long moment, until he scowls and says, "He's not accepting my call...he could be busy or involved in a delicate experiment...or woman." Math sighs.
A second passes, and he snaps his fingers. He looks at his large Uncle, "Would you mind if I pulled an image of them from your Mind? I could then depict them in a portrait, and leave the image with a message for Dworkin on his desk...we have an arrangement for leaving such messages." He pauses, "I'm certain he'd contact me as soon as he was able to do so."
Gerard looks uncertain. "I guess..." He sits and studies Mathonwyr carefully. "Go any deeper than the trio, and I'm snapping that little neck of yours."
Math shakes his head, and eyes Gerard as if regarding a schoolyard bully. "Bring them into your immediate thoughts."
Flora smacks his shoulder. "Play nice. He's trying to do a favour." She smiles at Math. "Go ahead, dear."
Behind Gerard, Esta frowns at Mathonwyr, but keeps her silence.
Math looks into Gerard's eyes, and pushes for contact, until he can see an image of the three people in question. He regards the memory carefully for a time, making it his own, and then withdraws.
He speaks seriously to Gerard, "Invading someone's mind is an insult and assault of the highest order. I do not discard it as a weapon, but I would not probe another I consider an ally and a friend without permission or provocation."
Math nods, breaking the contact. "I have the image, and will set to work on it. I will contact you as soon as I know anything more."
Gerard still looks uncomfortable, but gets up and moves to the door. "...thanks. Trump me when he says something." A pause. "And try to contact him again. I can't hold them for long. I don't want to see them hurt. They aren't bad." He nods to Flora and Esta, then leaves.
Esta sighs. "So, you're going to draw them and just leave them on his desk?" She grins. "That means you'll be home, right?"
"No, Estella, I need not return home. I need only regard an image of the Master's desk, and reach through to leave the image." Math explains, "I should likely do so as soon as possible." He sighs, reaches for his cup and downs his tea. "Would you mind my Mother's company for a little while? I need to see if Vialle has a larger palette than I currently possess...and then I need some time to work."
Esta curses with her eyes and looks bitterly at the tea in front of her.
Flora responds quietly. "There isn't much left of what Vialle had. It was moved back to Rebma. Gerard and I thought it was bad for Random. He just got so... melancholy." She sighs. "He's not much better now. We've spent so many years tearing each other down, we're at a loss to build each other up."
She sits down at the table with Esta. "There's a supply closet, though, down near Oberon's room, though. It should have what you need." She pours a cup of tea, and turns her focus to Esta. "Now, what have you been up to?"
Math will go to the supply closet indicated by his Mother, leaving the room shortly after Flora asks that last leading question. He will get the larger artist's pad he is after and then move to his own rooms, rather than his Mother's...or even Brand's rooms. Anywhere he can get privacy for a time.
As he opens the door to Brand's room, he's surprised to find it quite occupied by a young man with a muscular physique and dark brown hair. He looks up from his book in alarm. "Um, hello...?"
Mathonwyr notices the person seems to be missing a foot...
Math steps back out into the hall briefly, to check and make certain he has the right room. When he is certain, he eyes the stranger
"Who are you and what are you doing in my Uncle's chambers?" Math asks sternly. "And speak swiftly and truly, for I can divine the difference...these are curious times for strangers in the Castle."
Prepare to summon my weapon...
The man looks insulted. "Last I heard, your uncle's dandelion feed. You make it a habit of not knocking, or is that another of those Amberite things I've come to love?"
He tosses his book aside. "I'm Prince Jurt of Chaos, and these rooms were given to my by your king, asshole."
Math will shoot the fellow with his Trump Trap. Without saying too much more. He does NOT take base insults well, and footless won't have much time to cross the room.
The gun goes off, and Jurt dives to the floor, barely missing the bullet and landing squarely on the floor with a yell. From the corner of the room a figure turns and throws out a hand.
Dropping a decanter of brandy, Marrek hastily utters the command words to a spell. A brilliant blue light flares around Mathonwyr, fading to a white-blue sphere of solid diamond, encasing him.
Walking around the sphere, Marrek casually asks his prisoner, "Do you want to try this again? I would suggest knocking this time."