Gerard parts from the docks. Corwin hasn't changed. The sight of a pretty dark-haired wench on his arm had given him a bit of hope, but her being his daughter… That didn't bode as well.
The bastard had reproduced again. Some people, he thinks, have all the luck. He was nearly as old as his brother, and had definitely been around, and not one progeny. Corwin had managed three, that he knew of. Maybe five, if you listen to rumours. Maybe the universe was favouring him.
Suddenly his fingers hit a small piece of parchment tucked in his belt. He groans and looks back for his brother, but sees nothing but busy ship-builders and sailors enjoying their shore leave. He had been too disappointed to remember to ask Corwin for clarification on the summons. Probably for the best, anyway. Corwin hated being second guessed.
Gerard shrugs. He had wanted to get away for a while anyway. Pulling out a trump, he concentrates on the card, and steps to a place in the outer bounds of Arden. He wasn't getting on with Julian these days, and preferred to avoid him.
He moves through shadow, thinking of a small war-torn township. He moves through several areas of obvious strife. Close, but not quite. Finally, he hits the right one. A little place in the middle of two warring countries, one that had the look of having been torn-up and put back together again. The residents are hard skinned, and suspicious of him as he moves though town, but enough recognize him to keep an uneasy peace.
He finds the right place, and knocks on the door. "Tommy?"
Gerard hears the bolt action of a automatic gun being pulled, and a cautious, but firm voice from being the door answers... "If your looking for a job, I'm full up. If you're looking to hire me I might listen. If you're looking for trouble, go up about 2 blocks, you'll find it."
Gerard smiles a bit. "Cut the tough shit, kid. It's me, Gerard. Now let me in before I have to tear apart some innocent tavern looking for ale. I'm thirsty."
A small slit opens up on the door, and Gerard sees a pair of harsh green eyes looking back at him. A spark of recognition shows in those eyes and the slit closes swiftly. After a few clanks and clicks, the door opens.
A man in his late 20's stand holding an assault rifle in his right hand. In his left he is holding the door. Tommy, a man who has lived his entire life here, smiles at his "Uncle" and motions him inside.
Tommy is a large man. Easily over 6 feet tall and 250 pounds of all muscle, the young man looks as if he works out every minute of the day. His tan face appears worn and well used, and his face is clean shaved and his short cropped brown hair is neatly tucked under a red beret. He has on a pair of black combat boots, green camouflage pants, and a white t-shirt that hides nothing of his physique. His square jaw and narrow eyes are on a face that has a slight smile to it.
"It's been a long time since I've seen you. I have some whiskey I managed to smuggle in yesterday. Supposed to be good stuff." Tommy grabs a couple of plastic cups and a bottle from the back of the small room. It is sparsely furnished and not even remotely decorated. Four walls and a back door, with a table, three chairs, and some boxes litter the rest of the room.
"I just finished a job up north in a town. Seems like someone found more oil in a field about 20 miles from here. Needless to say it's been busy again around here. Both country seem at it harder than usual, which is good for me, at least." Tommy sets the cups and the bottle down on the table and opens the bottle up. "What's it been, about a year now? What new bullshit story do you have to lay on me this time, old timer?"
He laughs. "Old-timer? Well... maybe. But don't think that'll help you." He takes his glass and waits for Tommy to fill it. "As for bullshit stories, eventually I'll have the story of a lifetime for you. But for now, we can keep to the usual stuff."
He settles a bit. "Good you're keeping busy. Everyone should do that. Hate to see any of that, " indicating Tommy's muscles, "turn to flab." He grunts. "Found out my brother had another kid, today, so sorry if I seem a bit out of sorts." He eyes Tommy for a moment. "You don't have any kids, do you?"
Tommy finishes pouring a double into each of their cups, then walks over to shut and lock the door. He finally puts his rifle down and proceeds to sit. "Kids? Hell, all the women around here are either widows or on their way someplace else, and they don't make for good dates." Tommy takes a slug from his cup and takes a hard look at Gerard. "You seem genuinely upset that your brother has a kid. Some people consider that a happy occasion."
Gerard shrugs. "I don't think he appreciates them. Me, I love kids. Just never got lucky that way." He pauses, thinking over his drink, then downing it. "In my family, you let someone else raise the kid, then parade them around when they're older. Never supported that, myself, but I suppose they think its alright since that's pretty much what happened with us."
He pours himself another drink. With a lighter tone, he continues. "Don't discount widows, though... Give 'em a while. I have known some very friendly widows in my day."
"Only problem with widows is they don't want to do it again. I ain't exactly in the safest line of work." Tommy finishes off his drink and pours another. "Though I have thought about it. It would be nice to get someplace else with a pretty lady for a bit. Go to one of those places where they don't shoot each other over petty shit. Ain't holding my breath on that, but I can think about it all I want." Tommy looks down as if the bottom of his cup somehow holds an interesting drama. He raises his cup and says "A toast, to retirement someday, and to this place finally running out of bullets."
Gerard clinks his glass against Tommy's and drinks. "Too bad about the widows. Maybe you should move. Whole world can't be like this." He leans back and studies his drink in the light. "What do you have holding you down here?"
Tommy drinks his whiskey and looks pensive for a moment. "It's torn up, hostile, and downright dirty, but its the only place I've ever been. I don't know, I just feel like if I stay a bit longer, this shit will die down and I can finally see this place for what it really is. But now they went and found that oil field. They'll be fighting over that for years." A look of frustration glooms over Tommy's face. He looks at the walls for a bit, then looks at Gerard. "You've been around. Hell, you go to places nobody else has even heard of. Maybe the next time you go back on the road I should just hide in your duffle bag or something. Take a lucky widow with me."
Gerard drinks and smiles. "Hide in my bag? I'm not carrying you." He studies Tommy for a moment, then goes on. "Yeah, I've been around. And it's not all like this. Some of it's worse, some of it's better... If you know where to go, it's heaven on earth. If you really want to go, I can take you... Even pick up some girls on the way." He pauses though. "There's a price, though."
"Ain't there always a catch?" says Tommy. "You know what? Maybe not being here when the shit blows up might help things a bit. I've got plenty of money now, I might be due a vacation." "I certainly wouldn't mind getting laid sometime soon, it's been too long. Alright, I'm all ears. What's your offer?"
Gerard puts his glass down and looks at Tommy. "The catch is, you leave here, you don't go back. I mean, you can, but you're never the same again. Where I'd take you, it'd change you. Maybe for better. Maybe worse. But staying here will just get you killed."
"Don't come back? Sounds awfully drastic." Tommy sits back in his chair and puts the cup to his lips. "So if I don't come back, where am I going? And more importantly, what'll happen?"
Gerard rethinks his wording. "I mean, you can never come back to who you are today... It's in a personal sense. You can't unlearn a truth once you've learned it."
Gerard drinks, then tops off his glass. The bottle is getting empty. "And we're going home. Where your father was from. And me, too. As to what'll happen... you'll look around, see the sights, and decide from there."
"I've always figured the family wasn't from around here, but" Tommy looks confused. "You mean you really are an Uncle? I always thought you just came up with that moniker just to make us kids happy at the orphanage." Tommy stops to think for a moment. "I take it this is the kind of truth I can't come back from. How much more is there that I don't know?"
"Course I'm your uncle? Think I visit waifs for fun?" He looks a tad annoyed, but brushes it off. "What you don't know... well, if it was simple, I would just tell you, wouldn't I? I mean, instead of dragging you all over creation."
"You sound like you want me to see a few things." Tommy stands up and heads over to a crate near the back of the room. "Alright, just give me a titbit of info now and I'll go see whatever you want me to." Tommy removes another bottle of whiskey from the crate and heads back to the table. "What were my parents names? Would be nice to have a last name for a change. If you can tell me that, and assure me we'll at least have some fun, then I'm game to go on vacation for a while." Tommy pours Gerard and himself another double.
Gerard smiles. "Well, you're not getting a last name. There aren't enough of our kind to justify them." He takes a swallow of his drink, and continues, "I'll tell you this: you're part of the most exclusive club in the world, and don't know it. Okay?"
Tommy gives Gerard a confused look. "You sound like we're some sort of mafia or something. Is this a deal with the 'family' business?" "At least you won't try to screw me over, you'd have done it by now. Let's hear at least first names for the parents and I'll call it even."
He laughs. "Usually, when a bunch of people share blood, they're called a family. Trust me, kid, we're not friendly enough to be a mafia." He polishes off his drink. "Your mom, I don't know. Coulda been anyone. But your dad was a guy named Eric. That enough?"
Tommy ponders the name for a moment. "Well, so far we've got a name, at least. Ok, if I'm not gonna have fun here and I might learn something, I'll go. When do you want to start?"
Gerard shrugs and stretches. "Whenever you have the mind to. But I don't think I'd like to stay in a place where missiles and guns are going to keep me up all night. I get grouchy when I don't sleep well, and you don't want to see me grouchy."
"Ok, let me tell my men they need to go find something else to do for a while. I'll get some stuff together and we can leave before the sun gets too high in the sky." Tommy downs the contents of his glass and stands up. "You can come with me if you want, or you can put some damage to that crate in the back. It's up to you."
He grins broadly. "Never one to turn down booze. I'll stay here. You go do what you have to do." He gets up and grabs a few more bottles. "Take your time," he smiles, sitting back down.
"Some people never change." Tommy gets up and heads out the back door.
The sound of automatic gun fire fills the air as Tommy heads down the road to another house, about two blocks north. He enters and sees a rag tag group of men sitting around a table playing cards. Each has his own rifle and drinks. "Greetings men. Looks like we're closing shop for a bit. That oil field we found up north is going to put the heat here for a while and I think it would be good for you guys to find a vacation spot far from here."
The crowd, knowing that Tommy doesn't like to repeat himself or listen to whining, nod their heads and get up. They had concerns about staying here as well, so it didn't take much argument to get the hell out of town.
Tommy heads to the back of the house, grabs a duffle bag full of supplies he was going to use for the attack in two days, and heads back to the house where Gerard is. Opening the door he came in from, Tommy returns to find Uncle Gerard doing exactly what he said he'd do. "Seems they didn't have any objections to getting the hell out of town. I'm all set."
Gerard stands, pouring a bottle into his wineskin. "One for the road. Ain't bad stuff." He walks out, motioning with his head for Tommy to follow. "Hope you got your walking shoes on."
"Sure do. Got a car or something in the next town?" Tommy follows Gerard out of the door and down the street.
Gerard laughs. "In a hurry? Don't worry, I know a few shortcuts. Just not all of them." He touches a piece of parchment at his belt. "Guess I should tell you want this is about... My brother wants to meet you. Beats the hell out of me how he knew about you, but he sent a really nice proclamation saying he wanted all the kiddos brought in. You're not mine, and I'm not officially responsible, but I guess I was close enough, huh?" He heads for the edge of town.
"Another uncle?" Tommy follows along, taking the safety off his rifle to make sure he's ready for any problems. "How does he rate making proclamations? And why is my identity needed to be so secretive?"
Gerard shrugs. "You have so many, you'll be sick of 'em before the week's out. And this particular uncle is the king, and kings do things like walking around, tossing out proclamations." He thinks for a second before continuing. "As for secrets, I guess it's a habit. If you offered anyone in the family the choice between money, fame, or a secret, they'd choose the secret. Every time."
"I see. I've dealt with Kings before. The better of them knew how to keep secrets, so I can see the value in that."
Tommy and Gerard keep walking on out of town. "I guess that makes you and I princes, eh? Never figured either of us for royalty of anything." Tommy furls his brow and looks right at Gerard. "What the hell country are we royalty of, anyway?"
He pulls out a deck of cards and shows one to the young soldier. It depicts a fairy-tale castle set in the side of a huge mountain. "It's called Amber. And if you know how to keep a low profile, it's a great place. Good food, good ale, and the girls are nice enough. As long as they ain't royalty." He rolls his eyes. "Stay away from the princesses. They're small, they're cute, but they are a pure pain in the ass."
"Princesses are too much baggage. Trust me, keeping a low profile is my specialty. That's why I'm still alive." Tommy looks at the card. "Don't remember anyplace called Amber, is it a new country or something?"
"No," replies Gerard, "Amber is as old as it gets." He takes Tommy's arm and appears to concentrate on the card. At first, Tommy wonders if it's a trick of the light... The picture on the card gains some depth, some reality. Tommy swears he can see things _moving_ in the picture...
Tommy is flabbergasted at the site. Nothing he's ever heard of would even remotely have this kind of technology. He begins to wonder if dear old uncle Gerard put something in his drink when he wasn't looking. Tommy thumbs the knife at his belt, just in case...
Gerard tightens his grip on Tommy's arm and pulls the both forward. A rush of sensation, and suddenly Tommy feels cooler than he did before.
Looking around, there's no longer the war torn village he knew, but a peaceful town, bustling with mid-day activity. He sees the castle from the card looming above him.
Tommy keeps silent and says nothing. He realizes in unknown it's better to keep your cool than fly off the handle. He takes a moment to assess the people around him for any threatening moves.
The people are regular town-folk, if a bit happier and healthier than he's used to. One oddity he notices, though is that their clothes seem old-fashioned, like out of some history book.
Gerard moves forward. "Welcome to Amber, kid. C'mon. We've got a walk ahead of us. Got some things to show you."
Tommy slings his gun to his back and nods at Gerard. It certainly looks like some fairy tale he heard a long time ago. They make their way up through the city, noticing people walking through the streets as if they were in a costume party.
They come to a rise a bit beyond the town, and Gerard stops him. He points at a fence post about a hundred paces off. "Bet-cha can't hit that post from here," he says, pointing and smiling.
"You seriously want me to shoot up someone's fence?" Tommy glares at his Uncle "I think I have enough to see around here before you show me the stockade."
Gerard's face grows serious. "I'm not kidding. Shoot the fence. I'm a prince here. You're not getting glared at, much less arrested." He crosses his arms. "Lesson one. I tell you to do something in this place, do it, no matter how stupid. There are reasons."
"You're the boss" Tommy, in a flash of movement, already has the rifle level to his frame, concentrating on the tops of the fence posts. He inhales and slowly squeezes the trigger and... 'click' nothing happens. Checking his gun, Tommy wonders if it somehow jammed.
Gerard, arms still crossed, looks at Tommy. "Lesson two. Guns don't work here. Hope you know how to use a sword." He continues up the hill.
"I know how to use lots of stuff. I've had to resort to plumber's wrenches at times." Tommy shoulders his rifle again. "Of course, if I need a sword, I presume your highness could provide one. And I'll probably need a change of clothes. The last thing I need is to stand out in a crowd even more."
Gerard shrugs. "Eh, they're used to us looking odd. We step into town in all kinds of garb. And I can get you a sword-- we've an armoury full of 'em." They move to a staircase. "But if you really want clothes, I can manage it."
Gerard stops for a moment, as if to get his bearings. He then moves up the staircase. "Have any questions?"
"Well, the first one would be what are we in for? Obviously his majesty wants me here for something. And perhaps just let me know what to expect and what I need to do and who to be wary of."
"By my guess, he'll look at you, figure out your just a country kid with a gun, then let you go on your way. You don't have an evil bent to you, at least that I've seen, so you won't give him much to worry about." He grumbles. "Paranoid bastard."
"Is that what this is all about? Just let him see I'm no threat and we can be on our merry way? I got no problems with that." Tommy keeps the pace as they walk on. "I'll just keep my mouth shut and stick with you. Just say the word when we can go have some fun, I'm on vacation after all!" Tommy smiles wryly.
Gerard chuckles. "That you are, that you are..." He walks up a bit farther, but suddenly veers off the main stairway, onto some regular rock. "Hate to sound like a greeting card, but today is the first day of the rest of your life."
"Ha, well, we'll see how this turns out." Tommy walks along the rocks. "Regular road not good enough for us?"
Gerard climbs up a few more rocks. "I have something to show you."
They climb up and down jags and boulders for a good fifteen minutes, until Gerard stops, looks around, nods, and sits. He takes out his wineskin, and takes a swallow. He hands it to Tommy. "Drink."
Looking out, Tommy can see most of the city, even a harbour, and somewhere in the distance a huge forest, spreading until the horizon.
"It all seems so..." Tommy sees the rolling bay, with it's many spired ships and workers. He sees the bustling streets with the multicoloured inhabitants, seemingly blissful and unaware of strife. He sees the white gleam of the enormous castle, resplendent with flags and banners. Beyond, the truly green forest with it's magnificent trees. Only one word could come to mind to describe these things. "intact."
Gerard shrugs. "You didn't see it during the wars, but you're right, it is pretty much in one piece. Hasn't changed a bit in millennia." Gerard sets his back onto a large boulder and motions over to a small pile of stones. "See that pile over there?"
Tommy looks over at the stones Gerard is pointing to. After a moment to see if there is anything special to them, he replies "Yes, I see them"
Gerard takes back the wineskin and drinks again, then hands it to Tommy. "That's where your father died, defending Amber."
Tommy nods, unblinking at a set of stones that now hold more significance than this entire scene. Thousands of questions shoot through his mind at once. Now something of a past emerges. A meaning to it all he never remotely conceived of. This place was worth dying for his father. It meant that much to him. The only question that rose to the top was, "Why?"
Gerard looks at the spot, as if remembering. "He was the king, and that's something good kings do. He made some mistakes during his reign, but in the end he did alright."
Gerard picks up a small rock and examines it. "I was there when he died. I tried to save him, but he's used too much of himself trying to keep the attackers at bay."
"Well, I guess you thought enough of him to keep an eye on me." Tommy's head swirls with questions again, and he sits down and just stares intently at the landscape before him. "I've got too many questions in my head to keep straight, and I'm not drunk enough to ask them all at once. I'm sure you can imagine this is quite a bit to take in just one afternoon." Tommy takes another long drink from the flask. "I'm glad you brought this with us."
Tommy almost sputters as he realizes what he's drinking isn't whisky, but red wine. Without looking over Gerard remarks, "Lesson three. People from around here can do tricks like that, and eventually, you'll learn them."
He tosses his rock. "There wasn't anyone else who knew about you. You were just a babe when he told me, and he did that while dying. Everyone else was watching the battle."
"Well, I guess only time will tell if you bringing me here is good or bad. I have to admit, so far it's been worth the trip. But why come back here now? What's the new king want with me after never being here? It's not like I've got a lot to contribute, unless he thinks I want his throne or something. Which I don't. Who is King now, anyway?"
Gerard frowns, and takes the wineskin, drinking. after a few long gulps, he wipes his mouth on his sleeve. "New king is Corwin. He turned the tide of the battle, and our dad asked him to be king. Who knows why. I still think Benedict should get his skinny ass up here and run things, but that's another matter. And its my guess he just wants me to know that I did a crappy job at keeping you secret." He takes out the parchment at his belt and hands it to Tommy. "Before this, I didn't know that he knew you existed."
Tommy takes the note and looks at Gerard. "You sound like you don't much like King Corwin. Perhaps a run down of the family is in order, so I know who to avoid and who is ok." Tommy reads the note.
The note is short and formal, in a hard to read flowery script.
"By Royal Decree:
All blood of Amber shall be brought before the king and his advisors to be acknowledged by the crown, and given their birthright. Compliance is necessary."
Gerard hands him a stack of cards. "Go though it. Remember all the faces. Trust none of them." He considers for a moment. "Except Flora. She's okay. Fussy, but you get used to that. And Random, but he's too drunk to worry about." One more pause, and he adds, "And if you meet a girl saying she's Corwin's daughter, keep your mitts offa her. Pretend she has the clap, if you have to."
Tommy thumbs through the deck of intricately painted cards. He studies their faces and puts them to memory. "Flora and Random are ok. Don't hit on anybody in the castle. Don't trust any of them. Done." He finishes studying the cards. "Nice little organizer but seemingly missing names. Why the cards?"
He takes back the cards. "Used to communicate, like the card I got us here through. As for why they're cards, just seems like the thing to do. Small, portable, the materials are easy to find, and you can pretend they're just normal cards if someone else sees them. Plus, some people like to tell fortunes with them."
"How hard are they to come by? Might be useful now that I'm one of the clan." Tommy looks around the scenery again. "So what now? Do we have some time to have some R&R or do we need to get ready for this ceremony thing?"
He shrugs. "I can get you one. There's always an extra or two floating about. And if Corwin gets snippy I can always give you my extra." He gets up. "Enough talking about old times. Let me see if I can dredge up someone useful." And he moves back to the path.
"Someone with more to drink, that canteen is getting low." Tommy gets up and follows his uncle down the path.
Gerard laughs. "Let's get to my rooms then. I can get anything there, as long as someone remembered to restock the kitchen." He continues up the stairs. "So, how'd you like to learn the tricks that all the rest of us do?"
"If it involves wasting good whiskey, then no thanks!" Tommy laughs heartily. "As for these other tricks, I'm game. You seem to be able to get around pretty handily, so that's always useful. Those cards help too. And if I get to stay in a place like this for a while," Tommy looks back and the castle and slowly whistles. "Yea, I can deal with that." Tommy and Gerard keep up the pace, heading closer to the castle.
He nods. "Alright, I'll add that to our to-do list. But I gotta check a few things."
They come up to the castle, and Tommy is in awe. It's as if dirt doesn't even exist here, once the marble starts. Or wrinkles. The guards are perfect, in tailored outfits, in trim bodies. Tommy's still bigger, but his mind goes half-heartedly to the idea of recruiting a few of these guys...
Tommy nods to the guards as they walk by. "Guess you need men to watch a place like this. I'm sure there are people all over the place that would love to get their hands on it." Tommy concentrates on the doors as they walk through. "Impressive. I think I might spend some time getting lost in here."
Gerard looks over his back. "Take my advice. Get lost with someone who knows the layout. There aren't food dispensers every floor, you know." He looks around and finds an old man peering into a book. "James," booms Gerard. "You know where Flora is? Been trying to call her, but she's refusing me."
James looks up. "The Princess Flora? Why she's out today on a per-" Gerard's face goes white.
"SHIT!" he yells, turning and bounding up some stairs.
Tommy whips out his knife and fires up after his uncle on the left flank.
Tommy is amazed by his uncle's strength. It's obvious the guy's a bruiser, but the way he jumps-- 5 stairs at a time. Tommy has to run at top speed to even try to keep up.
Gerard runs down a hallway and hits a door. He flings it open. Looking inside, he breathes a deep sigh of relief. He looks up. "I'm gonna kill the bitch-- pull all her hair out one by one..."
Tommy keeps an eye out up and down the hallway, looking feverishly for assailants. "What's going on??"
Gerard looks at Tommy's aggressive stance, and waves an arm for him to calm down. "You'll scare the serving girls." He walks in to the room he just nearly deprived of a door. "My stupid sister left and didn't tell me. I thought she was watching Random, so I went to go get you. He's been alone all day, but I can hear him snoring, so at least he's alive."
Tommy takes two quick glances down the hallways and puts his knife away. "Sorry, you can't be too careful. Especially the way you went charging up the stares, I thought someone was attacking." Tommy takes a peek inside the room. "He's just sleeping. Is he dangerous or something?"
The room is dark, and from somewhere within he can hear a soft snoring. Gerard lights a lamp, and Tommy sees who he's talking about.
A young looking man, on the small side, collapsed in an armchair. Light hair, from what he can see, but an unshaven and unkempt look to him. His clothes are spotted and wrinkled, and guessing by the number of bottles in the room, Tommy guesses that his breath is most likely flammable.
Gerard picks him up and carries him into another room. "Just the opposite," he says, not bothering to lower his voice. "Just the opposite."
Tommy follows Gerard taking stock of the room and the poor guy in his arms. "Who is he, anyway?"
Gerard deposits him in a bed. "He's another brother. The baby, in a way, since all the others were born too late for us to care. A scrawny guy, kinda picked on, but a good guy none-the-less."
He pauses, smoothing the covers. "Lost his wife a few years back and hasn't been the same since. So Flora-- that's nuts for brains-- and I watch over him. Hold out some hope he'll get better."
"I've seen a lot of folks like this before. People loose loved one's all the time where I'm from." Tommy shakes his head ruefully. "He needs a reason to keep going. Something that makes life worth living again."
Gerard regards the sleeping Random. "You're right. But he's lost a lot. His wife and his kid all in one day. I'm at a loss what could keep him going, though. We can barely get him out of bed most days. Flora and I watch him since we know he's a decent guy somewhere in there, and I'd hate to lose a good sibling and keep all the bad ones."
"I'm sure we can think of something. Sounds like a good guy. Just a shame that had to happen to him like that." Tommy takes a seat on one of the chairs in the room. "I guess we can just hang out here for a while until auntie Flora shows up. Just point me to the kitchen when she does, I don't want to be around when you tell her how you feel."
He laughs, and walks back out into the sitting room. Tommy notices he doesn't close the door and takes a seat closest to the bedroom. "Yeah, you may learn some new words. From her do. She's pretty, and looks fancy, but she's as nasty as any of her brothers, let me tell you. You get her on an off moment, and all that world class charm goes right down the toilet." He shuffles out her picture. "This is her, by the way."
The woman the card... Tommy had seen pretty girls, in magazines and on the streets... sometimes the occasional pin-up. But her... she was something more. Full ruby lips, golden hair, startling blue eyes that he'd only ever seen in paintings. She sported a full figure, and by the way she was standing, he figured she wasn't afraid to show it.
"Good looking lady. Can't believe she's related to us ugly mugs." Tommy pulls up a chair on the other side of the bedroom entrance. "So what's the gameplan now, chief? Order up some sandwiches and wait here or maybe you could give me a tour of the place. Point out the one's that ain't family." Tommy grins slightly.
Gerard laughs. "All the girls are faces. She's just the best one. Knows it, too." He leans back. "We can order food here, if you want. I can always post a guard to watch him," jerking his thumb towards the bedroom, "since he's in a pretty docile mood."
He sits and thinks. "I know one person who isn't family that's around. Not very pretty though... someone Corwin picked up along the way."
"Nah, that's ok. I'm just in shock at the peace and quiet for the moment. Something to eat would be good, and maybe a tour to get my bearings a bit. Heck, the first place I'd like to visit is where I'm gonna hang my hat while I'm here."
"That works," he says, and rings a cord on the wall. A second he nods and leaves, the room still apparently empty and unguarded. "Figure you can take one of my rooms," he says, walking out the room and down the hallway.
"Works for me." Tommy follows along, taking in the scenery of the castle now that there isn't a crisis. "So what kind of place is this? Never heard of anywhere exactly like it."
The castle is littered (in a tasteful way, Tommy supposes) with expensive knickknacks. Delicate, detailed, dripping with precious metals and gems. Gerard seems to not notice any of it, as if he has a blind spot for anything pricey and showy.
"That's because there's only one place like it. You can travel for centuries and still never hit anything close. I know people who have tried. Its full of magic and illusion and a million years of people taking care of the details." He rounds a corner, and opens a door. "This is it."
"An old kingdom, eh?" Tommy enters the room. "So what's my place in all this?"
The room reminds Tommy of a hunting lodge-- a hew animal heads, stuffed and mounted on the wall. A bunch of nasty looking cutlery that he hopes never to be on the business end of. The chairs are large, most likely to support Gerard's massive size.
Gerard starts to pull some wood out of a bin, and stacks it in a fireplace. "Your place? That's a bit sticky. If I hadn't made such a big deal about not having kids, I coulda passed you off as mine. You're big enough. But I don't think he'd buy it, or that red-headed pocket-sized Amberite that seems attached to the throne these days. So I'd have to tell him." He grabs a few matches off the mantle. "He and Eric didn't get along. Every few months one would try to kill the other. Sword fights, traps, magic, you name it. I got a number of cuts getting between them two."
Tommy takes a moment to look around the place. Never seen a man actually put up trophies of things he's killed. Interesting concept. "So dear ole dad wasn't well liked by the king, eh? Doesn't sound like a good start to all this."
Tommy walks around the room, admiring the different swords and weapons on the wall.
"So if I meet his majesty, which by that paper I'm going to have to, is he going to hold a grudge against me? Perhaps I should take my vacation someplace else."
Gerard laughs drily. "Plan on it. Don't worry-- I'm sure once he finds out you never knew your dad he'll be okay. He can still be reasonable... We'll just track him down when Fi isn't around. Don't think I'm on his good side, though. Hit on his daughter without
knowing it." He curses. "How was I supposed to know?"
"If you say he's reasonable, I don't think you've got anything to worry about." Tommy looks back at Gerard.
"If you have a room here, and what seems to be the rest of the family does, does 'dad' have a room too? Might be premature to look at it, but it would be interesting to learn something of him if I'm gonna be glared at for his past."
"I'll save arming myself for later."
Gerard nods. "Good idea... I'd forgotten his rooms were still around. We tend to keep them up-- people have a way of dying and showing up later." He gets up from the fledgling fire. "Just as well. This thing will take a while to warm up." He turns. "And we can outfit you while we're out. Only seems fitting."
Tommy reslings his rifle to his shoulder.
"Good, then after you." He gestures to the door. "Maybe I'll learn a few things. At least I can find something that'll help me look the part of royalty."
"Ack, never thought I'd ever hear myself say that. Most royalty I've ever met were scumbag warlords with titles."
Gerard laughs as he heads down the hall. "Nah. We're scumbag courtiers with not enough to do and too much time on our hands. At least I have a navy and Random to keep my days full. Not the most glorious of lives, but glory's in short supply these days."
He comes to a door and produces a key. Carefully he unlocks it and steps inside.
He moves off and lights a lantern. It's hard to see, but Tommy realizes the guy must have liked red and black. It's not as rugged as Gerard's room, but not as fancy ('froo-froo') as the rest of the castle. There's a confidence in the set up, a boldness. Whoever set up the room knew that it looked good. Tommy can almost still feel a presence here.
Gerard begins searching about. "Dammit-- now where did he say..."
Tommy takes it all in, looking around the room at the various items. Handsome comes to mind. It's neither spartan or garish, simply well put together. The red and black motif look good together. A bit morbid perhaps, but that never deterred Tommy from anything.
Setting his bags and rifle against the wall, Tommy follows Gerard.
"What are you looking for?"
Gerard snaps his fingers. "Ah!" He walks over to the fire place and moves out the cradle for the wood. He bangs a few times on the ground, and a latch pops up. Pulling it, he reveals a hidden door. He pulls out a saber and scabbard.
Turning, he gives it to Tommy-- the edge looks dangerous, and he notes that is seems to be made of silver.
"Now put this on and take off that stupid gun. Told ya it won't work around here. Makes it look like I didn't educate you."
Tommy straps on the scabbard, and with a quick swipe and thrust, tests the weight of the blade.
"The fencing lessons are starting to come back to me."
Tommy sheaths the blade.
"Does the room have any more surprises?"
Gerard looks about sadly. "Nah. There was a pretty thorough search after he died. Only thing they missed was the sword at your side, and that's because it was made so only I could get it."
The weight is excellent-- heavy enough to make the swing powerful, but light enough to Tommy could fight for hours and not feel it. His pulse quickens a bit, and he wonders if there's a place for training anywhere nearby.
"I'm anxious to try it out. It's been a bit since I've had to resort to melee, but I've never forgotten it."
Tommy looks around the place for something else to wear, as he's trying to look the part in his new vacation spot.
He notes a closet. As he goes to open it, Gerard stops him. "You know, I'm going to get enough crap for giving you his sword. I don't think we need to dress you up like him." He goes to leave the room. "We have some people lying around that can make you clothes.
Might want to start thinking about colours."
"Some sort of heraldry concept? I've never been much for dressing up, but there's a first for everything."
Tommy walks towards the door.
"Red is too bright. Can't blend well with that. How about we work with the greens and blacks I'm already wearing?"
Gerard nods. "That's works. And I'll try to get one of the more masculine tailors to whip you up something."
Suddenly his attention shifts, and he appears to be thinking about something. He holds up a hand. "Wait a sec." Raising his head, he says, "Yes?"
Tommy watches as the huge man's face goes red. "Where the hell have you been?" he bellows, then goes off into a tangent littered with curses and none-too-polite phrases about someone's virtue, purity, and hair-colour.
Tommy thinks to himself 'Crap, must be aunt Flora.'
Tommy takes a step back, away from Gerard into the hallway.
Tommy watches, amazed, as a woman appears in front of Gerard. The picture on the card was nothing compared to her in the flesh. Tall, blond, blue-eyed, and a body-- Somewhere, something in Tommy laments that she's his aunt.
"What do you mean, where have I been?" Her face is angry and dangerous, but still picture perfect. She must practice all her emotions in front of a mirror.
Gerard boomed. "You left him all alone! Not even a ward!"
She holds up a piece of paper. "I had to get my son! I was busy!"
He waves his parchment under her nose. "Like I wasn't busy?" She grabs it and reads it. Her face calms, as anger is replaced with sheuth.
"The same one-- Gerard, I though you didn't have children..."
Tommy just watches the scene unfold silently. Any wrong word here could cause problems, and as a career soldier, he's trained to shut the hell up sometimes.
Gerard glares at her. "I don't. I've been watching one, though."
She raises an eyebrow. "I didn't know that." Before he goes to speak, she hands him back his paper. "But you know I have a son. So isn't it logical to assume I'd be getting him, and hence, would be out of town?" She smiles sassily at him. Gerard's face looses some anger, but Tommy still wonders if Gerard has any issues about hitting women.
Flora looks behind Gerard a bit, at the silent Tommy. "So who is this?" She walks forward and looks him up and down. "You are going to tell me who's he is, since you called me so many nasty things, right?"
Tommy nods slightly at Flora, his face expressionless.
Gerard grumbles as Flora's back is turned to him, but responds. "This is Tommy. Well, Thomas, but I think Tommy's going to stick."
Flora moves close, and Tommy picks up the scent of lilacs and musk. She examines him. "Could be yours, but I do believe you haven't set off any progeny to the world-- And I can't imagine who would tell you to watch him so much Corwin would assume he was yours-- unless..." She looks down and sees Tommy's new sword. "Ah. Eric's." She looks
him in the eyes and smiles. "Hello, Tommy. I'm your aunt Florimel, but you can call me Flora." She winks at him, and he remembers exactly how long its been since he's seem a woman who wasn't' dirty, bloody, grieving, or just plain ugly.
"Pleasure to meet you, Flora." Tommy says with genuine courtesy. Looking at her, Tommy remembers a time, long ago, when swords and ladies meant something. Something distant long forgotten. He begins to wonder just how far back his memory goes...
She smiles and kisses his cheek. "I know." A small silvery laugh, then, "It's a pleasure to meet you too... I hope Gerard reared you well." She looks back at Gerard. "So when are you taking him to Corwin? I was going to let Math get freshened up then go to the Throne Room..."
Gerard shrugs. "Dunno. Have to get him clothes first. Maybe tomorrow." Flora nods.
"I was going to put it off a bit too. On the way in Math and I found-" She pauses as if considering her next words. "We picked up a young woman that Math seems to fancy. I thought I should give them some time to get acquainted. He's been in that Begman hovel long enough."
Tommy remembers the stories. The stories of knights in shining armour, the damsels in distress, the evil serpents, the daring deeds. This is truly every bedtime story the orphanage caretakers ever told him.
"Gerard saw to it that I got a vacation this time around. Everything I've seen so far has been wonderful."
Gerard puffs up a bit, proud. "See? Look, Flor. He has manners." He smiles at Tommy. "Haven't seen anything yet. How you feel about going down a few stories of stairs?"
Tommy picks up the queue from his uncle.
"I doubt there is anything in this world as wonderful as what I've seen so far, but I'm up for the challenge."
He gives a slight wink to Flora.
Flora picks up on it and winks back with a toss of her hair. "I have to get back to Mathonwyr. I'm sure he's either succeeded in his conquest or sent her back to shadow." She nods at Gerard. "I'll talk to you later."
With that she turns the corner, taking out a deck of cards as she goes.
Gerard pats Tommy on the shoulder. "Don't set your sights on her. I've seen her drive a million boyfriends nuts. The smart ones just look from a safe distance." He leads him down the hallway, opposite of where Flora went. "Don't worry. There are good ones down in town."
"I had no intention of getting into trouble. You've warned me enough times about 'family' for me to not even entertain the thought. She just seemed the type to respond well to compliments."
Tommy and Gerard continue down the hall.
"She is pretty, but not worth getting in trouble for."
Gerard nods. "Got that right." They continue on, and Tommy gets the feeling they're moving into a more private section of the castle. Fewer gaudy decorations, more guards... Gerard is quiet for a while, then asks, "How are you feeling? Physically, I mean?"
"I'm not sick or tired, if that's what you're asking."
Tommy notices the increased guards.
"Must be something damn important. What is this you got to show me, the crown jewels?"
Gerard fights to keep his serious expression, but laughs. "Yeah, I guess it is kind of the crown jewel. Its the only reason any of us are important."
The come to a door. Gerard nods at the guard and enters, grabbing and lighting a lantern as he goes.
Inside, all Tommy sees is darkness, and stairs trailing down into nothingness.
"Hope you don't have a problem with the dark, either."
"Yea, the dark, the boogeyman, the closet, the monsters under my bed, and Princes on power trips."Tommy looks around at the dungeon type setting. The ancient bricks
on the wall are ancient, and the air feels just about as old.
"So what makes this so important?"
Gerard steps on the first step. "Stairs keep you from having to jump. It's a long way down."
As they descend, he speaks quietly, trying to keep the echoes to a minimum. "What we're going to see is a part of your heritage. All of us have survived its trial, some a couple of times. If you walk it, you get to walk through shadows, impose your will on the world-- all the perks of being an Amberite. You don't ever have to see another war as long as you live. You can find a place where you're worshiped as a god. Whatever. But it also gives you a ticket into a bigger picture of the universe, and that picture isn't always pretty. It's
"If you promise me we'll go do something fun after this."
Tommy and Gerard walk down the stairs for what seems like an eternity."Of course, if this is where my family is, might want to stick around for a while to get some bearings. All this hocus pocus stuff is still hard to get my head around."
Gerard shrugs. "It gets easier. I'm pretty used to it now... don't even think about it. I don't usually think of the pattern as magic-- it's just sort of a truth, you know?"
Tommy realizes he can neither see the door they came from, or the bottom of this pit...
"The Pattern? What exactly is this 'Pattern'?"
Tommy begins to wonder if they'll ever reach a bottom.
"The pattern is big and it glows. It was made back when everything was chaos, and it started some order in the universe. If you're looking for a universal truth, you just found it."
The come to the bottom of the step, finally. They walk down a rugged hallway, and Tommy can make out doors in the walls. Some, a cool air rushes out from the crack underneath, some hot. Others, he can barely make out voices or music. Gerard walks on, and says nothing.
Tommy looks around the place, noticing a large door, a key on a hook in the wall, and a guard in front of it. The air is charged with an electricity.
"Beyond that, I take it?"
Gerard nods. He takes the key off the wall and turns it, rust and age causing it to creak loudly in the small passageway. He opens the door and leads Tommy inside.
Gerard was right, in the plain way he usually is. It certainly is big, and it does glow. Gerard cuts the lantern down and sets it on the floor.
The pattern. It's huge, as big as a football field, and almost as wide. It doesn't glow as much as resonate. For some reason, Tommy thinks it should make some sort of sound, but it just lays there.
Gerard leans against a wall. "This is it. This is what power looks like. And before I take you to meet my brother, you should take your share."
"Don't spare the details. What do I have to do and what do I get out of all this?"
Tommy is in awe and confused as to what it all means...
Gerard grunts. "As I said, you can walk through the shadows, find anything you want, live anywhere you want-- Only limit is how long you feel like hitting the road, and your imagination."
He abandons his spot on the wall. "You start here," he says, pointing to a place on the blue circuit. "Really, it's pretty simple. I don't know why they make such a big deal about it. There are only three rules. Don't stop, don't get off the line, and don't bleed on it.
Anything else, I'll talk you through during." He looks at Tommy seriously. "Once you start, you're committed to finishing the thing."
Tommy walks to the start of the circuit.
"I never start something I can't finish."
He places his foot on the start of the Pattern, and the ambient energy he felt when he walked in increases infinitely in his body.
He sees sparks and flares go about his feet, shimmering and fading quickly.
He feels both energized and drained at the same time. His mind focused on the walk, his body obeying out of habit.
Gerard walks to the edge of the Pattern. With a grin on his face, he
casually explains the Veils to Tommy as he continues to walk. "The first
obstacle is coming up. It's just like you've been walking, just takes more
Tommy walks into the first Veil. His stride slackens and the mental effort kicks in. His thoughts dwell on his orphanage. The friends who died in the bombing runs. The caretakers tortured and killed over meagre food rations. The raiding parties going through the building's pantries.
He remembers fighting back. The outrage that everything he cared about was being casually destroyed. The lead pipe was enough to fend off 25 trained soldiers. The play fighting with Uncle Gerard was damn good.
"Good job, kid. That's the easy one" quips Gerard.
Tommy walks through curves in the lines. His very existence is being redefined, restructured as he walks.
"Ok, the second Veil is coming up. It's harder, but don't stop moving. If you stop moving you won't be able to start again."Tommy remembers the days afterwards. Uncle Gerard showed up every once in a while. He looked forward to those times. Breaks in the fight for survival.
He is in a war torn town. The friends he remembers become casualties in a flash. The firebombs, the jet fighters, the melee on the streets. Those who fought with him won, those who didn't either ran or died. Tommy hated both countries for their selfishness. He did the best he could to make his home safe.
"Ok, good job! Now go around the Grand Curve, and you'll enter the Final Veil. If you've made it this far, there's no stopping you."Tommy remembers the futility. Every time a lull in the fighting happened, some power mongering monarch or war leader arose. The constant bickering, the endless fighting. He sees it now. The Pattern shows him his life for what it really was. The world wasn't real. Only Amber was real. Only the Pattern was real. Nothing else
His old world was a training ground. Nothing more.
"Ok, you're at the Final Veil. When you get through this, you'll be at the end of the Pattern. You must think of me, where I stand. You can go anywhere in the world, so don't think of anything else but over here." Gerard is smiling.
Tommy realizes his place in the world. He has a purpose. A reason. The Pattern is now a part of him. He is broken, destroyed from the inside out, and put back together. The Final Veil. Ever step is like pushing a mountain across the world. He is no longer a boy, a boy trying to survive. Not knowing his own place.
His name is Thomas. He is a Prince of Amber. His place is here. Thomas arrives next to his Uncle, slumped to the ground. His eyes blaze with fire as he looks at the world for the first time.
"Good job, Tommy. Now you're part of the family." says Gerard.
"You can call me Tommy. But I'm Prince Thomas now. You were right about this, it would change things."
Gerard nods. "It's your choice how it changes things, though. You have the power to walk away from here today and never come back. Or you have the power to become a part of the game."
He helps Tommy to his feet. "But for now, let's get you some decent clothes." He pulls out a trump, and soon they stand in Gerard's quarters once more.
"Don't know whether to walk away or not. I don't know the game, so it's about time I learned. Of course, if I do get involved with this world, I doubt I will leave it permanently." Thomas attempts to shake the cobwebs from his head."But right, for now, something else to wear. And something to eat."
Gerard laughs, leading him out of his chambers again. An odd sort of energy runs through Tommy, making up for the exhaustion he felt before. He feels revitalized, better than he has in ages.
"You know, that's the same thing I always wanted after walking it. Something to eat, that is. Too bad you aren't mine." His face grows a bit sombre. "No, no one really ever leaves the game. You think they do, but then at the last minute, someone comes blazing in, smile
flashing, and they save the day, making the poor slobs who spend their life trying to keep everything together look like idiots."
"Riding to the rescue at the last minute, eh? It happens." Thomas looks back at Gerard.
"Dad couldn't have picked anybody better to replace him. Thank you."
He smiles, and beneath a somewhat gruff exterior, Thomas can tell he's touched. "No problem. He wasn't a bad king. It was the least I could do."
The finally come to a room filled with layers upon layer of fabric and material. In the centre of the explosion of colour sits a small, nervous looking man. He looks up, eyes timid. A woman, robust and middle-aged walks out of a back, smiling. "Prince Gerard," she says, greeting him with a nod.
He nods in return. "Muriel. Jorge. I need some clothes."
"Is this going to take long? If so, let's order some food. And something to drink."
Gerard shakes his head. "Nah, not really. Jorge is an expert, right?" Jorge gets up from his table, shaking slightly. He pulls a tape measure out of his pocket and proceeds to take Thomas's measurements while Gerard chats with Muriel.
Gerard was right, it doesn't take long. Nerves make the man's fingers nimble, and after a few minutes he returns to a book, jotting a few numbers down.
Gerard takes Tommy by the arm. "Now, we eat. Feel like a ride?"
"Right now I feel like you're stalling and not getting me anything to eat." Thomas grins."Yea, I'll go riding. I feel like I can do just about anything now."
"Good," says Gerard. "And you're right, I am stalling you. I figure the more you want to eat, the faster you'll learn." He heads down some stairs, and Thomas can pick up the sent of hay and animals. Faintly, he hears a whinny.
"So what are we learning now? How to starve a man?" Thomas looks at the horses, and not knowing much about them, just looks at them.
"Oh, quit your bitching," retorts Gerard, looking over a brown and white one, "You aren't going to fade away. You grew up in the middle of a war zone. I'm sure your stomach can cope with being half-full for an hour or so."
He picks out two steeds and several attendants start brushing them down, saddling them. "You're going to learn how to use the pattern to get us through shadow. And what you're going to get us to is somewhere to eat. How fast you learn is how well and how soon you eat."
Gerard never was one for lengthy educations.
"You're a lousy date, you know that?"Thomas and Gerard mount their steeds and head out of the stables. "Ok, so how does this work?"
"Try to give me a goodnight kiss, you'll find out exactly how bad a date I am."
He urges his horse forward, and starts. "When we get to the forest, I want you to bring up the pattern in your mind. Just think about it really hard, and that should work. Then, since we're looking for something, I want you to think of what you want, and change the world around you so its more like that. Think of everything. The sky, the ground, the smell in the air."
"Ok, let's give it a go." Thomas brings the pattern to mind, seeing it's bends and curves in space. He opens his eyes and sees the world around him. The trees, the grass, the sky. Slowly, as they get further and further from the castle, small changes start to takes shape. Flowers are green, the sky becomes less blue...
They ride for what seems like hours, Gerard gets a confused look on his face as he sees the road littered with plates, steaks, sandwiches, desserts, and other bric-a-brac. Finally, they arrive at a clearing with three ladies serving a rather large picnic. "I, on the other hand, am a fantastic date!" Thomas dismounts.
Gerard laughs as he does the same. "And here I was expecting a bar. Shows how much I know you."
He saunters over to the picnic area, takes a seat, grabs a steak, and smiles at one of the ladies. "You have taste, kid, I'll give you that."
They eat well, and both being rather ravenous individuals, give the serving girls a run for their money. Gerard goes over a general history of Amber during courses.
"Back a long time ago, my dad was king. He was a good enough king. We were never seriously threatened except for a few border wars. He had us over the course of a few thousand wars by a handful of wives and lovers. Now, if you want to know the succession for the throne, you're going to have to hole up with one of the brainy ones. Dad used to run off into shadows every few years, doing something mysterious, or looking for a new wife. A few of us would mind the house until he got back, never with a thank you or an explanation. Just walk in, take the sceptre back, and sit down, giving out all sorts of orders.
"Eventually he disappeared, and it seemed like it was for good. Long story short, Eric became king. There were a lot of nasty politics involved, and I don't want to talk bad about your dad. He and Corwin spent a few years trying to kill each other, all the meanwhile, we're getting attacked by Chaos.
"Corwin shows up during a big battle, the one your dad died in. I'm pretty sure he was going to use the force he brought to depose Eric, but by the time he showed up, it was moot point. We won, and Corwin took over for a while. He wasn't really king, but he acted like it.
"Dad showed back up after too long, and started giving out orders as always. Corwin was none too happy about being deposed. Well, it turns out that there was something wrong with the pattern that was caused by one of my siblings, Brand. Dad had to fix it, while everyone else went down to Chaos to deal with them, and as it turned out, Brand. I was told to stay home during this mess. Anyway, they killed Brand, Dad fixed the pattern. Killing Brand cost us a sister, fixing the Pattern cost us a king.
"Corwin took over after that, and after everyone pledged their loyalty they ran off to shadows, leaving the mess to those who stayed to try and hold the universe together."
With that he finishes, polishing a piece of cake off.
"So now we practice getting back."
Thomas and Gerard give their thanks to the ladies, and remount their steeds. Tommy keeps his mind focused on Amber as Gerard tells him the details to get things right. Eventually, they make it back to where they started, at the stables. "How'd I do?"
Gerard smiles. "We're alive. That's always a good thing. And this is the real Amber. So you did fine." He looks up at the sky. "Must have passed through some slow shadows. Looks like we lost some time. Let's go get you clothed."
"You mean the shadows go in different times?" Thomas nods his head."I guess it would mean you have to consider everything when walking in shadow. Even people and how they behave." Thomas and Gerard head up the stairs. "We're not late for anything, are we?"
Gerard nods, sending his horse off with a servant. "You don't want to surprise yourself by running into a pack of wolves or into the middle of a war. I mean, sometimes stuff like that if you think you can handle it, and the guy following you can't, but most the time I'd caution against it."
"And no, we're not late for anything. The note didn't give me a time, so I'm taking advantage of that."
"Good. Do you think the clothes are done by now?" Thomas puts the saddle away and straightens out his clothes and sword. "Ready when you are."
He nods, and heads through the stables, greeting a few of the men as he goes. "They should be. I didn't ask for a wardrobe, just some stuff to get you around here. You want more you can pick some up later."
He starts up some stairs. "So, what do you think about meeting Corwin today?"
"Might as well. Certainly would like to know if old grudges pass to kids or not." Thomas looks a tad nervous.
Gerard goes to say something just as a female voice calls to him. He turns, and Tommy notes a petit dark-haired girl, dressed in a t-shirt and slacks, looking very becoming at the bottom of the stairs. Gerard turns back briefly. "That's the girl," he whispers. "Corwin's daughter." He turns back and walks down to meet her.
Thomas follows behind Gerard, keeping a certain distance.