"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat
-- Lewis Carrol
It was the first time I had ever set foot in the Tir, and given what Connie and Jess had told me of their previous visit, I wasn't at all sure what to expect.
But it definitely wasn't the scene that played out before us.
The man, young and clean shaven, reminded me somewhat of my father with his dark hair and green eyes, which were filled with sorrow and tears. But the woman he knelt by, lying limp and lifeless on the floor, I did not recognize.
The man, who I assumed was my grandfather spoke, his voice filled with agonized confusion. "How did this happen?"
And then, from the shadows, came a familiar hunchbacked figure. Dworkin looked little changed, except there was much less grey in his hair. His voice was sorrowful and quiet, a tone I had heard in him more than once, and I felt my heart twist a bit. "The assassin was pretending to be one of your wife's handmaids. She was a shapechanger."
My grandfather looked numb as he gently stroked the woman's pale reddish hair. Seeing such pain in his green eyes, so like my father's, it was difficult to watch the scene play out, even though I had realized that these events had taken place so long ago. My instinct was to do something, and I couldn't. I hate feeling helpless.
Oberon scooped up the limp form and starte forward. Dworkin, looking concerned, said, "Where are you going?"
His voice heavy with sorrow and bitterness, my grandfather turned back for just a moment. "To make sure this never happens again."
The plain looked familiar, and as Oberon buried his wife, I began to understand where we were.
Oberon leaned close to the silent earth. "I hope you can forgive me," he whispered. "I should never have allowed it to happen. I should have known they'd and destroy the Pattern." He looked up and around. "I cannot let this happen again." And with firm conviction, he planted the standard pole in the freshly turned dirt at the head of the grave.
We had just witnessed the birth of Ygg.
We watched Oberon ride off, and as my cousins began to confer, I went and knelt next to the grave. The Unicorn banner shivered in the light breeze at the head of the turned earth, where Oberon had planted the standard pole.
I knew it would do no good, and that my cousins may think me a fool, but I gave the Last Rites anyway. Comfort to the dead and dying was part of my job, and even though my faith as an organized whole may no longer exist, it was no reason to shirk those duties I'd sworn my life to.
Footsteps caused me to look up, and there was Locke, watching. "It's almost like the blood curse of Amber," he said.
I got to my feet. "You might be on to something."
Merlin brought us back to the stone steps, and as Connie and Jess went off on their own errands, Locke approched me. "Quinn, do you want to take a field trip?"
"Where to?" I was puzzled.
"The Rose Pattern."
I remembered then, Locke's original idea to use part of the tree outside of Dad's Pattern to replant Ygg. And a good idea it was, but there was one small snag...
"Can you give me a bit?" He nodded, and we agreeded to meet up back in Amber. When he was gone, I pulled out the sketch of Darien. Tempting as it was to sneak in on him and find out what he was up to, I wasn't looking forward to explaining to Locke what he was doing there in the first place.
But Darien's Trump remained still. "All right, then, brother-mine," I muttered as I started back to the castle. "I tried..."
I used the sketch Connie had made to Trump me and Locke to Dad's Pattern.
And in an odd show of compassion (or maybe just common sense), Locke asked the tree for a branch. My Knowing gave me the impression that the tree was actually thinking about it, and we wheedled a bit more before it finally gave in. I Healed the place from which we had taken the branch, and feeling somewhat silly, we said our thanks and headed off to Ygg.
Once there, and after we had gathered Jess, we stood there for a few moments staring at the fallen tree. "So, what next?" Locke looked over at me.
I shrugged, gesturing aimlessly at the scene before us. "Honestly, I'm not sure what exactly Dworkin wanted us to get out of that. I mean, I'm not sure that we have to recreate it in exact detail or anything, but..."
We started looking for Fiona's body, anyway. Jess and Locke began to hack at Ygg, trying to move the bulk of the tree from the campsite. I started looking with less mundane methods.
Some might say I rely to much on my skills as a sorceror, but for me, Working is as natural as breathing and I keyed a Knowing before I had even consciously realized what I was doing. The currents of magic here shifted and flowed in my Sight, and the events of recent, patterned into them, began to play out.
Julian. Moving with silent intensity about the remains of Ygg. He paused, gaze lighting on something near the base, and approached it. Moments later, he pulled away a body, heavily decomposed, which he wrapped up, slung over Morganstern's whithers, and then rode off.
"What is it?" Locke joined me as I stared at the tree.
"Julian." I started hunting about where the Knowing had showed his find. "He pulled a body from-" A patch of reddish brown darkened the grass. "There."
Again, the key left my lips, modified slightly to focus on that spot.
Fiona. Standing, hands outstretched, facing Ygg's trunk, as if her slight form could support its great weight. Suddenly her eyes alight with horror and she suddenly
"Dissolved." I felt sick to my stomach. I glanced over to Locke. "Something happened, but what I'm not sure. She was standing there, facing the tree, when she looked suudenly horrified. Then she just..." I swallowed the bile that rose as the picture played again in my head. "... dissolved."
Not too long later, we had again split up. Locke and Simon to find Aunt Fi's body, and deliver a message to Dierdre for Connie, who had managed to get himself grounded in Amber by mouthing off to Julian. I hoped for once, he'd stay out of trouble.
Especially since Jess and I were about to get into a lot of it.
When Simon told us of Dierdre's plan to take a small strike force in to get Random, I was immediately leery. Too much of a chance that the not-in-their-right-mind Elders could end up fighting, and it wasn't the point to lose more lives to save one. Fortunately, the others were much of the same mind.
So it came to pass that Jess and I went to Texas to prepare out little venture. We decided not to let Dierdre know what we were up to, which woldn't score points for us, but that was the least of my worries at the moment.
I put the time in Texas to good use. The Wards took longer than I would have liked to Conjure, and I made a mental note that if I ever saw Luke again, the second or third thing I'd do was have him teach me what I couldn't learn on my own.
Taking a moment's break before I started working the Wards, I pulled the Polaroid from my Trump deck. It was the second one I'd taken; his smile was soft, with only a hint of his usual rougish charm.
Luke smiled softly. "Thanks, butterfly." He took her hand and kissed it. "I'm glad one of us is blessed with clarity."We'd soon see about that.
She curled up against him. "Someone has to be able to keep you out of trouble..."
He laughed out loud. "And what about you? Seeing as I've been a corrupting influence..." Eyes closed, he grinned.
She hmphed. "I am perfectly capable of getting myself out of any trouble I get myself into..."
Back in Amber, somewhere near the dungeons, I kicked in the Obscurings I'd linked to the Wards. Too late, I realized I'd not added in a Key to dampen sound, and bit my lip to keep from swearing at my stupidity. Clarity, indeed.
I warned Jess, and we started down into the dungeon. We had passed the first post when the sound of someone running down the way after us had us both plastered against the wall. A young guard ran by, and skidded to a stop at the door to the cell area, where three guards lounged.
"The people on the second floor saw a ghost!"
The man stalked off amid laughter at his claim, and as soon as he was out of sight, I had no more time to consider his claim as Jess laid a hand on my shoulder.
A quick blow to the base of the neck, and my quarry was down. Jess dropped her two even more quickly. It took us less than three seconds, giving us enough time to slam the door into the two on the other side before they could do more than quietly question their now unconscious comrades. One got off a loud sqwauk, but it didn't seem to raise an alarm down the hall, so we quickly worked our way in.
Jess went looking for Random while I checked on the Trumps in Dad's old cell, which were Escape Plan A. As I had feared, both Trumps were now unusable.
I caught up with Jess outside Random's cell and relayed the bad news. She shrugged. "We'll go to Avalon, then."
I turned my attention to the cell. A knowing revealed a web of spells all about the face of the cell. With some time, I could have figured out their effects, but there was no way I could dismantle them. "It's warded," I said as Jess again shrugged and reached out to grab the bars...
WHAM And Jess bounced off the wall across the way as the defensive spell was triggered, then alarm klaxons began to wail. I could see Random stir on the other side as I helped Jess to her feet. Pissed, she ripped the door loose, and I darted inside to gather up the befuddled King as the sound of guards running our way reached us.
"Hang on, your Majesty," I muttered, thinking back to the last time I'd done this sort of thing, and hoping that the floor would remain where it was. It did, thank God, and Jess pulled her Trump of Avalon and grabbed my arm.
The first wave of guards kidded to a stop in front of the cell as the scene of Avalon grew to blot them out. I can only imagine with a smile how the scene appeared to them - their prisoner, barely able to stand, Trumping out by no apparent means.
And then we were away, standing outside Benedict's home in Avalon. We took Random to Jess' room, and as she spoke with the staff, I checked over my Uncle. He kept patting at his arm, and upon examination I found needlemarks. They'd drugged him to the gills, I discovered when I Looked.
I sat on the bed next to him, and keyed a Healing. Slowly, I started to purge the drugs from his bloodstream.
And hoped the rest of this venture would be so simple...